The same morning Torpander was seen going along the road which led to Sandsgaard. Contrary to his usual custom, he had taken a holiday that Monday. On his head he wore a grey felt hat of the particular shape which was called in the trade "the mercantile." The hatter had assured him that it had been originally made for Mr. Morten Garman, but that it was unfortunately just a trifle too small. The hat, however, exactly fitted Torpander, and dear as it was, he bought it; and he could not help noticing the coincidence, that he was that day wearing a hat which Morten Garman had rejected. He had also bought a coat for the occasion, not quite new, it is true, but of a most unusual light-brown hue. The trousers were the worst part of the costume, but the coat was long enough, in a great measure, to hide them. Torpander could well enough have bought trousers as well, but he did not wish to trench too deeply on his savings, before he saw how it fared with him that day. If all went well she should have everything he possessed, and if it went badly he would return at once to Sweden, for he could bear the suspense no longer. He had not, truth to say, great hopes as to his ultimate success. He had heard a report that Marianne was unwell, but perhaps she was upset by the disgrace which Martin had brought upon the family. The fact that he was making his proposal at that particular time might be a point in his favour; but no, he could not help feeling that such happiness was almost bewildering.
It was a lovely sunshiny day, and the tall light brown form went briskly on its way, moving its arms unconsciously, as if rehearsing the scene which was shortly to follow. In the left-hand pocket of his coat he had a silk handkerchief, which had long been his dream, of a bright orange colour with a light-blue border, and of which the corner was seen protruding from his pocket. It was not at all his intention to put the handkerchief to its legitimate use; for that purpose he had a red cotton one, adorned with Abraham Lincoln's portrait. The silk handkerchief was to be used only for effect, and every time he met any one in the avenue before whom he thought it worth while to show off, and that was nearly every passer-by, he drew the brilliant handkerchief from his pocket, raised it carefully to his face, and let it fall again. He derived the greatest satisfaction from feeling the rough surface of the silk eling to the hard skin on the inside of his hands.
At the building-yard he met Martin, who was coming hastily along in the opposite direction.
"Is your sister at home?" asked Torpander.
"Yes, you will find her at home," answered Martin, with an ominous smile.
In the yard close to the house at Sandsgaard, Martin met Pastor Martens, who was on his way from the town, dressed in cassock and ruff.
Martin touched his cap. "Will you come and see my sister, sir? She is at the point of death."
"Who is your sister?" asked the pastor.
"Marianne, sir; Anders Begmand's grand-daughter."
"Oh yes, I remember now," answered the pastor, who knew her history perfectly well. "But I cannot come just now; I have to go in here first. Consul Garman is also on his death-bed. But I will come afterwards."
"Oh yes, this is just what I might have expected," muttered Martin, turning to go away.
"Wait a moment, young man," cried the pastor. "If you think that time presses, I will go and see your sister. It's the last house, is it not?" Upon which he went on past Sandsgaard, and on towards West End.
Martin was astonished, if not almost disappointed. The pastor meanwhile continued his way, which he did not find very pleasant when he had to pass among the cottages. Ragged urchins waylaid him, the girls and the old women put their heads out of the doors and gaped after him, while a group of children who were grovelling on the shore cheered him lustily. Wherever he turned, all reeked of filth and poverty.
As Torpander could get nothing out of Anders Begmand, whom he found huddled up in a corner of the room, he went upstairs and knocked at Marianne's door. No one said "Come in," and he therefore ventured to open the door slightly and look into the room.
Poor man! he was so appalled that he could scarcely keep his feet. There she lay, his own beloved Marianne; her mouth half open, and moaning incessantly. Her cheeks, which were sunken, were of an ashy white, and in the dark hollows round her eyes were standing small drops of perspiration. He had no idea that her state was so hopeless; and this was the time he had chosen for making his proposal! Marianne lifted her eyes. She knew him—of that he felt assured, for she smiled faintly with her own heavenly smile; but he could not help remarking how conspicuous her teeth appeared. She could no longer speak, but her large eyes moved several times from him to the window, and he thought that she was asking for something. Torpander went to the window, which was a new one Tom Robson had had made, and laid his hand on the fastening. She smiled again, and as he opened the window, he could see a look of thankfulness pass over her features. The midday sun, which was shining over the hill at the back of the house and falling obliquely on the window, threw a ray of light for a short distance into the room. Away in the town the bells were tolling for a funeral, and their sound, which was re-echoed from the hill, was soft and subdued in its tone.
Marianne turned towards the light; her eyes were shining brilliantly, and a delicate shade of red mantled her cheeks. Torpander thought he had never seen her look so lovely.
When Pastor Martens entered the room, he was as much struck by the appearance of the dying woman as Torpander had been, but in quite a different manner. It was impossible she could be so near death; and he could not help feeling annoyed with Martin, who had thus exaggerated his sister's danger, and had perhaps been the cause of his arriving too late at Consul Garman's death-bed. The extraordinary figure dressed in the long light-brown coat, which kept ever and anon bowing to him, did not tend to calm his feelings, and it is possible that something of his annoyance showed itself in the words which he now addressed to Marianne.
The clergyman was standing by the bed in such a position as to shield the light of the window from Marianne, who was gazing at him with her large eyes. He did not wish to be severe, but it was well known that the woman at whose death-bed he was standing, was fallen. At the close of such a life, it was only his duty to speak of sin and its bitter consequences. Marianne's eyes began to wander uneasily as she turned them, now on the clergyman, and now on Torpander. At length she made an effort, and turned her face in the other direction.
The pastor did not intend to finish his discourse without holding out a hope of reconciliation with God, even after such a life of sin; but while he continued speaking about repentance and forgiveness, the neighbour, who had been at her dinner, entered the room.
The woman went to the foot of the bed, but when she looked at Marianne's face she said quietly, "I beg your pardon, sir, but she is dead."
"Dead!" said the minister, rising hastily from his chair. "It is most extraordinary!" He took up his hat, said good-bye, and left the room.
The woman took Marianne's hands and folded them decently across her breast; she then put her arms under the bedclothes and straightened the legs, so that the corpse should not stiffen with the knees bent. The mouth was slightly open. She shut it, but the chin fell again. Torpander could see what the woman was looking for, and handed her his silk handkerchief. How rejoiced he was that he had not used it! The woman regarded the handkerchief suspiciously, but when she saw that it was perfectly clean, she folded it neatly and tied it round Marianne's head.
Torpander stood gazing at the little weary face, bound round with his lovely silk handkerchief, and he felt at length as if he had some part in her. He had received her last look, her last smile, and as a reward she had accepted his first and last gift. After all, his courtship had had the best ending he could possibly have hoped for. He bent his head, and wept silently in Abraham Lincoln's portrait.
Begmand came upstairs, and sat gazing at the body. Since the fire he had not been altogether himself.
"Shall I go to Zacharias the carpenter, and order the coffin?" asked the woman. But as she did not get any answer, she went off and ordered the coffin on her own account. It was not to be any more ornamental than was usual in the West End.
Meanwhile Pastor Martens was continuing his journey. Marianne's death had made a most disagreeable impression upon him, which probably added to his former ill humour.
The women, both old and young, were again on the look-out for him. A clergyman was not often to be seen in West End. The boys, who had found a dead cat on the shore, and which the eldest was dragging after him, came marching along like little soldiers. Behind them followed a tiny little creature not higher than one's knee, with his mother's wooden shoes on his feet, and wearing a paper cap on his head. The whole band was in high spirits, and sang with a ringing voice a national air, according to the comic version which was in use in West End:
"Yes, we love our country; Yes, indeed we do! He who dares deny it, We will let him know!"
The pastor had to pass the children, whose song went through his head. The cat, of which he just caught a glimpse, was half putrid, and its skin was hanging in rags. Parson Martens pressed his handkerchief to his mouth; he was afraid that the unhealthy atmosphere would be injurious to his health.
He hurried out of West End and up to the house, as fast as his cassock, and having to pick his way among the dirty puddles, would allow; but he came too late. The Consul had already been dead half an hour, and so Pastor Martens turned and went back to the town. It was very hot walking in the long black garment, and already well past dinner-time.
Madame Rasmussen came running to meet him. "My dear Mr. Martens, dinner. Why, it's half-past two! Why, how exhausted you look!"
"Let us rejoice, Madame Rasmussen," answered the clergyman, with a bland smile, "when we are thought worthy to endure trials."
He was indeed a heavenly man, was the pastor. How pious and amiable he looked as he sat at table! No one could ever have suspected that he wore a wig.
Madame Rasmussen sat down to embroider some cushions to put in the window, for the chaplain could not bear the slightest draught.