TALES OF TWO COUNTRIES
By Alexander Kielland
Translated From The Norwegian By William Archer
With An Introduction By H. H. Boyesen
PHARAOH THE PARSONAGE THE PEAT MOOR "HOPE'S CLAD IN APRIL GREEN" AT THE FAIR TWO FRIENDS A GOOD CONSCIENCE ROMANCE AND REALITY WITHERED LEAVES THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO
In June, 1867, about a hundred enthusiastic youths were vociferously celebrating the attainment of the baccalaureate degree at the University of Norway. The orator on this occasion was a tall, handsome, distinguished-looking young man named Alexander Kielland, from the little coast-town of Stavanger. There was none of the crudity of a provincial dither in his manners or his appearance. He spoke with a quiet self-possession and a pithy incisiveness which were altogether phenomenal.
"That young man will be heard from one of these days," was the unanimous verdict of those who listened to his clear-cut and finished sentences, and noted the maturity of his opinions.
But ten years passed, and outside of Stavanger no one ever heard of Alexander Kielland. His friends were aware that he had studied law, spent some winters in France, married, and settled himself as a dignitary in his native town. It was understood that he had bought a large brick and tile factory, and that, as a manufacturer of these useful articles, he bid fair to become a provincial magnate, as his fathers had been before him. People had almost forgotten that great things had been expected of him; and some fancied, perhaps, that he had been spoiled by prosperity. Remembering him, as I did, as the most brilliant and notable personality among my university friends, I began to apply to him Malloch's epigrammatic damnation of the man of whom it was said at twenty that he would do great things, at thirty that he might do great things, and at forty that he might have done great things.
This was the frame of mind of those who remembered Alexander Kielland (and he was an extremely difficult man to forget), when in the year 1879 a modest volume of "novelettes" appeared, bearing his name. It was, to all appearances, a light performance, but it revealed a sense of style which made it, nevertheless, notable. No man had ever written the Norwegian language as this man wrote it. There was a lightness of touch, a perspicacity, an epigrammatic sparkle and occasional flashes of wit, which seemed altogether un-Norwegian. It was obvious that this author was familiar with the best French writers, and had acquired through them that clear and crisp incisiveness of utterance which was supposed, hitherto, to be untransferable to any other tongue.
As regards the themes of these "novelettes" (from which the present collection is chiefly made up), it was remarked at the time of their first appearance that they hinted at a more serious purpose than their style seemed to imply. Who can read, for instance, "Pharaoh" (which in the original is entitled "A Hall Mood") without detecting the revolutionary note which trembles quite audibly through the calm and unimpassioned language? There is, by-the-way, a little touch of melodrama in this tale which is very unusual with Kielland. "Romance and Reality," too, is glaringly at variance with the conventional romanticism in its satirical contributing of the pre-matrimonial and the post-matrimonial view of love and marriage. The same persistent tendency to present the wrong side as well as the right side—and not, as literary good-manners are supposed to prescribe, ignore the former—is obvious in the charming tale "At the Fair," where a little spice of wholesome truth spoils the thoughtlessly festive mood; and the squalor, the want, the envy, hate, and greed which prudence and a regard for business compel the performers to disguise to the public, become the more cruelly visible to the visitors of the little alley-way at the rear of the tents. In "A Good Conscience" the satirical note has a still more serious ring; but the same admirable self-restraint which, next to the power of thought and expression, is the happiest gift an author's fairy godmother can bestow upon him, saves Kielland from saying too much—from enforcing his lesson by marginal comments, a la George Eliot. But he must be obtuse, indeed, to whom this reticence is not more eloquent and effective than a page of philosophical moralizing.
"Hope's Clad in April Green" and "The Battle of Waterloo" (the first and the last tale in the Norwegian edition), are more untinged with a moral tendency than any of the foregoing. The former is a mere jeu d'esprit, full of good-natured satire on the calf-love of very young people, and the amusing over-estimate of our importance to which we are all, at that age, peculiarly liable.
As an organist with vaguely-melodious hints foreshadows in his prelude the musical motifs which he means to vary and elaborate in his fugue, so Kielland lightly touched in these "novelettes" the themes which in his later works he has struck with a fuller volume and power. What he gave in this little book was it light sketch of his mental physiognomy, from which, perhaps, his horoscope might be cast and his literary future predicted.
Though an aristocrat by birth and training, he revealed a strong sympathy with the toiling masses. But it was a democracy of the brain, I should fancy, rather than of the heart. As I read the book, twelve years ago, its tendency puzzled me considerably, remembering, as I did, with the greatest vividness, the fastidious and elegant personality of the author. I found it difficult to believe that he was in earnest. The book seemed to me to betray the whimsical sans-culottism of a man of pleasure who, when the ball is at an end, sits down with his gloves on and philosophizes on the artificiality of civilization and the wholesomeness of honest toil. An indigestion makes him a temporary communist; but a bottle of seltzer presently reconciles him to his lot, and restores the equilibrium of the universe. He loves the people at a distance, can talk prettily about the sturdy son of the soil, who is the core and marrow of the nation, etc.; but he avoids contact with him, and, if chance brings them into contact, he loves him with his handkerchief to his nose.
I may be pardoned for having identified Alexander Kielland with this type with which I am very familiar; and he convinced me, presently, that I had done him injustice. In his next book, the admirable novel Garman and Worse, he showed that his democratic proclivities were something more than a mood. He showed that he took himself seriously, and he compelled the public to take him seriously. The tendency which had only flashed forth here and there in the "novelettes" now revealed its whole countenance. The author's theme was the life of the prosperous bourgeoisie in the western coast-towns; he drew their types with a hand that gave evidence of intimate knowledge. He had himself sprung from one of these rich ship-owning, patrician families, had been given every opportunity to study life both at home and abroad, and had accumulated a fund of knowledge of the world, which he had allowed quietly to grow before making literary drafts upon it. The same Gallic perspicacity of style which had charmed in his first book was here in a heightened degree; and there was, besides, the same underlying sympathy with progress and what is called the ideas of the age. What mastery of description, what rich and vigorous colors Kielland had at his disposal was demonstrated in such scenes as the funeral of Consul Garman and the burning of the ship. There was, moreover, a delightful autobiographical note in the book, particularly in boyish experiences of Gabriel Garman. Such things no man invents, however clever; such material no imagination supplies, however fertile. Except Fritz Reuter's Stavenhagen, I know no small town in fiction which is so vividly and completely individualized, and populated with such living and credible characters. Take, for instance, the two clergymen, Archdeacon Sparre and the Rev. Mr. Martens, and it is not necessary to have lived in Norway in order to recognize and enjoy the faithfulness and the artistic subtlety of these portraits. If they have a dash of satire (which I will not undertake to deny), it is such delicate and well-bred satire that no one, except the originals, would think of taking offence. People are willing, for the sake of the entertainment which it affords, to forgive a little quiet malice at their neighbors' expense. The members of the provincial bureaucracy are drawn with the same firm but delicate touch, and everything has that beautiful air of reality which proves the world akin.
It was by no means a departure from his previous style and tendency which Kielland signalized in his next novel, Laboring People (1881). He only emphasizes, as it were, the heavy, serious bass chords in the composite theme which expresses his complex personality, and allows the lighter treble notes to be momentarily drowned. Superficially speaking, there is perhaps a reminiscence of Zola in this book, not in the manner of treatment, but in the subject, which is the corrupting influence of the higher classes upon the lower. There is no denying that in spite of the ability, which it betrays in every line, Laboring People is unpleasant reading. It frightened away a host of the author's early admirers by the uncompromising vigor and the glaring realism with which it depicted the consequences of vicious indulgence. It showed no consideration for delicate nerves, but was for all that a clean and wholesome book.
Kielland's third novel, Skipper Worse, marked a distinct step in his development. It was less of a social satire and more of a social study. It was not merely a series of brilliant, exquisitely-finished scenes, loosely strung together on a slender thread of narrative, but it was a concise, and well constructed story, full of beautiful scenes and admirable portraits. The theme is akin to that of Daudet's L'Evangeliste; but Kielland, as it appears to me, has in this instance outdone his French confrere as regards insight into the peculiar character and poetry of the pietistic movement. He has dealt with it as a psychological and not primarily as a pathological phenomenon. A comparison with Daudet suggests itself constantly in reading Kielland. Their methods of workmanship and their attitude towards life have many points in common. The charm of style, the delicacy of touch and felicity of phrase, is in both cases pre-eminent. Daudet has, however, the advantage (or, as he himself asserts, the disadvantage) of working in a flexible and highly-finished language, which bears the impress of the labors of a hundred masters; while Kielland has to produce his effects of style in a poorer and less pliable language, which often pants and groans in its efforts to render a subtle thought. To have polished this tongue and sharpened its capacity for refined and incisive utterance is one—and not the least—of his merits.
Though he has by nature no more sympathy with the pietistic movement than Daudet, Kielland yet manages to get, psychologically, closer to his problem. His pietists are more humanly interesting than those of Daudet, and the little drama which they set in motion is more genuinely pathetic. Two superb figures—the lay preacher, Hans Nilsen, and Skipper Worse—surpass all that the author had hitherto produced, in depth of conception and brilliancy of execution. The marriage of that delightful, profane old sea-dog Jacob Worse, with the pious Sara Torvested, and the attempts of his mother-in-law to convert him, are described, not with the merely superficial drollery to which the subject invites, but with a sweet and delicate humor, which trembles on the verge of pathos.
The beautiful story Elsie, which, though published separately, is scarcely a full-grown novel, is intended to impress society with a sense of responsibility for its outcasts. While Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson is fond of emphasizing the responsibility of the individual to society, Kielland chooses by preference to reverse the relation. The former (in his remarkable novel Flags are Flying in City and Harbor) selects a hero with vicious inherited tendencies, redeemed by wise education and favorable environment; the latter portrays in Elsie a heroine with no corrupt predisposition, destroyed by the corrupting environment which society forces upon those who are born in her circumstances. Elsie could not be good, because the world is so constituted that girls of her kind are not expected to be good. Temptations, perpetually thronging in her way, break down the moral bulwarks of her nature. Resistance seems in vain. In the end there is scarcely one who, having read her story, will have the heart to condemn her.
Incomparably clever is the satire on the benevolent societies, which appear to exist as a sort of moral poultice to tender consciences, and to furnish an officious sense of virtue to its prosperous members. "The Society for the Redemption of the Abandoned Women of St. Peter's Parish" is presided over by a gentleman who privately furnishes subjects for his public benevolence. However, as his private activity is not bounded by the precincts of St. Peter's Parish, within which the society confines its remedial labors, the miserable creatures who might need its aid are sent away uncomforted. The delicious joke of the thing is that "St. Peter's" is a rich and exclusive parish, consisting of what is called "the better classes," and has no "abandoned women." Whatever wickedness there may be in St. Peter's is discreetly veiled, and makes no claim upon public charity. The virtuous horror of the secretary when she hears that the "abandoned woman" who calls upon her for aid has a child, though she is unmarried, is both comic and pathetic. It is the clean, "deserving poor," who understand the art of hypocritical humility—it is these whom the society seeks in vain in St. Peter's Parish.
Still another problem of the most vital consequence Kielland has attacked in his two novels, Poison and Fortuna (1884). It is, broadly stated, the problem of education. The hero in both books is Abraham Loevdahl, a well-endowed, healthy, and altogether promising boy who, by the approved modern educational process, is mentally and morally crippled, and the germs of what is great and good in him are systematically smothered by that disrespect for individuality and insistence upon uniformity, which are the curses of a small society. The revolutionary discontent which vibrates in the deepest depth of Kielland's nature; the profound and uncompromising radicalism which smoulders under his polished exterior; the philosophical pessimism which relentlessly condemns all the flimsy and superficial reformatory movements of the day, have found expression in the history of the childhood, youth, and manhood of Abraham Lvdahl. In the first place, it is worthy of note that to Kielland the knowledge which is offered in the guise of intellectual nourishment is poison. It is the dry and dusty accumulation of antiquarian lore, which has little or no application to modern life—it is this which the young man of the higher classes is required to assimilate. Apropos of this, let me quote Dr. G. Brandes, who has summed up the tendency of these two novels with great felicity:
"The author has surveyed the generation to which he himself belongs, and after having scanned these wide domains of emasculation, these prairies of spiritual sterility, these vast plains of servility and irresolution, he has addressed to himself the questions: How does a whole generation become such? How was it possible to nip in the bud all that was fertile and eminent? And he has painted a picture of the history of the development of the present generation in the home-life and school-life of Abraham Loevdahl, in order to show from what kind of parentage those most fortunately situated and best endowed have sprung, and what kind of education they received at home and in the school. This is, indeed, a simple and an excellent theme.
"We first see the child led about upon the wide and withered common of knowledge, with the same sort of meagre fodder for all; we see it trained in mechanical memorizing, in barren knowledge concerning things and forms that are dead and gone; in ignorance concerning the life that is, in contempt for it, and in the consciousness of its privileged position, by dint of its possession of this doubtful culture. We see pride strengthened; the healthy curiosity, the desire to ask questions, killed."
We are apt to console ourselves on this side of the ocean with the idea that these social problems appertain only to the effete monarchies of Europe, and have no application with us. But, though I readily admit that the keenest point of this satire is directed against the small States which, by the tyranny of the dominant mediocrity, cripple much that is good and great by denying it the conditions of growth and development, there is yet a deep and abiding lesson in these two novels which applies to modern civilization in general, exposing glaring defects which are no less prevalent here than in the Old World.
Besides being the author of some minor comedies and a full-grown drama ("The Professor"), Kielland has published two more novels, St. John's Eve (1887) and Snow. The latter is particularly directed against the orthodox Lutheran clergy, of which the Rev. Daniel Juerges is an excellent specimen. He is, in my opinion, not in the least caricatured; but portrayed with a conscientious desire to do justice to his sincerity. Mr. Juerges is a worthy type of the Norwegian country pope, proud and secure in the feeling of his divine authority, passionately hostile to "the age," because he believes it to be hostile to Christ; intolerant of dissent; a guide and ruler of men, a shepherd of the people. The only trouble in Norway, as elsewhere, is that the people will no longer consent to be shepherded. They refuse to be guided and ruled. They rebel against spiritual and secular authority, and follow no longer the bell-wether with the timid gregariousness of servility and irresolution. To bring the new age into the parsonage of the reverend obscurantist in the shape of a young girl—the fiancee of the pastor's son—was an interesting experiment which gives occasion for strong scenes and, at last, for a drawn battle between the old and the new. The new, though not acknowledging itself to be beaten, takes to its heels, and flees in the stormy night through wind and snow. But the snow is moist and heavy; it is beginning to thaw. There is a vague presentiment of spring in the air.
This note of promise and suspense with which the book ends is meant to be symbolic. From Kielland's point of view, Norway is yet wrapped in the wintry winding-sheet of a tyrannical orthodoxy; and all that he dares assert is that the chains of frost and snow seem to be loosening. There is a spring feeling in the air.
This spring feeling is, however, scarcely perceptible in his last book, Jacob, which is written in anything but a hopeful mood. It is, rather, a protest against that optimism which in fiction we call poetic justice. The harsh and unsentimental logic of reality is emphasized with a ruthless disregard of rose-colored traditions. The peasant lad Wold, who, like all Norse peasants, has been brought up on the Bible, has become deeply impressed with the story of Jacob, and God's persistent partisanship for him, in spite of his dishonesty and tricky behavior. The story becomes, half unconsciously, the basis of his philosophy of life, and he undertakes to model his career on that of the Biblical hero. He accordingly cheats and steals with a clever moderation, and in a cautious and circumspect manner which defies detection. Step by step he rises in the regard of his fellow-citizens; crushes, with long-headed calculation or with brutal promptness (as it may suit his purpose) all those who stand in his way, and arrives at last at the goal of his desires. He becomes a local magnate, a member of parliament, where he poses as a defender of the simple, old-fashioned orthodoxy, is decorated by the King, and is an object of the envious admiration of his fellow townsmen.
From the pedagogic point of view, I have no doubt that Jacob would be classed as an immoral book. But the question of its morality is of less consequence than the question as to its truth. The most modern literature, which is interpenetrated with the spirit of the age, has a way of asking dangerous questions—questions before which the reader, when he perceives their full scope, stands aghast. Our old idyllic faith in the goodness and wisdom of all mundane arrangements has undoubtedly received a shock from which it will never recover. Our attitude towards the universe is changing with the change of its attitude towards us. What the thinking part of humanity is now largely engaged in doing is to readjust itself towards the world and the world towards it. Success is but a complete adaptation to environment; and success is the supreme aim of the modern man. The authors who, by their fearless thinking and speaking, help us towards this readjustment should, in my opinion, whether we choose to accept their conclusions or not, be hailed as benefactors. It is in the ranks of these that Alexander Kielland has taken his place, and now occupies a conspicuous position.
HJALMAR HJORTH BOYESEN.
NEW YORK, May 15, 1891.
She had mounted the shining marble steps with without mishap, without labor, sustained by her great beauty and her fine nature alone. She had taken her place in the salons of the rich and great without laying for her admittance with her honor or her good name. Yet no one could say whence she came, though people whispered that it was from the depths.
As a waif of a Parisian faubourg, she had starved through her childhood among surroundings of vice and poverty, such as those only can conceive who know them by experience. Those of us who get our knowledge from books and from hearsay have to strain our imagination in order to form an idea of the hereditary misery of a great city, and yet our most terrible imaginings are apt to pale before the reality.
It had been only a question of time when vice should get its clutches upon her, as a cog-wheel seizes whoever comes too near the machine. After whirling her around through a short life of shame and degradation, it would, with mechanical punctuality, have cast her off into some corner, there to drag out to the end, in sordid obscurity, her caricature of an existence.
But it happened, as it does sometimes happen, that she was "discovered" by a man of wealth and position, one day when, a child of fourteen, she happened to cross one of the better streets. She was on her way to a dark back room in the Rue des Quatre Vents, where she worked with a woman who made artificial flowers.
It was not only her extraordinary beauty that attracted her patron; her movements, her whole bearing, and the expression of her half-formed features, all seemed to him to show that here was an originally fine nature struggling against incipient corruption. Moved by one of the incalculable whims of the very wealthy, he determined to try to rescue the unhappy child.
It was not difficult to obtain control of her, as she belonged to no one. He gave her a name, and placed her in one of the best convent schools. Before long her benefactor had the satisfaction of observing that the seeds of evil died away and disappeared. She developed an amiable, rather indolent character, correct and quiet manners, and a rare beauty.
When she grew up he married her. Their married life was peaceful and pleasant; in spite of the great difference in their ages, he had unbounded confidence in her, and she deserved it.
Married people do not live in such close communion in France as they do with us; so that their claims upon each other are not so great, and their disappointments are less bitter.
She was not happy, but contented. Her character lent itself to gratitude. She did not feel the tedium of wealth; on the contrary, she often took an almost childish pleasure in it. But no one could guess that, for her bearing was always full of dignity and repose. People suspected that there was something questionable about her origin, but as no one could answer questions they left off asking them. One has so much else to think of in Paris.
She had forgotten her past. She had forgotten it just as we have forgotten the roses, the ribbons, and faded letters of our youth—because we never think about them. They lie locked up in a drawer which we never open. And yet, if we happen now and again to cast a glance into this secret drawer, we at once notice if a single one of the roses, or the least bit of ribbon, is wanting. For we remember them all to a nicety; the memories are ran fresh as ever—as sweet as ever, and as bitter.
It was thus she had forgotten her past—locked it up and thrown away the key.
But at night she sometimes dreamed frightful things. She could once more feel the old witch with whom she lived shaking her by the shoulder, and driving her out in the cold mornings to work at her artificial flowers.
Then she would jump up in her bed, and stare out into the darkness in the most deadly fear. But presently she would touch the silk coverlet and the soft pillows; her fingers would follow the rich carvings of her luxurious bed; and while sleepy little child-angels slowly drew aside the heavy dream-curtain, she tasted in deep draughts the peculiar, indescribable well-being we feel when we discover that an evil and horrible dream was a dream and nothing more.
Leaning back among the soft cushions, she drove to the great ball at the Russian ambassador's. The nearer they got to their destination the slower became the pace, until the carriage reached the regular queue, where it dragged on at a foot-pace.
In the wide square in front of the hotel, brilliantly lighted with torches and with gas, a great crowd of people had gathered. Not only passers-by who had stopped to look on, but more especially workmen, loafers, poor women, and ladies of questionable appearance, stood in serried ranks on both sides of the row of carriages. Humorous remarks and coarse witticisms in the vulgarest Parisian dialect hailed down upon the passing carriages and their occupants.
She heard words which she had not heard for many years, and she blushed at the thought that she was perhaps the only one in this whole long line of carriages who understood these low expressions of the dregs of Paris.
She began to look at the faces around her: it seemed to her as if she knew them all. She knew what they thought, what was passing in each of these tightly-packed heads; and little by little a host of memories streamed in upon her. She fought against them as well as she could, but she was not herself this evening.
She had not, then, lost the key to the secret drawer; reluctantly she drew it out, and the memories overpowered her.
She remembered how often she herself, still almost a child, had devoured with greedy eyes the fine ladies who drove in splendor to balls or theatres; how often she had cried in bitter envy over the flowers she laboriously pieced together to make others beautiful. Here she saw the same greedy eyes, the same inextinguishable, savage envy.
And the dark, earnest men who scanned the equipages with half-contemptuous, half-threatening looks—she knew them all.
Had not she herself, as a little girl, lain in a corner and listened, wide-eyed, to their talk about the injustice of life, the tyranny of the rich, and the rights of the laborer, which he had only to reach out his hand to seize?
She knew that they hated everything—the sleek horses, the dignified coachmen, the shining carriages, and, most of all, the people who sat within them—these insatiable vampires, these ladies, whose ornaments for the night cost more gold than any one of them could earn by the work of a whole lifetime.
And as she looked along the line of carriages, as it dragged on slowly through the crowd, another memory flashed into her mind—a half-forgotten picture from her school-life in the convent.
She suddenly came to think of the story of Pharaoh and his war-chariots following the children of Israel through the Red Sea. She saw the waves, which she had always imagined red as blood, piled up like a wall on both sides of the Egyptians.
Then the voice of Moses sounded. He stretched out his staff over the waters, and the Red Sea waves hurtled together and swallowed up Pharaoh and all his chariots.
She knew that the wall which stood on each side of her was wilder and more rapacious than the waves of the sea; she knew that it needed only a voice, a Moses, to set all this human sea in motion, hurling it irresistibly onward until it should sweep away all the glory of wealth and greatness in its blood-red waves.
Her heart throbbed, and she crouched trembling into the corner of the carriage. But it was not with fear; it was so that those without should not see her—for she was ashamed to meet their eyes.
For the first time in her life, her good-fortune appeared to her in the light of an injustice, a thing to blush for.
Was she in her right place, in this soft-cushioned carriage, among these tyrants and blood-suckers? Should she not rather be out there in the billowing mass, among the children of hate?
Half-forgotten thoughts and feelings thrust up their heads like beasts of prey which have long lain bound. She felt strange and homeless in her glittering life, and thought with a sort of demoniac longing of the horrible places from which she had risen.
She seized her rich lace shawl; there came over her a wild desire to destroy, to tear something to pieces; but at this moment the carriage turned into the gate-way of the hotel.
The footman tore open the door, and with her gracious smile, her air of quiet, aristocratic distinction, she alighted.
A young attache rushed forward, and was happy when she took his arm, still more enraptured when he thought he noticed an unusual gleam in her eyes, and in the seventh heaven when he felt her arm tremble.
Full of pride and hope, he led her with sedulous politeness up the shining marble steps.
"'Tell me, belle dame, what good fairy endowed you in your cradle with the marvellous gift of transforming everything you touch into something new and strange. The very flower in your hair has a charm, as though it were wet with the fresh morning dew. And when you dance it seems as though the floor swayed and undulated to the rhythm of your footsteps."
The Count was himself quite astonished at this long and felicitous compliment, for as a rule he did not find it easy to express himself coherently. He expected, too, that his beautiful partner would show her appreciation of his effort.
But he was disappointed. She leaned over the balcony, where they were enjoying the cool evening air after the dance, and gazed out over the crowd and the still-advancing carriages. She seemed not to have understood the Count's great achievement; at least he could only hear her whisper the inexplicable word, "Pharaoh."
He was on the point of remonstrating with her, when she turned round, made a step towards the salon, stopped right in front of him, and looked him in the face with great, wonderful eyes, such as the Count had never seen before.
"I scarcely think, Monsieur le Comte, that any good fairy—perhaps not even a cradle—was present at my birth. But in what you say of my flowers and my dancing your penetration has led you to a great discovery. I will tell you the secret of the fresh morning dew which lies on the flowers. It is the tears, Monsieur le Comte, which envy and shame, disappointment and remorse, have wept over them. And if you seem to feel the floor swaying as we dance, that is because it trembles under the hatred of millions."
She had spoken with her customary repose, and with a friendly bow she disappeared into the salon.
The Count remained rooted to the spot. He cast a glance over the crowd outside. It was a right he had often seen, and he had made sundry snore or less trivial witticisms about the "many-headed monster." But to-night it struck him for the first time that this monster was, after all, the most unpleasant neighbor for a palace one could possibly imagine.
Strange and disturbing thoughts whirled in the brain of Monsieur le Comte, where they found plenty of space to gyrate. He was entirely thrown off his balance, and it was not till after the next polka that his placidity returned.
It seemed as though the spring would never come. All through April the north wind blew and the nights were frosty. In the middle of the day the sun shone so warmly that a few big flies began to buzz around, and the lark proclaimed, on its word of honor, that it was the height of summer.
But the lark is the most untrustworthy creature under heaven. However much it might freeze at night, the frost was forgotten at the first sunbeam; and the lark soared, singing, high over the heath, until it bethought itself that it was hungry.
Then it sank slowly down in wide circles, singing, and beating time to its song with the flickering of its wings. But a little way from the earth it folded its wings and dropped like a stone down into the heather.
The lapwing tripped with short steps among the hillocks, and nodded its head discreetly. It had no great faith in the lark, and repeated its wary "Bi litt! Bi litt!" [Note: "Wait a bit! Wait a bit!" Pronounced Bee leet] A couple of mallards lay snuggling in a marsh-hole, and the elder one was of opinion that spring would not come until we had rain.
Far on into May the meadows were still yellow; only here and there on the sunny leas was there any appearance of green. But if you lay down upon the earth you could see a multitude of little shoots—some thick, others as thin as green darning-needles—which thrust their heads cautiously up through the mould. But the north wind swept so coldly over them that they turned yellow at the tips, and looked as if they would like to creep back again.
But that they could not do; so they stood still and waited, only sprouting ever so little in the midday sun.
The mallard was right; it was rain they wanted. And at last it came—cold in the beginning, but gradually warmer; and when it was over the sun came out in earnest. And now you would scarcely have known it again; it shone warmly, right from the early morning till the late evening, so that the nights were mild and moist.
Then an immense activity set in; everything was behindhand, and had to make up for lost time. The petals burst from the full buds with a little crack, and all the big and little shoots made a sudden rush. They darted out stalks, now to the one side, now to the other, as quickly as though they lay kicking with green legs. The meadows were spangled with flowers and weeds, and the heather slopes towards the sea began to light up.
Only the yellow sand along the shore remained as it was; it has no flowers to deck itself with, and lyme-grass is all its finery. Therefore it piles itself up into great mounds, seen far and wide along the shore, on which the long soft stems sway like a green banner.
There the sand-pipers ran about so fast that their legs looked like a piece of a tooth comb. The sea-gulls walked on the beach, where the waves could sweep over their legs. They held themselves sedately, their heads depressed and their crops protruded, like old ladies in muddy weather.
The sea-pie stood with his heels together, in his tight trousers, his black swallow-tail, and his white waistcoat.
"Til By'n! Til By'n!" he cried [Note: "To Town! To Town!"], and at each cry he made a quick little bow, so that his coat tails whisked up behind him.
Up in the heather the lapwing flew about flapping her wings. The spring had overtaken her so suddenly that she had not had time to find a proper place for her nest. She had laid her eggs right in the middle of a flat-topped mound. It was all wrong, she knew that quite well; but it could not be helped now.
The lark laughed at it all; but the sparrows were all in a hurry-scurry. They were not nearly ready. Some had not even a nest; others had laid an egg or two; but the majority had sat on the cow-house roof, week out, week in, chattering about the almanac.
Now they were in such a fidget they did not know where to begin. They held a meeting in a great rose-bush, beside the Pastor's garden-fence, all cackling and screaming together. The cock-sparrows ruffled themselves up, so that all their feathers stood straight on end; and then they perked their tails up slanting in the air, so that they looked like little gray balls with a pin stuck in them. So they trundled down the branches and ricochetted away over the meadow.
All of a sudden, two dashed against each other. The rest rushed up, and all the little balls wound themselves into one big one. It rolled forward from under the bush, rose with a great hubbub a little way into the air, then fell in one mass to the earth and went to pieces. And then, without uttering a sound, each of the little balls suddenly went his way, and a moment afterwards there was not a sparrow to be seen about the whole Parsonage.
Little Ansgarius had watched the battle of the sparrows with lively interest. For, in his eyes, it was a great engagement, with charges and cavalry skirmishes. He was reading Universal History and the History of Norway with his father, and therefore everything that happened about the house assumed a martial aspect in one way or another. When the cows came home in the evening, they ware great columns of infantry advancing; the hens were the volunteer forces, and the cock was Burgomaster Nansen.
Ansgarius was a clever boy, who had all his dates at his fingers' ends; but he had no idea of the meaning of time. Accordingly, he jumbled together Napoleon and Eric Blood-Axe and Tiberius; and on the ships which he saw sailing by in the offing he imagined Tordenskiold doing battle, now with Vikings, and now with the Spanish Armada.
In a secret den behind the summer-house he kept a red broom-stick, which was called Bucephalus. It was his delight to prance about the garden with his steed between his legs, and a flowerstick in his hand.
A little way from the garden there was a hillock with a few small trees upon it. Here he could lie in ambush and keep watch far and wide over the heathery levels and the open sea.
He never failed to descry one danger or another drawing near; either suspicious-looking boats on the beach, or great squadrons of cavalry advancing so cunningly that they looked like nothing but a single horse. But Ansgarius saw through their stealthy tactics; he wheeled Bucephalus about, tore down from the mound and through the garden, and dashed at a gallop into the farm-yard. The hens shrieked as if their last hour had come, and Burgomaster Nansen flew right against the Pastor's study window.
The Pastor hurried to the window, and just caught sight of Bucephalus's tail as the hero dashed round the corner of the cow-house, where he proposed to place himself in a posture of defence.
"That boy is deplorably wild," thought the Pastor. He did not at all like all these martial proclivities. Ansgarius was to be a man of peace, like the Pastor himself; and it was a positive pain to him to see how easily the boy learned and assimilated everything that had to do with war and fighting.
The Pastor would try now and then to depict the peaceful life of the ancients or of foreign nations. But he made little impression. Ansgarius pinned his faith to what he found in his book; and there it was nothing but war after war. The people were all soldiers, the heroes waded in blood; and it was fruitless labor for the Pastor to try to awaken the boy to any sympathy with those whose blood they waded in.
It would occur to the Pastor now and again that it might, perhaps, have been better to have filled the young head from the first with more peaceful ideas and images than the wars of rapacious monarchs or the murders and massacres of our forefathers. But then he remembered that he himself had gone through the same course in his boyhood, so that it must be all right. Ansgarius would be a man of peace none the less—and if not! "Well, everything is in the hand of Providence," said the Pastor confidingly, and set to work again at his sermon.
"You're quite forgetting your lunch to-day, father," said a blond head in the door-way.
"Why, so I am, Rebecca; I'm a whole hour too late," answered the father, and went at once into the dining-room.
The father and daughter sat down at the luncheon-table. Ansgarius was always his own master on Saturdays, when the Pastor was taken up with his sermon.
You would not easily have found two people who suited each other better, or who lived on terms of more intimate friendship, than the Pastor and his eighteen-year-old daughter. She had been motherless from childhood; but there was so much that was womanly in her gentle, even-tempered father, that the young girl, who remembered her mother only as a pale face that smiled on her, felt the loss rather as a peaceful sorrow than as a bitter pain.
And for him she came to fill up more and more, as she ripened, the void that had been left in his soul; and all the tenderness, which at his wife's death had been so clouded in sorrow and longing, now gathered around the young woman who grew up under his eyes; so that his sorrow was assuaged and peace descended upon his mind.
Therefore he was able to be almost like a mother to her. He taught her to look upon the world with his own pure, untroubled eyes. It became the better part of his aim in life to hedge her around and protect her fragile and delicate nature from all the soilures and perturbations which make the world so perplexing, so difficult, and so dangerous an abiding-place.
When they stood together on the hill beside the Parsonage, gazing forth over the surging sea, he would say: "Look, Rebecca! yonder is an image of life—of that life in which the children of this world are tossed to and fro; in which impure passions rock the frail skiff about, to litter the shore at last with its shattered fragments. He only can defy the storm who builds strong bulwarks around a pure heart—at his feet the waves break powerlessly."
Rebecca clung to her father; she felt so safe by his side. There was such a radiance over all he said, that when she thought of the future she seemed to see the path before her bathed in light. For all her questions he had an answer; nothing was too lofty for him, nothing too lowly. They exchanged ideas without the least constraint, almost like brother and sister.
And yet one point remained dark between them. On all other matters she would question her father directly; here she had to go indirectly to work, to get round something which she could never get over.
She knew her father's great sorrow; she knew what happiness he had enjoyed and lost. She followed with the warmest sympathy the varying fortunes of the lovers in the books she read aloud during the winter evenings; her heart understood that love, which brings the highest joy, may also cause the deepest sorrow. But apart from the sorrows of ill-starred love, she caught glimpses of something else—a terrible something which she did not understand. Dark forms would now and then appear to her, gliding through the paradise of love, disgraced and abject. The sacred name of love was linked with the direst shame and the deepest misery. Among people whom she knew, things happened from time to time which she dared not think about; and when, in stern but guarded words, her father chanced to speak of moral corruption, she would shrink, for hours afterwards, from meeting his eye.
He remarked this and was glad. In such sensitive purity had she grown up, so completely had he succeeded in holding aloof from her whatever could disturb her childlike innocence, that her soul was like a shining pearl to which no mire could cling.
He prayed that he might ever keep her thus!
So long as he himself was there to keep watch, no harm should approach her. And if he was called away, he had at least provided her with armor of proof for life, which would stand her in good stead on the day of battle. And a day of battle no doubt would come. He gazed at her with a look which she did not understand, and said with his strong faith, "Well, well, everything is in the hand of Providence!"
"Haven't you time to go for a walk with me to-day, father?" asked Rebecca, when they had finished dinner.
"Why, yes; do you know, I believe it would do me good. The weather is delightful, and I've been so industrious that my sermon is as good as finished."
They stepped out upon the threshold before the main entrance, which faced the other buildings of the farm. There was this peculiarity about the Parsonage, that the high-road, leading to the town, passed right through the farm-yard. The Pastor did not at all like this, for before everything he loved peace and quietness; and although the district was sufficiently out-of-the-way, there was always a certain amount of life on the road which led to the town.
But for Ansgarius the little traffic that came their way was an inexhaustible source of excitement. While the father and daughter stood on the threshold discussing whether they should follow the road or go through the heather down to the beach, the young warrior suddenly came rushing up the hill and into the yard. He was flushed and out of breath, and Bucephalus was going at a hand gallop. Right before the door he reined in his horse with a sudden jerk, so that he made a deep gash in the sand; and swinging his sword, he shouted, "They're coming, they're coming!"
"Who are coming?" asked Rebecca.
"Snorting black chargers and three war chariots full of men-at-arms."
"Rubbish, my boy!" said his father, sternly.
"Three phaetons are coming with townspeople in them," said Ansgarius, and dismounted with an abashed air.
"Let us go in, Rebecca," said the Pastor, turning.
But at the same moment the foremost horses came at a quick pace over the brow of the hill. They were not exactly snorting chargers; yet it was a pretty sight as carriage after carriage came into view in the sunshine, full of merry faces and lively colors. Rebecca could not help stopping.
On the back seat of the foremost carriage sat an elderly gentleman and a buxom lady. On the front seat she saw a young lady; and just as they entered the yard, a gentleman who sat at her side stood up, and, with a word of apology to the lady on the back seat, turned and looked forward past the driver. Rebecca gazed at him without knowing what she was doing.
"How lovely it is here!" cried the young man.
For the Parsonage lay on the outermost slope towards the sea, so that the vast blue horizon suddenly burst upon you as you entered the yard.
The gentleman on the back seat leaned a little forward. "Yes, it's very pretty here," he said; "I'm glad that you appreciate our peculiar scenery, Mr. Lintzow."
At the same moment the young man's glance met Rebecca's, and she instantly lowered her eyes. But he stopped the driver, and cried, "Let us remain here!"
"Hush!" said the older lady, with a low laugh. "This won't do, Mr. Lintzow; this is the Parsonage."
"It doesn't matter," cried the young man, merrily, as he jumped out of the carriage. "I say," he shouted backward towards the other carriages, "sha'n't we rest here?"
"Yes, yes," came the answer in chorus; and the merry party began at once to alight.
But now the gentleman on the back seat rose, and said, seriously: "No, no, my friends! this really won't do! It's out of the question for us to descend upon the clergyman, whom we don't know at all. It's only ten minutes' drive to the district judge's, and there they are in the habit of receiving strangers."
He was on the point of giving orders to drive on, when the Pastor appeared in the door-way, with a friendly bow. He knew Consul Hartvig by sight—the leading man of the town.
"If your party will make the best of things here, it will be a great pleasure to me; and I think I may say that, so far as the view goes—"
"Oh no, my dear Pastor, you're altogether too kind; it's out of the question for us to accept your kind invitation, and I must really beg you to excuse these young madcaps," said Mrs. Hartvig, half in despair when she saw her youngest son, who had been seated in the last carriage, already deep in a confidential chat with Ansgarius.
"But I assure you, Mrs. Hartvig," answered the Pastor, smiling, "that so pleasant an interruption of our solitude would be most welcome both to my daughter and myself."
Mr. Lintzow opened the carriage-door with a formal bow, Consul Hartvig looked at his wife and she at him, the Pastor advanced and renewed his invitation, and the end was that, with half-laughing reluctance, they alighted and suffered the Pastor to usher them into the spacious garden-room.
Then came renewed excuses and introductions. The party consisted of Consul Hartvig's children and some young friends of theirs, the picnic having been arranged in honor of Max Lintzow, a friend of the eldest son of the house, who was spending some days as the Consul's guest.
"My daughter Rebecca," said the Pastor, presenting her, "who will do the best our humble house-keeping permits."
"No, no, I protest, my dear Pastor," the lively Mrs. Hartvig interrupted him eagerly, "this is going too far! Even if this incorrigible Mr. Lintzow and my crazy sons have succeeded in storming your house and home, I won't resign the last remnants of my authority. The entertainment shall most certainly be my affair. Off you go, young men," she said, turning to her sons, "and unpack the carriages. And you, my dear child, must by all means go and amuse yourself with the young people; just leave the catering to me; I know all about that."
And the kind-hearted woman looked with her honest gray eyes at her host's pretty daughter, and patted her on the cheek.
How nice that felt! There was a peculiar coziness in the touch of the comfortable old lady's soft hand. The tears almost rose to Rebecca's eyes; she stood as if she expected that the strange lady would put her arms round her neck and whisper to her something she had long waited to hear.
But the conversation glided on. The young people, with ever-increasing glee, brought all sorts of strange parcels out of the carriages. Mrs. Hartvig threw her cloak upon a chair and set about arranging things as best she could. But the young people, always with Mr. Lintzow at their head, seemed determined to make as much confusion as possible. Even the Pastor was infected by their merriment, and to Rebecca's unspeakable astonishment she saw her own father, in complicity with Mr. Lintzow, biding a big paper parcel under Mrs. Hartvig's cloak.
At last the racket became too much for the old lady. "My dear Miss Rebecca," she exclaimed, "have you not any show-place to exhibit in the neighborhood—the farther off the better—so that I might get these crazy beings off my hands for a little while?"
"There's a lovely view from the King's Knoll; and then there's the beach and the sea."
"Yes, let's go down to the sea!" cried Max Lintzow.
"That's just what I want," said the old lady. "If you can relieve me of him I shall be all right, for he is the worst of them all."
"If Miss Rebecca will lead the way, I will follow wherever she pleases," said the young man, with a bow.
Rebecca blushed. Nothing of that sort had ever been said to her before. The handsome young man made her a low bow, and his words had such a ring of sincerity. But there was no time to dwell upon this impression; the whole merry troop were soon out of the house, through the garden, and, with Rebecca and Lintzow at their head, making their way up to the little height which was called the King's Knoll.
Many years ago a number of antiquities had been dug up on the top of the Knoll, and one of the Pastor's predecessors in the parish had planted some hardy trees upon the slopes. With the exception of a rowan-tree, and a walnut-avenue in the Parsonage garden, these were the only trees to be found for miles round on the windy slopes facing the open sea. In spite of storms and sand-drifts, they had, in the course of time, reached something like the height of a man, and, turning their bare and gnarled stems to the north wind, like a bent back, they stretched forth their long, yearning arms towards the south. Rebecca's mother had planted some violets among them.
"Oh, how fortunate!" cried the eldest Miss Hartvig; "here are violets! Oh, Mr. Lintzow, do pick me a bouquet of them for this evening!"
The young man, who had been exerting himself to hit upon the right tone in which to converse with Rebecca, fancied that the girl started at Miss Frederica's words.
"You are very fond of the violets?" he said, softly.
She looked up at him in surprise; how could he possibly know that?
"Don't you think, Miss Hartvig, that it would be better to pick the flowers just as we are starting, so that they may keep fresher?"
"As you please," she answered, shortly.
"Let's hope she'll forget all about it by that time," said Max Lintzow to himself, under his breath.
But Rebecca heard, and wondered what pleasure he could find in protecting her violets, instead of picking them for that handsome girl.
After they had spent some time in admiring the limitless prospect, the party left the Knoll and took a foot-path downward towards the beach.
On the smooth, firm sand, at the very verge of the sea, the young people strolled along, conversing gayly. Rebecca was at first quite confused. It seemed as though these merry towns-people spoke a language she did not understand. Sometimes she thought they laughed at nothing; and, on the other hand, she herself often could not help laughing at their cries of astonishment and their questions about everything they saw.
But gradually she began to feel at her ease among these good-natured, kindly people; the youngest Miss Hartvig even put her arm around her waist as they walked. And then Rebecca, too, thawed; she joined in their laughter, and said what she had to say as easily and freely as any of the others. It never occurred to her to notice that the young men, and especially Mr. Lintzow, were chiefly taken up with her; and the little pointed speeches which this circumstance called forth from time to time were as meaningless for her as much of the rest of the conversation.
They amused themselves for some time with running down the shelving beach every time the wave receded, and then rushing up again when the next wave came. And great was the glee when one of the young men was overtaken, or when a larger wave than usual sent its fringe of foam right over the slope, and forced the merry party to beat a precipitate retreat.
"Look! Mamma's afraid that we shall be too late for the ball," cried Miss Hartvig, suddenly; and they now discovered that the Consul and Mrs. Hartvig and the Pastor were standing like three windmills on the Parsonage hill, waving with pocket handkerchiefs and napkins.
They turned their faces homeward. Rebecca took them by a short cut over the morass, not reflecting that the ladies from the town could not jump from tuft to tuft as she could. Miss Frederica, in her tight skirt, jumped short, and stumbled into a muddy hole. She shrieked and cried piteously for help, with her eyes fixed upon Lintzow.
"Look alive, Henrik!" cried Max to Hartvig junior, who was nearer at hand; "why don't you help your sister?"
Miss Frederica extricated herself without help, and the party proceeded.
The table was laid in the garden, along the wall of the house; and although the spring was so young, it was warm enough in the sunshine. When they had all found seats, Mrs. Hartvig cast a searching glance over the table.
"Why—why—surely there's something wanting! I'm convinced I saw the house-keeper wrapping up a black grouse this morning. Frederica, my dear, don't you remember it?"
"Excuse me, mother, you know that housekeeping is not at all in my department."
Rebecca looked at her father, and so did Lintzow; the worthy Pastor pulled a face upon which even Ansgarius could read a confession of crime.
"I can't possibly believe," began Mrs. Hartvig, "that you, Pastor, have been conspiring with—" And then he could not help laughing and making a clean breast of it, amid great merriment, while the boys in triumph produced the parcel with the game. Every one was in the best possible humor. Consul Hartvig was delighted to find that their clerical host could join in a joke, and the Pastor himself was in higher spirits than he had been in for many a year.
In the course of the conversation some one happened to remark that although the arrangements might be countrified enough, the viands were too town-like; "No country meal is complete without thick milk." [Note: Milk allowed to stand until it has thickened to the consistency of curds, and then eaten, commonly with sugar.]
Rebecca at once rose and demanded leave to bring a basin of milk; and, paying no attention to Mrs. Hartvig's protests, she left the table.
"Let me help you, Miss Rebecca," cried Max, and ran after her.
"That is a lively young man," said the Pastor.
"Yes, isn't he?" answered the Consul, "and a deuced good business man into the bargain. He has spent several years abroad, and now his father has taken him into partnership."
"He's perhaps a little unstable," said Mrs. Hartvig, doubtfully.
"Yes, he is indeed," sighed Miss Frederica.
The young man followed Rebecca through the suite of rooms that led to the dairy. At bottom, she did not like this, although the dairy was her pride; but he joked and laughed so merrily that she could not help joining in the laughter.
She chose a basin of milk upon the upper shelf, and stretched out her arms to reach it.
"No, no, Miss Rebecca, it's too high for you!" cried Max; "let me hand it down to you." And as he said so he laid his hand upon hers.
Rebecca hastily drew back her hand. She knew that her face had flushed, and she almost felt as if she must burst into tears.
Then he said, softly and earnestly, lowering his eyes, "Pray, pardon me, Miss Rebecca. I feel that my behavior must seem far too light and frivolous to such a woman as you; but I should be sorry that you should think of me as nothing but the empty coxcomb I appear to be. Merriment, to many people, is merely a cloak for their sufferings, and there are some who laugh only that they may not weep."
At the last words he looked up. There was something so mournful, and at the same time so reverential, in his glance, that Rebecca all of a sudden felt as if she had been unkind to him. She was accustomed to reach things down from the upper shelf, but when she again stretched out her hands for the basin of milk, she let her arms drop, and said, "No, perhaps it is too high for me, after all."
A faint smile passed over his face as he took the basin and carried it carefully out; she accompanied him and opened the doors for him. Every time he passed her she looked closely at him. His collar, his necktie, his coat—everything was different from her father's, and he carried with him a peculiar perfume which she did not know.
When they came to the garden door, he stopped for an instant, and looked up with a melancholy smile: "I must take a moment to recover my expression of gayety, so that no one out there may notice anything."
Then he passed out upon the steps with a joking speech to the company at the table, and she heard their laughing answers; but she herself remained behind in the garden-room.
Poor young man! how sorry she was for him; and how strange that she of all people should be the only one in whom he confided. What secret sorrow could it be that depressed him? Perhaps he, too, had lost his mother. Or could it be something still mote terrible? How glad she would be if only she could help him.
When Rebecca presently came out he was once more the blithest of them all. Only once in a while, when he looked at her, his eyes seemed again to assume that melancholy, half-beseeching expression; and it cut her to the heart when he laughed at the same moment.
At last came the time for departure; there was hearty leave-taking on both sides. But as the last of the packing was going on, and in the general confusion, while every one was finding his place in the carriages, or seeking a new place for the homeward journey, Rebecca slipped into the house, through the rooms, out into the garden, and away to the King's Knoll. Here she seated herself in the shadow of the trees, where the violets grew, and tried to collect her thoughts.—"What about the violets, Mr. Lintzow?" cried Miss Frederica, who had already taken her seat in the carriage.
The young man had for some time been eagerly searching for the daughter of the house. He answered absently, "I'm afraid it's too late."
But a thought seemed suddenly to strike him. "Oh, Mrs. Hartvig," he cried, "will you excuse me for a couple of minutes while I fetch a bouquet for Miss Frederica?"—Rebecca heard rapid steps approaching; she thought it could be no one but he.
"Ah, are you here, Miss Rebecca? I have come to gather some violets."
She turned half away from him and began to pluck the flowers.
"Are these flowers for me?" he asked, hesitatingly.
"Are they not for Miss Frederica?"
"Oh no, let them be for me!" he besought, kneeling at her side.
Again his voice had such a plaintive ring in it—almost like that of a begging child.
She handed him the violets without looking up. Then he clasped her round the waist and held her close to him. She did not resist, but closed her eyes and breathed heavily. Then she felt that he kissed her—over and over again—on the eyes, on the mouth, meanwhile calling her by her name, with incoherent words, and then kissing her again. They called to him from the garden; he let her go and ran down the mound. The horses stamped, the young man sprang quickly into the carriage, and it rolled away. But as he was closing the carriage door he was so maladroit as to drop the bouquet; only a single violet remained in his hand.
"I suppose it's no use offering you this one, Miss Frederica?" he said.
"No, thanks; you may keep that as a memento of your remarkable dexterity," answered Miss Hartvig; he was in her black books.
"Yes—you are right—I shall do so," answered Max Lintzow, with perfect composure.—Next day, after the ball, when he put on his morning-coat, he found a withered violet in the button-hole. He nipped off the flower with his fingers, and drew out the stalk from beneath.
"By-the-bye," he said, smiling to himself in the mirror, "I had almost forgotten her!"
In the afternoon he went away, and then he quite forgot her.
The summer came with warm days and long, luminous nights. The smoke of the passing steamships lay in long black streaks over the peaceful sea. The sailing-ships drifted by with flapping sails and took nearly a whole day to pass out of sight.
It was some time before the Pastor noticed any change in his daughter. But little by little he became aware that Rebecca was not flourishing that summer. She had grown pale, and kept much to her own room. She scarcely ever came into the study, and at last he fancied that she avoided him.
Then he spoke seriously to her, and begged her to tell him if she was ill, or if mental troubles of any sort had affected her spirits.
But she only wept, and answered scarcely a word.
After this conversation, however, things went rather better. She did not keep so much by herself, and was oftener with her father. But the old ring was gone from her voice, and her eyes were not so frank as of old.
The Doctor came, and began to cross-question her. She blushed as red as fire, and at last burst into such a paroxysm of weeping, that the old gentleman left her room and went down to the Pastor in his study.
"Well, Doctor, what do you think of Rebecca?"
"Tell me now, Pastor," began the Doctor, diplomatically, "has your daughter gone through any violent mental crisis—hm—any—"
"Temptation, do you mean?"
"No, not exactly. Has she not had any sort of heartache? Or, to put it plainly, any love-sorrow?"
The Pastor was very near feeling a little hurt. How could the Doctor suppose that his own Rebecca, whose heart was as an open book to him, could or would conceal from her father any sorrow of such a nature! And, besides—! Rebecca was really not one of the girls whose heads were full of romantic dreams of love. And as she was never away from his side, how could she—? "No, no, my dear Doctor! That diagnosis does you little credit!" the Pastor concluded, with a tranquil smile.
"Well, well, there's no harm done!" said the old Doctor, and wrote a prescription which was at least innocuous. He knew of no simples to cure love-sorrows; but in his heart of hearts he held to his diagnosis.
The visit of the Doctor had frightened Rebecca. She now kept still stricter watch upon herself, and redoubled her exertions to seem as before. For no one must suspect what had happened: that a young man, an utter stranger, had held her in his arms and kissed her—over and over again!
As often as she realized this the blood rushed to her cheeks. She washed herself ten times in the day, yet it seemed she could never be clean.
For what was it that had happened? Was it of the last extremity of shame? Was she now any better than the many wretched girls whose errors she had shuddered to think of, and had never been able to understand? Ah, if there were only any one she could question! If she could only unburden her mind of all the doubt and uncertainty that tortured her; learn clearly what she had done; find out if she had still the right to look her father in the face—or if she were the most miserable of all sinners.
Her father often asked her if she could not confide to him what was weighing on her mind; for he felt that she was keeping something from him. But when she looked into his clear eyes, into his pure open face, it seemed impossible, literally impossible, to approach that terrible impure point and she only wept. She thought sometimes of that good Mrs. Hartvig's soft hand; but she was a stranger, and far away. So she must e'en fight out her fight in utter solitude, and so quietly that no one should be aware of it.
And he, who was pursuing his path through life with so bright a countenance and so heavy a heart! Should she ever see him again? And if she were ever to meet him, where should she hide herself? He was an inseparable part of all her doubt and pain; but she felt no bitterness, no resentment towards him. All that she suffered bound her closer to him, and he was never out of her thoughts.
In the daily duties of the household Rebecca was as punctual and careful as ever. But in everything she did he was present to her memory. Innunmerable spots in the house and garden recalled him to her thoughts; she met him in the door-ways; she remembered where he stood when first he spoke to her. She had never been at the King's Knoll since that day; it was there that he had clasped her round the waist, and—kissed her.
The Pastor was full of solicitude about his daughter; but whenever the Doctor's hint occurred to him he shook his head, half angrily. How could he dream that a practised hand, with a well-worn trick of the fence, could pierce the armor of proof with which he had provided her?
If the spring had been late, the autumn was early.
One fine warm summer evening it suddenly began to rain. The next day it was still raining; and it poured incessantly, growing ever colder and colder, for eleven days and nights on end. At last it cleared up; but the next night there were four degrees of frost. [Note: Reaumur.]
On the bushes and trees the leaves hung glued together after the long rain; and when the frost had dried them after its fashion, they fell to the ground in multitudes at every little puff of wind.
The Pastor's tenant was one of the few that had got their corn in; and now it had to be threshed while there was water for the machine. The little brook in the valley rushed foaming along, as brown as coffee, and all the men on the farm were taken up with tending the machine and carting corn and straw up and down the Parsonage hill.
The farm-yard was bestrewn with straw, and when the wind swirled in between the houses it seized the oat-straws by the head, raised them on end, and set them dancing along like yellow spectres. It was the juvenile autumn wind trying its strength; not until well on in the winter, when it has full-grown lungs, does it take to playing with tiles and chimney-pots.
A sparrow sat crouched together upon the dog-kennel; it drew its head down among its feathers, blinked its eyes, and betrayed no interest in anything. But in reality it noted carefully where the corn was deposited. In the great sparrow-battle of the spring it had been in the very centre of the ball, and had pecked and screamed with the best of them. But it had sobered down since then; it thought of its wife and children, and reflected how good it was to have something in reserve against the winter.—Ansgarius looked forward to the winter—to perilous expeditions through the snow-drifts and pitch-dark evenings with thundering breakers. He already turned to account the ice which lay on the puddles after the frosty nights, by making all his tin soldiers, with two brass cannons, march out upon it. Stationed upon an overturned bucket, he watched the ice giving way, little by little, until the whole army was immersed, and only the wheels of the cannons remained visible. Then he shouted, "Hurrah!" and swung his cap.
"What are you shouting about?" asked the Pastor, who happened to pass through the farm-yard.
"I'm playing at Austerlitz!" answered Ansgarius, beaming.
The father passed on, sighing mournfully; he could not understand his children.—Down in the garden sat Rebecca on a bench in the sun. She looked out over the heather, which was in purple flower, while the meadows were putting on their autumn pallor.
The lapwings were gathering in silence, and holding flying drills in preparation for their journey; wad all the strand birds were assembling, in order to take flight together. Even the lark had lost its courage and was seeking convoy voiceless and unknown among the other gray autumn birds. But the sea-gull stalked peaceably about, protruding its crop; it was not under notice to quit.
The air was so still and languid and hazy. All sounds and colors were toning down against the winter, and that vas very pleasant to her.
She was weary, and the long dead winter would suit her well. She knew that her winter would be longer than all the others, and she began to shrink from the spring.
Then everything would awaken that the winter had laid to sleep. The birds would come back and sing the old songs with new voices; and upon the King's Knoll her mother's violets would peer forth afresh in azure clusters; it was there that he had clasped her round the waist and kissed her—over and over again.
THE PEAT MOOR.
High over the heathery wastes flew a wise old raven.
He was bound many miles westward, right out to the sea-coast, to unearth a sow's ear which he had buried in the good times.
It was now late autumn, and food was scarce.
When you see one raven, says Father Brehm, you need only look round to discover a second.
But you might have looked long enough where this wise old raven came flying; he was, and remained, alone. And without troubling about anything or uttering a sound, he sped on his strong coal-black wings through the dense rain-mist, steering due west.
But as he flew, evenly and meditatively, his sharp eyes searched the landscape beneath, and the old bird was full of chagrin.
Year by year the little green and yellow patches down there increased in number and size; rood after rood was cut out of the heathery waste, little houses sprang up with red-tiled roofs and low chimneys breathing oily peat-reek. Men and their meddling everywhere!
He remembered how, in the days of his youth—several winters ago, of course—this was the very place for a wide-awake raven with a family: long, interminable stretches of heather, swarms of leverets and little birds, eider-ducks on the shore with delicious big eggs, and tidbits of all sorts abundant as heart could desire.
Now he saw house upon house, patches of yellow corn-land and green meadows; and food was so scarce that a gentlemanly old raven had to fly miles and miles for a paltry sow's ear.
Oh, those men! those men! The old bird knew them.
He had grown up among men, and, what was more, among the aristocracy. He had passed his childhood and youth at the great house close to the town.
But now, whenever he passed over the house, he soared high into the air, so as not to be recognized. For when he saw a female figure down in the garden, he thought it was the young lady of the house, wearing powdered hair and a white head-dress; whereas it was in reality her daughter, with snow-white curls and a widow's cap.
Had he enjoyed his life among the aristocracy? Oh, that's as you please to look at it. There was plenty to eat and plenty to learn; but, after all, it was captivity. During the first years his left wing was clipped, and afterwards, as his old master used to say, he was upon parole d'honneur.
This parole he had broken one spring when a glossy-black young she-raven happened to fly over the garden.
Some time afterwards—a few winters had slipped away—he came back to the house. But some strange boys threw stones at him; the old master and the young lady were not at home.
"No doubt they are in town," thought the old raven; and he came again some time later. But he met with just the same reception.
Then the gentlemenly old bird—for in the meantime he had grown old—felt hurt, and now he flew high over the house. He would have nothing more to do with men, and the old master and the young lady might look for him as long as they pleased. That they did so he never doubted.
And he forgot all that he had learned, both the difficult French words which the young lady taught him in the drawing-room, and the incomparably easier expletives which he had picked up on his own account in the servants' hall.
Only two human sounds clung to his memory, the last relics of his vanished learning. When he was in a thoroughly good humor, he would often say, "Bonjour, madame!" But when he was angry, he shrieked, "Go to the devil!"
Through the dense rain-mist he sped swiftly and unswervingly; already he saw the white wreath of surf along the coast. Then he descried a great black waste stretching out beneath him. It was a peat moor.
It was encircled with farms on the heights around; but on the low plain—it must have been over a mile [Note: One Norwegian mile is equal to seven English miles.] long—there was no trace of human meddling; only a few stacks of peat on the outskirts, with black hummocks and gleaming water-holes between them.
"Bonjour, madame!" cried the old raven, and began to wheel in great circles over the moor. It looked so inviting that he settled downward, slowly and warily, and alighted upon a tree-root in the midst of it.
Here it was just as in the old days-a silent wilderness. On some scattered patches of drier soil there grew a little short heather and a few clumps of rushes. They were withered; but on their stiff stems there still hung one or two tufts—black, and sodden by the autumn rain. For the most part the soil was fine, black, and crumbling—wet and full of water-holes. Gray and twisted tree-roots stuck up above the surface, interlaced like a gnarled net-work.
The old raven well understood all that he saw. There had been trees here in the old times, before even his day.
The wood had disappeared; branches, leaves, everything was gone. Only the tangled roots remained, deep down in the soft mass of black fibres and water.
But further than this, change could not possibly go; so it must endure, and here, at any rate, men would have to stint their meddling.
The old bird held himself erect. The farms lay so far away that he felt securely at home, here in the middle of the bottomless morass. One relic, at least, of antiquity must remain undisturbed. He smoothed his glossy black feathers, and said several times, "Bonjour, madame!"
But down from the nearest farm came a couple of men with a horse and cart; two small boys ran behind. They took a crooked course among the hummocks, but made as though to cross the morass.
"They must soon stop," thought the raven.
But they drew nearer and nearer; the old bird turned his head uneasily from side to side; it was strange that they should venture so far out.
At last they stopped, and the men set to work with spades and axes. The raven could see that they were struggling with a huge root which they wanted to loosen.
"They will soon tire of that," thought the raven.
But they did not tire, they hacked with their axes—the sharpest the raven had ever seen—they dug and hauled, and at last they actually got the huge stem turned over on its side, so that the whole tough net-work of roots stood straight up in the air.
The small boys wearied of digging canals between the water-holes. "Look at that great big crow over there," said one of them.
They armed themselves with a stone in each hand, and came sneaking forward behind the hummocks.
The raven saw them quite well. But that was not the worst thing it saw.
Not even out on the morass was antiquity to be left in peace. He had now seen that even the gray tree-roots, older than the oldest raven, and firmly inwoven into the deep, bottomless morass—that even they had to yield before the sharp axes.
And when the boys had got so near that they were on the point of opening fire, he raised his heavy wings and soared aloft.
But as he rose into the air and looked down upon the toiling men and the stupid boys, who stood gaping at him with a stone in each hand, a great wrath seized the old bird.
He swooped down upon the boys like an eagle, and while his great wings flounced about their ears, he shrieked in a terrible voice, "Go to the devil!"
The boys gave a yell and threw themselves down upon the ground. When they presently ventured to look up again, all was still and deserted as before. Far away, a solitary blackbird winged to the westward.
But till they grew to be men—aye, even to their dying day—they were firmly convinced that the Evil One himself had appeared to them out on the black morass, in the form of a monstrous black bird with eyes of fire.
But it was only an old raven, flying westward to unearth a sow's ear which it had buried.
"HOPE'S CLAD IN APRIL GREEN."
"You're kicking up the dust!" cried Cousin Hans.
Ola did not hear.
"He's quite as deaf as Aunt Maren," thought Hans. "You're kicking up the dust!" he shouted, louder.
"Oh, I beg your pardon!" said Cousin Ola, and lifted his feet high in air at every step. Not for all the world would he do anything to annoy his brother; he had too much on his conscience already.
Was he not at this very moment thinking of her whom he knew that his brother loved? And was it not sinful of him to be unable to conquer a passion which, besides being a wrong towards his own brother, was so utterly hopeless?
Cousin Ola took himself sternly to task, and while he kept to the other side of the way, so as not to make a dust, he tried with all his might to think of the most indifferent things. But however far away his thoughts might start, they always returned by the strangest short-cuts to the forbidden point, and began once more to flutter around it, like moths around a candle.
The brothers, who were paying a holiday visit to their uncle, the Pastor, were now on their way to the Sheriff's house, where there was to be a dancing-party for young people. There were many students paying visits in the neighborhood, so that these parties passed like an epidemic from house to house.
Cousin Hans was thus in his very element; he sang, he danced, he was entertaining from morning to night; and if his tone had been a little sharp when he declared that Ola was kicking up the dust, it was really because of his annoyance at being unable, by any means, to screw his brother up to the same pitch of hilarity.
We already know what was oppressing Ola. But even under ordinary circumstances he was more quiet and retiring than his brother. He danced "like a pair of nut-crackers," said Hans; he could not sing at all (Cousin Hans even declared that his speaking voice was monotonous and unsympathetic); and, in addition to all this, he was rather absent and ill-at-ease in the society of ladies.
As they approached the Sheriff's house, they heard a carriage behind them.
"That's the Doctor's people," said Hans, placing himself in position for bowing; for the beloved one was the daughter of the district physician.
"Oh, how lovely she is—in light pink!" said Cousin Hans.
Cousin Ola saw at once that the beloved one was in light green; but he dared not say a word lest he should betray himself by his voice, for his heart was in his throat.
The carriage passed at full speed; the young men bowed, and the old Doctor cried out, "Come along!"
"Why, I declare, that was she in light green!" said Cousin Hans; he had barely had time to transfer his burning glance from the light-pink frock to the light-green. "But wasn't she lovely, Ola?"
"Oh yes," answered Ola with an effort.
"What a cross-grained being you are!" exclaimed Hans, indignantly. "But even if you're devoid of all sense for female beauty, I think you might at least show more interest in—in your brother's future wife."
"If you only knew how she interests me," thought the nefarious Ola, hanging his head.
But meanwhile this delightful meeting had thrown Hans into an ecstatic mood of amorous bliss; he swung his stick, snapped his fingers, and sang at the pitch of his voice.
As he thought of the fair one in the light-green frock—fresh as spring, airy as a butterfly, he called it—the refrain of an old ditty rose to his lips, and he sang it with great enjoyment:
"Hope's clad in April green— Trommelommelom, trommelommelom, Tender it's vernal sheen— Trommelommelom, trommelommelom."
This verse seemed to him eminently suited to the situation, and he repeated it over and over again—now in the waltz-time of the old melody, now as a march, and again as a serenade—now in loud, jubilant tones, and then half whispering, as if he were confiding his love and his hope to the moon and the silent groves.