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Alexander L. Kielland (1849–1906). Skipper Worse.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Chapter III

HANS NILSEN FENNEFOS came of a family that had long since become followers of Hauge, on the occasion of one of his visitations to their neighbourhood. From his earliest childhood he had heard of the beloved teacher; his mother used to sing the hymns he had written, and Fennefos himself was named after him.

There was, therefore, much that might seem likely to make him a disciple; but the boy had a headstrong and passionate disposition, and up to his twentieth year his wild and thoughtless life was a source of grief to his mother.

One night, however, it happened that he came home late from a dance, and as he crept up to his bedroom, he heard his mother singing, as she laid awake:

  • “Commit thou all thy goings,
  • Thy sorrows all confide,
  • To Him who rules the heavens,
  • The ever-faithful Guide.
  • For He who stills the tempest,
  • And calms the rolling sea,
  • Will lead thy footsteps safely,
  • And smooth a way for thee.”
  • It was a hymn lately introduced into the neighbourhood, and one which his mother, as he knew, prized greatly; but hitherto he had never taken any special notice of it.

    At the sound of his mother’s voice, the recollections of the dance and the fumes of drink vanished, and, as he listened, the words took a marvellous hold of him.

    He wandered all night in fear and sorrow round his father’s house, and it was not until the rising of the sun that he was enabled to find any peace.

    It was the first time that he had been absent a whole night. As he entered the room, his mother rose up from her seat, and was about to rebuke him; but when she saw his altered look and bearing, she only said gently: “My son, the Lord has visited you this night.”

    From that time forward Hans Nilsen went no more to dances. After many years of tribulation and inward struggles, he at last gained confidence, and spoke with his friends and others of the one thing needful. He appeared also at the meetings, and it was the general opinion that so captivating a speaker had not been heard among them for many a day.

    But the elders, mindful of Hauge’s injunctions, would not permit him to go forth among the Brethren round about the country until he was thoroughly grounded in doctrine, and until a change of life had manifested itself in him.

    He was more than twenty-five when he was first sent out; and after five or six years of almost uninterrupted wanderings from place to place, partly by invitation, and partly as he was led by the Spirit, he had become a well-known and highly valued lay-preacher over all the west country and northward, even beyond Trondhjem.

    The times had long since song by when a clergyman, accompanied by a bailiff or a drunken lieutenant, could break up the meetings, revile the lay-preacher, spit in his face, and cause him to be driven out of the parish.

    But if the lay-preachers were less exposed to outward violence than in the old days of persecution, there were dangers of another sort, which in many ways made their position difficult.

    The clergy had not changed their minds; but as they could no longer imprison or publicly revile “these enthusiasts, deceivers, and hypocrites,” they preferred to scheme against and vilify them in private.

    A new ordeal of patience and long-suffering was thus imposed upon the Brethren, especially upon their leaders and preachers; for as their numbers increased, it could not but happen that some disciples would fall into open sin, or be discovered to be hypocrites and impostors.

    On such occasions the clergy were on the alert; active and energetic, both in public and in private, they gave currency to disparaging stories about the Haugians, men who despised the house of God, and worshipped Him in their own dismal meetings, where all sorts of profanities were said to be carried on.

    From the official class this spirit of suspicion, and often of hatred, spread itself among educated people, to the injury of these peaceable and thoroughly worthy folks.

    From such sources the current literature also proceeded to picture the ignorant lay-preachers, and to draw comparisons with the regular deans and pastors, the men of light and peace. The writers of the day, as a rule, knew but little about the lay-preachers, and relied on these descriptions; the clergyman they were well acquainted with.

    Most people knew him from holiday visits to the parsonage, which stood out as bright spots in the memories of their younger days—the journey thither in summer by moonlight through the woods, and in winter over the crisp white snow, with accompaniment of thinkling sledge-bells.

    It was thus that they knew their pastor, genial, friendly, and earnest. What a capital talker he was at the social board, and how ready to join in harmless merriment! How pleasant, too, was the great roomy parsonage, full of youthful mirth, tempered by the gentle gravity of their reverend host!

    He was the central point of attraction for all, not only for the cares of wives and daughters, but in all the joys and sports of youth. “Father’s” presence was looked upon as necessary to complete enjoyment.

    His meerschaum pipe was kept filled for him, and when it went out, the children rushed to light it again with paper spills. When the wife, with a practised hand, enveloped him in his furs and wraps as he drove off to his other church the day after Christmas, all gathered round him, in an affectionate circle.

    Nor could any one forget the quiet Saturday afternoons when all left the house in order not to disturb the pastor, who was preparing his sermon in the study, the smoke of his pipe stealing out of the keyhole like a blue serpent. Nor could they forget the Sunday mornings when his reverence took his dose of egg-flip before church, in order to clear his voice.

    But this genial pastor could be quite another man when he sat alone among his peasants, discussing school or parish affairs; for language such as one would hardly expect from a man of light and peace might then be heard inside his study.

    Sometimes it happened that, if on such occasions the young people gathered in the hall to seek their coats and cloaks for some outing, a frieze-clad peasant would come tumbling out of the study, and a momentary glimpse of a red face and a violently agitated dressing-gown would be obtained through the open door.

    Then the wife or one of the daughters would say: “Poor father! that is one of those horrid Haugians, who give him so much trouble in the parish.”

    This feeling against the sectaries did not die out, even after the movement had become respected and honoured by the university.

    The new teachers and clergy who were indebted to Hauge and his movement, not only for greater sincerity in doctrine and in its application, but who had even adopted the humble exterior and meek tones which prevailed from the time that Haugianism began to wane, seemed suddenly to forget that the Christian life, on the feeble remains of which they took their stand, was something that the people, after a long struggle, had gradually acquired of themselves.

    Like their imperious predecessors, they coolly began to assume that they alone were the people’s pastors and guides, and that any one who would so much as touch a hair of their heads, who would deprive them of one iota of their power and authority, destroyed—yes, destroyed the people’s respect for all that was sacred, and disturbed with a presumptuous hand the ancient, beautiful, and patriarchal relations between the flocks and their beloved pastors.

    But when Fennefos first began his wanderings, he encountered clergy of the old school who lay in wait for every word and deed, causing all the injury and annoyance in their power, both to him and to his friends.

    The utmost circumspection became necessary, and the young preacher had to bear up against much strife and opposition. His undaunted spirit was, however, in proportion to his vast bodily strength.

    Old people declared that he reminded them of Hauge in his earlier days, before he had been enfeebled by persecution.

    For this reason the letters from the elders at home, which preceded Fennefos’s visits to the Brethren at a distance, always urged that the young man should be exhorted to submit to those in authority, in order to avoid strife and offence.

    He gradually learnt to control himself, and, in many instances, even succeeded in preventing disputes between the clergy and their flocks.

    This had always been Hauge’s desire, and Fennefos, like all the rest of the Brethren, conformed to it.

    In this way, like many other lay-preachers, he so prepared the minds of the people that a pastor could almost everywhere, and without any exertions on his own part, find a little nucleus of Christian folk prepared to attach themselves to any teachers who would not merely, like the former clergy, give them stones for bread.

    Sometimes, however, he found it difficult to control himself. In his earlier days at home, at Fennefos, he had learnt from the older people all the circumstance of Hauge’s life. He knew the names not only of all the bailiffs and magistrates, but especially of the clergy, who had scoffed at, persecuted, and almost worried to death, the beloved teacher.

    And now, as he journeyed through the land, he encountered the same names. Both bench and pulpit were filled not only in spirit, but in the body, by the actual successors of the odious persecutors of the past generation.

    This often made his young blood boil again; and when, at the meetings, plain and free speech prevailed, he observed the same glow among his companions. Still they rebuked and restrained one another; for the powers that be are ordained of God.

    When he journeyed in West Norway, Fennefos always stayed awhile with Madame Torvestad. The town was a central point in the widely ramified religious movement, and gradually her house became more of a home to him than his native place, Fennefos.

    Here, too, he received letters and communications from the Brethren round about the country, when anything went wrong with them, or when they particularly wished him to preach to them.

    He was in the habit of visiting or writing to them; and here the elders sent to him, if they happened to have a trustworthy envoy.

    It was not, however, the Brethren or Madame Torvestad that attached him so much to the place; in fact, he was more at home among the peasantry.

    He had, indeed, great objections to Madame Torvestad. Upon some points she was too lax; and she was full of German mysticism, which he could not endure. Above all, she was too imperious and ambitious, both among the disciples and in her own house.

    What really attracted him was Sarah; not that he was actually in love with her, of this he was confident. But she was so penetrated by the spirit of the movement, and so well versed in the Bible and in religious books, that he knew of no one with whom it was more delightful to converse.

    Sarah stood very high in the estimation of the Brethren, and it was a real pleasure to the older people to hear her at the meetings. It was, however, but seldom that she spoke, and she had not much that was original to say; but she knew so many hymns, texts, and passages of good books by heart, and, above all, she was so familiar with the Scriptures, that among all the Brethren her equal was hardly to be found.

    On the table, in Madam Torvestad’s sitting-room, there was a fixed desk, and upon it an open Bible; this was Sarah’s place, and by her side Madame Torvestad had this day placed a comfortable chair for Skipper Worse.

    Several women had arrived, who seated themselves round the room, laid their hands on their laps, and sighed. Near the stove a couple of young girls packed themselves by the side of Henrietta, on a bench that was too short for them; and a small boy, with a sallow face, whose parents dragged him from meeting to meeting, seated himself on the extreme end of a bench by the door.

    By-and-by the men began to arrive in succession. There were the brothers Endre and Nicolai Egeland, who had the largest store in the town; Sivert Jespersen, who in a few years had made a fortune out of herrings; and four or five of the most eminent followers of Hauge, either artisans or shopmen.

    Madame Torvestad shook hands with them all, and found seats for them, not a very easy task after a while, although the room was spacious and the chairs abundant.

    Hans Fennefos entered, saluted Sarah, and at the same time inquired for whom the armchair was placed by her side.

    “Skipper Worse is coming this evening,” said Sarah, without looking up.

    Hans Nilsen was surprised, and a little disquieted, although he hardly knew why. Madame Torvestad, who received him graciously, did not take her usual seat, but moved about in a restless manner, until at last Jacob Worse arrived.

    As he opened the door, an involuntary desire to escape seized him. He had come from his own airy room, bright with the twilight afterglow. Here it was dark and stuffy. Two tallow candles in brass candlesticks threw some light on the table and the reading-desk, but out in the room nothing was visible, save a row of faces along the wall.

    Escape, however, was out of the question; for Madame Torvestad, with a friendly gesture, took him by the hand and led him in. Moreover, every one knew him, and all the men came forward to shake his hand, and to welcome him home again.

    His presence at the meeting gave general satisfaction; for Jacob Worse was an important man in the town, and hitherto he had rather belonged to those who opposed and derided the Haugians.

    They nodded and smiled at Madame Torvestad, who greatly enjoyed her triumph.

    Sivert Jespersen was especially pleased—he and Worse were acquaintances of old, up at the northern fishery; and Sivert Gesvint, as he was nick-named, was, when outside the meeting-house, a lively and enterprising man. Whilst, on the one hand, his tongue was always ready with texts and hymns, he was no less ready at a pinch to give any one a helping hand, or to “carry on” recklessly if it was a question of sailing out first to the fishing grounds.

    Skipper Worse growled a little and rubbed his head, when Sivert Gesvint pressed his hand and welcomed him with effusion. There was an old affair between them about a consignment of salt, respecting which Skipper Worse declared that Sivert had cheated him; indeed, he had told him as much, to his face, many times, when they had met at the fishing. Sivert Gesvint, however, used only to smile, and pat him on the shoulder.

    Madame Torvestad now led Worse to the armchair. He felt extremely ill at ease, and inwardly cursed both Madame Torvestad and Lauritz, which latter sat on a low stool behind two stout females, where he could catch a glimpse of Henrietta.

    Sarah bashfully welcomed Skipper Worse, who patted her on the head; he had known her ever since she was a small child.

    When they were all seated, and order was restored, Madame Torvestad said: “Now little Erik Pontoppidan, what was the subject discussed at the meeting?”

    “Sanctification,” said the pale boy near the door, in a prompt but mechanical manner.

    “What hymn did they sing, Henrietta,” said her mother; “you remember of course?”

    Henrietta had indeed been at the meeting, but being quite absorbed by the sad news that Lauritz could not lodge with them, she had derived but scanty benefit from it. When she returned home and learnt that after all he had received permission, she was so delighted that now her mother’s question came upon her like a bucket of cold water.

    She turned very red, and felt as if her senses were leaving her.

    Madame Torvestad looked severely at her for a while, and then turned to Erik Pontoppidan, who gave the first line of the hymn, without hesitation, the moment he caught her eye.

    People nodded and smiled approvingly at the boy. His mother, a stout, pale woman, and his father, Endre Egeland, were proud of him. Erik Pontoppidan himself, however, took it very composedly.

    Except Lauritz, no one looked at Henrietta, who felt very much ashamed, and crept behind her two friends. Madame Torvestad now struck up a hymn, in which all the company joined. To Jacob Worse’s ear, all these voices in the low room, the subdued tones of the women, and the rough bass of the men, sounded weird and unpleasing.

    They sang so very slowly that it seemed as if the hymn would never finish, especially as Sivert Jespersen, in a manner peculiar to him, threw in certain shakes and quavers at the end of each verse.

    One of the elders had delivered an address at the meeting, and, as she did not happen to be present, Madame Torvestad inquired whether any one could tell her something of what he had said. She turned towards Fennefos, as did several others; but he sat unmoved, with his lips firmly closed, and looking as if he would not utter a word that evening.

    “According to my poor opinion,” said Sivert Jespersen, “the old man spoke well and simply; it was on the work of the Spirit, as little Erik remembered so well. He took for his subject Luther’s words on the article, which says: ‘I believe that of my own strength and wisdom I can neither believe in Christ nor come to Him;’ and he showed clearly, at least in my opinion, both from Scripture and from our daily experience, our miserable shortcomings in the spiritual as well as in the temporal life, so long as we put our trust only ‘in the arm of flesh and in our own feeble judgment.’”

    At this point Nicolai Egeland, who was not very highly gifted in a spiritual sense, exclaimed: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!”

    He knew, in fact, no more than five or six texts, and these he brought in as they occurred to him, often quite inappropriately; but the Brethren knew his sincerity, and were lenient with him. He was not one of those servants to whom many talents had been entrusted.

    One of the women sighed, and said: “Yes, that is true, indeed, Sivert Jespersen; we should not trust to our own wisdom in spiritual things.”

    Madame Torvestad now took up the conversation, as she sat turning over the leaves of sundry small books, which lay on the table by her side, just opposite to where Sarah was seated.

    Some of these were tracts, and some, books of hymns; and as she met with any passage that struck her, she wove it into her conversation in such a manner that it seemed to be half her own utterance and half a quotation.

    “A Christian should always bear in mind,” she began, “that much that is high and mysterious can never in this life be comprehended by feeble man. We should, therefore, never attempt to fathom it, but should resign ourselves to the might and truth of God, who has brought us into contact with it. Yes, directly our own wisdom begins to dwell upon the possibility of that which is revealed to us, we may be sure that temptation and Satan are at hand—the old wily serpent who deceived Eve; and we should instantly invoke the protection of the Almighty against death and hell itself. To this end may grace be vouchsafed to all of us.”

    “Amen,” said Nicolai Egeland.

    “But,” asked Sivert Jespersen, turning to the younger people, “how should we receive this grace?”

    “It is the work of the Holy Spirit,” said a voice by the door.

    “Very properly answered, little Erik. And what do you mean by the Spirit’s work?”


    “And of how many parts does sanctification consist? can you give me an answer to that also?”

    “New birth, justification, and regeneration.”

    Everybody was pleased with the quickness of the boy, who sat without moving a muscle of his face, his mouth open, and generally prepared to give answers much as an instrument responds to its keys.

    At this point Nicolai Egeland became ambitious, and thrust himself into the conversation, quoting the longest text he knew—“By man sin came into the world;” but Madame Torvestad interrupted him quietly:

    “Very wonderful is the state of the regenerate man; he is the slave neither of sin nor of worldly affections, not even indeed of innocent things. When I say that he is not a slave, I do not assert that in a moment of weakness he may not be overtaken by sin, but that he will not continue in it. If surprised by the flesh or the devil, he may fall into sin; but he will rise up and lay his troubles before God, and seek forgiveness. So long as he is thus established again in faith, and enjoys peace with God, he remains superior to sin, and continues to walk in the Spirit.”

    Sarah watched Fennefos, for she was certain that he would not approve of the book her mother was reading from. He made no signs, however; and in the feeble glimmer she could see only the vigorous, clear cut profile, somewhat turned upwards, as if gazing at the ceiling.

    When it became manifest that he would not speak that evening, the conversation dragged on without animation for about another quarter of an hour.

    All this time Sarah sat by the Bible, and, in the course of the conversation, looked out a text here and there, sometimes on her own account, and sometimes when one of the company sought to have his memory refreshed. She readily found all that was required, and in many cases was able to repeat the passage at once by heart.

    Skipper Worse could not understand what they were talking about, and he became very weary. The only thing that kept him awake was Sarah’s shapely fingers moving deftly among the pages of the sacred book.

    But at last, as he was on the point of dropping asleep, Madame Torvestad proposed that they should conclude with a hymn.

    Sarah took a hymn-book, and held it up for the captain, and the singing began.

    As Worse was sitting half asleep, watching Sarah’s fingers, she suddenly turned her great dark eyes upon him, and said: “Sing with us.”

    In a moment Skipper Worse was wide awake, and began to hum, as she moved her fingers along the lines. He had never been very good at such singing, and when he came to sacred words he felt ashamed to pronounce them with his sinful lips.

    But he was awake, and, more than this, he began to be at his ease. Now and then he looked up at Sarah’s well-turned shoulders, her white neck, and the throat which swelled so gracefully as she sang.

    They sat so close to each other, as she bent towards him with the hymn-book, that Skipper Worse was conscious of something pleasant in her company, the first homelike feeling he had experienced that day.

    There was another person also who enjoyed himself thoroughly, although he did not give a very close attention to the meeting, and this was Lauritz Seehus in his corner.

    He was so elated after his first disappointment, that he did not find the meeting as wearisome as usual—he could see Henrietta.

    Moreover, the sacred words and the singing made so great an impression on one who had long been absent from such things that he was much affected, and thanked the Almighty, who had sent him a brief but bitter trial, that he might the better learn how all things worked together for his good.

    As soon as the hymn was finished, the daughters of the house brought in tea and bread and butter. After a grace from Endre Egeland, they all ate well, and drank much tea; and at nine o’clock the party broke up.

    When Worse returned to his own rooms, and saw Madame Torvestad’s guests crossing the market-place as they left her house, he hardly knew whether to be amused or angry at having been compelled to spend his first evening on shore among such people.

    There among them he observed Endre Egeland, whose moral reputation was none of the best, and Sivert Jespersen, who had overreached him so confoundedly in the matter of the salt.

    “If Randulf should hear of all this!”

    Nevertheless, he could not help remembering how pleasant it had been by the side of Sarah, and he felt how dull and lonely were his own spacious rooms.