Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 1, Chapter 6

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book I; Chapter VI
Henrik Pontoppidan4503002Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook I; Chapter VI1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

In the meantime the young curate was well on his way to Skibberup. The nervousness which came over him at first on the Provst's request, had quickly passed off. He was in good spirits and leant back comfortably on the wide seat, from whence he observed the winter landscape with surprise. The wind had dropped to a dead calm after sunset. The dark blue sky was brilliant with stars. In the far-distant western horizon there was still a reminiscence of the late storm, in the shape of a long bank of clouds above which rose the golden crescent of the moon. The whole scene affected the curate like the revelation of a dream. He was a town-bred child, and only knew winter by the smoke, fog, and mud of the city. It was only a couple of days since he had been wandering about the Copenhagen streets with their inch deep mud; deafened by the rattle of cabs, the bells of the trams, and the hoarse cries of the mussel sellers—now he was sitting wrapped in the Provst's bearskin coat, gliding through fairy land, where the trees and bushes rose up from the fields like branches of white coral tinged with blue, and the sledge rushed on noiselessly with a swaying motion as if borne on long soft wings.

All at once he became violently agitated. The image of his poor dead mother rose before him, and he wished most earnestly that she could have seen him at that moment. He knew that it had been her dearest wish to live to see that day; and he felt more strongly than ever before, how entirely it was owing to her that he had found courage to follow the call to the ministry of the Holy Word.

And how grateful he was to her for it!

It was no good now for his father, the Etatsraad, to shake his head at his "wild ideas." The die was cast! His gay brother, a lieutenant in the guards, shortly to be "Kammeryunker," might for the future save himself the trouble of turning down a side street, for fear of meeting him in a hat which did not come up to the latest fashion; or with a friend who was not in "Society." And his good little sister, wife of a consul-general, would no longer need to shed tears at his want of social tone and polished manners—Emanuel was gone, the theological student was out of the way, and he would certainly not be quick to return.

No indeed, he would not turn back.

He looked around on the far-stretching shimmering snowfields with great content, and he felt as if he had climbed up from a deep, dark well, to a land very near heaven.

Here and there among the fields a reddish glimmer was to be seen from the lights in the cottage windows, which twinkled like fallen stars. An unearthly peace rested over the whole face of nature. No other sound was to be heard under the dome of heaven than the horses' rusty little bells; but in the intense stillness, this tinkling was like an echo of a thousand voices, as if the air was full of invisible bells.

He fell into a reverie—this then was henceforth to be his home, he was to wander through these fields, and to go into these cottages as the chosen servant of the Lord!—he already saw himself sitting in these small, low-roofed houses among the poorly clad, listening men and women, and he felt how dearly he would love them, how in the most miserable cabin—yes, there especially—he would be a hundred times happier than he had ever been in his father's magnificent house.

He was so full of these thoughts that he did not notice how the youth, his driver, several times turned half round towards him, as if about to speak and then ducked down quickly into his big mantle again as if he did not dare. But suddenly he was aroused by a loud shout from many voices just in front of them. The sledge was in a deep lane where the snow had gathered in such drifts that the horses could only go at a walking pace between the wall of snow, a yard high, which had been thrown up on both sides. The driver immediately stopped the horses, and in the faint light cast by the last corner of the moon which still peeped up above the cloud bank in the west, the curate saw, fifty yards ahead of them, a party of snow clearers hard at work. Somewhat nearer, only a dozen paces off, stood another group of men resting on their shovels, and it was they who had recognized the Provst's chair,[1] and therefore shouted out:

"Ye'll have to stop a bit whoever ye are—can't ye see the snow's slippin here?—we'll have it cleared in a minnit—who are ye then?"

"I am the clergyman," called back the curate, somewhat shyly, it was the first time he had called himself by his new title aloud. "We are on our way to a sick person."

Emanuel introduced to His Parishioners.

The sound of his voice made the men start. They all looked up at once and put their heads together, whispering to each other. At last one of them went forward and began talking to the driver in an undertone; the excitement soon spread to the whole party. Slowly, and as if with anxious curiosity, they approached the sledge from both sides. Most of the men were short and strongly built, with broad smiling faces, their eyes glittering like fishes' scales in their red faces. Some waddled forward in big sea boots, others had wooden shoes and long white woollen stockings drawn up over the trousers far above the knees. Most of them wore big fur caps with flaps tied over the ears, and one had on a sou'wester.

The curate felt somewhat uneasy on suddenly seeing himself surrounded by a troup of inquisitive, staring people. Should he speak to them? They were evidently his parishioners. Then a tall black-bearded man stepped forward—a giant to look at among the others, and plainly the one who was accustomed to be spokesman. He drew a big mitten off his right hand with his strong white teeth, and said with a powerful voice:

"Beg pardon—we're villagers from Skibberup, and we hear you're the new curate—ye must e'en give us leave to bid ye welcome.—Welcome Pastor Hansted."

Then the others came quickly forward—and before the curate had time to collect himself, he saw himself encompassed by half a score of big red fists, which were stretched towards him with a hearty "Welcome."

For a moment he was quite confused. He felt he must say something, and also perceived that the men expected it. But it had come upon him so unexpectedly that he could find nothing to say beyond repeating, "Thank you, thank you," while he cordially pressed the outstretched hands.

Just then the clearers in front shouted that the way was open. The driver shook the reins and the sledge began to move. At the last moment he found words and said, "Good-bye friends—thank you for your welcome! I shall consider myself lucky if I always find such men to clear the way for me! I hope we shall get on well with each other!"

"That we will, never fear!" was answered back from many mouths.

"And we hae need to!" shouted a deep threatening voice at the back of the group, followed by a murmur of approbation.

These words and the tone in which they were spoken startled the curate. While the sledge flew over the snow he mused in astonishment over the meaning of the man's words. He pondered upon it so long, that the sledge reached Skibberup before he had an idea they were so near. At the sight of the first house he started up in dismay—all this time he had entirely forgotten the sick man, and didn't know in the least what he was to say to him. But he soon re-assured himself. The meeting with the snow clearers had given him confidence, and he did not doubt, that at the decisive moment, the Lord would put the right words into his mouth.

  1. The clergy and doctors have a large armchair which is slung in the sledge or wagon, which always has to be sent for them in the country when their services are required.