At last, one day well on in December, the dreadful weather seemed to have worn itself out for a time. The sky was perfectly clear, and not even the smallest cloud was to be seen which could give rise to apprehension. During the night there had been a few degrees of frost, and the roads, which had for a long time been nearly impassable, became all at once hard and dry. On the puddles lay the first ice, as thin and clear as glass, and the meadows were hoary with frost.
The chaplain was on his way to Sandsgaard, with his newly acquired smile on his features. The lovely weather enlivened him, and made his thoughts cheerful and full of hope; for the chaplain was going a wooing.
It was fully two years since Martens had lost his first wife; he had really regretted his loss, but now it was a long time ago. It would have been quite improper, and not at all in accordance with the views of the congregation, for so young a widower to remain single longer than was absolutely required by the ordinary rules of society. Now, the chaplain knew just as well as any one that a particular charm attaches to an unmarried clergyman—that is, for a time; and he also fully agreed with Dean Sparre, when he said a short time previously, "If a congregation is to have the peaceful, comforting feeling that their souls are well cared for, they should have the example of a peaceful, homely life before their eyes, in the form of a motherly wife at the rectory, and even better still, a family of happy children."
And besides, Pastor Martens was really in love. Madeleine Garman had long ago, in fact as soon as ever she left Bratvold, taken possession of his heart by her modest and natural demeanour; and no worldly expectations mingled in the chaplain's affections. He knew that Richard Garman had not a shilling, and he was sufficiently free from prejudice to disbelieve the general report that Madeleine's father had never been properly married to her mother. In Madeleine he hoped to find the retiring and simple-minded woman for whom he was seeking, and latterly, since her manners had become even more quiet, he had paid her greater attention, and it appeared to him that she met him in a modest and womanly manner.
On his arrival at Sandsgaard, he met Mrs. Garman in her room, and to her he entrusted his secret. At first she did not seem to take to the idea, but on second thoughts she appeared more favourably disposed. She considered that sooner or later something of the kind must happen, and it was perhaps just as well that the chaplain, who was already so dear to her, should become a member of the family. She therefore said, when she had made up her mind—
"Well, Mr. Martens, if you really think that Madeleine will make you a good wife in the eyes of God and man, I have nothing to do but give you my very best wishes on the choice you have made. You will find Madeleine in the green-room."
Pastor Martens went off to the green-room, and returned after a quarter of an hour had elapsed; but Mrs. Garman's astonishment defies description, when she learnt that he had met with a refusal.
"Tell me," she groaned—"tell me every word. Oh, the poor misguided child!"
"I am afraid I cannot tell you every word that passed, Mrs. Garman," answered Martens, pale with emotion; "I am too much shocked and——"
"And surprised too, I am sure," said Mrs. Garman, concluding his sentence; "yes, that I can readily believe. What is the matter with the child? What reason did she give?"
"She did not say much," answered the pastor; "she seemed to be almost afraid of me. She went off to the door and began to cry, and said——"
"What—what did she say?"
"She simply kept repeating 'no,'" answered the chaplain, quite crestfallen.
Mrs. Garman could not disguise her astonishment.
The bright sunshine had not the same enlivening effect upon the pastor as he returned to his lodgings. He, however, managed to control both his feelings and his countenance. This was a trial that he would have to receive with humility. The only thing that annoyed him was, that he had said anything about it to Mrs. Garman.
Mr. Martens's proposal was the only thing that was wanted to complete the life of wretchedness, which Madeleine had passed ever since that moonlight autumn evening; and yet the chaplain was to a certain extent right, when he thought that Madeleine had met him with some degree of warmth. There was, in fact, something in the almost fatherly manner with which he treated her, something which seemed to soothe her affrighted heart. She had a longing to be able to feel confidence in somebody, and the calm, earnest clergyman seemed to her so different from all those for whom she had such an abhorrence, since she had made her fatal discovery. And now he, too, was to come to her with the same story; told, certainly, in a different way—that she was quite willing to allow; but still the gist of it was the same—the very same whichever way she turned.
Mrs. Garman took her most severely to task for having so unreasonably and foolishly rejected such a man as Pastor Martens; and at length, what with one thing and another, the poor girl quite lost her health, and the doctor had as much as he could do to pull her through an obstinate attack of low fever.
George Delphin had soon got to know from Fanny that it was old Miss Cordsen who had seen them in the garden, and given them the timely warning. This was for him a greater relief than Fanny expected; for, after the first feeling of pride and delight at having gained his lovely prize, Delphin had felt more and more compunction in his inmost heart every time he thought of Madeleine. He was not willing to break off with Fanny—this was more than he dared to do; but, careless and clever as he was, he thought that he would be able for the present to keep up the double game with both.
He could make up his mind when the time came, and he would make up his mind, too, if he could win Madeleine, and if he thought she was worth the price of breaking off with the lovely Fanny. But within a few days after that evening on which they had been so careless, his eyes began to be opened. Fanny was not at Sandsgaard that day, for little Christian Frederick had got the measles, and Delphin, therefore, attempted to talk with Madeleine in the good-natured and patronizing way which he had hitherto done. But a single look from her frightened eyes was enough for him; he could not endure her glance, and became silent, and immediately after dinner made an excuse for taking his leave. He had promised to look in at Fanny's during the afternoon, and he found her expecting him, as she came from the child's sick-room in a charming demi-toilette. When he came in, she ran forwards with her hands stretched out to meet him. Delphin did not take them, but said with a serious air—
"I know now who it was that saw us that evening; it was not Miss Cordsen."
"That is what I have long suspected," answered Fanny, with a smile; "but I did not wish to alarm you. Besides, Madeleine is far too stupid to allow of her doing us any harm."
At that moment he was almost afraid of her. He felt he could not remain with her any longer, although she besought him to do so.
Fanny stood watching him as he went down the street, biting her lips to restrain her feelings; but the tears stood in her eyes, and she kept a convulsive hold on the curtains, behind which she was concealing herself. For the conquest she had made, which had also on her side been at first only mere vanity, had ended by becoming a serious matter. She really loved him, and could now see clearly exactly how the situation lay.
Christmas came and passed. The ordinary festivities of the season went on as usual at the Garmans'; but this year they were less merry than usual. There were several members of the family who each had to bear his own separate sorrow; and little Christian Frederick, the only hope of the family, was lying at home, slowly recovering from the measles. Uncle Richard never seemed to gain quite his usual Christmas spirits, for Madeleine's appearance caused him considerable anxiety. Since he had no longer been able to keep her under his eye by means of the big telescope, she had quite got beyond his ken amongst all the others with whom she constantly mixed, and when ever they happened by chance to find themselves alone together, Madeleine did nothing but cry, and that was more than her father could bear.
Morten was dreading the settling of the year's accounts with his father. That part of the business which was carried on in the town, and which was regarded as a kind of offshoot from Garman and Worse, had to be most carefully examined on account of a large amount of private business and debts, which the son had incurred during the past year. His housekeeping account, which his father always wished to see, had also to be worked out carefully by itself. But the worst of it all was, that when they were sitting together in the Consul's office, Morten could never get rid of the feeling, that however he might twist and wriggle, the clear blue eyes still seemed to pierce through his every manœuvre; and the part he had to play was very painful to him. As soon as they had reckoned up the result of the year, the Consul put his finger on the gross receipts and said, "These are far too small."
"Times have been very bad," answered Morten. "I feel sure that by next year——"
"The times have not been so bad," interrupted the father, "but that a house with the capital with which we have to work ought to have managed to earn double. In my father's time we earned twice as much with half our present capital."
"Yes; but times were quite different in those days, father."
"And people were quite different too," answered the Consul, severely. "In those days we were contented to move with caution and foresight, without mining our credit by mixing with a lot of speculators in all kinds of doubtful undertakings."
Morten felt the rebuke, and answered, "I did not think Garman and Worse set such store by its credit in those days."
"The house is no longer what it has been," said the young Consul dryly, closing the thick ledger. He then held out his hand to Morten over the table, and said, "Best wishes for the new year."
"The same to you, father," said Morten, as their eyes met for a moment.
The young Consul thought upon the time when he himself stood where Morten was now standing, and when the old Consul sat in the armchair. How utterly different everything was in the old days! However, the year's account was over, and Morten was glad of it.
After Christmas there was a succession of balls and parties in the town. At Sandsgaard only one large ball was given every year, and that was on the old Consul's birthday, which fell on the 15th of May.
Madeleine did not go out that winter, neither did she pay any more visits to Fanny. Rachel was, as usual, quite incomprehensible. Sometimes she would answer her well-known "No, thanks," and sometimes she would take it into her head to make herself smart, go to a dance, and be either pleasant or the contrary, just as the fit took her.
The disappointment she had experienced at the hands of Mr. Johnsen made her more bitter than ever; but she never gave him another thought. She had done her best for him, as she said to herself, and now that it was over, she heard with the greatest indifference that his Bible explanations at the prayer-meeting were so wonderfully successful; but in her innermost heart Rachel often felt a void, which some times made her uneasy. It seemed as if she was indifferent to everything. She felt no pleasure in anything; and it was generally when she was in this mood that she felt most inclined to go to a ball.
In February there was a dance given at the Club, at which both Rachel and Fanny were present. Fanny was dressed entirely in blue, even to her shoes, fan, and blue flowers in her hair; but her eyes were bluer than all.
"Ein meer von blauen Gedanken Ergiesst sich über mein Herz,"
as Delphin said when he came into the room. The pleasure caused her by this compliment had to suffice her for the whole evening. She could no longer hide from herself that Delphin was in danger of slipping out of her hands; but she never reproached him, for she felt instinctively that as soon as anything of the kind arose between them, all would be over, and part from him she could not.
Jacob Worse danced a waltz with Rachel, and during the pauses he tried several times to lead the conversation on to the injustice she had done him in calling him a coward. At first she avoided the subject, which was, indeed, too serious a one for the ballroom; but Worse was persistent—it was not very often that he had the opportunity of speaking with her—and at last Rachel promised him half jestingly to give him an answer when the dance was over.
As they were sitting by themselves in a corner of one of the rooms leading off the ballroom, and while the dancing was still going on, she said, "I must beg your pardon for what I said the other day. You are not a bit more cowardly than the rest of them."
"If we could manage to define exactly what you mean by cowardice," said Jacob Worse.
"But you know perfectly well."
"Well, then, is not this about your idea? When a man, either in politics, or in religion, or in any other serious matter, is not at all in accordance with the general tone of the society in which he lives—then, if he holds his tongue, it can be from no other cause than from what you are pleased to call cowardice."
"That is exactly my opinion, and I maintain it is correct."
"But, on the other hand, I am sure you must allow," continued Jacob Worse, "that all opposition has not the same weight. In many cases it might do more harm——"
"Oh, I know that miserable, cowardly excuse!" broke in Rachel, abruptly. "'What is the good,' you say, 'of even my best endeavours when I work alone? ' and then you lie down and go to sleep. That is indeed cowardice par excellence."
"I must, however, tell you, Miss Rachel," answered Jacob Worse, who was beginning to lose his self-control, "that there is many a man who during his whole life is painfully conscious that he has not the power of making his views felt, or has even the opportunity of bringing them before the world. But it is not in courage that such a man is wanting—far from it."
"I could almost believe that you were speaking of yourself," said Rachel, with indifference.
"Yes, and so I am!" answered he, hurriedly. "I have always been one of those heavy, slow-thinking people, but I have a quality which that kind of person would be better without. I am hasty. From my boyhood I have known it, and have kept it under to the best of my ability. But, notwithstanding my efforts, this hastiness sometimes gets the better of me, just when I am most in want of a little cool reflection. I lose my head, the words begin to flow like a torrent, and I listen to them myself almost with terror. Yes, you have heard me yourself on one memorable occasion, Miss Rachel," he added with a smile, "and I am sure you will confess that a man of my nature is but little suited to engage in a struggle with prejudice. For, for such a struggle, patience and coolness are imperative."
"It is quite possible that the attributes of which you speak are most desirable," answered Rachel, "but still it seems quite clear to me that every man who a conviction is bound to act up to it. How much he can accomplish is not the question he must ask himself, but he is bound to make the attempt."
"I will just tell you how my first attempt turned out," said Jacob Worse. "When I came home, which is now about two or three years ago, still breathing the comparative freedom of other lands, the first thing in our own country which attracted my attention was the exceptionally bad social condition of our labourers and mechanics. Their houses and food, the bringing up of their children, their teaching and education, in fact, everything which belonged to them, fell far short of what I thought it ought to be."
"I have often thought upon the same subject," rejoined Rachel. "But father says it is the fault of the people themselves; they are so greatly opposed to change."
"That is one of your most excellent father's worst prejudices. However, I began by getting up a society, which with us is no easy matter. All went well at first, and then a president had to be chosen. Some one suggested myself, a proposition to which all the others agreed, which was quite natural. I thus became president, and took no little trouble in instructing the people as to what questions were important for them, and what were their requirements. Then I began to hear a whisper here and there that it was a curious thing that the president of the society had never been properly elected. I did not take much notice of these whispers, but still I suggested that there should be an election. The day came, and some one else was chosen in my place."
"It was Mr. Martens, was it not?" asked Rachel.
"Yes; you are quite right. I was greatly astonished, and did not attempt to conceal my feelings. Martens had not attended a single one of our meetings before the afternoon on which he was elected. I found the whole thing quite incomprehensible. However, in our state of society, it is not difficult to get to know anything if you only give yourself the trouble to make a few inquiries; and so I soon got a clear knowledge that the person who had got up the whole thing was the dean. So one day I called upon him."
"No! I never heard of that!" cried Rachel. "What did the dean say?"
"Nothing. The answer he gave me amounted to nothing. Not that I wish you to understand that he held his tongue. On the contrary, he talked incessantly in his best-modulated voice, and was smiling, friendly, in fact, almost appreciative, but not a single word fell from his lips that was really to the point. Do what I would, I could not get him to discuss a single question, or to give me a reason as to why he had got me turned out of the workman's society, and put his chaplain in my place. He denied nothing and confessed nothing, and the end of it was—there, again, my misfortune—I got so annoyed to see him leaning back in his chair, with his white hair and ever-lasting smile, that I got into one of my worst tempers and poured out a regular volley of thunder at him."
"Well, and the dean—did he lose his temper?" asked Rachel.
Worse laughed. "I might just as well have tried to get a spark out of wood, as to get him to lose his temper. No; the dean was bland as ever, and when I left he shook my hand, and hoped he might soon have the pleasure of seeing me again. But afterwards I got well paid out for that visit"
"How was that?" she asked.
"Well, you see, since then I seem to have been under a ban, which shows itself in all sorts of little ways—in business, in society, everywhere. My mother, poor thing, hears it in her shop from her customers, and it always takes the same annoying form: regret about modern disbelief, and free-thinking, and so on; and I am certain that most people regard it as a stroke of wonderful good luck, that I was prevented in good time from corrupting—yes, no less than corrupting—our noble work-people. So I said to myself, 'Since there is such a wide difference between my opinions and those of the people whom I wish to assist, and since my nature is what it is, there is nothing else to be done but for me to keep myself thoroughly occupied with my work, and hold my peace.'"
"Peace! Yes, there it is again!" said Rachel. "But no, no! I am sure you are not right."
"Well, let me speak to you about yourself, Miss Garman," said Jacob Worse, becoming more courageous.
"Neither I nor any one else of your acquaintance will be able to comply fully with the conditions you lay down. But I know one person who has the power, and that, Miss Garman, is yourself. You have all the qualifications we others lack."
"I! a woman! and, worse than all, a lady!" said Rachel, looking at him with the greatest astonishment. "And how, if I may ask?"
"You must write!"
Rachel hesitated, and looked at him suspiciously. "That is not the first time I have heard this. More than one person has mentioned it to me before. I suppose it is that authorship is reckoned as one of the bad habits of an emancipated woman."
Jacob Worse again began to lose his self-command. 'I don't mind your calling me a coward, Miss Garman. But when you think, or pretend to think, that I am not speaking more seriously than some of these——"
"No, no; sit down, I beg you," said Rachel, anxiously, putting her hand on his arm. "I did not mean any harm, but I am so suspicious. I beg pardon. There, now, don't think any more about it. You really do think, then, that I ought to write?"
"I am quite sure you ought," answered Worse, who soon became quiet again. "You have so much originality and so much energy, that you will be able to overcome every difficulty, and in courage you are certainly not wanting."
Amid the whirl of the dance around them, these encouraging words sounded doubly strange in her ears, and seemed to open out new vistas before her.
"But what have I got to write about? What do I know that the world does not know already? No, you really must be wrong, Mr. Worse. It is beyond me;" and she looked down at her dress, and could not help feeling that Worse was becoming rather dull.
"It is not very easy to say beforehand what your subject ought to be," said he; "but it is clear that there are endless things that the world can only learn from a woman, and which it seems to be expecting to hear. For you it is but to have the will. You are now passing through a crisis in your life, and you have such a fund of energy——"
"You seem to be treating me more like a chemical equivalent than like a human being, not to say like a lady," said Rachel, laughing.
"Let us be thankful that you have so little of the lady about you," said Jacob Worse, bluntly.
The dance now began for which Rachel was otherwise engaged, and her partner came and carried her off.
Jacob Worse stood watching her for a few minutes. He then got his coat and went home.
He perfectly understood that by awakening these thoughts in her, he would make the fulfilment of what was really the dream of his life become more distant than ever. But he felt convinced that Rachel's splendid abilities would be entirely thrown away in her present narrow sphere; and he felt, too, that he was perfectly honest to himself, when he said that he would not hinder her from taking the path she ought to follow, even if he thereby destroyed his own greatest happiness. But when he got home and was alone in his own quiet room, he was even more dispirited. He could not but see that when Rachel came to have a proper estimate of her own powers, she would find her present home too narrow for her, and a marriage such as he could offer would be quite unworthy of her.
He saw a light in the rooms at the back of the house. It was not much past eleven; so he went over to his mother, whom he found in her dressing-gown, busied in arranging her small remnant of hair for the night.
It was not astonishing that the worthy Mrs. Worse's eyes kindled with pride when she saw her tall, handsome son come in, dressed as he had been for the ball: but when he threw himself on the sofa, and hid his face in his hands, and said, "Oh, mother! mother!" just as he had done in his boyhood when he had done something foolish, Mrs. Worse shook her clenched fist against some imaginary foe in the corner of the room, and muttered, "Is it decent to send me home a son in such a plight?"
She did not, however, say the words aloud, but went over and took his head upon her lap, and, as she passed her fingers through his hair, she said with her unwavering constancy, "There, my dear boy, only keep yourself calm, and it will all come right, somehow or another."
Rachel would also have been glad enough to have been taken home at once; but Mrs. Garman had heard that the new cook had something new in filets, and they therefore had to wait until after supper.