Harald Kaas was sixty.
He had given up his free, uncriticised bachelor life; his yacht was no longer seen off the coast in summer; his tours to England and the south had ceased; nay, he was rarely to be found even at his club in Christiania. His gigantic figure was never seen in the doorways; he was failing.
Bandy-legged he had always been, but this defect had increased; his herculean back was rounded, and he stooped a little. His forehead, always of the broadest—no one else's hat would fit him- -was now one of the highest, that is to say, he had lost all his hair, except a ragged lock over each ear and a thin fringe behind. He was beginning also to lose his teeth, which were strong though small, and blackened by tobacco; and now, instead of "deuce take it" he said "deush take it."
He had always held his hands half closed as though grasping something; now they had stiffened so that he could never open them fully. The little finger of his left hand had been bitten off "in gratitude" by an adversary whom he had knocked down: according to Harald's version of the story, he had compelled the fellow to swallow the piece on the spot.
He was fond of caressing the stump, and it often served as an introduction to the history of his exploits, which became greater and greater as he grew older and quieter.
His small sharp eyes were deep set and looked at one with great intensity. There was power in his individuality, and, besides shrewd sense, he possessed a considerable gift for mechanics. His boundless self-esteem was not devoid of greatness, and the emphasis with which both body and soul proclaimed themselves made him one of the originals of the country.
Why was he nothing more?
He lived on his estate, Hellebergene, whose large woods skirted the coast, while numerous leasehold farms lay along the course of the river. At one time this estate had belonged to the Kurt family, and had now come back to them, in so far as that Harald's father, as every one knew, was not a Kaas at all, but a Kurt; it was he who had got the estate together again; a book might be written about the ways and means that he had employed.
The house looked out over a bay studded with islands; farther out were more islands and the open sea. An immensely long building, raised on an old and massive foundation, its eastern wing barely half furnished, the western inhabited by Harald Kaas, who lived his curious life here.
These wings were connected by two covered galleries, one above the other, with stairs at each end.
Curiously enough, these galleries did not face the sea, that is, the south, but the fields and woods to the north. The portion of the house between the two wings was a neutral territory—namely, a large dining-room with a ballroom above it, neither of which was used in later years.
Harald Kaas's suite of rooms was distinguished from without by a mighty elk's head with its enormous antlers, which was set up over the gallery.
In the gallery itself were heads of bear, wolf, fox and lynx, with stuffed birds from land and sea. Skins and guns hung on the walls of the anteroom, the inner rooms were also full of skins and impregnated with the smell of wild animals and tobacco-smoke. Harald himself called it "Man-smell;" no one who had once put his nose inside could ever forget it.
Valuable and beautiful skins hung on the walls and covered the floors; his very bed was nothing else; Harald Kaas lay, and sat, and walked on skins, and each one of them was a welcome subject of conversation, for he had shot and flayed every single animal himself. To be sure, there were those who hinted that most of the skins had been bought from Brand and Company, of Bergen, and that only the stories were shot and flayed at home.
I for my part think that this was an exaggeration; but be that as it may, the effect was equally thrilling when Harald Kaas, seated in his log chair by the fireside, his feet on the bearskin, opened his shirt to show us the scars on his hairy chest (and what scars they were!) which had been made by the bear's teeth, when he had driven his knife, right up to the haft, into the monster's heart. All the queer tankards, and cupboards, and carved chairs listened with their wonted impassiveness.
Harald Kaas was sixty, when, in the month of July, he sailed into the bay accompanied by four ladies whom he had brought from the steamer—an elderly lady and three young ones, all related to him. They were to stay with him until August.
They occupied the upper storey. From it they could hear him walking about and grunting below them. They began to feel a little nervous. Indeed, three of them had had serious misgivings about accepting the invitation; and these misgivings were not diminished when, next morning, they saw Kaas composedly strolling up from the sea stark naked!
They screamed, and, gathering together, still in their nightgowns, held a council of war as to the advisability of leaving at once; but when one of them cried "You should not have called us, Aunt, and then we should not have seen him," they could not help laughing, and therewith the whole affair ended. Certainly they were a little stiff at breakfast; but when Harold Kaas began a story about an old black mare of his which was in love with a young brown horse over at the Dean's, and which plunged madly if any other horse came near her, but, on the other hand, put her head coaxingly on one side and whinnied "like a dainty girl" whenever the parson's horse came that way—well, at that they had to give in, as well first as last.
If they had strayed here out of curiosity they must just put up with the "NIGHT side of nature," as Harald Kaas expressed it, with the stress on the first word.
For all that they were nearly frightened out of their wits the very next night, when he discharged his gun right under their windows. The aunt even asserted that he had shot through her open casement. She screamed loudly, and the others, starting from their sleep, were out on the floor before they knew where they were. Then they crouched in the windows and peeped out, although their aunt declared that they would certainly be shot—they really must see what it was.
Yes! there they saw him among the cherry and apple trees, gun in hand, and they could hear him swearing. In the greatest trepidation they crept back into bed again. Next morning they learned that he had shot at some night prowlers, one of whom had got "half the charge in his leg, that he had, Deush take him! It ain't the prowling I mind, but that he should prowl here. We bachelors will have no one poaching on our preserves."
The four ladies sat as stiff as four church candles, till at length one of them sprang up with a scream, the others joining in chorus.
The visitors were not bored; Harald Kaas dealt too much in the unexpected for that. There was a charm, too, in the great woods, where there had been no felling since he had come into the property, and there were merry walks by the riverside and plenty of fish in the river.
They bathed, they took delightful sails in the cutter and drives about the neighbourhood, though certainly the turn-out was none of the smartest.
The youngest of the girls, Kristen Ravn, presently became less eager to join in these expeditions. She had fallen in love with the disused east wing of the house, and there she spent many a long hour, alone by the open window, gazing out at the great lime- trees which stood straggling, gaunt, and mysterious.
"You ought to build a balcony here, out towards the sea," she said. "Look how the water glitters between the limes."
When once she had hit upon a plan, Kristen Ravn never relinquished it, and when she bad suggested it some four or five times, he promised that it should be done. But on the heels of this scheme came another.
"Below the first balcony there must be another wider one," said she in her soft voice, "and it must have steps at each end down to the lawn—the lawn is so lovely just here."
The unheard-of presumption of her demand inoculated him with the idea, and at length he consented to this as well.
"The rooms must be refurnished," she gravely commanded. "The one next to the balcony which is to be built under here shall be in yellow pine, and the floor must be polished." She pointed with her long delicate hand. "ALL the floors must be polished. I will give you the design for the room above, I have thought it carefully out." And in imagination she papered the walls, arranged the furniture, and hung up curtains of wondrous patterns.
"I know, too, how the other rooms are to be done," she added. And she went from one to the other, remaining a little while in each. He followed, like an old horse led by the bridle.
Before their visit was half over he most coolly neglected three out of his four guests.
His deep-set eyes twinkled with the liveliest admiration whenever she approached. He sought in the faces of the others the admiration which he himself felt: he would amble round her like an old photographic camera which had the power of setting itself up.
But from the day when she took down from his bookshelf a French work on mechanics, a subject with which she was evidently acquainted and for which she declared that she had a natural aptitude, it was all over with him. From that day forward, if she were present, he effaced himself both in word and action.
In the mornings when he met her in one of her characteristic costumes he laughed softly, or gazed and gazed at her, and then glanced towards the others. She did not talk much, but every word that she uttered aroused his admiration. But he was most of all captivated when she sat quietly apart, heedless of every one: at such times he resembled an old parrot expectant of sugar.
His linen had always been snowy white, but beyond this he had taken no special pains with his toilet; but now he strutted about in a Tussore silk coat, which he had bought in Algiers, but had at once put aside because it was too tight—he looked like a clipt box hedge in it.
Now, who was this lion-tamer of twenty-one, who, without in the least wishing to do so, unconsciously even (she was the quietest of the party), had made the monarch of the forest crouch at her feet and gaze at her in abject humility?
Look at her, as she sits there, with her loose shining hair of the prettiest shade of dark red; look at her broad forehead and prominent nose, but more than all at those large wondering eyes; look at her throat and neck, her tall slight figure; notice especially the Renaissance dress which she wears, its style and colour, and your curiosity will still remain unsatisfied, for she has an individuality all her own.
Kristen Ravn had lost her mother at her birth and her father when she was five years old. The latter left her a handsome fortune, with the express condition that the investments should not be changed, and that the income should be for her own use whether she married or not. He hoped by this means to form her character. She was brought up by three different members of her wide-branching family, a family which might more properly be termed a clan, although they had no common characteristics beyond a desire to go their own way.
When two Ravns meet they, as a rule, differ on every subject; but as a race they hold religiously together—indeed, in their eyes there is no other family which is "amusing," the favourite adjective of the Ravns.
Kristen had a receptive nature; she read everything, and remembered what she read; that is say, she had a logical mind, for a retentive memory implies an orderly brain. She was consequently NUMBER ONE in everything which she took up. This, coupled with the fact that she lived among those who regarded her somewhat as a speculation, and consequently flattered her, had early made an impression on her nature, quite as great, indeed, as the possession of money.
She was by no means proud, it was not in the Ravn nature to be so; but at ten years old she had left off playing; she preferred to wander in the woods and compose ballads. At twelve she insisted on wearing silk dresses, and, in the teeth of an aunt all curls and lace and with a terrible flow of words, she carried her point. She held herself erect and prim in her silks, and still remained NUMBER ONE. She composed verses about Sir Adge and Maid Else, about birds and flowers and sad things.
On reaching the age at which other girls, who have the means, begin to wear silk dresses, she left them off. She was tired, she said, of the "smooth and glossy."
She now grew enthusiastic for fine wool and expensive velvet of every shade. Dresses in the Renaissance style became her favourites, and the subject of her studies. She puffed out her bodices like those in Leonardo's and Rafael's portraits of women, and tried in other ways as well to resemble them.
She left off writing verses, and wrote stories instead; the style was good, though they were anything rather than spontaneous.
They were short, with a more or less clear pointe. Stories by a girl of eighteen do not as a general rule make a sensation, but these were particularly audacious. It was evident that their only object was to scandalise. Instead of her own name she used the nom-de-plume of "Puss." This, however, was only to postpone the announcement that the author who scandalised her readers most, and that at a time when every author strove to do so, was a girl of eighteen belonging to one of the first families in the country.
Soon every one knew that "Puss" was she of the tumbled red locks, "the tall Renaissance figure with the Titian hair."
Her hair was abundant, glossy, and slightly curling; she still wore it hanging loose over her neck and shoulders, as she had done as a child. Her great eyes seemed to look out upon a new world; but one felt that the lower part of her face was scarcely in harmony with the upper. The cheeks fell in a little; the prominent nose made the mouth look smaller than it actually was; her neck seemed only to lead the eye downward to her bosom, which almost appeared to caress her throat, especially when her head was bent forward, as was generally the case. And very beautiful the throat was, delicate in colour, superb in contour, and admirably set upon the bust. For this reason she could never find in her heart to hide this full white neck, but always kept it uncovered. Her finely moulded bust surmounting a slender waist and small hips, her rounded arms, her long hands, her graceful carriage, in her tightly-fitting dress, formed such a striking picture that one did more than look—one was obliged to study her, When the elegance and beauty of her dress were taken into account, one realised how much intelligence and artistic taste had here been exercised.
She was friendly in society, natural and composed, always occupied with something, always with that wondering expression. She spoke very little, but her words were always well chosen.
All this, and her general disposition, made people chary of opposing her, more especially those who knew how intelligent she was and how much knowledge she possessed.
She had no friends of her own, but her innumerable relations supplied her with society, gossip, and flattery, and were at once her friends and body-guard. She would have had to go abroad to be alone.
Among these relations she was a princess: they not only paid her homage, but had sworn by "Life and Death" that she must marry without more ado, which was absolutely against her wish.
From her childhood she had been laying by money, but the amount of her savings was far less than her relations supposed. This rather mythical fortune contributed not a little to the fact that "every one" was in love with her. Not only the bachelors of the family, that was a matter of course, but artists and amateurs, even the most blase, swarmed round her, la jeunesse doree (which is homely enough in Norway), without an exception. A living work of art, worth more or less money, piquante and admired, how each longed to carry her home, to gloat over her, to call her his own!
There was surely more intensity of feeling near her than near others, a losing of oneself in one only; that unattainable dream of the world-weary.
With her one could lead a thoroughly stylish life, full of art and taste and comfort. She was highly cultivated, and absolutely emancipated—our little country did not, in those days, possess a more alluring expression.
When face to face with her they were uncertain how to act, whether to approach her diffidently or boldly, smile or look serious, talk or be silent.
What these idle wooers gleaned from her stories, her characteristic dress, her wondering eyes, and her quiet dreaminess, was not the highest, but they expended their energy thereon; so that their unbounded discomfiture may be imagined when, in the autumn, the news spread that Fruken Kristen Ravn was married to Harald Kaas.
They burst into peals of derisive laughter they scoffed, they exclaimed; the only explanation they could offer was that they had too long hesitated to try their fortune.
There were others, who both knew and admired her, who were no less dismayed. They were more than disappointed—the word is too weak; to many of them it seemed simply deplorable. How on earth could it have happened? Every one, herself excepted, knew that it would ruin her life.
On Kristen Ravn's independent position, her strong character, her rare courage, on her knowledge, gifts, and energy, many, especially women, had built up a future for the cause of Woman. Had she not already written fearlessly for it? Her tendency towards eccentricity and paradox would soon have worn off, they thought, as the struggle carried her forward, and at last she might have become one of the first champions of the cause. All that was noblest and best in Kristen must predominate in the end.
And now the few who seek to explain life's perplexities rather than to condemn them discovered—Some of them, that the defiant tone of her writings and her love of opposition bespoke a degree of vanity sufficient to have led her into fallacy. Others maintained that hers was essentially a romantic nature which might cause her to form a false estimate both of her own powers and of the circumstances of life. Others, again, had heard something of how this husband and wife lived, one in each wing of the house, with different staffs of servants, and with separate incomes; that she had furnished her side in her own way, at her own expense, and had apparently conceived the idea of a new kind of married life. Some people declared that the great lime-trees near the mansion at Hellebergene were alone responsible for the marriage. They soughed so wondrously in the summer evenings, and the sea beneath their branches told such enthralling stories. Those grand old woods, the like of which were hardly to be found in impoverished Norway, were far dearer to her than was her husband. Her imagination had been taken captive by the trees, and thus Harald Kaas had taken HER. The estate, the climate, the exclusive possession of her part of the house: this was the bait which she had chosen. Harald Kaas was only a kind of Puck who had to be taken along with it. But it is doubtful whether this conjecture was any nearer the truth. No one ever really knew. She was not one of those whom it is easy to catechise.
Every one wearies at last of trying to solve even the most interesting of enigmas. No one could tolerate the sound of her name when, four months after her marriage, she was seen in a stall at the Christiania Theatre just as in old days, though looking perhaps a little paler. Every opera-glass was levelled at her. She wore a light, almost white, dress, cut square as usual. She did not hide her face behind her fan. She looked about her with her wondering eyes, as though she was quite unconscious that there were other people in the theatre or that any one could be looking at her. Even the most pertinacious were forced to concede that she was both physically and mentally unique, with a charm all her own.
But just as she had become once more the subject of general conversation, she disappeared. It afterwards transpired that her husband had fetched her away, though hardly any one had seen him. It was concluded that they must have had their first quarrel over it.
Accurate information about their joint life was never obtained. The attempts of her relations to force themselves upon them were quite without result, except that they found out that she was enceinte, notwithstanding her utmost efforts to conceal the fact.
She sent neither letter nor announcement; but in the summer, when she was next seen in Christiania, she was wheeling a perambulator along Karl Johan Street, her eyes as wondering as though some one had just put it between her hands. She looked handsomer and more blooming than ever.
In the perambulator lay a boy with his mother's broad forehead, his mother's red hair. The child was charmingly dressed, and he, as well as the perambulator, was so daintily equipped, so completely in harmony with herself, that every one understood the reply that she gave, when, after the usual congratulations, her acquaintances inquired, "Shall we soon have a new story from you?"—she answered, "A new story? Here it is!"
But, notwithstanding the unalloyed happiness which she displayed here, it could no longer be concealed that more often than not she was absent from home, and that she never mentioned her husband's name. If any one spoke of him to her, she changed the subject. By the time that the boy was a year old, it had become evident that she contemplated leaving Hellebergene entirely. She had been in Christiania for some time and had gone home to make arrangements, saying that she should come back in a few days.
But she never did so.
The day after her return home, while the numerous servants at Hellebergene, as well as the labourers with their wives and children, were all assembled at the potato digging, Harald Kaas appeared, carrying his wife under his left arm like a sack. He held her round the waist, feet first, her face downwards and hidden by her hair, her hands convulsively clutching his left thigh, her legs sometimes hanging down, sometimes straight out. He walked composedly out with her, holding in his right hand a bunch of long fresh birch twigs. A little way from the gallery he paused, and laying her across his left knee, he tore off some of her clothes, and beat her until the blood flowed. She never uttered a sound. When he put her from him, she tremblingly rearranged—first her hair, thus displaying her face just as the blood flowed back from it, leaving it deadly white. Tears of pain and shame rolled down her cheeks; but still not a sound. She tried to rearrange her dress, but her tattered garments trailed behind her as she went back to the house. She shut the door after her, but had to open it again; her torn clothes had caught fast in it.
The women stood aghast; some of the children screamed with fright: this infected the rest, and there was a chorus of sobs. The men, most of whom had been sitting smoking their pipes, but who had sprung to their feet again, stood filled with shame and indignation.
It had not been without a pang that Harald Kaas had done this, his face and manner had shown it for a long time and still did so; but he had expected that a roar of laughter would greet his extraordinary vagary. This was evident from the composure with which he had carried his wife out; and still more from the glance of gratified revenge with which he looked round him afterwards. But there was only dead stillness, succeeded by weeping, sobbing, and indignation. He stood there for a moment, quite overcome, then went indoors again, a defeated, utterly broken man.
In every encounter with this delicate creature the giant had been worsted.
After this, however, she never went beyond the grounds. For the first few years she was only seen by the people about the estate, and by them but seldom. Sometimes she would take her boy out in his little carriage, or, as time went on, would lead him by the hand, sometimes she was alone. She was generally wrapped in a big shawl, a different one for each dress she wore, and which she always held tightly round her. This was so characteristic of her that to this day I hear people from the neighbourhood talk about it as though she were never seen otherwise.
What then did she do? She studied; she had given up writing: for more than one reason it had become distasteful to her. She had changed roles with her husband, giving herself up to mathematics, chemistry, and physics, she made calculations and analyses— sending for books and materials for these objects. The people on the estate saw nothing extraordinary in all this. From the first they had admired her delicacy and beauty. Every one admired her; it was only the manner and degree that varied.
Little by little she came to be regarded as one whose life and thoughts were beyond their comprehension.
She sought no one, but to those who came to her she never refused help—more or less. She made herself well acquainted with the facts of each case; no one could ever deceive her. Whether she gave much or little, she imposed no conditions, she never lectured them. Her opinion was expressed by the amount that she gave.
Her husband's behaviour towards her was such that, had she not been very popular, she could not have remained at Hellebergene; that is to say, he opposed and thwarted her in every way he could; but every one took her part.
The boy! Could not he have been a bond of union? On the contrary, there were those who declared that it was from the time of his birth that things had gone amiss between the parents. The first time that his father saw him the nurse reported that he "came in like a lord and went out like a beggar!" The mother lay down again and laughed; the nurse had never seen the like of it before. Had he expected that his child must of necessity resemble him, only to find it the image of its mother?
When the boy was old enough he loved to wander across to his father's rooms where there were so many curious things to see; his father always received him kindly, talking in a way suited to his childish intelligence, but he would take occasion to cut away a quantity of his hair. His mother let it grow free and long like her own, and his father perpetually cut it. The boy would have been glad enough to be rid of it, but when he grew a little older, he comprehended his father's motive, and thenceforth he was on his guard.
When the people on the estate had told him something of his father's highly-coloured histories of his feats of strength and his achievements by land and water, the boy began to feel a shy admiration for him, but at the same time he felt all the more strongly the intolerable yoke which he laid upon them—upon every living being on the estate. It became a secret religion with him to oppose his father and help his mother, for it was she who suffered. He would resemble her even to his hair, he would protect her, he would make it all up to her. It was a positive delight to him when his father made him suffer: he absolutely felt proud when he called him Rafaella, instead of Rafael, the name which his mother had chosen for him; it was the one that she loved best.
No one was allowed to use the boats or the carriage, no one might walk through the woods, which had been fenced in, the horses were never taken out. No repairs were undertaken; if Fru Kaas attempted to have anything done at her own expense, the workmen were ordered off: there could no longer be any doubt about it, he wished everything to go to rack and ruin. The property went from bad to worse, and the woods—well! It was no secret, every one on the place talked about it—the timber was being utterly ruined. The best and largest trees were already rotten; by degrees the rest would become so.
At twelve years of age Rafael began to receive religious teaching from the Dean: the only subject in which his mother did not instruct him. He shared these lessons with Helene, the Dean's only child, who was four years younger than Rafael and of whom he was devotedly fond.
The Dean told them the story of David. The narrative was unfolded with additions and explanations; the boy made a picture of it to himself; his mother had taught him everything in this way.
Assyrian warriors with pointed beards, oblique eyes, and oblong shields, had to represent the Israelites; they marched by in an endless procession. He saw the blue-green of the vineyards on the hillside, the shadow of the dusty palm-trees upon the dusty road. Then a wood of aromatic trees into which all the warriors fled.
Then followed the story of Absalom.
"Absalom rebelled against his father, what a dreadful thing to think of," said the Dean. "A grown-up man to rebel against his father." He chanced to look towards Rafael, who turned as red as fire.
The thought which was constantly in his mind was that when he was grown up he should rebel against his father.
"But Absalom was punished in a marvellous manner," continued the Dean. "He lost the battle, and as he fled through the woods, his long hair caught in a tree, the horse ran away from under him, and he was left hanging there until he was run through by a spear."
Rafael could see Absalom hanging there, not in the long Assyrian garments, not with a pointed beard. No! Slender and young, in Rafael's tight-fitting breeches and stockings, and with his own red hair! Ah! how distinctly he saw it! The horse galloping far away—the grey one at home which he used to ride by stealth when his father was asleep after dinner. He could see the tall, slender lad, dangling and swaying, with a spear through his body. Distinctly! Distinctly!
This vision, which he never mentioned to a soul, he could not get rid of. To be left hanging there by his hair—what a strange punishment for rebelling against his father!
Certainly he already knew the history, but till now he had paid no special heed to it.
It was on a Friday that this great impression had been made on him, and on the following Thursday morning he awoke to see his mother standing over him with her most wondering expression. Her hair still as she had plaited it for the night; one plait had touched him on the nose and awoke him before she spoke. She stood bending over him, in her long white nightgown with its dainty lace trimming, and with bare feet. She would never have come in like that if something terrible had not happened. Why did she not speak? only look and look—or was she really frightened?
"Mother!" he cried, sitting up.
Then she bent close down to him. "THE MAN IS DEAD," she whispered. It was his father whom she called "the man," she never spoke of him otherwise.
Rafael did not comprehend what she said, or perhaps it paralysed him. She repeated it again louder and louder, "The man is dead, the man is dead."
Then she stood upright, and putting out her bare feet from under her nightgown, she began to dance—only a few steps; and then she slipped away through the door which stood half open. He jumped up and ran after her; there she lay on the sofa, sobbing. She felt that he was behind her, she raised herself quickly, and, still sobbing, pressed him to her heart.
Even when they stood together beside the body, the hand which he had in his shook so that he threw his arms round her, thinking that she would fall.
Later in life, when he recalled this, he understood what she had silently endured, what an unbending will she had brought to the struggle, but also what it had cost her.
At the time he did not in the least comprehend it. He imagined that she suffered from the horror of the moment as he himself did.
There lay the giant, in wretchedness and squalor! He who had once boasted of his cleanliness, and expected the like in others, lay there, dirty and unshaven, under dirty bed clothes, in linen so ragged and filthy that no workman on the estate had worse. The clothes which he had worn the day before lay on a chair beside the bed, miserably threadbare, foul with dirt, sweat, and tobacco, and stinking like everything else. His mouth was distorted, his hands tightly clenched; he had died of a stroke.
And how forlorn and desolate was all around him! Why had his son never noticed this before? Why had he never felt that his father was lonely and forsaken? To how great an extent no words could express.
Rafael burst into tears; louder and louder grew his sobbing, until it sounded through all the rooms. The people from the estate came in one by one. They wished to satisfy their curiosity.
The boy's crying, unconsciously to himself, influenced them all: they saw everything in a new light. How unfortunate, how desolate, how helpless had he been who now lay there. Lord, have mercy on us all!
When the corpse of Harald Kaas had been laid out, the face shaved, and the eyes closed, the distortion was less apparent. They could trace signs of suffering, but the expression was still virile. It seemed a handsome face to them now
Within a few days of the funeral mother and son were in England.
Rafael was now to enter upon a long course of study, for which, by his earlier education, his mother had prepared him, and for which, by painful privations, she had saved up sufficient money.
The property was to the last degree impoverished, and burdened with mortgages, and the timber only fit for fuel.
Their neighbour the Dean, a clear-headed and practical man, took upon himself the management of affairs; as money was needed the work of devastation must begin at once. The mother and son did not wish to witness it.
They came to England like two fugitives who, after many and great trials, for affection's sake seek a new home and a new country.
Rafael was then twelve years old.
They were inseparable, and in the shiftless life that they led in their new surroundings they became, if possible, more closely attached to each other.
Yet not long afterwards they had their first disagreement.
He had gone to school, had begun to learn the language and to make friends, and had developed a great desire to show off.
He was very tall and slender and was anxious to be athletic. He took an active part in the play-ground, but here he achieved no great success. On the other hand, thanks to his mother, he was better informed than his comrades, and he contrived to obtain prominence by this. This prominence must be maintained, and nothing answered so well as boasting about Norway and his father's exploits. His statements were somewhat exaggerated, but that was not altogether his fault, He knew English fairly well, but had not mastered its niceties. He made use of superlatives, which always come the most readily. It was true that he had inherited from his father twenty guns, a large sailing-boat, and several smaller ones; but how magnificent these boats and guns had become!
He intended to go to the North Pole, he said, as his father had done, to shoot white bears, and invited them all to come with him.
He made a greater impression on his hearers than he himself was aware of; but something more was wanted, for it was impossible to foretell from day to day what might be expected of him. He had to study hard in order to meet the demand.
As an outcome of this, he betook himself one evening to the hairdresser's, with some of his schoolfellows, and, without more ado, requested him to cut his hair quite close. That ought to satisfy them for a long time.
The other boys had teased him about his hair, and it got in the way when he was playing—he hated it. Besides, ever since the story of Absalom's rebellion and punishment, it had remained a secret terror to him, but it had never before occurred to him to have it cut off.
His schoolfellows were dismayed, and the hairdresser looked on it as a work of wilful destruction.
Rafael felt his heart begin to sink, but the very audacity of the thing gave him courage They should see what he dare do. The hairdresser hesitated to act without Fru Kaas's knowledge, but at length he ceased to make objections.
Rafael's heart sank lower and lower, but he must go through with it now. "Off with it," he said, and remained immovable in the chair.
"I have never seen more splendid hair," said the hairdresser diffidently, taking up the scissors but still hesitating.
Rafael saw that his companions were on the tiptoe of expectation. "Off with it," he said again with assumed indifference.
The hairdresser cut the hair into his hand and laid it carefully in paper.
The boys followed every snip of the scissors with their eyes, Rafael with his ears; he could not see in the glass.
When the hairdresser had finished and had brushed his clothes for him, he offered him the hair. "What do I want with it?" said Rafael. He dusted his elbows and knees a little, paid, and left the shop, followed by his companions. They, however, exhibited no particular admiration. He caught a glimpse of himself in the glass as he went out, and thought that he looked frightful.
He would have given all that he possessed (which was not much), he would have endured any imaginable suffering, he thought, to have his hair back again.
His mother's wondering eyes rose up before him with every shade of expression; his misery pursued him, his vanity mocked him. The end of it all was that he stole up to his room and went to bed without his supper.
But when his mother had vainly waited for him, and some one suggested that he might be in the house, she went to his room.
He heard her on the stairs; he felt that she was at the door. When she entered he had hidden his head beneath the bedclothes. She dragged them back; and at the first sight of her dismay he was reduced to such despair that the tears which were beginning to flow ceased at once.
White and horror-struck she stood there; indeed she thought at first that some one had done it maliciously; but when she could not extract a word of enlightenment, she suspected mischief.
He felt that she was waiting for an explanation, an excuse, a prayer for forgiveness, but he could not, for the life of him, get out a word.
What, indeed, could he say? He did not understand it himself. But now he began to cry violently. He huddled himself together, clasping his head between his hands. It felt like a bristly stubble.
When he looked up again his mother was gone.
A child sleeps in spite of everything. He came down the next morning in a contrite mood and thoroughly shamefaced. His mother was not up; she was unwell, for she had not slept a wink. He heard this before he went to her. He opened her door timidly. There she lay, the picture of wretchedness.
On the toilet-table, in a white silk handkerchief, was his hair, smoothed and combed.
She lay there in her lace-trimmed nightgown, great tears rolling down her cheeks. He had come, intending to throw himself into her arms and beg her pardon a thousand times. But he had a strong feeling that he had better not do so, or was he afraid to? She was in the clouds, far, far away. She seemed in a trance: something, at once painful and sacred, held her enchained. She was both pathetic and sublime,
The boy stepped quietly from the room and hurried off to school.
She remained in bed that day and the next, and made him sit with the servant in order that she might be alone. When she was in trouble she always behaved thus, and that he should cross her in this way was the greatest trial that she had ever known. It came upon her, too, like a deluge of rain from a clear sky. NOW it seemed to her that she could foresee his future—and her own.
She laid the blame of all this on his paternal ancestry. She could not see that incessant artistic fuss and too much intellectual training had, perhaps, aroused in him a desire for independence.
The first time that she saw him again with his cropped head, which grew more and more like his father's in shape, her tears flowed quietly.
When he wished to come to her side, she waived him back with her shapely hand, nor would she talk to him; when he talked she hardly looked at him; till at last he burst into tears. For he suffered as one can suffer but once, when the childish penitence is fresh and therefore boundless, and when the yearning for love has received its first rebuff.
But when, on the fifth day, she met him coming up the stairs, she stood still in dismay at his appearance: pale, thin, timid; the effect perhaps heightened by the loss of his hair. He, too, stood still, looking forlorn and abject, with disconsolate eyes. Then hers filled; she stretched out her arms. He was once more in his Paradise, but they both cried as though they must wade through an ocean of tears before they could talk to each other again.
"Tell me about it now," she whispered. This was in her own room. They had spoken the first fond words and kissed each other over and over again. "How could this have happened, Rafael?" she whispered again, with her head pressed to his; she did not wish to look at him while she spoke.
"Mother," he answered, "it is worse to cut down the woods at home, at Hellebergene, than that I—"
She raised her head and looked at him. She had taken off her hat and gloves, but now she put them quickly on again.
"Rafael, dear," she said, "shall we go for a walk together in the park, under the grand old trees?"
She had felt his retort to be ingenious.
After this episode, however, England, and more especially her son's schoolfellows, became distasteful to her, and she constantly made plans to keep him away from the latter out of school hours.
She found this very easy; sometimes she went over his studies with him, at others they visited all the Manufactories and "Works" for miles round.
She liked to see for herself and awakened the same taste in him.
Factories which, as a rule, were closed to visitors, were readily opened to the pretty elegant lady and her handsome boy, "who after all knew nothing at all about it;" and they were able to see almost all that they wished. It was a less congenial task to use her influence to turn his thoughts to higher things, but it was rarely, nevertheless, that she failed. She struggled hard over what she did not understand and sought for help. To explain these things to Rafael in the most attractive manner possible became a new occupation for her.
His natural disposition inclined him to such studies; but to a boy of thirteen, who was thus kept from his comrades and their sports, it soon became a nuisance.
No sooner had Fru Kaas noticed this than she took active steps. They left England and crossed to France.
The strange speech threw him back on her; no one shared him with her. They settled in Calais. A few days after their arrival she cut her hair short; she hoped that it would touch him to see that as he would not look like her, she tried to look like him—to be a. boy like him. She bought a smart new hat, she composed a jaunty costume, new from top to toe, for EVERYTHING must be altered with the hair. But when she stood before him, looking like a girl of twenty-five, merry, almost boisterous, he was simply dismayed— nay, it was some time before he could altogether comprehend what had happened. As long as he could remember his mother, her eyes had always looked forth from beneath a crown; more solemn, more beautiful.
"Mother," he said, "where are you?"
She grew pale and grave, and stammered something about its being more comfortable—about red hair not looking well when it began to lose its colour—and went into her room. There she sat with his hair before her and her own beside it; she wept.
"Mother, where are you?" She might have answered, "Rafael, where are you?"
She went about with him everywhere. In France two handsome, stylishly dressed people are always certain to be noticed, a thing which she thoroughly appreciated.
During their different expeditions she always spoke French; he begged her to talk Norse at least now and then, but all in vain.
Here, too, they visited every possible and impossible factory. Unpractical and reserved as she was on ordinary occasions, she could be full of artifice and coquetry whenever she wished to gain access to a steam bakery and particular as she generally was about her toilette, she would come away again sooty and grimy if thereby she could procure for Rafael some insight into mechanics. She shrank from foul air as from the cholera, yet inhaled sulphuric acid gas as though it had been ozone for his sake.
"Seeing for yourself, Rafael, is the substance, other methods are its shadow;" or "Seeing for yourself, Rafael, is meat and drink, the other is but literature."
He was not quite of the same opinion: he thought that Notre Dame de Paris, from which he was daily dragged away, was the richest banquet that he had yet enjoyed, while from the factory of Mayel et fils there issued the most deadly odours.
His reading—she had encouraged him in it for the sake of the language and had herself helped him; now she was jealous of it and could not be persuaded to get him new books; but he got them nevertheless.
They had been in Calais for several months; he had masters and was beginning to feel himself at home, when there arrived at the pension a widow from one of the colonies, accompanied by her daughter, a girl of thirteen.
The new comers had not appeared at meals for more than two days before the young gentleman began to pay his court to the young lady. From the first moment it was a plain case. Very soon every one in the pension was highly amused to notice how fluent his French was becoming; his choice of words at times was even elegant! The girl taught him it without a trace of grammar, by charm, sprightliness, a little nonsense; a pair of confiding eyes and a youthful voice were sufficient. It was from her that he got, by stealth, one novel after another. By stealth it had to be; by stealth Lucie had procured them; by stealth she gave them to him; by stealth they were read; by stealth she took them back again. This reading made him a little absent-minded, but otherwise nothing betrayed his flights into literature: to be sure, they were not very wonderful.
Fru Kaas noticed her son's flirtation, and smiled with the rest over his progress in French. She had less objection to this friendship, in which, to a great extent, she shared, than to those in England, from which she had been quite excluded. In the evenings she would take the mother and daughter out for short excursions; and these she greatly enjoyed. But the novel reading which the young people carried on secretly had resulted in conversations of a "grown up" type. They talked of love with the deep experience which is proper to their age, they talked with still greater discretion as to when their wedding should take place; on this point they indirectly said much which caused them many a delightful tremor. As they were accustomed to talk about themselves before others, to describe their feelings in a veiled form, it often happened when there were many people near that they carried this amusement further, and before they were themselves aware of it, they were in the full tide of a symbolic language and played "catch" with each other.
Fru Kaas noticed one evening that the word "rose" was drawn out to a greater length than it was possible for any rose to attain to; at the same time she saw the languishing look in their eyes, and broke in with the question, "What do you mean about the rose, child?"
If any one had peeped behind a rose-bush and caught them kissing one another, a thing they had never done, they could not have blushed more.
The next day Fru Kaas found new rooms, a long way from the quay near which they were living.
Rafael had suffered greatly at being torn away from England just as he had come down from his high horse and had put himself on a par with his companions, but not the least notice was taken of his trouble; it had only annoyed his mother.
To be absolutely debarred from the books he was so fond of had been hard; but up to this time, being in a foreign land, amid foreign speech, he had always fallen back upon her. Now he openly defied her. He went straight off to the hotel and sought out Madame Mery and her daughter as though nothing had occurred. This he did every day when he had finished his lessons. Lucie had now become his sole romance; he gave all his leisure time to her, and not only that (for it no longer sufficed to see her at her mother's), they met on the quay! At times a maid-servant walked with them for appearance sake, at others she kept in the background. Sometimes they would go on board a Norwegian ship, sometimes they wandered about or strolled beneath some great trees. When he saw her in her short frock come out of the door, saw her quick movements, and her lively signals to him with parasol or hat or flowers, the quay, the ships, the bales, the barrels, the air, the noise, the crowd, all seemed to play and sing,
"Enfant! si j'etais roi je donerais l'empire, Et mon char, et mon septre, et mon peuple a genoux,"
and he ran to meet her.
He never dared to do more than to take both her chubby brown hands, nor to say more than "You are very sweet, you are very very good." And she never went further than to look at him, walk with him, laugh with him, and say to him, "You are not like the others." What experiences there had been in the life of this girl of thirteen goodness alone knows. He never asked her, he was too sure of her.
He learned French from her as one bird feeds from another's bill, or as one who looks at his image in a fountain, as be drinks from it.
One day, as mother and son were at breakfast, she glanced quietly across at him. "I heard of an excellent preparatory school of mechanics at Rouen," she said, "so I wrote to inquire about it, and here is the answer. I approve of it in all respects, as you will do when you read it. I think that we shall go to Rouen; what do you say to it?"
He grew first red, then white; then put down his bread, his table napkin; got up and left the room. Later in the day she asked him whether he would not read the letter; he left her without answering. At last, just as he was going to meet Lucie on the quay, she said, and this time with determination, that they were to leave in the course of an hour. She had already packed up; as they stood there the man came to fetch the luggage. At that moment he felt that he could thoroughly understand why his father had beaten her.
As they sat in the carriage which took them to the station he suffered keenly. It could not nave been worse, he thought, if his mother had stabbed him with a knife. He did not sit beside her in the railway carriage.
During the first days at Rouen he would not answer when she spoke to him, nor ask a single question. He had adopted her own tactics; he carried them through with a cruelty of which he was not aware.
For a long time he had been disposed to criticise her; now that this criticism was extended to all that she said or did, the spirit of accusation tinctured her whole life; their joint past seemed altered and debased.
His father's bent form, in the log chair on the hairless skin, malodorous and dirty, rose up before him, in vivid contrast with his mother in her well appointed, airy, perfumed rooms!
When Rafael stood by his father's body he had felt the same thing- -that the old man had been badly treated. He himself had been encouraged to neglect his father, to shun him, to evade his orders. At that time he had laid the blame on the people on the estate; now he put it all down to his mother's account. His father had certainly adored her once, and this feeling had changed into wild self-consuming hatred. What had happened? He did not know; but he could not but admit that his mother would have tried the patience of Job.
He pictured to himself how Lucie would come running with her flowers, search for him over the whole quay, farther and farther every time, standing still at last. He could not think of it without tears, and without a feeling of bitterness.
But a child is a child. It was not a life-long grief. As the place was new and historically interesting, and as lessons had now begun and his mother was always with him, this feeling wore off, but the mutual restraint was still there. The critical spirit which had first been roused in England never afterwards left Rafael.
The hours of study which they passed together produced good results. Beginning as her pupil, he had ended by becoming her teacher. She was anxious to keep up with him, and this was an advantage to him, on account of her almost too minute accuracy, but still more from her intelligent questions. Apart from study they passed many pleasant hours together, but they both knew that something was missing in their conversation which could never be there again.
At longer or shorter intervals a shy silence interrupted this intercourse. Sometimes it was he, sometimes she, who, for some cause or other, often a most trivial one, elected not to reply, not to ask a question, not to see. When they were good friends he appreciated the best side of her character, the self-sacrificing life which she led for him. When they were not friends it was exactly the opposite. When they were friends, he, as a rule, did whatever she wished. He tried to atone for the past. He was in the land of courtesy and influenced by its teaching. When he was not friends with her he behaved as badly as possible. He early got among bad companions and into dissipated habits; he was the very child of Rebellion. At times he had qualms of conscience on account of it.
She guessed this, and wished him to guess that she guessed it.
"I perceive a strange atmosphere here, fie! Some one has mixed their atmosphere with yours, fie!" And she sprinkled him with scent.
He turned as red as fire and, in his shame and misery, did not know which way to look. But if he attempted to speak she became as stiff as a poker, and, raising her small hand, "Taisez-vous des egards, sil vous plait."
It must be said in her excuse that, notwithstanding the daring books which she had written, she had had no experience of real life; she knew no form of words for such an occasion. It came at last to this pass, that she, who had at one time wished to control his whole life and every thought in it, and who would not share him with any one, not even with a book, gradually became unwilling to have any relations with him outside his studies.
The French language especially lends itself to formal intercourse and diplomacy. They grasped this fact from the first. It may, indeed, have contributed to form their mutual life. It was more equitable and caused fewer collisions. At the slightest disagreement it was at once "Monsieur mon fils" or simply "Monsieur," or "Madame ma mere," or "Madame."
At one time his health seemed likely to suffer: his rapid growth and the studies, to which she kept him very closely, were too much for his strength.
But just then something remarkable occurred. At the time when Rafael was nineteen he was one day in a French chemical factory, and, as it were in a flash, saw how half the power used in the machinery might be saved. The son of the owner who had brought him there was a fellow-student. To him he confided his discovery. They worked it out together with feverish excitement to the most minute details. It was very complex, for it was the working of the factory itself which was involved. The scheme was carefully gone into by the owner, his son, and their assistants together, and it was decided to try it. It was entirely successful; LESS than half the motive power now sufficed.
Rafael was away at the time that it was inaugurated; he had gone down a mine. His mother was not with him; he never took her down mines with him. As soon as ever he returned home he hurried off with her to see the result of his work. They saw everything, and they both blushed at the respect shown to them by the workmen. They were quite touched when, the owner being called, they heard his expressions of boundless delight. Champagne flowed for them, accompanied by the warmest thanks. The mother received a beautiful bouquet. Excited by the wine and the congratulations, proud of his recognition as a genius, Rafael left the place with his mother on his arm. It seemed to him as though he were on one side, and all the rest of the world on the other. His mother walked happily beside him, with her bouquet in her hand. Rafael wore a new overcoat—one after his own heart, very long and faced with silk, and of which he was excessively proud. It was a clear winter's day; the sun shone on the silk, and on something more as well.
"There is not a speck on the sky, mother," he said.
"Nor one on your coat either," she retorted; for there had been a great many on his old one, and each had had its history.
He was too big now to be turned to ridicule, and too happy as well. She heard him humming to himself: it was the Norwegian national air. They came back to the town again as from Elysium. All the passers-by looked at them: people quickly detect happiness. Besides Rafael was a head taller than most of them and fairer in complexion. He walked quickly along beside his elegant mother, and looked across the Boulevard as though from a sunny height.
"There are days on which one feels oneself a different person," he said.
"There are days on which one receives so much," she answered, pressing his arm.
They went home, threw aside their wraps, and looked at one another. Sketches of the machinery which they had just seen lay about, as well as some rough drawings. These she collected and made into a roll.
"Rafael," she said, and drew herself up, half laughing, half trembling, "kneel; I wish to knight you."
It did not seem unnatural to him; he did so.
"Noblesse oblige," she said, and let the roll of paper approach his head; but therewith she dropped it and burst into tears.
He spent a merry evening with his friends, and was enthusiastically applauded. But as he lay in bed that night he felt utterly despondent. The whole thing might, after all, have been a mere chance. He had seen so much, had acquired so much information; it was no discovery that he had made. What was it, then? He was certainly not a genius; that must be an exaggeration. Could one imagine a genius without a victor's confidence, or had his peculiar life destroyed that confidence? This anxiety which constantly intruded itself; this bad conscience; this dreadful, vile conscience; this ineradicable dread; was it a foreboding? Did it point to the future?
It was about half a year after this that his desultory studies became concentrated on electricity, and after a time this took them to Munich. During the course of these studies he began to write, quite spontaneously. The students had formed a society, and Rafael was expected to contribute a paper. But his contribution was so original that they begged him to show it to the professor, and this encouraged him greatly. It was the professor, too, who had his first article printed. A Norwegian technical periodical accepted a subsequent one, and this was the external influence which turned his thoughts once more towards Norway. Norway rose before him as the promised land of electricity. The motive power of its countless waterfalls was sufficient for the whole world! He saw his country during the winter darkness gleaming with electric lustre. He saw her, too, the manufactory of the world, the possessor of navies. Now he had something to go home for!
His mother did not share his love for their country, and had no desire to live in Norway. But the money which she had saved up for his education bad been spent long ago. Hellebergene had had its share. The estate did not yield an equivalent, for it was essentially a timbered estate, and the trees on it were still immature.
So it was to be home! A few years alone at Hellebergene was just what he wished for. But—something always occurred to prevent their departure at the time fixed for it. First he was detained by an invention which he wished to patent. Up to the present time he had only sketched out ideas which others had adopted; now it was to be different. The invention was duly patented and handed over to an agent to sell; but still they did not start. What was the hindrance? Another invention with a fresh patent more likely to sell than the first, which unfortunately did not go off. This patent was also taken out, which again cost money, and was handed over to the agent to be sold. Could he not start now? Well, yes, he thought he could. But Fru Kaas soon realised that he was not serious, so she sought the help of a young relative, Hans Ravn, an engineer, like most of the Ravns. Rafael liked Hans, for he was himself a Ravn in temperament, a thing that he had not realised before; it was quite a revelation to him. He had believed that the Ravns were like his mother, but now found that she greatly differed from them. To Hans Ravn Fru Kaas said plainly that now they must start. The last day of May was the date fixed on, and this Hans was to tell every one, for it would make Rafael bestir himself, his mother thought, if this were known everywhere. Hans Ravn spread this news far and near, partly because it was his province to do so, partly because he hoped it would be the occasion of a farewell entertainment such as had never been seen. A banquet actually did take place amid general enthusiasm, which ended in the whole company forming a procession to escort their guest to his house. Here they encountered a crowd of officers who were proceeding home in the same manner. They nearly came to blows, but fraternised instead, and the engineers cheered the officers and the officers the engineers.
The next day the history of the two entertainments and the collision between the guests went the round of the papers.
This produced results which Fru Kaas had not foreseen. The first was a very pleasant one. The professor who had had Rafael's first article published drove up to the door, accompanied by his family. He mounted the stairs, and asked her if she would not, in their company, once more visit the prettiest parts of Munich and its vicinity. She felt flattered, and accepted the invitation. As they drove along they talked of nothing but Rafael: partly about his person, for he was the darling of every lady, partly about the future which lay before him. The professor said that he had never had a more gifted pupil. Fru Kaas had brought an excellent binocular glass with her, which she raised to her eyes from time to time to conceal her emotion, and their hearty praise seemed to flood the landscape and buildings with sunshine.
The little party lunched together, and drove home in the afternoon.
When Fru Kaas re-entered her room, she was greeted by the scent of flowers. Many of their friends who had not till now known when they were to leave had wished to pay them some compliment. Indeed, the maid said that the bell had been ringing the whole morning. A little later Rafael and Hans Ravn came in with one or two friends. They proposed to dine together. The sale of the last patent seemed to be assured, and they wished to celebrate the event. Fru Kaas was in excellent spirits, so off they went.
They dined in the open air with a number of other people round them. There was music and merriment, and the subdued hum of distant voices rose and fell in the twilight. When the lamps were lighted, they had on one side the glare of a large town, on the other the semi-darkness was only relieved by points of light; and this was made the subject of poetical allusions in speeches to the friends who were so soon to leave them.
Just then two ladies slowly passed near Rafael's chair. Fru Kaas, who was sitting opposite, noticed them, but he did not. When they had gone a short distance they stood still and waited, but did not attract his attention. Then they came slowly back again, passing close behind his chair, but still in vain. This annoyed Fru Kaas. Her individuality was so strong that her silence cast a shadow over the whole party; they broke up.
The next morning Rafael was out again on business connected with the patent. The bell rang, and the maid came in with a bill; it had been brought the previous day as well, she said. It was from one of the chief restaurateurs of the town, and was by no means a small one. Fru Kaas had no idea that Rafael owed money—least of all to a restaurateur. She told the maid to say that her son was of age, and that she was not his cashier. There was another ring— the maid reappeared with a second bill, which had also been brought the day before. It was from a well-known wine merchant; this, too, was not a small one. Another ring; this time it was a bill for flowers and by no means a trifle. This, too, had been brought the day before. Fru Kaas read it twice, three times, four times: she could not realise that Rafael owed money for flowers— what did he want them for? Another ring; now it was a bill from a jeweller. Fru Kaas became so nervous at the ringing and the bills that she took to flight. Here, then, was the explanation of their postponed departure: he was held captive; this was the reason for all his anxiety about selling the patent. He had to buy his freedom. She was hardly in the street when an unpretending little old woman stepped up to her, and asked timidly if this might be Frau von Kas? Another bill, thought Fru Kaas, eyeing her closely. She reminded one of a worn-out rose-bush with a few faded blossoms on it: she seemed poor and inexperienced in all save humility.
"What do you want with me?" inquired Fru Kaas sympathetically, resolved to pay the poor thing at once, whatever it might be.
The little woman begged "Tausend Mal um Verzeihung," but she was "Einer Beamten-Wittwe" and had read in the paper that the young Von Kas was leaving, and both she and her daughter were in such despair that she had resolved to come to Frau von Kas, who was the only one—and here she began to cry.
"What does your daughter want from me?" asked Fru Kaas rather less gently.
"Ach! tausend Mal um Verzeihung gnadige Frau," her daughter was married to Hofrath von Rathen—"ihrer grossen Schonheit wegen"— ah, she was so unhappy, for Hofrath von Rathen drank and was cruel to her. Herr von Kas had met her at the artists' fete—"Und so wissen Sie zwei so junge, reizende Leute." She looked up at Fru Kaas through her tears—looked up as though from a rain-splashed cellar window; but Fru Kaas had reverted to her abrupt manner, and as if from an upper storey the poor little woman heard, "What does your daughter want with my son?"
"Tausend Mal um Verzeihung," but it had seemed to them that her daughter might go with them to Norway, Norway was such a free country. "Und die zwei Jungen haben sich so gern."
"Has he promised her this?" said Fru Kaas, with haughty coldness.
"Nein, nein, nein," was the frightened reply. They two, mother and daughter, had thought of it that day. They had read in the paper that the young Von Kas was going away. "Herr Gott in Himmel!" if her daughter could thus be rid at once of all her troubles! Frau von Kas had not an idea of what a faithful soul, what a tender wife her daughter was.
Fru Kaas crossed hastily over to the opposite pavement. She did not go quite so fast as a person in chase of his hat, but it seemed to the poor little creature, left in the lurch, with folded hands and frightened eyes, that she had vanished faster than her hopes. On the other side of the waystood a pretty young flower- girl who was waiting for the elegant lady hurrying in her direction. "Bitte, gnadige Frau." Here is another, thought the hunted creature. She looked round for help, she flew up the street, away, away—when another lady popped up right in front of her, evidently trying to catch her eye. Fru Kaas dashed into the middle of the street and took refuge in a carriage.
"Where to?" asked the driver.
This she had not stopped to consider, but nevertheless answered boldly, "The Bavaria!"
In point of fact she had had an idea of seeing the view of the city and its environs from "Bavaria's" lofty head before leaving. There were a great many people there, but Fru Kaas's turn to go up soon came; but just as she had reached the head of the giantess and was going to look out, she heard a lady whisper close behind her, "That is his mother." It was probable that there were several mothers up there in "Bavaria's" head beside Fru Kaas, nevertheless she gathered her skirts together and hurried down again.
Rafael came home to dine with his mother; he was in the highest spirits—he had sold his patent. But he found her sitting in the farthest corner of the sofa, with her big binocular glass in her hand. When he spoke to her she did not answer, but turned the glass with the small end towards him; she wished him to look as far off as possible.
It was a bright evening in the beginning of June that they disembarked from the steamer, and at once left the town in the boat which was to take them to Hellebergene. They did not know any of the boatmen, although they were from the estate; the boat also was new.
But the islands among which they were soon rowing were the old ones, which had long awaited them and seemed to have swum out to meet them, and now to move one behind the other so that the boat might pass between them. Neither mother nor son spoke to the men, nor did they talk to each ether. In thus keeping silence they entered into each other's feelings, for they were both awestruck. It came upon them all at once. The bright evening light over sea and islands, the aromatic fragrance from the land,—the quick splash of a little coasting steamer as she passed them—nothing could cheer them.
Their life lay there before them, bringing responsibilities both old and new. How would all that they were coming to look to them, and how far were they themselves now fitted for it?
Now they had passed the narrow entrance of the bay, and rounded the last point beneath the crags of Hellebergene. The green expanse opened out before them, the buildings in its midst. The hillsides had once been crowned and darkly clad with luxuriant woods. Now they stood there denuded, shrunk, formless, spread over with a light green growth leaving some parts bare. The lowlands, as well as the hills which framed them, were shrunk and diminished, not in extent but in appearance. They could nut persuade themselves to look at it. They recalled it all as it had been and felt themselves despoiled.
The buildings had been newly painted, but they looked small by contrast with those which they had in their minds. No one awaited them at the landing, but a few people stood about near the gallery, looking embarrassed—or were they suspicious? The travellers went into Fru Kaas's old rooms, both up stairs and down. These were just as they had left them, but how faded and wretched they looked! The table, which was laid for supper, was loaded with coarse food like that at a farmer's wedding.
The old lime-trees were gone. Fru Kaas wept.
Suddenly she was reminded of something. "Let us go across to the other wing," she said this as if there they would find what was wanting. In the gallery she took Rafael's arm; he grew curious. His father's old rooms had been entirely renovated for him. In everything, both great and small, he recognised his mother's designs and taste. A vast amount of work, unknown to him, an endless interchange of letters and a great expenditure of money. How new and bright everything looked! The rooms differed as much from what they had been, as she had endeavoured to make Rafael's life from the one that had been led in them.
They two had a comfortable meal together after all, followed by a quiet walk along the shore. The wide waters of the bay gleamed softly, and the gentle ripple took up its old story again while the summer night sank gently down upon them.
Early the next morning Rafael was out rowing in the bay, the play- ground of his childhood. Notwithstanding the shorn and sunken aspect of the hills, his delight at being there again was indescribable. Indescribable because of the loneliness and stillness: no one came to disturb him. After having lived for many years in large towns, to find oneself alone in a Norwegian bay is like leaving a noisy market-place at midday and passing into a high vaulted church where no sound penetrates from without, and where only one's own footstep breaks the silence. Holiness, purification, abstraction, devotion, but in such light and freedom as no church possesses. The lapse of time, the past were forgotten; it was as though he had never been away, as though no other place had ever known him.
Indescribable, for the intensity of his feelings surpassed anything that he had hitherto known. New sensations, impressions of beauty absolutely forgotten since childhood, or remembered but imperfectly, crowded upon him, speaking to him like welcoming spirits.
The altered contour of the hills, the dear familiar smell, the sky which seemed lower and yet farther off, the effects of light in colder tones, but paler and more delicate. Nowhere a broad plain, an endless expanse. No! all was diversified, full of contrast, broken; not lofty, still unique, fresh, he had almost said tumultuous.
Each moment he felt more in accord with his memories, his nature was in harmony with it all.
He paused between each stroke of the oars, soothed by the gentle motion; the boat glided on, he had not concerned himself whither, when he heard from behind the sound of oars which was not the echo of his own. The strokes succeeded each other at regular intervals. He turned.
At that moment Fru Kaas came out on to the terrace with her big binocular. She had had her coffee, and was ready to enjoy the view over the bay, the islands, and the open sea. Rafael, she was told, had already gone out in the boat. Yes! there he was, far out. She put up her glass at the moment that a white painted boat shot out towards his brown one. The white one was rowed by a girl in a light-coloured dress. "Grand Dieu! are there girls here too?"
Now Rafael ceases rowing, the girl does the same, they rest on their oars and the boats glide past each other. Fru Kaas could distinguish the girl's shapely neck under her dark hair, but her wide-brimmed straw hat hid her face.
Rafael lets his oars trail along the water and resting on them looks at her, and now her oars also touch the water as she turns towards him. Do they know each other? Quickly the boats draw together; Rafael puts out his hand and draws them closer, and now he gives HER his hand. Fru Kaas can see Rafael's profile so plainly that she can detect the movement of his lips. He is laughing! The stranger's face is hidden by her hat, but she can see a full figure and a vigorous arm below the half-sleeve. They do not loose their hands; now he is laughing till his broad shoulders shake. What is it? What is it? Can any one have followed him from Munich? Fru Kaas could remain where she was no longer. She went indoors and put down the glass; she was overcome by anxiety, filled with helpless anger. It was some time before she could prevail on herself to go out and resume her walk. The girl had turned her boat. Now they are rowing in side by side, she as strongly as he. Whenever Fru Kaas looked at her son he was laughing and the girl's face was turned towards his. Now they head for the landing-place at the parsonage. Was it Helene? The only girl for miles round, and Rafael had hooked himself on to her the very first day that he was at home. These girls who can never see him without taking a fancy to him! Now the boats are beached, not on the shingle, where the stones would be slippery. No! on the sand, where they have run them up as high as possible. Now she jumps lightly and quickly out of her boat, and he a little more heavily out of his; they grasp each other's hands again. Yes! there they were.
Fru Kaas turned away; she knew that for the moment she was nothing more than an old chattel pushed away into a corner.
It was Helene. She knew that they had arrived and thought that she would row past the house; and thus it was that she had encountered Rafael, who had simply gone out to amuse himself.
As they had lain on their oars and the boats glided silently past each other, he thought to himself, "That girl never grew up here, she is cast in too fine a mould for that; she is not in harmony with the place." He saw a face whose regular lines, and large grey eyes, harmonised well with each other, a quiet wise face, across which all at once there flew a roguish look. He knew it again. It had done him good before to-day. Our first thought in all recognitions, in all remembrances—that is to say, if there is occasion for it—is, has that which we recognise or recall done us good or evil?
This large mouth, those honest eyes, which have a roguish look just now, had always, done him good.
"Helene!" he cried, arresting the progress of his boat.
"Rafael!" she answered, blushing crimson and checking her boat too.
What a soft contralto voice!
When he came in to breakfast, beaming, ready to tell everything, he was confronted by two large eyes, which said as plainly as possible, "Am I put on one side already?" He became absolutely angry. During breakfast she said, in a tone of indifference, that she was going to drive to the Dean's, to thank him for the supervision which he had given to the estate during all these years. He did not answer, from which she inferred that he did not wish to go with her. It was some time before she started. The harness was new, the stable-boy raw and untrained. She saw nothing more of Rafael.
She was received at the parsonage with the greatest respect, and yet very heartily. The Dean was a fine old man and thoroughly practical. His wife was of profounder nature. Both protested that the care of the estate had been no trouble to them, it had only been a pleasant employment; Helene had now undertaken it.
Yes; it had so chanced that the first bailiff at Hellebergene had once been agronomist and forester on a large concern which was in liquidation, Helene had taken such a fancy to him, that when she was not at school, she went with him everywhere; and, indeed, he was a wonderful old man. During these rambles she had learned all that he could teach her. He had an especial gift for forestry. It was a development for her, for it gave a fresh interest to her life. Little by little she had taken over the whole care of the estate. It absorbed her.
Fru Kaas asked if she might see Helene, to thank her.
"But Helene has just gone out with Rafael, has she not?"
"Yes, to be sure," answered Fru Kaas. She would not show surprise; but she asked at once for her carriage.
Meanwhile the two young people had determined to climb the ridge. At first they followed the course of the river, Helene leading the way. It was evident that she had grown up in the woods. How strong and supple she was, and how well she acquitted herself when she had to cross a brook, climb a wooded slope, force a way through a barrier of bristly young fir-trees which opposed her passage, or surmount a heap of clay at a quarry, of which there were a great many about there. Each difficulty was in turn overcome. The ascent from the river was the most direct and the pleasantest, which was the reason that they had come this way. Rafael would not be outdone by her, and kept close at her heels. But, great heavens! what it cost him. Partly because he was out of practice, partly—
"It is a little difficult to get over here," she said. A tree had fallen during the last rainy weather, and hung half suspended by its roots, obstructing the path. "You must not hold by it, it might give way and drag us with it."
At last there is something which she considers difficult, he thought.
She deliberated for a moment before the farthest-spreading branches which had to be crossed; then, lifting her skirts to her knees, over them she went, and over the next ones as well, and then across the trunk to the farthest side, where there were no branches in the way; then obliquely up the hillside. She stood still at the top of the height and watched him crawl up after her.
It cost him a struggle; he was out of breath and the perspiration poured off him. When he got up to her, everything swam before him; and although it was only for a fraction of a second, it left him fairly captivated by her strength,
She stood and looked at him with bright, roguish eyes. She was flushed and hot, and her bosom rose and fell quickly; but there was no doubt that she could at once have taken an equally long and steep climb. He was not able to speak a word.
"Now turn round and look at the sea," she said.
The words affected him as though great Pan had uttered them from the mountains far behind. He turned his eyes towards them. It seemed as though Nature herself had spoken to him. The words caressed him as with a hand now cold, now warm, and he became a different being. For he had lost himself—lost himself in her as she walked along the river-bank and climbed the hillside. She seemed to draw fresh power from the woods, to grow taller, more agile, more vigorous. The fervour of her eyes, the richness of her voice, the grace of her movements, the glimpses of her soul, had allured him down there in the valley, beside the rushing river, and the feeling of loss of individuality had increased with the exertion and the excitement. No ball-room or play-ground, no gymnasium or riding-school can display the physical powers, and the spirit which underlies them, the unity of mind and body, as does the scaling of steep hills and rocky slopes. At last, intoxicated by these feelings, he thought to himself—I am climbing after her, climbing to the highest pinnacle of happiness. Up there! Up there! The composure of her manner towards him, her freedom from embarrassment, maddened him. Up there! Up there! And ever as they mounted she became more spirited, he more distressed. Up there! Up there! His eyes grew dim, for a few seconds he could not move, could not speak. Then she had said, "Now you must look at the sea."
He seemed to see with different eyes, to be endowed with new sensations, and these new sensations gave answer to what the distant mountains had said. They answered the sea out there before him, the island-studded sea, the open sea beyond, the wide swelling ocean, the desires and destinies of life all the world over. The sea lay steel-bright beneath the suffused sunlight, and seemed to gaze on the rugged land as on a beloved child instinct with vital power. Cling thou to the mighty one, or thy strength will be thine undoing!
And many of the inventions which he had dreamed of loomed vaguely before him. They lay outside there. It depended on him whether he should one day bring them safely into port.
"What are you thinking about?" said she, the sound of her voice put these thoughts to flight and recalled him to the present. He felt how full and rich her contralto voice was, A moment ago he could have told her this, and more besides, as an introduction to still more. Now he sat down without answering, and she did the same.
"I come up here very often," she said, "to look at the sea. From here it seems the source of life and death; down there it is a mere highway." He smiled. She continued: "The sea has this power, that whatever pre-occupation one may bring up here, it vanishes in a moment; but down below it remains with one."
He looked at her.
"Yes, it is true," said she, and coloured.
"I do not in the least doubt it," he replied.
But she did not continue the subject. "You are looking at the saplings, I see."
"You must know that last year there was a long drought; almost all the young trees up here withered away, and in other places on the hillsides also, as you see." She pointed as she spoke. "It looks so ugly as one comes into the bay. I thought about that yesterday. I thought also that you should not be here long before you saw that you had done us an injustice, for could anything be prettier than that little fir-tree down there in the hollow? just look at its colour; that is a healthy fellow! and these sturdy saplings, and that little gem there!" The tones of Helene's voice betrayed the interest which she felt. "But how that one over there has grown." She scrambled across to it, and he after her. "Do you see? two branches already; and what branches!" They knelt down beside it. "This boy has had parents of whom he can boast, for they have all had just as much and just as little shelter. Oh! the disgusting caterpillars." She was down before the little tree at the side which was being spun over. She cleared it, and got up to fetch some wet mould, which she laid carefully round the sprouts. "Poor thing I it wants water, although it rained tremendously a little time ago."
"Are you often up here?" he asked.
"It would all come to nothing if I were not!" She looked at him searchingly. "You do not, perhaps, believe that this little tree knows me; every one of them, indeed. If I am long away from them they do not thrive, but when I am often with them they flourish." She was on her knees, supporting herself with one hand, while with the other she pulled up some grass. "The thieves," said she, "which want to rob my saplings."
If it had been a little person who had said this; a little person with lively eyes and a merry mouth—but Helene was tall and stately; her eyes were not lively, but met one with a steady gaze. Her mouth was large, and gave deliberate utterance to her thoughts.
Whoever has read Helene's words quickly, hurriedly, must read them over again. She spoke quietly and thoughtfully, each syllable distinct and musical. She was not the same girl who had led the way by river and hill. Then she seemed to glory in her strength; now her energy had changed to delicate feeling.
One of the most remarkable women in Scandinavia, who also had these two sides to her character, and made the fullest use of both, Johanne Luise Hejberg, once saw Helene when she had but just attained to womanhood. She could not take her eyes off her; she never tired of watching her and listening to her. Did the aged woman, then at the close of her life, recognise anything of her own youth in the girl? Outwardly too they resembled each other. Helene was dark, as Fru Hejberg had been; was about the same height, with the same figure, but stronger; had a large mouth, large grey eyes like hers, into which the same roguish look would start. But the greatest likeness was to be found in their natures: in Fru Hejberg's expression when she was quiet and serious; in a certain motherliness which was the salient feature in her nature.
"What a healthy girl!" said she; bade some one bring Helene to her, and drawing her towards her, kissed her on the forehead.
Helene and her companion had crossed to the other side of the hill, for he positively must see the "Buckthorn Swamp"; but when they got down there he did not know it again: it was covered by luxuriant woods.
"Yes! It is old Helgesen who deserves the credit of that," she said. "He noticed that an artificial embankment had converted this great flat into a swamp, so he cut through it. I was only a child then, but I had my share in it. They gave me a bit of ground down by the river to plant Kohl Kabi in. I looked after it the whole summer. Later on I had a larger piece. With the profits we cut ditches up to here. In the fourth year we bought plants. In fact, he so arranged it, that I paid for it all with my work, the old rogue!"
When Rafael got home his mother was at table: she had not waited for him, a sure sign that she felt aggrieved. No attempts on his part to set things right succeeded. She would not answer, and soon left the room. It now struck him how pleasant it would have been for his mother if he had taken her with him to explore and make acquaintance with this new Hellebergene. The evening before, in his father's rooms, it had seemed as though nothing could ever separate them—and the first thing in the morning he was off with some one else. This evening he knew that nothing could be done, but next morning he begged her earnestly to come with them, and they would show her what he had seen the day before; but she only shook her head and took up a book. Day after day he made a similar request, but always with the same result. She thought that these invitations were merely formal, and so, from one point of view, they were. He was most ready to appease her, most ready to show her everything, for he felt himself to blame, though he certainly thought that she might have understood; but her presence would have marred their tete-a-tete; he would have been embarrassed enough if she had acquiesced!