Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 2, Chapter 2

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book II; Chapter II
Henrik Pontoppidan4509888Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook II; Chapter II1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

He was received in the Parsonage by the Provst, who had just returned from the service in Veilby church. The arrangement between the two clergymen was, that they both preached every Sunday, one at Skibberup, the other at Veilby. This was a device of the Provst's, for he feared, and not without reason, that the badly disposed villagers of Skibberup, who so stubbornly declined his ministrations, would further shew their enmity by flocking to the church when the curate preached. Therefore he only made known at the last moment at which church he himself would officiate; and in consequence, for some time, both churches were crowded, everybody hoping to hear the new priest.

Refreshed by the sight of his faithful Veilby adherents, the Provst came back in a cheerful mood, and sat down to the luncheon table with a capital appetite. An entertainment which was to take place in the evening, and for which preparations had been going on for some days, also contributed to his good humour. In general the Provst and his daughter lived very quietly, as they never took part in the festivities of the peasants, and but seldom in those of the few, and far from well-to-do Squires of the neighbourhood. But twice a year the Provst gave,—as it were, an official dinner—to which representatives of the different classes in the congregation were "commanded," almost in the same sense as to the table of royalty.

The Provst always conducted the preparations for these entertainments himself. He had a perfect passion for managing, ordering, and giving directions. He had already, some days before, given orders for the purchase of wine, meat, and various delicacies; and no sooner had he seated himself at the table and arranged his napkin under his chin, than he began to give his daughter the most minute directions about the temperature of the wines and the preparation of the salads.

In the meantime the curate sat silent, absently crumbling his bread in his usual manner and eating next to nothing. His appearance had perceptibly changed in the course of the winter. His cheeks had grown hollow, and his once clear, frank eyes were clouded over and betrayed the canker gnawing at his heart.

Miss Ragnhild looked at him several times from the other side of the table with an observant eye. Under pretext of work for the evening festivity, she had not, according to her usual custom, accompanied her father to church, and was still dressed in a flowered morning gown of soft warm stuff, with a long pointed bodice and big puffed sleeves. There was an expression of hidden anxiety on her transparent face and large blue gray eyes, as well as sisterly sympathy with the curate's troubles, which she seemed to know and understand.

At last even the Provst noticed that Mr Hansted was more than usually absent-minded, and when, suddenly addressing a question to him, he received a confused answer, he wrinkled his forehead disapprovingly. He did not think it suitable that his curate should be inattentive when he spoke, even if it was only about pies and salads. Altogether the Provst was not nearly so pleased with his curate as at one time he had expected to be. He felt himself oppressed by this person who became more peculiar and reserved every day, and went about his house evidently the prey of some secret trouble. He could not imagine what was weighing upon him, feeling satisfied that both he and his daughter did all in their power to make his stay with them as pleasant and home-like as possible. In particular he felt unpleasantly affected by the curate's demeanour towards Ragnhild. He could not be blind to the fact that there was an understanding between the two, and he thought he had grounds for believing that Mr Hansted was not indifferent to his daughter. But so far the curate had not taken any decisive step. The Provst did not know if fickleness was the cause, or excessive shyness, but in either case it seemed to him that he had a right to be aggrieved.

If, notwithstanding this, he had hitherto kept his impatience in check, it was entirely out of regard for Ragnhild, whose solitariness and unsecured future often caused him much uneasiness. On this occasion he again choked back his exasperation—only by great self-restraint. But no sooner had they risen from the luncheon table, and the curate had gone up to his room, than he eased his mind.

"I can't understand that man!" he broke out, beginning to pace hurriedly up and down the room. "I can't imagine what he has on his mind. He sits here with us every day, silent and unsympathetic, as if he were overwhelmed by some great misfortune! Do you know what can be the reason, Ragnhild?"

"Oh," answered his daughter, quietly—she had remained at the table leaning against the back of the chair, looking out of the window with thoughtful and half-closed eyes—"I suppose it would not be so extraordinary if he felt somewhat oppressed by his office at first. He is so young—and besides, he has perhaps perceived that his sermons have not won the unmixed approval of the people."

"Oh, so far as that goes, he need not reproach himself," answered the Provst, with a feeling of complacency. "And I don't believe it's anything of that sort that's troubling him. In that case he would certainly have come to me with his troubles. No, I'm afraid he doesn't understand himself. There's something wavering about him. Perhaps he's got some crotchet or other about himself in his head. That sort of thing runs in the family, I hear. His mother—according to what Pastor Petersen tells me—was a highly eccentric person, who eventually took her own life in a fit of temporary insanity."

Miss Ragnhild turned to her father with a startled glance.

"What do you say!—his mother!"

The Provst stopped and cleared his throat. In his eagerness, and by a slip of the tongue, he had mentioned a subject on which he had resolved to keep silence for the sake of the curate and the congregation.

"Well,—I don't know exactly, of course!" he said, as with a reassuring smile and wave of the hand he resumed his walk. "People say as much—I only mean, that our good Mr Hansted has too great an inclination to be wrapped up in himself, a want of the power of assimilating himself; but I know I have done all I could to make him feel at home. And I am sure you have, too. I've often seen you walking in the garden together. You have—as far as I understand—many tastes in common; he thinks a great deal of your music—he told me so himself! So I can't imagine what makes him so reserved—for I don't suppose that you, Ragnhild—in any way—have—have hurt him?"

The Provst stopped again, this time in a dark corner of the room—and looked at his daughter with a wary and searching glance.

She appeared not to hear him, but sat with her arms crossed, looking straight before her, and the unapproachable expression with which she always turned aside any attempt of her father's to couple the curate's name with hers.

The Provst knitted his bushy eyebrows. He could not make anything of his child. With a gloomy mien he continued his walk up and down in silence, and shortly after left the room.