In the bright sunshine the yellow sand, dotted here and there with patches of bent grass, stretched away to the northward as far as the eye could reach. The coast-line, with its succession of bays and promontories, was here and there enlivened by a duster of boats, or a flock of gulls, or wild geese, busily at work on the shore, while the sea came curling in with its small crested ripples, which sparkled in the clear sunshine. Over the heather-covered heights, which rolled away far inland, came a carriage, in which were sitting a lady and a gentleman. They had left the post-road, and were making their way along the narrow sandy track which led down towards the village of Bratvold.
It had been much against Madeleine's wish, but as her husband happened to hear from the coachman, that the détour only made a difference of about an hour, the order was given to drive down to Bratvold, where they would be able to rest for a little time on the road.
The pastor and his wife were on their way westward, on a visit to the new living, although they would not come into actual residence till August. They wished to take a house, and visit their relations and old acquaintances in the town. Pleased as Madeleine was at the prospect of again seeing her father, she was still far from glad when she heard that her husband was endeavouring to obtain the living. He did so, however, in accordance with the express wish of Bishop Sparre, and it was moreover looked upon as a great piece of advancement. Madeleine had, as usual, made but little opposition to the project. Pastor Martens had at length succeeded in educating her into a wife after his own heart.
As she sat there, somewhat crowded in one corner of the carriage, for her husband had grown rather stout with the lapse of time, she resembled but little that Madeleine whose home had once been among the surroundings they were now approaching. She was not ill, but her look suggested weariness—great weariness. In a large country rectory there is much work to be done, and three children are pretty well to begin with.
For the first few years she was almost in a state of despair, and several times her old violent temper broke out. But her husband had his own particular method of dealing with her. He never lost his temper, and the more Madeleine flared up, the more gentle his answers became, as with a quiet smile he gently placed his hand upon her shoulder.
But when Madeleine began to calm down, he would speak to her in an admonishing tone, and by degrees he succeeded wonderfully in getting her into the groove he desired, until at last she got accustomed to the method.
Pastor Martens's genial and open countenance did not look its best that day. He had, to tell the truth, been dreadfully sea-sick, and so for that reason they had left the steamer, preferring to travel the last part of the journey by land. His sleek face wore a decidedly green hue, and he made a grimace ever and anon, as he looked out of the carriage window towards the element they had quitted.
He was, however, a fortunate man, and he was thankful for it. Madeleine had improved beyond all expectation under his hands. Her violent temper now seldom appeared, and if it did, he was perfectly certain of his method of dealing with it. Many a time he remembered with thankfulness his dear Bishop Sparre, from whom he had learnt so much, and whose fatherly kindness seemed to follow him wherever he went.
The nearer they approached the sea-shore, the broader grew the dark-blue line out to the westward, where the sea lay glittering in the sunshine. Madeleine gazed and gazed, and thoughts of the past came surging up in her heart.
The plovers had their young, and followed after the carriage, swooping down in front of the horses with their well-known cry. Larks in hundreds filled the air with their joyous warble, which went straight to her heart, and the breeze began to waft to her the fresh salt flavour of the sea. There was something in it of seaweed, something of fish, but all was so wonderfully rich in recollection. Madeleine leant towards the breeze and drew in a deep breath; it seemed like a greeting from the sea she knew so well, and which recognized her in return; it was a reminiscence of her short day of love and happiness. She longed to fill her lungs with the pure fresh sea air, so that it might purify all the dark and dusty corners in her fettered soul. All the time she had been away from Bratvold a taint of impurity seemed to have rested on her; and now that she found herself once again face to face with the ocean, she seemed almost ashamed thus to return. Oh that she were lying out there in its cool depths, with the fresh salt billows dashing over her!
The carriage now approached the top of the last hill, and the village of Bratvold, with its lighthouse, burst upon her view. She hid her face in her hands and groaned aloud.
It was probable that her husband had not noticed this sudden outburst. He had kept his eyes turned to the landward side, for he did not yet feel sufficiently strong to bear the sight of the waves as they came rolling in.
"Where shall we put up?" asked the driver. "Per Bratvold's is the best house, but there are several others that will do well enough."
"Let us go to Per's," said the clergyman.
For a long time Madeleine had not been certain whether Martens knew of her adventure with Per; but after a short time of married life, she found that a story does not travel very far, without reaching the clergyman, and without looking up she felt that his eye was resting upon her, with the smile with which he used to bend her to his will.
Per was in the peat-shed when they drove up, and saw her as he peeped through a chink in the boards. The moment he did so, he involuntarily took the quid of tobacco out of his mouth and threw it from him. After waiting a long time, he had begun again to chew tobacco, and after a still longer time he had married. It was thus Per's wife who, with numberless excuses, conducted the clergyman and his lady into the best room. She repeated that it was not what such people were accustomed to. While she went out to find Per, and introduce him to the strangers, the pastor went round the room examining the curiosities it contained. Madeleine sat gazing out of the window. The sight of Per's wife, looking so fresh and happy, had pained her—she knew not why.
"Look here, Lena!" he cried, every time he found something of interest.
Lena was a name of his own invention, and which he had given her in spite of all her entreaties. Lena sounded so homely, and was well suited to a clergy man's wife; while Madeleine had a foreign, French ring, which was quite out of place in a rectory.
In the room were several things worthy of his attention. In the first place there were two pictures, representing Vesuvius by day, and Vesuvius by night; then came a drawing of a coasting vessel called The Three Sisters of Farsund; then Frederick VII, with his red uniform and hook nose; and over the bed, which was heaped up with eider-downs as high as one's head, hung a huge horn of plenty, made of white cardboard, and on which was the motto, in gilt paper letters, "Be fruitful and multiply," which had been given them as a wedding-present. On one end of the chest of drawers stood a yellow canary on a red pear, and on the other end a red bullfinch on a yellow pear. The floor was dazzlingly clean and neatly sanded. The window-panes were small, and the glass of different tints; while over one of the windows was nailed a board, on which was painted in gold letters the words "L'Espérance," which was the name of the vessel to which it had belonged. At length Per came in. He held out his hand first to the pastor and then to Madeleine, and said, "How do you do?" to both. As Madeleine touched the hard and powerful hand, she involuntarily drew back her own, and turned away without pronouncing the usual greeting. The words seemed to stick in her throat.
At that moment Per's wife entered and asked him in a whisper to cut her a few chips to make the peat fire burn more quickly, as she wished to prepare some coffee. Per went out of the room, and the pastor followed the prosperous little peasant woman to inspect the house.
Madeleine took a few steps to and fro in the room, and then went to the door. As she stood on the stone steps under the porch, she could see down into the little harbour, and her eye could follow the path which led across the flat meadow, and up across the steep slope as far as the lighthouse. There lay her old home, with its solid stone walls, and the lantern with its red-painted cover. She turned away: the sight was more than she could bear. Her ear now caught the sound of Per chopping the wood in the peat-shed, and almost without knowing what she did, she found herself in the shed, standing by his side. He ceased for a moment from his work, raised himself up, and looked beyond her over the sea. Per wore a stiff sailor's beard, and his face had grown older and coarser with the lapse of time, but still every feature was familiar to her. Madeleine made a step towards him and endeavoured to take his hand. In this she was unsuccessful, for he drew it away from her. She could no longer command her feelings, and, throwing her arms round his neck, she laid her head on his breast.
Delphin's remark was perfectly true about the mixture of fish, tobacco, and damp woollen clothing; but she felt that this was her place, and here she ought to rest. At that moment, too, she perceived why the pang had passed through her heart when she met Per's wife. She envied her everything. Husband, home, even her very existence,—all belonged to her. Here was her place, and here the man she loved and understood. Oh, how all her so-called friends had mocked and deceived her! What a life was hers!—a life which consisted only in being the wife of a man she did not love, in keeping his house, and bearing his children, surrounded on every side by an unwholesome atmosphere of form, ceremony, and selfishness.
Closer and closer she clung to the broad breast whereon she lay, and that heart, so well drilled and confined, ran over in one supreme moment of mingled happiness and anguish, while the recollections of her youthful love passed through her sobbing heart.
"It was not my fault—it was not my fault!" she repeated plaintively, like a child who has had the misfortune to break something.
He lifted his hard heavy hand, and laying it on her head, passed it gently over her hair. Now he understood it all, but not a word passed his lips.
"Lena, Lena!" cried the pastor from the door, "you must come and see what I have found. Here are twins. Lena, Lena! where are you? Make haste! What a good wife! Just think, twins the first time!"
It was not easy to tell what Per's thoughts were as he stood again alone looking over the sea. Thus had the billows rolled to and fro in storm and sunshine, whilst he had waited and waited. And this was what he had waited for! He drew a long breath, and his face seemed to grow clearer again as he slowly nodded his head several times towards the ocean.
Per's wife made many apologies, as is but right and proper on such occasions, for the repast, which, however, consisted of coffee, with cream and sugar, bread and butter and cakes, and lastly a dish of small lobsters. She insisted that it was a shame to offer such small lobsters to her guests. It was a pity they had not some larger ones.
But now it was just one of the pastor's favourite theories, and which he always defended with much energy and conviction, namely, that small lobsters are really better and more delicate than large ones. He was, therefore, in the best of humours, and made several innocent jokes with the friendly peasant woman.
Per now came in and begged they would begin their meal, as everything was ready. He then sat down by the side of the fireplace, with his elbows resting on his knees.
The sun shone so brightly through the small window-panes, the room was so clean and comfortable, the table-cloth so white, the cream so yellow, and the small lobsters so red and appetizing, that the pastor felt constrained to improve the occasion.
He chose as his text a fact which he had heard from the woman, namely, that Per had built the house entirely of the wreckage of a French brig, which had been stranded on the coast a little way to the north ward. This was the vessel to which the board over the window had belonged.
The pastor dwelt on the uncertainty of human affairs, how often we are disappointed, but how there is a leading thread which seems to run through our existence.
"And look," said he, "on that proud ship, fitted out in the sunny land of France, and bearing a name which points to hope and expectation; for 'L'Espérance,' my friends, signifies hope, only to be lost on our desolate coast. So it is with us mortals. How many a vain hope sails out with flag and banner, only to be miserably wrecked in the storms of life! But observe! that which has been dashed to pieces by the tempest, has been refashioned by humble hands into a new dwelling-place. Thus does life spring from death, comfort from desolation, and happiness from shattered hopes, and thus our whole career may be but a patchwork of mere wreckage!"
It was with the last remains of her old impetuosity that Madeleine repeated the words, "Thus live we all!"
At this moment Per got up and went out. His wife could not understand why his behaviour was so unseemly.
Pastor Martens saw it all; but explanations, if any were necessary, might follow later on. It was not worth while to spoil the delightful meal. He handed his wife the cream, as, with a friendly smile, he placed his hand upon her shoulder.
He then set to work on his small lobsters, which he found excellent.