Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 3, Chapter 8

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book III; Chapter VIII
Henrik Pontoppidan4516244Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook III; Chapter VIII1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

The next morning a heavy thunder cloud rested over Veilby Parsonage. When Emanuel, somewhat later than usual, came down to breakfast, he found neither the Provst nor Miss Ragnhild. The old lame servant who came in from the kitchen poured out his tea in silence, and pushed it towards him with a face in which he read his doom. The Provst was wandering restlessly up and down the chestnut avenue. Heavy clouds of tobacco rose rapidly from his pipe, and lost themselves among the trees, showing more plainly than words, his state of mind. Provst Tönnesen only puffed like that under great mental excitement. Miss Ragnhild had merely told him at breakfast about the curate's appearance at the Meeting House; but in the early morning, while he was still in his room, which adjoined the kitchen, he had caught scraps of conversation between the cook and a rag-dealer who was imparting the whole story, so that his daughter's communication only confirmed what he already suspected.

A person now approached him from the end of the avenue, in a light overcoat, and a hard straw hat with a violet ribbon. It was Johansen, the assistant teacher. When the Provst caught sight of him he called out impatiently:

"Well, what's in the wind now?"

Johansen bared his curly head, stopped a few paces off, bowed, and said:

"Excuse me, your reverence, I have a birth to register."

"Oh! is that all! why should that make you creep along as if a misfortune had happened?… Whose child is it?"

"Netté Andersen's."

"Another unmarried woman!… Of course, looseness and licentiousness on every side! Emancipation from every tie, that is the watchword of the times."

Johansen looked downwards and sideways uneasily. He was not quite sure to whom these words alluded; and his own conscience was somewhat burdened in this respect just at present.

"I hope," continued the Provst severely, "that you, Mr Johansen, bring up the school-children strictly in the paths of virtue. It is more necessary now than ever before, when licentiousness is preached in the market-place. Look over nothing. The imps must be tamed."

"I think I may assure your reverence that I have used my best endeavours in this respect. I have always tried to sharpen the children's sense of duty. But—h'm—it's good example which is everything here. Unfortunately, bad example has such a powerful effect."

"Yes, of course," answered the Provst, slightly astonished, and looking closely at him. "What are you thinking of? Do you allude to any one in particular as setting a bad example to the congregation?"

"Heaven forbid, your reverence, it was not my intention to charge any one in particular. I only meant—speaking generally."

"Rubbish! Don't beat about the bush—explain yourself properly. Whom do you consider to be a damaging element among the congregation? Well, speak out!"

"Hem! your reverence misunderstands me. I only meant—quite loosely——"

"I say again, no roundabout phrases! Answer my question!"

"I assure your reverence it was only my intention to—to—that, for example, a man in the curate's position ought, perhaps, to be rather more careful in his behaviour, for the sake of the people. In the country, things are so easily misunderstood."

"The curate!" burst out the Provst, wrinkling his forehead and staring at Mr Johansen from head to foot. "How on earth can it occur to you to mention Mr Hansted in this connexion? I suppose you don't intend to accuse him of impropriety; well, speak out, man, and explain yourself!" he thundered, stamping his foot. Mr Johansen wriggled like an imprisoned worm. It certainly had been his plan to turn aside attention from his own irregularities, by making use of the peep into the curate's private life which he had had the night before. But he had only meant to raise a slight suspicion in the Provst's mind, without appearing as an actual accuser.

Now he was caught in his own toils, and saw that it would be best to give away Mr Hansted, and surrender at discretion. He straightened himself up, bent his neck forward a little, as if silencing his last scruples, and said—

"Well, I maintain—that is,—I think it can't be a good example for the people to meet Mr Hansted late in the evening, in a solitary place, handling one of the young girls of the neighbourhood in a very tender manner."

The Provst turned ashen grey. Again he measured the assistant master from head to foot, and said at last:

"Who saw that?—Answer!"

"I saw it myself, your reverence!"

"You!… and late in the evening, you say?"

"Between ten and eleven."

"And in an out-of-the-way place?"

"Out in Hammerbay,… the place the people call 'the church.'"

"And you are quite sure you have not made a mistake in the slightest particular?"

Mr Johansen bowed his head and looked away in embarrassment.

"It was really not possible to make a mistake, your reverence!"

There was a moment's silence, then the Provst said:

"Can you tell me about what time—I mean what evening it was when you saw Mr Hansted in the said situation?"

"I can easily do that, as it was only last night."

"Yesterday! After the meeting! So then we have the explanation!" he exclaimed, not knowing that he was thinking aloud. Then he looked severely at the assistant teacher, and said:

"What you have told me, Mr Johansen, remains, for the present, between ourselves. Do you understand?"

Mr Johansen bowed.

"I shall look into the matter, and I tell you it will go hard with you if I find the slightest inaccuracy in what you have told me!… The birth you spoke of shall be entered. Have you the papers with you? Very well! That is all for to-day."

When, shortly after, he entered the house from the verandah, he walked through the empty dining-room, threw open the kitchen door, and called out, in a voice which rang through the house:

"Are you there, Loné?"

"Yes," answered a muffled voice from the cellar.

"Go up to the curate and tell him I wish to speak to him. I shall be in my room. But say that he is to come at once. I am waiting."