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

Chapter XIII

THE FARM, which was owned in common by a number of the leading Haugians, was of a considerable size. In addition to the farm, they also carried on various industries.

Those, therefore, who had to superintend the business were fully occupied, and Fennefos undertook the duty with a zeal and vigour unusual even for him.

On the other hand, during the first weeks of his stay, he was unable to lead the devotions among the labourers, who, after the custom of the Haugians, assembled for meals and for family worship in a great room, where they all ate in common at a long table.

Hans Nilsen confined his energies to the manual work of the farm, and at the meetings he was silent and oppressed. But after a couple of months had passed in this way, he began to lift up his head again.

In the hard bodily labour, and in all the responsibility which rested upon him as superintendent, his strong, sound nature recovered its equilibrium.

Although he continually deplored his one moment of weakness, and although he condemned himself, he yet began to understand that such might happen even to the best; and as this occurrence had revealed to him his own frailty, and had sorely shaken his self-confidence, so it also brought with it doubts as to whether he was right in expecting so much from mortal man as had been his wont.

He bethought him of the poor anxious inquirers whom he had left up in the North, and it seemed to him a sin to impose such heavy burdens on them. Then he thought of the well-to-do, easy Haugians, and it seemed a sin to remain among them. Sometimes, again, in his hopelessness he thought that it was as bad for him to be in the one place as in the other, and he longed for something entirely different.

Having got thus far, it became necessary to consider his future life. Stay here, he could not. He was not uneasy on his own account, although after this he could not be sure of himself. For her sake, however, it was imperative that he should depart.

Separated they must be, that was clear; this he repeated to himself, but still he continued to stay on. Here there was work which would last over the harvest; and besides, whither in the world should he go?

When he left that place, there would be no spot in the wide world that could hold out any attraction to him, which could offer either home or friends. He would rather see no one, and live alone.

His heart was deeply wounded, and he often thought of Henrietta. He, too, was bound for life and death by an affection into which no evil thoughts should intrude. As for Sarah, he would pray for her.

In the meantime the elders regarded Hans Nilsen with concern. The address in Sivert Jespersen’s house had done much harm; an impression went abroad that the Haugians were divided among themselves, and that Fennefos had separated from them.

There was a want of confidence among the Brethren themselves; those who had not been present wished to know what he had said, while those who had, gave evasive answers. There was much inquisitiveness and a great desire both among friends and foes to learn if there was really anything against so respected and well-known a man as Hans Nilsen.

Besides, since the meeting a change had taken place in his appearance. Something must have happened. Everybody had his own opinion, and the elders met to consult.

“I think,” said Sivert Jespersen, looking round, “we are all agreed upon this, that there must be women at the bottom of the affair.”

“I have heard it mentioned,” said Endre Egeland, “that he has been very much in the company of Henrietta, Madame Torvestad’s daughter.”

“With Henrietta!” said Sivert Jespersen, in a somewhat incredulous tone.

The astonishment which this announcement produced led to a short pause.

“No, no,” said the old dyer at last; “it is impossible to believe such a scandal.”

“At any rate,” said Sivert Jespersen, mildly, “we ought to consider how best to help Brother Hans Nilsen in all difficulties and temptations. I have thought, if it seems good to you, that we might meet up at the farm on Saturday afternoon, and, after having examined the accounts, we might have a little conversation with him.”

“Let us be careful what we do,” said the old man; “we know nothing for certain.”

“No; I never meant that we should act indiscreetly—”

“I know that you are very prudent, Sivert Jespersen; but let us not forget that he is the most considerable man in our community, and that we must not lose him.”

The Saturday when they met at the farm, according to agreement, was the last day of September. They had, therefore, to go into all the accounts of the farm, the dye-house, and the mill.

The accounts were in good order, and everything had been well managed. They thanked Hans Nilsen with the utmost friendliness.

When the books were closed and arrangements had been made for the future, they seated themselves round the room. Fennefos, who sat in the middle by the table with the account-books, raised his head, and looked calmly from one to the other.

No one failed to remark that his old expression had returned; the downcast, unsettled look which at one time they had observed was entirely gone. Sunburnt and vigorous, as he stood there among the pale-faced townsmen, he seemed more than ever full of power.

The old dyer, therefore, made signs to Sivert Jespersen, and began to move, as if he would depart.

But Sivert Jespersen had made up his mind to fathom Hans Nilsen’s secret, or, at all events, to secure, for himself and the elders some hold upon the overbearing young man.

“We have been talking among ourselves,” he began. “We have been talking about you, dear Hans Nilsen; yes, we have, indeed. We are all of opinion that you made use of very strong expressions that day—you remember, no doubt—at my house.”

“I spoke with warmth, and if my words were too severe, I beg of you all to forgive me. I thought it necessary; but there was no want of charity in my heart.”

“There is not one of us who supposes that there was, Hans Nilsen,’ said the old dyer.

“No, that there was not,” continued Sivert Jespersen; “but what makes us anxious is the look of dejection which we have observed in you ever since. You are still young, Hans Nilsen, and we are old—at all events, we are all your seniors. We know full well to what temptations young blood is exposed, and if you have met with a downfall at the hands of Satan, we would willingly endeavour to raise you up again.”

Hans Nilsen Fennefos looked from one to the other with a piercing glance, and it seemed to them that it rested for a painfully long time upon Endre Egeland.

“I thank you all, but God has been merciful. I require no such aid as that which you offer.”

“How glad I am to hear it!” said Sivert Jespersen, with effusion. “But—do not be angry with me, dear friend—if we are outwardly preserved from falling, we should never forget what has been written about thoughts, words, and passions.”

“Will any of you, I wonder, cast the first stone?” said Hans Nilsen, looking calmly round.

No one responded, and Sivert Jespersen’s next neighbour touched him with his foot as a hint to stop. But it was too late. Fennefos had made up his mind, and, rising quickly, spoke thus—

“Dear brothers and friends, I did indeed use hard words the last time I addressed you. I came from scenes of poverty and found prosperity. I came from affliction, and found ease. I came from hunger and want, and I found myself at the rich man’s table.

“I therefore remembered the rule which Hauge had left for our guidance: “‘The elders must not connive at any depravity among themselves, but must duly rebuke it. Those who have acquired the respect of the believers, and would be exemplary Christians, must take heed lest they accustom themselves to flattery and luxury; they must even submit to sharp admonitions and to hard fare.’

“I spoke to you as my duty constrained me; but since that day the Lord’s hand has fallen heavily on me, and, in my grievous sinfulness, I thought I should never again dare to stand forth and speak a word of rebuke to any one.

“That was the time when you saw me wandering amongst you, bowed down and forsaken. But God be praised, who has lifted me up. I will dare to hope that He will not cast me entirely aside as an unworthy instrument; but, dear friends, among you I can no longer tarry.”

All looked uneasily at him.

“Surely you will not separate from the Brethren?” said the old man.

“No, that I will not do; but I must leave this place, both on account of my own infirmity, and because I fear that after this I cannot warn and admonish you with sufficient power; for, dear friends, I am of opinion that in many respects you go sadly astray.”

“Will you travel northward again?” inquired one. “Or, perchance, the Lord has turned your heart towards the poor heathen in Africa?” said another.

Hans Nilsen looked up at him, and said: “I am grateful to you for the suggestion. I will think over it, and will pray the Spirit to guide me aright.”

This seemed to bring relief to everybody. The mission was their own, originated and established by the Herrnhutters and Haugians. If Hans Nilsen entered upon the mission, he would remain with them, and they would not lose him. They now felt, for the first time, how great a support he was to their cause.

Sivert Jespersen began at once to exhort him to allow himself to be sent on a mission to the heathen lands lying in darkness.

Whether it was the expression, “allow himself to be sent,” or whether Hans Nilsen could not on this occasion tolerate Sivert, it is sufficient to say that he answered him rather sharply. “If I do go, there is but one who will send me forth—the Lord.”

“Take great heed to your missions, dear friends; you should remember how the unbelievers, and not less the clergy, derided you when you began them.

“Already the fire you kindled has spread over the land, and help and funds pour in abundantly. See how these same clergy hasten like ravens attracted by the scent of prey. They will not suffer laymen to keep such Christian work in their control, whilst there is life and vigour in it; but would subject it to the rule of the Church, as they call it; that is to say, they will spoil your work and introduce their pride, strife, and intolerance. So long as all goes well, they will thrust themselves forward, exclaiming ‘Behold us!’ but if anything should go amiss, they will draw back, protesting that it must always be so when the people act upon their own judgment.”

The old fire now came over him, and the elders looked round sadly one at another, grieving that they should lose such a brother. At last one said: “But where will you go, if you do not accept the mission at our hands?”

“I imagine,” said Hans Nilsen, “that I shall have little difficulty in finding heathens everywhere. But let us now separate for the present, and may the God who enlightened our forefathers be with us all, so that we may do His will.”

Upon this he gave his hand to them all, one by one, and took his departure.

It was a still, oppressive autumn afternoon, and the little gathering broke up, the Brethren strolling across the fields towards the town.

The Haugian farm, as it was called, looked well in the evening light, with its solid, well-kept buildings.

The soil was poor, but well cultivated; and small groups of trees stood here and there, by the well-ordered stone fences.

When the little company of elders reached the gateway in the road leading to the town, the old dyer stopped, and burst into tears; the others gathered round him.

“Here stood I,” said he, “in the spring of 1804, with my father and Hans Nilsen Hauge; at that time, wherever you looked, it was all heather and broken ground.

“My father and Hauge had been talking of purchasing the moorland here, as was soon done. Hauge had given his advice and instructions as to the improvements and the work he considered necessary, very much those that have since been carried out.

“When we were about to return home, my father said: ‘Yes, if God will but give His blessing to it.’ I suppose he thought most of the things of this world, did father.

“It was a hazardous undertaking, and the Haugians had but little capital at that time.

“Hauge smiled, and said, cheerfully: ‘I am not in the least anxious on that score, Ingebret, if you are alluding to worldly prosperity. I would rather pray that those who come after us may be protected against too great success and facility in the business of this world. You must bear in mind,’ said he, ‘you who are still young, that it requires a strong back to bear prosperity.’

“I can picture him now before me, standing just there. He was young himself in those days, and not so very much older than myself. Nevertheless, I was conscious that I stood in the exalted presence of one who was worthy of all honour, before whom I would fain bow myself.

“Something of the same feeling came over me to-day, when he spoke—young Hans Nilsen Fennefos. It is of no use denying it; it is he who is in the right, and it is we who are backsliders and lukewarm.”

The old man, shaking his head sadly, turned towards the town, the others accompanying him in silence.

Madame Torvestad aged very much under the vexations which now beset her. The Brethren had taken Hans Nilsen from her, and continued to act without consulting her. Moreover, the Gnadau system of treatment seemed to bear no fruit.

Henrietta, indeed, grew pale and thin, owing to much fasting and confinement; but, on the other hand, a defiant look appeared in her eyes.

One day her mother heard her singing a popular nautical ballad, on the devotion of a sailor’s bride to her betrothed. Upon this, Madame Torvestad’s patience broke down, and, losing her usual self-control, she went into the room, and gave Henrietta a box on each ear, saying: “I will soon teach you a very different song.”

Henrietta sat as if petrified. She had often seen her mother in a state of irritation, and had received many a sharp blow in her younger days, but she had never seen her like this before. She did not expect much forbearance, but it never occurred to her that things could come to such a terrible pass.

In the course of an hour, Henrietta was called down into the sitting-room, where she found Madame Endre Egeland. The stout sallow-complexioned dame kissed her, and it was now broken to her that she was betrothed to Erik Pontoppidan Egeland, the most objectionable person under the sun.

When Sarah heard of this engagement, she went across to her mother. They shut themselves up in the parlour, but the interview was of brief duration. Madame Torvestad soon got the better of her daughter, and when it came to the point, and Sarah found herself seated opposite to her mother in the old room, she could not muster courage enough for a decisive attack.

Besides, what could she say? Could she divulge her own shame and sorrow?

Sarah went upstairs to Henrietta, who made no answer to what she said, except, “I will not, I will not. I have sworn it.” She was ill and feverish.

Sarah undressed her and put her to bed, but her mother wished to nurse her herself, and Sarah was obliged to leave, even more depressed and unhappy than before.

As the weeks passed on, her heart became more and more hardened.

Fennefos recovered his clear, pure looks, and, when in her company, seemed to ignore her presence.

One day it was rumoured that he was about to become a missionary. Sarah heard of it, and she grew more and more gloomy. She hated her mother, and detested her husband, comporting herself, however, with such calmness that no one could have imagined what thoughts were surging through her brain.

Jacob Worse had now entered upon an earnest struggle with the devil. By degrees it became evident to him that the evil one was always at work, both inside and outside his innermost heart.

They strove together, the devil and Worse, from morning until evening, and at night when he dreamt. Generally the captain got the worst of it.

When he became aware of his snares in time, he occasionally outwitted the crafty fiend. Thus it occurred one day, when he was with Skipper Randulf, who had induced him to take a turn through the town, talking and leading him farther and farther towards the wharves, that he suddenly discovered his danger. He heard a couple of boys who passed him say that a ship was about to be launched, and it was easy to perceive in this a stratagem of the evil one. It was an old trick of the devil to lead his thoughts to the sins of his early life, by means of things pertaining to ships and the sea.

He had, therefore, long since laid aside the half-finished model of the Hope up in the garret; and when he saw that the devil tempted him through Thomas Randulf, he turned round suddenly, and hastened home to Sarah. Randulf grieved over his friend, and, in the evening at the club, said “It is all up with Jacob Worse; take my word for it, he is not long for this world. I saw it to-day.”

“I don’t think so,” said another; “he looks a little pale and poorly, but—”

“Yes, I tell you I saw it to-day, by his trousers.”

“What rubbish you talk, Randulf!” said the chief pilot, who was seated at the card-table.

“Rubbish!” said Randulf, pugnaciously. “Your word is better than mine, is it? I tell you that when a man is doomed, his trousers hang loosely about him.”

They all laughed, and some one suggested that when people are ill they grow thin.

“No, no,” cried Randulf, with much warmth; “what I allude to has its own peculiar appearance. The trousers look so heavy, so empty, and so long, that they seem as if they would slip down, and three heavy folds rest upon the feet.

When I see this, I know that a man has not long to live.

You may take this as a fact.”

When the bad weather began in October, Jacob Worse went out but seldom; he had grown chilly, and kept much to his room.

He read the small books as much as he could, but they did not avail to bring him that spiritual comfort for which he strove so hard.

At the meeting it was strange to see, amidst the peaceful, benignant faces, this woe-begone old man, with his thick white hair and his deeply furrowed placid cheeks, looking wistfully from one to the other, and listening anxiously, hoping some day to hear the words which should bring peace to his soul.

But from old times the devil had too secure a hold upon him, placing oaths upon his tongue and evil thoughts in his heart.

At the meeting, when Sivert Jespersen was reading out a sermon, the devil would lug in those two hundred barrels of salt, or so distorted his vision that Endre Egeland would seem to be staring at the girls with his small green eyes.

At night, when the wind howled around his house, it seemed to him that the devil would take him out on the sea on board the Hope; and he experienced a pleasure in lying and thinking how well he used to sail the good ship, and how grand she looked in a heavy sea.

Sometimes Satan tempted him to pride when Garman and Worse did a good stroke of business, or to wrath and indignation when Romarino came and asked for money or endorsements.

The devil even made use of Thomas Randulf to corrupt him. One day, when Worse met him in the market-place, opposite his street door, he hurried back into his house; for it seemed to him as if Randulf had long, crooked claws.

It was best to be at home, especially if Sarah was there. There, if he was very vigilant, he was able to keep the devil at arms’ length.

All this time, however, his malady was gaining ground; he slept badly, and his appetite failed him. The only thing he relished was pea-soup and salt pork, such as he had been accustomed to at sea, and he brightened up every morning when he smelt the peas in the kitchen.

One day, however, it occurred to him that this, too, might be one of the temptations of the evil one, leading his thoughts away from the one thing needful, and back to the sinful recollections of his past life.

The next time the pea-soup was placed on the table, he could scarcely touch it.

The devil was in the peas, too.