Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 3, Chapter 10

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book III; Chapter X
Henrik Pontoppidan4520343Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook III; Chapter X1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

When the Provst threw open the drawing-room door a few minutes later, Miss Ragnhild was just coming in from the dining-room with a large china bowl full of yellow flowers in her hands.

She was dressed in a loose morning gown of broad striped stuff with a cord round the waist, long ends, and tassels. On her head she had a flat, soft, grey felt hat, the only trimming on which was a white veil hanging down her back. She was pale, as usual, but the flowers threw a rich glow over the lower part of her face, as if it was a bowl of sunshine she carried.

"Whatever has happened?" she asked, alarmed at the sight of her father's heated appearance, and stopping by the heavy mahogany table in the middle of the room.

"You may well ask that! Upon my word I think the world is out of joint just now! People are bewitched—quite mad."

"But what on earth is the matter?"

"Oh, it's nothing more nor less than that our friend, Mr Hansted, has gone and engaged himself!"

Miss Ragnhild put the bowl hurriedly down, spilling some of the water over the illustrated books.

"What do you say?… Mr Hansted!"

"Yes, as I stand here. But you will never guess who is the chosen one, Ragnhild!"

"Is it—is it a lady from these parts?"

"She is from these parts certainly; but she can hardly be called a lady. It is Anders Jörgen's daughter from Skibberup. What do you think of that?"

"Good heavens! is it possible!"

"You may well say so!" shouted the Provst—who, as usual, was walking up and down the floor with noisy steps. "Really, one does not know what to think of the mad times we live in. It's just as if all common sense was going out of the world. On all sides we have this bowing down to the common people,… this worship of the peasant, it seems to be in the air in these days, like any other plague. How in the world are we otherwise to explain the fact—that people who up to this time have been ordinarily sensible, suddenly, and apparently without any reason, become absolutely possessed? Even people who were schoolfellows of my own, suddenly, in their old age, begin to play the fool, by dressing in homespun, speaking like peasants, and setting their daughters to milk the cows! And now this! It's stark lunacy! and you will see, Ragnhild, it won't stop here! This is only the first outcome of the folly. Others will follow. Mr Hansted has already to such an extent lost his sound sense and judgment, that, like all persons of limited views, who are absorbed by anything new, he imagines that he has a mission to fulfil here. He is to be the prophet of the new times, to found parties and lead riots, according to the fashion of these days."

Miss Ragnhild had taken off her hat and gone to the window with the mechanical movements of a sleep-walker. She sat down as if overcome with fatigue, and stared out into the courtyard. As soon as she saw that her father had stopped in a corner of the room and was observing her, she leant back in her chair, and said, without really meaning it—

"Well, in a way it's only what one might have expected from the turn which Mr Hansted's development had taken lately. One has long been able to see that it would turn to something of this sort."

"That is exactly why I can't help blaming myself in a measure, Ragnhild. I ought to have kept a tighter hand over him from the beginning. Who knows—perhaps he might have been saved then. I did at first have my suspicions … but after all, he was a man, and you can't treat a man as an invalid, before you are sure of the disease. But now I haven't a doubt—he is mad—completely off his head! When I look back I can follow the development of the disease, step by step, from the day he entered our house. It is the mother's insanity coming out in the son. Once in her youth, I believe, she caused a perfect scandal at a public meeting, by making a most revolutionary speech. And—oddly enough—I heard, among other things about her from Pastor Petersen, that it was in these parts that she tried to carry out her wild ideas at one time. She was in fact the originator of the High School at Sandinge, to which we owe all our disturbances. In that case, one can say with truth, that Mr Hansted is a sacrifice to his mother's youthful follies. But that's the way of the world!"

Miss Ragnhild no longer heard her father's words, and she hardly noticed when he left the room and shut himself into his study.

She couldn't understand why this engagement made such an impression upon her. She felt there was no disappointment to her in it. In fact, her interest in Mr Hansted had been on the wane latterly; and it did not raise him in her estimation to find that he had engaged himself to a peasant girl. She thought there was something so pitiable in this ruling propensity for all that was undeveloped, petty, child-like, simple.

At the same time, she felt as if by this event, one more light had been put out in her existence; as if there was one more vacant spot in her heart. She felt that she had lost a friend—who, in a way, was her only one. But—what was worse—she had lost a sympathetic fellow-sufferer—in this wilderness of solitude and melancholy.… Was it more?

She looked at her old friend Methuselah the parrot—he was swinging in his ring and pluming his green feathers. Well! she and her parrot were alone again! But for that matter she could imagine worse company, and she was not likely to envy the curate's new friends.

She was just stretching out her hand to caress the bird, when she heard footsteps creaking in the passage. There was no doubt about it—it was the curate coming downstairs from his room.

She sat still for a moment, her eyes fixed on her lap, in violent conflict with herself. Then she got up, walked across the floor quickly and opened the door. Emanuel was there with his hat on and his umbrella in his hand, just about to go out. He turned very red when he saw her, and a defiant expression came into his eye. It looked as if he was arming himself against her expected jibes, and was preparing to pay her back. She put out her hand in a friendly way towards him.

"Father has told me your news, Mr Hansted. I congratulate you most heartily!"

He looked doubtingly at her.

"I do not know the young girl personally," she continued calmly. "But I remember several times having heard most favourable remarks about her, so I do not doubt that it will be for your happiness."

After these words, Emanuel—perhaps somewhat hesitatingly—took her soft, white hand, and when she let him keep it, pressed it warmly.

"Thanks, a thousand thanks, Miss Ragnhild," he said, moved with pleasure and surprise. "You do not know how glad I am that you of all people understand me!"

"Well, I have perhaps had more opportunities of doing so than most people."

"You have—you have, Miss Ragnhild!"

"I mean—we have discussed every subject under the sun. Therefore you know that we hold different opinions on many points. But I hope you believe that I always respect people who have the courage of their opinions."

"I am afraid I do you little honour as a pupil, Miss Ragnhild!"

"Well! I cannot flatter myself with that—I suppose you are going to see your fiancée now?" she asked hurriedly.


"Then greet her from me, and give her my warmest congratulations."