Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 3, Chapter 1

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book III; Chapter I
Henrik Pontoppidan4516220Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook III; Chapter I1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

One Sunday afternoon in May, the Meeting House in Skibberup was crammed with people, whose strained expectant faces plainly showed that something unusual was about to happen. It was indeed a remarkable day in the history of Skibberup. The speaker who was expected was no less a person than Provst Tönnesen's curate, Pastor Hansted.

Every seat in the long, dimly lighted room, (formerly a barn) was taken, and groups of men and lads hung round the windows blocking out what light there was. There was a lively buzz of gay and loud voices. It was plainly to be seen that it was no gathering of Veilby peasants; for though the distance between Veilby and Skibberup was not more than a couple of miles, the inhabitants of the twin villages were as different as if they did not belong to the same part of the country. This circumstance was not the result of chance, but was caused by the difference in position and conditions of life to which, in the course of time, the inhabitants had been subjected. While the peaceful inhabitants of Veilby had always busied themselves with ploughing and harvesting their wide acres since the time of Arild—Skibberup had been originally—and, to a certain extent, still remained—a fishing village, whose inhabitants chiefly maintained themselves by fishing. As lately as a couple of generations ago, the people of Skibberup looked upon the cultivation of the land as a minor affair to be left to the women, while the men paddled about in the fiords far and near, and made land journeys round the coast to dispose of their catches. Many tales were still told of the stirring adventures of the old Skibberup race both on land and at sea.

At one end of the room stood a simple reading desk, behind which the old brick wall of the barn was draped with a "Dannebrog" flag, which was so hung that the white cross on the red ground was upright.

The benches in front of the desk were almost entirely taken up by women, and the men ranged themselves at the back of the room and round the walls on both sides.

Else Anders Jörgen and her daughter Hansine were the objects of much attention among the company, as they took their seats on one of the middle benches. Else's plump face, with the light protruding eyes, her iron grey hair and large gold-embroidered cap, with broad red ribbons hanging down at one side, would have attracted attention in any assemblage; but the sensation which she made to-day was owing to the fact, known to all, that it was in her house, that the curate and the weaver had had the meetings in which the great event of to-day had originated. In a way it was considered that the happy ending of the affair was due to Else. She, not having been at home on the occasion of the first meeting between the curate and the weaver, and having heard on her return of its unfortunate issue, made up her mind on her own account to seek out Mr Hansted, for whom, in spite of all, she had preserved an unswerving affection since their first meeting by her daughter's sick bed. On the following Sunday, after the service, she went up to him outside the church, and asked him to renew his visit to her that same evening, "to meet a few good friends who very much wanted to talk to him." Mr Hansted accepted her invitation at once with alacrity, and as she had taken the precaution beforehand to ensure the presence of the weaver and a few other leading men of the village, a serious interchange of opinions at last took place between the curate and the congregation.

In consequence of these repeated visits to Anders Jörgen's house, and especially on account of the attention he had plainly shown Else and her daughter, in seeking them out after church every Sunday, and walking part of the way home with them, Hansine's friends had often teazed her about the curate, for whom, according to them, she had long cherished a secret affection. She certainly protested against the charge with great vehemence, and to-day, as if to prove her innocence of it, she was dressed, in contrast to all the other girls, in a plain dark green linsey dress without a bit of trimming or finery of any kind.

She looked well all the same—it was not for nothing that she was reckoned among the prettiest girls in the village; although the lower part of the face was childishly unformed, and a little out of proportion to the upper part, with the closely growing, dark eyebrows, and deep-set, earnest eyes. She sat with her usual almost unnaturally erect bearing, which gave to her trim little figure an air of self-confidence and power; and she neither took part in, nor listened to the gay chatter going on among the women round her. This want of sympathy with her surroundings was such an old story with her, that it no longer caused astonishment to any one. Even as a child, people had been amused by the comical "stand-off" air with which she met all advances of strangers, friendly or unfriendly. Her reserve had become more pronounced after she had been at a High School a few years ago; and while there, she had taken part in a "Friendly Meeting" in Copenhagen, where, among others, old Bishop Grundtvig spoke for the last time. Since then she had not been seen much outside her father's house and fields, more especially keeping away from the somewhat free and easy pleasures, in which the youth of the village indulged on Sundays and fine summer evenings. On the other hand, she was always to be heard singing at her work, in cow-byre and kitchen, or when walking over the fields with her milk pails.

The villagers sometimes laughed at her, but on the whole they did not pay much attention to these peculiarities. After all, she was little more than a child, only nineteen, and other girls in the neighbourhood who had been to High Schools were also observed to have peculiar ways. Besides, it was well known that it always took some time before the young people found their level again, and settled down to the simple every-day peasant life.

In the meantime, it was five o'clock, and the curate had not arrived. Some anxiety was apparent among a group of men, who had assembled at the door, with the weaver at their head, to receive him. They knew that latterly there had been strained relations between the Provst and his curate, since the former had become aware of the intercourse with the weaver and other prominent men of Skibberup. And now they feared that, notwithstanding all their precautions, Tönnesen should have heard of the meeting, and at the last moment prohibited Pastor Hansted from being present.

The weaver's pale face especially betrayed great uneasiness. He knew what was in store for him if the curate failed him to-day; but he also knew what enthusiasm would be aroused next day, when it became known that the Provst's colleague had been the speaker in his Meeting House.