Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 4, Chapter 6

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book IV; Chapter VI
Henrik Pontoppidan4527166Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook IV; Chapter VI1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

The bishop and Emanuel went through the garden, and out into the fields by the little gate at the further end. The bishop lighted his cigar and threw open his coat, he blew thick clouds of smoke into the air like a man absorbed in his thoughts; now and then he made a passing remark about something which caught his eye.

Emanuel walked by his side in silence. He had seen at once that the bishop had a serious object in this walk, and he made up his mind to seize the opportunity and give him a full and clear explanation of his position and his relations with the congregation.

When they reached the top of the "Parsonage Hill," the bishop stopped and looked absently at the view; asking the names of some of the many churches whose towers shone like beacons in the hazy sunlight. He said a few words on the effect of the beauties of nature on the human mind, and the dreariness of a town life, and at last began to talk about the drought and the harvest prospects.

"I hear on all sides," he said abstractedly—"that serious anxiety is beginning to be felt. It would be sad if there were ground for these fears."

"I do not think there is, at least not immediately," remarked Emanuel, quite fluent on the subject. "The spring seed certainly has suffered a good deal, especially the six-rowed barley, and the grass land in hilly places is a good deal spoilt; but the rye is, so far, in very good condition, where it has not been touched by spring frosts."

The bishop turned towards him as if roused from his thoughts.

"Ah, ha! I see you are quite a farmer already!"

Emanuel blushed and his heart began to beat. Now it is coming, he thought.

But the bishop went on again, and again spoke of the difficulties in a town life and the influence of nature on the mind.

All at once he stopped and said, as if it had just occurred to him: "Tell me—are you not a son of Etatsraad Hansted?"


"Yes, I thought so," he added, and then said no more.

For several minutes the two men followed the little path in silence. A flock of hooded crows, which were startled by their footsteps from the ridges of a fallow field, wheeled about, screaming, over their heads; and not three hundred paces ahead of them in the path, a fox was slowly slinking along, stopping every yard or two to look at these two grave persons who did not seem to notice it.

"Mr Hansted," said the bishop suddenly without looking up,—"have you ever, in your student life—or possibly before—been specially attracted by any particular spiritual movement, either within the academic world or outside it?"

"I?… No," said Emanuel slowly, looking up in surprise. "No, I can't say that I have. I have always lived a very solitary life, especially as a student. I have never, so to speak, taken any part in the regular student life."

"But among your comrades you must have friends who have influenced you.… You have been a member of religious, literary or political clubs have you not?"

"No, and I have never had a real friend. I have been almost entirely thrown upon my own society and books since I have been grown up—I have never had anything to do with politics."

"Indeed," said the bishop shortly, and cleared his throat—there was a slightly disappointed tone in his voice.

"But however has it come about, then," he added, stopping and looking up at Emanuel. "How in the world have you arrived at your—if I may say so—somewhat extreme views? One's views of life are not got from books alone, even if these—as I admit they may—contribute largely to preparing the mind for personal influence, or help to form it.… Of course,"—he stopped suddenly and continued his walk—"I understand … your home … your mother were not without influence on your development. I remember you mentioned something of the kind to me when I prepared you for ordination. Yes, your mother was a remarkable woman, full of enthusiastic self-sacrifice and zeal. I knew her, as I daresay I told you before, very well in my youth; we belonged to the same set. I felt her death very much. She was one of those people who are too good for this world; and what broke her heart was the lack, at a decisive point in her life, of that power of resistance, or doggedness, which is so often wanting in noble and self-sacrificing spirits. I am talking in this open way to you, because I know that you are aware of all this; I remember you mentioned unhappiness at home as one of the reasons for wishing to take up clerical work in the country. Nor do I suppose that I am betraying any secret when I say it was—only after the continued entreaties, nay, perhaps even threats—and during a moment of feminine depression—that your mother gave way on the question of her marriage, which must have gone against her whole nature; and it was doubtless the feeling that she had been faithless to her ideal, which threw an ever-darkening shadow over her later life, and at last altogether extinguished the light of her soul. You may now be able to understand, my dear fellow, what a strange impression it made on me when I heard that you, her son, had taken up the threads she had been obliged to drop; and that you had begun to carry out in your life those views which, to her, were the most important feature of our times."

Emanuel did not speak, and kept his eyes on the ground. Lately, whenever his mother had been spoken of, and his thoughts were turned to her, he was so overcome by emotion that he could hardly help bursting into tears.

The bishop continued—

"But now, as an old friend of your mother—for I am not afraid to call myself that—let me give you some good advice, Mr Hansted. Or—tell me first what you are thinking of doing in the future, and about your position in this place. That you have chosen a bride here, I have heard from a private source; and I also know that, by your views and your relations to a certain limited part of the congregation, you have roused the Provst's anger against you. We have before us a conflict of a very serious nature. How have you thought of solving the difficulty."

Emanuel confided his plans openly to the bishop, and told him about the little place by the shore which he thought of buying; and how he thought of living as an independent son of the soil, while he carried on his work as a teacher and priest among his friends.

The bishop listened attentively and looked at him once or twice hurriedly, and with astonishment, while he was talking. When Emanuel stopped he walked by him for a time in silence, and seemed to be weighing something.

Then he lifted his head and said—

"All that you have told me is well thought out, and, in some ways, looked at from the right point of view … but I must none the less dissuade you most strongly from such a step. I tell you honestly that I look upon it as folly, which sooner or later you will regret. If you take my advice you will not give up the ministry. The church in these days needs all young and strong energy such as yours, and what we have to do is to gather our forces together and not disperse them. Promise me, therefore, that you will put these ideas out of your head."

"My lord—I can not. I feel that I have my work to do here, and I am already bound to the place and the people with such strong ties that I cannot tear myself loose."

"Well—but who wants you to tear yourself away?"

Emanuel looked up in surprise.

"But—I thought—I thought your lordship knew that the Provst wishes for my removal, there is no other way open to me."

"Well, that is just what I want to talk to you about—but let us turn, the sun is too warm—what was I saying? Oh yes—what I am about to tell you is strictly private, an official secret in fact—which must on no account go any further. To make a long story short, the Provst will, in all probability, be sending in his resignation immediately."

"The Provst!" burst out Emanuel, stopping open-mouthed in the middle of the path.

"I said in all probability," continued the bishop, without seeming to notice the other's astonishment. "He has been offered—or is about to be offered—an important post outside ministerial work, a post which just suits his peculiar powers. I do not doubt that he will accept it, especially as his position here evidently does not satisfy him—has even perhaps become untenable. For this reason alone I should like you to remain. The living will thus be vacant, and you will be temporarily appointed to fill it; you will probably be left undisturbed for some time, as it is the intention to take this opportunity to make a long talked-of re-distribution of the parish. It may take a couple of years. I shall give no opinion on what the future prospect may be—for the income will of course be affected by the rearrangement; I must leave that to time and your own consideration. I shall not go further into the subject, there is no occasion for it, and I have perhaps said more than I have a right to say, but I was anxious to hinder you from taking any hasty step.

"I will only add, that in my opinion your work for the present is here, but I hope you will see that it is in your present position that a large and important sphere of work is opening out—certainly for several years. As I said before, we need all our young strength and power in the church … and not least in this very district, which has long had the reputation of being very backward in a spiritual sense—I believe even politicians call it one of their 'dead' points."

They had now reached the little gate leading into the Parsonage grounds. The bishop stopped and shook hands with Emanuel.

"We part here. Think it over, and in any case put off any decisive step for a week or so. Should you wish to speak to me during that time you know where to find me."

Hastily pressing Emanuel's hand, he hurried off through the garden.

Emanuel stared after him quite overwhelmed by his words. He had the look of a person who suddenly sees all his plans for the future demolished by an unexpected piece of good fortune and who just at first does not know whether to laugh or to cry.