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The Visionary: Pictures From Nordland By Jonas Lie Characters: 8580

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

It was summer. Susanna and I were now in our seventeenth year, and it was settled that we should be confirmed in the autumn.

It was this year that my father was involved in his unequal struggle with the authorities-among whom were the sheriff and the minister-as to whether our trading-place should be a permanent stopping-place for the Nordland steamer. This was a matter of vital importance to my father, and the dispute about it, which also interested the whole district, had already begun to be rather warm.

This was, in fact, not the least important object that the sheriff had in view when he came that summer on a visit to the minister, who was a very influential man.

Outwardly there was as yet no rupture between my father and the minister, and it must have been for the purpose of manifesting this publicly that during the sheriff's visit my father was invited over to the minister's two or three times.

It was thus that my father and I were one day asked to go on a sailing-trip out to the V?tte Rocks, which lay half a mile away. We were first to fish, and then to eat milk-rings [The thick sour cream off the pans in which milk has been set up.] on land at Gunnar's Place, a house rented from the parsonage.

There was always a certain solemnity about the occasion when the minister's white house-boat with four men at the oars glided out of the bay, and a considerable number of spectators generally stood on shore to watch it. That day, father, too, stood out on the steps, with a telescope. He had excused himself from going, but with good tact had let me go.

In the cabin, which was open on account of the heat, sat the minister's wife and the sheriff's two ladies, and outside, one on each side, the minister and the sheriff, smoking their silver-mounted meerschaum pipes, and chatting comfortably: they were college-friends. Susanna and I, together with the housemaid from Trondhjem, who was adorned for the occasion, had a place in the roomy bow. The minister's wife wanted to keep that part of the boat in which she had an immense provision basket-a regular portable larder-under her own eye. The big basket and the little lady entirely occupied one bench, while the two other ladies, with their starched dresses, quite filled up the rest of the narrow cabin.

There was not a breath stirring, and the West Fjord heaved in long, smooth swells. The fjord lay like a giant at rest, sunning itself. The wonderfully clear air allowed the eye to see over the mountain ranges, almost into eternity, while an a?rial reflection-an inverted mountain, with a house under it and a couple of spouting whales-built up a fairytale for us over the blue stretch of sea. Now and then we met a sea-fowl, floating on the smooth water; and in our wake gambolled a porpoise or two.

A little before midday we got in among the V?tte Rocks, and set about fishing; for first, without considering the provision basket, we had to procure our own dinner.

On the outer side of the rocks the surf broke noisily in the still day, and sent up great white jets, or retreated with a long sucking sound, as if the ocean drew deep, regular, breaths. Restless as Susanna was, she bent over the gunwale, until her hair almost dipped in her own image in the water, to look through the transparent sea at the fish, which, at a depth of fifteen or twenty fathoms, glided in and out among the seaweed over the greenish-white bottom, and crowded round the lines with which the grown-up people with their double tackle often drew up two fish at once. In her eagerness she called me stone-blind, whenever I could not see just the fish she meant. And short-sighted I was, too, but Susanna's slightest movement interested me more than any fish.

The scene was indeed enchanting. The white boat rocked over its image, as if it hung in space. Gunnar's Place, too, lay reflected in the water, with field-patches below it, and birch-clad slopes above and around it. The air, which had, later in the day, become misty with the heat, was filled with the strong scent of foliage, such as is only known in the south when it has been raining.

In less than an hour the pail was full of fish, enough for a "boiling," and we landed.

The minister's wife meantime had a table brought out on to the

grass in front of the house, and on the fine damask cloth she had placed several milk-rings. She had also made romme gr?d [Thick cream, either sweet or sour, boiled.] and, as far as space would permit, had loaded the table with courses from the provision basket.

But at last the wine and good things began to confuse the sheriff's brain a little. To the intense horror of the minister's wife, he related how her husband, grey-haired and strict as he now was, had been an unusually gay fellow in his youth, and how they had played many a mad prank together.

When the sheriff found that he had made a mistake, he tried to mend matters by a serious toast, in which he expressed a hope that, for the sake of the district, the minister would be able to defeat all the machinations of his intriguing neighbour-here he was stopped in his speech by a meaning look from the minister over at me, as I sat at the end of the table-and ended with some wandering remarks, which were meant to turn off the whole thing.

I turned cold, and the perspiration stood on my forehead, and I must have been as white as a sheet. For my father's sake, I thought I must keep up appearances, but the food stuck in my throat, and I could not swallow another mouthful. I looked across at Susanna; she was crimson.

There was a short silence, during which every one ruminated over what had passed, until the summer day's drowsiness became too overpowering, and the minister and the sheriff, who were both accustomed to take an after-dinner nap, proposed that every one should seek a shady place and rest for an hour.

After what had passed at table I felt utterly miserable. They had allowed so offensive an opinion about my father to escape, that it was torture to me to remain any longer in their company.

A little beyond the house, the hill sloped down into a narrow valley, with birches and willows on the ridge on both sides, and among them there flowed over the flint stones a clear, twinkling little brook, in which glided a trout or two. While the others slept, I went up along the bank, and lay down to brood in solitude over my sorrow.

I do not know how long I had lain thus; but when I looked up, Susanna sat there in great agitation. She thought they had behaved badly towards me, she said, and then, as though she could not bear to see me distressed, she silently stroked the hair back from my forehead again and again.

There was a warmth in the little hand and an eloquence in her face as she struggled to keep back her tears, that my heart, so hungering after affection, could not withstand.

I do not know how it came about, but I only remember that I stood and pressed her passionately to my heart, with my cheek against hers, and begged her to love me, only a little, and I would love her without measure the whole of my life. I remember, too, that she answered "Yes," and that we both cried.

A little while after we stood hand in hand, smiling and looking at one another. A new thought had simultaneously come to us both-that now we were engaged. Susanna was the first to give it expression, and said, as she looked at me out of the depths of her faithful blue eyes, that from this time I must always remember that she was fond of me, however unkind the others were.

We heard them calling us, and-what we had never thought of doing before-Susanna hurried on by herself a little way, so that we each came back to the others alone.

* * *

It was far on into the morning of the next day, when Anne Kv?n roused me with a shake, as she had been accustomed to do since I was a child, and told me that my father had started that morning for Troms?. He had been up to my room before he went, and when he came down again said that I lay smiling in my sleep, and "looked so happy, poor boy"!

It was very seldom that any sympathetic words came from my father, so these are imprinted on my memory.

My father himself at that time was anything but cheerful. The steamboat dispute lay heavy on his heart, and he now wanted to try, as a last resort, to have the matter thoroughly aired in the newspapers, and it was about this that he now wanted to apply personally to a solicitor at Troms?.

These circumstances, however, did not come to my knowledge at that time.

* * *

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