Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 3, Chapter 7

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book III; Chapter VII
Henrik Pontoppidan4516240Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook III; Chapter VII1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

A few minutes later Emanuel stood on the top of a hill over which a path ran northwards to Veilby. He took off his broad-brimmed hat and covered his eyes with his hand, while he listened to the distant voices of the people who were singing as they wandered homewards.

The last notes died away. He was alone. Round about him lay the earth steeped in the silence of the desert. Over his head was the mighty dome of heaven with the pale light of the shimmering stars. Inexorable silence reigned, as if all nature were turned to stone.

He felt as if he had all at once been shut out of a shining Paradise.… He turned his unwilling eyes towards Veilby, where in the distance he saw the high-lying Parsonage garden looming like a dark, threatening bank of clouds against the last faint streaks of light. There, reckoning, strife, and excommunication awaited him!

He walked on a few steps, but felt so tired and worn out that he was obliged to sit down on a stone by the wayside. The oppression which he had kept under by force all the evening, now, in this solitude, got complete mastery over him, crushing him like a wild beast let loose. It was not that he repented what he had done. He only felt so bitterly alone, so homeless, so forsaken! There was no longer a single place in the world that he could call his own,—not one creature to give him comfort or support. If he even had a home, where he could find rest and peace after the struggle; had he but a good and faithful wife, who would share his victory and his defeat—it would then have been the joy of his life to fight for freedom and happiness. But this was struggling on a bare heath with empty hands. No comfort, never a refuge!

He sat for a time gazing into space, with one name ever on his lips.… Hansine! Then he tore himself away from the thought. Dreams! he whispered, and rose. He stood for a moment looking down at the Fiord, which was now wrapped in light, grey mists. Then he slowly continued his walk.

But he could not banish the thought of Hansine. It was as if all his restlessness, depression, and fears at last resolved themselves into this one question: Why does she shun me? What is there in me to repulse her?… It seemed to him, more and more, that the answer to this contained an omen for his whole future; in this state of uncertainty he was in no condition to open battle. He stopped.

He must have certainty this very night. He remembered having seen Hansine go along the shore with her friend. She must therefore come back. She would hardly take the short cut to the village, across the bogs and the water courses. She would consequently come back to the meeting place. He would still be able to meet her there, and talk to her without being disturbed; make her tell him what she had against him, why she avoided him, what he had done to her.…

He turned and retraced his steps. Fearful of being too late, he hurried on stumbling over every stone in the dim light, and in a few minutes found himself in the "church" again.

All at once he stopped and his heart ceased to beat—there she was, coming towards him, not a hundred paces off, curiously big in the dusk, melting away like a shadow into the misty Fiord. She was walking close to the water, quite slowly—like one who had longed for solitude—singing softly and gazing out over the Fiord.

Suddenly she stopped and pressed her hands to her heart—she had seen him.

He approached quite slowly, so as to give her time to recognise him; and when he reached her, he raised his hat.

"Don't be afraid, Hansine,… you see it is only me. I hope I do not disturb you. I shan't do you any harm, you may be sure."

These last words slipped out involuntarily on seeing her alarm. She stood as if turned to stone. Her face was ashy pale, her eyes, under their dark eyebrows, fixed on him with a curious startled gaze.

In his helplessness he gave an elaborate explanation of his presence. He said that he had seen her go with her friend; and as he had not been able to speak to her all day, he had decided to go and meet her and have a little talk with her.

She remained standing like a dumb creature, and did not stir from the spot. Her face was as immoveable as a mask, and she stared at him with her half shy, half threatening glance, like a wounded doe.

"My dear Hansine!" he exclaimed. "You can never be angry with me for stopping you. I can assure you, you need not have the least fear of me. I only wanted to say "How-d'ye-do" to you, and anybody might listen to what I have to say, for that matter. I suppose you don't doubt that?"

Still she did not speak.

The blood rushed to Emanuel's cheeks. Was it possible that she really distrusted him? The thought seemed too ridiculous, but he saw that he had acted somewhat thoughtlessly in seeking her at this hour, and in such a solitary spot. So he tried to make a joke of it.

All the same there was a touch of bitterness in his voice as he said:

"Well, I really think that I am in your way. You must excuse me,… that was far from my intention. To tell the truth, it did not occur to me that time and place were not well chosen. But, good heavens! am I not your priest.… I had hoped that we were too good friends to misunderstand each other! Well—good-night then! I suppose you are not afraid to shake hands with me?"

She slowly gave him her hand, but drew it quickly back again, and with a short "good-night," turned away and went back the way she came.

Emanuel remained standing, dumb with astonishment. He had felt how cold her hand was, and how it shook. What in the world was the matter with her?

"Hansine!" he called.

She appeared not to hear him, and hurried on.

"Hansine!" he called, this time with the full power of his voice, and then she stopped as if bereft of power.

He went along to her, and although her back was to him, he saw at once that she was struggling to keep herself from crying.

"But what has happened?" he exclaimed in alarm.

The sound of his voice roused her, and she tried to fly. But he took hold of her arm and held her back.

"No, no, you mustn't go away like this. Whatever is the matter, Hansine? Has any one done you any harm? Won't you confide in me? I assure you I am your friend."

She tried to wrench herself away, but he put his arm round her shoulder and held her fast.

"I will not let you go in this state. You are not master of yourself. For heaven's sake, Hansine, what is it?"

He was at his wits' end. Was she ill? He did not hear any sound of crying, but he was sensible that the form he held was convulsed with emotion. What on earth should he do?

He had tears of sympathy in his eyes. He could not bear to see her suffer so. His own spirit was in such a turmoil that he could hardly command himself. Now for the first time he felt certain what his feelings were for this young girl. He knew it now—he loved her! For the first time in his life he felt love flame up in his heart and take possession of all his senses. He loved her! He felt with all his soul that it was she of whom he had dreamt in his youth, whom he had yearned for all his life!

"Loose me!… Let me go!" she cried hoarsely between her teeth.

But he held her fast. If it had cost him his life he could not have let her go.

"Hansine!" he said in a voice which was meant to be calm, but he strove in vain to conceal his own passionate emotion.

"Can I not comfort you in any way? Have you no confidence in me?—Are you angry with me?—You must tell me that, I have thought about nothing else all day, because you would not speak to me,… and I have wanted so much to see you. Are you angry with me? If you would only answer that question, I would let you go. Do you hear, Hansine? you must not go before you have told me that. Are you angry with me?"

"No, let me go!"

But he did not loosen his hold. Something in her voice, and the wild beating of her heart, which he felt right up his arm, all at once enlightened him. Had he been blind? Was it possible that she, too—— The thought surged through his brain like a raging wind, and he became quite dizzy. He forced himself to be calm for fear of frightening her. Trembling, he bent over her and said:

"Hansine, you must answer one more question. You must not be angry … but am I right in feeling that we have been brought together this evening by God Himself? You must not hide anything from me. Do you care for me? Tell me.… Do you care for me ever so little?"

She put forth all her strength to try and get away, and uttered a muffled cry. But now both his arms were round her, and he drew her to him with ungovernable passion.

"Is it true? Hansine … dear, dear Hansine, do you love me a little?

She no longer heard anything. She had sunk powerless in his arms, and her tears could no longer be restrained, she cried so violently that she was quite convulsed. She was paralysed with shame and despair. She seemed as if she would fall to the earth, and implore it to open and hide her.

"Then, then, do not cry any more, dearest one. It's all right now, isn't it? Come, we will go home together, and talk to your[1] parents.… Come."

These words roused her.

"You must not go with me," she said quickly, passing her hand over her tear-stained eyes.

"But why not? don't you want any one to see us until I have spoken to your parents? Well, perhaps you are right. Then we part here … it has got late. Good-night, then, Hansine! But to-morrow I shall come to you; then we will have a good talk together."

She was turning to leave him, when, with a beseeching voice, he called her back.

"You won't leave me without saying 'good-bye,' will you?"

She turned round and gave him her hand mechanically. He took it in both his and pressed it tenderly to his lips. Then her tears and despair broke out afresh; she turned quickly and hurried away.

He stood a moment irresolute. Was he really to leave her like this.

He followed her.

"Hansine,… had I not better go with you."

"No, no," she said passionately, and stamped her foot.

He did not understand her, but he followed no further.

"Well, then, I will come to-morrow," he called after her, "and then I shall see a smile on your face again, shall I not?"

She did not answer, he only heard her inconsolable sobs, while, almost running, she disappeared over the hills. When Emanuel turned back to the beach a few minutes later, he was disagreeably surprised to see a man in a light overcoat, standing a little way off leaning on a stick. He immediately recognised Johansen, and saw that, according to his usual custom, he had been wandering among the hills, on the look out for solitary girls.

He decided to appear as if he did not see him. But Johansen raised his hat, and shouted:

"A lovely evening, Mr Hansted; it's perfect summer weather."

  1. He here passes from the formal "you" to the "thou" of engaged people.