Absalom's Hair

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

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Chapter 3

It was a bright evening in the beginning of June that they disembarked from the steamer, and at once left the town in the boat which was to take them to Hellebergene. They did not know any of the boatmen, although they were from the estate; the boat also was new.

But the islands among which they were soon rowing were the old ones, which had long awaited them and seemed to have swum out to meet them, and now to move one behind the other so that the boat might pass between them. Neither mother nor son spoke to the men, nor did they talk to each ether. In thus keeping silence they entered into each other's feelings, for they were both awestruck. It came upon them all at once. The bright evening light over sea and islands, the aromatic fragrance from the land,—the quick splash of a little coasting steamer as she passed them—nothing could cheer them.

Their life lay there before them, bringing responsibilities both old and new. How would all that they were coming to look to them, and how far were they themselves now fitted for it?

Now they had passed the narrow entrance of the bay, and rounded the last point beneath the crags of Hellebergene. The green expanse opened out before them, the buildings in its midst. The hillsides had once been crowned and darkly clad with luxuriant woods. Now they stood there denuded, shrunk, formless, spread over with a light green growth leaving some parts bare. The lowlands, as well as the hills which framed them, were shrunk and diminished, not in extent but in appearance. They could nut persuade themselves to look at it. They recalled it all as it had been and felt themselves despoiled.

The buildings had been newly painted, but they looked small by contrast with those which they had in their minds. No one awaited them at the landing, but a few people stood about near the gallery, looking embarrassed—or were they suspicious? The travellers went into Fru Kaas's old rooms, both up stairs and down. These were just as they had left them, but how faded and wretched they looked! The table, which was laid for supper, was loaded with coarse food like that at a farmer's wedding.

The old lime-trees were gone. Fru Kaas wept.

Suddenly she was reminded of something. "Let us go across to the other wing," she said this as if there they would find what was wanting. In the gallery she took Rafael's arm; he grew curious. His father's old rooms had been entirely renovated for him. In everything, both great and small, he recognised his mother's designs and taste. A vast amount of work, unknown to him, an endless interchange of letters and a great expenditure of money. How new and bright everything looked! The rooms differed as much from what they had been, as she had endeavoured to make Rafael's life from the one that had been led in them.

They two had a comfortable meal together after all, followed by a quiet walk along the shore. The wide waters of the bay gleamed softly, and the gentle ripple took up its old story again while the summer night sank gently down upon them.

Early the next morning Rafael was out rowing in the bay, the play-ground of his childhood. Notwithstanding the shorn and sunken aspect of the hills, his delight at being there again was indescribable. Indescribable because of the loneliness and stillness: no one came to disturb him. After having lived for many years in large towns, to find oneself alone in a Norwegian bay is like leaving a noisy market-place at midday and passing into a high vaulted church where no sound penetrates from without, and where only one's own footstep breaks the silence. Holiness, purification, abstraction, devotion, but in such light and freedom as no church possesses. The lapse of time, the past were forgotten; it was as though he had never been away, as though no other place had ever known him.

Indescribable, for the intensity of his feelings surpassed anything that he had hitherto known. New sensations, impressions of beauty absolutely forgotten since childhood, or remembered but imperfectly, crowded upon him, speaking to him like welcoming spirits.

The altered contour of the hills, the dear familiar smell, the sky which seemed lower and yet farther off, the effects of light in colder tones, but paler and more delicate. Nowhere a broad plain, an endless expanse. No! all was diversified, full of contrast, broken; not lofty, still unique, fresh, he had almost said tumultuous.

Each moment he felt more in accord with his memories, his nature was in harmony with it all.

He paused between each stroke of the oars, soothed by the gentle motion; the boat glided on, he had not concerned himself whither, when he heard from behind the sound of oars which was not the echo of his own. The strokes succeeded each other at regular intervals. He turned.

At that moment Fru Kaas came out on to the terrace with her big binocular. She had had her coffee, and was ready to enjoy the view over the bay, the islands, and the open sea. Rafael, she was told, had already gone out in the boat. Yes! there he was, far out. She put up her glass at the moment that a white painted boat shot out towards his brown one. The white one was rowed by a girl in a light-coloured dress. "Grand Dieu! are there girls here too?"

Now Rafael ceases rowing, the girl does the same, they rest on their oars and the boats glide past each other. Fru Kaas could distinguish the girl's shapely neck under her dark hair, but her wide-brimmed straw hat hid her face.

Rafael lets his oars trail along the water and resting on them looks at her, and now her oars also touch the water as she turns towards him. Do they know each other? Quickly the boats draw together; Rafael puts out his hand and draws them closer, and now he gives HER his hand. Fru Kaas can see Rafael's profile so plainly that she can detect the movement of his lips. He is laughing! The stranger's face is hidden by her hat, but she can see a full figure and a vigorous arm below the half-sleeve. They do not loose their hands; now he is laughing till his broad shoulders shake. What is it? What is it? Can any one have followed him from Munich? Fru Kaas could remain where she was no longer. She went indoors and put down the glass; she was overcome by anxiety, filled with helpless anger. It was some time before she could prevail on herself to go out and resume her walk. The girl had turned her boat. Now they are rowing in side by side, she as strongly as he. Whenever Fru Kaas looked at her son he was laughing and the girl's face was turned towards his. Now they head for the landing-place at the parsonage. Was it Helene? The only girl for miles round, and Rafael had hooked himself on to her the very first day that he was at home. These girls who can never see him without taking a fancy to him! Now the boats are beached, not on the shingle, where the stones would be slippery. No! on the sand, where they have run them up as high as possible. Now she jumps lightly and quickly out of her boat, and he a little more heavily out of his; they grasp each other's hands again. Yes! there they were.

Fru Kaas turned away; she knew that for the moment she was nothing more than an old chattel pushed away into a corner.

It was Helene. She knew that they had arrived and thought that she would row past the house; and thus it was that she had encountered Rafael, who had simply gone out to amuse himself.

As they had lain on their oars and the boats glided silently past each other, he thought to himself, "That girl never grew up here, she is cast in too fine a mould for that; she is not in harmony with the place." He saw a face whose regular lines, and large grey eyes, harmonised well with each other, a quiet wise face, across which all at once there flew a roguish look. He knew it again. It had done him good before to-day. Our first thought in all recognitions, in all remembrances—that is to say, if there is occasion for it—is, has that which we recognise or recall done us good or evil?

This large mouth, those honest eyes, which have a roguish look just now, had always, done him good.

"Helene!" he cried, arresting the progress of his boat.

"Rafael!" she answered, blushing crimson and checking her boat too.

What a soft contralto voice!

When he came in to breakfast, beaming, ready to tell everything, he was confronted by two large eyes, which said as plainly as possible, "Am I put on one side already?" He became absolutely angry. During breakfast she said, in a tone of indifference, that she was going to drive to the Dean's, to thank him for the supervision which he had given to the estate during all these years. He did not answer, from which she inferred that he did not wish to go with her. It was some time before she started. The harness was new, the stable-boy raw and untrained. She saw nothing more of Rafael.

She was received at the parsonage with the greatest respect, and yet very heartily. The Dean was a fine old man and thoroughly practical. His wife was of profounder nature. Both protested that the care of the estate had been no trouble to them, it had only been a pleasant employment; Helene had now undertaken it.


Yes; it had so chanced that the first bailiff at Hellebergene had once been agronomist and forester on a large concern which was in liquidation, Helene had taken such a fancy to him, that when she was not at school, she went with him everywhere; and, indeed, he was a wonderful old man. During these rambles she had learned all that he could teach her. He had an especial gift for forestry. It was a development for her, for it gave a fresh interest to her life. Little by little she had taken over the whole care of the estate. It absorbed her.

Fru Kaas asked if she might see Helene, to thank her.

"But Helene has just gone out with Rafael, has she not?"

"Yes, to be sure," answered Fru Kaas. She would not show surprise; but she asked at once for her carriage.

Meanwhile the two young people had determined to climb the ridge. At first they followed the course of the river, Helene leading the way. It was evident that she had grown up in the woods. How strong and supple she was, and how well she acquitted herself when she had to cross a brook, climb a wooded slope, force a way through a barrier of bristly young fir-trees which opposed her passage, or surmount a heap of clay at a quarry, of which there were a great many about there. Each difficulty was in turn overcome. The ascent from the river was the most direct and the pleasantest, which was the reason that they had come this way. Rafael would not be outdone by her, and kept close at her heels. But, great heavens! what it cost him. Partly because he was out of practice, partly—

"It is a little difficult to get over here," she said. A tree had fallen during the last rainy weather, and hung half suspended by its roots, obstructing the path. "You must not hold by it, it might give way and drag us with it."

At last there is something which she considers difficult, he thought.

She deliberated for a moment before the farthest-spreading branches which had to be crossed; then, lifting her skirts to her knees, over them she went, and over the next ones as well, and then across the trunk to the farthest side, where there were no branches in the way; then obliquely up the hillside. She stood still at the top of the height and watched him crawl up after her.

It cost him a struggle; he was out of breath and the perspiration poured off him. When he got up to her, everything swam before him; and although it was only for a fraction of a second, it left him fairly captivated by her strength.

She stood and looked at him with bright, roguish eyes. She was flushed and hot, and her bosom rose and fell quickly; but there was no doubt that she could at once have taken an equally long and steep climb. He was not able to speak a word.

"Now turn round and look at the sea," she said.

The words affected him as though great Pan had uttered them from the mountains far behind. He turned his eyes towards them. It seemed as though Nature herself had spoken to him. The words caressed him as with a hand now cold, now warm, and he became a different being. For he had lost himself—lost himself in her as she walked along the river-bank and climbed the hillside. She seemed to draw fresh power from the woods, to grow taller, more agile, more vigorous. The fervour of her eyes, the richness of her voice, the grace of her movements, the glimpses of her soul, had allured him down there in the valley, beside the rushing river, and the feeling of loss of individuality had increased with the exertion and the excitement. No ball-room or play-ground, no gymnasium or riding-school can display the physical powers, and the spirit which underlies them, the unity of mind and body, as does the scaling of steep hills and rocky slopes. At last, intoxicated by these feelings, he thought to himself—I am climbing after her, climbing to the highest pinnacle of happiness. Up there! Up there! The composure of her manner towards him, her freedom from embarrassment, maddened him. Up there! Up there! And ever as they mounted she became more spirited, he more distressed. Up there! Up there! His eyes grew dim, for a few seconds he could not move, could not speak. Then she had said, "Now you must look at the sea."

He seemed to see with different eyes, to be endowed with new sensations, and these new sensations gave answer to what the distant mountains had said. They answered the sea out there before him, the island-studded sea, the open sea beyond, the wide swelling ocean, the desires and destinies of life all the world over. The sea lay steel-bright beneath the suffused sunlight, and seemed to gaze on the rugged land as on a beloved child instinct with vital power. Cling thou to the mighty one, or thy strength will be thine undoing!

And many of the inventions which he had dreamed of loomed vaguely before him. They lay outside there. It depended on him whether he should one day bring them safely into port.

"What are you thinking about?" said she, the sound of her voice put these thoughts to flight and recalled him to the present. He felt how full and rich her contralto voice was, A moment ago he could have told her this, and more besides, as an introduction to still more. Now he sat down without answering, and she did the same.

"I come up here very often," she said, "to look at the sea. From here it seems the source of life and death; down there it is a mere highway." He smiled. She continued: "The sea has this power, that whatever pre-occupation one may bring up here, it vanishes in a moment; but down below it remains with one."

He looked at her.

"Yes, it is true," said she, and coloured.

"I do not in the least doubt it," he replied.

But she did not continue the subject. "You are looking at the saplings, I see." "Yes."

"You must know that last year there was a long drought; almost all the young trees up here withered away, and in other places on the hillsides also, as you see." She pointed as she spoke. "It looks so ugly as one comes into the bay. I thought about that yesterday. I thought also that you should not be here long before you saw that you had done us an injustice, for could anything be prettier than that little fir-tree down there in the hollow? just look at its colour; that is a healthy fellow! and these sturdy saplings, and that little gem there!" The tones of Helene's voice betrayed the interest which she felt. "But how that one over there has grown." She scrambled across to it, and he after her. "Do you see? two branches already; and what branches!" They knelt down beside it. "This boy has had parents of whom he can boast, for they have all had just as much and just as little shelter. Oh! the disgusting caterpillars." She was down before the little tree at the side which was being spun over. She cleared it, and got up to fetch some wet mould, which she laid carefully round the sprouts. "Poor thing I it wants water, although it rained tremendously a little time ago."

"Are you often up here?" he asked.

"It would all come to nothing if I were not!" She looked at him searchingly. "You do not, perhaps, believe that this little tree knows me; every one of them, indeed. If I am long away from them they do not thrive, but when I am often with them they flourish." She was on her knees, supporting herself with one hand, while with the other she pulled up some grass. "The thieves," said she, "which want to rob my saplings."

If it had been a little person who had said this; a little person with lively eyes and a merry mouth—but Helene was tall and stately; her eyes were not lively, but met one with a steady gaze. Her mouth was large, and gave deliberate utterance to her thoughts.

Whoever has read Helene's words quickly, hurriedly, must read them over again. She spoke quietly and thoughtfully, each syllable distinct and musical. She was not the same girl who had led the way by river and hill. Then she seemed to glory in her strength; now her energy had changed to delicate feeling.

One of the most remarkable women in Scandinavia, who also had these two sides to her character, and made the fullest use of both, Johanne Luise Hejberg, once saw Helene when she had but just attained to womanhood. She could not take her eyes off her; she never tired of watching her and listening to her. Did the aged woman, then at the close of her life, recognise anything of her own youth in the girl? Outwardly too they resembled each other. Helene was dark, as Fru Hejberg had been; was about the same height, with the same figure, but stronger; had a large mouth, large grey eyes like hers, into which the same roguish look would start. But the greatest likeness was to be found in their natures: in Fru Hejberg's expression when she was quiet and serious; in a certain motherliness which was the salient feature in her nature.

"What a healthy girl!" said she; bade some one bring Helene to her, and drawing her towards her, kissed her on the forehead.

Helene and her companion had crossed to the other side of the hill, for he positively must see the "Buckthorn Swamp"; but when they got down there he did not know it again: it was covered by luxuriant woods.

"Yes! It is old Helgesen who deserves the credit of that," she said. "He noticed that an artificial embankment had converted this great flat into a swamp, so he cut through it. I was only a child then, but I had my share in it. They gave me a bit of ground down by the river to plant Kohl Kabi in. I looked after it the whole summer. Later on I had a larger piece. With the profits we cut ditches up to here. In the fourth year we bought plants. In fact, he so arranged it, that I paid for it all with my work, the old rogue!"

When Rafael got home his mother was at table: she had not waited for him, a sure sign that she felt aggrieved. No attempts on his part to set things right succeeded. She would not answer, and soon left the room. It now struck him how pleasant it would have been for his mother if he had taken her with him to explore and make acquaintance with this new Hellebergene. The evening before, in his father's rooms, it had seemed as though nothing could ever separate them—and the first thing in the morning he was off with some one else. This evening he knew that nothing could be done, but next morning he begged her earnestly to come with them, and they would show her what he had seen the day before; but she only shook her head and took up a book. Day after day he made a similar request, but always with the same result. She thought that these invitations were merely formal, and so, from one point of view, they were. He was most ready to appease her, most ready to show her everything, for he felt himself to blame, though he certainly thought that she might have understood; but her presence would have marred their tete-a-tete; he would have been embarrassed enough if she had acquiesced!

The Dean, with his wife and daughter, came the following Sunday to return Fru Kaas's visit. She was politeness itself, and specially thanked Helene for her care of Hellebergene. Helene coloured without knowing why, but when Rafael also coloured, she blushed still deeper. This was the event of the visit; nothing else of importance occurred.

In their daily walks through the fields and woods, the two young people soon exhausted the topic of Hellebergene. He took up another theme. His inventions became the topic of conversation. He had acquired, from his studies with his mother, an unusual facility in explaining his meaning, and in Helene he found a listener such as he had rarely before met with. She was sufficiently acquainted with the laws of nature to understand a simple description. But all the same it was not his inventions but himself that he discoursed on. He quite realised this, and became all the more eager. Her eyes made his reasoning clearer. He had never before had such complete faith in himself as when near her, and now no misgivings succeeded.

Helene, however, had not hitherto known the direction and results of his studies. He was an engineer, that was all that she had heard on the subject. When he had told her more about it he rose considerably in her estimation. It was SHE now who began to feel constrained. At first she did not understand why she felt obliged to put more restraint upon herself. After a time she began to excuse herself from joining him, and their walks became more rare. "She had so much to do now."

He did not comprehend the reason of this; he fancied that his mother might be to blame (which, by the way, was quite a mistake), and he grew angry. He was already greatly affronted that his mother had chosen to confound his former gallantries with his present attachment. He quite forgot that at first he had merely sought to amuse himself here as elsewhere. He gave himself up entirely to his passion, which would brook no hindrance, no opposition; it became majestic. In Helene he had found his future life.

But her parents had grown less cordial of late owing to Fru Kaas's coldness, and the time came when all attempts to obtain meetings with Helene failed. He had never been so infatuated. He seemed to see her continually before him—her luxuriant beauty, her light step, her grey eyes gazing steadfastly into his.

Why could they not be married to-morrow or the next day? What could be more natural? What could more certainly help him forward?

The constraint between his mother and himself had reached a greater pitch than ever before. He thought seriously of leaving her and the country. He still had some money left, the proceeds of the patent, and he could easily make more. How irksome it became to him to go into the fields and woods without Helene! He could not study; he had no one to talk to; what should he do?

Devote himself to boating!—row out far beyond the bay, right up to the town! One day, as he rowed along the coast, beyond the bay, he noticed that the clay and flag-stone formation in the hills and ridges was speckled with grey. Helene had told him how extraordinary it looked out there now that the trees were gone, but as they would have had to come out in the boat to see it he had let the remark pass. Now he decided to land there. The shore rose steeply from the water, but he scrambled up. He had expected to find limestone, but he could hardly believe his own eyes: it was cement stone! Absolutely, undoubtedly, cement stone! How far did it extend? As far as he could see; it might even extend to the boundary of the estate. In any case, here was sufficient for extensive works for many, many years, if only there were enough silica with the clay and lime. He had soon knocked off a few pieces, which he put into the boat, and set out for home to analyse them.

Seldom had any one rowed faster than he did; now he shot past the islands into the bay, up to the landing-place before the house. If the cement stone contained the right proportions, here was what would make Helene and himself independent of every one; AND THAT AT ONCE!

A little later, with dirty hands and clothes, his face bathed in perspiration, he rushed up to his mother with the result of his investigations.

"Here is something for you to see."

She was reading; she looked up and turned as white as a sheet.

"Is that the cement stone?" she asked, as she put down her book.

"Did you know about it?" he exclaimed, in the greatest astonishment.

"Good gracious, yes," she answered. She walked across to the window, came back again, pressing her hands together. "So you have found it too?"

"Who did before me?"

"Your father, Rafael, your father, the first time that I was here, a little time before we were to leave." She paused. "He came rushing in as you did just now—not so quickly, not so quickly, he was weak in the legs, but otherwise just like you." She let her eyes rest, with a peculiar look, on Rafael's dirty hands. The hands themselves were not well shaped, they were almost exactly his father's.

Rafael noticed nothing.

"Had HE found the bed of cement stone, then?"

"Yes. He locked the door behind him. I got up from my chair and asked him how he dared? He could hardly speak." She paused for a moment, recalling it all again. "Yes, and it was THAT stuff."

"What did he say, mother?"

She had turned to leave the room.

"Your father believed that I had brought luck to the house."

"And why was it not so, then?"

She faced him quickly. He coloured.

"Pardon, mother, you misunderstood me. I meant, why did it come to nothing about the cement?"

"You did not know your father: there were too many hooks about him for him to be able to carry out anything."


"Yes! eccentricity, egotism, passion, which caught fast in everything."

"What did he propose to do?"

"No one was to be allowed to have anything to do with it, no one was to know of it, he was to be everything! For this reason the timber was to be cut down and sold; and when we were married—I say when we were married, the whole of my fortune was to be used as well."

He saw the horror with which she still regarded it; she was passing through the whole struggle again; and he understood that he must not question her further. She made a gesture with her hand; and he asked hurriedly, "Why did you not tell me before, mother?"

"Because it would have brought you no good," she answered decidedly.

He felt, nay, he saw that she believed that it would bring him no good now. She again raised her hand, and he left her.

When he was once more in the boat, taking his great news to the parsonage, he thought to himself, Here is the reason of my father's and mother's deadly enmity.

The cement stone! She did not trust him, she would not give him both herself and her fortune, so there was no cement, nor were any trees felled.

"Well, he scored after all. Yes, and mother too; but God help ME!"

Then he reckoned up what the timber and the fortune together would have been worth, and what further sum could have been raised on the property, the value of the cement-bed being taken into consideration. He understood his father better than his mother. What a fortune, what power, what magnificence, what a life!

At the parsonage he carried every one with him.

The Dean, because he saw at once what this was worth. "You are a rich man now," he said. The Dean's wife, because she felt attracted by his ability and enthusiasm. Helene? Helene was silent and frightened. He turned towards her and asked if she would come with him in the boat to see it. She really must see how extensive the bed was.

"Yes, dear, go with him," said her father.

Rafael wished to sit behind her in the boat and hastened towards the bow; but, without a word, she passed him, sat down, and took her oars; so, after all, he had to sit in front of her.

They thus began at cross purposes. His back was towards her, he saw how the water foamed under her oars, there was a secret struggle, a tacit fear, which was heard in the few words which they exchanged, and which merely increased their constraint.

When they drew near to their destination they were flushed and hot. Now he was obliged to turn round to look for the place of landing. To begin with, they went slowly along the whole cement-bed as far as it was visible. He was now turned so as to face her, and he explained it all to her. She kept her eyes fixed on the cliff, and only glanced at him, or did not look at him all. They turned the boat again, in order to land at the place where he intended the factory to stand. A portion of the rock would have to be blasted to make room, the harbour too must be made safer so that vessels might lie close in, and all this would cost money.

He landed first in order to help her, but she jumped on shore without his assistance; then they climbed upwards, he leading the way, explaining everything as he went; she following with eyes and ears intent.

All for which, from her childhood, she had worked so hard at Hellebergene, and all which she had dreamed of for the estate, had become so little now. It would be many years before the trees yielded any return. But here was promise of immediate prosperity and future wealth if, as she never doubted, he proved to be correct. She felt that this humbled her, made her of no account, but ah! how great it made him seem!

The rowing, the climbing, the excitement, gave animation to Rafael's explanations; face and figure showed his state of tension. She felt almost giddy: should she return to the boat and row away alone? But she was too proud thus to betray herself.

It seemed to her that there was the look of a conqueror in his eyes; but she did not intend to be conquered. Neither did she wish to appear as the one who had remained at home and speculated on his return. That would be simply to turn all that was most cherished, most unselfish in her life, against herself. Something in him frightened her, something which, perhaps, he himself could not master—his inward agitation. It was not boisterous or terrifying; it was glowing, earnest zeal, which seemed to deprive him of power and her of will, and this she would not endure.

Hardly had they gained the summit from which they could look out over the islands to the open sea, and across to Hellebergene, to the parsonage, and the river flowing into the inner bay, than he turned away from it all towards her, as she stood with heaving breast, glowing cheeks, and eyes which dare not turn away from the sea.

"Helene," he whispered, approaching her; he wished to take her in his arms.

She trembled, although she did not turn round; the next moment she sprang away from him, and did not pause till she had got down to the boat, which she was about to push off, but bethought herself that it would be too cowardly, so she remained standing and watched him come after her.

"Helene," he called from above, "why do you run away from me?"

"Rafael, you must not," she answered when he rejoined her. The strongest accent of both prayer and command of which a powerful nature is capable sounded in her words. She in the boat, he on the shore; they eyed one another like two antagonists, watchful and breathing hard, till he loosed the boat, stepped in and pushed off.

She took her seat; but before doing the same he said:

"You know quite well what I wanted to say to you." He spoke with difficulty.

She did not answer and got out her oars; her tears were ready to flow. They rowed home again more slowly than they had come. A lark hovered over their heads. The note of a thrush was heard away inland. A guillemot skimmed over the water in the same direction as their own, and a tern on curved wing screamed in their wake. There was a sense of expectation over all. The scent of the young fir-trees and the heather was wafted out to them; farther in lay the flowery meadows of Hellebergene. At a great distance an eagle could be seen, high in air, winging his way from the mountains, followed by a flock of screaming crows, who imagined that they were chasing him. Rafael drew Helene's attention to them.

"Yes, look at them," she said; and these few words, spoken naturally, helped to put both more at their ease. He looked round at her and smiled, and she smiled back at him. He felt in the seventh heaven of delight, but it must not be spoken. But the oars seemed to repeat in measured cadence, "It—is—she. It—is—she. It—is—she." He said to himself, Is not her resistance a thousand times sweeter than—

"It is strange that the sea birds no longer breed on the islands in here," he said.

"That is because for a long time the birds have not been protected; they have gone farther out."

"They must be protected again: we must manage to bring the birds back, must we not?"

"Yes," she answered.

He turned quickly towards her. Perhaps she should not have said that, she thought, for had he not said "we"?

To show how far she was from such a thought, she looked towards the land. "The clover is not good this year."

"No. What shall you do with the plot next year?"

But she did not fall into the trap. He turned round, but she looked away.

Now the rush of the river tossed them up and down in a giddy dance, as the force of the stream met the boat. Rafael looked up to where they had walked together the first day. He turned to see if she were not, by chance, looking in the same direction. Yes, she was!

They rowed on towards the landing-place at the parsonage, and he spoke once or twice, but she had learned that that was dangerous. They reached the beach.

"Helene!" said he, as she jumped on shore with a good-bye in passing, "Helene!" But she did not stay. "Helene!" he shouted, with such meaning in it that she turned.

She looked at him, but only remained for a moment. No more was needed! He rowed home like the greatest conqueror that those waters had ever seen. Ever since the Vikings had met together in the innermost creek, and left behind them the barrow which is still to be seen near the parsonage—yes, ever since the elk of the primaeval forest, with mighty antlers, swam away from the doe which he had won in combat, to the other which he heard on the opposite shore. Since the first swarm of ants, like a waving fan, danced up and down in the sunlight, on its one day of flight. Since the first seals struggled against each other to reach the one whom they saw lie sunning herself on the rocks.

Fru Kaas had seen them pass as they rowed out at a furious pace. She had seen them row slowly back, and she understood everything. No sooner had the cement stone been found than—

She paced up and down; she wept.

She did not put any dependence on his constancy; in any case it was too early for Rafael to settle himself here: he had something very different before him. The cement stone would not run away from him, or the girl either, if there were anything serious in it. She regarded his meeting with Helene as merely an obstacle in the way, which barred his further progress.

Rafael rowed towards home, bending to his oars till the water foamed under the bow of his boat. Now he has landed; now he drags the boat up as if she were an eel-pot. Now he strides quickly up to the house.

Frightened, despairing, his mother shrank into the farthest corner of the sofa, with her feet drawn up under her, and, as he burst in through the door and began to speak, she cried out: "Taisez-vous! des egards, s'il vous plait." She stretched out her arms before her as if for protection. But now he came, borne on the wings of love and happiness. His future was there.

He did what he had never done before: went straight up to her, drew her arms down, embraced and kissed her, first on the forehead, then on the cheeks, eyes, mouth, ears, neck, wherever he could; all without a word.

He was quite beside himself.

"Mad boy," she gasped; "des egards, mais Rafael, donc!—Que—" And she threw herself on his breast with her arms round his neck.

"Now you will forsake me, Rafael," she said, crying.

"Forsake you, mother! No one can unite the two wings like Helene."

And now he began a panegyric on her, without measure, and unconscious that he said the same thing over and over again. When he became quieter, and she was permitted to breathe, she begged to be alone: she was used to being alone. In the evening she came down to him, and said that, first of all, they ought to go to Christiania, and find an expert to examine the cement-bed and learn what further should be done. Her cousin, the Government Secretary, would be able to advise them, and some of her other relations as well. Most of them were engineers and men of business. He was reluctant to leave Hellebergene just now, he said, she must understand that; besides, they had agreed not to go away until the autumn. But she maintained that this was the surest way to win Helene; only she begged that, with regard to her, things should remain as they were till they had been to Christiania. On this point she was inflexible, and it was so arranged.

As was their custom, they packed up at once. They drove over to the parsonage that same evening to say good-bye. They were all very merry there: on Fru Kaas's side because she was uneasy, and wished to conceal the fact by an appearance of liveliness; on the Dean's part because he really was in high spirits at the discovery which promised prosperity both to Hellebergene and the district; on his wife's because she suspected something. The most hearty good wishes were therefore expressed for their journey.

Rafael had availed himself of the general preoccupation to exchange a few last words with Helene in a corner. He obtained a half-promise from her that when he wrote she would answer; but he was careful not to say that he had spoken to his mother. He felt that Helene would be startled by a proceeding which came quite naturally to him.

As they drove away, he waved his hat as long as they remained in sight. The waving was returned, first by all, but finally by only one. The summer evening was light and warm, but not light enough, not warm enough, not wide enough; there did not seem room enough in it for him; it was not bright enough to reflect his happiness. He could not sleep, yet he did not wish to talk; companionship or solitude were alike distasteful to him. He thought seriously of walking or rowing over to the parsonage again and knocking at the window of Helene's room. He actually went down to the boathouse and got out the boat. But perhaps it would frighten her, and possibly injure his own cause. So he rowed out and out to the farthest islands, and there he frightened the birds. At his approach they rose: first a few, then many, then all protested in a hideous chorus of wild screams. He was enveloped in an angry crowd, a pandemonium of birds. But it did not ruffle his good humour. "Wait a bit," he said to them. "Wait a bit, until the islands at Hellebergene are 'protected,' and the whole estate as well. Then you shall come and be happy with us. Good-bye till then!"

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Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson