Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 3, Chapter 9

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book III; Chapter IX
Henrik Pontoppidan4520341Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook III; Chapter IX1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

The Provst was walking up and down the room with his hands behind him, when Emanuel knocked at his study door, and, without waiting for an answer, entered briskly.

"You want to speak to me, sir!"

The Provst did not answer, nor stop his walk, but waved him to a seat.

Emanuel sat down near the door. He held his head erect, crossed his legs, and put his right hand into the breast of his tightly buttoned up coat. His antagonistic bearing ill concealed his internal agitation. Feverish red patches came and went on his pale cheeks with great rapidity; his eyes were dull and heavy, as after a sleepless night.

As the Provst kept up the silence which was only broken by his creaking boots, Emanuel at last exclaimed, in his nervous impatience, changing his position, and running his hand through his hair:

"I suppose you want to speak to me about my address at the Meeting House yesterday. I regret, of course, that I did not have an opportunity of informing you of my intention beforehand. I had meant to do so, but——"

He was stopped here by a lightning glance from the Provst, who had paused at last along by the window.

"We will discuss that affair later. That you have thought it suitable, in spite of the position you hold here, to appear as a wandering star in the weaver's troupe, I have already heard, and you will have to answer to me for so doing another time. In the meantime, there is a different matter, on which I require information. It has lately come to my knowledge,"—he continued, slowly walking towards Emanuel with his hands behind him, and his eyes flashing;—"it has come to my knowledge, sir, that in one particular, where, more than in any other, you ought to set a worthy example to the youth of the neighbourhood, you have, by your conduct, absolutely scandalized the congregation. In short, is it true, Mr Hansted, that you have nightly meetings with certain young girls of the neighbourhood?"

Emanuel had risen. The feverish patches on his cheeks now spread over his forehead and temples, and his whole face flamed.

"Who says so?"

"That doesn't matter," shouted the Provst close to his face. "How does it stand? I want a short, plain answer, sir. So—yes or no?

Emanuel bit his lips. It was only with the greatest difficulty that he prevented himself from hurling an insult at the Provst.

At last he said—

"If by certain young girls Anders Jörgen's daughter is meant—and there can be no talk of any other—yes, it is partly true."

"Oh, indeed! so you admit it?"

"Yes, I am engaged to her. No particular scandal can have been caused to the congregation, however, as it was only last night I spoke to her alone for the first time. And even then, as I now understand, it was not entirely without witnesses. Mr Johansen was also present."

The Provst fell back, first one, and then another lingering step. His hands dropped from his back to his sides, and hung loosely; he stared at the curate, as if it was on the tip of his tongue to ask if he was mad.

"What do you say?… You are engaged to Anders Jörgen's daughter?"


In the space of half a minute the Provst's face went through a whole scale of the most opposite expressions. At last it settled into one of consternation mixed with the deepest pity.

Emanuel's face at this moment was not that of a happy, newly engaged man. His quivering features and heavy eyes betrayed, in spite of his efforts, the struggles of a mind distracted by the beginning of doubts and anxiety.

After a long silence the Provst came up close to him, and cautiously laid his hand upon his shoulder.

"Mr Hansted," he said in a low voice, "I must say a few words to you … not as your superior, but as a true, fatherly friend. Perhaps, in your present frame of mind, you can hardly look upon me as such, and yet I assure you that is what I am, and I am only thinking of your good. No, no, you must not interrupt me. You must allow me to have my say. I must—do you hear? You don't know at present what you are doing. You are ill, you have been cajoled—seduced—I hardly know what. But I do beg you, with whatever influence I may have over you, to think better of this before it goes any further. Do you hear? you must, you shall! Good God! how can this have come about? Where has your sense been? What do you think your family, your friends, and your whole circle will say? Think better of it, Mr Hansted … think what you are entering upon; do consider what you have at stake——"

Emanuel drew back a step to free himself from the Provst's hand, and exclaimed—

"I can't allow you to talk like this, you are not in a position to judge of my conduct here, my joy, or my happiness, and it is useless to talk any more about it."

The Provst bit his lip, and stood a moment looking at him irresolutely. His broad chest heaved, his face was purple, he looked as if a torrent of violent words were choking him, then he turned away, and walked slowly to the window, where he remained looking out.

There was a dead silence in the room for more than two minutes.

It was broken by Emanuel, who said—

"Have you anything more to say to me, sir?"

The Provst turned.

"Yes, Mr Hansted!" he said with forced calm. "I feel it is my duty to warn you once more, most solemnly, against this portentous step you are about to take. I have received you into my house, and I cannot look on calmly and see you doing an injury to yourself and to others. Of course, I do not doubt that you are acting from the best possible motives," he continued, coming nearer. "Of course you are persuaded that this will be for your happiness, and for that of the young girl. But you are a dreamer, a romantic dreamer, Mr Hansted. I have long seen that! A craving for the fantastic is an unfortunate heritage in your blood, and it leads you like a blind man along unknown paths. Look at your true self. Tear the bandage of dreams from your eyes, and you will shudder at the abyss, to the edge of which you have been tempted. How has it happened that, with your talents and abilities, you have been blinded to this extent? What is one to believe, what is one to think of you, Mr Hansted?"

"I will not discuss that point. I only know that I cannot accommodate you by repenting of my actions—neither the one nor the other of them. When I spoke in Skibberup Meeting House, it was after having carefully weighed the matter, and I have no reason to wish it undone. I feel that yesterday, for the first time, the congregation and I were at one,—and if you, sir, had been present, you would certainly have been obliged to admit that the satisfaction was mutual."

"I am quite ready to believe that!" the Provst blazed out. "If you tell stories to children and peasants, and flatter them a little, they are soon pleased. If that is the grand discovery you have made, you have been a good while about it, I must say. I could have taught you that piece of wisdom some time ago."

"You make a mistake," answered Emanuel in a restrained voice, and with a dignified look. "It was neither tales nor flattery which opened the ears of the listeners, but solely the fact that I came forward as a man among men, not as a judge among sinners. My great discovery is this—if you really care to know it,—that a priest may have some other object than merely going about as the tax-collector of heaven, and keeping account of the sins of men—and on this point I received the most desirable confirmation yesterday."

"Oh, ho! so it has gone as far as that with you! You are already so case-hardened that I am to hear all the weaver's phrases from your mouth. Really you have been a willing pupil, Mr Hansted! If that is your attitude, I see that I may save myself the trouble of trying to bring you to your senses.… But then, I suppose, you are prepared," he continued, raising his voice and coming up close to Emanuel—"I suppose you are also prepared for the steps which I propose to take after this? In short, Mr Hansted! you must choose now—either me or the weaver!"

"In that case … the choice is made."

"Indeed! Very good! You talk very boldly!… But—do you quite understand what it means? Do you see that your time here with me is over … irrevocably past, do you understand?"

"I had thought of that. But from this time I have my own work to do in the parish,—and that, quite regardless of whether I am your curate or not."

"There now! It is a prepared attack! A downright declaration of war! You propose an actual fight among my congregation!"

"Oh, not at all! For my part I wish for nothing but to be allowed to go my own way in peace, and do what good I can to others and to myself."

"But not I! We do not play so lightly as that here. I am not going to be led by the nose like that—don't imagine it. It will be a trial of strength, good folks—and you had better not be too sure of the issue! Yes, you may look at me! Measure yourself with me, young gentleman! It might even yet put a little sense into you. Old trees don't fall at the first blow of the axe,—but that sometimes happens to the young; and that you will feel! You spoke yesterday, Mr Hansted! To-day it is my turn!"