Fanny and Madeleine had accepted an invitation for the Wednesday in the same week. Rachel had simply refused without giving a reason, but people were now used to her manner.
"I have such a dreadful headache!" sighed Fanny, as she came into Madeleine's room, who was getting ready to go out. Madeleine had come into the town on the Sunday evening.
"Poor Fanny!" said Madeleine, feelingly; "have you got that headache again?"
"Yes, it came just as if it were on purpose, at the very moment I was going to change my dress. Oh, how bad it is!"
"I think you have had a great many of these headaches lately, Fanny; you ought to speak to the doctor."
"It is no use," answered Fanny, endeavouring to cool her forehead by pressing a little hand-glass against it.
"The only thing that does me any good is fresh air and perfect quiet. Oh, the noise here from the street is dreadful! To think that I have to spend the whole evening in a hot room! I can't bear it; it will be too much for me!"
"You shan't go out at all when you are so unwell," said Madeleine, decidedly. "I will make such a nice excuse for you."
"Oh, if I could only stop at home, or, even better still, if I could get to Sandsgaard; it is so quiet there!" said Fanny, with a sigh.
"Yes, that is just what you shall do," cried Madeleine. "You take the carriage when it has left me, and drive out there. I believe it is clearing up, and we shall have a lovely quiet moonlight evening."
"Yes; I don't much mind what the weather is," said Fanny, with a sickly smile. "But do you think it will do for me——"
"You need not trouble about that. I will make such charming and plausible excuses for you, that you will really feel quite rewarded for all the trouble you have had in teaching me the ways of society. Look now, I will begin like this;" and Madeleine, who had now got on her dress, curtsied and smiled, and began a most pathetic story about dear Fanny's dreadful headache. Fanny began to laugh, until it gave her head so much pain that she could not help crying out. She, however, allowed herself to be persuaded, and Madeleine drove off alone.
Madeleine now began to find herself at home in her new life. Fanny was so good and kind to her, that the young girl at last got the better of her shyness, and told her friend the whole story about Per, and the rest of her doings at home.
Fanny did not laugh at her in the least; on the contrary, she said that she quite envied Madeleine the romantic little episode, which would be a sweet recollection for the rest of her life. But when Madeleine timidly said that she considered it more than a recollection, and that she regarded herself as really engaged, she met with such a determined opposition that she did not know what to think. "Young girls often have these absurd adventures," said Fanny, "when they are not old enough to know better." She had herself been madly in love with a chimney-sweep—a common chimney-sweep, just think of that!
The more Madeleine became accustomed to town life the easier she found it to deaden her recollections of the past. But however successful she was in burying them out of sight for the time, they would recur whenever she was alone. But she refused to listen to them; they could never become realities. Still, she never cared to go home to Bratvold with her father, even for a few days. She seemed to dread looking on the sea again.
All that day Rachel had waited in vain; she was beginning to be uneasy. Why did he not come to see her—she who had been so much the cause of his enterprise? He must know how anxious she was to talk with him, and to thank him. It was surely impossible for him to think that she also believed that he had gone too far. Should he not come to-morrow, she would write to him.
There was but little conversation that evening at dinner. The Consul was as precise and polite as he generally was when he was alone with the ladies. Fanny, who had come in hopes of curing her headache, was silent and suffering. By ten o'clock the whole house was perfectly quiet, but Rachel was still sitting in her room, lost in thought. She could not read, but several times she took up a pen to write, she scarcely knew what. She never accomplished her intention, and at last she put out the light, and sat down and gazed over the fjord, which lay sparkling in the moonlight. If, forsaken by every one, he now came to her and prayed for even more than her friendship, for this too she was prepared, and had finally decided on her answer. He was a man, and a courageous one, and she was determined to follow him. What a joy it had been to her to meet such a man! But why was she out of spirits now?
Rachel sat by the window till she heard the carriage which brought home Madeleine, and then hurriedly undressed and went to bed.
As Madeleine was driving home the carriage stopped for a moment in front of the club, while a boy spoke a few words to the coachman.
The driver that evening was old Per Karl, who many years ago had come from Denmark with a pair of horses for the young Consul. Both he and the horses were long past their work; but whenever he could get the opportunity, he was only too pleased to get the old blacks into the carriage, and himself upon the box. This had been the case this evening, when it was only the good-natured Miss Madeleine for whom the carriage was going, and she was always perfectly satisfied, as the old Jutlander well knew, even if the pace was not very terrific.
Per Karl now turned round and said to Madeleine, "What shall we do, miss? Now there will be a bother. Mr. Morten is going to drive out with us, and when he sees we have got the old horses he will be angry."
A few moments afterwards Morten came out, and, after many apologies for the delay, took his place by Madeleine's side. He said he thought he would go out and see how Fanny was, she looked so very unwell; and besides, what a lovely moonlight evening it was for a drive! He sat himself down comfortably in the carriage, and had just taken a long whiff of his cigar, when all at once he leant forward and said, "Stop! what was that?"
One of the horses had made a slight stumble, and the jar was felt in the carriage.
"I declare, it is those old horses and Per Karl!" cried Morten, partly standing up. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Oh!" muttered Per Karl, who was quite ready to defend himself, "there is nothing the matter with the old horses; but, of course, if we had known we were going to have you in the carriage, sir——"
"Rubbish! You know perfectly well the old horses were not to be used any more. I will tell my father, and have them shot to-morrow, as sure as ever it comes."
Morten was very fond of horses; and besides, he was just in that excited and obstinate mood in which people sometimes are, when they have been dining at their club.
Madeleine tried to pacify her cousin, but it only made him all the worse.
"Just look how lame that one is—the left-hand one!"
"You mean the near one, sir."
"Go to the devil with your near and off! I mean the left-hand one, the mare; both her fore legs are as round as apples. Why, I saw that in the spring."
"Not both of them," answered the old coachman, doggedly.
"Yes, they are; but I will have this looked to. I will have a stop put to it, once for all," said Morten, decidedly. He was just in the humour to take everything very much in earnest.
As soon as they arrived, he scarcely gave himself time to help Madeleine out of the carriage, so anxious was he to examine the mare's fore legs; and she heard the voices disputing and wrangling away in the direction of the stable, as she went into the house.
Madeleine's window looked to the westward, and when she reached her room she found it open. She was going to shut it, but the sea looked so peaceful down below in the clear moonlight, that she knelt down on the window-seat, and remained gazing at the lovely scene. The moon had just reached the point at which it began to shine upon her window, and the shadow fell obliquely from the corner of the house, just beyond the hedge below, thus leaving a triangular space in darkness close underneath. As Madeleine leant out she could see that Miss Cordsen's window was also open. She was just going to call to the old lady, with whom she was on the most friendly terms, but on consideration she thought it would be nicer to enjoy the delightful moonlight evening alone.
In that part of the garden the paths were to a great extent overgrown by the spreading trees. The little pond, which had once been full of carp, and where even now some remained, only no one seemed to notice them, was fringed with tall rushes. On the other side was the old summer-house, almost hidden among the shrubs, which were now never clipped. The fact is, that part of the garden which was now most cared for was that which lay just in front of the house, and the part we are now speaking of was left pretty much to itself. Along the inside of the garden wall there stood a row of aspen trees, whose leaves were beginning to turn yellow and strew themselves on the paths. Almost all the other trees still kept their foliage, although it was already September. The mountain ash berries were beginning to redden, and shone in heavy clusters among the leaves, while here and there a leaf was to be seen turning from red to yellow. The beech trees, which had been planted in the time of the young Consul's grandfather, spread out their branches far and wide. The shining dark green foliage hung in rich festoons nearly to the ground, and the long shoots were fringed with masses of tufted beech-nuts.
A mysterious silence reigned in the garden, while the moonlight came rippling noiselessly through the leaves and stealing down the trunks, forming patches of radiance on the grass, which were sharply defined by the edges of the dark shadows. Goldfinches, bullfinches, a few thrushes, and other autumn birds, were sitting in the aspen trees. They were mostly occupied in quietly pluming their feathers, and only some of the young birds, which had been hatched that spring, were hopping about from branch to branch. The parents sat watching them, thinking, doubtless, how delightful it was to be young and innocent. All nature seemed to have reached maturity, and the restless activity of spring was forgotten. The birds were now calm and sober enough. The cocks and hens sat peacefully side by side, no advances were made or encouraged. Love-making, with all its follies, was at an end for that year. Only the curious dragon flies, with their four long wings and taper bodies, were still busy with their love-dances over the pond. August had been so rainy and windy that they seemed anxious to make the most of the still autumn evening. The males were sitting dotted about among the reeds, peering on every side with their prominent eyes, and when one approached another too closely, the two would rush at each other till their transparent wings, like delicate plates of silver, and their scaly bodies, made a tiny rustling when they met in conflict. Then all was still again among the rushes, until the arrival of a female dragon-fly. She would come slowly and carelessly humming along from some other part of the garden, and when she got near the pond would change her course, turn off, and fly back again. Her little heart was doubtless beating high; but casting aside her fears, she at length took courage, and sped on over the pond. Away started five or six males, dashing at each other like knights in helm and harness, and battling confusedly amid the clash of tiny weapons. But the happy victor soon bid adieu to the conflict, and sailed past the others to the side of his lovely prize. Their wings met for a moment in mimic combat, and then away they glided in close embrace far over the heads of the discomfited champions, each aiding other with fairy wings, to seek a lonely spot far away among the rushes.
A plaintive air, sung by some shrill girlish voices in the West End, was wafted over by the light evening breeze. It was so still that Madeleine could follow every word:
"I now myself must sever, My little friend, from thee. Let naught oppress thee ever; Soon home again I'll be."
She felt more than usually depressed, and now, just as it had happened after church on Sunday, Delphin's image seemed suddenly to spring up into her thoughts. Where he came from she knew not. A web of confused reveries seemed to weave themselves in her soul, just as the moon shed its mysterious network of shadows over the grass.
Her attention was all at once attracted by a noise in the garden. She certainly fancied that she heard the door of the summer-house creak on its rusty hinges. At the same moment she heard Morten's heavy tread on the stone steps leading up to the front door: he must be returning from the stable. It was time to go to bed, but still she remained at the window, looking towards the summer-house. She now discovered two forms that were going slowly down the path which led to the wicket in the garden wall. This path was fringed on both sides by high overgrown hedges, and she could only see the heads every now and then as they passed. In the idea that it was one of the maids with her sweetheart, she was just going to shut the window. It was surely nothing which concerned her.
The pair had just reached the place at which two paths crossed each other, which was illuminated by a broad patch of moonlight. Madeleine could not help being curious to see who it might be, and still stood leaning out of the window, holding on to the fastening of the sun-blind. The lovers stood still for a moment, as if they felt that there was danger in passing the place. At length they took courage, and sped hastily by. But not hastily enough—Madeleine had recognized them both. Her pulse seemed to stop and her heart to sink within her, and without uttering a sound she slipped down on the floor under the window. In the passage, outside her door, she heard Morten go grumbling back from the bedroom which he and Fanny usually occupied, and in which she was not to be found.
Madeleine's head became clear in a moment. In another instant he would be down the staircase, out in the garden, and then—— They must be saved, but why she did not know, nor how; but save them she must. Her first idea was to close the window with a bang, but she did not dare to stand up. In her need she saw the water-bottle on the table. She seized it, and, without lifting her head, put it on the window-sill. She gave it a push, and a second after she heard the crash of the glass, and the splash of the water on the paving-stones with which the house was surrounded. She lay still, crouched in a heap under the window.
A light hurried step and the rustle of a dress were heard over the lawn. All was so still, and her nerves were in such a state of tension, that Madeleine could hear one of the French windows carefully opened and closed again. The step came upstairs, and as it passed her door she heard Morten's voice say, "I am sure you never thought that I should come out this evening;" and Fanny's answer, "Oh, one feels that sort of thing instinctively!"
Madeleine breathed again. It was indeed Fanny's voice, in its most insinuating and deceitful tones.
A short time afterwards she got up and closed her window, and withdrawing into the farthest corner of the room, she hastily undressed and crept into bed. Her tears flowed the whole time, but she was utterly crushed, and soon fell into a heavy slumber.
A good hour after Madeleine had gone to sleep, her door opened noiselessly, and a tall shadowy form glided into the chamber. The form placed a water bottle upon the table. The moon had reached the point at which it shone obliquely into the window, and down upon the bed where Madeleine was sleeping. The apparition drew the curtains more closely, and the while a beam of moonlight passed over its features. They were furrowed with innumerable small wrinkles, and a night-cap with starched strings was knotted tightly under the chin.
Noiselessly as it had entered, the apparition glided out again, and the door closed.
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