There was no help

Everything was white now in the very heart of winter, white from the
window-panes in the sitting-room to the garden, the fields, and the
mountain slopes, white as the eye glided over the mountain-tops up to
the sky, which lay like a semi-transparent, thickly frosted window-pane
and shut it all in.

It was cold here, the warm-blooded captain maintained. He began to
amuse himself with feeling and tracing out where there was a draught,
and then with pasting long strips of paper with cloth and oakum under
it. And then he used to go out from his work, with only his wig,
without his hat, and chat with the people in the stable or at the barn,
where they were threshing.

They were lonely there now with only Ma, Thea, and himself; no one
understood what Thinka had been for him!

At last he ended in pondering on laying out fox-traps and traps and
spring-guns for wolves and lynx in the hill pastures.

Ma was obliged a hundred times a day to answer what she thought, even
if she had just as much idea about it as about pulling down the moon.

“Yes, yes, do it, dear Jäger.”

“Yes, but do you believe it will pay–that is what I am asking
about–to go to the expense of fox-traps?”

“If you can catch any, then–”

“Yes, if–”

“A fox skin is certainly worth something.”

“Hadn’t I better try to put out bait for lynx and wolf?”

“I should think that would be dearer.”

“Yes, but the skin–if I get any; it depends on that, you see.”

Then he would saunter thoughtfully out of the door, to come back an
hour later and again and again fill her ears with the same thing.

Ma’s instinct told her that the object of his first catch was really
she; if she allowed herself to be fooled into giving positive advice,
he would not forget to let her feel the responsibility for the result,
if it should be a loss.

To-day he had again been pondering and going over the affair with her,
when they were surprised by the sheriff’s double sleigh driving up to
the steps.

The hall door, creaking with the frost, flew open under the captain’s
eager hand.

“In with you into the sitting-room, Sheriff.”

Behind his wolf-skin coat Thinka emerged, stately and wrapped up in

“Your most obedient servant, kinsman, and friend.”

The sheriff was on a business trip farther up, and asked for
hospitality for Thinka for two or three days, till he came back; he
would not omit to claim her again promptly. And, in the next place,
he must ask of his father-in-law the loan of a small sleigh for his
further journey; he should be way up in Nordal’s annex this evening.

Thinka already had Torbjörg and Thea competing each for one of her
snow-stockings to get them off, and Marit was not free from eagerly
peeping in at the door.

“You shall, in any event, have a little something to eat and some
tea-punch, while the horse gets its breath, and they make the sleigh

The sheriff did not have much time to waste, but the sun of family life
shone too mildly here for him not to give a half hour, exactly by the

He made one or two attempts to get his things off, but then went to

“You have tied the knot in my silk handkerchief so well that you will
have to undo it yourself. Thanks, thanks, my dear Thinka.–She spoils
me completely. Nay, you know her, Captain.”

“You see what she has already begun to be for me,” he said later,
appealing with a pleasant smile to his father-in-law and mother-in-law
at the hastily served collation–he must have his tea-punch poured out
by Thinka’s hand.

When the sheriff, carefully wrapped up by his young wife, was followed
out to the sleigh, Thinka’s tea stood there almost untouched and cold;
but Ma came now with a freshly filled hot cup, and they could sit down
to enjoy the return home in peace.

He is certainly very good, Ma thought–he had guessed that Thinka was

“The sheriff is really very considerate of you, Thinka, to let you come
home so soon,” she said.

“Fine man! Would have to hunt a long time for his like!” exclaimed the
captain with a full, strong bass. “Treats you like a doll, Thinka.”

“He is as good as he can be. Next week Miss Brun is coming to make over
a satin dress for me; it has only been worn once. Gülcke will have me
so fine,” said Thinka, by way of illustration. The tone was so quiet
that it was not easy for Ma to tell what she meant.

“The fellow stands on his head for you; don’t know what he will hit

Besides his wish to meet his wife’s longing for home, the sheriff may
possibly also have determined to take her with him from a little regard
for the younger powers in the principal parish–Buchholtz and Horn.
They had begun to visit at his house somewhat often and evidently to
feel at home there, after a young, engaging hostess had come to the

Towards evening the captain had a quiet game of picquet.

It seemed as if comfort accompanied Thinka. Her mediatorial and
soothing nature had come to the house again; it was felt both in parlor
and kitchen.

Father came again in the forenoon for a little portion of oat cake and
whey cheese when they were cooking salt meat and peas in the kitchen,
and Ma found first one thing and then another done for her and was
anticipated in many handy trifles, notwithstanding that Thinka also had
to finish a pair of embroidered slippers that Gülcke had expressed a
wish for. But there was plenty of time for that. She got well along on
the pattern while her father was taking his noonday nap, and she sat up
there and read him to sleep.

The captain found it so comfortable when he saw the needle and worsted
flying in Thinka’s hand–it was so peacefully quiet–it was impossible
not to go to sleep.

And then he was going to have her for only three days.

While her fingers were moving over the canvas, Kathinka sat having a
solitary meditation–

Aas had sent her a letter when he heard of her marriage. He had
believed in her so that he could have staked his life on her constancy,
and even if many years were to have passed, he would have worked,
scrimped, and scraped in order at last to have been able to reach her
again, even if they should then both have left their youth behind
them. It had been his joyful hope that she would keep firm and wait
for him even through straits and poor circumstances. But now that she
had sold herself for goods and gold, he did not believe in any one any
more. He had only one heart, not two; but the misfortune was, he saw it
more plainly, that she also had–

“Huf! I thought I heard you sighing deeply,” said the captain, waking
up; “that comes from lying and struggling on one’s back. Now we shall
have some coffee.”

Even if Thinka could not answer Aas, still she would try to relieve her
heart a little to Inger-Johanna. She had brought her last letter with
her to answer in this period of calm at home, and was sitting up in her
room with it before her, in the evening.

“Inger-Johanna is fortunate, as she has nothing else to think of,” she
said to herself, sighing and reading:

And you, Thinka, you also ought to have your eye on your part of the
country, and make something out of the place into which you have now
come; it is indeed needed up there, for there is no doubt that society
has its great mission in the refinement of customs and the contest
against the crude, as aunt expresses it.

I am not writing this for nothing, nor wholly in the air; I stand,
indeed, too near to many conditions to be able to avoid thinking of
the possibility of sometime being placed in such a position. If I said
anything else, I should not be sincere.

And I must tell you, I see a great many things I should like to help
in. It must be that a place can be found for a good many ideas which
now, as it were, are excommunicated.

Society ought to be tolerant, aunt says; why, then, cannot such views
as Grip’s be discussed peacefully? The first thing I would do would
be to go in for being extravagant and defending them. In a woman,
nevertheless, this is never anything more than piquancy. But ideas also
must fight their way into good society.

I ponder and think more than you can imagine; I feel that I ought to
put something right, you see.

And I am not any longer so struck with the wisdom of men altogether. A
woman like aunt keeps silent and pulls the strings; but you can never
imagine how many are led by her strings. She is, between ourselves, a
little diplomatic, in an old-fashioned way, and full of flourishes, so
that she almost makes it a pleasure to have it go unobserved and by a
roundabout way. Straight out would many times be better, I believe; at
any rate, that is my nature.

And still a little warning with it, Thinka (oh, how I feel I speak as
if I were in aunt’s skin!) Remember that no one ever rules a room
except from a place on the sofa; I know you are so modest that they are
always getting you off on the chairs. You are not at all so stupid as
you imagine; only you ought not to try to hide what you think.

If I should sometime meet Grip again, I should convince him that there
may be other ways to Rome than just going head foremost at it! I have
got a little notion of my own since he last domineered me, with his
contempt for society, and was always so superior. But I have not had
more than one or two glimpses of him on the street the whole winter. He
is so taken up by his own affairs; and it isn’t proper, uncle says, to
invite him to _soirées_, since he has pledged himself to certain strong
ideas, which one does not dare to hint at without provoking a very
serious dispute. In one or two gentlemen parties he has been entirely
too grandiloquent–drank too much, uncle thought. But I know so well
why. He must hit upon something, he used to say, when he gets tired and
bored too much, and at the Dürings there is a dreadful vacuum.

Thinka had read the letter through; there might be much to think of,
but she was so taken up by Aas–she was never done with rolling that

* * * * *

During the monotony of winter, in the middle of February, a letter was
received, which the captain at first weighed in his hand and examined
two or three times–white, glossy vellum paper, C. R. in the seal–and
he tore it open.

Yes, to be sure, it was from Rönnow!–his brilliant, running hand with
the peculiar swing, which brought him to mind, as his elegant form,
with a jaunty tread, moved up and down.

CAPTAIN PETER JÄGER,–Highly esteemed, dear old comrade and friend:

I shall not preface this with any long preludes about position in life,
prospects, etc., but go straight on with my prayer and request.

As you have seen that my cards are lucky–really more as they have been
dealt than as I have played them–you will certainly understand that in
the last two or three years I have found it proper to look about for
a wife and a partner for life who would be suitable for my condition.
But during the whole of my seeking there was hidden in the most secret
corner of my heart a black-haired, dark-eyed girl, whom I first saw by
the card-table one winter evening up at Gilje, and whom I have since
seen again and again with ever more fascination during her development
into the proud woman and lady whose superior nature was incontestable.

Now, with my round six-and-forty years, I shall not hold forth with
any long tale of my love for her, although, perhaps, there might be a
good deal to say on that point also. That I am not old inwardly I have
at all events fully found out on this occasion.

It goes without saying that I do not address my prayer to you without
having first satisfied myself by a close and long acquaintance that
your daughter also could cherish some feelings responsive to mine.

That the result has not been to my disadvantage is apparent from her
precious reply to me, received yesterday, in which I have her yes and

In the hope that a sincere conduct and intention will not be
misconstrued, I herewith address the prayer and the question to you
and your dear wife–whether you will trust to me the future of your
precious Inger-Johanna?

What a man can do to smooth and make easy her path of life, that I dare
promise, on my _parole d’honneur_, she shall never lack.

I will also add that when the court, towards the end of May or the
early part of June, goes to Christiania, I shall be on duty and go too.
I shall then be able again to see her on whom all my hope and longing
are placed.

In anxious expectation of your honored answer,

Most respectfully,
Your always faithful friend,

Here was something better to think about than to talk with Ma about
fox-traps and spring-guns.

There would not be any after-dinner nap to-day.

He rushed out into the yard with great force: another man must thresh
in the barn; the manure must be drawn out; they must hurry!

He came in and seated himself on the sofa and lighted a lamplighter,
but jumped up again while he held it to his pipe. He remembered that
a message must be sent to the smith to mend the harrows and tools for

There was no help for it, he must go down and tell the news to the
sheriff himself.

During the first days of March Inger-Johanna wrote:

This comes so close upon my former, because I have just received a
letter from Rönnow about something on which I would gladly, dear
parents, have you stand on my side, when you, as I foresee, receive
aunt’s explicit and strong representation and reasons in the opposite

Rönnow already writes as if it were something certain and settled that
we should have the wedding in the summer, in June or July. Aunt wants
it at her house, and hopes that, in any event, you, father, will come

Rönnow urges so many amiable considerations which speak for it, and I
do not at all doubt that aunt in her abundant kindness will take care
to make it doubly sure with a four-page letter full of reasons.

But against all this I have only one thing to say, that I, at the time
I gave my consent to Rönnow, did not at all foresee such haste without,
as it were, a little time and breathing-space for myself.

It is possible that others cannot understand this feeling of mine,
and especially it seems that aunt thinks it does not exactly show the
degree of heartiness of feeling that Rönnow could expect.

But to the last, which is certainly the only one of the whole number
she can urge that is worth answering, I will only say, that it cannot
possibly be Rönnow’s intent to offend my innermost sensibilities when
he learns how I feel about it.

I only ask for suitable time–for instance, till some time next winter.
I should so much like to have this year, summer and autumn at least, a
little in quiet and peace. There is so much to think over, among other
things my future position. I want first to study the French grammar
through, and I should prefer to do it at home alone, and generally to
prepare myself. It is not merely like jumping into a new silk dress.

Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I could be at Gilje this summer! I sat
yesterday thinking how delightful it was there last year on the high

No, aunt and I would not agree permanently. Her innermost, innermost
peculiarity (let it be never so well enveloped in amiability and gentle
ways of speech) is that she is tyrannical. Therefore she wants now to
manage my wedding, and therefore–which can now vex and disturb me, so
that I haven’t words for it!–she has in these days got my good-natured
(but not especially strong-minded, it would be a pity to say that!)
uncle to commit the act, which is far from being noble, of dismissing
Grip from his position in the office. It is just like robbing him of
half of what is needed to enable him to live and study here, and that
only because she does not tolerate his ideas.

I let her know plainly what I thought about it, that it was both
heartless and intolerant; I was so moved.

But why she pursues him to the seventh and last–for with aunt there is
always something for the seventh and last–that I should still like to

Regard must naturally be paid to Inger-Johanna’s wish to postpone the
wedding. And so there was writing and writing to and fro.

But then came Rönnow’s new promotion and with it the practical
consideration, which weighed on the scales, that housekeeping must be
begun on moving-day in October.

* * * * *

There was a general brushing up at Gilje from top to bottom, inside and
out. The rooms upstairs must be whitened and everything put in order
for the arrival of the newly married couple to remain this summer, the
whole of July, after the wedding.

And when Inger-Johanna should come she was to meet a surprise–the
whole of the captain’s residence, by order of the army department,
newly painted red with red-lead and white window sashes.

The captain’s every-day coat had a shower of spots at all times
in the day, as he stood out by the painter’s ladder and watched
the work–first the priming and now the second coat; then came the
completion, the third and last. The spring winds blew, so that the
walls dried almost immediately.

He was a little dizzy off and on during all this, so that he must stop
and recover his balance; but there was good reason for it, because the
parish clerk this year had not taken enough blood, since he had become
so much stouter!–and then perhaps he pushed on too hard and eagerly;
for he did long for Inger-Johanna’s return.

He talked of nothing but Inger-Johanna, of her prospects, beauty, and
talents, and how Ma could not deny that he had seen what there was in
her from the time when she was very small.

But Ma still thought privately, while he was going about boisterous and
happy, that he had been less stout and more healthy when he had more
anxieties and had to take the world harder. She had let him into the
secret of Aunt Alette’s misgivings in respect to Jörgen’s capacities
for scholarship.

“I have not been able to avoid thinking, Jäger, that Jörgen might not
find happiness in that line.”

“In what line, then?–Be a shoemaker and lie on one knee and take the
measure of us others, perhaps–Oh-ho, no,” stretching himself with
superabundant conviction, “if we can afford to keep him at his studies,
he can easily learn. There are many more stupid than he who have
attained the position of both minister and sheriff.”

One day the captain hastily separated a letter from Aunt Alette from
his official mail, and threw it on the table for Ma to read through at
her convenience. If there was anything in it, she could tell it to him,
he shouted back, as he went up the stairs to his office; he had become
a great deal heavier and more short of breath lately, and took a firmer
hold on the stair rail.

_May 1, 1844_

MY DEAREST GITTA,–It is with a certain sad, subdued feeling that I
write to you this time; nay, I could even wish to characterize it
by a stronger expression. It comes to my old ears as if there was a
lamentation sounding over so many bright hopes bowing their heads
to the ground; and I can only find consolation in the firm faith,
cherished through a long life, that nothing happens save as a link in a
higher wisdom.

Just as I have hitherto tried to present everything relating to
Inger-Johanna as clearly before you as I could see it myself, so I find
it most proper not to conceal from you the struggle which she plainly
is going through against a feeling, from whose power I hope there may
yet be salvation in the fortunate circumstance that it has not yet had
full time to come into being and ripen in her.

It is there, and it produces pain, but more, is my hope, as a
possibility, which has not put out sufficient roots, than as a reality,
a living growth, which could not, without injury to her innermost
being, coldly be subdued and stifled again.

But never has shrewd calculation celebrated a more sorry triumph
than when the governor’s wife believed that she could find a remedy
by keeping the person concerned at a distance and at last even by
persecuting him, in order to make it impossible for him to support
himself here. When it is considered that Inger-Johanna, during all the
treatment that Grip has endured for his ideas, has plainly sympathized
with, almost championed them, the result should not have been difficult
to foresee.

And one cold, frosty morning early this winter, Inger-Johanna came here
in great mental excitement to make an examination into his condition
through Jörgen. It was then also at her appeal that Jörgen asked him to
teach him four hours a week.

On this occasion I saw clearly what before I had only suspected, but
which had not escaped your sister-in-law’s sharp eye, that Student
Grip, without Inger-Johanna’s having any idea of it, had engrossed her
as a personality that drew her more and more.

It is of no use to conceal it; it is a crisis which must be fought
through, before she finally becomes any other person’s, if her
position is not to be a false one, and if she is not to support a
lifelong sorrow.

That the news of her betrothal has fallen like a saddening
disappointment of a hope (even if a remote one) on this young man, I
regard as far from improbable.

I certainly cannot forget the two serious young faces, which for a
moment stood looking at each other, when they met in my room one
afternoon. There was not much said.

She knew that he had been wronged and she hinted something to that

“Possibly, Miss Jäger,” he said harshly, while he took hold of the
door-knob. “So many soap-bubbles burst.”

Inger-Johanna remained standing and looking down on the floor. It was
as if an entire change had come over her; I am sure it dawned upon her
what he felt.

The discharge from the governor’s bureau has plainly enough been
welcome to many of the families which immediately after with singular
quickness seized the opportunity to dismiss him as tutor. A man of such
strangely discordant ideas had long been thought not quite desirable to
receive. And the example had been given.

From an honest heart I offered him a loan, so that he might live in
peace for two or three months and study, until he could again get
places to teach; but either he was too sore and proud, or else he
thought that Inger-Johanna had a hand in it.

He has certainly taken it very much to heart that the total want
of means of existence has now compelled him to give up the school,
which was his pride, so that he is now in a certain way an object of
ridicule, and this has capped the climax.

He goes about unoccupied, so Jörgen reports, and asks for credit at
eating-houses and restaurants, where he sits out the evening and night.

I understood well enough that it was not just for the sake of her old
aunt or for the thing itself, but to hear about him, that Inger-Johanna
sat with me so often and learned the old-fashioned stitch with
pearls and gold thread. She was in such an excited condition and so
abstracted, and jumped up when Jörgen came home towards evening and,
more’s the pity, as often as not had been looking for him in vain to
read with him.

That pale, darkly brilliant face stands so before me, Gitta, with which
she one evening broke out: “Aunt–Aunt–Aunt Alette!”

It was like a hidden cry.

Where he is living now, Jörgen has not succeeded in finding out;
possibly for want of means he has been turned out of his lodgings.

I narrate all this so much in detail, because it is to be believed and
hoped that the severest part of the crisis, so far as she is concerned,
is over now.

Since that evening, when she felt that she had forgotten herself, she
has at least not talked about him, nor, as I know certainly, addressed
a word to Jörgen. She has evidently esteemed his character very highly,
and has now suffered a disappointment.

It is not well to be young and have a great deal of life that can
suffer. I tell you, it is as with your teeth; there is no peace until
you have them all in your table drawer.

No, all this was not anything for father, Ma thought.

* * * * *

Great-Ola was standing with a crowbar. There was a stone which was to
be placed in the wall. But the frozen crust of earth was hard, up there
on the meadow, although the sun was so roasting hot that he was obliged
to wipe his forehead with his pointed cap every time he rested.

The non-commissioned officers had returned to the office during the
forenoon with their pay in their pockets, one after the other; and that
it was pretty bad going with holes in the highway was evident from
their splashed carts, which were as if they had been dipped in the mud.

He had just got ready to put the crowbar under again, when he suddenly
stopped. There was something which attracted his attention–a cariole
with a post-boy walking by the side and a little yellow horse covered
with mud up to its belly.

With pieces of rope for reins and wound around the cariole thills, the
horse toiled up along the Gilje hills in zigzag, incessantly stopping
to get breath. The sun was burning hot down there on the frozen earth.

The post down from Drevstad–he knew both the horse and the lumbering

It was not that which would have taken his attention so seriously;
but some one was sitting in it–a lady with hat and veil. He did not
understand–that way of carrying the head–wasn’t it–

He took two or three slow, thoughtful steps, then started on the jump,
and over the wall with a leap which would have touched the roof-beam in
a high room.

“Why, in the Lord’s name, if it isn’t Inger-Johanna herself!” he
ejaculated, as he suddenly stood by the side of the horse. “What will
the capt–”

At the sight of her he suddenly had a misgiving that perhaps everything
might not be so well.

“And such a rattle-trap!” he said, recovering himself, “is that fit for

“Good morning, Great-Ola, is father at home, and mother? No, I am not
so very well, but shall be better now.”

She became silent again.

Great-Ola walked on, leading the horse by the reins, when Inger-Johanna
drove into the yard.

There stood her father under the painting-ladder, looking up. He
suddenly shaded his eyes, and was at once with her by the cariole.


She hugged him tightly out there, and the captain, dreadfully
perplexed, drew her into the hall to Ma, who was standing there dumb.

“What is the matter, what is the matter, Inger-Johanna?” he burst out.

“Go in–go into the room a little, Jäger.” She knew how little he could
bear. “Let her talk with me first, and then we will come in to you–it
is surely not anything irreparable.”

“Father, Ma? Why should not father understand me?”

“Come, come, child,” the captain made haste to say; he had hardly any
voice left.

And she sat down there in the sitting-room with her father by her side
on the sofa and her mother on a chair, and told them how she had fought
and striven to make herself fancy that her life’s task lay with Rönnow.

She had created for herself a whole pile of illusions.

But then, on one day–and she also knew which one–they became like
extinguished lights for her–black as coal and empty, wherever she
looked–not what she had thought, not what she meant–like throwing
herself into a desert.

“And aunt insisted that I should choose the pattern of my wedding
dress. I think I should have gone into it blindly, with my eyes shut,
nevertheless; for I thought of you, father, what you would say, and of
you, mother,–and of the whole world outside, what it would say, if
I thus, without any trace of reason, broke my engagement. And then I
considered that everything was settled. I had thrown myself into the
water and was only sinking, sinking–I had no right now to do anything
else than drown. But then–”

“Well,” a short ominous cough; the captain sat looking on the floor
with his hands on his knees.

“Then,” resumed Inger-Johanna with a low voice, still paler, and
violently impressed with her subject–“Nay, there need not be any
secret from you, father, and you, mother, since you otherwise would not
understand me;–it came almost like a flash of lightning upon me, that
for wholly one year, and perhaps for two, I had had my whole soul bound
up with another.”

“Who is it?”

“Grip,” she whispered.

The captain had sat patiently and listened–entirely patiently–till
the last word. But now he flew up and placed himself before her; he
struck his hands together on the backs, and stretched them out,
utterly without self-control.

“But, kingdom of heaven!” he broke out at last. “Where are you!–What
are you thinking of? You can’t for a single moment ever think
of comparing such a–Grip with a man like Rönnow?–I tell you,
Inger-Johanna, your father is absolutely, totally–you–you might just
as well rise up and strike me dead at once.”

“Listen, father!” came from Inger-Johanna; at the same moment she
sprang up and stood before him. “If Thinka and the others have not
saved themselves, no one shall trample on me.”

Ma continued sitting with sharp, compressed face.

“Such pure insanity!” The captain struck his fist against his forehead
and walked up and down the floor disconsolately. “But now I see it;” he
stopped again, nodding to himself. “You have been spoiled, dreadfully
spoiled–spoiled, since you were little–And then we get it again, only
because I think so much of you.”

“The whole world could contradict me, father. I have only my right way
to go–to do as I have done–write to Rönnow, give full explanation,
and tell it to aunt. And,” she leaned against the sofa and looked
down bitterly, as the remembrance came over her, “aunt has done what
she could, I can assure you–thought, as you do, father, that it was
pure insanity. She was so fond of me that she did not care how much
wretchedness it was for me if the match only came off. So vain and
young as I was, she thought, all she had to do was to get Grip cried
down and pursued, so that he should stand without means, hemmed in on
all sides without any way out, a man made an object of ridicule, who
was obliged to give up his purpose–only his father over again. It was
so easily done, as he fought for his opinions unsupported, and it would
be taken up so readily, as she knew.” She stood there so self-assured,
tremblingly lost in her own thoughts, with downcast eyes and dark
brows. She had become thin and slim. “And now I have come home here
with more sorrow than I can tell you or explain–so full of fear–”

There was a silence during which strange emotions were working in the
captain. “Do you say that we are not fond of you–will do you harm?
Well, then, perhaps, I might not consider it so right hereafter, what
you have done. I say perhaps; but now I tell you that, if you must do
it, then we shall stand by it, just as you yourself wish in the affair.
You understand it, at all events. Why, you have not even sat down,
child. Let her have something to eat, Ma, at once.”

He started up. There was a good deal to be got out of the way in her
room, so she should not see that repairs were going on.