Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 4, Chapter 5

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book IV; Chapter V
Henrik Pontoppidan4527164Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook IV; Chapter V1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

The bishop's vehicle stood inside the Parsonage gate, it was a humble little gig, as like the veterinary's as one twin is like another.

It was in this carriage, which was the talk of the country, that the bishop, who was always his own charioteer, travelled about in his diocese, dressed in a white linen coat in summer, and in winter in a sheepskin coat, only accompanied by a young stable boy with a bright button on his cap. Without sparing either himself or his spavined horse, he journeyed in rain and sunshine for miles around the country, taking his clergy by surprise when they least expected him—very different from his right reverend colleagues, who always announced their arrival in the most solemn manner, at least a fortnight beforehand, so that everything might be ready for a fitting reception.

When Emanuel reached the Parsonage they were already at lunch—the table was spread, contrary to the usual custom, under the flowering horse chestnuts in the garden. This was by the bishop's desire; he said a meal in the open air was to him a most regal pleasure; so Miss Ragnhild—though not very willingly—had complied with his wish.

It had become almost unbearably hot. The glowing rays of the sun fell from a cloudless sky on to the glittering gravel paths with such a glare that it was quite painful to the eyes; all kinds of stinging insects disported themselves in the shade. The lawns and flower-beds, in spite of constant watering, were sadly burnt up by the sun. When now and again a faint breeze stirred the trees, the leaves rustled with a metallic sound like dead foliage. Not a bird was singing.

The spirits of the party seemed to be affected by the oppressive heat. Although the bishop was most amiable, and evidently exerted himself to set any suspicions at rest which might have been roused by his sudden appearance, both the Provst and Miss Ragnhild preserved a cold, reserved taciturnity. The bishop and the Provst had only exchanged indifferent remarks. During the drive from church, the former praised the singing and talked of the weather and the harvest. While the lunch was being prepared, he had looked at the garden with a great show of interest, and spoke of a new kind of English lawn seed, which was said to withstand the winter better than others, just as if his only object was to pay them a private visit.

From the moment the Provst met the bishop after the service he had been convinced that this man had come to take the part of his enemies. He looked upon his sudden arrival just at this point, as an attempt to humble him in the eyes of the congregation; and he had firmly decided to repulse this insult.

He did not dream that he had put himself in a very unpleasant position, with regard to his superior to-day, by the violence of his utterances in the pulpit. Only the bishop's presence had prevented the congregation from leaving the church in a body according to the weaver's plan. Moreover, it did not easily occur to him, that he might not be able to maintain his position even before the sternest judge.

The bishop was a little broad-shouldered man, with slanting eyebrows and thick hair touched with grey. He had formerly been in the National Liberal Ministry, and one of the late king's most trusted advisers. He was by no means without dignity, nay, his broad beardless face had at times a stern, Old Testament gravity. But his dignity was mixed in a curious manner with a whimsical carelessness, a remnant of the wild student temper of '48, which had been fostered by Frederick IV. at his court. This jovial unconstraint drew down upon him Miss Ragnhild's deepest displeasure. She always had a great dislike to any kind of democratic familiarity, and she was not at all impressed by the fact that it was an actual bishop and a late minister who threw himself back in his chair as if he had been at home, buried his hands in his pockets to rattle his keys, waved his knife about and called her "my dear." She entirely shared her father's opinion with regard to the bishop's official behaviour. She considered it most unsuitable for a man in his position to dash about the high roads like a butcher; and that his unexpected visits to schools and churches were unworthy kinds of espionage which must lower the clergy in the eyes of the laity.

But what more than all roused the enmity of the Provst against him was his position in public and political life, where his behaviour plainly showed that, notwithstanding his advancing years, he was still entirely governed by his ambition. It was also whispered that to get into power again he would not disdain the help of the democratic party, and that negociations to this end were even now going on.

He spoke with great frankness to them himself of his weakness for politics and his love of power. They had hardly taken their seats at the table, before he turned the conversation to the rumours of his candidature for Parliament on the democratic side, which had just been going the round of the papers.

"Well, what is one to do?" he said smiling. "I believe it goes just as hard with old politicians as with old coachmen. When once you have sat on the box and held the reins, and perhaps used the whip at a pinch, then you can't bear to stay at home in the stable cutting chaff and polishing harness. There was a story I heard in my youth about an old coach-driver, who for thirty years had driven a diligence; when he grew old and had to give up his work, he could never sleep without a bit of rope or something between his fingers, and once nearly died when he was very infirm because it was not given to him. So I've often told my wife that if I am ever ill, she must make me believe that I have been named President of the Council, and then I shall soon get well."

When the bishop laughed, Tönnesen did not move a muscle, but looked as if he could not see the slightest occasion to join in his mirth. Just then, Emanuel appeared on the verandah, and came up with a bow.

The bishop received him, as a bishop needs must receive a young cleric, whose conduct has occasioned the sending in of a definite complaint. Still, his measured greeting seemed somewhat studied, and by no means served to soften the Provst. On the contrary, when the bishop, while Emanuel was taking his place at the table, continued his conversation and enlarged with a certain parliamentary complacency on the political situation, and took the opportunity of expressing his adherence to several of the movements of the "People's" party for re-arranging public life and its administration, Tönnesen could no longer maintain his passive bearing; he did not wish the curate to put his silence down to fear of the bishop.

"But it appears to me," he said, in a manner which was intended to overpower the bishop—"it really appears to me, that for the moment it is not so much that we feel the need of new movements and efforts, such as your grace seems to mean, as that we want quiet and decision, so that the different institutions of the country may regain their stability, which endured so many shocks at the founding of the new constitution."

"Oh, I am not afraid of a little airing!" cried the bishop with youthful gaiety. "Every house is all the better for a thorough cleaning from time to time; and I am sure it will do no harm to have the scrubbing brushes brought into play here … isn't that what you call that sort of thing, my dear?" turning to Miss Ragnhild, who answered with incredible shortness, "Very possibly."

"I am, by no means, making myself an advocate for any kind of impurity," said the Provst with unshaken gravity, and in a tone of rebuff. "There's an old-fashioned proverb which says you must be careful not to throw the child out with the bath-water … and in these days it might well be taken to heart. I honestly confess that I am, and all my life have been, a conservative, and I am utterly unable to bow down to these modern clean-sweeping principles. It can hardly be denied, that of late years many persons have started up in public life who will not be likely to do honour to their country. When education and accomplishments are no longer considered necessary for the public service, but are almost looked upon as evils; when every apprentice or serving-lad is to have just as much influence on the guidance of the state as men who have devoted their lives to the development of their intellectual powers, and widening their experience—such a people will soon decline, both intellectually and materially—there are plenty of examples in history for that."

The bishop, who had finished his lunch, was leaning back in his chair, with the tips of his fingers stuck into his waistcoat pockets. He had been observing the Provst narrowly while he spoke. He now crossed his arms, and with his head slightly on one side said, with an ironical little smile—

"What you say there, Provst, reminds me of a man who declines to use his left arm to work with, because the right has been designed by nature to do it—or has been used more—and is, therefore, stronger—he ties up his left arm so that it may not get in his way—till it dwindles away, and at last becomes quite useless. Such a proceeding—am I not right—would be looked upon as highly peculiar—not to say indefensible. Why, therefore, should the state not use both its right and its left side, even if the former—either because of natural or other causes—is, at present, the most developed? Would it not be reasonable if, in public life, we acted like a sensible man, who when he has a heavy burden to carry for a long distance moves it during the walk from one hand to the other. By so doing, you ensure yourself against exhaustion, and procure a uniform development of every part of the organism."

"Oh, I am sure there is no reason to fear any paralysis of the left side of the state," remarked Tönnesen. "It appears to me, on the contrary, that there is a good deal of left-handedness in our public life just now."

He liked this retort very much himself, and glanced at Emanuel.

"O yes—of course—I quite admit phenomena have appeared on the political horizon which are to be deplored; but such things can't be helped in stormy times like these. The chief thing is, by wise discretion and strict justice to conduct the lightning … and in our days it is the most important duty of the leading politician. Nor must it be forgotten—with regard to the peasant class—that we have much old injustice to make up to them; and if perhaps, at the moment, there is a disposition to give too much prominence to the peasant, it is merely justice which has been too long deferred. We certainly need to cultivate new social strata for our spiritual nourishment, so as—if I may say so—to turn up fresh virgin soil, from which a Future, strong in vital power, may grow up. I am not at all afraid of the deep digging which is going on just now at our intellectual foundations. I have no doubt that it will bring forth good and sound fruit, when, by degrees, a sufficient admixture of the new and the old has been accomplished. Everyone who contributes to this end, appears to me to do a good deed, both to his fatherland and to his own spiritual development."

The Provst's face took the ashy-grey colour which was habitual to it when his blood was boiling.

These words of the bishop, spoken in the curate's presence, could only be regarded as a complete approbation—nay, glorification—of his actions.

"Oh, for my part, I have not the slightest confidence in this so-called 'Virgin soil,'" said he in a voice trembling with suppressed rage. "It appears to me, on the contrary, to be merely sterile sand, or even worse constituents, which the glorification of the masses, by means of universal suffrage brings to the surface. If the madness goes on as it has begun, I am quite prepared one fine day to see our country entirely governed by the scum of the training colleges, and cowherds."

"Oh, those are only figures of speech! Should it really prove that the masses disappoint our expectations, or—to be more candid—that we have not yet found the right means to awaken the People's dormant powers, no irremediable harm will have been done. We shall at any-rate have made—a necessary experiment."

"It seems to me that we have experimentalized enough under our new constitution. We paid dearly enough for our unhappy experiments in '64, with an accidental majority of the masses."

An icy blast seemed to pass over the bishop's face at this open allusion to the last unhappy war for which his ministry was by everyone mainly blamed. He did not change his position, but glanced once or twice uneasily at the Provst, as if he had not made up his mind how to answer the insult. Finally he put on his Old Testament mask and said, in a perfectly controlled voice:

"You seem, Provst, in your extraordinary want of confidence in the People, to forget the word of God which says: 'Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.'"

The Provst wanted to interrupt, but the bishop would not allow it, and went on with rising voice:

"In this connection it would also be worth while remembering that our Lord Jesus Christ, when he was on earth, did not choose helpers in his own work of salvation from among the learned, but—also in those days—from among the despised working classes whose life he shared. Ought this not to be an example for all time? Is it not time for us to acknowledge that our Saviour not only pointed out the way to realms above, but also, by breaking down the spiritual pride of the heathen, He laid the foundations of an earthly kingdom of righteousness, a sacred tribunal of the people, which it remains for those who come after to realize according to His great message, 'Love your neighbour as yourself!' The motto, 'Freedom, Equality, Fraternity,' which a certain newly-formed party have—unfortunately in a bad sense—adopted, that, in few words, is the whole teaching of Christ, which we would all do well to burn into our hearts."

Emanuel sat at the other end of the table, bent over his plate, following this conversation with lively sympathy. The depression which had followed on the bishop's cold reception at first, —because it was in such sharp contrast with his extraordinary kindness at his ordination,— quickly passed off when he heard him speak. His heart swelled as he listened to these words, which so clearly and exactly expressed his own thoughts, and strengthened him in the certainty that he now walked in his Master's footsteps, and was helping to create a kingdom of happiness which the Christian brotherhood would one day spread over the whole earth.

The Provst remained perfectly silent after the bishop's last words. He had eased his mind by his allusion to the bishop's unfortunate political past; and he would not lower himself by a discussion with a person, even a bishop, who, when in difficulties, could not avoid making political capital out of the Saviour of the world, nay, actually turning Him into a socialist.

Just then the warning sound of church bells was borne on the wind. It was time for the afternoon service.

The Provst rose and said in a slightly sarcastic tone:

"Your lordship must excuse me; my clerical duties call me away. I hope to have the pleasure of seeing your lordship again when I return,"—whereupon, without waiting for an answer, he pushed his chair aside and went away with majestic strides.

A moment after, the others rose too. The bishop shook hands both with Miss Ragnhild and Emanuel with a serious face, and said to the latter in a voice which was not affected by any recollection of the complaint:

"I should like to look about a little in the neighbourhood. Do you mind being my conductor, Mr Hansted, till the Provst returns? I daresay we shall find something or other to talk about."

Emanuel coloured and bowed.

Miss Ragnhild had remained standing by the table, her eyes blazing with contempt. She was dressed in a light summer dress with silk stripes and a straw hat with ostrich feathers, and looked extremely well.

When the bishop turned towards her to take leave, her face immediately changed to its usual indifferent expression; and when both gentlemen lifted their hats she bowed as stiffly as the most formal politeness demanded.