The next day it rained in torrents. Morten drove into the town immediately after breakfast. Madeleine lay in bed with a fever. Rachel went in to see her, but she found her in such a curious state that she wished to send for the doctor. Miss Cordsen, however, was of opinion that it would be better to let her have perfect rest, and that with time she would soon come round. Rachel would all the same have sent for the doctor, if she had not forgotten it almost before she got downstairs; she was so taken up with her own thoughts. Would another day pass without his coming?
A carriage drove up to the door. Mrs. Garman, who had just finished a little private breakfast in her own room, put down her paper and said, "Is it possible? Can it be visitors in this weather?"
Rachel felt that she was blushing. She had recognized his voice in the hall, and to conceal her emotion, she sat down at the piano and aimlessly struck a few chords.
The door opened and in came Dean Sparre, followed by Mr. Johnsen. Rachel turned round on the music-stool, bringing her hand down with a crash on some of the bass notes of the piano. Her eye never wandered from Johnsen, as if she expected every moment that he would begin to speak, and give some explanation as to why he came in such company.
Dean Sparre gave a cordial greeting to the ladies, at the same time mildly reproaching Rachel for not having paid them a visit at the deanery. He had a great many messages for her from his "little girls."
Mrs. Garman became reconciled as soon as she saw who were the visitors. There was nothing she enjoyed more than a gossip with clergymen.
The conversation first turned upon the disagreeable weather, but Rachel's eyes never once moved from the inspector. He did not look in her direction; his face was pale, and his lips closely pressed together.
"We particularly wished, my young friend and I," at last began the dean, "to pay this visit at your house together. There are many things that can be explained, and many misunderstandings which can be avoided, if one only has an opportunity of talking a matter thoroughly over."
The dean paused and looked at Mr. Johnsen, who made a momentary effort to speak, in which he signally failed.
"It would be most unfortunate," continued the dean, "if a few ill-considered remarks should leave an impression on our congregation that there was any want of agreement, or rather, I should say, difference of opinion, among those who have to work together in the service of the Church."
Rachel had left her seat, and was now standing before Mr. Johnsen. "Is that your opinion?"
"My dear Rachel!" interrupted Mrs. Garman. Rachel's eccentricities really exceeded all bounds.
"Is that your opinion?" repeated Rachel, with the severity of a judge condemning a criminal.
Johnsen raised his head nervously and looked at her. "Allow me to explain, Miss Garman," he began. But he could not withstand the penetrating glance of those clear blue eyes, and hung down his head, and stopped in the middle of his sentence. Rachel turned round, and without saying another word left the room.
"I must really, gentlemen," said Mrs. Garman, "beg you to excuse my daughter. Rachel's conduct is sometimes so very extraordinary; in fact, I don't understand it at all."
"The behaviour of youth, my dear Mrs. Garman," said the dean, blandly, "is undoubtedly somewhat strange in these days; but we ought to consider how times have changed." And the pressure of his soft persuasive hand was so soothing, that when they were gone, Mrs. Garman felt almost as much edified as if she had been listening to a sermon.
That the dean, in the course of three or four days, had been able to bring about this entire change in the inspector, was for Martens a new source of wonder and admiration; and every one could not but feel greatly relieved when they saw the two going about and paying their visits together.
The whole of that memorable Sunday Johnsen had spent in pacing up and down his room, repeating to himself different parts of his sermon. Some of his thoughts he had managed to express clearly enough, while others might have been a little more incisive; but on the whole he was satisfied. He was not satisfied in the sense that he thought he had accomplished a great work, but he was so far satisfied that he now felt that he had room to breathe. Wind in one's sails, even if it is a storm, is preferable to a dead calm. What emotions he must have stirred in many a careless soul! How many of his hearers might not now be struggling with the mighty thoughts which he had thrown amongst them? In the mean time he looked out upon the street, and he felt almost inclined to wonder that the town showed its usual Sunday calm. In the afternoon he expected the dean; he felt certain he would come, and he had a speech ready with which to receive him. Give way he would not, rather resign his position; and besides, he knew of one who had promised him her friendship, if all others should turn their backs on him. And now as the day went on, and the shadows of evening began to fall, and no dean appeared, she came more and more into the foreground of his thoughts. He imagined her by his side, battling with him against the whole world, and full of hope and courage he laid down to rest.
When he awoke the next morning, he heard the wind whistling, and the rain pattering on the window panes. Empty drays were driving at a trot down the street under his windows, and the busy Monday was again alive, on that dingy autumn morning. He had to be in the school before eight o'clock, and begin the work of the day with a prayer and a hymn. Yesterday his ordinary duties had scarcely entered his thoughts; but when the faint odour of the children's clothes as they came wet to school, their inharmonious singing, and that flagging indifference with which the school week opens after Saturday and Sunday's holiday, rose in his imagination, his everyday work appeared more than he could bear.
What was it to him? While he was sitting at his breakfast, and was just thinking of sending the maid down to the school to say he was unwell, a knock was heard at the door, and Dean Sparre entered the room. Johnsen at once endeavoured to recollect what he had yesterday arranged to say to the dean; but at that early hour, and in the presence of that perplexing smile, he might just as well have tried to sing "Lohengrin" without notes as to bring to his recollection his ideas of the day before.
The dean went straight to the point without any parley, but quite from a different point of view to which Johnsen had expected. He was of opinion, in fact, without making any further assumption, that Johnsen was in love with, and even perhaps engaged to, Rachel Garman, and that in his sermon of yesterday he had been expressing her ideas, which, although they were certainly original, were still somewhat distorted. At the same time, he was quite ready to allow that Miss Garman was no doubt a lady of first rate ability.
All the efforts that Johnsen made to get the dean out of this line of thought were entirely thrown away; neither could he make it clear to him that his assumption of the possibility of his being engaged to Rachel was incorrect.
The dean listened with much patience and with perfect good nature to what he had to say, and took up the argument where he had left it. At last he said, calmly and plainly, "Are you not in love with this woman?"
Johnsen's first idea was to answer no; but he failed in the effort, hesitated, and said, "I don't know." From that moment the dean had completed his task. Johnsen tried to break off the conversation by looking at the clock, which was now nearly eight.
"You are thinking of your school, like a conscientious man, are you not?" said the dean. "But you need not be anxious about it. I have been in and told them that you would be unable to attend. Mr. Pallesen will take your place this morning."
Johnsen sat down again, entirely crestfallen. He felt that he had been hopelessly outwitted and beaten. The dean's sonorous voice still rolled on. He did not directly attack any particular point in the sermon—not at all; but he showed how earthly love, although it was but the type of a heavenly one, was often apt to lead us mortals into error. This he knew of his own experience. He did not wish to make himself out better than he was, but he felt that it was of the highest importance for all, and especially for the young, to be constantly on their guard against the danger. Johnsen could see for himself to what lengths he had allowed himself to be carried yesterday.
"There is, however, one thing," continued the dean, "in which you show very great merit, my dear young friend, and for this very reason I have had, and I may say still have, great hopes of you. What I speak of is your integrity, and the natural leaning towards truth and sincerity, which seems to pervade your whole nature. But, my dear friend, how can a man claim to be sincere when he comes forward and cries, 'I love truth beyond everything, and my heart is full of love for what is elevated and pure,' and then it appears all the time that the love with which his heart was full is nothing more than an earthly love for the woman who has put these thoughts into his mind? Now, can you deny that this was your case yesterday?"
Johnsen could not exactly deny the accusation, and the dean seized upon the half-confession he had made, and continued his homily, without betraying a sign of weariness. And when he at last took his leave, which was not till nearly twelve o'clock, he said, "I will look in again this afternoon. Your thoughts are doubtless so much occupied that you will not go out to-day, and perhaps it would look quite as well if you stayed at home."
The next day also Johnsen remained in his room, and the dean paid him a visit, both morning and afternoon. At length, all at once, his conversion was accomplished. In a moment it seemed clear to him by how little he had escaped getting on the wrong path, and now all the apprehensions which he had felt on his first visit to Sandsgaard again reappeared. He felt how near he had been to forgetting and abandoning his mission—that mission among the poor, which was really his duty; but now his eyes were opened, and that very affection, the strength of which he had now only begun to recognize, he would bring as a peace-offering for his shortcoming, and for having so nearly been untrue to himself and to his calling.
He sprang up and grasped the dean's hand. "Thank you! thank you! You have saved me!" His eyes flashed, and his broad, powerful bosom seemed to swell. At that moment the dean might have sent him to certain death, and he would have obeyed.
As they drove back from Sandsgaard, the dean narrowly observed his young friend. The visit at the Garmans' had not passed off quite so successfully as some of the others which they had paid, where the inspector's calm and genuine manner had made a favourable impression. The dean thought, however, that it was better not to carry things too far, now that they seemed to have taken a good direction. They did not, therefore, pay any more visits, but drove home to the dean's to get a cup of chocolate, which Miss Barbara had prepared for them.
Miss Cordsen had now two patients to attend to, for Rachel had also kept her room for some days. The old lady went to and fro between the two. It was not easy to discover how much she comprehended of it all. Her mouth, surrounded by its innumerable wrinkles, was so tightly closed that gossip was, for her, out of the question. Calmly and methodically did Miss Cordsen carry on her duties. Both upstairs and down were to be seen her well-starched cap strings, and the faint, old-fashioned smell of lavender seemed to hang in her very clothes.
Rachel sat for hours looking before her, without caring to do anything. To think that this should be the end of all her hopes! Was it, then, impossible to find a man with courage in his heart, and blood in his veins? She felt that she was precluded from any line of action that would really satisfy her, condemned as she was to a life of daily drudgery; but her thoughts became more and more embittered, first against him who had deceived her, and finally against the whole human race.
Madeleine, on the contrary, had no feelings of this nature; but she had a feeling of dread, which seemed daily to increase. She felt that the duplicity of her friend was so great, so enormous, that it quite passed her imagination; and then the thought that it must be he—he, to whom alone, among all this world of strangers, she felt herself attracted on the very ground of his sincerity! Again and again these thoughts arose within her and tortured her. She felt as if her foothold must be insecure for evermore. A stain of impurity seemed to have passed over her life, which made her timid and apprehensive of all these so-called friends who had thus misunderstood and deceived her.
The morning after that night she was awakened by Fanny, who came into her room in her dressing-gown before it was quite light. The truth was, Fanny had not slept very soundly, tormented as she was the whole time by her fears, and by wondering from whence the warning came. It was quite certain that it must have proceeded either from Miss Cordsen or Madeleine, for the windows of both rooms were open, If it were Madeleine, the plot had become so involved that she did not dare to think of it. If it were Miss Cordsen, it was bad enough, but still not so desperate. From the sound she guessed that it must be a glass of water, or something of that sort, and as soon as day began to dawn she got up and left her room in the hope of clearing up the mystery. Madeleine sat up as she heard Fanny come in.
"I beg pardon, Madeleine. I came to see if you could give me a glass of water. There is a spider in our water-bottle."
She drew back the curtains, and there, sure enough, stood the water-bottle with its glass. Fanny gave a sigh of relief, and left Madeleine still gazing in astonishment. It was more than she could understand.