"The labor of righteousness is peace"; and again it is written: "The wages of sin are death!" Much has been said and written that one does not know – or, as it was with Anne Lisbeth, does not remember – but such things can appear before one's subconscious self, can come to mind, though one is unaware of it.
The germs of vices and virtues are alive deep in our hearts – in yours and mine; they lurk like tiny invisible seeds. There comes a ray of sunshine or the touch of an evil hand; you turn to the right or to the left, and the little seed quivers into life, puts forth shoots, and pours its life throughout all the veins. Walking in a daydream, one may be unconscious of many painful thoughts, but they have their being within us all the same; thus Anne Lisbeth walked as if in a daydream, but her thoughts lived within her.
From Candlemas to Candlemas the heart has much written upon it, even the record of the whole year. Many sins are forgotten, sins in word or thought, sins against God or our neighbor or our own conscience;
According to the commentary in H.C. Andersen eventyr, DSL, Borgen, Copenhagen 1990, vol. 7, p. 203, "The labor of righteousness is peace" comes from The Book of Wisdom, one of the deutero-canonical writings of the Old Testament, and "The wages of sin are death!" from Paul's Letter to the Romans 6.23.
In our Northern countries a single spring night is often enough to dress the beech wood, and in the morning sunlight it appears in its young, bright foliage.
In one second the seed of sin within us may be lifted to the light and unfolded into thoughts, words, and deeds; and thus it is when conscience is awakened. And our Lord awakens it when we lest expect it; when there is no way to excuse ourselves, the deed stands open to view, bearing witness against us; thoughts spring into words, and words ring clearly throughout the world. Then we are horrified to find what we have carried within us, that we have not overcome the evil we have sown in thoughtlessness and pride. The heart hides within itself all vices and virtues, and they grow even in the shallowest ground.
Anne Lisbeth, overwhelmed with the realization of her sin, sank to the ground and crept along for some distance. "Bury me! "Bury me!" still rang in her ears, and gladly would she have buried herself, if the grave could have brought eternal forgetfulness. It was her hour of awakening, and she was full of anguish and horror; superstition made her blood run hot and cold. Many things of which she had feared to speak came into her mind. There passed before her, silently as a shadowy cloud in the clear moonlight, a vision she had heard of before. It was a glowing chariot of fire, drawn by four snorting horses, with fire blazing from their eyes and nostrils; and nostrils; and inside sat a wicked nobleman who more than a century ago had ruled here. Every midnight, he rode into his courtyard and right out again. He was not pale, like other ghosts; no, his face was as black as burnt coal. As he passed Anne Lisbeth he nodded and beckoned to her, "Hold on! Hold on! You may ride in a count's carriage once more and forget your child."
She pulled herself together and hastened to the churchyard, but the black crosses and the black ravens mingled before her eyes; the ravens screamed as they had done that morning, but now she could understand what they were saying. "I am Mother Raven! I am Mother Raven!" said each of them, and Anne Lisbeth knew the name fitted herself well; maybe she would be changed into a huge black bird like these, and have to cry as they cried, if she did not dig the grave.
Then she flung herself on the ground and began frantically digging with her hands in the hard earth; she dug till the blood ran from her fingers.
"Bury me! Bury me!" Still she heard those words, and every moment she dreaded to hear the cock crow and see the first streak of dawn in the east. For if her task were not completed before daylight she knew she would be lost.
And the cock did crow, and the light appeared in the east – and the grave was only half dug, and behold! an icy hand slid over her head and face, down to her heart. A voice seemed to sigh, "Only half the grave!" and a shadowy form drifted past her and down to the bottom of the ocean. Yes, it was indeed the "sea ghost," and Anne Lisbeth fell fainting to the earth, exhausted and overpowered, and her senses left her.