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   Chapter 2 ON THE SHORE

The Visionary: Pictures From Nordland By Jonas Lie Characters: 10422

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The shore is an even more attractive playground for children in Nordland than here in the south of Norway. At low-tide there is a much longer stretch of beach than here.

The sandy bottom lies bare, with pools in it here and there, in which small fish swim, while down by the sea there sits a solitary gull on a stone, or a sea-fowl walks by the water's edge. The fine, wave-marked sand is full of heaps, covered with lines, left by the large, much sought after bait-worms, that burrow down into the earth. Hidden among the stones, or in the masses of sea-weed, lie the quick, transparent, shrimp-like sand-hoppers, which dart through the shallow water when they are pursued. They are used by small boys as bait, upon a bent pin, to catch young coal-fish.

Upon the high grassy hill above the beach, among some large stones, we three children built our own warehouse of flat stone slabs, with store-house, boat-house and quay below.

In the boat-house we had all kinds of boats, small and great, from the four-oared punt up to the ten-oared galley, some of wood and bark, others of the boat-shaped, blue mussel shells. Our greatest pride, the large yacht-a great, mended trough, with one mast and a deck, that was constantly being fitted out for the Bergen market-was still not the best; and I can remember how I many a time sat in church and made believe that we owned the splendid, full-rigged ship, with cannon, that hung under the chancel arch, [A ship, symbolical of the church, often hangs in Norwegian churches.] and how, while the minister was preaching, I pictured to myself all kinds of sailing-tours, which Carl and Susanna, but especially Susanna, should look on at in wonder. That ship was the only thing that was wanting to my happiness.

In the bay, by father's quay, there was a deep, shelving bank, where, at the end of the summer, came shoals of young cod-fish and other small fry; and there we boys carried on our fishing, each with his linen thread and bent pin. We cut the fish open, and hung them over the drying poles standing in the field over by our own warehouse for the preparation of dried fish, and we let the liver stand in small tubs to rot until it became train-oil. Both products were then duly put away in our store-house, ready "to go to Bergen" later on, in the yacht; and Heaven knows we worked and slaved as eagerly and earnestly at our work as the grown-up people did at theirs, yet the only real return we had for it was the sunshine we got over our sunburnt, happy faces.

Carl was a slenderly-built boy, who generally followed his more energetic sister in everything. Both children had thick yellow hair; Susanna's curled in ringlets that seemed to twinkle round her head every time she moved-which, as already said, she constantly did with a toss of her head, to keep her hair off her forehead. Both had alike a fair, brilliant complexion, and beautiful blue eyes. I do not know whether Susanna at that time was tall or short for her age-I only know I thought her at least of the same height as myself, though she must really have been half a head shorter; the difference was probably made up by my admiration.

I remember her, as she went to church on Sundays with her mother, a little, pale, soberly-clad, busy woman, who was always, except on Sunday mornings, knitting a long, dreary stocking. Susanna walked along the sand-strewn path to church in a white or blue dress, with a dark shepherdess hat on her head, a little white pocket-handkerchief folded behind a very large old hymn-book, and white stockings, and shoes with a band crossed over the instep. I did not think there could be a prettier costume in the world than Susanna's Sunday dress.

In church the minister's family sat in the first pew, right under the pulpit, and we-my father and I-a few pews behind; and we children exchanged many a Freemason's sign, intelligible only to ourselves.

But once Susanna wounded me deeply, even to bitter tears. It became evident to me that she had made my father the subject of one of her lively remarks. With his good strong voice, he used to sing the hymns in the simple country fashion, very loud; but-what I and many others considered very effective-at the end of each verse he added a peculiar turn to the last note, which did not belong to the tune, and was of his own composition. This had been made a subject of remark at the parsonage, and, like a little pitcher, Susanna had ears. When she noticed that I had found this out, she looked very unhappy.

When Carl was thirteen, he was sent to the grammar-school in Bergen, and the "expensive" tutor went away by the last steamboat that same autumn.

From this time Susanna's education was carried on by her parents, and I was obliged to acquire my learning from the clerk, a good-natured old man, who himself knew very little more than how to play the violin, which he did with passion, and a sympathetic if uncultivated taste.

When the clerk had gained my father's permission for me to learn the violin-and I, like him, preferred this kind of entertainment to learning lessons-three whole years, in other words, the time until I was sixteen years of age, were divided between violin

-playing and idleness.

Perhaps if my mind, during this period of my life, had been properly kept under the daily discipline of work, much in me might have been developed differently. At it was, the whole of my imaginary life was unfortunately put into my own power, and I laid the foundation of fancies which afterwards gained the mastery over my life, to a ruinous extent. Some strongly impressionable natures require that the dividing line drawn in every one's consciousness between fancy and reality, shall be constantly and thoroughly maintained, lest it be obliterated at certain points, and the real and the imaginary become confused.

Although we no longer had the same abundant opportunities for meeting as before, Susanna and I were, notwithstanding, constant and confidential playmates throughout our childhood.

When she had anything to confide to me, she generally watched by the gate that crossed the road by the parsonage lands, at the time when I went to or came from the clerk's.

One day, as I came homewards along the road, with my books under my arm, she was sitting in her blue-checked frock and straw hat, on the steps by the side of the gate. She looked as if she were in a very bad temper, and I could see at once that I was in for something.

She did not answer my greeting; but when I attempted to slip through the gate a little more quickly than she liked, she asked me in an irritated tone if it were true, as they said, that I was so lazy that they could make nothing of me at home.

Susanna had often teased me; but what wounded me this time was that I saw that they had been making my father and me the subject of censorious remarks at the parsonage, and that Susanna had been a party to it. Had I known that she now sat there as my defeated advocate, I should certainly have done otherwise than I did, for with an offended look I passed on without bestowing a word upon her.

When I came home, I heard that the minister and my father had had a disagreement in the Court of Reconciliation. The minister, who was a commissioner of that court, had said that he thought my father went too quickly forward in a certain case, and my father had given him a hasty answer. It was on this occasion that judgment was passed upon us in the parsonage.

This state of affairs between our elders caused some shyness between us children, and I remember that at first I was even afraid to go by the parsonage, for fear of meeting the minister on the road.

Susanna, however, made several attempts at advances; but at the first glimpse of her blue-checked frock I always went a long way round, through the field above the road, or waited among the trees until she was gone.

For some time I saw nothing of her; but one day, as I was going through the gate, I saw written in pencil on the white board of the post that marked the rode [Rode-a length of road. The high-road is divided into rodes, and the division between these is marked by posts, on which stand the names of the houses, whose owners have to keep that portion of the road in repair.]: "You are angry with me, but S. is not at all angry with you."

I knew the large clumsy writing well, and I went back to the gate two or three times that day to read it over and over again. It was Susanna in a new character; I saw her in thought behind the letters as behind a balustrade. In the afternoon I wrote underneath: "Look on the back of the post!" and there I wrote: "D. is not angry with S. either."

The next day Susanna was standing by the fence in the garden when I passed, but pretended not to see me; she probably repented having been so ready to make advances.

Although outwardly their relations were polite in the extreme, in reality my father's intercourse with the minister was from this time broken off; they never, except on special occasions and in response to a solemn invitation, set foot within one another's door. This again gave a kind of clandestine character to the intercourse between me and Susanna. No command was laid upon us, yet we only met, as it were, by stealth.

We were both lonely children. Susanna sat at home, a prisoner to every-day tediousness, under her mother's watchful eye, and in my dreary home I always had a feeling of cold and fright, and as if all gladness were over with Susanna at the parsonage. It was therefore not surprising that we were always longing to be together.

As we grew older, opportunities were less frequent, but the longing only became the greater by being repressed, and the moments we could spend together gradually acquired, unknown to us, another than the old childish character. To talk to her had now become a solace to me, and many a day I haunted the parsonage lands, only to get a glimpse of her.

I was about sixteen, when one morning, as I passed the parsonage garden, she beckoned to me, and handed me a flower over the wall, and then she hastily ran in, right across the carrot beds, as if she were afraid some one would see.

It was the first time it had struck me how beautiful she was, and for many a day I thought of her as she stood there in the garden among the bushes with the morning sun shining down upon her.

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