"I notice, Mr. Johnsen," said Rachel, "that in almost all the conversations we have had on serious subjects, we seem to come to some point or another which all at once gives rise to a whole army of doubts and questions in us both; or perhaps, to speak more correctly, in you rather than in myself."
"The reason is that your extraordinary acuteness leads the conversation into certain lines of thought," answered the inspector.
Rachel paused for a moment, and looked at him. At every turn of their interesting acquaintance she had been on her guard against any word which had the slightest resemblance to a compliment. But when she saw before her the earnest and somewhat plain features of her friend, she felt that her caution was unnecessary, and she answered, "It does not require any extraordinary acuteness to perceive that when two people make an attempt in common to thoroughly understand any subject, they are more likely to be successful than if each were to work for himself. But what appears to me most remarkable is really this, that you did not long ago work out these problems for yourself."
"You have opened my eyes to many things which hitherto——"
"But hear what I have to say," broke in Rachel, with some impatience. "We have been going backwards and forwards here certainly for half an hour, talking about the many difficulties which must beset a clergyman, who is at the same time the servant of both God and the State, and continually, or at least several times, you have told me that I was right, or that you had not thought of such and such things before, or something of that sort." Rachel stopped in the broad path between the hedges in front of the house, where they were walking, and, looking him full in the face, said, "How is it possible, Mr. Johnsen, that you who have studied theology, and intend in the course of time to take priest's orders, have not already long ago made the subject clear to yourself, and taken your line accordingly?"
Johnsen's eyes fell before her clear and penetrating glance as he answered, "I have been quite enough troubled by doubts and anxieties, which are things none of us can escape; but if it now appears to you—and I must confess that it is the fact—that I have neglected certain points, I must plead that this negligence has been caused by my peculiar education. I come from a poor home, a very poor home"—he seemed to regain his confidence as he spoke—"and I have raised myself, without any special abilities, by sheer hard work. My time has, therefore, been fully occupied during my studies, and, as far as my opinion goes, a person who is working in real earnest has but little time for speculation. Besides, there is something about the subject itself, and about the men with whom one is brought into contact—something, what shall I call it?—something soothing, reassuring, which has the effect of making the doubts which from time to time appear bring, as it were, their own solution with them. But life's experience, and even more, my aquaintance with you, Miss Garman, has caused me to waver on many points."
"Do you remember our first conversation?" she asked.
"I don't think I have forgotten a single word that has passed between us."
"It was one of the first Sundays you were at Sandsgaard."
"The conversation at dinner turned upon the subject of war. Was not that the day you mean?" asked he.
"Yes, exactly," answered Rachel. "Mr. Delphin was maintaining, in his foolish, superficial way, that the spirit of the time would soon get rid of the evil of war, if we could only have done with kings and priests. You may remember Mr. Martens got quite excited, and insisted that priests were distinctly men of peace, and that their work was the work of peace. And then Mr. Delphin made the adroit answer, that any one who liked could go to church any Sunday, and hear how devoutly this man of peace, Mr. Martens, prays for the arms of the country by land and by sea."
"I remember it very well," answered Johnsen, with a smile; "it was just there I joined in the conversation."
"Yes; you declared that you would never, if you were ordained, mention the arms of the country in your prayers."
"Neither will I; nothing shall ever make me."
Rachel looked at him: he was in just the humour she liked to see him.
"I bring this to your recollection," she went on, "because I know now that there are many other duties which fall to the lot of a clergyman, that you will not be able altogether to reconcile with your convictions. In the course of our conversations you have expressed many decided opinions—for instance, about the Marriage Service, about Absolution, Confirmation, and several other matters; so that it now appears clear to me that you must either give up the idea of being ordained, or else be false to yourself."
"False to myself I cannot be," cried he; "I would rather give up my future prospects."
"But is that sufficient?"
"I don't understand you, Miss Garman,"
"Do you think that you would be doing yourself justice by thus evading the responsibility that your convictions give rise to? If I were a man"—Rachel drew herself up—"I would go and seek the conflict, and not shirk it."
"Neither will I shirk it, Miss Garman," answered Johnsen.
"I hope you won't; there are quite enough who do."
She looked towards the house to which they were approaching, and through the open window saw Fanny and Delphin carrying on a flirtation. Pastor Martens and Madeleine were going towards the croquet lawn, and Jacob Worse stood watching them with a cigar in his mouth.
Rachel turned quickly round to her companion and said, "I don't know anything more despicable than when a man does not dare, either by word or deed, to declare plainly what he feels in his inner consciousness to be in opposition with generally received opinions. A man who sneaks through life in this manner is, in my opinion, a coward."
She went towards the house, and Johnsen remained standing for a moment, and then wandered down the path again, lost in deep thought.
Jacob Worse said to her as she passed him, "Would you like to join the croquet? I hardly think it is right to leave your cousin to play alone with the chaplain."
"I think you might have spared yourself that well meant remark, Mr. Worse," answered Rachel, in a tone which made him look at her with astonishment. "It seems to me, on the contrary, that Madeleine is in very good company—just the company that suits her."
"I beg your pardon," answered Worse, good humouredly. "I did not mean to be indiscreet; but I cannot help feeling that your cousin is in reality of such a lively nature, it is hard for her to find vent for her spirits."
"I did not know that Madeleine had such a concealed fund of spirits. As a general rule, I do not much care for people who are afraid to show their feelings."
"Afraid?" asked he, in astonishment.
"Yes; I said afraid. What else is it but want of courage which makes a man sit down quietly and hide his thoughts, conceal his convictions, live a false life, and play a part from morning to night? It were better to do like your friend out there"—and she gave a toss of her head towards Delphin—"to talk so grandly about one's principles, and to illustrate them by paradoxes and witticisms."
Jacob Worse now saw that he had found Rachel in a more earnest mood than he had expected.
"I have often observed," said he, seriously, "that you always think that it is a man's duty to speak out boldly when he finds his convictions are in danger; but allow me to explain——"
"I don't want to hear any explanations," rejoined Rachel, "and you are not bound to give me any; but I repeat what I said. It is cowardly."
She regretted the word the moment it was spoken. She said it because she had just used the same expression in her conversation with Johnsen; but, how ever, without saying anything further, she went into the house.
Jacob Worse remained thoughtfully contemplating his cigar. At last, then, the storm had burst. The ill humour he had so long noticed in her had found vent. He knew she meant what she said. She thought he was a coward. There had hitherto been a kind of friendly comradeship between them, which excluded any attempts at courtesy. She had told him that their friendship must be on this footing, if he wished it to continue. He had accepted his position, and they had often talked freely together, but latterly less than had formerly been the case.
Jacob Worse turned round, and found himself face to face with Mr. Johnsen, who was coming up the path with his eyes fixed on the ground. He at once perceived that here was to be found the cause for Rachel's extraordinary conduct, and the discovery did not tend to put him in a better humour.
Mr. Hiorth the magistrate, and Mr. Aalbom the schoolmaster, were seated together in the old summer-house near the pond. They were generally to be found together on these Sunday afternoons at Sandsgaard. The opportunity for talking scandal was one not to be neglected.
Hiorth's family had been for a long time in the service of the State, a fact of which he was not a little proud; and after his daughter's marriage with Morten Garman, who was one of the most eligible young men of the district, his somewhat sensitive feelings began to revolt against the self-satisfaction which the Garman family seemed to have inherited with their solid prosperity.
Aalbom was, therefore, not afraid to give free play to his bitter tongue, and after a good dinner he was just in the vein for so doing.
"They are asleep," said he. "I dare bet they are both of them fast asleep. Have you not noticed that both the Consul and his brother disappear after dinner every Sunday?"
"Yes, I have remarked that I don't generally see them when the coffee comes; but it is only for about a quarter of an hour," answered the magistrate, as he brushed some cigar-ash off his coat, just where his new North Star Order hung.
"They are not treating you properly," continued Aalbom; "especially when Richard calls himself an attaché, and has some pretensions to good manners."
"Oh! well, as far as he is concerned," answered the other, "he means to show his contempt for people in office. Richard Garman, like all people who have led shady lives, is an ultra-Radical."
"No doubt, sir. And I am not very certain about the Consul either; he has no respect for a cultivated intellect."
"But can you expect anything better from a man in trade?"
"A shopkeeper, you might say," whispered Aalbom, looking cautiously around. "There, now," he added, "I declare if it is not raining! Just what one might have expected. We had a little sunshine in the morning, and so of course it must rain in the afternoon. What a climate! what a country!" and, amid a torrent of ejaculations and anathemas, they both went hurriedly round the pond, and reached the house just as the rain began to fall in earnest. The company generally sat downstairs when the weather was fine, in the room with the French windows opening into the garden; but now, as it had begun to rain, and the wind began to rustle through the flowers and the Virginian creeper on the railings, they went upstairs.
Whether it was that the two Garmans had really wished to show their contempt for people in office by taking a nap, or whether their absence had been accidental, they had both returned to the company, and Richard was standing with his back to the fireplace, and the Consul was under the old clock, in conversation with Jacob Worse.
It was generally supposed that it was to these Sunday afternoon conversations with Worse that the Consul owed his perfect knowledge of every event that took place in the town.
Madeleine was sitting by the window, looking out at the rain. She was quite astonished to find how agreeable Pastor Martens could be. Her knowledge of clergymen had hitherto been confined to her father's descriptions of them, which were amusing enough, but far from flattering.
But Mr. Martens was quite lively, if not merry. He had not attempted to say anything serious, and she had nothing against him except that he hit very hard at croquet; but he played really well, and seemed to enjoy it. It was a pity that the rain had come before they had finished their game.
It was one of those evenings when it is not dark enough to light the candles, but is still too dark for any one to see to work; and a wet evening, even in summer, can become very tiresome before lights, cards, and such like make their appearance.
Mrs. Garman and Mrs. Aalbom sat gossiping on the sofa; and Fanny, who in the course of the day had received more than one reproving look from her mother-in-law for flirting with Delphin, was now doing penance with the old ladies, to whom Pastor Martens had also attached himself.
Quite a group had gathered round the fireplace by the attaché, consisting of the magistrate, Mr. Aalbom, and Delphin. Morten had disappeared, no one knew whither.
Delphin was anxious to slip away, so as to get an opportunity of having a chat with Madeleine; but Richard would not let him go—he was just the man after the attache's heart. He reminded him of his own youth, with his polite assurance and ready wit. The old diplomatist had a weakness for getting up little disputes among his acquaintances, while he himself, by alternately assisting the two sides, took care to preserve the balance between them, and maintain a good tone in the discussion. From this point of view George Delphin was quite a treasure. He had just that irritating manner which sometimes became very nearly offensive, but was at the same time so polished, that it would indicate a want of good breeding to be annoyed at it. It was thus a real treat for Uncle Richard to see the magistrate, with all his aplomb, writhe under Delphin's adroit and sarcastic rejoinders. Aalbom, on the other hand, was not so well bred, and often, therefore, broke through conventionalities, to the great delight of both the attaché and the magistrate.
Uncle Richard had on this occasion led the conversation in a direction which he knew would be at the same time entertaining and interesting. The subject was the position of the country with regard to other nations. Mr. Hiorth had been in Paris under Louis Philippe, and Delphin had two years previously made a summer tour through Europe, while the schoolmaster had been at the University of Copenhagen. Delphin's account of his travels was most animated, and culminated in the greatest admiration for Paris. The magistrate maintained that Paris was a dangerous, restless, and vicious town. This was the result of his observation in 1847, and it was generally allowed that since that time it had become even worse. Aalbom vainly tried to get in something about Thorwaldsen's museum.
The conversation began to get lively. The attaché distributed his aid with the greatest impartiality, and winked knowingly at Delphin, when to all appearances he had quite gone over to the magistrate's side. Each point as it arose was discussed with the greatest eagerness, until they arrived at woman's position in society. The magistrate was very strong on the subject of French immorality, but he was unluckily obliged to curtail his remarks on account of the ladies. Aalbom, who was able to take up a firm position on the ground of his acquaintance with "The Origin and History of the French Language," came to the assistance of his friend with a string of the most frightful quotations from Rabelais to Zola. Both then began to compare the women of their own country with those of Northern Europe generally, and managed to make the comparison a very favourable one, holding up their countrywomen as veritable heroines; and as both Richard Garman and Delphin were far too gallant to dispute their theory, so the other two had full enjoyment of their triumph.
Jacob Worse now got up and joined the group. He had not been able to help partly overhearing the conversation, and ruffled as he was by Rachel's accusations, he could no longer keep silence. The Consul smiled as he joined the others, and said in a low tone, "I will keep my eye upon you, and if it gets too hot, will come to your assistance."
From the moment Jacob Worse began to take part in the conversation, the attaché felt that the reins were slipping out of his hands. Worse went at it hammer and tongs; not that he raised his voice, or used unbecoming expressions, but his views were so subversive and so original, that the others were forthwith reduced to silence. At the first onset he brushed aside all the nonsense about Norwegian women, and that sort of thing, and went on boldly to consider the position of woman generally with regard to man. The magistrate asked him superciliously if he meant them to understand that he was in favour of emancipation; and when Worse answered that he was, the magistrate asked him with a smile how he thought he would be treated by an "emancipated wife." Worse, however, maintained that it was not a question how a man was treated, but what the relation really was which existed between the two. The time must be drawing to a close when the sole consideration was, what a man found most agreeable, and it was to be hoped that the young men of the future would be ashamed to argue from that basis. This was plainly a hit, not only at the magistrate, but at all married men of his generation. Aalbom protested warmly against Worse's theory, and his wife could be heard ejaculating in the distance. Pastor Martens now came and joined the disputants.
Jacob Worse was becoming excited; he spoke hurriedly, and his tone showed that he only restrained himself by an effort. On what absurd principles, he maintained, was the education of women generally conducted! How many thousands ended their career, worn out by the drudgery of household duties! Their intellect was wasted, and their strength exhausted for nothing. It was quite easy to talk so glibly of purity in a state of society where man was to know everything and have a right to everything, while woman was to be debarred from all intellectual knowledge.
At the first pause in the conversation, Aalbom came to the front as woman's champion, and the magistrate and Martens joined him. The conversation now waxed warmer, and Delphin wandered off to Madeleine, leaving Worse struggling alone against the arguments which both sides brought to bear on him. The disputants became heated and excited, and all went on talking at once, without giving time for the others to finish their sentences.
The attaché stood with his hands behind his back, regarding with apprehension the storm he had raised, and which was now out of his power to quell.
Mr. Johnsen made several attempts to join in the conversation, which had, however, become so warm that no one could be got to listen to his measured and carefully worded remarks. Rachel followed the arguments with the greatest interest, but she could not help feeling annoyed. She was annoyed when the others said anything stupid, and even still more so when she was obliged to confess that Worse was in the right. Everything seemed to irritate her. She could not bear to hear these men discussing her and her position as if she were some strange animal, and without ever having the grace to ask her opinion. The conversation had now gone far beyond woman's position, although Jacob Worse tried in vain to keep them to the point. Off they went through recent literature, foreign politics, home politics, ever with increasing earnestness, and with the same division of parties. Latterly the pastor had come more to the front. Aalbom's voice began to fail him, and the magistrate was unable any longer to get beyond the beginning of his sentences, and could do little else than point to his decorations and say, "For God and the King!" And before they knew where they were, they found themselves on the subject of modern scepticism.
Jacob Worse protested against this digression; but Martens, whose voice was just as calm as when he began, maintained that this lay at the bottom of the whole question, and that modern unbelief formed, as it were, a background to all the questions they had been discussing, and that all the arguments that were adduced from a "certain point of view" had their roots in this very principle.
The magistrate and Aalbom were agreed on this point, but Jacob Worse, with a pale face and excited gestures, began, "Gentlemen——!"
The Consul here made a sign to Miss Cordsen, who opened the doors into the dining-room, from whence the bright light shone suddenly into the room. The disputants only now remarked that it had become quite dark as they were talking. The company then adjourned to the dining-room, thankful enough to have a little breathing-time, but the voices still retained traces of the excitement.
"Where did you get those splendid lobsters, mother?" asked Morten, who had suddenly turned up, no one knew from whence. He never missed his meals.
"Uncle Richard brought them," answered Mrs. Garman. "I think he has a fisherman at Bratvold, who always brings him the finest lobsters that are to be got." She had taken care to help herself to some of the coral, which looked most appetizing in its contrast to the white meat.
Madeleine got almost as red as the lobster, and bent down over her teacup. Per, and everything connected with her old home, now seemed so distant, that when she thought upon her original intention of making an open confession, the idea seemed mere folly. She was indeed thankful that none of those around her guessed how near she had been to such an absurd engagement.
The two brothers, when they were going to bed that evening, had a chat over the events of the day. Richard's room opened into the Consul's, and notwithstanding that his habit of smoking cigarettes was an abomination to his brother, the door between the rooms always remained open at night. Each had his own particular method of undressing. The Consul took off each garment in due order, folded it up, and laid it in its appointed place. Richard, on the other hand, tore off his things and threw them about anyhow. He then wrapped himself in his dressing gown, and sat down and smoked till his brother was ready.
"He is the very devil, that Worse!" said the attaché, leaning back in the armchair; "but it does me good to hear any one speak out his mind so plainly."
"He is too violent; he forgets conventionalities."
"It is possible to have too much conventionality. It is well for young people to air their views; it does them good."
"What nonsense you are talking, Dick!" cried the Consul, entering his brother's room. "What the deuce would become of the world if youngsters were allowed to jabber like that on every possible occasion?"
But Uncle Richard was not nervous when they were téte-à-téte. He got slowly up from his chair, and let his dressing-gown slip off his shoulders; and the two brothers now stood opposite each other, in very different déshabille. The young Consul was in his night-shirt, and a pair of flannel drawers tied at the knees with broad tape. His thin legs were thrust into long grey stockings, which Miss Cordsen alone knew how to knit. Richard had a pair of Turkish slippers, thread stockings, which fitted closely to his well-formed leg, and a shirt of fine material stiffly starched, in which he always slept. There were none of his brother's failings which the Consul disliked more than this.
"I tell you what, Christian Frederick," said Uncle Richard, as he laid his hand on his brother's shoulder, "I don't say that young people will do the world a great deal of good by making a noise, but I am quite certain that none of us have done it much good by holding our tongue."
"What do you mean? Nonsense, Richard!" said the Consul, contemptuously, as he turned back into his room.
They both got into bed and put out their lights.
"Good night, Christian Frederick."
"Good night," answered the Consul, rather drily; but just as Uncle Richard was on the point of falling asleep, he heard his brother say—
"Dick, Dick! are you asleep?"
"No, not quite," answered the other, sitting up in bed.
"Well, then, perhaps there was something in what you said just now. Good night."
"Good night," said the attaché, lying down with a smile on his face. A few minutes after the two old gentlemen were snoring peacefully in unison.