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

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book IV; Chapter IV
Henrik Pontoppidan4527161Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook IV; Chapter IV1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

When Emanuel shortly after stepped out to wash his hands at the pump in the yard, he saw a stout clerical-looking man climbing the steps to the entrance with the help of a stick.

When the man heard the clatter of wooden shoes on the flags, he turned round and stretched out both his hands towards him with a cry of joy.

He was dressed in a long-tailed coat, not free from spots, and black trousers bagging over his boots. Long shiny black hair hung in curls, reaching his coat collar under the brim of a dirty yellow straw hat, and his sallow fat face was surrounded by a reddish-brown goat's beard which hung down over a black vest buttoned up to the neck with two rows of horn buttons, so that not a vestige of linen was to be seen.

While Emanuel, who had no idea who this man might be, remained standing by the stable door, the stranger with great difficulty descended the steps; and though it was evident that every step gave him pain, he hurried across the yard with a beaming face till he reached Emanuel. Then he again stretched out his short fat arms and looked at him with delight, his youthful dancing brown eyes half buried in folds of fat, he exclaimed in a curiously soft, but penetrating voice: "If Mohammed won't come to the mountain, the mountain comes to Mohammed. For thou art Emanuel,—I need not ask thee. Thou won't find it easy to disown thy mother, dear friend! I wish thee joy!"

With these words he moved his brown stick from his right hand to his left, and grasped Emanuel's with a hearty grip, as if they were old friends.

Emanuel was quite bewildered. Who in the world could this be?

"To tell the truth, dear friend!" the other exclaimed. "We have waited long and anxiously for thee over there. Jetté has been saying nearly every day lately, 'I wonder if Emanuel will come to-day.' Oh, she is quite in love with thee already! When we heard of the grand meeting here on Sunday, and about thy speech, I can't tell thee how glad we were! And then, too, thou hast set thyself free and taken a bride from among the people! That's as it should be! yes, that's as it should be! But thou canst guess how surprised we were. Jetté wouldn't believe it at first, but afterwards she was so moved by it that it made her cry. I had to go over to the school to tell the girls the news. It made them half crazy, the hussies! They thought now there'd be a priest waiting for each of them! Ha, ha! Then we sang 'Love comes from God,' and then a lot of other songs, for when once they had begun they wouldn't stop. We didn't get to bed till after eleven. But we had the moon to light us in the schoolroom, the hussies."

At this moment it dawned upon Emanuel who this was. He must be the High School director from Sandinge. Now he recognised the face from a photograph which Hansine had. But he did not have a chance of assuring himself if he was right. The stranger continued to talk uninterruptedly, all the time patting him on the shoulder with his soft fat hand; then he took both his hands and squeezed them.

"Bravo! dear friend, bravo!" he went on. "We need all our young, fiery blood in the camp. We old fellows must get out of the way. Just look at me, I'm a perfect wreck. I am devastated by time, dear friend! Well, we old folks can comfort ourselves with the thought that we did not spare ourselves in our youth. And—God be praised—we have the satisfaction of seeing that our efforts have not been entirely in vain. Ah, you don't know how blessed it is to us old folks to see how the People's cause is winning its way, it is spreading in every part of the country and among all sorts of people. And now you! Well, that's as it should be." This he went on repeating in the voice of a conqueror. "I couldn't keep quiet at home any longer; I said to Jetté this morning, I really must go to Skibberup to see how they are getting on over there. So here thou hast me."

"But won't you come into the house," Emanuel at last found an opportunity to say. He was quite abashed by the overflowing confidences of the other; and also at being found in his working clothes, in which no one had yet seen him.

"No, dear friend, not now—not now! But I am coming soon. I only peeped in to announce my arrival. I am on my way to see a sick woman, who's an old friend. Well, tell Else she may expect me to dinner, and I'll bring a few friends with me, and we'll sit and talk and have a good time. Good-bye, so long! I am glad to have seen them. Now I can tell Jetté about thee, she'll be delighted. I wanted to bring her to-day, but she had to stay at home at the school with the little girls. And we've just been to the king's city the other day, to the spring meeting of the "New Danish Community." Oh, they were beautiful days."

"But let us go into the house," urged Emanuel, this time more emphatically.

"No, no, drive me away, or I shall stand here jabbering till I lose my breath. Till we meet again, then! Good-bye, good-bye! Remember me to the family in there!"

He had hardly left the courtyard before Hansine appeared in the door of the brew-house, with her sleeves turned up and a bowl of scraps in her hand. She was just in time to see the broad back of the stranger disappear through the gate.

"I never!" she exclaimed, putting down the bowl on the flags and running to Emanuel. "Wasn't that our High School director. How was that? Have you two been standing here long? Mother and I were down in the cellar, so we didn't hear you.… It was him, wasn't it?"

"Yes, I suppose so!"

She discovered the disappointment in his face by the tone of his voice, and became quite alarmed.

"Don't you like him? that can't be possible!… You are never angry because he said 'thou' to you? He says that to everybody, even if he has never seen them before. And that is really right, you know; you have said so yourself.… He is really so nice. You mustn't think anything else … do you hear?" she ended quite pertinaciously. She looked so pretty with her anxious face and her sleeves turned up, that Emanuel, who knew her affection for her old teacher, couldn't find it in his heart to gainsay her, so he only answered by a smile and gently stroking her cheek. He was in reality not so much disappointed as astonished, confused, dazed by this ceaseless flow of conversation, the half of which he had not understood.

They had not, however, much time for explanations. Ole rushed into the yard, his face crimson and bathed in perspiration. In spite of his mother's prohibition he had not been able to keep away from church, and had run all the way back without stopping.

"The bishop has come," he shouted, as soon as he set foot in the yard.

"What do you say?… the bishop!" cried Emanuel and Hansine both together.

"Yes, it's quite true.… I have seen him myself. He came into the church when the Provst went into the pulpit, and now he's driven home to the Parsonage with him.

Emanuel changed colour.

"Then I must go," he said after a moment's reflection, and went to change his clothes at once.

When he came back, Else was in the yard, too, with Hansine, listening to Ole.

"Whatever can the bishop want!" she asked, turning an anxious face towards Emanuel.

"I don't know … we shall see," he answered, hastily taking his leave.

Hansine went with him, but neither of them spoke. She was white round her mouth and much upset. Altogether a strange sort of timidity had come over her since her engagement. It was just as though this event had disturbed something at the very foundations of her being; as if she no longer felt the earth steady beneath her. When they reached the hills she took leave of him saying:

"Then you'll come down this evening and tell us what has happened."

He smiled, full of emotion, when he saw how she struggled to hide her anxiety, kissed her on the brow, and said to soothe her:

"Don't be afraid, dear! why should any one wish to harm us?"