Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 5, Chapter 2

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book V; Chapter II
Henrik Pontoppidan4533623Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook V; Chapter II1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

Although the removal of the Provst was to be regarded as advancement—and he was far from giving any other view of it, rather speaking of his appointment with a certain complacency—yet the people of Skibberup looked upon it as a victory for their party. The weaver had kept his word—in a few weeks the Provst would be out of the Parsonage.

To tell the truth, the bishop had had to use all his diplomatic powers to carry out his wishes with regard to the Provst, who saw perfectly the real drift of the Pharisaic manœuvre. But he saw equally, that, both for his own sake and his daughter's, he could not decline an offer which released them, apparently with honour, from a situation which had become burdensome to both of them. Besides, he was flattered by feeling that his past scholastic career was remembered, and his administrative talents appreciated; so it was with considerable satisfaction that he saw himself spoken of in the papers as the "distinguished Pedagogue."

In Skibberup they were very busy striking while the iron was hot. A deputation was at once sent to the bishop with an address, in which the hope was expressed that, "in filling the vacancy, regard would be paid to the wishes of the majority of the congregation." Emanuel was not mentioned, but the document was couched in such terms that it was impossible to misunderstand the meaning—namely, the appointment of the curate to the living. The bishop received the deputation, and especially its spokesman the weaver, very cordially. He touched upon the proposed re-distribution, which would necessitate a vacancy for some time, and further added that he always with pleasure tried to meet the justifiable wishes of the congregation. He then invited the deputation to lunch, and they spent nearly four hours with his lordship in the garden over their coffee.

A few days later the papers were able to state that the bishop had allowed himself to be nominated democratic candidate, at the forthcoming elections, for that part of the country to which Veilby and Skibberup belonged.

In the meantime Miss Ragnhild was waiting impatiently at the Parsonage for the day when she should leave it for ever. Although she felt too old to expect anything from the future, she had a burning desire to get away from the place where she had wasted her youth; and where there was not one spot or one person to regret. Even the sight of the curate had latterly been disagreeable to her, and had a most depressing effect upon her. It was not only that he had become careless in his person, or because his hair and his clothes smelt of the stable when he occasionally dined at the Parsonage. But she thought a corresponding change had taken place in his inner being, and that his original good breeding was disappearing in his efforts to acquire a broad "popular" manner.

Ever since his visit to Sandinge, she thought a certain smug self-importance had come over him. He had become clumsily ironical in speaking of her dress and her idle life; and she found his everlasting didactic lectures absolutely intolerable.

She was weary of existence, and daily more depressed by an infinite melancholy. By way of cheering herself, she had lately paid a visit to Copenhagen, where she had not been for two or three years. But melancholy followed her here too. She did not know whether it was the state of her own spirits at the moment, but it appeared to her that the everlasting peasant was celebrating his triumphs in every direction. The shop windows, with their tasteless cheap goods, seemed to be only designed to suit the taste of the common people. All distinguished taste seemed to be disappearing from the world; the current literature only dealt with peasants and work-people. The artists at the Charlottenburg exhibition all seemed enamoured of such subjects as "In a peasant's room;" "Pigs on a dunghill;" "A shoemaker at his last." Even in the theatres there was no immunity, for the peasant Members of Parliament had their free seats.

One day she met in the street a friend of her youth, whom she had not seen for ten years—she had married a doctor.

Before they had said ten words to each other, the friend, who was dressed like a scarecrow, began criticising her dress, and could talk of nothing but the cause of the people, in which she was determined to interest her. Ragnhild had no peace till she went with her to the house of a Mrs Gylling, who held a kind of "Popular Court" in the capital. She was obliged to sit for an hour in an assemblage of chattering High School people, peasants, and theological students, whose big beards reeked with tobacco. Several elderly ladies, who all wore velvet hoods of the same shape as those worn by the peasant women, surrounded her with offensive familiarity. An anæmic-looking young lady, with two long yellow plaits hanging down her back, was sitting in a dreamy attitude with her arms round a big dressed-up peasant girl, whom, in a languishing way, she called her "dearest friend."

What depressed her more than anything was the rumour of a possible change of ministry. It was seriously said that the peasants would come into power. A former village schoolmaster was pointed out as the future Prime Minister. Even people who could not reconcile themselves to the present state of things shook their heads and said, "there was nothing else to be done." She could not understand it at all. Had not the peasants always been in a majority? Why then this sudden subjection to them? "After all, the peasant is a man," was the answer always given to her objections. Now, that is just what they are not! Perhaps they were, according to natural history, reckoned by the number of their grinders, etc. But a country yokel was none the less, much more closely allied to his sheep or his cattle than to even an ordinarily intelligent person. Nobody thought of giving votes to sheep or cattle. Could it really be called justice to let everything great and beautiful be laid waste, merely because a certain number of individuals were created with the same number of grinding teeth as man? Oh, would not some man soon arise with the courage and the heart of a man to maintain his old lordship, and drive this peasant brood back to the dunghills where he belonged?

At last, in the middle of July, the Tönnesens were able to pack up their things and leave. The Veilby parishioners and the three landowners had some idea of honouring the Provst with a farewell dinner and a silver coffee pot; but, at the instance of Miss Ragnhild, he found means to hinder the project.

The Provst parted from his congregation with only the most necessary formalities, but without any particular bitterness. He only disclosed the true state of his feelings to Emanuel, when on leaving, he coldly shook hands with him, and said that it was unnecessary to wish people good luck when they were fortunate enough to have the "Wind of the Times" in their sails.

As soon as they left, Emanuel moved down from his attic, with his few articles of furniture, and established himself in the Provst's study and one of the bedrooms. All the rest of the house was empty, except the room occupied by the old lame servant, who for the time remained as his housekeeper. No one had asked her to stay, but she seemed to take it for granted that she went with the house as one of the fixtures, and Emanuel good-naturedly agreed. "Maren" went with the Tönnesens, as well as the horses and carriages, and there was no need to get a new man; for, to Emanuel's great annoyance, the Parsonage glebe land was let to one of the peasants, whose lease would not expire for a year.

He passed all the time he could spare from his clerical duties at the farm at Skibberup, where he took part in all kinds of work daily. He ploughed, hoed turnips, and carted manure on to the fallow land. In the evening he would sit in the garden with Hansine, looking at the sunsets and talking of the future, or they walked hand in hand through the fields looking at the crops and the cattle. Now, when his way lay smoothly before him, he had more quiet to devote to his love, and he gave himself up to it with ever-increasing pleasure.