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

Chapter XII

EVERY night when she retired to rest, Henrietta repeated the promise she had given to Lauritz when he left.

“I promise and swear to love you faithfully in life or death, and never to marry any other.”

But every morning when she rose, she sighed and wept; for the way seemed dark before her, and she dreaded each day as it came.

On her twentieth birthday, her mother told her plainly that she must soon marry. Lauritz was away on a long voyage, he would be absent for two years, and even if he came back, she knew only too well that her mother would never consent to their union. Henrietta fluctuated between the downright promise and black hopelessness; at one moment much cast down, at another, cheering herself with the thought of her brave Lauritz, of how much he loved her, and how absolutely he confided in her.

Her figure was not so full as her sister’s, but was rather slight and thin. Her bright vivacious countenance looked as if she was always on the alert.

She confided in Sarah, who spoke to her, and urged her to obedience.

But Henrietta was too sharp-sighted not to have observed how it fared with Sarah in her married life, and, moreover, there was not any especial force in Sarah’s exhortation when she counselled obedience.

For some time after Sivert Jespersen’s party, Hans Nilsen was not to be seen; he did not appear at meal times, and he never spent the night in the house.

Madame Torvestad should not have thought much of this as it had occurred before. Fennefos had many friends in the neighbourhood, whom he occasionally visited. What really troubled her was, that the old dyer had been several times to inquire after Hans Nilsen, and was unwilling to tell her the reason.

Madame Torvestad had now almost got over her disappointment about Sarah. When she found that her daughter had got the better of her, she was wise enough to be contented with the lustre reflected upon her by the good and prosperous marriage.

Although Henrietta by no means filled Sarah’s place at the Bible desk, madame’s small meetings continued to be attended, and she retained the esteem of the elders.

But latterly a change was going on which alarmed her. She became aware that what she had read at the dinner about Francke’s journey to heaven, had produced a very doubtful impression.

Moreover, she discovered that the elders had met in council about Fennefos, without asking her to be present. The old dyer was evidently the bearer of a secret message to him.

Madame Torvestad considered the matter carefully, and made up her mind. When Hans Nilsen at last appeared, after a five days’ absence, she met him on the steps, and led him into her room.

“When you were last in town, Hans Nilsen,” she began, without any preface, “you asked me if I thought you ought to marry. I did not think it expedient at that time, but I now think differently.”

He moved in his chair, and she now observed for the first time that there was something strange in his aspect.

He sat in a stooping position, half turned away from the light. The clear grey eyes, which generally looked so frankly on those with whom he talked, were cast down, and when he lifted them they were slowly turned to one side. Moreover, he was pale, but blushed at times, passing his hand over his face as if he would conceal it.

Her surprise was such that she forgot to proceed, and merely repeated; “I am now of opinion that the time has come.”

Fennefos, on his part, thought she knew all as well as he did, and that every one would detect his misconduct by his outward appearance. And now, when she Persisted in repeating that it was time for him to marry, he felt so overwhelmed with shame, that he hardly knew which way to look.

Madame Torvestad did not comprehend what she saw, but she discovered that by some means or other Fennefos had received a shock; perhaps it might make him the more easy to manage.

“You also asked me at that time, Hans Nilsen, if I knew of any Christian young woman who would suit you. I believe that I have now found one—my daughter.”

He looked so wildly at her for a moment, that she was almost frightened. “Are you unwell, Hans Nilsen?” she said.

“No; I am only weary.”

Madame Torvestad’s suspicions were now aroused. “If it be that you have suffered worldly love to deceive your heart, pray to God, Hans Nilsen, to protect you, and to aid you in the strife with Satan. You should be able to withstand him, and to avoid such vile snares. Henrietta is indeed young, but with you I am satisfied that she would be in safe hands, and I hope and believe that she would be a blessing to you.”

Fennefos had so far recovered himself that he was able to thank her. “In truth,” said he, “he had not been thinking of marrying now. It was a serious matter.”

“It is not good to be alone, least of all for men;” said Madame Torvestad, with emphasis. “You know that well enough, Hans Nilsen; and you remember what Paul says.”

“Yes, yes,” he said, interrupting her hastily. “If you think I ought to marry, I will pray that it may be for the best.”

“I will speak to Henrietta,” said Madame Torvestad.

“Thanks; but I would rather—”

“Well, then—I have confidence in you. She is yonder in the workroom.”

“Now, at once? I thought that perhaps—”

“There is no reason for delay,” said Madame Torvestad, as she opened the door, and, calling out the servant girl, led Fennefos in.

He suffered her to lead him as if he were a dog. “There could be no doubt,” he thought, “that Madame Torvestad knew all”; and this feeling of shame, combined with his weariness, left him helpless in her hands. For four days he had wandered along the coast quite alone, shunning acquaintances, and living entirely with strangers. All this time, in fear and sorrow, he had striven to repent; but he returned uncomforted, unsettled, with a vague intention of packing up and going far away.

When he found himself face to face with Henrietta, who looked uneasily at him, he knew not what to say. But she, who of late had got sufficient intimation of what was intended, took courage and said, in a low voice; “Hans, I am betrothed. I have given my promise to Lauritz Seehus, for life or death,” she added, fixing her eyes on him.

Hans Nilsen looked at the girl who so openly confessed her love, for life or death; in her innocence so greatly his superior.

“Listen, dear Hans,” said Henrietta, laying her hand confidentially on his shoulder. “You have always been kind to me, and you are so good yourself. You will not take me in this way, I am sure; but you will protect me from my mother?”

“I certainly would not wish to make you unhappy, Henrietta; but you ought not to oppose your mother.”

“But I will not, I cannot, marry any one but him whom I love.”

“Listen, child,” he now said quietly, looking sadly at her. It was not the first time that heart-stricken women had sought counsel of Hans Nilsen, and this day he was more than ever in a mood to sympathize with such. There is no suffering more bitter than that of our wounded affections in our youth, but there is strength and healing given to those who seek peace, if they bear their lot in obedience to the will of God, and to those who are placed over them. “You say you cannot marry one whom you do not love; but consider how often the heart deceives itself in youth and—”

“Yes; just look at Sarah, for example,” said Henrietta, interrupting him. “Of what avail are all her riches and piety? I know that she is the most miserable woman on earth.”

Hans Nilsen turned away; he was again completely disarmed.

Henrietta moved towards the window, and, gazing up at the sky, which was visible over the yard, struck one hand resolutely upon the other, and said, half aloud: “Besides, I have sworn it.”

Hans Nilsen went back to Madame Torvestad, and merely said that he and Henrietta could not come to any agreement.

She wished to learn more from him; but he could bear it no longer, and left the room without answering her.

Upstairs, however, he did not find the rest he so much needed, for in his room the old dyer sat waiting for him.

“I have been anxious to see you, Hans Nilsen, and have sought you many times. There is a great desire among us to speak with you, and to meet you in confidential intercourse, but at present it seems to us that you are entirely taken up in this house with the conversation and society of the women.”

Fennefos was so tired, that he was half asleep as he listened to the old man. He comprehended that they wished him to leave Madame Torvestad’s, and this he himself was anxious to do.

“There are a number of people up at our farm,” continued the dyer, “and more will soon come when the harvest begins. Many of us think it would be well if we could find a reliable man who could work and who could preach during the hours of rest. Sivert Jespersen and the others have much to occupy them in the town, and so we thought we would ask Hans Nilsen to move up there.”

“Willingly will I do it, if it be thought desirable.”

“We were thinking that perhaps you could go to-morrow.” Fennefos was rather taken by surprise, but, for the sake of peace, consented, and as soon as the dyer left, threw himself on the bed, and fell asleep.

Madame Torvestad stood for a moment, thoughtful as usual, when Hans Nilsen had departed; then, opening the door of the workroom, she said with a certain air of solemnity; “Henrietta, go to bed.”

“Yes, mother,” said Henrietta, who after the conversation with Fennefos, had fallen into the deepest despondency.

Trembling, she approached her mother to say “Good night,” although the sun was still high in the heavens.

“I will not say ‘Good night’ to you, and you shall have no supper, either,” said her mother, shutting the door.

This was the mode of applying correction in Gnadau, and Madame Torvestad remembered well how it would bend even the most refractory.

When Jacob Worse woke in the morning after the memorable birthday at Randulf’s, he felt extremely unwell. His head was heavy and beating violently, and he felt the pain in his stomach.

His wife had long been up; and when Worse was really awakened, it was by two of the warehouse people, who came in and began to remove her bed.

“What are you about?” he inquired, petulantly.

“We are taking madame’s bed into the other room.”


“Hush, hush!” said the old foreman. “The captain must not excite himself. You are ill, captain, and I was to tell you from madame that you must not talk.”

Worse muttered something, and with sleepy eyes watched the departure of the bed.

When his wife soon afterwards entered the room, he said: “I shall be all right to-morrow, Sarah; it is only the first day that is so confoundedly bad. Bah! I will never touch toddy again. It’s beastly, that’s what it is.”

“You are more ill than you suppose, both in body and soul, and I think you should seek healing for both, especially for your soul, before it be too late.”

“Yes, dear, you know I will; but you must help me. Come sit by me, and read to me a little.”

“Not to-day,” she answered.

He lay in bed all that day, suffering much. The next day his head, at least, was clear, but the pains in his stomach troubled him, and he found it best to remain lying down.

From time to time Sarah visited his room, and he begged her piteously to come and sit by him; for when he was alone, he was troubled by many evil and dismal thoughts.

She seated herself by the window, with some small books—like her mother, she had also taken to small books.

“I suppose you will repent, and seek forgiveness for your sins, Worse; or will you persist in putting it off?”

“No, no, dear. You know how gladly I would repent. But you must help me, Sarah; for I know not what to do.”

“Well, I will begin by reading to you from an excellent book on nine important points, which should arouse us to a feeling of our sinfulness, and lead us to repentance and amendment. Listen to me, not only with your ears, but with your stubborn heart, and may a blessing accompany the words.”

Upon this she read slowly and impressively: “‘The mercy of God first leads us to repentance; as the Apostle says (Rom. ii. 4), “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.”

“‘Secondly, the Word of God clearly points to contrition. As the prophets of old were sent, even so preachers and other means of grace are now sent to us, daily sounding forth His Word as with a trumpet, and arousing us to repentance.

“‘We should take heed to the judgments which, ever since the beginning of the world, have fallen upon hardened sinners; for example, floods, tempests, thunder and lightning in the heavens above, and destructive earthquakes from underneath our feet.’”

“Lisbon,” muttered Worse. He had a picture of the great earthquake over the sofa in the sitting-room.

“‘The fourth is the vast multitude of our sins which we committed when we lived in wantonness, drink, gluttony, and godlessness.

“‘The fifth is the shortness of life, calling us to repentance; for our life passes quickly away, and we spend our years as a tale that is told.

“‘The sixth is the small number of the saved; for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, and few there be that enter therein.

“‘For the seventh, death threatens us, and is a terror to the flesh. Its anticipation is bitter to all who are sunk in worldly pleasures.’”

Worse turned uneasily in his bed, as if he would interrupt her; but she continued—

“‘We should, therefore, think of the day of judgment, which “will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

“‘But the ninth and last is the pains of hell, which are insupportable.

“‘Scripture gives a terrible description of the state of the condemned in everlasting flames, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.’”

“Don’t you think you could find something else to read, Sarah?” said Worse, anxiously.

“‘The days of hell will never end,’” she continued.

“‘When as many years have passed and gone as there are beings in the world and stars in the firmament, when as many thousand years have passed as there are grains of sand in the bottom of the sea, there will yet be a million times as many more to come.

“‘Those who do not take this to heart will hereafter suffer for it. All drunkards and scoffers, as well as those who make their belly their god, those who are slaves to their passions, and all unbelievers, will then be revealed before the judgment-throne.

“‘The devil will stand on one side to accuse them, and their own consciences on the other to condemn them, and down below the gates of hell will stand open to swallow them.’”

“Sarah, Sarah! read no more!” cried Worse.

But she continued to read, and the words cut like a knife, The wrath of God, the flames of hell, and the never-ending sufferings of the damned were depicted in clear and terrible language.

“Sarah! for God’s sake, stop!” shrieked Worse, sitting upright. The perspiration flowed down his cheeks, and he trembled so that the bed shook.

She fixed a stern eye upon him, and said, “I wonder if you have yet placed yourself in the hands of the living God?”

“Sarah, Sarah! What shall I do?”

“Pray,” she answered, and left the room.

He lay and writhed with pain and fear, and when he heard her in the next room, called to her, begging her to have pity on him.

At last she came in again.

“Sarah, why are you so harsh with me? You were never so before.”

“I never before dealt with you in the right way.”

“Do you suppose that this is the right way?”

“I hope so.”

“Well, you know best; but you must help me, Sarah. Do not leave me now!” And he clutched her hand with the grasp of a drowning man.

Some days after he was allowed to get up, and he followed her about the house; for he was uneasy when she left the room.

At times he sat in a corner with a good book in his hands not so much for the purpose of reading as for a protection against the assaults of Satan.

The fact was, that he now for the first time began to fancy that Satan was everywhere in pursuit of him.

When Sarah had succeeded in frightening him away from her, she became a little less severe, and it was only when he became troublesome that she talked or read in such a manner as almost to drive him out of his senses.

She herself went about in the deepest gloom all this time. She could neither pray nor sing, and at the meetings she heard, but gave no heed.

The one second she had been in Hans Nilsen’s arms had suddenly revealed to her the deceit which had been practiced upon her. Her youth, her warm, unbounded affection for this man, had been repressed and crushed by religious exhortations, hymns, texts, and formalities.

But after all, they were only words which she now cast aside with contempt. Faith and hope had left her; and as to love, she knew that she loved one man only, and loved him to desperation.

Whilst Fennefos was away, she was in a state of fever. When he returned, he left her mother’s house and moved up to the Haugian farm.

It was near the town, and Sarah, who rarely went beyond the neighbouring streets, now began to take long walks into the outskirts.

She would stand behind a boulder or a hedge, and would watch him while he laboured in the field. When she could not discover him, she would seat herself on a rock and gaze in all directions, or she would pick a flower and examine it, as if it were something new and rare. She watched him at the meetings; but he never spoke to her, nor did he ever turn his eyes in the direction where she was sitting.

No one observed anything peculiar about her; but as regarded Fennefos, the friends thought that a great change had come over him. The highly wrought austerity of manner with which he had begun had now left him; indeed, there was something almost humble in his demeanour.