Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 1, Chapter 1

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book I; Chapter I
Henrik Pontoppidan4502988Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook I; Chapter I1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

It was towards the end of the seventies.

For a week the devil's own weather had raged over the district. The storm had swept from the east on the wings of wild, jagged, blue black clouds, lashing up the waters of the fiord, so that great masses of foam were thrown high on to the fields. In many places the peasants' winter corn was completely uprooted; the reeds and rushes in the bogs were beaten down, the meadows seared, and the ditches choked with sand and earth so that the water not finding an outlet spread itself over both fields and roads. There were uprooted trees in every direction, shattered telegraph posts, broken down corn stacks, and dead birds killed by the hurricane.

In the little village of Veilby which lay quite unprotected on the top of a hill, an old barn blew down one night with such a crash, that all the people sprang up out of their beds and rushed into the street in their night clothes. A dozen chimney pots were blown down the same night, and whole flower beds uprooted in the Parsonage garden; and all the starlings' building boxes were blown out of the trees.

Nay the heavenly powers did not even spare the Provst; while the storm was at its height he stepped out one afternoon on to the verandah to look round at the scene of devastation; the wind lifted the hat from his white head, threw it to the ground like a ball, trundled it along the road, and in spite of all his efforts to stop it, swept it along in a swirling dust-cloud. It only relinquished its prey in a ditch behind some blackthorn bushes, a long way down the high road, to cast its force over a little girl who lived beyond the common, and who weeping bitterly, was struggling home from school. Then with howls and shrieks as of a hundred devils let loose, the wind enveloped the worn out little creature, puffed up her skirts and drove her nearer and nearer the edge of the road, till it at last overturned her by a corner stone, and sent her rolling with despairing cries into an old gravel pit. Here her little doubled up corpse was found next day by the searchers; a new catechism still tightly pressed to her sheltering bosom, with convulsive grasp.

Never in the memory of man had such weather been known.

"The Lord preserve those at sea," the people shouted to each other through the uproar, when they met in the street as they fought their way step by step along the road with head bowed down; or flying along with the storm behind them. "Lucky folks who have a roof over their heads," thought those who were sitting at home in their half dark rooms, where even in the middle of the day they could hardly see to read the newspaper; while the wind piped and whistled round them as if all the evil spirits were let loose on the village. The horses stood pricking up their ears in the stables, and shaking with fear; the cows bellowed one against the other as at a fire, even the cats went mewing about in a plaintive manner; and the dogs snuffed round uneasily, with their tails between their legs. When at last the storm subsided a little, the snow came tumbling down in white masses;—and though it was still early winter, the beginning of December, it remained lying on the ground and filling the ditches, hiding the uprooted trees, heaping itself against broken fences, and covering torn thatch.

For full three days and nights heaven and earth were merged in one.

By this time several people had begun to search their innermost hearts, and to make up their accounts with the Almighty in the belief that the Day of Judgment must be at hand. Even on the evening of the third day when the people began shovelling away the snow drifts from the doors, and sweeping the thick cakes of snow from the window panes, more than one man standing on his door-step, in the struggling moonbeams, peering out over the desolate white waste of snow to which earth and fiord were changed, wondered "what it all meant," that is to say was it a warning, a heavenly proclamation of some great event which might be expected to befal the village, the district, or possibly the whole land in the immediate future?