Tales of Two Countries/The Parsonage
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 honour, 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!" 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, 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 were 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 flower-stick 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 dished 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 labour 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 armour 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 colours. 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 honour 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 grey 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, hiding 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 neighbourhood—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 shell 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 gaily. 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 east 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 house keeping 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 humour. 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."
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 behaviour 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 gaiety, 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 some thing still more 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 home-ward 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 steam-ships 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 not 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. Innumerable 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 armour 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.
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 them; 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; and 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 grey 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 colours were toning down against the winter, and that was 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.