All the Miss Sparres, of whom there were five, rushed to the window.
"It is Mr. Johnsen, the new school-inspector! No, it isn't! Yes, it is! It is Mr. Johnsen! Do you think I don't know him, although he has got a new coat? I declare, he is coming in!"
"Clementine, you have taken my cuffs! Yes, you have! They were on the piano. He is only going in to see father. Clara, Clara! you are standing on my dress! Here he is! It is a visit! Who can have taken my cuffs?"
Mrs. Sparre was not long in getting them into order. The street door was opened. There was a moment's breathless expectation in the room. It was agreed that Miss Barbara, the eldest, was to say, "Come in," and as all eyes were fixed upon her, she became quite pale with emotion. A knock at the door was heard; but it was at the study door, and the dean said, "Come in!" The door was heard to open, and a subdued conversation began in the room.
"I told you he was only going to see father."
"Yes, and so did I," another said. "What was the good of rushing about looking for your cuffs?"
"I didn't rush about!"
"Yes, you did!"
"Hush! I wonder what he wants with father?" said Mrs. Sparre. All were silent, but they could not hear anything of the conversation which was going on in the other room.
Mr. Johnsen had come to ask the dean to fulfil the promise he had made to him some weeks previously, and to kindly give him permission to preach in the church the next Sunday. The dean had not forgotten his promise, and was only too glad to have an opportunity of fulfilling it. He also begged to thank Mr. Johnsen for his goodness in offering to assist him in his duties.
As far as that went, answered Mr. Johnsen, he would not conceal from him that it was not so much consideration for the weight of his duties which had impelled him to make the request. He must confess, that it was rather that he wished to have an opportunity of addressing the congregation on a personal matter.
The dean could quite feel that his connection with the school would lead to the desire of speaking a few words to the parents of the children who were entrusted to his care.
But this again was not exactly the subject on which Mr. Johnsen wished to speak. There were many things which might weigh on the mind and oppress the thoughts. It would be better, once for all, to disburden the conscience by coming forward honestly and truthfully.
The dean allowed that the idea was only natural. It was the duty of every Christian, and especially of a clergyman, to speak truthfully. But sincerity was a rare virtue, and was often hidden under the changing circumstances of life. But great care would be necessary. It was of the first importance to examine closely both one's mind and one's composition.
Johnsen was able to say honestly that he had arrived at his conclusions after earnest thought and conscientious inquiry, and that his conviction was the result of many lonely hours of self-examination.
The dean could assure him that he well knew these lonely hours of thought, and great was the blessing that might be found in them; but he would venture to suggest what he knew from his own experience, that the problems which a man worked out alone were not always the most trustworthy. He would, therefore, remind him of the passage where we are recommended to confess to each other, which seemed to suggest working in fellowship, and giving each other mutual assistance.
Johnsen answered that that was the very reason why he wished to speak to the congregation.
The two sat on opposite sides of the dean's table, regarding each other attentively. Johnsen was pale and had something nervous about his manner, which seemed to betoken a wish to bring the interview to a close.
Dean Sparre sat leaning back in his armchair, and in his hand he held a large ivory paper-knife, which he used to emphasize his words; not, indeed, for the purpose of gesticulating or striking on the table, but every now and then, when he came to some particular point, he drew the knife up and down on the sheets of paper which lay before him.
To speak the thoughts plainly before the congregation was certainly desirable in itself, and entirely in accordance with Scripture. But it was quite easy to imagine that a man might want to make other confessions which should not be for every ear. The Church had, therefore, another and more restricted form of confession, which was not only just as much in accordance with Scripture, but might often be still better adapted to ease the troubled heart.
Johnsen got up to take his leave. He felt a great wish to speak before the congregation. It was, in his opinion, of the greatest importance that he should have a perfectly clear idea of his own views, and that there should be nothing obscure or insincere between him and his hearers.
The dean also got up, and shook hands on wishing him good-bye. He gave his young friend his best wishes for his undertaking, and hoped he would bear in mind that he, as dean, was always ready to assist him in every way, if he should at any time feel the need of his services.
"You will bear this in mind, my young friend, will you not?" said the old dean, with a fatherly look.
Johnsen muttered something about thanks as he hurried out of the room. He was no longer in the frame of mind in which he had been during the last few weeks. The peaceful, genial air of the dean's study, with its well-filled bookshelves, had had a wonderful effect upon him, as had also the dean, with his manner, which was at the same time so mild and so earnest. The mind of the young clergyman seemed, as it were, softened by an influence which he did not clearly understand, and the power of which he was not willing to recognize.
After a long walk, Johnsen at length arrived in the large field which lay beyond Sandsgaard. From this position he could look down into the garden and premises near the house. He could follow with his eye the broad path where Rachel and he had so often walked together, and their conversation seemed to come before him with the greatest distinctness. For a long time he stood there gazing, until he felt strong again in his resolve. What would he not have given to have seen her, if only for a moment! But he felt he could not approach the house. He would not allow any other feeling to mingle with the holy determination with which his thoughts were filled, and with an heroic effort he turned away, and bent his steps towards the town. His mind had now regained its former tone.
The church was filled to overflowing that Sunday on which Mr. Johnsen was to preach his first sermon. There are always plenty of people who are glad of the opportunity of hearing a new preacher, and this number was increased by the interest which was felt in the earnest young man who had attracted so much attention.
Mrs. Garman sat with her daughter in the family seat, in which were also Fanny and Madeleine. Dean Sparre, with his wife and daughter Barbara, were in the front row of the pew which belonged to them; while behind were Pastor Martens with the other Miss Sparres; and behind, again, Mrs. Rasmussen, the chaplain's housekeeper.
The congregation was so large that the voices swelled as when the Christmas hymn is sung, and as the preacher wended his way towards the pulpit, the heads of all the singers were turned as if to follow him.
As Johnsen ascended the narrow winding stair where no eye could see him, he felt a momentary weakness, as if he must almost sink under his burden, and he never afterwards clearly remembered how he had managed to get up the last few steps which led to the pulpit; but when he at length reached his place, and the hundred eyes were again fixed on him, he forced himself, with that energy which was peculiar to him, to conquer his feelings. He looked so calm that many people averred that they had never seen a young clergyman more at home in the pulpit.
Johnsen had sharp eyes, and could recognize many of the faces below him; but he was conscious of Rachel's presence, as she sat opposite to him in the Garmans' pew, more by an instinctive feeling than because he actually saw her. He was, in fact, obliged to avert his eyes from her direction, lest the sight should unman him. The part of the church in which the women sat was immediately under him, just below the pulpit, while the private pews were in a kind of gallery opposite. As the congregation sang the last verse of the psalm, he gazed deliberately over all the upturned eyes. Some were piercing, some curious, some pious and devotional, while some appeared as deep and unfathomable as if he were looking into unknown depths.
After an introductory prayer, he read his text in a clear and composed voice, after which he began a short and clear explanation of the passage. It was only in the last part of the sermon that he really intended to go into more personal matters, and the nearer he approached them the less confidence he seemed to feel. When he had begun his sermon, he had fixed his eyes on a certain point, which he sought every time he lifted his eyes from his notes; and this point, although he had not remarked it at first, was Dean Sparre's head. The snowy hair and the white collar stood out in the sharpest contrast against the dark background, and the more the speaker gazed at this noble face, the more he seemed to dread the conclusion. He was already close upon the point where he was first to begin to speak about sincerity, and the necessity of a perfectly truthful existence, and although he could not exactly tell the reason, he could not but feel that the stirring discourse he had set himself to deliver, was but little in keeping with that bright and peaceful smile, and with that commanding countenance so full of earnestness and harmony.
His head seemed to go round, and not another word could he utter. There was a deathlike stillness in the church, as he wiped his brow with his handkerchief.
But when he again raised his head, he made an effort, and, looking beyond the dean in his need, he sought her who was really the cause of his standing where he did. He was not disappointed, for the moment his eyes met the calm and determined face, a change seemed to come over him. Her eye rested upon him with an inquiring and almost anxious expression, which he well understood.
She should not be disappointed of her trust in him, and with renewed strength, and without a tremor in his voice, he began upon the last part of his discourse. Ever higher and fuller rang his voice, until its sonorous tone filled the church, and was re-echoed from the vaulted roof. The congregation followed him with attention, while some of the old women were moved to tears. And now a sensation of uneasiness seemed to pass through those who composed the great assembly. It was indeed an extraordinary sermon, with its earnest entreaties to be thoroughly upright and sincere, and with its reckless condemnation of all forms and ceremonies, all of which were but of secondary consideration. It seemed too bold, too exaggerated.
He seemed anxious to confess his sceptical opinions, in holding which he did not stand alone. He was only alone in confessing them. He knew only too well that fine web of soothing compromise, with which people were in the habit of deadening their consciences. He knew it still better, too, from his own point of view as a clergyman, who even more than others was bound to live in the full glare of truth, even though he might be despised, hated, and persecuted by an unreasoning world. If he followed the beaten track, whither would it lead? To a position of comfort and respectability, in which the first duty was to throw a veil over one's own heart and those of others: to suppress all doubt and inquiry, and to deaden all real life in the individual, so that the whole machine might continue its regular movements without noise or friction. But truth was a two-edged sword, sharp and shining as crystal. When the light of truth broke into the heart of man, it caused an agony as piercing as when a woman brings her child into the world.
But, instead of this, was a man to lead a life of slumber, shut in by falsehood and form, without force or courage; giving no sign of firmness or power, but stuffed and padded like the hammers of a piano?
He was so carried away by his thoughts that he forgot his notes and said many things he would never have dared to write; and after the last thundering outburst, he concluded with a short and burning prayer for himself and for all, to have power to defy the falsehood by which man was bound, and to live a life of sincerity.
He then went on in an entirely changed voice with the rest of the service; but Rachel particularly noticed that he left out the prayer for the arms of the country, by land and sea; and now, as he read the prayers in a calm, quiet voice, the assembly seemed to breathe more freely, as if after a storm.
Among the men could be heard whispers, and the prevailing idea seemed to be that the sermon was a complete scandal; while those who had to do with the law were of opinion that he would be cited before the Consistorial Court. Among the women the feeling seemed rather undecided, and many inquiring glances were thrown towards where the men were sitting, in the hope of divining what the opinion would be, either of a husband, or a brother, or, in fact, of that particular person of the opposite sex, according to whose decision each woman was in the habit of forming her own.
Most eyes, however, sought the dean, who sat as he had done during the whole sermon, slightly leaning back on his seat, and holding a large hymn book, which was a gift from his previous congregation, between his hands. From the upper windows on the other side of the church a subdued light fell on his form. The face had the same exalted and peaceful expression; not a sign of uneasiness or annoyance had passed over it during the whole sermon, which was not without a soothing effect upon the congregation. The feeling of restlessness and excitement was universal, but most people seemed inclined to defer their final judgment.
Pastor Martens had left the pew immediately after the sermon, for he had to conduct the Communion Service. While he performed it, his somewhat unmusical voice trembled with inward emotion. There could be no doubt whatever as to what were the inspector's real opinions.
The chaplain could not help being rather pleased at the satisfaction the dean would now be obliged to render him, for it had been quite against the chaplain's wish and advice, that Johnsen was allowed to preach at the morning service. It would have been more advisable to have given him a first trial either at a Bible reading, or at most at the evening service. But now the murder was out, and he had shown his feeling of antagonism to the Church before the whole congregation. What would the dean do? The affair would naturally have to be reported.
As soon as the service was over, Martens left the altar and hurried into the sacristy, into which he had already seen the dean enter.
"What do you say to that, sir?" he cried breathlessly, as he shut the door after him.
Dean Sparre was sitting in his armchair, reading the hymn-book he had in his hand. At the chaplain's question he raised his head with an expression of mild reproof at the disturbance, and said abstractedly, "To what are you alluding?"
"Why, the sermon; of course I allude to the sermon; it is perfectly scandalous!" cried the chaplain, excitedly.
"Well, certainly," answered the dean, "I cannot say that it was a good sermon, taken as a whole, but if you take into consideration——"
"But really, sir——" interrupted the chaplain.
"It appears to me, and it is not the first time I have noticed it, my dear Martens, that you do not quite get on with our new fellow-worker; but is it not to us that he ought really to look for support?"
The chaplain cast down his eyes; there was some extraordinary power about his superior. Not an instant before he had formed his opinion quite clearly, but the moment he found himself face to face with the dean's genial countenance, all his ideas seemed to change.
"It grieves me to be obliged to speak to you thus, my dear Martens, but I do so with the best intentions; and, then, we are alone."
"But don't you think, sir, that he was far too bold?" asked the chaplain.
"Yes, clearly, clearly so," assented the dean, in a friendly tone. "He was unguarded, like all beginners; perhaps the most unguarded I have heard. But then we know quite well that the same thing often occurred in our own time. It would be quite unreasonable to expect the Spirit's full maturity in the young."
This remark caused Martens involuntarily to think of his own first attempt. He answered, however, "But he maintained that we ministers, above all others, are living a life of falsehood, shut in by meaningless forms."
"Exaggeration! a wild and dangerous exaggeration! In that I quite agree with you, my dear Martens. But, on the other hand, which of us can deny that a ceremonial, be it ever so beautiful and full of meaning, still in the course of time, when it is frequently repeated, loses something of its influence over us? But who will dare east the first stone? Is it not youth, as we see, who has not yet experienced the wear of that continuous labour which strives to be true to the end? And then naturally we get exaggeration—dangerous exaggeration. But," continued the dean, "before everything, let us agree to look upon his sermon in the right light, for the opinion of many will be formed upon ours, and if we now allow this young man to slip out of our hands he will, likely enough, be entirely lost for the good work; and I must say I have great hopes of him. I feel sure that in his right place, which would be in a large town—for instance, in Christiania—he will make a name for himself in the Church, and I venture to think that his labours will bear abundant fruit."
Martens again looked up at the dean as he pronounced these words, and for the first time he now perceived what it was that made his manner so irresistible. It was the smile, that changing and varying smile, which yet never entirely left the noble features. It seemed to mingle in all he said, like a warm and soothing sunbeam; and as the chaplain constrained himself to alter his opinion under its influence, he felt that the muscles of his mouth involuntarily assumed the dean's expression.
Madame Rasmussen could not conceal her astonishment at the moderation with which the chaplain spoke of Johnsen's sermon. She was herself in the highest degree shocked, and when Mr. Martens told her that, in his opinion, Mr. Johnsen would be likely to become a clergyman of considerable note in Christiania some day, she almost thought that he was carrying his for bearance too far. Still she could not but like Pastor Martens, who had now lived with her for two years without a single ill word having passed between them. Madame Rasmussen was a young widow, plump, good-looking, and light-hearted. She had no children, and it was quite a pleasure to her to manage for the chaplain—to prepare his little dishes, and to keep his things in order. She was the only person in the whole town who really knew that Martens wore a wig. This was not, however, a thing to be spoken about, and nobody else was admitted into the secret.
As Mrs. Garman drove home from church with Rachel and Madeleine, she spoke disapprovingly of Johnsen's sermon. She considered that it was highly improper for a young man to be so forward and daring; but it was quite in accordance with the spirit of the times, as Pastor Martens had explained on the previous Sunday.
"Ah, Pastor Martens is quite a different man, is he not?" asked Mrs. Garman, addressing Madeleine, as Rachel made no reply.
"Yes—oh yes!" answered Madeleine, abstractedly. She was wondering all the time where Delphin could have come from so suddenly, when he appeared close to her and Fanny in the crowd at the church door He had greeted her in a most friendly way, but when they got to the carriage they found that both he and Fanny had vanished without saying good-bye.
Rachel let her mother talk away, as was her wont, She was all the time meditating on the importance of the event which had just taken place, and was wondering how Johnsen would come out of it all. It was quite clear that her mother's was the prevailing opinion, and it was but too probable that with most people the ill feeling would take a still more bitter form. She could picture him to herself calm and steadfast in the midst of it all. Here at length she had found a truly courageous man.
During dinner Delphin gave his own rendering of some extracts from the sermon, with as much spirit as his fear of Mrs. Garman would allow, and the performance afforded Uncle Richard great amusement. Rachel thought it best to contain her feelings, for she knew that conversation with Mr. Delphin on a serious subject was nothing else than an impossibility. Madeleine, on the contrary, could not help laughing. She always found Delphin very amusing, and at the same time so good-natured. She had latterly been almost annoyed with Fanny because she treated Delphin coolly and distantly. But Delphin seemed scarcely to notice her conduct; on the contrary, he seemed even in better spirits than before. He really was a good fellow.
Several people also thought that Morten Garman was a good fellow, to allow Delphin to carry on with Fanny without interference. It was not easy to know if Morten saw anything or not, and whether his confidence in his wife, or his own bad conscience, caused his indifference.
Rachel passed the Monday and Tuesday in an anxious state of mind. Something, she thought, must happen. The feeling against Johnsen was strong, but it must surely take some more decided form. She knew that he would come to see her, happen what might, and she expected him.