Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 3, Chapter 4

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book III; Chapter IV
Henrik Pontoppidan4516229Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook III; Chapter IV1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

A rustle of clothes and a hum of voices went through the room as he finished. They were quite overcome with pleasure and surprise. The most sanguine of them had never in their wildest dreams hoped for such freedom of speech. But the hints in the curate's last words threw a vague gloom over their spirits. It had not occurred to them before that this meeting might have far-reaching consequences. They all looked towards the weaver, who at last pulled up his long limp figure from the end of a bench in the front row, and slowly entered the rostrum. He expressed the thanks of the meeting for the "stimulating" address in a remarkably few and dry words, and then proceeded—according to the usage of meetings—to ask the audience if any one wished to make any remarks on the discourse, "that is to say, if Mr Hansted has no objection," he added, turning with a smile to Emanuel, who silently shook his head.

"Well, then, anybody can address the meeting," he said, waving his hand towards the audience.

Immediately a figure on one of the middle benches started up, a little, ugly, poorly dressed woman, whose appearance roused a general commotion. Some even began to hiss, and shout "sit down." But she was evidently used both to appearing in public and to meeting opposition. Without paying the slightest attention to the disturbance, in an almost inaudible voice, like the mewing of a cat in a bag, and shewing absolutely toothless gums, she began, aided by mechanical gestures with her claw-like hand, to put a string of questions to the curate, whom she persisted in calling "the last honourable speaker." All that the curate had said was maybe very right and fine, she began. But what she wanted to know was, what he thought of the laws on taxation, and the new school orders. And she wished to know how the honourable speaker was disposed to the introduction of the new appendix to the hymn-book, and whether he thought it right that a man with fourteen cows should not let his labourers have a bit of grazing in the ditches. And she also wanted to know what he thought of the doctrine of Damnation, the Peace question, and old age annuities.

The disturbance among the people rose higher, and all eyes were again turned to the weaver, who appeared to be closely contemplating the sole of his boot.

When the hisses became universal, and completely drowned the speaker, he looked up with a broad smile, and rose.

"Come, come, now, Maren Smeds, hadn't we better keep all this here for another time. Seems like we shouldn't spoil the good impression of Mr Hansted's speech with too much jaw after it.

"Hear, hear," was heard on all sides.

The weaver, who seemed as if he would have added something more, stopped suddenly and sat down. At the same time, a dozen hands pulled Maren by the skirts down on to the seat with a bump like a wooden doll.

Emanuel, who had risen, looked with uncomprehending glances both at the speaker and at the hissers, when a bystander whispered a few words to him, and he sat down again.

Now a movement arose in the background. A man jumped on to the last bench, and in a loud voice asked leave to speak. It was the big, blackbearded "Viking" figure, whom Emanuel had occasionally met before, first, as the speaker among the snow-clearers on that winter evening's sledge ride to Skibberup.

With a voice which rang through the room like a horn, he said:

"I'd like to thank the Pastor for what he's said to-day, too—but most of all for his presence. I think we can all say that we've found the man we wanted, and we weren't far wrong when we were pleased at hearing who was to be our curate. May be we haven't all been sure about it before,—I'll only say the curate must excuse it—but we've got our eyes open now as to what he really is, so I thank him heartily."

"Hear, hear," came from all the young men in the tightly packed windows and round the walls, while the women nodded approvingly.

"I'd just like to say, too, if, on account of this day, any troubles or unpleasantness come to the curate up there—I've said enough—there's room for a parson down here among us! If Mr Hansted gets into difficulties up there—isn't it so, friends?—we're quite ready to receive him with open arms and a big hurrah! Shall we pledge our words on it, eh?"

Thundering cheers from the windows and walls, nay, even from the women, followed these words.

Emanuel rose, his expression shewed that the "Viking's" clarion had roused him too. He stood by the rostrum, and immediately all was hushed. He stood for a moment, as if fighting out something with himself. Then he said in a firm but low voice:

"I thank you for your sympathy, my friends. It makes me happy and contented. Nobody knows what the future will bring, but I no longer have any fear." Raising his voice, he added, the colour mounting to his cheek, "I know my vocation, and neither opposition nor battle—nothing shall hinder me from following it. Be sure of that! In thanking you all for your goodwill, I will ask you to join me in singing the beautiful old hymn, 'All lies in God our Father's hand!'"

The song was sung, and then another, and several people called for one more, but then the weaver rose and abruptly declared the meeting closed.

It was long past seven. The room was almost dark, and the atmosphere stifling. It became a little lighter when the men sprang down from the windows—some outwards, others in. The meeting broke up in a red glow from the setting sun, and the people pressed towards the door with a deafening noise.

Emanuel was surrounded on his way out by people who wanted to shake hands and to thank him. The devotion of the people overwhelmed him with thankfulness. There was a perfect hum of delight and admiration around him. "What a handsome young man!" "Yes, he's a child of grace!" "So pious and good!" "They say he's so like his poor mother, too!"

At the entrance he was met by Else, who came up to him, and pressed his hand with much emotion, while child-like tears of joy stood in her clear eyes. He smiled and said, "Thank you, Else!" and looked round for Hansine. But she was not there. It was a little disappointment to him in the midst of his pleasure. Although he had not seen her, he felt sure she must have been there.