Aunt lays so many plans

The captain had had a genuine drive in the service ever since summer,
when he and the lieutenant inspected the storehouse for the tents,
together with the arsenal and the guns in the levying districts.
Then the military exercises, and finally now the meeting of the
commissioners of conscription. There had been tolerably lively
goings-on at the inn in the principal parish the last two or three
evenings with the army doctor, the solicitor Sebelow, tall Buchholtz,
Dorff the sheriff’s officer, and the lieutenants.

But the result was splendid in so far that, instead of the bay horse,
he was now driving home with a fine three or four-year-old before the
cariole, with a white star on the forehead and white stockings that
almost promised to be a match for Svarten if–if–it were not a bolter.

It had just now, when the old beggar woman rose up from the ditch by
the wayside, shown something in the eyes and ears which it certainly
had concealed during all the three days of the session. He had at last
even shot over its head to test it, without so much as the horse giving
a start.

It would be too mean, after the doctor and First Lieutenant Dunsack
had been unanimous in the same opinion as he about the beast, and he,
besides, had given the horse-dealer twenty-five dollars to boot.

But now it trotted off with the cariole very steadily and finely. The
little inclination to break into a canter was only unmannerliness and
a little of coltish bad habits which stuck to it still, and would
disappear by driving.

Great-Ola had not had a steadier horse in the stall by the side
of Svarten, nevertheless–“You shall grow old in my barn; do you
understand, you young Svarten? shall go to the city in pairs with
your uncle–before the carriage for Inger–There now, you beast–of
a–dog”–swip–swish–swip–swish–“I shall teach you to drop your bad
habits, I shall. Whoa!” he thundered. “There! there!”

There was a whole train of gay fellows who were standing, talking,
shouting, and drinking in the road outside the gate to the Bergset farm.

At the sight of the captain’s well-known form they made way for him,
greeting him politely. They knew that he had been far away, and the
men who had gone to the mustering had just returned to the farms round
about, yesterday and to-day.

“Fine, isn’t he, Halvor Hejen? a lively colt–still, rather young.”

“Maybe, captain. Fine, if he isn’t skittish,” replied the one spoken to.

“What is going on here–auction after Ole Bergset?”

“Yes; Bardon, the bailiff, is busy with the hammer in the room in
there.”

“So, so, Solfest Staale!” he said, winking to a young man, “do you
believe there is anything in the story that Lars Överstadsbraekken is
courting the widow here? Their lands lie very fine.”

There came an ill-concealed amusement on the countenances of those
standing about. They guessed what the captain was at. It was the rival
he was speaking to.

“There is not any cow for sale that is going to calve in the fall, I
suppose?”

There might be, they thought.

“Hold my horse a little while, Halvor, while I go and talk a little
with the bailiff about it.”

There was a crowd of people in the house and the captain was greeted by
one knot after another of noisy talking folk, men and women, girls and
boys, among whom the brandy bottle was diligently circulating, until he
got into the room where the sale was going on.

There sat Bardon in the crowded, steaming room, calling over and over
again, with his well-known, strong, husky voice, threatening with the
hammer, giving utterance to a joke, finally threatening for the last,
last time, until with the law’s blows he nailed the bid firmly forever
down on the top of the table. They made way for the captain as he came.

“Are you also so crazy as to allow your wife to go to the auction,
Martin Kvale?” he said, joking, to an important fellow with silver
buttons on his coat, as he passed by.

Out in the hall stood the handsome Guro Granlien with a crowd of other
young girls.

“Oh, Guro!” he said, chucking her under the chin, “now Bersvend Vaage
has come home from the drill. He was in a brown study and wholly lost
his wits, the fellow, and so I came near putting him in arrest: you are
too hard on him, Guro.” He nodded to the snickering girls.

Guro looked with great, staring eyes at the captain. How could he know
that?

The captain knew the district in and out, forwards and backwards, as he
expressed it. He had an inconceivably keen scent for contemplated farm
trades, weddings, betrothals, and anything of the kind that concerned
the young conscripts. Guro Granlien was not the first girl who opened
her eyes wide on that account. He got a great deal out of his five
subalterns, but by no means the least was to be found in his own always
alert interest in these things.

And when, to-day, he made the little turn up to the place of auction,
the reason was far less the “autumn cow,” than his lively curiosity for
the new things that might have happened during his long absence.

Therefore it was not at all unwelcome to him when the widow came out
and invited him into the “other room,” where he must at least have a
drop of ale before he left the farm.

He was curious to get her on the confessional as to the possibility
of a new marriage, and also had the satisfaction, after a half hour’s
confidential chat, of having won from her confidence the whole of the
real and true condition of her thoughts about herself and the farm.

No one cheated him any longer about that affair,–the widow of Bergset
was to retain undivided possession of the estate of the deceased
and–not marry. But she was anxious not to let it come out; she wanted
to be courted, of course–as a good match in the district, naturally.

The captain understood it very well: it was sly.

Something must also be said about something else at last, and so Randi,
in the spirit of what had been said, added: “And the sheriff, who is
going to marry again.”

“So?”

“They say he is a constant visitor at the house of Scharfenberg, the
solicitor. Very likely it is the youngest daughter, eh?”

“Don’t know. Good-by, Randi.”

He went quickly, so that his spurs rattled, and his sabre flapped
under his coat, down to his horse without looking to the right or left
or speaking to any one. He pressed his shako more firmly down on his
forehead before he got into the cariole.

“Thanks, Halvor. Give me the reins. There you–”

He gave young Svarten, who began with some capers, a taste of the whip,
and off he went with tight reins at full trot, so that the fence-posts
flew like drumsticks past his eyes.

In the quiet, hazy autumn day the cattle here and there were out on the
highway.

A pig provoked him by obstinately running before the cariole.

“There, take care to get your stumps out of the way!”

It ended with a little cut on its back.

“See there! there is a beast of a cow lying in the middle of the road,”
he broke out, with his lips firmly pressed together.

“Well, if you won’t get up, then you are welcome to stay! If you
please–I am stupid also–I’ll drive on.”

His bitterness took full possession of him, and he would have firmly
allowed the wheel to go over the animal’s back if the latter had not
risen up quickly at the last moment, so near that the captain’s cariole
was half raised up, while it grazed and was within an ace of being
upset.

“Hm, hm,” he mumbled, somewhat brought to his senses as he looked back
upon the object of his missed revenge.

“So, so–off, I say, you black knacker–if you once peep back again in
that way, I will kill you! Ha, ha, ha! If you run, you will still find
a hill, my good friend.”

He had had a tremendous headache all day; but it was not that which
annoyed him–that he knew.

And when he came home, where they were expecting father to-day in great
suspense after his long absence, his looks were dark.

“There, Ola! Curry the horse–dry him with a wisp of straw first–take
good care of him–put a blanket on his back; do you hear? I only drove
the fellow a little up the hill.”

Great-Ola looked at the captain and nodded his head confidently, as
he led the horse and carriage away from the steps; there was surely
something the matter; the captain had got cheated again with this new
nag.

“Good day, Ma–good day!” and he kissed her hastily. “Yes, I am quite
well.”

He took off his cloak and shako. “Oh, can’t you let Marit take the
trunk and the travelling-bag so that they needn’t stand there on the
steps any longer?–Oh, yes; it has been tiresome enough,” as he evaded
rather coldly Thinka’s attentions. “Put the sabre on the peg, and
carry the bag up to my chamber.”

He himself went first up to the office to look at the mail, and then
down to the stable to see how Great-Ola had treated Svarten.

There was something the matter with father; that was clear!

Ma’s face, anxiously disturbed, followed him here and there in the
doorways, and Thinka glided in and out without breaking the silence.

When he came in, the supper-table was spread–herring salad, decorated
with red beets and slices of hard boiled eggs, and a glass of brandy by
the side of it–and then half salted trout and a good bottle of beer.

Father was possibly not quite insensible, but extremely reticent. You
could absolutely get only words of one syllable in answer to the most
ingeniously conceived questions!

“The sheriff is going to marry again, they say; it is absolutely
certain!” he let fall at last, as the first agreeable news he knew from
the outer world; “Scharfenberg’s youngest.”

The remark was followed by deep silence, even if a gleam of perfect
contentment glided over Thinka’s face, and she busied herself with
eating. They both felt that his ill-humor came from this.

“That man can say he is lucky with his daughters–Bine soon in a
parsonage, and now Andrea the sheriff’s wife! Perhaps you can get a
position there, Thinka, when you need it some day, as governess for the
children, or housekeeper; she won’t be obliged to do more in the house
than just what she pleases; she can afford it.”

Thinka, blushing to the roots of her hair, kept her eyes on her plate.

“Yes, yes, Ma, as you make your bed you must lie in it in this world.”

No more was said before Thinka cleared off the table, when Ma
apologetically exclaimed, “Poor Thinka!”

The captain wheeled towards her on the floor with his fingers in the
armholes of his vest and blinked indignantly at her.

“Do you know! After the parasol and the one attention after another
which he has taken the pains to show all summer, if she could have
given the man a bit of thanks and friendliness other than she has–It
would not have gone so at all, if I had been at home!”–his voice rose
to something like a peal of thunder–“But I think it is a flock of
geese that I have here in the house, and not grown-up women who look
out a little for themselves. Andrea Scharfenberg didn’t let herself be
asked twice, not she!” he said, walking out again when Thinka came in;
he did not care if she did hear it.

Ma gazed somewhat thoughtfully at him, and in the days that followed,
they petted and coddled father in every way to make him a little more
cheerful. Thinka, in the midst of her quiet carefulness, cast her eyes
down involuntarily, when he groaned and panted in this way.

He did not go out any farther than to look after young Svarten.

The horse had fever in one hoof to-day after the new shoeing. It was a
nail which had been driven in too far by that blockhead of a smith. It
must come out.

The captain stood silently looking on in his favorite position, with
his arms on the lower half of the stable door, while Great-Ola,
with the hind leg of young Svarten over his leg, was performing the
operation of extraction with the tongs. The animal was good-natured and
did not so much as move his leg.

“O-o-ola,” came hoarsely, half smothered.

Great-Ola looked up.

“Good Lord!” if the captain did not sink slowly down, while he still
held onto the stable door, right on the dung!

Ola looked a moment irresolutely at his master, dropping the horse’s
foot. Then he took the stable pail and spattered some water into his
face until he once more manifested a little life and consciousness.

He then held the pail to his mouth.

“Drink, drink, Captain! Don’t be afraid. It is only the result of all
that drilling and pleasuring. It is just as it is when one has kept up
a wedding festivity too long. My brother–”

“Help me out, Ola! There, let me lean on you–gently, gently. Ah, it
does one good to breathe–breathe,” as he stopped. “Now it’s over, I
believe. Yes, entirely over, nothing more than a half fainting spell.
Just go with me a little bit, Ola, as a matter of precaution. Hm, hm,
that goes well enough. Yes, yes, I have no doubt it is the irregular
life the whole of the autumn. Go and call my wife. Say I am up in the
chamber. I can manage the stairs bravely.”

There was no little fright.

This time it was the captain who was at ease and turned it off, and Ma
who without authority dispatched a messenger. If the army surgeon was
not at home, then he must go to the district doctor.

When the army surgeon, Rist, came, and had received at the door Ma’s
anxious explanations that Jäger had had a slight shock, for the calming
of the house he delivered a humorous lecture.

It was wholly a question of degree. The man who drank only so much that
he stammered suffered from paralytic palsy of the tongue–and in this
way every blessed man that he knew was a paralytic patient. This was
only a congestion not uncommon among full-blooded people.

Jäger himself was in fact so far over it that he demanded the toddy
tray in the evening–true enough, only an extremely light dose for his
part! But cock and bull stories from the encampment and about Svarten
were told in the clouds of smoke, and with constant renewals of the
thin essence, till half-past one in the morning.

There was a roaring in the stove on one of the following forenoons,
while the captain sat in his office chair, and wrote so that his
quill-pen sputtered.

As usual at this time of the year, after his long absence, there
was a great multitude of things to be disposed of. Thea’s Norwegian
grammar was lying on the green table by the door; she had just finished
reading, and was heard humming outside in the hall.

There was a noise on the stairs, and Ma showing some one the way up,
“That way–to the captain.”

There was a knocking at the door.

“Good day, my man! Well?”

It was an express from the sheriff–in Sunday dress–with a letter. It
was to be given to the captain himself.

“What? Is there to be an answer? Well, well! Yes, go down to the
kitchen and get a little something to eat and a dram.–Hm, hm,” he
mumbled and threw the letter, written on letter-paper and fastened
with a seal, down on his desk, while in the mean time he took a turn up
and down the floor. “Notice of the betrothal, I suppose–or perhaps an
invitation to the wedding.”

Opening it, he read it, standing up–eagerly running it over hastily–a
cursed long introduction!–Over that–over that–quite to the third
page.

“Well, there it comes!”

He struck the back of the hand in which he held the letter with a
resounding whack into the other, and then seated himself–“Yes, yes,
yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”

He snapped his fingers, once, twice, three times, in a brown study,
scratched his head behind his ear, and then slyly up under his wig.

“Now, we shall see–we shall see!–And that nonsense about
Scharfenberg.” He rushed to the door and jerked it open; but bethought
himself and walked on tiptoe to the stairs. “Who is there in the
hall–you, Thea?”

The little square-built, brown-eyed Thea flew up the stairs.

“Tell Ma to come up,” he said, nodding.

Thea looked up at her father: there was something out of the ordinary
about him.

When Ma came in, he walked about with the letter behind his back,
clearing his throat. There was the suitable deliberate seriousness
about him which the situation demanded.

“I have got a letter, Ma–from the sheriff!–Read!–or shall I read?”

He stood leaning against the desk, and went through its three pages,
period by period, with great moderation, till he came to the point,
then he hurled it out so that it buzzed in the air, and hugged Ma
wildly.

“Well, well!–what do you say, Ma? Take a trip when we want to go down
to our son-in-law!” He rubbed his hands. “It was a real surprise,
Ma,–hm, hm,” he began, again clearing his throat. “It is best that we
ask Thinka to come up and tell her the contents–don’t you think?”

“Ye-es,” said Ma huskily, having turned to the door; she could see no
help or escape for her any more, poor girl!

The captain walked up and down in the office, waiting. He had the
high-spirited, dignified, paternal expression which is completely
absorbed in the importance of the moment.

But where was she gone to?

She could not be found. They had hunted for her over the whole house.

But the captain was not impatient to-day.

“Well, then, don’t you see her?” he mildly asked two or three times
through the door.

At last Thea found her in the garret. She had taken refuge up there
and hid herself, when she saw the express and heard that it was from
the sheriff, in anticipation of the contents. And now she was sitting
with her head on her arms and her apron over her head.

She had not been crying; she had been seized with a sort of panic; she
felt an irresistible impulse to hide herself away somewhere and shut
her eyes, so that it would be really dark, and she would not be obliged
to think.

She looked a little foolish when she went down with Thea to her father
and mother in the office.

“Thinka,” said the captain, when she came in, “we have received to-day
from the sheriff an important letter for your future. I suppose it is
superfluous to say–after all the attention you have allowed him to
show you during the year–what it is about, and that your mother and I
regard it as the greatest good fortune that could fall to your lot, and
to ours also. Read the letter and consider it well. Sit down and read
it, child.”

Thinka read; but it did not seem as if she got far; she shook her head
dumbly the whole time without knowing it.

“You understand very well, it is not any youthful love fancy, and any
such exalted nonsense that he asks of you. It is if you will fill an
honored position with him that you are asked, and if you can give the
good will and care for him which he would naturally expect of a wife.”

There was no answer to be got, except a weak groan down into her lap.

The captain’s face began to grow solemn.

But Ma whispered, with a blaze of lightning in her eyes, “You see
plainly, she cannot think, Jäger.–Don’t you think as I do, father,”
she said aloud, “that it is best we let Thinka take the letter, so that
she can consider it till to-morrow? It is such a surprise.”

“Of course, if Thinka prefers it,” came after them, from the captain,
who was greatly offended, as Ma went with her, shutting her up in her
chamber.

She had her cry out under the down quilt during the whole afternoon.

In the twilight Ma went up and sat beside her.

“No place to turn to, you see, when one will not be a poor,
unprovided-for member of a family. Sew, sew your eyes out of your head,
till at last you lie in a corner of some one’s house. Such an honorable
proposal would seem to many people to be a great thing.”

“Aas! Aas, mother!” articulated Thinka very weakly.

“God knows, child, that if I saw any other way out, I would show it to
you, even if I should have to hold my fingers in the fire in order to
do it.”

Thinka slipped her hand onto her mother’s thin hand and sobbed gently
into her pillow.

“Your father is no longer very strong–does not bear many mental
excitements,–so that the outlook is dark enough. The attack when he
came home last–”

When Ma went out, sigh followed sigh in the darkness.

Late in the evening Ma sat and held her daughter’s head so that she
could get some sleep; she was continually starting up.

And now when Thinka finally slept, without these sudden starts any
longer–quietly and peacefully, with her fair young head regularly
breathing on the pillow–Ma went out with the candle. The worst was
over.

If the captain was in an exalted mood after having seen from the office
window Aslak, who went as express messenger to the sheriff, vanishing
through the gate, then in certain ways he was doubly set up in the
kingdom of hope by a little fragment of a letter from Inger-Johanna,
dated Tilderöd:

We are all in a bustle, packing up and moving to the city, therefore
the letter will be short this time.

There have been guests here to the very last; solitude suits neither
uncle nor aunt, and so they had said “Welcome to Tilderöd” so often
that we had one long visit after another all through the summer–in
perfect rusticity, it was said. But I believe indeed they did not
go away again without feeling that aunt preserves style in it. With
perfect freedom for every one, and collations both in the garden room
and on the veranda, there is, after all, something about it which makes
the guests feel that they must give something and be at their best.
People don’t easily sink down to the level of the commonplace when aunt
is present. She flatters me that we are alike in that respect.

And I don’t know how it is, I feel now that I am almost as much
attracted by assemblies as formerly by balls. There certainly is much
more of an opportunity to use whatever little wit one has, and they may
be a real influential circle of usefulness: aunt has opened my eyes
to that this summer. When we read of the brilliant French _salons_,
where woman was the soul, we get an impression that here is an entire
province for her. And to be able to live and work in the world has
possessed me since I was little, and mourned so that I was not a boy
who could come to be something.

I had got so far, dear parents, when Miss Jörgensen called me to go
down into the garden to aunt. The mail had come from the office in the
city, and on the table in a package lay a flat, red morocco leather box
and a letter to me.

It was a gold band to wear in my hair, with a yellow topaz in it, and
in the letter there was only, “To complete the portrait. RÖNNOW.”

Of course aunt must try it on me at once–take down my hair, and call
in uncle. Rönnow’s taste was subtly inspired when it concerned me, she
declared.

Oh, yes! it is becoming.

But with the letter and all the fantastical overvaluation, there is
that which makes me feel that the gold band pinches my neck. Gratitude
is a tiresome virtue.

Aunt lays so many plans for our social life next winter, and is
rejoicing that Rönnow may possibly come for another trip.

For my part I must say I don’t really know; I both want it and don’t
want it.

The more quickly and quietly the wedding could be arranged, the better,
said the sheriff. It had its advantage in getting ahead of explanations
and gossip. People submitted to an accomplished fact.

The third day of Christmas was just the right one to escape too much
sensation; and it suited the sheriff exactly, so that he could enter
upon his new state of household affairs with the new year.

Naturally, Kathinka was asked about every one of these points; and she
always found everything that her father thought right.

The decision that the wedding should be arranged speedily and promptly
was exactly after the captain’s own heart. On the other point, on the
contrary, that everything should be kept so quiet and still, he was in
agreement with the sheriff and Ma, of course; but it really did not lie
in his nature that the whole joyful affair should take place smothered
with a towel before his mouth, and whispering on tiptoe, as if it were
a sick-room they were having at Gilje instead of a wedding.

Some show there must be about it; that he owed to Thinka, and to
himself also a little.

And thus it came about that before Christmas he took a little sleighing
trip, when it was good going, down to the lieutenant’s and to the
solicitors, Scharfenberg and Sebelow, with whom he had some money
settlements to get adjusted in regard to the map business that had been
done in the last two suits.

And then, when he met the report that the banns had been published
in church for his daughter and the sheriff, he could answer
with a question if they would not come and convince themselves.
Confidentially, of course, he invited no one but the army surgeon and
those absolutely necessary. “But”–winking–“old fellow, how welcome
you shall be, the third day of Christmas, not the second and not the
fourth, my boy, remember that!”

And he took care that provisions as well as batteries of strong liquors
should be stored up inside the ramparts at home, so the fortress could
hold its own.

On Christmas Eve there came a horse express from the sheriff with a
sleigh full of packages–nothing but presents and surprises for Thinka.

First and foremost, his former wife’s warm fur cloak with squirrel-skin
lining and muff, which had been made over for Thinka by Miss Brun in
the chief parish; then her gold watch and chain with earrings, and
rings, all like new, and burnished up by the goldsmith in the city, and
a Vienna shawl, and, lastly, lavender water and gloves in abundance.

In the letter he suggested to his devotedly loved Kathinka that his
thoughts were only with her until they should soon be united by a
stronger bond, and that she, when once in her new home, would find
several other things which might possibly please her, but which it
would not be practical to send up to Gilje, only to bring them right
back again.

He had not brought Baldrian and Viggo home for Christmas–and in
this he hoped she would agree with him; he had sent them down to his
brother, the minister at Holmestrand.

Never in Great-Ola’s time had there been such a festive show in horses
and vehicles, as when, on the third day of Christmas, they started down
the hill to the annex-church; the harnesses and bells shone, and both
the black horses glistened before the double sleighs, as if they had
been polished up, both hair and mane.

Under the bearskin robe in the first sat the captain in a wolf-skin
coat and Thinka adorned with the chains and clothes of the sheriff’s
first wife, with young Svarten. In the second Ma and Thea, with
Great-Ola on the dickey seat behind and old Svarten.

There stood the subalterns in uniform paying their respects at the
church door; and inside, in the pew, Lieutenants Dunsack, Frisak,
Knebelsberger, and Knobelauch rose up in full uniform. So the sheriff
could see that there was some style about it, anyway.

And when they turned towards home, after the ceremony was over, now
with the captain and his wife in the first sleigh and the wedded couple
in the other–there was such a long cortège that the sheriff’s idea of
celebrating the wedding quietly must be regarded as wholly overridden.

At Gilje dinner was waiting.

During this the powers of the battalion from the youngest lieutenant
up to the captain developed a youthful courage in their attack on the
strong wares, so wild and so regardless of the results, that it could
only demand of the sheriff a certain degree of prudence.

All would drink with the bride and the bridegroom, again and again.

The sheriff sat contented and leaning forward with his great forehead
thinly covered with hair, taking pains to choose his words in the
cleverest and most fitting manner for the occasion.

And so long as it was confined to the speeches, he was the absolute
master, unless he might possibly have a rival in the army surgeon’s
sometimes more deeply laid satire, which became more problematical and
sarcastic after he had been drinking.

But now the small twinkling eyes, shining more and more dimly and
tenderly veiled, devoted themselves exclusively to the bride.

She must taste the tower tart and the wine custard, for his sake! He
would not drink any more, if he could avoid it, for her sake. “I
assure you,” for your–“only for your sake.”

An inroad was made on the wares at Gilje with prolonged hilarity till
far into the night, when some of the sleighs in the starlight and in
the gleam of the Northern lights reeled homewards with their half
unconscious burdens drawn by their sober horses, while as many as the
house would hold remained over in order to celebrate the wedding and
Christmas the next day.

By New Year’s the house was finally emptied of its guests, the sheriff
and Kathinka were installed in their home, and the captain travelled
down on a visit to them with Thea in order to have his New Year’s Day
spree there.

But then Ma was tired out and completely exhausted.

She felt, now the wheel of work had stopped all at once, and she sat
there at home alone, on the day after New Year’s, how tremendous a
load it had been to pull. The trousseau all through the autumn and the
household affairs before the holidays, Christmas, and the wedding, and
all the anxieties.

It had gone on incessantly now, as far back as she could think. It was
like ravelling out the yarn from a stocking, the longer she thought,
the longer it was, clear back to the time when it seemed to her there
was a rest the days she was lying in childbed.

But that was now long since.

She was sitting in the corner of the sofa half asleep in the twilight,
with her knitting untouched before her.

Aslak and two of the girls had got leave to go to a Christmas
entertainment down at the Skreberg farm, and except old Torbjörg, who
was sitting with her hymn book and humming and singing in the kitchen,
there was no one at home.

Bells jingled out in the yard. Great-Ola had come home with the
two-seated sleigh and old Svarten, after having driven the captain and
Thea.

He stamped the snow off in the hall and peeped in through the door.

When he drove past Teigen, the postmaster had come out with the
captain’s mail.

“When did you get there last evening? I hope Thea was not cold.”

“No, not at all! We were down there in good time before supper. Ever
so many messages from the young wife; she was down in the stable and
patted and stroked Svarten last night. It was kind of a separation.”

Ma rose. “There is a candle laid out for the stable lantern.”

Great-Ola vanished again.

Old Svarten, still harnessed to the sleigh, stood in the stable door
and neighed impatiently.

“It only lacked that you should turn the key also,” growled Ola, while
he took off the harness, and, now with the harness and bells over his
arm, let the horse walk in before him.

“Why, if young Svarten isn’t neighing also! That was the first time you
have said a decent good day here in the stable, do you know that? But
you will have to wait, you see.”

He curried and brushed and rubbed the new arrival like a privileged old
gentleman. They had been serving together now just exactly nine years.

In the kitchen the spruce wood crackled and snapped on the hearth,
casting an uncertain reddish glow over Ma’s newly polished copper and
tin dishes and making them look like mystical shields and weapons hung
on the walls.

Great-Ola was now sitting there making himself comfortable with his
supper, Christmas cheer and entertainment–butter, bread, bacon,
wort-cakes, and salt meat; and Torbjörg had been ordered to draw a bowl
of small beer for him down in the cellar. Ola had heard one thing and
another down there.

Thinka, she had gone out into the kitchen and would take charge of the
housekeeping immediately. But there she found some one who meant to
hold the reins.

Old Miss Gülcke wouldn’t hear of that. She went straight up to the
office, they said, and twisted and turned it over with her brother the
whole forenoon till she got what she wanted.

And in the evening the sheriff sat on the sofa and talked so sweetly to
the young wife. Beret, the chamber-maid, heard him say that he wanted
her to have everything so extremely nice and be wholly devoted to him,
so that–Horsch, the old graybeard! We can see now what he was doing
here last year.

“And thereby,” said Ola, with a mouthful between his teeth, while he
cut and spread a new slice of bread, “she got rid of the trouble and
the management too.”

“It is of no use to pull the noose when one has his head in a snare,
you see, Ola.”

In the sitting-room Ma had examined the mail that had come, sitting by
the stove door. Besides a number of _Hermoder_, _The Constitutional_,
and a free official document, there was a letter from Aunt Alette.

She lighted the candle and sat down to read it.

In certain respects it was a piece of good fortune that Jäger was not
at home. He ought to have nothing to do with this.

DEAR GITTA,–I have taken the second Christmas day to write down for
you my thoughts concerning Inger-Johanna. I cannot deny that she has
come to interest me almost more than I could wish; but, if we can feel
a certain degree of anxiety for the smallest flower in our window,
which is just going to blossom, how much more then for a human bud,
which in the developing beauty of its youth is ready to burst out with
its life’s fate. This is more than a romance, it is the noble art work
of the Guide of all, which in depth and splendor and immeasurable
wealth surpasses everything that human fantasy is able to represent.

Yes, she interests me, dear Gitta! so that my old heart almost trembles
at thinking of the life path which may await her, when rise or fall may
depend on a single deceptive moment.

What can Nature mean in letting such a host of existences, in which
hearts are beating, succumb and be lost in this choice, or does it
thereby in its great crucible make an exact assay, without which
nothing succeeds in passing over into a more complete development–who
can unriddle Nature’s runes? My hope for Inger-Johanna is that the fund
or the weight of personality, which she possesses in her own nature,
will preponderate in the scales of her choice in the decisive moment.

I premise all this as a sigh from my innermost heart; for I follow with
increasing dread how the path is made more and more slippery under her
feet, and how delicately your sister-in-law weaves the net around her,
not with small means to which Inger-Johanna would be superior, but with
more deep-lying, sounding allurements.

To open up the fascinating prospect of making her personal qualities
and gifts count–what greater attraction can be spread out before a
nature so ardently aspiring as hers? It is told of Englishmen that they
fish with a kind of counterfeited, glittering flies, which they drag
over the surface of the water until the fish bites; and it appears to
me that in no less skilful manner your sister-in-law continually tempts
Inger-Johanna’s illusions. She never mentions the name of the one
concerned, so that it may dawn upon her of itself.

Only the careless hint to me, in her hearing, the last time I was
there, that Rönnow had certainly for some time been rather fastidiously
looking for a wife among the _élite_ of our ladies–why was not that
calculated to excite, what shall I call it, her ambition or her need of
having a field of influence?

Perhaps I should not have noticed this remark to that extent if I had
not seen the impression it made on her; she was very absent-minded and
lost in thoughts.

And yet the question of whether one should give her heart away ought to
be so simple and uncomplicated! Are you in love? Everything else only
turns on–something else.

The unfortunate and fateful thing is if she imagines she is able to
love, binds herself in duty to love, and thinks that she can say to her
immature heart: You shall never awaken. Dear Gitta, suppose it did
awaken–afterwards–with her strong, vigorous nature?

It is that which hovers before me so that I have been compelled to
write. To talk to her and make her prudent would be to show colors
to the blind; she must believe blindly in the one who advises her.
Therefore it is you, Gitta, who must take hold and write.

Ma laid the letter down in her lap; she sat in the light, looking paler
and sharper even than common.

It was easy for Aunt Alette, the excellent Aunt Alette, to think so
happily that everything should be as it ought to be. She had her little
inheritance to live on and was not dependent on any one. But–Ma
assumed a dry, repellent expression–without the four thousand, old and
tormented in Miss Jörgensen’s place at the governor’s, she would not
have written that kind of angelic letter.

Ma read on:

I must also advance here some further doubts, so that you will
certainly think this is a sad Christmas letter. This, then, is about
dear Jörgen, who finds it so hard at school. That he has thus far
been able to keep up with his class, we owe to Student Grip, who,
persistently and without being willing ever to hear a word about any
compensation, has gone over with him and cleared up for him his worst
stumbling-blocks, the German and the Latin grammar.

And if I now express his idea in regard to Jörgen, it is with no small
degree of confidence that it may be well founded. He says that so
far from Jörgen’s having a poor head, it is just the opposite. Only
he is not made for the abstract, which is the requisite for literary
progress, but all the more for the practical.

In connection with a sound, clear judgment, he is both dexterous and
inventive. Jörgen would be an excellent mechanic or even a mechanical
engineer, and would come to distinguish himself just as certainly as he
will reap trouble, difficulty, and only extremely moderate results by
toiling from examination to examination in his studies.

To be sure, I cannot subscribe to Student Grip’s somewhat youthful wild
ideas about sending him to be an apprentice in England (or even so far
as to the American Free States!) inasmuch as a mechanic cannot here
obtain a respected rank in society, such as is said to be the case in
the above named lands.

Still, much of this, it seems to me, is worth taking into serious
consideration.

I sometimes almost doubt whether, old as I am, nevertheless I might
be too young. Call it the fruit of inner development or simply an
attraction, but the thoughts of the young always exert an enlivening
and strengthening influence on my hope of life. Still, I never
reconcile myself to the thought that our ideals must inevitably, by a
kind of natural law, become exhausted and weakened and break from age
like any old earthenware.

And when I see a young man like Grip judged so severely by the
so-called practical men–not, so far as I understand, for his ideas
of education, but because he would sacrifice himself and put them in
operation–I cannot avoid giving him my whole sympathy and respect.

Now he has abandoned law and devoted himself to the study of
philology; for, he says, in this country no work is of any use without
a sign-board, and he will now try to get a richly gilded one in an
excellent examination, seize hold of untrodden soil, like the dwarf
birches upon the mountain, and not let go, even if a whole avalanche
comes over him.

When it is considered that he must work hard and teach several hours
daily only to be able to exist, I cannot but admire his fiery courage
and–true, I have not many with me–wish him good luck.

Ma sat pondering.

Then she cut out the page which spoke of Jörgen. It might be worth
while, if opportunity offered, to show it to Jäger. In the simplicity
of her heart, she really did not know what to think.