« ForrigeFortsett »
'Is it you, Uwen ?' asked Walmot. •What have you come for?'
'I came to see if you needed any help. I thought, if you should be asleep
His features still betrayed his anxiety. A gleam of pleasure shone in Walmot's eyes as she replied :
"So you thought of us and not of- She hesitated a moment, as though other words had been upon her lips, and then she added—and not of yourself. And you have hastened to us at midnight through the flood in order to give us the alarm ?'
He answered :
*Your downs are lower than ours, and I was afraid I have never seen such a raging flood before.'
As he spoke, he felt it was very strange to be expressing a fear which had entirely left him. The unutterable anxiety which had driven him hither seemed now almost childish ; he had in a few minutes regained perfect composure. Walmot said :
We have hauled our boat up close to the house in case of a flood, but I think the downs will hold out. Roeluf, give him some other clothes, that he may have these dried.'
Roeluf Hemmen went aside with Uwen, furnished him with some of his own apparel, and they then returned together.
WHICH WILL WIN ?
It was a strange meeting for the group, as they sat listening and every now and then making some remark. The occurrence of a disaster was not altogether impossible. Tradition told of cases in former days when, on such a night, islands had been suddenly engulfed by the North-Sea.
Uwen took little part in the discourse. A strange conflict was going on within him, pulling him now this way, now that. He felt an indescribable satisfaction, a secret joy, that he had come here and found all as it was; and yet he now felt uneasy at not being on the other side, in the parsonage. Not on account of any probable danger to it—that was far less likely there than here, and was, at least, exaggerated by his excited fancy-but if Teda saw him sitting here, she might well be angry that he had left her all alone. She was relying on his protection in time of need, never doubting of his readiness, which he had, indeed, himself silently implied when he bade her good-night, and yet—he was not there. It is true, she was asleep and did not know that he was away, and would never hear of it. But suppose the storm should blow down something near the house, make a great noise and arouse her, so that in her fright she might come and call him?
She had said, “Come then, and we will see if we can save ourselves together.' The words resounded in his ear, as though he heard her voice again.
Freda, too, was silent as usual. Suddenly she raised her head and asked him :
Are you also thinking of the ships which are, perhaps, at this moment being wrecked ?'
Her eyes were fixed upon him with an expression of silent surprise, as a deep crimson flushed his cheeks. He was unable to meet the maiden's look, but glanced aside, while he stammered out :
Yes, I was thinking—I fancied I heardHe made a movement, as if he were listening to something. Walmot observed :
'I fear it is much worse for the dwellers near the dykes over there than for those at sea. Once, when I was a child, one of the dykes happened to burst, and I remember how the people rushed from their beds in the dark, shrieking, and climbing for refuge on the roofs of the houses and to the tree-tops.'
Upon this Uwen ejaculated :
But after these words his tongue seemed tied again. God did not succour men in times of earthly need, but left them to perish by thousands everywhere, the best and the noblest. It was nothing but an empty form of words, without any meaning, that had fallen from his lips, and it expressed his real feeling and thoughts just as little as the words had done which he had addressed to Freda. For the first time he clearly perceived that a conflict had long been going on within him-a conflict which had made his reason dissent from the notions instilled by Pastor Remmert during the days of his boyhood. Besides this, there was also another struggle going on, which he could less clearly define. Reason had nothing to do with this. The battle was raging in his heart, his senses, his soul; he could not positively say where, but he felt as if two antagonists were fighting within him, between whom he had neither power nor will to interpose. He felt that they were striving by turns for mastery over him, even as Pastor Remmert's cold creed had contended within him against the warm human love that had flowed from the heart of Walmot. But this second conflict was like the scorching rays of a sultry summer's sun striving for mastery over the soft sweet breath of a bright day in spring.
In his excitement Uwen sprang from his seat and paced the room to and fro. Freda's eye anxiously followed his every movement. She felt that some thought oppressed him, but she could not guess what. At last she asked whether he had kept his wet clothes on too long and thus taken a chill. She would prepare him something hot to drink.
He answered involuntarily :
“Yes, I do feel very cold.' His eye fell on a book that lay on the shelf, and he continued : 'I have wandered about long and far, like him who is mentioned there.'
The girl did not understand him, so he took up the bookit was the volume of Schiller's poems which he had, in the previous summer, rescued from the depth of the sea.
Hastily turning over the leaves, he laid an open page before Freda. The title 'The Pilgrim'met her eye, and his finger pointed to the verses :
'Forward Faith had often driven,
Hope had often stirred my breast; “ Onward !” still the word was given,
Upward strive, thou may'st not rest.
Open wide, thine eye doth see ;
Deathless there, divine shall be !"
Never, never stood I still,
What I seek and What I will.' Uwen's finger had followed the words to this line, then he again paced restlessly up and down. But Freda read on to the final stanza :
‘Oh! no path will lead us yonder,
Heaven to earth will ne'er draw near ;
Never can the THERE be HERE.' She now understood what was going on within him. She had before sometimes been vaguely conscious, from words that escaped him, that his faith in Pastor Remmert's teaching was shaken. She saw that he was suffering from an inward struggle which the fierce, tempestuous night had probably stirred up to an unusual pitch ; so, rising from her seat, she approached him, and said, with genuine sympathy :
'I feel what it is that you are suffering ; it has often distressed me, too. I would help you if I could. Mother has saved me from this pain, and you, too, would have been saved from it had your father and mother been spared to you longer. But now you must manage for yourself. You may have happiness enough on earth yet, if you will. If you do not want to become a clergyman, say so, and if I can help you in any way, I will ; only tell me, and there is my hand as a pledge of this promise.'
The last words referred to a sudden thought which had struck her, and which Uwen was unable to divine. But, in fact, he no longer heard what she was saying ; he was recalling words which she had uttered long ago, and even these not just as they had fallen from her lips. In his ears the words resounded—the very first that he had heard her speak, long years ago, and yet he heard them now as plainly as though they had been but this moment uttered. Then she had suddenly seized his hand and said : ‘I am so sorry for you, that you haven't a father and mother!'
The child-features of that afternoon rose before his mind's eye ; a quiver passed over his face. He had no need of the power of imagination to evoke the face from the past ; it was the very same that he now saw before him, only no longer reaching but a little way above the ground. On the contrary, it was now supported by a graceful, stately form. A hand was again held out to him in the same sympathetic
With a sudden, irresistible impulse, Uwen seized, not one only, but both the maiden's hands, clasped them tightly, and burst forth :
Oh, Freda, would that we were children still ! We were so happy then.'
He let fall her hands and turned hastily away, that he might hide his tears. Walmot watched his strange behaviour with a silent, thoughtful look. She had gathered from Freda's words the nature of the mental conflict which he was passing through, but this did not seem to her entirely to account for his overpowering emotion.
As they said no more, she shortly afterwards suggested that, the storm having abated and all danger being past, they had better go to bed. She would fetch some wraps, that Cwen might spend the night where he was and not risk another wetting.
But Freda interrupted her.
'He would have to wade through in the morning, and he had better go at once, as the inmates of the parsonage might be troubled at his absence.'
He dreamily repeated the words:
He went and put on his own clothes ; but by the time he returned, Freda's former opinion had become replaced by the fear that some accident might befall him as he waded through the ford. Now she advised :
'Perhaps, after all, you had better stay here till morning.'
Before this he had seemed undecided, but with his own clothes he seemed to have resumed his former restlessness.
"There's no danger,' he said, “and even if there were—well, I can take care of myself.'
The last words sounded as if he had been about to say something else.
Walmot gave him her hand, saying:
"Thank you very much, Uwen ; it was most kind of you to come and look after us.'
He threw his arms round her neck, as he had often done when a boy.
'Good-night, Mother Walmot.'
Freda had whispered a few words aside to Roeluf, who now offered to accompany their visitor as far as the inundated isthmus, but this Uwen would not allow. He seemed on the point of approaching the girl to bid her once more farewell, but changed his mind, and hastily left the house. For some time the sound of his quick footsteps could be heard. Freda followed him with her eyes as she stood gazing through the little panes of the sitting-room window. Approaching her, Walmot put an arm round the girl's waist, and said :