Home  »  Skipper Worse  »  Chapter VI

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

Chapter VI

SARAH and Henrietta sat in the workroom winding yarn. Henrietta talked in a whisper. Their mother sat writing letters in the parlour, the door of which was open. She was a little hard of hearing.

“… And, then, you must know—yes, is it not strange what people will do? for they stole a rope. Just fancy!”

“Who, Henrietta?”

“Why, Lauritz and the others.”

“Stole, did you say?”

“Are you out of your senses?” said Henrietta, scandalized at the suggestion. “Do you suppose that Lauritz steals? No; they only took a rubbishing piece of old rope not worth sixpence, which was hanging behind the door of Skipper Worse’s storehouse. The rich Skipper Worse, as if such a thing were worth notice!”

“But, Henrietta, you know that it does not depend upon its value. Every one who steals——”

“Is a thief; yes, I know!” exclaimed Henrietta. “But now you must know what they did with the rope; Lauritz told me yesterday afternoon, when I was in the kitchen getting tea ready.”

“Whilst there was a meeting here!” said Sarah, in a tone of remonstrance.

Henrietta nodded assent. “On no account must you tell our mother. Lauritz is so funny, I can’t help laughing at him. Just imagine! they stretched a rope across the street when it got dark, and two of them held each end. When any one came whom they disliked, they tightened it, and tripped him up. After a time the Commissioner came—you know, the one who is so cross and red-faced—and he tumbled head over heels, and broke his arm.”

“I think you must be out of your senses, Henrietta. Surely you do not think it was right to do such a thing?”

“Yes, quite right. You know what a horrid man he is; all the boys in the town hate him, and so do I. At the sessions he sits swearing and scolding incessantly, and when he is at his worst—just think!—he lays about him with his whip. Bah! it serves him right; I wish he had broken both arms, the brute!”

Sarah was thoroughly shocked. At this moment her mother seemed as if she were about to rise from her chair, and the sisters resumed their work diligently.

Sarah sat thinking that this affair of Henrietta’s was very wrong, and she doubted whether it was not her duty to tell her mother. Madame Torvestad was strangely lenient towards her younger daughter; she had once said, “As for Henrietta, I am under no apprehension; she is easily influenced, and will in due time improve. It was very different with you, Sarah; for you had a stubborn disposition, which required early discipline. I am thankful to say that neither I nor your excellent father spared the rod, and a blessing has followed it, in that you have become what you are.”

This she said with unusual effusion; generally the relations between the mother and daughter were a trifle stiff. They could talk to one another both on worldly and spiritual matters, but there was no real familiarity between them.

Sarah had been brought up under the strongest sense of the duty of children to their parents, and she regarded her mother with veneration. She would sooner have cut off her hand than oppose her, but she could not cast herself on her neck as she often wished to do.

When Henrietta, in the exuberance of her spirits, kissed and embraced her, she experienced a wonderful pleasure, but she would tear herself away, knowing that her mother did not like such demonstrations.

When they had worked on for a short time in silence, Henrietta whispered again:

“He was drunk on Saturday.”



“Oh! how do you know it?”

“He told me himself.”

“But has he no feeling of shame?

“Well, it was not so bad as all that; he was not downright drunk, you know, only a little ‘tight,’ as they say.”

It was evident that Henrietta was rather proud of him.

Before Sarah could regain her composure after this last shock, her mother called to her.

“Sarah, come here and help me! Where is it that our Lord speaks of the vine?”

“The fifteenth chapter of St. John.”

“Read it to me.”

Sarah began, and as she was reading, her mother, although apparently absorbed in her letter and in listening, was watching her closely.

Madame Torvestad was in the habit of writing many letters, which were held in much estimation by the Brethren around. They were read out at the meetings, and afterwards carefully preserved, for lending to those who required good counsel. Her letters were indeed kindly and full of affection.

When Sarah read the twelfth verse, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you,” her mother stopped her.

“Yes, that was the verse I was thinking of.” She looked down on her letter almost as if she was thinking over what she had written. Sarah was conscious that what her mother said was also directed at her.

“Brotherly love is the first fruits of the true Vine, and that is the love to which the apostle alludes. But, dear brethren, consider how and why you love another, whether because he is a child of God, or whether for earthly reasons, and, mark well, whether when you find that he loves God, he becomes so dear to you that all his other qualities are forgotten.”

Sarah blushed a deep red, and bent over her Bible. She was about to read the thirteenth verse, when her mother said: “Thanks, Sarah; you need not read any more, it was only that these reflections on brotherly love made me wish to refresh my memory from Holy Writ.”

She proceeded in the same tone, half to Sarah and half to herself: “See, the tempter has again prepared his snares; be watchful, and pray for guidance, that you fall not into them. Sinful affection lies in wait behind brotherly love, just as the serpent concealed itself among the pleasant fruits of the tree of knowledge. See, then, that you love in the spirit, and not in the flesh. If you love in the spirit, and if you meet with one who seeks the same God, you should love that seeker; and should he be only——” here her words became very impressive—“should he be only a distant seeker, yes, even a wanderer, who but dimly catches a glimpse of the light, and who follows it but feebly, and be his appearance, conversation, and natural mind ever so doubtful, you should love him for the sake of Him who first loved you.

“Thanks, my child, for your assistance. Now go back to your work, and pray that it may be given to you to know what brotherly love is, and that you may not go astray.”

When Sarah reached the door, her mother added: “It surprises me that when you and Henrietta are alone together you do not sing a hymn. In my younger days we used always to do so. It lightens labour, and drives away evil thoughts.”

Soon afterwards the sisters, in low, clear tones, sang a hymn, which they knew to be a favourite with their mother.

When Henrietta was unable to remember the words, she hummed the tune; while Sarah, who was very pale, sang on with downcast but flashing eyes.

Neither of the girls had observed that Hans Nilsen Fennefos had come up the steps, and was standing outside on the landing.

He stopped and listened to the singing; it reminded him of that night long since, when he heard his mother singing. He was much affected, Sarah’s soft voice seemed like his mother’s, and his eyes filled with tears.

When he reached his own little room, he sat for some time, distracted by conflicting thoughts. How he wished that at that moment his mother were at his side to counsel him! She, however, had died two years since, and those who stood by her death-bed declared that she had sung herself into heaven.

Hans Nilsen had come from a meeting of the elders. He himself was one of their number, not by reason of his years, but because of his faith, his uprightness, and his experience, conjoined with true wisdom.

A letter had reached him from his native place, complaining that a certain lukewarmness was beginning to manifest itself among the Brethren thereabouts.

It begged imploringly that some man or woman might be sent, who would be able to rekindle the dying flame before it was utterly quenched.

They would prefer Hans Nilsen, but, at the same time, would be grateful for any one whom the elders might send to them.

When this letter was read out, the oldest man among them, a veteran who had known and laboured with Hauge, said: “Now, my dear Hans Nilsen, what is your opinion? Does the spirit call upon you to respond to the appeal of our brethren, or do you know of any other person more fitted for the work?”

“I think that Hans Nilsen seems very well content to be where he is,” said Sivert Jespersen, without raising his eyes from the pages of the sermon-book which he was turning over.

Nothing more was spoken; but they were so well acquainted with one another, understood so well the least hint or the slightest inflection of voice, that the pause which followed was as suggestive and as interesting to them as a discussion.

At last Fennefos stood up, and said: “I will search myself, and pray for guidance; to-morrow, or perhaps this evening at the meeting, I may, God willing, give you my answer.”

He sat down, purposing in all sincerity to examine himself, and to seek guidance.

He had already observed here and there something of the disapprobation which had manifested itself in Sivert Jespersen’s remark. The majority, no doubt, would gladly retain him; but there were some to whom his presence was oppressive.

From such quarters came whispers that Madame Torvestad’s house might be dangerous to a lay-preacher, and might tempt him to weakness.

As soon as Hans Nilsen observed this, he had at once thought of Sarah. He had searched his own heart with the utmost rigour, but he could not be certain that the pleasure he experienced in her company was not the beginning of a sinful affection, or, if not so, whether it were what it ought to be, a heartfelt friendship and a true feeling of devotion for a woman who was purer and better than all others.

In the mean time, he was unable to arrive at any decision, and he began to be pained and disturbed in mind. At last, one day, he went straight to Madame Torvestad, asking if she would advise him to marry, and, if so, whether she could recommend any Christian-minded woman as his helpmate.

Madame Torvestad was not taken by surprise; it was a common custom among the Haugians, and especially the Herrnhutters, to follow the guidance of the elders in such matters. Malicious persons in the town even declared that the lamented Torvestad had got his wife in a lottery at Christiansfeldt.

It seemed so natural for Madame Torvestad to think of her own daughters, and first and foremost of Sarah, that Hans Nilsen’s question seemed almost as good as a proposal for her.

She answered evasively; she did not believe that so well-known and so highly valued a preacher could be permitted to give up his journeyings throughout the country. He must be aware, she said, that when a man is married it is not easy for him to absent himself from home. Nor could she at that moment think of any woman who would suit him.

Hans Nilsen was surprised and disappointed. He could not see why Madame Torvestad should not give her daughter to him, and it never occurred to him that she might harbour other designs. He did not for a moment think of opposing or attempting to overcome her determination; on the contrary, he strove to convince himself that she was in the right, and with some effort he succeeded.

A week had passed since the conversation with Madame Torvestad, and during this time Hans Nilsen had examined himself closely. He came to the conclusion that it he had been drawn to Sarah by any earthly feeling, the disappointment must needs have caused him grievous pain.

That he did not feel some grievous pain, he was not prepared to say. He would have been exceedingly happy if all had gone as he wished; but now that he was near Sarah, and felt no unusual desire either to approach her or to fly from temptation, he was satisfied that his thoughts were pure, and he began to feel more at peace with himself, although somewhat depressed.

But that letter which had arrived to-day, and the evident suspicion which had lurked behind Sivert Jespersen’s words, and his own feelings when he listened to Sarah’s singing! All his doubts broke out afresh, and as he sat on his small hard sofa, when the evening shades began to fall, tumultuous feelings arose, and thoughts hitherto strange to him arose in his mind, accusing and answering each other.

Why did he not depart and obey the call, journeying from cottage to cottage throughout the dark winter? Why did he not hasten to the poor anxious souls scattered about the country, struggling in their loneliness with doubts and temptations? Why did he not long, as formerly, to combat with the powers of hell?

Was it not, after all, as Sivert Jespersen had said? Was he not living too much at ease where he was; and was it not Sarah—Sarah alone that made him so contented and so happy in everything around him?

He felt that one of the evil moods which sometimes visited him, especially when he was younger, was near. He wrung his, hands, and prayed that the spirit might guide him, and that all might be made clear to him. He writhed as if in pain, and his breathing became short and laboured.

Thoughts, evil thoughts, which were not his own, stormed around him, and instead of earnest self-examination, he was only able to recall the doubts and scoffings which he had encountered. Confused phantasms crowded his brain; and when he strove to come to a decision, to find solid ground somewhere, everything vanished, he lay powerless, bound hand and foot, and Satan’s self appeared deriding him.

Then, crying aloud: “Get thee behind me, Satan!” he threw himself, crushed and exhausted, upon the sofa, burying his face in his hands.

But as he closed his eyes, small rays of light blazed under his eyelids, glimmered, vanished, and then returned, until it seemed to him that suddenly—in the darkness—he could read in his closed eyes the word “Go.”He sprang up, and looking around in the dimly lighted room, repeated “Go! go!” His brain became clearer, his peace of mind returned, his prayer had been heard. The spirit had guided him, and had dispelled the darkness. He knelt down and gave thanks.

He threw off his coat and waistcoat, opened the window, and let the rain fall on his face; he could now see his way clearly. Here he was in danger; he must go, and the sooner the better. Now once more, God be thanked, he longed to struggle with the powers of hell.

He lighted his candle, and shaved himself with an unshaken hand. He was calm, a little exhausted, but wonderfully happy and contented. Afterwards he washed and dressed himself anew.

His forehead was not very high, but broad and open; his hair dark and wiry, for which reason he kept it cut short. His nose was large and aquiline, his mouth from his lips thin, and his chin well formed and powerful.

As his lips were beardless, his teeth were plainly visible, close-set, well-formed peasant teeth; and there were many persons who liked to fix their eyes on his mouth when he spoke or sang at the meetings. It was a mouth red and white, fresh and clear, which never touched tobacco or spirits.

Cleanliness was especially the characteristic of the man, not only in his clothes and linen, but in his face, with its regular features and closely shaved chin. From his eyes, which were grey and bright, a pure, earnest light shone, and there were those who did not care to face them.

He had nothing of that inquisitive, offensive gaze with which many of the Brethren seemed to bore into a sinner, as if they were piercing downwards into a deep abyss of secret vice and wickedness. The look of Hans Nilsen, on the contrary, gave the impression of expecting to meet with the same purity as that from whence it came.

Perhaps it was for this reason that so many looked to one side when they stood in front of him.

Nearly all the Haugians in the town were at the meeting, for it was a Saturday. There was a movement of satisfaction among them when Fennefos went to Endre Egeland, who stood by the little desk, about to read out a sermon, and asked permission to say a word.

All roused themselves, in order to enjoy the words of the popular preacher; it was long since they had heard him, for of late he had not been much inclined to speak in public.

But their joy was not unmixed when Hans Nilsen began: “Beloved brothers and sisters, I stand here in order to bid you farewell.”

Still they were pleased to hear him, the elders nodding their heads approvingly, and smiling at one another.

It was the old sound, the well-known weighty words as of Hauge’s own time, before much and many things had weakened and corrupted the pure wine.

Hans Nilsen differed in manner from those who generally conducted the meetings. His voice was not forced, nor his head bowed down, and a smile never rested on his features. Tall and grand, he stood among them with few and simple gestures; and as he turned his head, the light of his clear, grey eyes lit up the distant corners of the room.

First, he exhorted them earnestly, and as one in authority; then he thanked them warmly for their kind and faithful brotherly feeling, turning himself as he said it, in such a way that all noticed it, towards Sivert Jespersen; and, again, he especially thanked those who had held out a helping hand when he was almost stumbling and going astray.

Lastly, he offered up a prayer, which was long remembered among them. It was one of those moments when his words were winged, and his whole being glowed with love and fire.

They afterwards flocked round him, in order to press his hand, or to get just one word from him; for no one knew how long he would be absent. When a lay-preacher so valued as Fennefos began such a journey, he might be led from district to district round the whole country; for all were desirous to hear him, and there would be many who would urge him to come to them, when it was known that he was on his travels.

There was, therefore, sorrow and tears among them; for Fennefos was, in truth, one of the strongest supports of the community. With respect to many others, Endre Egeland or Sivert Jespersen, for example, there was some drawback; at least, people had always something to say against them, and they were environed by slander and ridicule.

But on Hans Nilsen, not the smallest stain had ever appeared. The new clergyman in the town, who seemed to have some sympathy with the Haugians, spoke of him with the utmost respect; and of this the Brethren were not a little proud, for it did not happen every day that a lay-preacher was praised by a regular pastor.

Hans Nilsen was to depart in two days, as soon as the elders had prepared his credentials, as well as the books and tracts which he was to distribute.

It was the end of October, and he proposed to journey along the coast, from farm to farm, as far as Christiansand, gathering the Brethren together as opportunity offered.

From Christiansand he intended to travel over Soetersdal, and at Christmas he expected to reach his native place.