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Title: A Hardy Norseman
Author: Lyall, Edna
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A HARDY NORSEMAN

by

EDNA LYALL

Author of “Donovan,” “Knight Errant,” Etc.



[Illustration]

Chicago
Donohue, Henneberry & Co.
Publishers

[Illustration:

  PRINTED
  AND BOUND BY

  DONOHUE &
  HENNEBERRY

  CHICAGO]



                                CONTENTS


                            CHAPTER I.
                            CHAPTER II.
                            CHAPTER III.
                            CHAPTER IV.
                            CHAPTER V.
                            CHAPTER VI.
                            CHAPTER VII.
                            CHAPTER VIII.
                            CHAPTER IX.
                            CHAPTER X.
                            CHAPTER XI.
                            CHAPTER XII.
                            CHAPTER XIII.
                            CHAPTER XIV.
                            CHAPTER XV.
                            CHAPTER XVI.
                            CHAPTER XVII.
                            CHAPTER XVIII.
                            CHAPTER XIX.
                            CHAPTER XX.
                            CHAPTER XXI.
                            CHAPTER XXII.
                            CHAPTER XXIII.
                            CHAPTER XXIV.
                            CHAPTER XXV.
                            CHAPTER XXVI.
                            CHAPTER XXVII.
                            CHAPTER XXVIII.
                            CHAPTER XXIX.
                            CHAPTER XXX.
                            CHAPTER XXXI.
                            CHAPTER XXXII.
                            CHAPTER XXXIII.
                            CHAPTER XXXIV.
                            CHAPTER XXXV.
                            CHAPTER XXXVI.
                            CHAPTER XXXVII.
                            CHAPTER XXXVIII.
                            CHAPTER XXXIX.
                            CHAPTER XL.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           A HARDY NORSEMAN.



                               CHAPTER I.


“You say your things are all ready, Cecil? Then I’ll just go below and
do up my Gladstone, and put it in your cabin. We shall be at Bergen
before long, they say.”

The speaker was a young Englishman of three-or-four-and-twenty, and the
sister addressed by him was still in the first flush of girlhood, having
but a few days before celebrated her nineteenth birthday.

“Let me see to your bag, Roy,” she exclaimed. “It is a shame that you
should miss this lovely bit of the fjord, and I shall do it in half the
time.”

“The conceit of women!” he exclaimed, with a smile in which brotherly
love and the spirit of teasing were about equally blended. “No, no, Cis,
I’m not going to let you spoil me. I shall be up again in ten minutes.
Have you not made any friends here? Is there no one on deck you can talk
to?”

“I don’t want to talk,” said Cecil. “Truth to tell, I am longing to get
away from all these English people. Very unsociable of me, isn’t it?”

Roy Boniface turned away with a smile, understanding her feeling well
enough, and Cecil, with her back to the chattering tourist throng, let
her eyes roam over the shining waters of the fjord to the craggy
mountains on the further shore, whose ever-varying forms had been
delighting her since the early morning.

She herself made a fair picture, though her beauty was not of the order
which quickly draws attention. There was nothing very striking in her
regular features, fair complexion, and light-brown hair; to a casual
observer she would have seemed merely an average English girl, gentle,
well-mannered, and nice-looking. It was only to those who took pains to
study her that her true nature was revealed; only at times that her
quiet gray eyes would flash into sudden beauty with the pleasure of
meeting with some rare and unexpected sympathy; only in some special
need that the force of her naturally retiring nature made itself felt as
a great influence.

Cecil had passed a year of emancipated girlhood, she had for a whole
year been her own mistress, had had time and money at her disposal and
no special duties to take the place of her school-work. It was the time
she had been looking forward to all her life, the blissful time of
grown-up freedom, and now that it had come it had proved a disappointing
illusion. Whether the fault was in herself or in her circumstances she
did not know; but like so many girls of her age she was looking out on
life with puzzled eyes, hardly knowing what it was that had gone amiss,
yet conscious of a great want, of a great unrest, of a vague
dissatisfaction which would not be reasoned down.

“Cecil is looking poorly,” had been the home verdict; and the mother,
not fully understanding the cause, but with a true instinct as to the
remedy, had suggested that the brother and sister should spend a month
abroad, grieving to lose Cecil from the usual family visit to the
seaside, but perceiving with a mother’s wisdom and unselfishness that it
was time, as she expressed it, for her young one to try its wings.

So the big steamer plied its way up the fjord bearing Cecil Boniface and
her small troubles and perplexities to healthy old Norway, to gain there
fresh physical strength, and fresh insights into that puzzling thing
called life; to make friendships, spite of her avowed unsociableness, to
learn something more of the beauty of beauty, the joy of joy, and the
pain of pain.

She was no student of human nature; at present with girlish impatience
she turned away from the tourists, frankly avowing her conviction that
they were a bore. She was willing to let her fancy roam to the fortunes
of some imaginary Rolf and Erica living, perhaps, in some one or other
of the solitary red-roofed cottages to be seen now and then on the
mountain-side; but the average English life displayed on the deck did
not in the least awaken her sympathies, she merely classified the
passengers into rough groups and dismissed them from her mind. There was
the photographic group, fraternizing over the cameras set up all in a
little encampment at the forecastle end. There was the clerical group,
which had for its center no fewer than five gaitered bishops. There was
the sporting group, distinguished by light-brown checked suits, and
comfortable traveling-caps. There was the usual sprinkling of pale,
weary, overworked men and women come for a much-needed rest. And there
was the flirting group—a notably small one, however, for Norwegian
traveling is rough work and is ill-suited to this genus.

“Look, here, Blanche,” exclaimed a gray-bearded Englishman, approaching
a pretty little brunette who had a most sweet and winsome expression,
and who was standing so near to the camp-stool on which Cecil had
ensconced herself that the conversation was quite audible to her. “Just
see if you can’t make out this writing; your eyes are better than mine.
It is from Herr Falck, the Norwegian agent for our firm. I dare say your
father told you about him.”

“Yes, papa said he was one of the leading merchants out here and would
advise us what to see, and where to go.”

“Quite so. This letter reached me just as I was leaving home, and is to
say that Herr Falck has taken rooms for us at some hotel. I can read it
all well enough except the names, but the fellow makes such outrageous
flourishes. What do you make of this sentence, beginning with ‘My son
Frithiof’?”

“Uncle! uncle! what shocking pronunciation! You must not put in an
English ‘th.’ Did you never hear of the Frithiof Saga? You must say it
quickly like this—Freet-Yoff.”

“A most romantic name,” said Mr. Morgan. “Now I see why you have been so
industrious over your Norwegian lessons. You mean to carry on a
desperate flirtation with Herr Frithiof. Oh! that is quite clear—I shall
be on the lookout!”

Blanche laughed, not at all resenting the remark, though she bent her
pretty face over the letter, and pretended to have great difficulty in
reading Herr Falck’s very excellent English.

“Do you want to hear this sentence?” she said, “because if you do I’ll
read it.”

“‘My son Frithiof will do himself the honor to await your arrival at
Bergen on the landing-quay, and will drive you to Holdt’s Hotel, where
we have procured the rooms you desired. My daughter Sigrid (See-gree) is
eager to make the acquaintance of your daughter and your niece, and if
you will all dine with us at two o’clock on Friday at my villa in
Kalvedalen we shall esteem it a great pleasure.’”

“Two-o’clock dinner!” exclaimed Florence Morgan, for the first time
joining in the general conversation. “What an unheard-of hour!”

“Oh! everything is primitive simplicity out here,” said Mr. Morgan. “You
needn’t expect London fashions.”

“I suppose Frithiof Falck will be a sort of young Viking, large-boned
and dignified, with a kind of good-natured fierceness about him,” said
Blanche, folding the letter.

“No, no,” said Florence, “he’ll be a shy, stupid country bumpkin, afraid
of airing his bad English, and you will step valiantly into the breach
with your fluent Norwegian, and your kindness will win his heart. Then
presently he will come up in his artless and primitive way with a _Vaer
saa god_ (if you please) and will take your hand. You will reply _Mange
tak_ (many thanks), and we shall all joyfully dance at your wedding.”

There was general laughter, and some trifling bets were made upon the
vexed question of Frithiof Falck’s appearance.

“Well,” said Mr. Morgan, “it’s all very well to laugh now, but I hope
you’ll be civil to the Falcks when we really meet. And as to you,
Cyril,” he continued, turning to his nephew, a limp-looking young man of
one-and-twenty, “get all the information you can out of young Falck, but
on no account allow him to know that your father is seriously thinking
of setting you at the head of the proposed branch at Stavanger. When
that does come about, of course Herr Falck will lose our custom, and no
doubt it will be a blow to him; so mind you don’t breathe a word about
it, nor you either, girls. We don’t want to spoil our holiday with
business matters, and besides, one should always consider other people’s
feelings.”

Cecil set her teeth and the color rose to her cheeks; she moved away to
the other side of the deck that she might not hear any more.

“What hateful people! they don’t care a bit for the kindness and
hospitality of these Norwegians. They only mean just to use them as a
convenience.” Then as her brother rejoined her she exclaimed, “Roy, who
are those vulgar people over on the other side?”

“With two pretty girls in blue ulsters? I think the name is Morgan, rich
city people. The old man’s not bad, but the young one’s a born snob.
What do you think I heard him say as he was writing his name in the book
and caught sight of ours. ‘Why, Robert Boniface—that must be the
music-shop in Regent Street. Norway will soon be spoiled if all the cads
take to coming over.’ And there was I within two yards of him.”

“Oh, Roy! he couldn’t have known or he would never have said it.”

“Oh, yes, he knew it well enough. It was meant for a snub, richly
deserved by the presuming tradesman who dared to come to Norway for his
holiday instead of eating shrimps at Margate, as such cattle should, you
know!” and Roy laughed good-humoredly. Snubs had a way of gliding off
him like water off a duck’s back.

“I should have hated it,” said Cecil. “What did you do?”

“Nothing; studied Baedeker with an imperturbable face, and reflected
sapiently with William of Wykeham that neither birth nor calling but
‘manners makyth man.’ But look! this must be Bergen. What a glorious
view! If only you had time to sketch it just from here!”

Cecil, after one quick exclamation of delight, was quite silent, for
indeed few people can see unmoved that exquisite view which is unfolded
before them as they round the fjord and catch the first glimpse of the
most beautiful town in Norway. Had she been alone she would have allowed
the tears of happiness to come into her eyes, but being on a crowded
steamer she fought down her emotion and watched in a sort of dream of
delight the picturesque wooden houses, the red-tiled roofs, the quaint
towers and spires, the clear still fjord, with its forest of masts and
rigging, and the mountains rising steep and sheer, encircling Bergen
like so many hoary old giants who had vowed to protect the town.

Meanwhile, the deck resounded with those comments which are so very
irritating to most lovers of scenery; one long-haired æsthete gave vent
to a fresh adjective of admiration about once a minute, till Roy and
Cecil were forced to flee from him and to take refuge among the sporting
fraternity, who occasionally admitted frankly that it was “a fine view,”
but who obtruded their personality far less upon their companions.

“Oh, Roy, how we shall enjoy it all!” said Cecil, as they drew near to
the crowded landing-quay.

“I think we shall fit in, Cis,” he said, smiling. “Thank Heaven, you
don’t take your pleasure after the manner of that fellow. If I were his
traveling companion I should throttle him in a week.”

“Or suggest a muzzle,” said Cecil, laughing; “that would save both his
neck and your feelings.”

“Let me have your key,” he said, as they approached the wooden pier;
“the custom-house people will be coming on board, and I will try to get
our things looked over quickly. Wait here and then I shall not miss
you.”

He hastened away and Cecil scanned with curious eyes the faces of the
little crowd gathered on the landing-quay, till her attention was
arrested by a young Norwegian in a light-gray suit who stood laughing
and talking to an acquaintance on the wooden wharf. He was tall and
broad-shouldered, with something unusually erect and energetic in his
bearing; his features were of the pure Greek type not unfrequently to be
met with in Norway; while his northern birth was attested by a fair skin
and light hair and mustache, as well as by a pair of honest, well-opened
blue eyes which looked out on the world with a boyish content and
happiness.

“I believe that is Frithiof Falck,” thought Cecil. And the next moment
her idea was confirmed, for as the connecting gangway was raised from
the quay, one of the steamer officials greeted him by name, and the
young Norwegian, replying in very good English, stepped on board and
began looking about as if in search of some one. Involuntarily Cecil’s
eyes followed him; she had a strange feeling that in some way she knew
him, knew him far better than the people he had come to meet. He, too,
seemed affected in the same way, for he came straight up to her, and,
raising his hat and bowing, said, with frank courtesy:

“Pardon me, but am I speaking to Miss Morgan?”

“I think the Miss Morgans are at the other side of the gangway; I saw
them a minute ago,” she said, coloring a little.

“A thousand pardons for my mistake,” said Frithiof Falck. “I came to
meet this English family, you understand, but I have never seen them.”

“There is Miss Morgan,” exclaimed Cecil; “that lady in a blue ulster;
and there is her uncle just joining her.”

“Many thanks for your kind help,” said Frithiof, and with a second bow,
and a smile from his frank eyes, he passed on and approached Mr. Morgan.

“Welcome to Norway, sir,” he exclaimed, greeting the traveler with the
easy, courteous manner peculiar to Norwegians. “I hope you have made a
good voyage.”

“Oh, how do you do, Mr. Falck?” said the Englishman, scanning him from
head to foot as he shook hands, and speaking very loud, as if the
foreigner were deaf. “Very good of you to meet us, I’m sure. My niece,
Miss Blanche Morgan.”

Frithiof bowed, and his heart began to beat fast as a pair of most
lovely dark-gray eyes gave him such a glance as he had never before
received.

“My sister is much looking forward to the pleasure of making your
acquaintance,” he said.

“Ah!” exclaimed Blanche, “how beautifully you speak English! And how you
will laugh at me when I tell you that I have been learning Norwegian for
fear there should be dead silence between us.”

“Indeed, there is nothing which pleases us so much as that you should
learn our tongue,” he said, smiling. “My English is just now in its
zenith, for I passed the winter with an English clergyman at Hanover for
the sake of improving it.”

“But why not have come to England?” said Blanche.

“Well, I had before that been with a German family at Hanover to perfect
myself in German, and I liked the place well, and this Englishman was
very pleasant, so I thought if I stayed there it would be ‘to kill two
flies with one dash,’ as we say in Norway. When I come to England that
will be for a holiday, for nothing at all but pleasure.”

“Let me introduce my nephew,” said Mr. Morgan, as Cyril strolled up.
“And this is my daughter. How now, Florence, have you found your boxes?”

“Allow me,” said Frithiof; “if you will tell me what to look for I will
see that the hotel porter takes it all.”

There was a general adjournment to the region of pushing and confusion
and luggage, and before long Frithiof had taken the travelers to his
father’s carriage, and they were driving through the long, picturesque
Strand-gaden. Very few vehicles passed through this main street, but
throngs of pedestrians walked leisurely along or stood in groups talking
and laughing, the women chiefly wearing full skirts of dark-blue serge,
short jackets to match, and little round blue serge hoods surmounting
their clean white caps; the men also in dark-blue with broad felt hats.

To English visitors there is an indescribable charm in the primitive
simplicity, the easy informality of the place: and Frithiof was well
content with the delighted exclamations of the new-comers.

“What charming ponies!” cried Blanche. “Look how oddly their manes are
cut—short manes and long tails! How funny! we do just the opposite. And
they all seem cream colored.”

“This side, Blanche, quick! A lot of peasants in sabots! and oh! just
look at those lovely red gables!”

“How nice the people look, too, so different to people in an English
street. What makes you all so happy over here?”

“Why, what should make us unhappy?” said Frithiof. “We love our country
and our town, we are the freest people in the world, and life is a great
pleasure in itself, don’t you think? But away in the mountains our
people are much more grave. Life is too lonely there. Here in Bergen it
is perfection.”

Cyril Morgan regarded the speaker with a pitying eye, and perhaps would
have enlightened his absurd ignorance and discoursed of Pall Mall and
Piccadilly, had not they just then arrived at Holdt’s Hotel. Frithiof
merely waited to see that they approved of their rooms, gave them the
necessary information as to bankers and lionizing, received Mr. Morgan’s
assurance that the whole party would dine at Herr Falck’s the next day,
and then, having previously dismissed the carriage, set out at a brisker
pace than usual on his walk home.

Blanche Morgan’s surprise at the happy-looking people somehow amused
him. Was it then an out-of-the-way thing for people to enjoy life? For
his own part mere existence satisfied him. But then he was as yet quite
unacquainted with trouble. The death of his mother when he was only
eleven years old had been at the time a great grief, but it had in no
way clouded his after-life, he had been scarcely old enough to realize
the greatness of his loss. Its effect had been to make him cling more
closely to those who were left to him—to his father, to his twin-sister
Sigrid, and to the little baby Swanhild (Svarnheel), whose birth had
cost so much. The home life was an extremely happy one to look back on,
and now that his year of absence was over and his education finished it
seemed to him that all was exactly as he would have it. Faintly in the
distance he looked forward to further success and happiness; being a
fervent patriot he hoped some day to be a king’s minister—the summit of
a Norwegian’s ambition; and being human he had visions of an ideal wife
and an ideal home of his own. But the political career could very well
wait, and the wife too for the matter of that. And yet, as he walked
rapidly along Kong Oscars Gade, through the Stadsport, and past the
picturesque cemeteries which lie on either side of the road, he saw
nothing at all but a vision of the beautiful dark gray eyes which had
glanced up at him so often that afternoon, and in his mind there echoed
the words of one of Bjornson’s poems:

                   “To-day is just a day to my mind,
                   All sunny before and sunny behind,
                       Over the heather.”

But the ending of the poem he had quite forgotten.



                              CHAPTER II.


Herr Falck lived in one of the pretty, unpretentious houses in
Kalvedalen which are chiefly owned by the rich merchants of Bergen. The
house stood on the right-hand side of the road, surrounded by a pretty
little garden; it was painted a light-brown color, and, like most Bergen
houses, it was built of wood. In the windows one could see flowers, and
beyond them white muslin curtains, for æstheticism had not yet
penetrated to Norway. The dark-tiled roof was outlined against a wooded
hill rising immediately behind, with here and there gray rocks peeping
through the summer green of the trees, while in front the chief windows
looked on to a pretty terrace with carefully kept flower-beds, then down
the wooded hill-side to the lake below—the Lungegaardsvand with purple
and gray heights on the further shore, and on one side a break in the
chain of mountains and a lovely stretch of open country. To the extreme
left was the giant Ulriken, sometimes shining and glistening, sometimes
frowning and dark, but always beautiful; while to the right you caught a
glimpse of Bergen with its quaint cathedral tower, and away in the
distance the fjord like a shining silver band in the sun.

As Frithiof walked along the grassy terrace he could hear sounds of
music floating from the house; some one was playing a most inspiriting
waltz, and as soon as he had reached the open French window of his
father’s study a quaint pair of dancers became visible. A slim little
girl of ten years old, with very short petticoats, and very long golden
hair braided into a pigtail, held by the front paws a fine Esquimaux
dog, who seemed quite to enter into the fun and danced and capered most
cleverly, obediently keeping his long pointed nose over his partner’s
shoulder. The effect was so comical that Frithiof stood laughingly by to
watch the performance for fully half a minute, then, unable to resist
his own desire to dance, he unceremoniously called Lillo the dog away
and whirled off little Swanhild in the rapid waltz which Norwegians
delight in. The languid grace of a London ball-room would have had no
charms for him; his dancing was full of fire and impetuosity, and
Swanhild, too, danced very well; it had come to them both as naturally
as breathing.

“This is better than Lillo,” admitted the child. “Somehow he’s so
dreadful heavy to get round. Have the English people come? What are they
like?”

“Oh, they’re middling,” said Frithiof, “all except the niece, and she is
charming.”

“Is she pretty?”

“Prettier than any one you ever saw in your life.”

“Not prettier than Sigrid?” said the little sister confidently.

“Wait till you see,” said Frithiof. “She is a brunette and perfectly
lovely. There now!” as the music ceased, “Sigrid has felt her left ear
burning, and knows that we are speaking evil of her. Let us come to
confess.”

With his arms still round the child he entered the pretty bright-looking
room to the right. Sigrid was still at the piano, but she had heard his
voice and had turned round with eager expectation in her face. The
brother and sister were very much alike; each had the same well-cut
Greek features, but Frithiof’s face was broader and stronger, and you
could tell at a glance that he was the more intellectual of the two. On
the other hand, Sigrid possessed a delightful fund of quiet
common-sense, and her judgment was seldom at fault, while, like most
Norwegian girls, she had a most charmingly simple manner, and an
unaffected light-heartedness which it did one good to see.

“Well! what news?” she exclaimed. “Have they come all right? Are they
nice?”

“Nice is not the word! charming! beautiful! To-morrow you will see if I
have spoken too strongly.”

“He says she is even prettier than you, Sigrid,” said Swanhild
mischievously. “Prettier than any one we ever saw!”

“She? Which of them?”

“Miss Blanche Morgan, the daughter of the head of the firm, you know.”

“And the other one?”

“I hardly know. I didn’t look at her much; the others all seemed to me
much like ordinary English tourists. But she!—Well, you will see
to-morrow.”

“How I wish they were coming to-night! you make me quite curious. And
father seems so excited about their coming. I have not seen him so much
pleased about anything for a long time.”

“Is he at home?”

“No, he went for a walk; his head was bad again. That is the only thing
that troubles me about him, his headaches seem to have become almost
chronic this last year.”

A shade came over her bright face, and Frithiof too, looked grave.

“He works very much too hard,” he said, “but as soon as I come of age
and am taken into partnership he will be more free to take a thorough
rest. At present I might just as well be in Germany as far as work goes,
for he will hardly let me do anything to help him.”

“Here he comes, here he comes!” cried Swanhild, who had wandered away to
the window, and with one accord they all ran out to meet the head of the
house, Lillo bounding on in front and springing up at his master with a
loving greeting.

Herr Falck was a very pleasant-looking man of about fifty; he had the
same well-chiseled features as Frithiof, the same broad forehead,
clearly marked, level brows, and flexible lips, but his eyes had more of
gray and less of blue in them, and a practiced observer would have
detected in their keen glance an anxiety which could not wholly disguise
itself. His hair and whiskers were iron-gray, and he was an inch or two
shorter than his son. They all stood talking together at the door, the
English visitors still forming the staple of conversation, and the
anxiety giving place to eager hope in Herr Falck’s eyes as Frithiof once
more sung the praises of Blanche Morgan.

“Have they formed any plan for their tour?” he asked.

“No; they mean to talk it over with you and get your advice. They all
professed to have a horror of Baedeker, though even with your help I
don’t think they will get far without him.”

“It is certain that they will not want to stay very long in our Bergen,”
said Herr Falck, “the English never do. What should you say now if you
all took your summer outing at once and settled down at Ulvik or Balholm
for a few weeks, then you would be able to see a little of our friends
and could start them well on their tour.”

“What a delightful plan, little father!” cried Sigrid; “only you must
come too, or we shall none of us enjoy it.”

“I would run over for the Sunday, perhaps; that would be as much as I
could manage; but Frithiof will be there to take care of you. What
should you want with a careworn old man like me, now that he is at home
again?”

“You fish for compliments, little father,” said Sigrid, slipping her arm
within his and giving him one of those mute caresses which are so much
more eloquent than words. “But, quite between ourselves, though Frithiof
is all very well, I shant enjoy it a bit without you.”

“Yes, yes, father dear,” said Swanhild, “indeed you must come, for
Frithiof he will be just no good at all; he will be sure to dance always
with the pretty Miss Morgan, and to row her about on the fjord all day,
just as he did those pretty girls at Norheimsund and Faleide.”

The innocent earnestness of the child’s tone made them all laugh, and
Frithiof, vowing vengeance on her for her speech, chased her round and
round the garden, their laughter floating back to Herr Falck and Sigrid
as they entered the house.

“The little minx!” said Herr Falck, “how innocently she said it, too! I
don’t think our boy is such a desperate flirt though. As far as I
remember, there was nothing more than a sort of boy and girl friendship
at either place.”

“Oh no,” said Sigrid, smiling. “Frithiof was too much of a school-boy,
every one liked him and he liked every one. I don’t think he is the sort
of man to fall in love easily.”

“No; but when it does come it will be a serious affair. I very much wish
to see him happily married.”

“Oh, father! surely not yet. He is so young, we can’t spare him yet.”

Herr Falck threw himself back in his arm-chair, and mused for a few
minutes.

“One need not necessarily lose him,” he replied, “and you know, Sigrid,
I am a believer in early marriages—at least for my son; I will not say
too much about you, little woman, for as a matter of fact I don’t know
how I should ever spare you.”

“Don’t be afraid, little father; you may be very sure I shant marry till
I see a reasonable chance of being happier than I am at home with you.
And when will that be, do you think?”

He stroked her golden hair tenderly.

“Not just yet, Sigrid, let us hope. Not just yet. As to our Frithiof,
shall I tell you of the palace in cloud-land I am building for him?”

“Not that he should marry the pretty Miss Morgan, as Swanhild calls
her?” said Sigrid, with a strange sinking at the heart.

“Why not? I hear that she is a charming girl, both clever and beautiful,
and indeed it seems to me that he is quite disposed to fall in love with
her at first sight. Of course were he not properly in love I should
never wish him to marry, but I own that a union between the two houses
would be a great pleasure to me—a great relief.”

He sighed, and for the first time the anxious look in his eyes attracted
Sigrid’s notice. “Father, dear,” she exclaimed, “wont you tell me what
is troubling you? There is something, I think. Tell me, little father.”

He looked startled, and a slight flush spread over his face; but when he
spoke his voice was reassuring.

“A business man often has anxieties which can not be spoken of, dear
child. God knows they weigh lightly enough on some men; I think I am
growing old, Sigrid, and perhaps I have never learned to take things so
easily as most merchants do.”

“Why, father, you were only fifty last birthday; you must not talk yet
of growing old. How do other men learn, do you think, to take things
lightly?”

“By refusing to listen to their own conscience,” said Herr Falck, with
sudden vehemence. “By allowing themselves to hold one standard of honor
in private life and a very different standard in business transactions.
Oh, Sigrid! I would give a great deal to find some other opening for
Frithiof. I dread the life for him.”

“Do you think it is really so hard to be strictly honorable in business
life? And yet it is a life that must be lived, and is it not better that
such a man as Frithiof should take it up—a man with such a high sense of
honor?”

“You don’t know what business men have to stand against,” said Herr
Falck. “Frithiof is a good, honest fellow, but as yet he has seen
nothing of life. And I tell you, child, we often fail in our strongest
point.”

He rose from his chair and paced the room; it seemed to Sigrid that a
nameless shadow had fallen on their sunny home. She was for the first
time in her life afraid, though the fear was vague and undefined.

“But there, little one,” said her father, turning toward her again. “You
must not be worried. I get nervous and depressed, that is all. As I told
you, I am growing old.”

“Frithiof would like to help you more if you would let him,” said
Sigrid, rather wistfully. “He was saying so just now.”

“And so he shall in the autumn. He is a good lad, and if all goes well I
hope he will some day be my right hand in the business; but I wish him
to have a few months’ holiday first. And there is this one thing,
Sigrid, which I can tell you, if you really want to know about my
anxieties.”

“Indeed I do, little father,” she said eagerly.

“There are matters which you would not understand even could I speak of
them; but you know, of course, that I am agent in Norway for the firm of
Morgan Brothers. Well, a rumor has reached me that they intend to break
off the connection and to send out the eldest son to set up a branch at
Stavanger. It is a mere rumor and reached me quite accidentally. I very
much hope it may not be true, but there is no denying that Stavanger
would be in most ways better suited for their purpose; in fact, the
friend who told me of the rumor said that they felt now that it had been
a mistake all along to have the agency here and they had only done it
because they knew Bergen and knew me.”

“Why is Stavanger a better place for it?”

“It is better because most of the salmon and lobsters are caught in the
neighborhood of Stavanger, and all the mackerel too to the south of
Bergen. I very much hope the rumor is not true, for it would be a great
blow to me to lose the English connection. Still it is not unlikely, and
the times are hard now—very hard.”

“And you think your palace in cloud-land for Frithiof would prevent Mr.
Morgan from breaking the connection?”

“Yes; a marriage between the two houses would be a great thing, it would
make this new idea unlikely if not altogether impossible. I am thankful
that there seems now some chance of it. Let the two meet naturally and
learn to know each other. I will not say a word to Frithiof, it would
only do harm; but to you, Sigrid, I confess that my heart is set on this
plan. If I could for one moment make you see the future as I see it, you
would feel with me how important the matter is.”

At this moment Frithiof himself entered, and the conversation was
abruptly ended.

“Well, have you decided?” he asked, in his eager, boyish way. “Is it to
be Ulvik or Balholm? What! You were not even talking about that. Oh, I
know what it was then. Sigrid was deep in the discussion of to-morrow’s
dinner. I will tell you what to do, abolish the romekolle, and let us be
English to the backbone. Now I think of it, Mr. Morgan is not unlike a
walking sirloin with a plum-pudding head. There is your bill of fare, so
waste no more time.”

The brother and sister went off together, laughing and talking; but when
the door closed behind them the master of the house buried his face in
his hands and for many minutes sat motionless. What troubled thoughts,
what wavering anxieties filled his mind, Sigrid little guessed. It was,
after all, a mere surface difficulty of which he had spoken; of the real
strain which was killing him by inches he could not say a word to any
mortal being, though now in his great misery he instinctively prayed.

“My poor children!” he groaned. “Oh, God spare them from this shame and
ruin which haunts me. I have tried to be upright and prudent,—it was
only this once that I was rash. Give me success for their sakes, O God!
The selfish and unscrupulous flourish on all sides. Give me this one
success. Let me not blight their whole lives.”

But the next day, when he went forward to greet his English guests, it
would have been difficult to recognize him as the burdened, careworn man
from whose lips had been wrung that confession and that prayer. All his
natural courtesy and brightness had returned to him; if he thought of
his business at all he thought of it in the most sanguine way possible,
and the Morgans saw in him only an older edition of Frithiof, and
wondered how he had managed to preserve such buoyant spirits in the
cares and uncertainties of mercantile life. The two o’clock dinner
passed off well; Sigrid, who was a clever little housekeeper, had
scouted Frithiof’s suggestion as to the roast beef and plum-pudding, and
had carefully devised a thoroughly Norwegian repast.

“For I thought,” she explained afterwards to Blanche, when the two girls
had made friends, “that if I went to England I should wish to see your
home life just exactly as it really is, and so I have ordered the sort
of dinner we should naturally have, and did not, as Frithiof advised,
leave out the romekolle.”

“Was that the stuff like curds and whey?” asked Blanche, who was full of
eager interest in everything.

“Yes: it is sour cream with bread crumbs grated over it. We always have
a plateful each at dinner, it is quite one of our customs. But
everything here is simple of course, not grand as with you; we do not
keep a great number of servants, or dine late, or dress for the
evening—here there is nothing”—she hesitated for a word, then in her
pretty foreign English added, “nothing ceremonious.”

“That is just the charm of it all,” said Blanche, in her sweet gracious
way. “It is all so real and simple and fresh, and I think it was
delightful of you to know how much best we should like to have a glimpse
of your real home life instead of a stupid party. Now mamma cares for
nothing but just to make a great show, it doesn’t matter whether the
visitors really like it or not.”

Sigrid felt a momentary pang of doubt; she had fallen in love with
Blanche Morgan the moment she saw her, but it somehow hurt her to hear
the English girl criticise her own mother. To Sigrid’s loyal nature
there was something out of tune in that last remark.

“Perhaps you and your cousin would like to see over the house,” she
said, by way of making a diversion. “Though I must tell you that we are
considered here in Bergen to be rather English in some points. That is
because of my father’s business connection with England, I suppose.
Here, you see, in his study he has a real English fireplace; we all like
it much better than the stoves, and some day I should like to have them
in the other rooms as well.”

“But there is one thing very un-English,” said Blanche. “There are no
passages; instead, I see, all your rooms open out of each other. Such
numbers of lovely plants, too, in every direction; we are not so
artistic, we stand them all in prim rows in a conservatory. This, too,
is quite new to me. What a good idea!” And she went up to examine a
prettily worked sling fastened to the wall, and made to hold newspapers.

She was too polite, of course, to say what really struck her—that the
whole house seemed curiously simple and bare, and that she had imagined
that one of the leading merchants of Bergen would live in greater style.
As a matter of fact, you might, as Cyril expressed it, have bought the
whole place for an old song, and though there was an air of comfort and
good taste about the rooms and a certain indescribable charm, they were
evidently destined for use and not for show, and with the exception of
some fine old Norwegian silver and a few good pictures Herr Falck did
not possess a single thing of value.

Contrasted with the huge and elaborately furnished house in Lancaster
Gate with its lavishly strewn knick-knacks, its profusion of all the
beautiful things that money could buy, the Norwegian villa seemed poor
indeed, yet there was something about it which took Blanche’s fancy.

Later on, when the whole party had started for a walk, and when Frithiof
and Blanche had quite naturally drifted into a _tête-à-tête_, she said
something to this effect.

“I begin not to wonder that you are so happy,” she added; “the whole
atmosphere of the place is happiness. I wish you could teach us the
secret of it.”

“Have you then only the gift of making other people happy?” said
Frithiof. “That seems strange.”

“You will perhaps think me very discontented,” she said, with a pathetic
little sadness in her tone which touched him; “but seeing how fresh and
simple and happy your life is out here makes me more out of heart than
ever with my own home. You must not think I am grumbling; they are very
good to me, you know, and give me everything that money can buy; but
somehow there is so much that jars on one, and here there seems nothing
but kindliness and ease and peace.”

“I am glad you like our life,” he said; “so very glad.”

And as she told him more of her home and her London life, and of how
little it satisfied her, her words, and still more her manner and her
sweet eyes, seemed to weave a sort of spell about him, seemed to lure
him on into a wonderful future, and to waken in him a new life.

“I like him,” thought Blanche to herself. “Perhaps after all this
Norwegian tour will not be so dull. I like to see his eye light up so
eagerly; he really has beautiful eyes! I almost think—I really almost
think I am just a little bit in love with him.”

At this moment they happened to overtake two English tourists on the
road; as they passed on in front of them Frithiof, with native courtesy,
took off his hat.

“You surely don’t know that man? He is only a shopkeeper,” said Blanche,
not even taking the trouble to lower her voice.

Frithiof crimsoned to the roots of his hair.

“I am afraid he must have heard what you said,” he exclaimed, quickening
his pace in the discomfort of the realization. “I do not know him
certainly, but one is bound to be courteous to strangers.”

“I know exactly who he is,” said Blanche, “for he and his sister were on
the steamer, and Cyril found out all about them. He is Boniface, the
music-shop man.”

Frithiof was saved a reply, for just then they reached their
destination, and rejoined the rest of the party, who were clustered
together on the hill-side enjoying a most lovely view. Down below them,
sheltered by a great craggy mountain on the further side, lay a little
lonely lake, so weird-looking, so desolate, that it was hard to believe
it to be within an easy walk of the town. Angry-looking clouds were
beginning to gather in the sky, a purple gloom seemed to overspread the
mountain and the lake, and something of its gravity seemed also to have
fallen upon Frithiof. He had found the first imperfection in his ideal,
yet it had only served to show him how great a power, how strange an
influence she possessed over him. He knew now that, for the first time
in his life, he was blindly, desperately in love.

“Why, it is beginning to rain,” said Mr. Morgan. “I almost think we had
better be turning back, Herr Falck. It has been a most enjoyable little
walk; but if we can reach the hotel before it settles in for a wet
evening, why, all the better.”

“The rain is the great drawback to Bergen,” said Herr Falck. “At
Christiania they have a saying that when you go to Bergen it rains three
hundred and sixty-six days out of the year. But after all one becomes
very much accustomed to it.”

On the return walk the conversation was more general, and though
Frithiof walked beside Blanche he said very little. His mind was full of
the new idea which had just dawned upon him, and he heard her merry talk
with Sigrid and Swanhild like a man in a dream. Before long, much to his
discomfort, he saw in front of them the two English tourists, and though
his mind was all in a tumult with this new perception of his love for
Blanche, yet the longing to make up for her ill-judged remark, the
desire to prove that he did not share in her prejudice, was powerful
too. He fancied it was chiefly to avoid them that the Englishman turned
toward the bank just as they passed to gather a flower which grew high
above his head.

“What can this be, Cecil?” he remarked.

“Allow me, sir,” said Frithiof, observing that it was just out of the
stranger’s reach.

He was two or three inches taller, and, with an adroit spring, was able
to bring down the flower in triumph. By this time the others were some
little way in advance. He looked rather wistfully after Blanche, and
fancied disapproval in her erect, trim little figure.

“This is the Linnæa,” he explained. “You will find a great deal of it
about. It was the flower, you know, which Linnæus chose to name after
himself. Some say he showed his modesty in choosing so common and
insignificant a plant, but it always seems to me that he showed his good
taste. It is a beautiful flower.”

Roy Boniface thanked him heartily for his help. “We were hoping to find
the Linnæa,” he said, handing it to his sister, while he opened a
specimen tin.

“What delicate little bells!” she exclaimed. “I quite agree with you
that Linnæus showed his good taste.”

Frithiof would probably have passed on had he not, at that moment,
recognized Cecil as the English girl whom he had first accosted on the
steamer.

“Pardon me for not knowing you before,” he said, raising his hat. “We
met yesterday afternoon, did we not? I hope you have had a pleasant time
at Bergen?”

“Delightful, thank you. We think it the most charming town we ever saw.”

“Barring the rain,” said Roy, “for which we have foolishly forgotten to
reckon.”

“Never be parted from your umbrella is a sound maxim for this part of
the world,” said Frithiof, smiling. “Halloo! it is coming down in good
earnest. I’m afraid you will get very wet,” he said, glancing at Cecil’s
pretty gray traveling dress.

“Shall we stand up for a minute under that porch, Roy?” said the girl,
glancing at a villa which they were just passing.

“No, no,” said Frithiof: “please take shelter with us. My father’s villa
is close by. Please come.”

And since Cecil was genuinely glad not to get wet through, and since
Roy, though he cared nothing for the rain, was glad to have a chance of
seeing the inside of a Norwegian villa, they accepted the kindly offer,
and followed their guide into the pretty, snug-looking house.

Roy had heard a good deal of talk about sweetness and light, but he
thought he had never realized the meaning of the words till the moment
when he was ushered into that pretty Norwegian drawing-room, with its
painted floor and groups of flowers, and its pink-tinted walls, about
which the green ivy wreathed itself picturesquely, now twining itself
round some mirror or picture-frame, now forming a sort of informal
frieze round the whole room, its roots so cleverly hidden away in
sheltered corners or on unobtrusive brackets that the growth had all the
fascination of mystery. The presiding genius of the place, and the very
center of all that charmed, stood by one of the windows, the light
falling on her golden hair. She had taken off her hat and was flicking
the rain-drops from it with her handkerchief when Frithiof introduced
the two Bonifaces, and Roy, who found his novel experience a little
embarrassing, was speedily set at ease by her delightful naturalness and
frank courtesy.

Her bow and smile were grace itself, and she seemed to take the whole
proceeding entirely as a matter of course; one might have supposed that
she was in the habit of sheltering wet tourists every day of her life.

“I am so glad my brother found you,” she exclaimed. “You would have been
wet through had you walked on to Bergen. Swanhild, run and fetch a
duster; oh, you have brought one already, that’s a good child. Now let
me wipe your dress,” she added, turning to Cecil.

“Where has every one disappeared to?” asked Frithiof.

“Father has walked on to Holdt’s Hotel with the Morgans,” said Swanhild.
“They would not wait, though we tried to persuade them to. Father is
going to talk over their route with them.”

Cecil saw a momentary look of annoyance on his face; but the next minute
he was talking as pleasantly as possible to Roy, and before long the
question of routes was being discussed, and as fast as Frithiof
suggested one place, Sigrid and Swanhild mentioned others which must on
no account be missed.

“And you can really only spare a month for it all?” asked Sigrid. “Then
I should give up going to Christiania or Trondhjem if I were you. They
will not interest you half as much as this southwest coast.”

“But, Sigrid, it is impossible to leave out Kongswold and Dombaas. For
you are a botanist, are you not?” said Frithiof, turning to the
Englishman, “and those places are perfection for flowers.”

“Yes? Then you must certainly go there,” said Sigrid. “Kongswold is a
dear little place up on the Dovrefjeld. Yet if you were not botanists I
should say you ought to see instead either the Vöringsfos or the
Skjaeggedalsfos, they are our two finest waterfalls.”

“The Skedaddle-fos, as the Americans call it,” put in Frithiof.

“You have a great many American tourists, I suppose,” said Roy.

“Oh, yes, a great many, and we like them very well, though not as we
like the English. To the English we feel very much akin.”

“And you speak our language so well!” said Cecil, to whom the discovery
had been a surprise and a relief.

“You see we Norwegians think a great deal of education. Our schools are
very good; we are all taught to speak German and English. French, which
with you comes first, does it not? stands third with us.”

“Tell me about your schools,” said Cecil. “Are they like ours, I
wonder?”

“We begin at six years old to go to the middle school—they say it is
much like your English high schools; both my brother and I went to the
middle schools here at Bergen. Then when we were sixteen we went to
Christiania, he to the Handelsgymnasium, and I to Miss Bauer’s school,
for two years. My little sister is now at the middle school here; she
goes every day, but just now it is holiday time.”

“And in holidays,” said Swanhild, whose English was much less fluent and
ready, “we go away. We perhaps go to-morrow to Balholm.”

“Perhaps we shall meet you again there,” said Sigrid. “Oh, do come
there; it is such a lovely place.”

Then followed a discussion about flowers, in which Sigrid was also
interested, and presently Herr Falck returned, and added another
picture of charming hospitality to the group that would always remain
in the minds of the English travelers; and then there was afternoon
tea, which proved a great bond of union and more discussion of English
and Norwegian customs, and much laughter and merriment and
light-heartedness.

When at length the rain ceased and Roy and Cecil were allowed to leave
for Bergen, they felt as if the kindly Norwegians were old friends.

“Shall you be very much disappointed if we give up the Skedaddle-fos?”
asked Roy. “It seems to me that a water-fall is a water-fall all the
world over, but that we are not likely to meet everywhere with a family
like that.”

“Oh, by all means give it up,” said Cecil gayly. “I would far rather
have a few quiet days at Balholm. I detest toiling after the things
every one expects you to see. Besides, we can always be sure of finding
the Skjaeggedalsfos in Norway, but we can’t tell what may happen to
these delightful people.”



                              CHAPTER III.


Balholm, the loveliest of all the places on the Sogne Fjord, is perhaps
the quietest place on earth. There is a hotel, kept by two most
delightful Norwegian brothers; there is a bathing-house, a minute
landing-stage, and a sprinkling of little wooden cottages with red-tiled
roofs. The only approach is by water; no dusty high-road is to be found,
no carts and carriages rumble past; if you want rest and quiet, you have
only to seek it on the mountains or by the shore; if you want amusement,
you have only to join the merry Norwegians in the _salon_, who are
always ready to sing or to play, to dance or to talk, or, if
weather-bound, to play games with the zest and animation of children.
Even so limp a specimen of humanity as Cyril Morgan found that, after
all, existence in this primitive region had its charms, while Blanche
said, quite truthfully, that she had never enjoyed herself so much in
her life. There was to her a charming piquancy about both place and
people; and although she was well accustomed to love and admiration, she
found that Frithiof was altogether unlike the men she had hitherto met
in society; there was about him something strangely fresh—he seemed to
harmonize well with the place, and he made all the other men of whom she
could think seem ordinary and prosaic. As for Frithiof he made no secret
of his love for her, it was apparent to all the world—to the
light-hearted Norwegians, who looked on approvingly; to Cyril Morgan,
who wondered what on earth Blanche could see in such an unsophisticated
boy; to Mr. Morgan, who, with a shrug of his broad shoulders, remarked
that there was no help for it—it was Blanche’s way; to Roy Boniface, who
thought the two were well matched, and gave them his good wishes; and to
Cecil, who, as she watched the two a little wistfully, said in her
secret heart what could on no account have been said to any living
being, “I hope, oh, I hope she cares for him enough!”

One morning, a little tired with the previous day’s excursion to the
Suphelle Brae, they idled away the sunny hours on the fjord, Frithiof
rowing, Swanhild lying at full length in the bow with Lillo mounting
guard over her, and Blanche, Sigrid, and Cecil in the stern.

“You have been all this time at Balholm and yet have not seen King
Bele’s grave!” Frithiof had exclaimed in answer to Blanche’s inquiry.
“Look, here it is, just a green mound by that tree.”

“Isn’t it odd,” said Sigrid dreamily, “to think that we are just in the
very place where the Frithiof Saga was really lived?”

“But I thought it was only a legend,” said Cecil.

“Oh, no,” said Frithiof, “the Sagas are not legends, but true stories
handed down by word of mouth.”

“Then I wish you would hand down your saga to us by word of mouth,” said
Blanche, raising her sweet eyes to his. “I shall never take the trouble
to read it for myself in some dry, tiresome book. Tell us the story of
Frithiof now as we drift along in the boat with his old home Framnaes in
sight.”

“I do not think I can tell it really well,” he said: “but I can just
give you the outline of it:

“Frithiof was the only son of a wealthy yeoman who owned land at
Framnaes. His father was a great friend of King Bele, and the king
wished that his only daughter Ingeborg should be educated by the same
wise man who taught Frithiof, so you see it happened that as children
Frithiof and Ingeborg were always together, and by and by was it not
quite natural that they should learn to love each other? It happened
just so, and Frithiof vowed that, although he was only the son of a
yeoman, nothing should separate them or make him give her up. It then
happened that King Bele died, and Frithiof’s father, his great friend,
died at the same time. Then Frithiof went to live at Framnaes over
yonder; he had great possessions, but the most useful were just these
three; a wonderful sword, a wonderful bracelet, and a wonderful ship
called the ‘Ellida,’ which had been given to one of his Viking ancestors
by the sea-god. But though he had all these things, and was the most
powerful man in the kingdom, yet he was always sad, for he could not
forget the old days with Ingeborg. So one day he crossed this fjord to
Bele’s grave, close to Balholm, where Ingeborg’s two brothers Helge and
Halfdan were holding an assembly of the people, and he boldly asked for
Ingeborg’s hand. Helge the King was furious, and rejected him with
scorn, and Frithiof, who would not allow even a king to insult him, drew
his sword and with one blow smote the King’s shield, which hung on a
tree, in two pieces. Soon after this good King Ring of the far North,
who had lost his wife, became a suitor for Ingeborg’s hand; but Helge
and Halfdan insulted his messengers and a war was the consequence. When
Frithiof heard the news of the war he was sitting with his friend at a
game of chess; he refused to help Helge and Halfdan, but knowing that
Ingeborg had been sent for safety to the sacred grove of Balder, he went
to see her in the ‘Ellida,’ though there was a law that whoever ventured
to approach the grove by water should be put to death. Now Ingeborg had
always loved him and she agreed to be betrothed to him, and taking leave
of her, Frithiof went with all haste to tell her brothers. This time
also there was a great assembly at Bele’s grave, and again Frithiof
asked for the hand of Ingeborg, and promised that, if Helge would
consent to their betrothal, he would fight for him. But Helge, instead
of answering him, asked if he had not been to the sacred grove of Balder
contrary to the law? Then all the people shouted to him, ‘Say no,
Frithiof! Say no, and Ingeborg is yours.’ But Frithiof said that though
his happiness hung on that one word he would not tell a lie, that in
truth he had been to Balder’s Temple, but that his presence had not
defiled it, that he and Ingeborg had prayed together and had planned
this offer of peace. But the people forsook him, and King Helge banished
him until he should bring back the tribute due from Angantyr of the
Western Isles; and every one knew that if he escaped with his life on
such an errand it would be a wonder. Once again Frithiof saw Ingeborg,
and he begged her to come with him in his ship the ‘Ellida,’ but
Ingeborg, though she loved him, thought that she owed obedience to her
brothers, and they bade each other farewell; but before he went Frithiof
clasped on her arm the wonderful bracelet. So then they parted, and
Frithiof sailed away and had more adventures than I can tell you, but at
last he returned with the tribute money, and now he thought Ingeborg
would indeed be his. But when he came in sight of Framnaes, he found
that his house and everything belonging to him had been burned to the
ground.”

“No, no, Frithiof; there was his horse and his dog left,” corrected
Sigrid. “Don’t you remember how they came up to him?”

“So they did, but all else was gone; and, worst of all, Ingeborg, they
told him, had been forced by her brothers to marry King Ring, who, if
she had not become his wife, would have taken the kingdom from Helge and
Halfdan. Then Frithiof was in despair, and cried out, ‘Who dare speak to
me of the fidelity of women?’ And it so happened that that very day was
Midsummer-day, and he knew that King Helge, Ingeborg’s brother, would be
in the Temple of Balder. He sought him out, and went straight up to him
and said, ‘You sent me for the lost tribute and I have gained it, but
either you or I must die. Come, fight me! Think of Framnaes that you
burned. Think of Ingeborg whose life you have spoiled!’ And then in
great wrath he flung the tribute-money at Helge’s head, and Helge fell
down senseless. Just then Frithiof caught sight of the bracelet he had
given Ingeborg on the image of Balder, and he tore it off, but in so
doing upset the image, which fell into the flames on the altar. The fire
spread, and spread so that at last the whole temple was burned, and all
the trees of the grove. Next day King Helge gave chase to Frithiof, but
luckily in the night Frithiof’s friend had scuttled all the King’s
ships, and so his effort failed, and Frithiof sailed out to sea in the
‘Ellida.’ Then he became a Viking, and lived a hard life, and won many
victories. At last he came home to Norway and went to King Ring’s court
at Yule-tide, disguised as an old man; but they soon found out that he
was young and beautiful, and he doffed his disguise, and Ingeborg
trembled as she recognized him. Ring knew him not, but liked him well,
and made him his guest. One day he saved Ring when his horse and sledge
had fallen into the water. But another day it so happened that they went
out hunting together, and Ring being tired fell asleep, while Frithiof
kept guard over him. As he watched, a raven came and sung to him, urging
him to kill the King; but a white bird urged him to flee from
temptation, and Frithiof drew his sword and flung it far away out of
reach. Then the King opened his eyes, and told Frithiof that for some
time he had known him, and that he honored him for resisting temptation.
Frithiof, however, felt that he could no longer bear to be near
Ingeborg, since she belonged not to him, and soon he came to take leave
of her and her husband. But good King Ring said that the time of his own
death was come, and he asked Frithiof to take his kingdom and Ingeborg,
and to be good to his son. Then he plunged his sword in his breast, and
so died. Before long the people met to elect a new king, and would have
chosen Frithiof, but he would only be regent till Ring’s son should be
of age. Then Frithiof went away to his father’s grave, and prayed to
Balder, and he built a wonderful new temple for the god, but still peace
did not come to him. And the priest told him that the reason of this was
because he still kept anger and hatred in his heart toward Ingeborg’s
brothers. Helge was dead, but the priest prayed him to be reconciled to
Halfdan. They were standing thus talking in the new temple when Halfdan
unexpectedly appeared, and when he caught sight of his foe, he turned
pale and trembled. But Frithiof, who for the first time saw that
forgiveness is greater than vengeance, walked up to the altar, placed
upon it his sword and shield, and returning, held out his hand to
Halfdan, and the two were reconciled. At that moment there entered the
temple one dressed as a bride, and Frithiof lifted up his eyes and saw
that it was Ingeborg herself. And Halfdan, his pride of birth forgotten
and his anger conquered by his foe’s forgiveness, led his sister to
Frithiof and gave her to be his wife, and in the new Temple of Balder
the Good the lovers received the blessing of the priest.”

“How well you tell it! It is a wonderful story,” said Blanche; and there
was real, genuine pleasure in her dark eyes as she looked across at him.

It was such a contrast to her ordinary life, this quiet Norway, where
all was so simple and true and trustworthy, where no one seemed to
strain after effects. And there was something in Frithiof’s strength,
and spirit, and animation which appealed to her greatly. “My Viking is
adorable!” she used to say to herself; and gradually there stole into
her manner toward him a sort of tender reverence. She no longer teased
him playfully, and their talks together in those long summer days became
less full of mirth and laughter, but more earnest and absorbing.

Cecil saw all this, and she breathed more freely. “Certainly she loves
him,” was her reflection.

Sigrid, too, no longer doubted; indeed, Blanche had altogether won her
heart, and somehow, whenever they were together, the talk always drifted
round to Frithiof’s past, or Frithiof’s future, or Frithiof’s opinions.
She was very happy about it, for she felt sure that Blanche would be a
charming sister-in-law, and love and hope seemed to have developed
Frithiof in a wonderful way; he had suddenly grown manly and
considerate, nor did Sigrid feel, as she had feared, that his new love
interfered with his love for her.

They were bright days for every one, those days at Balholm, with their
merry excursions to the priest’s garden and the fir-woods, to the saeter
on the mountain-side, and to grand old Munkeggen, whose heights towered
above the little wooden hotel. Herr Falck, who had joined them toward
the end of the week, and who climbed Munkeggen as energetically as any
one, was well pleased to see the turn affairs had taken; and every one
was kind, and discreetly left Frithiof and Blanche to themselves as they
toiled up the mountain-side; indeed, Knut, the landlord’s brother, who
as usual had courteously offered his services as guide, was so
thoughtful for the two lovers who were lingering behind, that he
remorselessly hurried up a stout old American lady, who panted after
him, to that “Better resting-place,” which he always insisted was a
little further on.

“Will there be church to-morrow?” asked Blanche, as they rested
half-way. “I should so like to go to a Norwegian service.”

“There will be service at some church within reach,” said Frithiof; “but
I do not much advise you to go; it will be very hot, and the place will
be packed.”

“Why? Are you such a religious people?”

“The peasants are,” he replied. “And of course the women. Church-going
and religion, that is for women; we men do not need that sort of thing.”

She was a little startled by his matter-of-fact, unabashed tone.

“What, are you an agnostic? an atheist?” she exclaimed.

“No, no, not at all,” he said composedly. “I believe in a good
Providence but with so much I am quite satisfied, you see. What does one
need with more? To us men religion, church-going, is—is—how do you call
it in English? I think you say ‘An awful bore,’ Is it not so?”

The slang in foreign accent was irresistible. She was a little shocked,
but she could not help laughing.

“How you Norwegians speak out!” she exclaimed. “Many Englishmen feel
that, but few would say it so plainly.”

“So! I thought an Englishman was nothing if not candid. But for me I
feel no shame. What more would one have than to make the most of life?
That is my religion. I hear that in England there is a book to ask
whether life is worth living? For me I can’t understand that sort of
thing. It is a question that would never have occurred to me. Only to
live is happiness enough. Life is such a very good thing. Do you not
agree?”

“Sometimes,” she said, rather wistfully.

“Only sometimes? No, no, always—to the last breath!” cried Frithiof.

“You say that because things are as you like; because you are happy,”
said Blanche.

“It is true, I am very happy,” he replied. “Who would not be happy
walking with you?”

Something in his manner frightened her a little. She went on
breathlessly and incoherently.

“You wouldn’t say that life is a very good thing if you were like our
poor people in East London, for instance.”

“Indeed, no,” he said gravely. “That must be a great blot on English
life. Here in Norway we have no extremes. No one is very poor, and our
richest men have only what would be counted in England a moderate
income.”

“Perhaps that is why you are such a happy people.”

“Perhaps,” said Frithiof, but he felt little inclined to consider the
problem of the distribution of wealth just then, and the talk drifted
round once more to that absorbing personal talk which was much more
familiar to them.

At length the top of the mountain was reached, and a merry little picnic
ensued. Frithiof was the life of the party, and there was much drinking
of healths and clinking of glasses, and though the cold was intense
every one seemed to enjoy it, and to make fun of any sort of discomfort.

“Come!” said Sigrid to Cecil Boniface, “you and I must add a stone to
the cairn. Let us drag up this great one and put it on the top together
in memory of our friendship.”

They stood laughing and panting under the shelter of the cairn when the
stone was deposited, the merry voices of the rest of the party floating
back to them.

“Do you not think we are dreadful chatterers, we Norwegians?” said
Sigrid.

“I think you are delightful,” said Cecil simply.

Something in her manner touched and pleased Sigrid. She had grown to
like this quiet English girl. They were silent for some minutes, looking
over that wonderful expanse of blue fjords and hoary mountains, flecked
here and there on their somber heights by snow-drifts. Far down below
them a row-boat could be seen on the water, looking scarcely bigger than
the head of a pin: and as Cecil watched the lovely country steeped in
the golden sunshine of that summer afternoon, thoughts of the Frithiof
Saga came thronging through her mind, till it almost seemed to her that
in another moment she should see the dragon ship the “Ellida,” winging
her way over the smooth blue waters.

Knut suggested before long that if they were to be home in time for
supper it might be best to start at once, and the merry party broke up
into little groups. Herr Falck was deep in conversation with Mr. Morgan,
Cyril and Florence as usual kept to themselves, Knut piloted the
American lady in advance of the others, while Roy Boniface joined his
sister and Sigrid, pausing on the way for a little snow-balling in a
great snowdrift just below the summit. Little Swanhild hesitated for a
moment, longing to walk with Blanche, for whom she had formed the sort
of adoring attachment with which children of her age often honor some
grown-up girl; but she was laughingly carried off by some good-natured
friends from Bergen, who divined her intentions, and once more Frithiof
and Blanche were left alone.

“And you must really go on Monday?” asked Frithiof, with a sigh.

“Well,” she said, glancing up at him quickly, “I have been very
troublesome to you, I’m sure—always needing help in climbing! You will
be glad to get rid of me, though you are too polite to tell me so.”

“How can you say such things?” he exclaimed, and again something in his
manner alarmed her a little. “You know—you must know what these days
have been to me.”

The lovely color flooded her cheeks, and she spoke almost at random.

“After all, I believe I should do better if I trusted to my alpenstock!”
And laughingly she began to spring down the rough descent, a little
proud of her own grace and agility, and a little glad to baffle and
tease him for a few minutes.

“Take care! take care!” cried Frithiof, hurrying after her. Then, with a
stifled cry, he sprang forward to rescue her, for the alpenstock had
slipped on a stone, and she was rolling down the steep incline. Even in
the terrible moment itself he had time to think of two distinct
dangers—she might strike her head against one of the bowlders, or, worse
thought still, might be unchecked, and fall over that side of Munkeggen
which was almost precipitous. How he managed it he never realized, but
love seemed to lend him wings, and the next thing he knew was that he
was kneeling on the grass only two or three feet from the sheer
cliff-like side, with Blanche in his arms.

“Are you hurt?” he questioned breathlessly.

“No,” she replied, trembling with excitement. “Not hurt at all, only
shaken and startled.”

He lifted her a little further from the edge. For a minute she lay
passively, then she looked up into his eyes.

“How strong you are,” she said, “and how cleverly you caught me! Yet now
that it is over you look quite haggard and white. I am really not hurt
at all. It punished me well for thinking I could get on without you. You
see I couldn’t!” and a lovely, tender smile dawned in her eyes.

She sat up and took off her hat, smoothing back her disordered hair. A
sort of terror seized Frithiof that in another minute she would propose
going on, and, urged by this fear, he spoke rapidly and impetuously.

“If only I might always serve you!” he cried. “Oh, Blanche, I love you!
I love you! Will you not trust yourself to me?”

Blanche had received already several offers of marriage; they had been
couched in much better terms, but they had lacked the passionate ardor
of Frithiof’s manner. All in a moment she was conquered; she could not
even make a feint of resistance, but just put her hand in his.

“I will always trust you,” she faltered.

Then, as she felt his strong arm round her and his kisses on her cheek,
there flashed through her mind a description she had once read of—

                    “a strong man from the North,
              Light-locked, with eyes of dangerous gray.”

It was a love worth having, she thought to herself; a love to be proud
of!

“But Frithiof,” she began, after a timeless pause, “we must keep our
secret just for a little while. You see my father is not here, and—”

“Let me write to him and ask his consent,” exclaimed Frithiof.

“No, no, do not write. Come over to England in October and see him
yourself, that will be so much better.”

“Must we wait so long?” said Frithiof, his face clouding.

“It is only a few weeks; papa will not be at home till then. Every one
is away from London, you know. Don’t look so anxious; I do not know your
face when it isn’t happy—you were never meant to be grave. As for papa,
I can make him do exactly what I like, you need not be afraid that he
will not consent. Come! I have promised to trust to you, and yet you
doubt me.”

“Doubt you!” he cried. “Never! I trust you, before all the world; and if
you tell me to wait—why then—I must obey.”

“How I love you for saying that,” cried Blanche, clinging to him. “To
think that you who are so strong should say that to me! It seems
wonderful. But indeed, indeed, you need not doubt me. I love you with my
whole heart. I love you as I never thought it possible to love.”

Frithiof again clasped her in his arms, and there came to his mind the
sweet words of Uhland:

                           “Gestorben war ich
                           Vor Liebeswonn,
                           Begraben lag ich
                           In Ihren Armen;
                           Erwechet ward ich
                           Von Ihren Küssen,
                           Den Himmel sah ich
                           In Ihren Augen.”



                              CHAPTER IV.


“We were beginning to think some accident had happened to you,” said
Sigrid, who stood waiting at the door of the hotel.

“And so it did,” said Blanche, laughing, “I think I should have broken
my neck if it hadn’t been for your brother. It was all the fault of this
treacherous alpenstock which played me false.”

And then, with a sympathetic little group of listeners, Blanche gave a
full account of her narrow escape.

“And you are really not hurt at all? Not too much shaken to care to
dance to-night?”

“Not a bit,” said Blanche merrily. “And you promised to put on your
peasant costume and show us the _spring dans_, you know.”

“So I did. I must make haste and dress, then,” and Sigrid ran upstairs,
appearing again before long in a simply made dark skirt, white sleeves
and chemisette, and red bodice, richly embroidered in gold. Her
beautiful hair was worn in two long plaits down her back, and the
costume suited her to perfection. There followed a merry supper in the
_dépendence_ where all meals were served; then every one adjourned to
the hotel _salon_, the tables and chairs were hastily pushed aside, and
dancing began.

Herr Falck’s eyes rested contentedly on the slim little figure in the
maize-colored dress who so often danced with his son; and, indeed,
Blanche looked more lovely than ever that evening, for happiness and
excitement had brightened her dark eyes, and deepened the glow of color
in her cheeks. The father felt proud, too, of his children, when, in
response to the general entreaty, Frithiof and Sigrid danced the _spring
dans_ together with its graceful evolutions and quaint gestures. Then
nothing would do but Frithiof must play to them on the violin, after
which Blanche volunteered to teach every one Sir Roger de Coverly, and
old and young joined merrily in the country dance, and so the evening
passed on all too rapidly to its close. It was a scene which somehow
lived on in Cecil’s memory; the merry dancers, the kindly landlord, Ole
Kvikne, sitting near the door and watching them, the expression of
content visible in Herr Falck’s face as he sat beside him, the pretty
faces and picturesque attire of Sigrid and Swanhild, the radiant beauty
of Blanche Morgan, the unclouded happiness of Frithiof.

The evening had done her good; its informality, its hearty unaffected
happiness and merriment made it a strange contrast to any other dance
she could recollect; yet even here there was a slight shadow. She could
not forget those words which she had overheard on board the steamer,
could not get rid of the feeling that some trouble hung over the Falck
family, and that hidden away, even in this Norwegian paradise, there
lurked somewhere the inevitable serpent. Even as she mused over it,
Frithiof crossed the room and made his bow before her, and in another
minute had whirled her off. Happiness shone in his eyes, lurked in the
tones of his voice, added fresh spirit to his dancing; she thought she
had never before seen such an incarnation of perfect content. They
talked of Norwegian books, and her interest in his country seemed to
please him.

“You can easily get English translations of our best novelists,” he
said. “You should read Alexander Kielland’s books, and Bjornsen’s. I
have had a poem of Bjornsen’s ringing all day in my head; we will make
Sigrid say it to us, for I only know the chorus.”

Then as the waltz came to an end he led her toward his sister, who was
standing with Roy near the piano.

“We want you to say us Bjornsen’s poem, Sigrid, in which the refrain is,
‘To-day is just a day to my mind.’ I can’t remember anything but the
chorus.”

“But it is rather a horrid little poem,” said Sigrid, hesitating.

“Oh, let us have it, please let us have it,” said Blanche, joining them.
“You have made me curious now.”

So Sigrid, not liking to refuse, repeated first the poem itself and then
the English translation:

            “The fox lay under the birch-tree’s root
                Beside the heather;
            And the hare bounded with lightsome foot
                Over the heather;
            ‘To-day is just a day to my mind,
            All sunny before and sunny behind
                Over the heather!’

            And the fox laughed under the birch-tree’s root
                Beside the heather;
            And the hare frolicked with heedless foot
                Over the heather;
            ‘I am so glad about everything!’
            ‘So that is the way you dance and spring
                Over the heather!’

            And the fox lay in wait by the birch-tree’s root
                Beside the heather;
            And the hare soon tumbled close to his foot
                Over the heather;
            ‘Why, bless me! is that _you_, my dear!
            However did you come dancing here
                Over the heather?’”

“I had forgotten that it ended so tragically,” said Frithiof, with a
slight shrug of the shoulders. “Well, never mind, it is only a poem; let
us leave melancholy to poets and novelists, and enjoy real life.”

Just then a polka was struck up and he hastily made his bow to Blanche.

“And yet one needs a touch of tragedy in real life,” she observed, “or
it becomes so dreadfully prosaic.”

“Oh,” said Frithiof, laughing, as he bore her off; “then for Heaven’s
sake let us be prosaic to the end of the chapter.”

Cecil heard the words, they seemed to her to fit in uncannily with the
words of the poem; she could not have explained, and she did not try to
analyze the little thrill of pain that shot through her heart at the
idea. Neither could she have justified to herself the shuddering
repulsion she felt when Cyril Morgan drew near, intercepting her view of
Frithiof and Blanche.

“May I have the pleasure of this dance?” he said, in his condescending
tone.

“Thank you, but I am so tired,” she replied. “Too tired for any more
to-night.”

“Yes,” said Sigrid, glancing at her. “You look worn out. Munkeggen is a
tiring climb. Let us come upstairs, it is high time that naughty little
sister of mine was in bed.”

“The reward of virtue,” said Cyril Morgan, rejoining his cousin
Florence. “I have been polite to the little _bourgeoise_ and it has cost
me nothing. It is always best in a place like this to be on good terms
with every one. We shall never be likely to come across these people
again, the acquaintance is not likely to bore us.”

His words were perfectly true. That curiously assorted gathering of
different nationalities would never again meet, and yet those days of
close intimacy were destined to influence forever, either for good or
for evil, the lives of each one.

All through the Sunday Blanche had kept in bed, for though the
excitement had kept her up, on the previous night, she inevitably
suffered from the effects of her fall. It was not till the Monday
morning, just before the arrival of the steamer, that Frithiof could
find the opportunity for which he had impatiently waited. They walked
through the little garden, ostensibly to watch for the steamer from the
mound by the flagstaff, but they only lingered there for a minute,
glancing anxiously down the fjord where in the distance could be seen
the unwelcome black speck. On the further side of the mound, down among
the trees and bushes, was a little sheltered seat. It was there that
they spent their last moments, there that Blanche listened to his eager
words of love, there that she again bade him wait till October, at the
same time giving him such hope and encouragement as must surely have
satisfied the most _exigeant_ lover.

All too soon the bustle of departure reached them, and the
steam-whistle—most hateful and discordant of sounds—rang and resounded
among the mountains.

“I must go,” she exclaimed, “or they will be coming to look for me. This
is our real good-by. On the steamer it will be just a hand-shake, but
now—”

And she lifted a lovely, glowing face to his.

Then, presently, as they walked down to the little pier, she talked fast
and gayly of all they would do when he came to England; she talked
because, for once, he was absolutely silent, and because she was afraid
that her uncle would guess their secret; perhaps it was a relief to her
that Frithiof volunteered to run back to the hotel for Mr. Morgan’s
opera-glass, which had been left by mistake in the _salon_, so that,
literally, there was only time for the briefest of farewells on the
steamer. He went through it all in a business-like fashion, smiling
mechanically in response to the good wishes, then, with a heavy heart,
stepping on shore. Herr Falck, who was returning to Bergen by the same
boat, which took the other travelers only as far as Vadheim, was not ill
pleased to see his son’s evident dejection; he stood by the bulwarks
watching him and saying a word or two now and then to Blanche, who was
close by him.

“Why see!” he exclaimed, “the fellow is actually coming on board again.
We shall be carrying him away with us if he doesn’t take care.”

“A thousand pardons!” Frithiof had exclaimed, shaking hands with Cecil
and Roy Boniface. “I did not see you before. A pleasant journey to you.
You must come again to Norway some day, and let us all meet once more.”

“_Vaer saa god!_” exclaimed one of the sailors; and Frithiof had to
spring down the gangway.

“To our next merry meeting,” said Roy, lifting his hat; and then there
was a general waving of handkerchiefs from the kindly little crowd on
the pier and from the parting guests, and, in all the babel and
confusion, Frithiof was conscious only of Blanche’s clear “_Auf
wiedersehen!_” and saw nothing but the sweet dark eyes, which to the
very last dwelt on him.

“Well, that is over!” he said to Sigrid, pulling himself together, and
stifling a sigh.

“Perhaps they will come here next year,” suggested Sigrid consolingly.

“Perhaps I shall go to England next autumn,” said Frithiof with a smile.

“So soon!” she exclaimed involuntarily.

He laughed, for the words were such a curious contradiction to the ones
which lurked in his own mind.

“Oh! you call two months a short time!” he exclaimed; “and to me it
seems an eternity. You will have to be very forbearing, for I warn you
such a waiting time is very little to my taste.”

“Then why did you not speak now, before she went away?”

“You wisest of advisers!” he said, with a smile: “I did speak
yesterday.”

“Yesterday!” she cried eagerly. “Yesterday, on Munkeggen?”

“Yes; all that now remains is to get Mr. Morgan’s consent to our
betrothal.”

“Oh, Frithiof, I am so glad! so very glad! How pleased father will be! I
think you must write and let him know.”

“If he will keep it quite secret,” said Frithiof; “but of course not a
word must be breathed until her father has consented. There is no
engagement as yet, only we know that we love each other.”

“That ought to be enough to satisfy you till the autumn. And it was so
nice of you to tell me, Frithiof. Oh, I don’t think I could have borne
it if you had chosen to marry some girl I didn’t like. As for Blanche,
there never was any one more sweet and lovely.”

It seemed that Frithiof’s happiness was to bring happiness to the whole
family. Even little Swanhild guessed the true state of things, and began
to frame visions of the happy future when the beautiful English girl
should become her own sister; while as to Herr Falck, the news seemed to
banish entirely the heavy depression which for some time had preyed upon
him. And so, in spite of the waiting, the time slipped by quickly to
Frithiof, the mere thought of Blanche’s love kept him rapturously happy,
and at the pretty villa in Kalvedalen there was much laughter and mirth,
and music and singing—much eager expectation and hope, and much planning
of a future life which should be even more full and happy.

At length, when the afternoons closed in early, and the long winter was
beginning to give signs of its approach, Frithiof took leave of his
home, and, on one October Saturday, started on his voyage to England. It
was, in a sense, the great event of his life, and they all instinctively
knew that it was a crisis, so that Sigrid drew aside little Swanhild at
the last, and left the father and son to have their parting words alone.

“I look to you, Frithiof,” the father said eagerly, “I look to you to
carry out the aims in which I myself have failed—to live the life I
could wish to have lived. May God grant you the wife who will best help
you in the struggle! I sometimes think, Frithiof, that things might have
gone very differently with me had your mother been spared.”

“Do you not let this depression influence you too much, father?” said
Frithiof. “Why take such a dark view of your own life? I shall only be
too happy if I make as much of the world as you have done. I wish you
could have come to England too. I think you want change and rest.”

“Ah!” said Herr Falck, laughing, “once over there you will not echo that
wish. No, no, you are best by yourself when you go a-wooing, my son.
Besides, I could not possibly leave home just now; we shall have the
herring-fleet back from Iceland before many days.”

Then, as the signal was given that all friends of the passengers must
leave the steamer, he took Frithiof’s hand and held it fast in his.

“God bless you, my boy—I think you will bring honor to our name, sooner
or later. Now, Sigrid, wish him well, and let us be off.”

He called little Swanhild to him, and walked briskly down the gangway,
then stood on the quay, talking very cheerfully, his momentary
depression quite past. Before long the steamer began to glide off, and
Frithiof, even in the midst of his bright expectations, felt a pang as
he waved a farewell to those he left behind him.

“A happy return to _Gamle Norge_!” shouted Herr Falck.

And Sigrid and Swanhild stood waving their handkerchiefs till the
steamer could no longer be seen.

“I am a fool to mind going away!” reflected Frithiof. “In three weeks’
time I shall be at home again. And the next time I leave Bergen, why,
who knows, perhaps it will be to attend my own wedding!”

And with that he began to pace the deck, whistling, as he walked, “The
Bridal Song of the Hardanger.”



                               CHAPTER V.


The event to which we have long eagerly looked forward is seldom all
that we have expected, and Frithiof, who for the last two months had
been almost hourly rehearsing his arrival in England, felt somewhat
depressed and disillusioned when, one chilly Monday morning, he first
set foot on English soil. The Southerner, arriving at Folkestone or
Dover, with their white cliffs and sunny aspect, gains a cheerful
impression as he steps ashore; but the Norwegian leaving behind him his
mountains and fjords, and coming straight to that most dingy and
unattractive town, Hull, is at great disadvantage.

A fine, drizzling rain was falling; in the early morning the shabby,
dirty houses looked their very worst. Swarms of grimy little children
had been turned out of their homes, and were making their way to morning
school, and hundreds of busy men and women were hurrying through the
streets, all with worn, anxious-looking faces. As he walked to the
railway station Frithiof felt almost overpowered by the desolateness of
the place. To be a mere unit in this unthinking, unheeding crowd, to be
pushed and jostled by the hurrying passengers, who all walked as if
their very lives depended on their speed, to hear around him the rapidly
spoken foreign language, with its strange north-country accent, all made
him feel very keenly that he was indeed a foreigner in a strange land.
He was glad to be once more in a familiar-looking train, and actually on
his way to London; and soon all these outer impressions faded away in
the absorbing consciousness that he was actually on his way to
Blanche—that on the very next day he might hope to see her again.

Fortunately the Tuesday proved to be a lovely, still, autumn day. He did
not like to call upon Mr. Morgan till the afternoon, and, indeed,
thought that he should scarcely find him at home earlier, so he roamed
about London, and looked at his watch about four times an hour, till at
length the time came when he could call a hansom and drive to Lancaster
Gate.

There are some houses which the moment you enter them suggest to you the
idea of money. The Morgans’ house was one of these; everything was
faultlessly arranged; your feet sank into the softest of carpets, you
were served by the most obsequious of servants, all that was cheap or
common or ordinary was banished from view, and you felt that the chair
you sat on was a very superior chair, that all the pictures and
ornaments were the very best that could be bought, and that ordinary
people who could not boast of a very large income were only admitted
into this aggressively superior dwelling on sufferance. With all its
grandeur, it was not a house which tempted you to break the tenth
commandment; it inspired you with a kind of wonder, and if the guests
had truly spoken the thought which most frequently occurred to them, it
would have been: “I wonder now what he gave for this? It must have cost
a perfect fortune!”

As to Frithiof, when he was shown into the great empty drawing-room with
its luxurious couches and divans and its wonderful collection of the
very best upholstery and the most telling works of art, he felt, as
strongly as he had felt in the dirty streets of Hull, that he was a
stranger and a foreigner. In the whole room there was nothing which
suggested to him the presence of Blanche; on the contrary, there was
everything which combated the vision of those days at Balholm and of
their sweet freedom. He felt stifled, and involuntarily crossed the room
and looked from the window at the green grass in Kensington Gardens, and
the tall elm-trees with their varying autumn tints.

Before many minutes had passed, however, his host came into the room,
greeting him politely but somewhat stiffly. “Glad to make your
acquaintance,” he said, scanning him a little curiously as he spoke. “I
heard of you, of course, from my brother. I am sure they are all very
much indebted to you for planning their Norwegian tour for them so
well.”

Had he also heard of him from Blanche? Had she indeed prepared the way
for him? Or would his request come as a surprise? These were the
thoughts which rushed through Frithiof’s mind as he sat opposite the
Englishman and noted his regular features, short, neat-looking, gray
beard, closely cropped hair, and rather cold eyes.

Any one watching the two could scarcely have conceived a greater
contrast: the young Norwegian, eager, hopeful, bearing in his face the
look of one who has all the world before him; the middle-aged Englishman
who had bought his experience, and in whose heart enthusiasm, and eager
enjoyment of life, and confident belief in those he encountered, had
long ceased to exist. Nevertheless, though Mr. Morgan was a hard-headed
and a somewhat cold-blooded man, he felt a little sorry for his guest,
and reflected to himself that such a fine looking fellow was far more
fit for the post at Stavanger than his own son Cyril.

“It is curious that you should have come to-day,” he remarked, after
they had exchanged the usual platitudes about the weather and the voyage
and the first impressions of England. “Only to-day the final decision
was arrived at about this long-mooted idea of the new branch of our firm
at Stavanger. Perhaps you have heard rumors of it?”

“I have heard nothing at all,” said Frithiof. “My father did not even
mention it.”

“It is scarcely possible that he has heard nothing of the idea,” said
Mr. Morgan. “When I saw you I had thought he had sent you over on that
very account. However, you have not as yet gone into the business, I
understand?”

“I am to be taken into partnership this autumn,” said Frithiof. “I was
of age the other day, and have only waited for that.”

“Strange,” said Mr. Morgan, “that only this very morning the telegram
should have been sent to your father. Had I known you were in England, I
would have waited. One can say things better face to face. And yet I
don’t know how that could have been either, for there was a sudden
chance of getting good promises at Stavanger, and delay was impossible.
I shall, of course, write fully to your father by the next mail, and I
will tell him that it is with great regret we sever our connection with
him.”

Frithiof was so staggered by this unexpected piece of news that for a
minute all else was driven from his mind.

“He will be very sorry to be no longer your agent,” he said.

“And I shall be sorry to lose him. Herr Falck has always been most
honorable. I have the greatest respect for him. Still, business is
business; one can’t afford to sentimentalize in life over old
connections. It is certainly best in the interest of our firm to set up
a branch of our own with its headquarters at Stavanger. My son will go
there very shortly.”

“The telegram is only just sent, you say?” asked Frithiof.

“The first thing this morning,” replied Mr. Morgan. “It was decided on
last night. By this time your father knows all about it; indeed, I
almost wonder we have had no reply from him. You must not let the affair
make any breach between us; it is after all, a mere business necessity.
I must find out from Mrs. Morgan what free nights we have, and you must
come and dine with us. I will write and let you know. Have you any
particular business in London? or have you only come for the sake of
traveling?”

“I came to see you, sir,” said Frithiof, his heart beating quickly,
though he spoke with his usual directness. “I came to ask your consent
to my betrothal with your daughter.”

“With my daughter!” exclaimed Mr. Morgan. “Betrothal! What, in Heaven’s
name, can you be thinking of?”

“I do not, of course, mean that there was a definite engagement between
us,” said Frithiof, speaking all the more steadily because of this
repulse. “Of course we could not have thought of that until we had asked
your consent. We agreed that I should come over this autumn and speak to
you about it; nothing passed at Balholm but just the assurance that we
loved each other.”

“Loved each other!” ejaculated Mr. Morgan, beginning to pace the room
with a look of perplexity and annoyance. “What folly will the girl
commit next?”

At this Frithiof also rose to his feet, the angry color rising to his
face. “I should never have spoken of my love to your daughter had I not
been in a position to support her,” he said hotly. “By your English
standards I may not, perhaps, be very rich, but our firm is one of the
leading firms in Bergen. We come of a good old Norwegian family. Why
should it be a folly for your daughter to love me?”

“You misunderstand me,” said Mr. Morgan. “I don’t wish to say one word
against yourself. However, as you have alluded to the matter I must tell
you plainly that I expect my daughter to make a very different marriage.
Money I can provide her with. Her husband will supply her with a title.”

“What!” cried Frithiof furiously, “you will force her to marry some
wretched aristocrat whom she can’t possibly love? For the sake of a mere
title you ruin her happiness.”

“I shall certainly do nothing of the kind,” said the Englishman, with a
touch of dignity. “Sit down, Herr Falck, and listen to me. I would have
spared you this had it been possible. You are very young, and you have
taken things for granted too much. You believed that the first pretty
girl that flirted with you was your future wife. I can quite fancy that
Blanche was well pleased to have you dancing attendance on her in
Norway, but it was on her part nothing but a flirtation, she does not
care for you in the least.”

“I do not believe it,” said Frithiof hotly.

“Don’t think that I wish to excuse her,” said Mr. Morgan. “She is very
much to be blamed. But, she is pretty and winsome, she knows her own
power, and it pleases her to use it; women are all of them vain and
selfish. What do they care for the suffering they cause?”

“You shall not say such things of her,” cried Frithiof desperately. “It
is not true. It can’t be true!”

His face had grown deathly pale, and he was trembling with excitement.
Mr. Morgan felt sorry for him.

“My poor fellow,” he said kindly, “don’t take it so hard. You are not
the first man who has been deceived. I am heartily sorry that my child’s
foolish thoughtlessness should have given you this to bear. But, after
all, it’s a lesson every one has to learn; you were inexperienced and
young.”

“It is not possible!” repeated Frithiof in terrible agitation,
remembering vividly her promises, her words of love, her kisses, the
expression of her eyes, as she had yielded to his eager declaration of
love. “I will never believe it possible till I hear it from her own
lips.”

With a gesture of annoyance, Mr. Morgan crossed the room and rang the
bell. “Well, let it be so, then,” he said coldly. “Blanche has treated
you ill; I don’t doubt it for a moment, and you will have every right to
hear the explanation from herself.” Then, as the servant appeared, “Tell
Miss Morgan that I want her in the drawing-room. Desire her to come at
once.”

The minutes of waiting which followed were the worst Frithiof had ever
lived through. Doubt, fear, indignation, and passionate love strove
together in his heart, while mingled with all was the oppressive
consciousness of his host’s presence, and of the aggressive superiority
of the room and its contents.

Perhaps the waiting was not altogether pleasant to Mr. Morgan; he poked
the fire and moved about restlessly. When, at last, light footsteps were
heard on the stairs, and Blanche entered the room, he turned toward her
with evident displeasure in his face.

She wore a dress of reddish brown with a great deal of plush about it,
and something in the way it was made suggested the greatest possible
contrast to the little simple traveling-dress she had worn in Norway.
Her eyes were bright and eager, her loveliness as great as ever.

“You wanted me, papa?” she began; then, as she came forward and
recognized Frithiof, she gave a little start of dismay and the color
burned in her cheeks.

“Yes, I wanted you,” said Mr. Morgan gravely. “Herr Falck’s son has just
arrived.”

She struggled hard to recover herself.

“I am very glad to see you again,” she said, forcing up a little
artificial laugh and holding out her hand.

But Frithiof had seen her first expression of dismay and it had turned
him into ice; he would not take her proffered hand, but only bowed
formally. There was a painful silence.

“This is not the first time, Blanche, that you have learned what comes
of playing with edged tools,” said Mr. Morgan sternly. “I heard from
others that you had flirted with Herr Falck’s son in Norway; I now learn
that it was by your own suggestion that he came to England to ask my
consent to an engagement, and that you allowed him to believe that you
loved him. What have you to say for yourself?”

While her father spoke, Blanche had stood by with bent head and downcast
eyes; at this direct question she looked up for a moment.

“I thought I did care for him just at the time,” she faltered. “It—it
was a mistake.”

“Why, then, did you not write and tell him so? It was the least you
could have done,” said her father.

“It was such a difficult letter to write,” she faltered. “I kept on
putting it off, and hoping that he, too, would find out his mistake. And
then sometimes I thought I could explain it all better to him if he
came.”

Frithiof made a step or two forward; his face was pale and rigid; the
blue seemed to have died out of his eyes—they looked like steel. “I wait
for your explanation,” he said, in a voice which, in spite of its
firmness, betrayed intense agitation.

Mr. Morgan without a word quitted the room, and the two were left alone.
Again there was a long, expressive silence. Then, with a sob, Blanche
turned away, sinking down on an ottoman and covering her face with her
hands. Her tears instantly melted Frithiof; his indignation and wounded
pride gave pace to love and tenderness; a sort of wild hope rose in his
mind.

“Blanche! Blanche!” he cried. “It isn’t true! It can’t be all over!
Others have been urging you to make some grand marriage—to be the wife
perhaps of some rich nobleman. But he can not love you as I love you.
Oh! have you forgotten how you told me I might trust to you? There is
not a moment since then that you have not been in my thoughts.”

“I hoped so you would forget,” she sobbed.

“How could I forget? What man could help remembering you day and night?
Oh, Blanche, don’t you understand that I love you? I love you!”

“I understand only too well,” she said, glancing at him, her dark eyes
brimming over with tears.

He drew nearer.

“And you will love me once more,” he said passionately. “You will not
choose rank and wealth; you will—”

“Oh, hush! hush!” she cried. “It has all been a dreadful mistake. I
never really loved you. Oh, don’t look like that! I was very dull in
Norway—there was no one else but you. I am sorry; very sorry.”

He started back from her as if she had dealt him some mortal blow, but
Blanche went on, speaking quickly and incoherently, never looking in his
face.

“After we went away I began to see all the difficulties so plainly—our
belonging to different countries, and being accustomed to different
things; but still I did really think I liked you till we got to
Christiania. There, on the steamer coming home, I found that it had all
been a mistake.”

She paused. All this time she had carefully kept the fingers of her left
hand out of view; the position was too constrained not to attract
Frithiof’s notice.

He remembered that, in the wearing of betrothal or wedding-rings,
English custom reversed the Norwegian, and turned upon her almost
fiercely.

“Why do you try to hide that from me?” he cried. “Are you already
betrothed to this other man?”

“It was only last Sunday,” she sobbed. “And I meant to write to you; I
did indeed.”

Once more she covered her face with her hands, this time not attempting
to hide from Frithiof the beautiful circlet of brilliants on her third
finger.

It seemed to him that giant hands seized on him then and crushed out of
him his very life. Yet the pain of living went on remorselessly, and as
if from a very great distance he heard Blanche’s voice.

“I am engaged to Lord Romiaux,” she said. “He had been in Norway on a
fishing tour, but it was on the steamer that we first met. And then
almost directly I knew that at Munkeggen it had all been quite a
mistake, and that I had never really loved you. We met again at one of
the watering-places in September, but it was only settled the day before
yesterday. I wish—oh, how I wish—that I had written to tell you!”

She stood up impulsively and drew nearer to him.

“Is there nothing I can do to make up for my mistake?” she said, lifting
pathetic eyes to his.

“Nothing.” he said bitterly.

“Oh, don’t think badly of me for it,” she pleaded. “Don’t hate me.”

“Hate you?” he exclaimed. “It will be the curse of my life that I love
you—that you have made me love you.”

He turned as though to go away.

“Don’t go without saying good-by,” she exclaimed; and her eyes said more
plainly than words, “I do not mind if you kiss me just once more.”

He paused, ice one minute, fire the next, yet through it all aware that
his conscience was urging him to go without delay.

Blanche watched him tremulously; she drew yet nearer.

“Could we not still be friends?” she said, with a pathetic little quiver
in her voice.

“No,” he cried vehemently, yet with a certain dignity in his manner;
“no, we could not.”

Then, before Blanche could recover enough from her sense of humiliation
at this rebuff to speak, he bowed to her and left the room.

She threw herself down on the sofa and buried her face in the cushions.
“Oh, what must he think of me? what must he think of me?” she sobbed.
“How I wish I had written to him at once and saved myself this dreadful
scene! How could I have been so silly! so dreadfully silly! To be afraid
of writing a few words in a letter! My poor Viking! he looked so grand
as he turned away. I wish we could have been friends still; it used to
be so pleasant in Norway; he was so unlike other people; he interested
me. And now it is all over, and I shall never be able to meet him again.
Oh, I have managed very badly. If I had not been so imprudent on
Munkeggen he might have been my cavalier all his life, and I should have
liked to show him over here to people. I should have liked to initiate
him in everything.”

The clock on the mantel-piece struck five. She started up and ran across
to one of the mirrors, looking anxiously at her eyes. “Oh, dear! oh,
dear! what shall I do?” she thought. “Algernon will be here directly,
and I have made a perfect object of myself with crying.” Then, as the
door-bell rang, she caught up a couvrette, sunk down on the sofa, and
covered herself up picturesquely. “There is nothing for it but a bad
headache,” she said to herself.



                              CHAPTER VI.


On the stairs Frithiof was waylaid by Mr. Morgan; it was with a sort of
surprise that he heard his own calm replies to the Englishman’s polite
speeches, and regrets, and inquiries as to when he returned to Norway,
for all the time his head was swimming, and it was astonishing that he
could frame a correct English phrase. The thought occurred to him that
Mr. Morgan would be glad enough to get rid of him and to put an end to
so uncomfortable a visit; he could well imagine the shrug of relief with
which the Englishman would return to his fireside, with its aggressively
grand fenders and fire-irons, and would say to himself, “Well, poor
devil, I am glad he is gone! A most provoking business from first to
last.” For to the Morgans the affair would probably end as soon as the
door had closed behind him, but for himself it would drag on and on
indefinitely. He walked on mechanically past the great houses which, to
his unaccustomed eyes, looked so palatial; every little trivial thing
seemed to obtrude itself upon him; he noticed the wan, haggard-looking
crossing sweeper, who tried his best to find something to sweep on that
dry, still day when even autumn leaves seldom fell; he noticed the
pretty spire of the church, and heard the clock strike five, reflecting
that one brief half-hour had been enough to change his whole life—to
bring him from the highest point of hope and eager anticipation to this
lowest depth of wretchedness. The endless succession of great,
monotonous houses grew intolerable to him; he crossed the road and
turned into Kensington Gardens, aware, as the first wild excitement died
down in his heart, of a cold, desolate blankness, the misery of which
appalled him. What was the meaning of it all? How could it possibly be
borne? Only by degrees did it dawn upon his overwrought brain that
Blanche’s faithlessness had robbed him of much more than her love. It
had left him stripped and wounded on the highway of life; it had taken
from him all belief in woman; it had made forever impossible for him his
old creed of the joy of mere existence; it had killed his youth. Was he
now to get up, and crawl on, and drag through the rest of his life as
best might be? Why, what was life worth to him now? He had been a fool
ever to believe in it; it was as she herself had once told him, he had
believed that it was all-sufficient merely because he had never known
unhappiness—never known the agony that follows when, for—

                   “The first time Nature says plain ‘No’
               To some ‘Yes’ in you, and walks over you
               In gorgeous sweeps of scorn.”

His heart was so utterly dead that he could not even think of his home;
neither his father nor Sigrid rose before him as he looked down that
long, dreary vista of life that lay beyond. He could only see that
Blanche was no longer his; that the Blanche he had loved and believed in
had never really existed; that he had been utterly deceived, cheated,
defrauded; and that something had been taken from him which could never
return.

“I will not live a day longer,” he said to himself; “not an hour
longer.” And in the relief of having some attainable thing to desire
ardently, were it only death and annihilation, he quickened his pace and
felt a sort of renewal of energy and life within him, urging him on,
holding before him the one aim which he thought was worth pursuing. He
would end it all quickly, he would not linger on, weakly bemoaning his
fate, or railing at life for having failed him and disappointed his
hopes; he would just put an end to everything without more ado. As to
arguing with himself about the right or wrong of the matter, such a
notion never occurred to him, he just walked blindly on, certain that
some opportunity would present itself, buoyed up by an unreasoning hope
that death would bring him relief.

By this time he had reached Hyde Park, and a vague memory came back to
him; he remembered that, as he drove to Lancaster Gate, that afternoon,
he had crossed a bridge. There was water over there. It should be that
way. And he walked on more rapidly than before, still with an almost
dazzling perception of all the trifling little details, the color of the
dry, dusty road, the green of the turf, the dresses of those who passed
by him, the sound of their voices, the strange incongruity of their
perfectly unconcerned, contented faces. He would get away from all
this—would wait till it was dusk, when he could steal down unnoticed to
the water. Buoyed up by this last hope of relief, he walked along the
north shore of the Serpentine, passed the Receiving House of the Royal
Humane Society, with an unconcerned thought that his lifeless body would
probably be taken there, passed the boat-house with a fervent hope that
no one there would try a rescue, and at length, finding a seat under a
tree close to the water’s edge, sat down to wait for the darkness. It
need not be for long, for already the sun was setting, and over toward
the west he could see that behind the glowing orange and russet of the
autumn trees was a background of crimson sky. The pretty little wooded
island and the round green boat-house on the shore stood out in strong
relief; swans and ducks swam about contentedly; on the further bank was
a dark fringe of trees; away to the left the three arches of a
gray-stone bridge. In the evening light it made a fair picture, but the
beauty of it seemed only to harden him, for it reminded him of past
happiness; he turned with sore-hearted relief to the nearer view of the
Serpentine gleaming coldly as its waters washed the shore, and to the
dull monotony of the path in front of him with its heaps of brown
leaves. A bird sat singing in the beech-tree above him; its song jarred
on him just as much as the beauty of the sunset, it seemed to urge him
to leave the place where he was not needed, to take himself out of a
world which was meant for beauty and brightness and success, a world
which had no sympathy for failure or misery. He longed for the song to
cease, and he longed for the sunset glory to fade, he was impatient for
the end; the mere waiting for that brief interval became to him almost
intolerable; only the dread of being rescued held him back.

Presently footsteps on the path made him look up; a shabbily dressed
girl walked slowly by, she was absorbed in a newspaper story and did not
notice him; neither did she notice her charge, a pale-faced, dark-eyed
little girl of about six years old who followed her at some distance,
chanting a pretty, monotonous little tune as she dragged a toy-cart
along the gravel. Frithiof, with the preternatural powers of observation
which seemed his that day, noticed in an instant every tiniest detail of
the child’s face and dress and bearing, the curious anatomy of the
wooden horse, the heap of golden leaves in the little cart. As the child
drew nearer, the words of the song became perfectly audible to him. She
sang very slowly, and in a sort of unconscious way, as if she couldn’t
help it:

                      “Comfort every sufferer,
                          Watching late in pain—”

She paused to put another handful of leaves into the cart, arranged them
with great care, patted the wooden steed, and resumed her song as if
there had been no interruption—

                     “Those who plan some evil,
                         From their sin restrain.”

Frithiof felt as if a knife had been suddenly plunged into him; he tried
to hear more, but the words died away, he could only follow the
monotonous little tune in the clear voice, and the rattling of the toy
cart on the pathway. And so the child passed on out of sight, and he saw
her no more.

He was alone again, and the twilight for which he had longed was fast
closing in upon him; a sort of blue haze seemed gathering over the park;
night was coming on. What was this horrible new struggle which was
beginning within him? “Evil,” “sin”; could he not at least do what he
would with his own life? Where was the harm in ending that which was
hopelessly spoiled and ruined? Was not suicide a perfectly legitimate
ending to a life?

A voice within him answered his question plainly:

“To the man with a diseased brain—the man who doesn’t know what he is
about—it is no worse an end than to die in bed of a fever. But to
you—you who are afraid of the suffering of life, you who know quite well
what you are doing—to you it is sin.”

Fight against it as he would, he could not stifle this new consciousness
which had arisen within him. What had led him, he angrily wondered, to
choose that particular place to wait in? What had made that child walk
past? What had induced her to sing those particular words? Did that
vague First Cause, in whom after a fashion he believed, take any heed of
trifles such as those? He would never believe that. Only women or
children could hold such a creed: only those who led sheltered,
innocent, ignorant lives. But a man—a man who had just learned what the
world really was, who saw that the weakest went to the wall, and might
triumphed over right—a man who had once believed in the beauty of life
and had been bitterly disillusioned—could never believe in a God who
ordered all things for good. It was a chance, a mere unlucky chance, yet
the child’s words had made it impossible for him to die in peace.

As a matter of fact the sunset sky and fading light had suggested to the
little one’s untroubled mind the familiar evening hymn with its graphic
description of scenery, its beautiful word-painting, its wide human
sympathies; and that great mystery of life which links us together,
whether we know it or not, gave to the child the power to counteract the
influence of Blanche Morgan’s faithlessness, and to appeal to one to
whom the sight of that same sunset had suggested only thoughts of
despair.

A wild confusion of memories seemed to rush through his mind, and
blended with them always were the welcome words and the quiet little
chant. He was back at home again talking with the old pastor who had
prepared him for confirmation; he was a mere boy once more,
unhesitatingly accepting all that he was taught; he was standing in the
great crowded Bergen church and declaring his belief in Christ, and his
entire willingness to give up everything wrong; he was climbing a
mountain with Blanche and arguing with her that life—mere existence—was
beautiful and desirable.

Looking back afterward on the frightful struggle, it seemed to him that
for ages he had tossed to and fro in that horrible hesitation. In
reality all must have been over within a quarter of an hour. There rose
before him the recollection of his father as he had last seen him
standing on the deck of the steamer, and he remembered the tone of his
voice as he had said:

“I look to you, Frithiof, to carry out the aims in which I myself have
failed, to live the life that I could wish to have lived.”

He saw once again the wistful look in his father’s eyes, the mingled
love, pride, and anxiety with which he had turned to him, loath to let
him go, and yet eager to speed him on his way. Should he now disappoint
all his hopes? Should he, deliberately and in the full possession of all
his faculties, take a step which must bring terrible suffering to his
home people? And then he remembered for the first time that already
trouble and vexation and loss had overtaken his father; he knew well how
greatly he would regret the connection with the English firm, and he
pictured to himself the familiar house in Kalvedalen with a new and
unfamiliar cloud upon it, till instead of the longing for death there
came to him a nobler longing—a longing to go back and help, a longing to
make up to his father for the loss and vexation and the slight which had
been put upon him. He began to feel ashamed of the other wish, he began
to realize that there was still something to be lived for, though indeed
life looked to him as dim and uninviting as the twilight park with its
wreaths of gray mists, and its unpeopled solitude.

Yet still he would live; the other thought no longer allured him, his
strength and manliness were returning; with bitter resolution he tore
himself from the vision of Blanche which rose mockingly before him, and
getting up, made his way out of the park.

Emerging once more into the busy world of traffic at Hyde Park corner,
the perception of his forlorn desolateness came to him with far more
force than in the quiet path by the Serpentine. For the first time he
felt keenly that he was in an unknown city, and there came over him a
sick longing for Norway, for dear old Bergen, for the familiar
mountains, the familiar faces, the friendly greetings of passers-by. For
a few minutes he stood still, uncertain which road to take, wondering
how in the world he should get through the weary hours of his solitary
evening. Close by him a young man stood talking to the occupants of a
brougham which had drawn up by the pavement; he heard a word or two of
their talk, dimly, almost unconsciously.

“Is the result of the trial known yet?”

“Yes, five years’ penal servitude, and no more than he deserves.”

“The poor children! what will become of them?”

“Shall you be home by ten? We wont hinder you, then.”

“Quite by ten. Tell father that Sardoni is free for the night he wanted
him; I met him just now. Good-by.” Then to the coachman “Home!”

The word startled Frithiof back to the recollection of his own affairs;
he had utterly lost his bearings and must ask for direction. He would
accost this man who seemed a little less in a hurry than the rest of the
world.

“Will you kindly tell me the way to the Arundel Hotel?” he asked.

The young man turned at the sound of his voice, looked keenly at him for
an instant, then held out his hand in cordial welcome.

“How are you?” he exclaimed. “What a lucky chance that we should have
run across each other in the dark like this! Have you been long in
England?”

Frithiof, at the first word of hearty greeting, looked up with startled
eyes, and in the dim gas-light he saw the honest English face and kindly
eyes of Roy Boniface.



                              CHAPTER VII.


Meantime the brougham had bowled swiftly away and its two occupants had
settled themselves down comfortably as though they were preparing for a
long drive.

“Are you warm enough, my child? Better let me have this window down, and
you put yours up,” said Mrs. Boniface, glancing with motherly anxiety at
the fair face beside her.

“You spoil me, mother dear,” said Cecil. “And indeed I do want you not
to worry about me. I am quite strong, if you would only believe it.”

“Well, well, I hope you are,” said Mrs. Boniface, with a sigh. “But any
way it’s more than you look, child.”

And the mother thought wistfully of two graves in a distant cemetery
where Cecil’s sisters lay; and she remembered with a cruel pang that
only a few days ago some friend had remarked to her, with the
thoughtless frankness of a rapid talker, “Cecil is looking so pretty
just now, but she’s got the consumptive look in her face, don’t you
think?” And these words lay rankling in the poor mother’s heart, even
though she had been assured by the doctors that there was no disease, no
great delicacy even, no cause whatever for anxiety.

“I am glad we have seen Doctor Royston,” said Cecil, “because now we
shall feel quite comfortable, and you wont be anxious any more, mother.
It would be dreadful, I think, to have to be a sort of semi-invalid all
one’s life, though I suppose some people just enjoy it, since Doctor
Royston said that half the girls in London were invalided just for want
of sensible work. I rather believe, mother, that is what has been the
matter with me,” and she laughed.

“You, my dear!” said Mrs. Boniface; “I am sure you are not at all idle
at home. No one could say such a thing of you.”

“But I am always having to invent things to do to keep myself busy,”
said Cecil. “Mother, I have got a plan in my head now that would settle
my work for five whole years, and I do so want you to say ‘yes’ to it.”

“It isn’t that you want to go into some sisterhood?” asked Mrs.
Boniface, her gentle gray eyes filling with tears.

“Oh, no, no,” said Cecil emphatically. “Why, how could I ever go away
from home and leave you, darling, just as I am getting old enough to be
of use to you? It’s nothing of that kind, and the worst of it is that it
would mean a good deal of expense to father, which seems hardly fair.”

“He wont grudge that,” said Mrs. Boniface. “Your father would do
anything to please you, dear. What is this plan? Let me hear about it.”

“Well, the other night when I was hearing all about those poor Grantleys
opposite to us—how the mother had left her husband and children and gone
off no one knows where, and then how the father had forged that check
and would certainly be imprisoned; I began to wonder what sort of a
chance the children had in the world. And no one seemed to know or to
care what would become of them, except father, and he said we must try
to get them into some asylum or school.”

“It isn’t many asylums that would care to take them, I expect,” said
Mrs. Boniface. “Poor little things, there’s a hard fight before them!
But what was your plan?”

“Why, mother, it was just to persuade father to let them come to us for
the five years. Of course it would be an expense to him, but I would
teach them, and help to take care of them; and oh, it would be so nice
to have children about the house! One can never be dull where there are
children.”

“I knew she was dull at home,” thought the mother to herself. “It was
too much of a change for her to come back from school, from so many
educated people and young friends, to an ignorant old woman like me and
a silent house. Not that the child would ever allow it.”

“But of course, darling,” said Cecil, “I wont say a word more about it
if you think it would trouble you or make the house too noisy.”

“There is plenty of room for them, poor little mites,” said Mrs.
Boniface. “And the plan is just like you, dear. There’s only one
objection I have to it. I don’t like your binding yourself to work for
so many years—not just now while you are so young. I should have liked
you to marry, dear.”

“But I don’t think that is likely,” said Cecil. “And it does seem so
stupid to let the time pass on, and do nothing for years and years just
because there is a chance that some man whom you could accept may
propose to you. The chances are quite equal that it may not be so, and
then you have wasted a great part of your life.”

“I wish you could have fancied Herbert White,” said Mrs. Boniface
wistfully. “He would have made such a good husband.”

“I hope he will to some one else. But that would have been impossible,
mother, quite, quite impossible.”

“Cecil, dearie, is there—is there any one else?”

“No one, mother,” said Cecil quietly, and the color in her cheeks did
not deepen, and Mrs. Boniface felt satisfied. Yet, nevertheless, at that
very moment there flashed into Cecil’s mind the perception of the real
reason which had made it impossible for her to accept the offer of
marriage that a week or two ago she had refused. She saw that Frithiof
Falck would always be to her a sort of standard by which to measure the
rest of mankind, and she faced the thought quietly, for there never had
been any question of love between them; he would probably marry the
pretty Miss Morgan, and it was very unlikely that she should ever meet
him again.

“The man whom I could accept must be that sort of man,” she thought to
herself. “And there is something degrading in the idea of standing and
waiting for the doubtful chance that such a one may some day appear.
Surely we girls were not born into the world just to stand in rows
waiting to get married?”

“And I am sure I don’t know what I should do without you if you did get
married,” said Mrs. Boniface, driving back the tears which had started
to her eyes, “so I don’t know why I am so anxious that it should come
about, except that I should so like to see you happy.”

“And so I am happy, perfectly happy,” said Cecil, and as she spoke she
suddenly bent forward and kissed her mother. “A girl would have to be
very wicked not to be happy with you and father and Roy to live with.”

“I wish you were not cut off from so much,” said Mrs. Boniface. “You
see, dear, if you were alone in the world people would take you up—I
mean the style of people you would care to be friends with—but as long
as there’s the shop, and as long as you have a mother who can’t talk
well about recent books, and who is not always sure how to pronounce
things—”

“Mother! mother!” cried Cecil, “how can you say such things? As long as
I have you, what do I want with any one else?”

Mrs. Boniface patted the girl’s hand tenderly.

“I like to talk of the books with you, dearie,” she said; “you
understand that. There’s nothing pleases me better than to hear you read
of an evening, and I’m very much interested in that poor Mrs. Carlyle,
though it does seem to me it’s a comfort to be in private life, where no
biographers can come raking up all your foolish words and bits of
quarrels after you are dead and buried. Why, here we are at home. How
quick we have got down this evening! As to your plan, dearie, I’ll just
talk it over with father the very first chance I have.”

“Thank you, mother. I do so hope he will let us have them.” And Cecil
sprang out of the carriage with more animation in her face than Mrs.
Boniface had seen there for a long time.

Mrs. Boniface was a Devonshire woman, and, notwithstanding her
five-and-twenty years of London life, she still preserved something of
her western accent and intonation; she had also the gentle manner and
the quiet consideration and courtesy which seem innate in most
west-country people. As to education, she had received the best that was
to be had for tradesmen’s daughters in the days of her youth, but she
was well aware that it did not come up to modern requirements, and had
taken good care that Cecil should be brought up very differently. There
was something very attractive in her homely simplicity; and though she
could not help regretting that Cecil, owing to her position, was cut off
from much that other girls enjoyed, nothing would have induced her to
try to push her way in the world,—she was too true a lady for that, and,
moreover, beneath all her gentleness had too much dignity and
independence of character. So it had come to pass that they lived a very
quiet life, with few intimate friends and not too many acquaintances;
but perhaps they were none the less happy for that. Certainly there was
about the home a sense of peace and rest not too often to be met with in
this bustling nineteenth century.

The opportunity for suggesting Cecil’s plan to Mr. Boniface came soon
after they reached home. In that house things were wont to be quickly
settled; they were not great at discussions, and perhaps this accounted
in a great measure for the peace of the domestic atmosphere. Certainly
there is nothing so productive of family quarrels as the habit of
perpetually talking over the various arrangements, household or
personal, and many a good digestion must have been ruined, and many a
temper soured by the baneful habit of arguing the _pros_ and _cons_ of
some vexed question during breakfast or dinner.

Cecil was in the drawing-room, playing one of Chopin’s Ballads, when her
father came into the room. He stood by the fire till she had finished,
watching her thoughtfully. He was an elderly man, tall and spare, with a
small, shapely head, white hair and trim white beard. His gray eyes were
honest and kindly, like his son’s, and the face was a good as well as a
refined face. He was one of the deacons of a Congregational chapel, and
came of an old Nonconformist family, which for many generations had
pleaded and suffered for religious liberty. Robert Boniface was true to
his principles, and when his children grew up, and, becoming old enough
to go thoroughly into the question, declared their wish to join the
Church of England, he made not the slightest objection. What was more,
he would not even allow them to see that it was a grief to him.

“It is not to be supposed that every one should see from one point of
view,” he had said to his wife. “We are all of us looking to the same
sun, and that is the great thing.”

Such division must always be a little sad, but mutual love and mutual
respect made them in this case a positive gain. There were no arguments,
but each learned to see and admire what was good in the other’s view, to
hold stanchly to what was deemed right, and to live in that love which
practically nullifies all petty divisions and differences.

“And so I hear that you want to be mothering those little children over
the way,” said Mr. Boniface, when the piece was ended.

Cecil crossed the room and stood beside him.

“What do you think about it, father?” she asked.

“I think that before you decide you must realize that it will be a great
responsibility.”

“I have thought of that,” she said. “And of course there is the expense
to be thought of.”

“Never mind about the expense; I will undertake that part of the matter
if you will undertake the responsibility. Do you quite realize that even
pretty little children are sometimes cross and naughty and ill?”

She laughed.

“Yes, yes; I have seen those children in all aspects, and they are
rather spoiled. But I can’t bear to think that they will be sent to some
great institution, with no one to care for them properly.”

“Then you are willing to undertake your share of the bargain?”

“Quite.”

“Very well, then, that is settled. Let us come across and see if any one
has stepped in before us.”

Cecil, in great excitement, flew upstairs to tell her mother, and
reappeared in a minute or two in her hat and jacket. Then the father and
daughter crossed the quiet suburban road to the opposite house, where
such a different life-story had been lived. The door was opened to them
by the nurse; she had evidently been crying, and even as they entered
the passage they seemed conscious of the desolation of the whole
atmosphere.

“Oh, miss, have you heard the verdict?” said the servant, who knew Cecil
slightly, and was eager for sympathy. “And what’s to become of my little
ones no one seems to know.”

“That is just what we came to inquire about,” said Mr. Boniface, “We
heard there were no relations to take charge of them. Is that true?”

“There’s not a creature in the world to care for them, sir,” said the
nurse. “There’s the lawyer looking through master’s papers now, sir, and
he says we must be out of this by next week, and that he must look up
some sort of school where they’ll take them cheap. A school for them
little bits of things, sir, isn’t it enough to break one’s heart? And
little Miss Gwen so delicate, and only a lawyer to choose it, one as
knows nothing but about parchments and red tape, sir, and hasn’t so much
as handled a child in his life, I’ll be bound.”

“If Mr. Grantley’s solicitor is here I should like to speak to him for a
minute,” said Mr. Boniface. “I’ll be with you again before long, Cecil;
perhaps you could see the children.”

He was shown into the study which had belonged to the master of the
house, and unfolded Cecil’s suggestion to the lawyer, who proved to be a
much more fatherly sort of man than the nurse had represented. He was
quite certain that his client would be only too grateful for so friendly
an act.

“Things have gone hardly with poor Grantley,” he remarked. “And such an
offer will be the greatest possible surprise to him. The poor fellow has
not had a fair chance; handicapped with such a wife, one can almost
forgive him for going to the bad. I shall be seeing him once more
to-morrow, and will let you know what he says. But of course there can
be but one answer—he will thankfully accept your help.”

Meanwhile Cecil had been taken upstairs to the nursery; it looked a
trifle less desolate than the rest of the house, yet lying on the table
among the children’s toys she saw an evening paper with the account of
the verdict and sentence on John Grantley.

The nurse had gone into the adjoining room, but she quickly returned.

“They are asleep, miss, but you’ll come in and see them, wont you?”

Cecil had wished for this, and followed her guide into the dimly lighted
night nursery, where in two little cribs lay her future charges. They
were beautiful children, and as she watched them in their untroubled
sleep and thought of the mother who had deserted them and disgraced her
name, and the father who was that moment beginning his five years of
penal servitude, her heart ached for the little ones, and more and more
she longed to help them.

Lancelot, the elder of the two, was just four years old; he had a sweet,
rosy, determined little face with a slightly Jewish look about it, his
curly brown hair was long enough to fall back over the pillow, and in
his fat little hand he grasped a toy horse, which was his inseparable
companion night and day. The little girl was much smaller and much more
fragile-looking, though in some respects the two were alike. Her baby
face looked exquisite now in its perfect peace, and Cecil did not wonder
that the nurse’s tears broke forth again as she spoke of the little
two-year-old Gwen being sent to school. They were still talking about
the matter when Mr. Boniface rejoined them; the lawyer also came in,
and, to the nurse’s surprise, even looked at the sleeping children.
“Quite human-like,” as she remarked afterward to the cook.

“Don’t you distress yourself about the children,” he said kindly. “It
will be all right for them. Probably they will only have to move across
the road. We shall know definitely about it to-morrow; but this
gentleman has very generously offered to take care of them.”

The nurse’s tearful gratitude was interrupted by a sound from one of the
cribs. Lance, disturbed perhaps by the voices, was talking in his sleep.

“Gee-up,” he shouted, in exact imitation of a carter, as he waved the
toy-horse in the air.

Every one laughed, and took the hint: the lawyer went back to his work,
and Mr. Boniface and Cecil, after a few parting words with the happy
servant, recrossed the road to Rowan Tree House.

“Oh, father, it is so very good of you,” said Cecil, slipping her arm
into his; “I haven’t been so happy for an age!”

“And I am happy,” he replied, “that it is such a thing as this which
pleases my daughter.”

After that there followed a delightful evening of anticipation, and Mrs.
Boniface entered into the plan with her whole heart and talked of
nursery furniture put away in the loft, and arranged the new nursery in
imagination fifty times over—always with improvements. And this made
them talk of the past, and she began to tell amusing stories of Roy and
Cecil when they were children, and even went back to remembrances of her
own nursery life, in which a stern nurse who administered medicine with
a forcing spoon figured largely.

“I believe,” said the gentle old lady, laughing, “that it was due to
that old nurse of mine that I never could bear theological arguments.
She began them when we were so young that we took a fatal dislike to
them. I can well remember, as a little thing of four years old, sitting
on the punishment chair in the nursery when all the others were out at
play, and wishing that Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned.”

“You all sound very merry,” said Roy, opening the door before the laugh
which greeted this story had died away.

“Why, how nice and early you are, Roy!” exclaimed Cecil. “Oh! mother has
been telling us no end of stories, you ought to have been here to listen
to them. And, Roy, we are most likely going to have those little
children over the way to live with us till their father is out of prison
again.”

Roy seemed grave and preoccupied, but Cecil was too happy to notice
that, and chattered on contentedly. He scarcely heard her, yet a sense
of strong contrast made the home-likeness of the scene specially
emphasized to him. He looked at his father leaning back in the great
arm-chair, with reading-lamp and papers close by him, but with his eyes
fixed on Cecil as she sat on the rug at his feet, the firelight
brightening her fair hair; he looked at his mother on the opposite side
of the hearth, in the familiar dress which she almost always wore—black
silk with soft white lace about the neck and bodice, and a pretty white
lace cap. She was busy with her netting, but every now and then glanced
up at him.

“You are tired to-night, Roy,” she said, when Cecil’s story had come to
an end.

“Just a little,” he owned. “Such a curious thing happened to me. It was
a good thing you caught sight of me at Hyde Park Corner and stopped to
ask about the trial, Cecil, for otherwise it would never have come
about. Who do you think I met just as you drove on?”

“I can’t guess,” said Cecil, rising from her place on the hearth-rug as
the gong sounded for supper.

“One of our Norwegian friends,” said Roy. “Frithiof Falck.”

“What! is he actually in England?” said Cecil, taking up the
reading-lamp to carry it into the next room.

“Yes, poor fellow,” said Roy.

Something in his tone made Cecil’s heart beat quickly; she could not
have accounted for the strength of the feeling which suddenly
overwhelmed her; she hardly knew what it was she feared so much, or why
such a sudden panic had seized upon her; she trembled from head to foot,
and was glad as they crossed the hall to hand the lamp to Roy, glancing
up at him as she did so, apprehensively.

“Why do you say poor fellow?” she asked. “Oh, Roy, what is the matter?
what—what has happened to him?”



                             CHAPTER VIII.


“The house seems quiet without Frithiof,” remarked Herr Falck on the
Monday after his son’s departure.

Frithiof at that very moment was walking through the streets of Hull,
feeling lonely and desolate enough. They felt desolate without him at
Bergen, and began to talk much of his return, and to wonder when the
wedding would be, and to settle what presents they would give Blanche.

The dining-room looked very pleasant on that October morning. Sigrid,
though never quite happy when her twin was away, was looking forward
eagerly to his return, and was so much cheered by the improvement in her
father’s health and spirits that she felt more at rest than she had done
for some time. Little Swanhild, whose passion for Blanche increased
daily, was in the seventh heaven of happiness, and though she had not
been told everything, knew quite well that the general expectation was
that Frithiof would be betrothed to her ideal. As for Herr Falck he
looked eager and hopeful, and it seemed as if some cloud of care had
been lifted off him. He talked more than he had done of late, teased
Swanhild merrily about her lessons, and kept both girls laughing and
chattering at the table till Swanhild had to run off in a hurry,
declaring that she should be late for school.

“You should not tell such funny stories in the morning, little father!”
she said laughingly, as she stopped for the customary kiss and “_tak for
maden_” (thanks for the meal) on her way out of the room.

“Ah, but to laugh is so good for the digestion,” said Herr Falck. “You
will read English all the better in consequence. See if you don’t.”

“Are you busy to-day, father?” asked Sigrid, as the door closed behind
the little girl.

“Not at all. I shall take a walk before going to the office. I tell you
what, Sigrid, you shall come with me and get a new English story at
Beyer’s, to cheer you in Frithiof’s absence. What was the novel some one
told you gave the best description of English home life?”

“‘Wives and Daughters,’” said Sigrid.

“Well, let us get it then, and afterward we will take a turn above
Walkendorf’s Tower, and see if there is any sign of our vessels from
Iceland.”

“You heard good news of them last month, did you not?” asked Sigrid.

“No definite news, but everything was very hopeful. They sent word by
the steamer to Granton, and telegraphed from there to our station in
Öifjord.”

“What did they say?”

“That as yet there was no catch of herrings, but that everything was
most promising, as plenty of whales were seen every day at the mouth of
the fjord. Oh, I am perfectly satisfied. I have had no anxiety about the
expedition since then.” So father and daughter set out together. It was
a clear frosty morning, the wintry air was invigorating, and Sigrid
thought she had never seen her father look so well before; his step
seemed so light, his brow so smooth, his eyes so unclouded. Beyer’s shop
had fascinations for them both; she lingered long in the neighborhood of
the Tauchnitz shelves, while Herr Falck discussed the news with some one
behind the counter, and admired the pictures so temptingly displayed.

“Look here, Sigrid!” he exclaimed. “Did you ever see a prettier little
water-color than that? Bergen in winter, from the harbor. What is the
price of it? A hundred kroner? I must really have it. It shall be a
present to you in memory of our walk.”

Sigrid was delighted with the picture, and Herr Falck himself seemed as
pleased with it as a child with a new toy. They talked away together,
planning where it should hang at home and saying how it was just the
sort of thing Frithiof would like.

“It is quite a pity he did not see it when he was away in Germany, he
would have liked to have it when he was suffering from _Heimweh_,” said
Sigrid.

“Well, all that sort of thing is over for him, I hope,” said Herr Falck.
“No need that he should be away from Bergen any more, except now and
then for a holiday. And if ever you marry a foreigner, Sigrid, you will
be able to take Bergen with you as a consolation.”

They made their way up to a little wooded hill above the fortress, which
commanded a wide and beautiful view.

“Ah!” cried Herr Falck. “Look there, Sigrid! Look, look! there is surely
a vessel coming.”

She gazed out seaward.

“You have better eyes than I have, father. Whereabouts? Oh! yes, now I
see, ever so far away. Do you think it is one of yours?”

“I can’t tell yet,” said Herr Falck; and glancing at him she saw that he
was in an agony of impatience, and that the old troubled look had come
back to his face.

Again the nameless fear which had seized her in the summer took
possession of her. She would not bother him with questions, but waited
silently beside him, wondering why he was so unusually excited, wishing
that she understood business matters, longing for Frithiof, who would
perhaps have known all about it and could have reassured her.

“Yes, yes,” cried Herr Falck at length, “I am almost sure it is one of
our Öifjord vessels. Yes! I am certain it is the ‘Solid.’ Now the great
question is this—is she loaded or only ballasted?”

The fresh, strong wind kept blowing Sigrid’s fringe about distractingly;
sheltering her eyes with her hand, she looked again eagerly at the
approaching vessel.

“I think she is rather low in the water, father, don’t you?”

“I hope so—I hope so,” said Herr Falck, and he took off his spectacles
and began to wipe the dim glasses with fingers that trembled visibly.

The ship was drawing nearer and nearer, and every moment Sigrid realized
more that it was not as she had first hoped. Undoubtedly the vessel was
high in the water. She glanced apprehensively at her father.

“I can’t bear this any longer, Sigrid,” he exclaimed. “We will go down
to Tydskebryggen, and take a boat and row out to her.”

They hurried away, speaking never a word. Sigrid feared that her father
would send her home, thinking it would be cold for her on the water, but
he allowed her to get into the little boat in silence, perhaps scarcely
realizing her presence, too much taken up with his great anxiety to
think of anything else. As they threaded their way through the busy
harbor, she began to feel a little more cheerful. Perhaps, after all,
the matter was not so serious. The sun shone brightly on the sparkling
water; the sailors and laborers on the vessels and the quays shouted and
talked at their work; on a steamer, which they passed, one of the men
was cleaning the brass-work and singing blithely the familiar tune of
“Sönner av Norge.”

“We must hope for the best,” said Herr Falck, perhaps also feeling the
influence of the cheerful tune.

Just as they neared the “Solid” the anchor dropped.

“You had better wait here,” said Heir Falck, “while I go on board. I’ll
not keep you long, dear.”

Nevertheless, anxious waiting always does seem long, and Sigrid, spite
of her sealskin jacket, shivered as she sat in the little boat. It was
not so much the cold that made her shiver, as that horrible nameless
dread, that anxiety which weighed so much more heavily because she did
not fully understand it.

When her father rejoined her, her worst fears were realized. He neither
looked at her nor spoke to her, but, just giving a word of direction to
the boatman, sat down in his place with folded arms and bent head. She
knew instantly that some terrible disaster must have happened, but she
did not dare to ask what it was; she just sat still listening to the
monotonous stroke of the oars, and with an uneasy wonder in her mind as
to what would happen next. They were nearing the shore, and at last her
father spoke.

“Pay the man, Sigrid,” he said, and with an unsteady hand he gave her
his purse. He got out of the boat first and she fancied she saw him
stagger, but the next moment he recovered himself and turned to help
her. They walked away together in the direction of the office.

“You must not be too anxious, dear child,” he said. “I will explain all
to you this evening. I have had a heavy loss.”

“But, little father, you look so ill,” pleaded Sigrid. “Must you indeed
go to the office? Why not come home and rest?”

“Rest!” said Herr Falck dreamily. “Rest? No, not just yet—not just yet.
Send the carriage for me this afternoon, and say nothing about it to any
one—I’ll explain it to you later on.”

So the father and daughter parted, and Sigrid went home to bear as best
she could her day of suspense. Herr Falck returned later on, looking
very ill, and complaining of headache. She persuaded him to lie down in
his study, and would not ask him the question which was trembling on her
lips. But in the evening he spoke to her.

“You are a good child, Sigrid, a good child,” he said, caressing her
hand. “And now you must hear all, though I would give much to keep it
from you. The Iceland expedition has failed, dear; the vessels have come
back empty.”

“Does it mean such a very great loss to you, father?” she asked.

“I will explain to you,” he said, more eagerly; “I should like you to
understand how it has come about. For some time trade has been very bad;
and last year and the year before I had some heavy losses connected with
the Lofoten part of the business.”

He seemed to take almost a pleasure in giving her all sorts of details
which she could not half-understand; she heard in a confused way of the
three steamers sent to Nordland in the summer with empty barrels and
salt for the herrings; she heard about buying at the Bourse of Bergen
large quantities, so that Herr Falck had ten thousand barrels at a time,
and had been obliged to realize them at ruinous prices.

“You do not understand all this, my Sigrid,” he said, smiling at her
puzzled face. “Well, I’ll tell you the rest more simply. Things were
looking as bad as possible, and when in the summer I heard that
Haugesund had caught thousands of barrels of herrings in the fjords of
Iceland, I made up my mind to try the same plan, and to stake all on
that last throw. I chartered sailing vessels, hired hands, bought nets,
and the expedition set off—I knew that if it came back with full barrels
I should be a rich man, and that if it failed, there was no help for
it—my business must go to pieces.”

Sigrid gave a little cry. “You will be bankrupt?” she exclaimed. “Oh,
surely not that, father—not that!”

She remembered all too vividly the bankruptcy of a well-known timber
merchant some years before; she knew that he had raised money by
borrowing on the Bank of Norway and on the Savings Bank of Bergen, and
she knew that it was the custom of the land that the banks, avoiding
risk in that way, demanded two sureties for the loan, and that the
failure of a large firm caused distress far and wide to an extent hardly
conceivable to foreigners.

“There is yet one hope,” said Herr Falck. “If the rumor I heard in the
summer is false, and if I can still keep the connection with Morgans,
that guarantees me seven thousand two hundred kroner a year, and in that
case I have no doubt we could avoid open bankruptcy.”

“But how?” said Sigrid. “I don’t understand.”

“The Morgans would never keep me as their agent if I were declared a
bankrupt, and, to avoid that, I think my creditors would accept as
payment the outcome of all my property, and would give me what we call
voluntary agreement; it is a form of winding up a failing concern which
is very often employed. They would be the gainers in the long run,
because of course they would not allow me to keep my seven thousand two
hundred kroner untouched, so in any case, my child, I have brought you
to poverty.”

He covered his face with his hands. Sigrid noticed that the veins about
his temples stood out like blue cords, so much were they enlarged.

She put her arm about him, kissing his hair, his hands, his forehead.

“I do not mind poverty, little father. I mind only that you are so
troubled,” she said. “And surely, surely they will not take the agency
from you after all these years! Oh, poverty will be nothing, if only we
can keep from disgrace—if only others need not be dragged down too!”

They were interrupted by a tap at the door, and Swanhild stole in,
making the pretty little courtesy without which no well-bred Norwegian
child enters or leaves a room.

“Mayn’t I come and say good-night to you, little father?” she asked. “I
got on ever so well at school, just as you said, after our merry
breakfast.”

The sight of the child’s unconscious happiness was more than he could
endure; he closed his eyes that she might not see the scalding tears
which filled them.

“How dreadfully ill father looks,” said Swanhild uneasily.

“His head is very bad,” said Sigrid. “Kiss him, dear, and then run to
bed.”

But Herr Falck roused himself.

“I too will go up,” he said. “Bed is the best place, eh, Swanhild? God
bless you, little one; good-night. What, are you going to be my
walking-stick?”

And thus, steadying himself by the child, he went up to his room.

At breakfast the next morning he was in his place as usual, but he
seemed very poorly, and afterward made no suggestion as to going down to
the office, but lay on the sofa in his study, drowsily watching the
flames in his favorite English fireplace. Sigrid went about the house
busy with her usual duties, and for the time so much absorbed that she
almost forgot the great trouble hanging over them. About eleven o’clock
there was a ring at the door-bell; the servant brought in a telegram for
Herr Falck. A sort of wild hope seized her that it might be from
Frithiof. If anything could cheer her father on that day it would be to
hear that all was happily settled, and, taking it from the maid, she
bore it herself into her father’s room. He rose from the sofa as she
entered.

“I am better, Sigrid,” he said. “I think I could go to the office. Ah! a
telegram for me?”

“It has come this minute,” she said, watching him as he sat down before
his desk, adjusted his spectacles, and tore open the envelope. If only
Frithiof could send news that would cheer him! If only some little ray
of brightness would come to lighten that dark day! She had so persuaded
herself that the message must be from Frithiof that the thought of the
business anxieties had become for the time quite subservient. The
telegram was a long one.

“How extravagant that boy is!” she thought to herself. “Why, it would
have been enough if he had just put ‘All right.’”

Then a sudden cry broke from her, for her father had bowed his head on
his desk like a man who is overwhelmed.

“Father, father!” she cried, “oh! what is the matter?”

For a minute or two neither spoke nor moved. At last, with an effort, he
raised himself. He looked up at her with a face of fixed despair, with
eyes whose anguish wrung her heart.

“Sigrid,” he said, in a voice unlike his own, “they have taken the
agency from me. I am bankrupt!”

She put her hand in his, too much stunned to speak.

“Poor children!” he moaned. “Ah! my God! my God! Why—?”

The sentence was never ended. He fell heavily forward: whether he was
dead or only fainting she could not tell.

She rushed to the door calling for help, and the servants came hurrying
to the study. They helped to move their master to the sofa, and Sigrid
found a sort of comfort in the assurances of her old nurse that it was
nothing but a paralytic seizure, that he would soon revive. The good old
soul knew nothing, nor was she so hopeful as she seemed, but her words
helped Sigrid to keep up; she believed them in the unreasoning sort of
way in which those in trouble always do catch at the slightest hope held
out to them.

“I will send Olga for the doctor,” she said breathlessly.

“Ay, and for your uncle, too,” said the nurse. “He’s your own mother’s
brother, and ought to be here.”

“Perhaps,” said Sigrid hesitatingly. “Yes, Olga, go to Herr Grönvold’s
house and just tell them of my father’s illness. But first for the
doctor—as quick as you can.”

There followed a miserable time of waiting and suspense. Herr Falck was
still perfectly unconscious; there were signs of shock about his face,
which was pale and rigid, the eyelids closed, the head turned to one
side. Sigrid took his cold hand in hers, and sat with her fingers on the
pulse; she could just feel it, but it was very feeble and very rapid.
Thus they waited till the doctor came. He was an old friend, and Sigrid
felt almost at rest when she had told him all he wanted to know as to
the beginning of the attack and the cause.

“You had better send for your brother at once,” he said. “I suppose he
will be at the office?”

“Oh, no!” she said, trembling. “Frithiof is in England. But we will
telegraph to him to come home.”

“My poor child,” said the old doctor kindly, “if he is in England it
would be of no possible use; he would not be in time.”

She covered her face with her hands, for the first time utterly breaking
down.

“Oh! is there no hope?” she sobbed. “No hope at all?”

“Remember how much he is spared,” said the doctor gently. “He will not
suffer. He will not suffer at all any more.”

And so it proved; for while many went and came, and while the bad news
of the bankruptcy caused Herr Grönvold to pace the room like one
distracted, and while Sigrid and Swanhild kept their sad watch, Herr
Falck lay in painless quiet—his face so calm that, had it not been for
an occasional tremor passing through the paralyzed limbs, they would
almost have thought he was already dead.

The hours passed on. At length little Swanhild, who had crouched down on
the floor with her head in Sigrid’s lap, became conscious of a sort of
stir in the room. She looked up and saw that the doctor was bending over
her father.

“It is over,” he said, in a hushed voice as he stood up and glanced
toward the two girls.

And Swanhild, who had never seen any one die, but had read in books of
death struggles and death agonies, was filled with a great wonder.

“It was so quiet,” she said, afterward to her sister. “I never knew
people died like that; I don’t think I shall ever feel afraid about
dying again. But oh, Sigrid!” and the child broke into a passion of
tears, “we have got to go on living all alone—all alone!”

Sigrid’s breast heaved. Alas! the poor child little knew all the
troubles that were before them; as far as possible she must try to
shield her from the knowledge.

“We three must love each other very much, darling,” she said, folding
her arms about Swanhild. “We must try and be everything to each other.”

The words made her think of Frithiof, and with a sick longing for his
presence she went downstairs again to speak to her uncle, and to arrange
as to how the news should be sent to England. Herr Grönvold had never
quite appreciated his brother-in-law, and this had always made a barrier
between him and his nephew and nieces. He was the only relation,
however, to whom Sigrid could turn, and she knew that he was her
father’s executor, and must be consulted about all the arrangements. Had
not she and Frithiof celebrated their twenty-first birthday just a week
ago, Herr Grönvold would have been their guardian, and naturally he
would still expect to have the chief voice in the family counsels.

She found him in the sitting-room. He was still pale and agitated. She
knew only too well that although he would not say a word against her
dead father, yet in his heart he would always blame him, and that the
family disgrace would be more keenly felt by him than by any one. The
sight of him entirely checked her tears; she sat down and began to talk
to him quite calmly. All her feeling of youth and helplessness was gone
now—she felt old, strangely old; her voice sounded like the voice of
some one else—it seemed to have grown cold and hard.

“What must we do about telling Frithiof, uncle?” she said.

“I have thought of that,” said Herr Grönvold. “It is impossible that he
could be back in time for the funeral. This is Tuesday afternoon, and he
could not catch this week’s steamer, which leaves Hull at nine o’clock
to-night. The only thing is to telegraph the news to him, poor boy. His
best chance now is to stay in England and try to find some opening
there, for he has no chance here at all.”

Sigrid caught her breath.

“You mean that he had better not even come back?”

“Indeed, I think England is the only hope for him,” said Herr Grönvold,
perhaps hardly understanding what a terrible blow he was giving to his
niece. “He is absolutely penniless, and over here the feeling will be so
strong against the very name of Falck that he would never work his way
up. I will gladly provide for you and Swanhild until he is able to make
a home for you; but he must stay in England, there is no help for that.”

She could not dispute the point any further; her uncle’s words had shown
her only too plainly the true meaning of the word “bankrupt.” Why, the
very chair she was sitting on was no longer her own! A chill passed over
her as she glanced round the familiar room. On the writing-table she
noticed her housekeeping books, and realized that there was no longer
any money to pay them with; on the bookshelf stood the clock presented a
year or two ago to her father by the clerks in his office—that too must
be parted with; everything most sacred, most dear to her, everything
associated with her happy childhood and youth must be swept away in the
vain endeavor to satisfy the just claims of her father’s creditors. In a
sort of dreadful dream she sat watching her uncle as he wrote the
message to Frithiof, hesitating long over the wording of the sad
tidings, and ever and anon counting the words carefully with his pen. It
would cost a good deal, that telegram to England. Sigrid knew that her
uncle would pay for it, and the knowledge kept her lips sealed. It was
absurd to long so to send love and sympathy at the rate of thirty öre a
word! Why, in the whole world she had not so much as a ten-öre piece!
Her personal possessions might, perhaps, legally belong to her, but she
knew that there was something within her which would utterly prevent her
being able to consider them her own. Everything must go toward those who
would suffer from her father’s failure; and Frithiof would feel just as
she did about the matter, of that she was certain.

“There, poor fellow,” said Herr Grönvold, “that will give him just the
facts of the case: and you must write to him, Sigrid, and I, too, will
write by the next mail.”

“I am afraid he cannot get a letter till next Monday,” said Sigrid.

“No, there is no help for that,” said Herr Grönvold. “I shall do all
that can be done with regard to the business; that he will know quite
well, and his return later on would be a mere waste of time and money.
He must seek work in London without delay, and I have told him so. Do
you think this is clear?”

He handed her the message he had written, and she read it through,
though each word was like a stab.

“Quite clear,” she said, returning it to him.

Her voice was so tired and worn that it attracted his notice for the
first time.

“My dear,” he said kindly, “it has been a terrible day for you; you had
better go to bed and rest. Leave everything to me. I promise you all
shall be attended to.”

“You are very kind,” she said, yet with all the time a terrible craving
for something more than this sort of kindness, for something which was
perhaps beyond Herr Grönvold’s power to give.

“Would you like your aunt or one of your cousins to spend the night
here?” he asked.

“No,” she said; “I am better alone. They will come to-morrow. I—I will
rest now.”

“Very well. Good-by, then, my dear. I will send off the telegram at
once.”

She heard the door close behind him with a sense of relief, yet before
many minutes had passed, the dreadful quiet of the house seemed almost
more than she could endure.

“Oh, Frithiof, Frithiof! why did you ever go to England?” she moaned.

And as she sat crouched together in one of the deep easy-chairs, it
seemed to her that the physical faintness, the feeling that everything
was sliding away from her, was but the shadow of the bitter reality. She
was roused by the opening of the door. Her old nurse stole in.

“See here, Sigrid,” said the old woman. “The pastor has come. You will
see him in here?”

“I don’t think I can,” she said wearily.

“He is in the dining-room talking to Swanhild,” said the nurse: “you had
better just see him a minute.”

But still Sigrid did not stir. It was only when little Swanhild stole
in, with her wistful, tear-stained face, that she even tried to rouse
herself.

“Sigrid,” said the child, “Herr Askevold has been out all day with some
one who was dying; he is very tired and has had no dinner; he says if he
may he will have supper with us.”

Sigrid at once started to her feet; her mind was for the moment diverted
from her own troubles; it was the thought of the dear old pastor, tired
and hungry, yet coming to them, nevertheless, which touched her heart.
Other friends might perhaps forsake them in their trouble and disgrace,
but not Herr Askevold. Later on, when she thought it over, she knew that
it was for the sake of inducing them to eat, and for the sake of helping
them through that terrible first meal without their father, that he had
come in just then. She only felt the relief of his presence at the time,
was only conscious that she was less desolate because the old
white-haired man, who had baptized her as a baby and confirmed her as a
girl, was sitting with them at the supper-table. His few words of
sympathy as he greeted her had been the first words of comfort which had
reached her heart, and now, as he cut the bread and helped the fish,
there was something in the very smallness and fineness of his
consideration and care for them which filled her with far more gratitude
than Herr Grönvold’s offer of a home. They did not talk very much during
the meal, but little Swanhild ceased to wonder whether it was wrong to
feel so hungry on such a day, and, no longer ashamed of her appetite,
went on naturally and composedly with her supper; while Sigrid, with her
strong Norwegian sense of hospitality, ate for her guest’s sake, and in
thinking of his wants was roused from her state of blank hopelessness.

Afterward she took him to her father’s room, her tears stealing down
quietly as she looked once more on the calm, peaceful face that would
never again bear the look of strained anxiety which had of late grown so
familiar to her.

And Herr Askevold knelt by the bedside and prayed. She could never quite
remember in after-days what it was that he said, perhaps she never very
clearly took in the actual words; but something, either in his tone or
manner, brought to her the sense of a presence altogether above all the
changes that had been or ever could be. This new consciousness seemed to
fill her with strength, and a great tenderness for Swanhild came to her
heart; she wondered how it was she could ever have fancied that all had
been taken from her.

As they rose from their knees and the old pastor took her hand in his to
wish her good-by, he glanced a little anxiously into her eyes. But
something he saw there comforted him.

“God bless you, my child,” he said.

And again as they opened the front door to him and he stepped out into
the dark wintry night, he looked back, and said:

“God comfort you.”

Sigrid stood on the threshold, behind her the lighted hall, before her
the starless gloom of the outer world, her arm was round little
Swanhild, and as she bade him good-night, she smiled, one of those
brave, patient smiles that are sadder than tears.

“The light behind her, and the dark before,” said the old pastor to
himself as he walked home wearily enough. “It is like her life, poor
child. And yet I am somehow not much afraid for her. It is for Frithiof
I am afraid.”



                              CHAPTER IX.


When Frithiof found that instead of addressing a stranger at Hyde Park
Corner, he had actually spoken to Roy Boniface, his first feeling had
been of mere blank astonishment. Then he vehemently wished himself alone
once more, and cursed the fate which had first brought him into contact
with the little child by the Serpentine, and which had now actually
thrown him into the arms of a being who would talk and expect to be
talked to. Yet this feeling also passed; for as he looked down the
unfamiliar roads, and felt once more the desolateness of a foreigner in
a strange country, he was obliged to own that it was pleasant to him to
hear Roy’s well-known voice, and to feel that there was in London a
being who took some sort of interest in his affairs.

“I wish I had seen you a minute or two sooner; my mother and my sister
were in that carriage,” said Roy, “and they would have liked to meet
you. You must come and see us some day, or are you quite too busy to
spare time for such an out-of-the-way place as Brixton?”

“Thank you. My plans are very uncertain,” said Frithiof. “I shall
probably only be over here for a few days.”

“Have you come across the Morgans?” asked Roy, “or any of our other
companions at Balholm?”

In his heart he felt sure that the young Norwegian’s visit was connected
with Blanche Morgan, for their mutual liking had been common property at
Balholm, and even the semiengagement was shrewdly guessed at by many of
the other tourists.

Frithiof knew this, and the question was like a sword-thrust to him. Had
it not been so nearly dark Roy could hardly have failed to notice his
change of color and expression. But he had great self-control, and his
voice was quite steady, though a little cold and monotonous in tone, as
he replied:

“I have just been to call on the Morgans, and have only just learned
that their business relations with our firm are at an end. The
connection is of so many years’ standing that I am afraid it will be a
great blow to my father.”

Roy began to see daylight, and perceived, what had first escaped his
notice, that some great change had passed over his companion since they
parted on the Sogne Fjord; very possibly the business relations might
affect his hopes, and make the engagement no longer possible.

“That was bad news to greet you,” he said with an uneasy consciousness
that it was very difficult to know what to say. “Herr Falck would feel a
change of that sort keenly, I should think. What induced them to make
it?”

“Self-interest,” said Frithiof, still in the same tone. “No doubt they
came to spy out the land in the summer. As the head of the firm remarked
to me just now, it is impossible to sentimentalize over old
connections—business is business, and of course they are bound to look
out for themselves—what happens to us is, naturally, no affair of
theirs.”

Roy would not have thought much of the sarcasm of this speech if it had
been spoken by any one else, but from the lips of such a fellow as
Frithiof Falck, it startled him.

They were walking along Piccadilly, each of them turning over in his
mind how he could best get away from the other, yet with an uneasy
feeling that they were in some way linked together by that summer
holiday, and that if they parted now they would speedily regret it. Roy,
with the increasing consciousness of his companion’s trouble only grew
more perplexed and ill at ease. He tried to picture to himself the
workings of the Norwegian’s mind, and as they walked on in silence some
faint idea of the effect of the surroundings upon the new-comer began to
dawn upon him. What a contrast was all this to quiet Norway! The
brightly lighted shops, the busy streets, the hurry and bustle, the
ever-changing crowd of strange faces.

“Do you know many people in London?” he asked, willing to shift his
responsibility if possible.

“No,” said Frithiof, “I do not know a soul.”

He relapsed into silence. Roy’s thoughts went back to his first day at
Bergen; he seemed to live it all through once more; he remembered how
Frithiof Falck had got the Linnæa for them, how he had taken them for
shelter to his father’s house; the simplicity and the happiness of the
scene came back to him vividly, and he glanced at his companion as
though to verify his past impressions. The light from a street lamp fell
on Frithiof at that moment, and Roy started; the Norwegian had perhaps
forgotten that he was not alone, at any rate he wore an expression which
had not hitherto been visible. There was something about his pale, set
face which alarmed Roy, and scattered to the winds all his selfishness
and awkward shyness.

“Then you will of course dine with me,” he said, “since you have no
other engagement.”

And Frithiof, still wishing to be alone, and yet still dreading it,
thanked him and accepted the invitation.

The ice once broken, they got on rather better, and as they dined
together Roy carefully abstained from talking of the days at Balholm,
but asked after Sigrid and Swanhild and Herr Falck, talked of the winter
in Norway, of skating, of Norwegian politics, of everything he could
think of which could divert his friend’s mind from the Morgans.

“What next,” he said, as they found themselves once more in the street.
“Since you go back soon we ought to make the most of the time. Shall we
come to the Savoy? You must certainly hear a Gilbert and Sullivan opera
before you leave.”

“I am not in the mood for it to-night,” said Frithiof. “And it has just
struck me that possibly my father may telegraph instructions to me—he
would have got Morgan’s telegram this morning. I will go back to the
Arundel and see.”

This idea seemed to rouse him. He became much more like himself, and as
they walked down the Strand the conversation dragged much less. For the
first time he spoke of the work that awaited him on his return to
Bergen, and Roy began to think that his scheme for diverting him from
his troubles had been on the whole a success.

“We must arrange what day you will come down to us at Brixton,” he said,
as they turned down Arundel Street. “Would to-morrow suit you?”

“As far as I know, it would,” said Frithiof; “but if you will just come
into the hotel with me we will find out if there is any message from my
father. If there is nothing, why, I am perfectly free. It is possible,
though, that he will have business for me to see to.”

Accordingly they went into the hotel together, and Frithiof accosted a
waiter in the entrance hall.

“Anything come for me since I went out?” he asked.

“Yes, sir, I believe there is, sir. Herr Falck, is it not?”

He brought forward a telegram and handed it to Frithiof, who hurriedly
tore open the orange envelope and began eagerly to read. As he read,
every shade of color left his face; the telegram was in Norwegian, and
its terse, matter of-fact statement overwhelmed him. Like one in some
dreadful dream he read the words:


“Father bankrupt, owing to failure Iceland expedition, also loss
Morgan’s agency.”


There was more beyond, but this so staggered him that he looked up from
the fatal pink paper with a sort of wild hope that his surroundings
would reassure him, that he should find it all a mistake. He met the
curious eyes of the waiter, he saw two girls in evening-dress crossing
the vestibule.

“We ought to be at the Lyceum by this time!” he heard one of them say to
the other. “How annoying of father to be so late!”

The girl addressed had a sweet sunshiny face.

“Oh, he will soon be here,” she said, smiling, but as her eyes happened
to fall on Frithiof she grew suddenly grave and compassionate; she
seemed to glance from his face to the telegram in his hand, and her look
brought him a horrible perception that after all this was real waking
existence. It was a real telegram he held, it was all true, hideously
true. His father was bankrupt.

Shame, misery, bitter indignation with the Morgans, a sickening
perception that if Blanche had been true to him the worst might have
been averted, all this seethed in his mind. With a desperate effort he
steadied his hand and again bent his eye on the pink paper and the large
round-hand scrawl. Oh, yes, there was no mistake, he read the fatal
words again:


“Father bankrupt, owing to failure Iceland expedition, also loss
Morgan’s agency.”


By this time he had partly recovered, was sufficiently himself again to
feel some sort of anxiety to read the rest of the message. Possibly
there was something he might do to help his father. He read on and took
in the next sentence almost at a glance.


“Shock caused cerebral hemorrhage. He died this afternoon.”


Frithiof felt a choking sensation in his throat; if he could not get out
into the open air he felt that he should die, and by an instinct he
turned toward the door, made a step or two forward, then staggered and
caught at Roy Boniface to save himself from falling.

Roy held him up and looked at him anxiously. “You have had bad news?” he
asked.

Frithiof tried to speak, but no words would come; he gasped for breath,
felt his limbs failing, saw a wavy, confused picture of the vestibule,
the waiter, the two girls, an elderly gentleman joining them, then felt
himself guided down on to the floor, never quite losing consciousness,
yet helpless either to speak or move and with a most confused sense of
what had passed.

“It is in Norwegian,” he heard Roy say. “Bad news from his home, I am
afraid.”

“Poor fellow!” said another voice. “Open the door some one. It’s air he
wants.”

“I saw there was something wrong, father,” this was in a girl’s voice.
“He looked quite dazed with trouble as he read.”

“You’ll be late for the Lyceum,” thought Frithiof, and making an effort
to get up, he sunk for a moment into deeper depths of faintness; the
voices died away into indistinctness, then came a consciousness of hands
at his shoulders and his feet; he was lifted up and carried away
somewhere.

Struggling back to life again in a few moments, he found that he was
lying on a bed, the window was wide open, and a single candle flickered
wildly in the draught. Roy Boniface was standing by him holding a glass
of water to his lips. With an effort he drank.

“You are better, sir?” asked the waiter. “Anything I can do for you,
sir? Any answer to the telegram?”

“The telegram! What do you mean?” exclaimed Frithiof. Then as full
recollection came back to him, he turned his face from the light with a
groan.

“The gentleman had, perhaps, better see a doctor,” suggested the waiter
to Roy. But Frithiof turned upon him sharply.

“I am better. You can go away. All I want is to be alone.”

The man retired, but Roy still lingered. He could not make up his mind
to leave any one in such a plight, so he crossed the room and stood by
the open window looking out gravely at the dark river with its double
row of lights and their long shining reflections. Presently a sound in
the room made him turn. Frithiof had dragged himself up to his feet,
with an impatient gesture he blew out the flickering candle, then walked
with unsteady steps to the window and dropped into a chair.

“So you are here still?” he said, with something of relief in his tone.

“I couldn’t bear to leave till you were all right again,” said Roy.
“Wont you tell me what is the matter, Falck?”

“My father is dead,” said Frithiof, in an unnaturally calm voice.

“Dead!” exclaimed Roy, and his tone had in it much more of awe and
regret. He could hardly believe that the genial, kindly Norwegian who
had climbed Munkeggen with them only a few weeks before was actually no
longer in the world.

“He is dead,” repeated Frithiof quietly.

“But how was it?” asked Roy. “It must have been so sudden. You left him
well only three days ago. How was it?”

“His Iceland expedition had failed,” said Frithiof; “that meant a fatal
blow to his business; then, this morning, there came to him Morgan’s
telegram about the agency. It was that that killed him.”

“Good God!” exclaimed Roy, with indignation in his voice.

“Leave out the adjective,” said Frithiof bitterly. “If there’s a God at
all He is hard and merciless. Business is business, you see—one can’t
sentimentalize over old connections. God allows men like Morgan to
succeed, they always do succeed, and He lets men like my father be
dragged down into shame and dishonor and ruin.”

Roy was silent; he had no glib, conventional sentences ready to hand. In
his own mind he frankly admitted that the problem was beyond him. He
knew quite well that far too often in business life it was the pushing,
unscrupulous, selfish man who made his fortune, and the man of Herr
Falck’s type, sensitive, conscientious, altogether honorable, who had to
content himself with small means, or who, goaded at last to rashness,
staked all on a desperate last throw and failed. It was a problem that
perplexed him every day of his life, the old, old problem which Job
dashed his heart against, and for which only Job’s answer will suffice.
Vaguely he felt that there must be some other standard of success than
that of the world; he believed that it was but the first act of the
drama which we could at present see; but he honestly owned that the
first act was often perplexing enough.

Nevertheless, it was his very silence which attracted Frithiof; had he
spoken, had he argued, had he put forth the usual platitudes, the two
would have been forever separated. But he just leaned against the
window-frame, looking out at the dark river, musing over the story he
had just heard, and wondering what the meaning of it could be. The
“Why?” which had been the last broken ejaculation of the dead man echoed
in the hearts of these two who had been brought together so strangely.
Into Roy’s mind there came the line, “’Tis held that sorrow makes us
wise.” But he had a strong feeling that in Frithiof’s case sorrow would
harden and imbitter; indeed, it seemed to him already that his
companion’s whole nature was changed. It was almost difficult to believe
that he was the same high-spirited boy who had been the life of the
party at Balholm, who had done the honors of the villa in Kalvedalen so
pleasantly. And then as he contrasted that bright, homely room at Bergen
with this dark, forlorn hotel room in London, a feeling that he must get
his companion away into some less dreary atmosphere took possession of
him.

“Don’t stay all alone in this place,” he said abruptly. “Come home with
me to-night.”

“You are very good,” said Frithiof, “but I don’t think I can do that. I
am better alone, and indeed must make up my mind to-night as to the
future.”

“You will go back to Norway, I suppose?” asked Roy.

“Yes, I suppose so; as soon as possible. To-morrow I must see if there
is any possibility of getting back in fair time. Unluckily, it is too
late for the Wilson Line steamer, which must be starting at this minute
from Hull.”

“I will come in to-morrow, then, and see what you have decided on,” said
Roy. “Is there nothing I can do for you now?”

“Nothing, thank you,” said Frithiof. And Roy, feeling that he could be
of no more use, and that his presence was perhaps a strain on his
friend, wished him good-night and went out.

The next day he was detained by business and could not manage to call at
the Arundel till late in the afternoon. Noticing the same waiter in the
hall who had been present on the previous evening, he inquired if
Frithiof were in.

“Herr Falck has gone, sir,” said the man; “he went off about an hour
ago.”

“Gone!” exclaimed Roy, in some surprise. “Did he leave any message?”

“No, sir; none at all. He was looking very ill when he came down this
morning, but went out as soon as he had had breakfast, and didn’t come
back till four o’clock. Then he called for his bill and ordered his
portmanteau to be brought down and put on a hansom, and as he passed out
he gave me a trifle, and said he had spoken a bit sharp to me last
night, he was afraid, and thanked me for what I had done for him. And so
he drove off, sir.”

“You didn’t hear where he was going to?”

“No, sir; I can’t say as I did. The cab, if I remember right, turned
along the Embankment, toward Charing Cross.”

“Thank you,” said Roy. “Very possibly he may have gone back to Norway by
the Continent.”

And with a feeling of vague disappointment he turned away.



                               CHAPTER X.


When Roy Boniface had gone Frithiof sat for a long time without
stirring. He had longed to be alone, and yet the moment he had got his
wish the most crushing sense of desolation overwhelmed him. He, too, was
keenly conscious of that change in his own nature which had been quite
apparent to Roy. It seemed to him that everything had been taken from
him in one blow—love, hope, his father, his home, his stainless name,
his occupation, his fortune, and even his old self. It was an entirely
different character with which he now had to reckon, and an entirely new
life which he had to live. Both character and surroundings had been
suddenly changed very much for the worse. He had got to put up with
them, and somehow to endure life. That was the only thing clear to him.
The little child by the Serpentine had given him so much
standing-ground, but he had not an inch more at present; all around him
was a miserable, cheerless, gray mist. Presently, becoming aware that
the cold wind from the river was no longer reviving him but chilling him
to the bone, he roused himself to close the window. Mechanically he drew
down the blind, struck a light, and noticing that on the disordered bed
there lay the crumpled pink paper which had brought him the bad news, he
picked it up, smoothed it out, and read it once more.

There was still something which he had not seen in the first horrible
shock of realizing his father’s death. With darkening brow he read the
words which Herr Grönvold had weighed so carefully and counted so often.

“I will provide for your sisters till you can. Impossible for you to
return in time for funeral. My advice is try for work in London. No
opening here for you, as feeling will be strong against family.”

It was only then that he actually took in the fact that he was
penniless—indeed, far worse than penniless—weighed down by a load of
debts which, if not legally his, were his burden none the less. There
were, as he well knew, many who failed with a light heart, who were
bankrupt one week and starting afresh with perfect unconcern the next,
but he was too much his father’s son to take the disaster that way. The
disgrace and the perception of being to blame which had killed Herr
Falck now fell upon him with crushing force; he paced the room like one
distracted, always with the picture before him of what was now going on
in Bergen, always with the thought of the suffering and misery which
would result from the failure of a firm so old and so much respected as
his father’s.

And yet it was out of this very torture of realization that his comfort
at last sprung—such comfort at least as he was at present capable of
receiving. We must all have some sort of future to look to, some sort of
aim before us, or life would be intolerable. The veriest beggar in the
street concentrates his thought on the money to be made, or the shelter
to be gained for the coming night. And there came, fortunately, to
Frithiof, jilted, ruined, bereaved as he was, one strong desire—one firm
resolve. He would pay off his father’s debts to the last farthing; he
would work, he would slave, he would deny himself all but the bare
necessities of life. The name of Falck should yet be redeemed; and a
glow of returning hope rose in his heart as he remembered his father’s
parting words, “I look to you, Frithiof, to carry out the aims in which
I myself have failed, to live the life I could wish to have lived.” Yet
how different all had been when those words had been spoken! The
recollection of them did him good—brought him, as it were, back to life
again—but at the same time they were the most cruel pain.

He saw again the harbor at Bergen, the ships, the mountains, the busy
quay; he saw his father so vividly that it seemed to him as if he must
actually be before him at that very moment, the tone of his voice rang
in his ears, the pressure of his hand seemed yet to linger with him.

What wonder that it should still be so fresh in his memory? It was only
three days ago. Only three days! Yet the time to look back on now seemed
more like three years. With amazement he dwelt on the fact, thinking, as
we mostly do in sudden trouble, how little time it takes for things to
happen. It is a perception that does not come to us in the full swing of
life, when all seems safe and full of bright promise, any more than in
yachting it troubles us to reflect that there is only a plank between
ourselves and the unfathomed depths of the sea. We expect all to go
well, we feel no fear, we enjoy life easily, and when disaster comes its
rude haste astounds us—so much is changed in one sudden, crushing blow.

He remembered how he had whistled the “Bridal Song of the Hardanger,” as
he cheerfully paced the deck full of thoughts of Blanche and of the
bright future that was opening before him. The tune rang in his ears now
with a mournful persistence. He buried his face in his hands, letting
the flood of grief sweep over him, opposing to it no thought of comfort,
no recollection of what was still left to him. If Blanche had been
faithful to him all might have been different; her father would never
have taken away the agency if she had told him the truth when she first
got home; the Iceland expedition might have failed, but his father could
have got voluntary agreement with his creditors, he himself might
perhaps have been put at the head of the branch at Stavanger, all would
have been well.

In bitter contrast he called up a picture of the desolate house in
Kalvedalen, thought of Herr Grönvold making the final arrangements, and
alternately pitying and blaming his brother-in-law; thought of Sigrid
and Swanhild in their sorrow and loneliness; thought of his father lying
cold and still. Choking sobs rose in his throat as more and more clearly
he realized that all was indeed over, that he should never see his
father again. But his eyes were dry and tearless, the iron had entered
into his soul, and all the relief that was then possible for him lay in
a prompt endeavor to carry out the resolve which he had just made.

Perhaps he perceived this, for he raised himself, banished the mind
pictures which had absorbed him so long, and began to think what his
first practical step must be. He would lose no time, he would begin that
very moment. The first thing must of course be retrenchment; he must
leave the Arundel on the morrow and must seek out the cheapest rooms to
be had. Lying on the table was that invaluable book “Dickens’ Dictionary
of London.” He had bought it at Hull on the previous day, and had
already got out of it much amusement and much information. Now, in grim
earnest, he turned over its well-arranged pages till he came to the
heading “Lodgings,” running his eye hurriedly over the paragraph, and
pausing over the following sentence: “Those who desire still cheaper
accommodation must go further afield, the lowest priced of all being in
the northeast and southeast districts, in either of which a bed and
sitting-room may be had at rents varying from ten shillings, and even
less, to thirty shillings.”

He turned to the maps at the beginning, and decided to try the
neighborhood of Vauxhall and Lambeth.

Next came the question of work. And here the vastness of the field
perplexed him, where to turn he had not the slightest idea. Possibly
Dickens might suggest something. He turned over the pages, and his eye
happened to light on the words, “Americans in distress, Society for the
relief of.” He scanned the columns closely, there seemed to be help for
every one on earth except a Norwegian. There was a home for French
strangers; a Hungarian aid society; an Italian benevolent; sixteen
charities for Jews; an association of Poles; a Hibernian society; a
Netherlands benevolent; a Portuguese and Spanish aid; and a society for
distressed Belgians. The only chance for him lay in the “Universal
Beneficence Society,” a title which called up a bitter smile to his
lips, or the “Society of Friends of Foreigners in Distress.”

He made up his mind to leave these as a last resource, and turning to
the heading of Sweden and Norway looked out the address of the
consulate. He must go there the first thing the next day, and get what
advice and help he could. There was also in Fleet Street a Scandinavian
club; he would go there and get a list of the members; it was possible
that he might meet with some familiar name, and at any rate he should
hear his own language spoken, which in itself would be a relief. This
arranged, he tried to sleep, but with little success; his brain was too
much overwrought with the terrible reversals of fortune he had met with
that day, with the sorrows that had come to him, not as

                              “Single spies,
                          But in battalions!”

Whenever he did for a few minutes sink into a doze, it was only to be
haunted by the most horrible dreams, and when morning came he was ill
and feverish, yet as determined as before to go through with the
programme he had marked out.

The Swedish minister received him very kindly, and listened to as much
of his story as would bear telling, with great patience. “It is a very
hard case,” he said. “The English firm perhaps consulted their own
pockets in making this new arrangement, but to break off an old
connection so suddenly, and as it chanced at such a trying moment, was
hard lines. What sort of people are they, these Morgans? You have met
them?”

“Oh, yes,” said Frithiof, coloring. “One of the brothers was in Norway
this summer, came to our house, dined with us, professed the greatest
friendliness, while all the time he must have known what the firm was
meditating.”

“Doubtless came to see how the land lay,” said the minister. “And what
of the other brother?”

“I saw him yesterday,” replied Frithiof. “He was very civil; told me the
telegram had been sent off that morning about the affair, as it would
not bear delay, and spoke very highly of my father. Words cost nothing,
you see.”

The consul noted the extreme bitterness of the tone, and looked
searchingly into the face of his visitor. “Poor fellow!” he reflected;
“he starts in life with a grievance, and there is nothing so bad for a
man as that. A fine, handsome boy, too. If he stays eating his heart out
in London he will go to the dogs in no time.”

“See,” he said, “these Morgans, though they may be keen business men,
yet they are after all human. When they learn at what an unlucky time
their telegram arrived, it is but natural that they should regret it.
Their impulse will be to help you. I should advise you to go to them at
once and talk the affair over with them. If they have any proper feeling
they will offer you some sort of employment in this new Stavanger
branch, or they might, perhaps, have some opening for you in their
London house.”

“I can not go to them,” said Frithiof, in a choked voice. “I would
rather die first.”

“I can understand,” said the consul, “that you feel very bitter, and
that you resent the way in which they have behaved. But still I think
you should try to get over that. After all, they knew nothing of your
father’s affairs; they did not intentionally kill him. That the two
disasters followed so closely on each other was but an accident.”

“Still I could never accept anything from them; it is out of the
question,” said Frithiof.

“Excuse me if I speak plainly,” said the consul. “You are very young,
and you know but little of the world. If you allow yourself to be
governed by pride of this sort you can not hope to get on. Now turn it
over in your mind, and if you do not feel that you can see these people,
at any rate write to them.”

“I cannot explain it all to you, sir,” said Frithiof. “But there are
private reasons which make that altogether impossible.”

The blood had mounted to his forehead, his lips had closed in a straight
line; perhaps it was because they quivered that he compressed them so.

“A woman in the question,” reflected the consul. “That complicates
matters. All the more reason that he should leave London.” Then, aloud:
“If you feel unable to apply to them, I should recommend you strongly to
try America. Every one flocks to London for work, but as a matter of
fact London streets just now are not paved with gold; everything is at a
standstill; go where you will, you will hear that trade is bad, that
employment is scarce, and that living is dear.”

“If I could hear of any opening in America, I would go at once,” said
Frithiof. “But at Bergen we have heard of late that it is no such easy
thing even over there to meet with work. I will not pay the expenses of
the voyage merely to be in my present state, and hundreds of miles
further from home.”

“What can you do?” asked the consul. “Is your English pretty good?”

“I can write and speak it easily. And, of course, German too. I
understand book-keeping.”

“Any taste for teaching?” asked the consul.

“None,” said Frithiof decidedly.

“Then the only thing that seems open to you is the work of a secretary,
or a clerkship, or perhaps you could manage translating, but that is not
easy work to get. Everything now is overcrowded, so dreadfully
overcrowded. However, of course I shall bear you in mind, and you
yourself will leave no stone unturned. Stay, I might give you a letter
of introduction to Herr Sivertsen: he might possibly find you temporary
work. He is the author of that well-known book on Norway, you know. Do
you know your way about yet?”

“Pretty well,” said Frithiof.

“Then there is his address—Museum Street. You had better take an omnibus
at the Bank. Any of the Oxford Street ones will put you down at the
corner, by Mudie’s. Let me know how you get on: I shall be interested to
hear.”

Then, with a kindly shake of the hand, Frithiof found himself dismissed;
and somewhat cheered by the interview, he made his way to the address
which had been given him.

Herr Sivertsen’s rooms were of the gloomiest: they reeked of tobacco,
they were ill-lighted, and it seemed to Frithiof that the window could
not have been opened for a week. An oblique view of Mudie’s library was
the only object of interest to be seen without, though, by craning one’s
neck, one could get just a glimpse of the traffic in Oxford Street. He
waited for some minutes, wondering to himself how a successful author
could tolerate such a den, and trying to imagine from the room what sort
of being was the inhabiter thereof. At length the door opened, and a
gray-haired man of five and fifty, with a huge forehead and somewhat
stern, square-jawed face, entered.

“I have read the consul’s letter,” he said, greeting Frithiof, and
motioning him to a chair. “You want what is very hard to get. Are you
aware that thousands of men are seeking employment and are unable to
meet with it?”

“I know it is hard,” said Frithiof. “Still I have more chance here than
in Norway, and anyhow I mean to get it.” The emphatic way in which he
uttered these last words made the author look at him more attentively.

“I am tired to death of young men coming to me and wanting help,” he
remarked frankly. “You are an altogether degenerate race, you young men
of this generation; in my opinion you don’t know what work means. It’s
money that you want, not work.”

“Yes,” said Frithiof dryly, “you are perfectly right. It is money that I
want.”

Now Herr Sivertsen had never before met with this honest avowal. In
reply to the speech which he had made to many other applicants he had
always received an eager protestation that the speaker was devoted to
work, that he was deeply interested in languages, that Herr Sivertsen’s
greatest hobbies were his hobbies too. He liked this bold avowal in his
secret heart, though he had no intention of letting this be seen. “Just
what I said!” he exclaimed. “A pleasure-seeking, money-grubbing
generation. What is the result? I give work to be done, and as long as
you can get gold you don’t care how the thing is scamped. Look here!” He
took up a manuscript from the table. “I have paid the fellow who did
this. He is not only behind time, but when at last the work is sent in
it’s a miserable performance, bungled, patched, scamped, even the
handwriting a disgrace to civilization. It’s because the man takes no
pride in the work itself, because he has not a spark of interest in his
subject. It just means to him so many shillings, that is all.”

“I can at least write a clear hand,” said Frithiof.

“That may be; but will you put any heart into your work? Do you care for
culture? for literature? Do you interest yourself in progress? do you
desire to help on your generation?”

“As far as I am concerned,” said Frithiof bitterly, “the generation will
have to take care of itself. As for literature, I know little of it and
care less; all I want is to make money.”

“Did I not tell you so?” roared Herr Sivertsen. “It is the accursed gold
which you are all seeking after. You care only for money to spend on
your own selfish indulgences. You are all alike! All! A worthless
generation!”

Frithiof rose.

“However worthless, we unluckily have to live,” he said coldly. “And as
I can’t pretend to be interested in ‘culture,’ I must waste no more time
in discussion.”

He bowed and made for the door.

“Stay,” said Herr Sivertsen: “it will do no harm if you leave your
address.”

“Thank you, but at present I have none to give,” said Frithiof.
“Good-morning.”

He felt very angry and very sore-hearted as he made his way down Museum
Street. To have met with such a rebuff from a fellow-countryman seemed
to him hard, specially in this time of his trouble. He had not enough
insight into character to understand the eccentric old author, and he
forgot that Herr Sivertsen knew nothing of his circumstances. He was too
abrupt, too independent, perhaps also too refined to push his way as an
unknown foreigner in a huge metropolis. He was utterly unable to draw a
picturesque description of the plight he was in, he could only rely on a
sort of dogged perseverance, a fixed resolve that he must and would find
work; and in spite of constant failures this never left him.

He tramped down to Vauxhall and began to search for lodgings, looked at
some half-dozen sets, and finally lighted on a clean little house in a
new-looking street a few hundred yards from Vauxhall Station. There was
a card up in the window advertising rooms to let. He rang the bell and
was a little surprised to find the door opened to him by a middle-aged
woman who was unmistakably a lady, though her deeply lined face told of
privation and care, possibly also of ill-temper. He asked the price of
the rooms.

“A sitting-room and bedroom at fifteen shillings a week,” was the reply.

“It is too much, and besides I only need one room,” he said.

“I am afraid we can not divide them.”

He looked disappointed. An idea seemed to strike the landlady.

“There is a little room at the top you might have,” she said; “but it
would not be very comfortable. It would be only five shillings a week,
including attendance.”

“Allow me to see it,” said Frithiof.

He felt so tired and ill that if she had shown him a pig-sty he would
probably have taken it merely for the sake of settling matters. As it
was, the room, though bare and comfortless, was spotlessly clean, and,
spite of her severe face, he rather took to his landlady.

“My things are at the Arundel Hotel,” he explained. “I should want to
come in at once. Does that suit you?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, scanning him closely. “Can you give us any
references?”

“You can, if you wish, refer to the Swedish consul at 24 Great
Winchester Street.”

“Oh, you are a Swede,” she said.

“No; I am a Norwegian, and have only been in London since yesterday.”

The landlady seemed satisfied, and having paid his five shillings in
advance, Frithiof went off to secure his portmanteau, and by five
o’clock was installed in his new home.

It was well that he had lost no time in leaving his hotel, for during
the next two days he was unable to quit his bed, and could only console
himself with the reflection that at any rate he had a cheap roof over
his head and that his rent would not ruin him.

Perhaps the cold night air from the river had given him a chill on the
previous night, or perhaps the strain of the excitement and suffering
had been too much for him. At any rate he lay in feverish wretchedness,
tossing through the long days and weary nights, a misery to himself and
an anxiety to the people of the house.

He discovered that his first impression had been correct. Miss Turnour,
the landlady, was well born; she and her two sisters—all of them now
middle-aged women—were the daughters of a country gentleman, who had
either wasted his substance in speculation or on the turf. He was long
since dead, and had left behind him the fruits of his selfishness, three
helpless women, with no particular aptitudes and brought up to no
particular profession. They had sunk down and down in the social scale,
till it seemed that there was nothing left them but a certain refinement
of taste, which only enabled them to suffer more keenly, and the family
pedigree, of which they were proud, clinging very much to the peculiar
spelling of their name, and struggling on in their little London house,
quarreling much among themselves, and yet firmly determined that nothing
on earth should part them. Frithiof dubbed them the three Fates. He
wondered sometimes whether, after long years of poverty, he and Sigrid
and Swanhild should come to the same miserable condition, the same
hopeless, cold, hard spirit, the same pinched, worn faces, the same
dreary, monotonous lives.

The three Fates did not take much notice of their lodger. Miss Turnour
often wished she had had the sense to see that he was ill before
admitting him. Miss Caroline, the youngest, flatly declined waiting on
him, as it was quite against her feelings of propriety. Miss Charlotte,
the middle one of the three, who had more heart than the rest, tried to
persuade him to see a doctor.

“No,” he replied, “I shall be all right in a day or two. It is nothing
but a feverish attack. I can’t afford doctor’s bills.”

She looked at him a little compassionately; his poverty touched a chord
in her own life.

“Perhaps the illness has come in order that you may have time to think,”
she said timidly.

She was a very small little woman, like a white mouse, but Frithiof had
speedily found that she was the only one of the three from whom he could
expect any help. She was the snubbed one of the family, partly because
she was timid and gentle, partly because she had lately adopted certain
religious views upon which the other two looked down with the most
supreme contempt.

Frithiof was in no mood to respond to her well-meant efforts to convert
him, and used to listen to her discourses about the last day with a
stolid indifference which altogether baffled her. It seemed as if
nothing could possibly rouse him.

“Ah,” she would say, as she left the room with a sad little shake of the
head, “_I_ shall be caught up at the second advent. I’m not at all sure
that _you_ will be.”

The eldest Miss Turnour did not trouble herself at all about his
spiritual state; she thought only of the risk they were running and the
possible loss of money.

“I hope he is not sickening with any infectious disease,” she used to
remark a dozen times a day.

And Miss Charlotte said nothing, but silently thanked Heaven that she
had not been the one to accept the new lodger.



                              CHAPTER XI.


There is no suffering so severe as that which we perceive to be the
outcome of our own mistaken decision. Suffering caused by our own sin is
another matter; we feel in some measure that we deserve it. But to have
decided hastily, or too hopefully, or while some false view of the case
was presented to us, and then to find that the decision brings grievous
pain and sorrow, this is cruelly hard.

It was this consciousness of his own mistake which preyed upon
Frithiof’s mind as he tossed through those long solitary hours. Had he
only insisted on speaking to Blanche’s uncle at Balholm, or on at once
writing to her father, all might have been well—his father yet alive,
the bankruptcy averted, Blanche his own. Over and over in his mind he
revolved the things that might have happened but for that fatal
hopefulness which had proved his ruin. He could not conceive now why he
had not insisted on returning to England with Blanche. It seemed to him
incredible that he had stayed in Norway merely to celebrate his
twenty-first birthday, or that he had been persuaded not to return with
the Morgans because Mr. Morgan would be out of town till October. His
sanguine nature had betrayed him, just as his father had been betrayed
by his too great hopefulness as to the Iceland expedition. Certainly it
is true that sanguine people in particular have to buy their experience
by bitter pain and loss.

By the Saturday morning he was almost himself again as far as physical
strength was concerned, and his mind was healthy enough to turn
resolutely away from these useless broodings over the past, and to ask
with a certain amount of interest. “What is to be done next?” All is not
lost when we are able to ask ourselves that question; the mere asking
stimulates us to rise and be going, even though the direction we shall
take be utterly undecided.

When Miss Charlotte came to inquire after her patient, she found to her
surprise that he was up and dressed.

“What!” she exclaimed. “You are really well then?”

“Quite well, thank you,” he replied, in the rather cold tone of voice
which had lately become habitual to him. “Have you a newspaper in the
house that you would be so good as to lend me?”

“Certainly,” said Miss Charlotte, her face lighting up as she hastened
out of the room, returning in a minute with the special organ of the
religious party to which she belonged. “I think this might interest
you,” she began timidly.

“I don’t want to be interested,” said Frithiof dryly. “All I want is to
look through the advertisements. A thousand thanks; but I see this paper
is not quite what I need.”

“Are you sure that you know what you really need?” she said earnestly,
and with evident reference to a deeper subject.

Had she not been such a genuine little woman, he would have spoken the
dry retort, “Madame, I need money,” which trembled on his lips; but
there was no suspicion of cant about her, and he in spite of his
bitterness still retained much of his Norwegian courtesy.

“You see,” he said, smiling a little, “if I do not find work I can not
pay my rent, so I must lose no time in getting some situation.”

The word “rent” recalled her eldest sister to Miss Charlotte’s mind, and
she resolved to say no more just at present as to the other matters. She
brought him one of the daily papers, and with a little sigh of
disappointment removed the religious “weekly,” leaving Frithiof to his
depressing study of the column headed “Situations Vacant.”

Alas! how short it was compared to the one dedicated to “Situations
Wanted.”

There was an editor-reporter needed, who must be a “first-class
all-round man”; but Frithiof could not feel that he was deserving of
such epithets, and he could not even write shorthand. There was a
“gentleman needed for the canvassing and publishing department of a
weekly,” but he must be possessed not only of energy but of experience.
Agents were needed for steel pens, toilet soap, and boys’ clothes, but
no novices need apply. Even the advertisement for billiard hands was
qualified by the two crushing words, “experienced only.”

“A correspondence clerk wanted” made him look hopefully at the lines
which followed, but unluckily a knowledge of Portuguese was demanded as
well as of French and German; while the corn merchant who would receive
a gentleman’s son in an office of good position was prudent enough to
add the words, “No one need apply who is unable to pay substantial
premium.”

Out of the whole list there were only two situations for which he could
even inquire, and he soon found that for each of these there were
hundreds of applicants. At first his natural hopefulness reasserted
itself, and each morning he would set out briskly, resolving to leave no
stone unturned, but when days and weeks had passed by in the monotonous
search, his heart began to fail him; he used to start from the little
back street in Vauxhall doggedly, dull despair eating at his heart, and
a sickening, ever-present consciousness that he was only an
insignificant unit struggling to find standing room in a world where
selfishness and money-grubbing reigned supreme.

Each week brought him of course letters from Norway, his uncle sent him
letters of introduction to various London firms, but each letter brought
him only fresh disappointment. As the consul had told him, the market
was already overcrowded, and though very possibly he might have met with
work in the previous summer when all was well with him, no one seemed
inclined to befriend this son of a bankrupt, with his bitter tone and
proud bearing; the impression he gave every one was that he was an
Ishmaelite with his hand against every man, and it certainly did seem
that at present every man’s hand was against him.

People write so much about the dangers of success and prosperity, and
the hardening effects of wealth, that they sometimes forget the other
side of the picture. Failure is always supposed to make a man patient
and humble and good; it rarely does so, unless to begin with his spirit
has been wakened from sleep. The man whose faith has been a mere
conventionality, or the man who like Frithiof has professed to believe
in life, becomes inevitably bitter and hard when all things are against
him. It is just then when a man is hard and bitter, just then when
everything else has failed him, that the devil comes to the fore
offering pleasures which in happier times would have had no attraction.

At first certain aspects of London life had startled Frithiof; but he
speedily became accustomed to them; if he thought of them at all it was
with indifference rather than disgust. One day however, he passed with
seeming abruptness into a new state of mind. Sick with disappointment
after the failure of a rather promising scheme suggested to him by one
of the men to whom his uncle had written, he walked through the crowded
streets too hopeless and wretched even to notice the direction he had
taken, and with a miserable perception that his last good card was
played, and that all hope of success was over. His future was an
absolute blank, his present a keen distress, his past too bright in
contrast to bear thinking of.

After all, had he not been a fool to struggle so long against his fate?
Clearly every one was against him. He would fight no longer; he would
give up that notion—that high-flown, unpractical notion of paying off
his father’s debts. To gain an honest living was apparently impossible,
the world afforded him no facilities for that, but it afforded him
countless opportunities of leading another sort of life. Why should he
not take what he could get? Life was miserable and worthless enough, but
at least he might put an end to the hideous monotony of the search after
work, at least he might plunge into a phase of life which would have at
any rate the charm of novelty.

It was one of those autumn days when shadow and sun alternate quickly; a
gleam of sunshine now flooded the street with brightness. It seemed to
him that a gleam of light had also broken the dreariness of his life.
Possibly it might be a fleeting pleasure, but why should he not seize
upon it? His nature, however, was not one to be hurried thoughtlessly
into vice. If he sinned he would do so deliberately. He looked the two
lives fairly in the face now, and in his heart he knew which attracted
him most. The discovery startled him. “The pleasing veil which serves to
hide self from itself” was suddenly torn down, and he was seized with
the sort of terror which we most of us have experienced:

              “As that bright moment’s unexpected glare
              Shows us the best and worst of what we are.”

“Why not? why not?” urged the tempter. And the vague shrinking seemed to
grow less; nothing in heaven or earth seemed real to him; he felt that
nothing mattered a straw. As well that way as any other. Why not?

It was the critical moment of his life; just as in old pictures one sees
an angel and a devil struggling hard to turn the balance, so now it
seemed that his fate rested with the first influence he happened to come
across.

Why should he not say, “Evil, be thou my good,” once and for all, and
have done with a fruitless struggle? That was the thought which seethed
in his mind as he slowly made his way along the Strand, surely the least
likely street in London where one might expect that the good angel would
find a chance of turning the scale. The pushing crowd annoyed him; he
paused for a minute, adding another unit to the little cluster of men
which may always be seen before the window of a London picture-dealer.
He stopped less to look at the picture than for the sake of being still
and out of the hurrying tide. His eye wandered from landscape to
landscape with very faint interest until suddenly he caught sight of a
familiar view, which stirred his heart strangely. It was a picture of
the Romsdalshorn; he knew it in an instant, with its strange and
beautiful outline, rising straight and sheer up into a wintry blue sky.
A thousand recollections came thronging back upon him, all the details
of a holiday month spent in that very neighborhood with his father and
Sigrid and Swanhild. He tried to drag himself away, but he could not.
Sigrid’s face kept rising before him as if in protest against that “Why
not?” which still claimed a hearing within him.

“If she were here,” he thought to himself, “I might keep straight. But
that’s all over now, and I can’t bear this life any longer. I have tried
everything and have failed. And, after all, who cares? It’s the way of
the world. I shant be worse than thousand of others.”

Still the thought of Sigrid held him in check, the remembrance of her
clear blue eyes seemed to force him to go deeper down beneath the
surface of the sullen anger and disappointment which were goading him on
to an evil life. Was it after all quite true? Had he really tried
everything?

Two or three times during his wanderings he had thought of Roy Boniface,
and had wondered whether he should seek him out again; but in his
trouble he had shrunk from going to comparative strangers, and, as far
as business went, it was scarcely likely that Roy could help him.
Besides, of the rest of the family he knew nothing; for aught he knew
the father might be a vulgar, purse-proud tradesman—the last sort of man
to whom he could allow himself to be under any obligation.

Again came the horrible temptation, again that sort of terror of his own
nature. He turned once more to the picture of the Romsdalshorn; it
seemed to be the one thing which could witness to him of truth and
beauty and a life above the level of the beasts.

Very slowly and gradually he began to see things as they really were; he
saw that if he yielded to this temptation he could never again face
Sigrid with a clear conscience. He saw, too, that his only safeguard lay
in something which would take him out of himself. “I _will_ get work,”
he said, almost fiercely. “For Sigrid’s sake I’ll have one more try.”

And then all at once the evil imaginings faded, and there rose up
instead of them a picture of what might be in the future, of a home he
might make for Sigrid and Swanhild here in London, where he now roamed
about so wretchedly, of a life which should in every way be a contrast
to his present misery. But he felt, as thousands have felt before him,
that he was handicapped in the struggle by his loneliness, and perhaps
it was this consciousness more than any expectation of finding work
which made him swallow his pride and turn his steps toward Brixton.



                              CHAPTER XII.


By the time he reached Brixton it was quite dusk. Roy had never actually
given him his address; but he made inquiries at a shop in the
neighborhood, was offered the loan of a directory, and having found what
he needed was soon making his way up the well-swept carriage-drive which
led to Rowan Tree House. He was tired with the walk and with his lonely
day of wasted work and disappointment. When he saw the outlines of the
big, substantial house looming out of the twilight he began to wish that
he had never come, for he thought to himself that it would be within
just such another house as the Morgans’, with its hateful air of money,
like the house of Miss Kilmansegg in the poem:

                 “Gold, and gold, and everywhere gold.”

To his surprise the door was suddenly flung open as he approached, and a
little boy in a velvet tunic came dancing out on to the steps to meet
him.

“Roy! Roy!” shouted the little fellow merrily, “I’ve come to meet you!”
Then speedily discovering his mistake, he darted back into the doorway,
hiding his face in Cecil’s skirt.

She stood there with a little curly-headed child in her arms, and her
soft gray eyes and the deep blue baby eyes looked searching out into the
semi-darkness. Frithiof thought the little group looked like a picture
of the Holy Family. Somehow he no longer dreaded the inside of the
house. For the first time for weeks he felt the sort of rest which is
akin to happiness as Cecil recognized him, and came forward with a
pretty eagerness of manner to greet him, too much astonished at his
sudden appearance for any thought of shyness to intervene.

“We thought you must have gone back to Norway,” she exclaimed. “I am so
glad you have come to see us. The children thought it was Roy who opened
the gate. He will be home directly. He will be so glad to see you.”

“I should have called before,” said Frithiof, “but my days have been
very full, and then, too, I was not quite sure of your address.”

He followed her into the brightly lighted hall, and with a sort of
satisfaction shut out the damp November twilight.

“We have so often spoken of you and your sisters,” said Cecil, “but when
Roy called at the Arundel and found that you had left without giving any
address, we thought you must have gone back to Bergen.”

“Did he call on me again there?” said Frithiof. “I remember now he
promised that he would come, I ought to have thought of it; but somehow
all was confusion that night, and afterward I was too ill.”

“It must have been terrible for you all alone among strangers in a
foreign country,” said Cecil, the ready tears starting to her eyes.
“Come in and see my mother; she has often heard how good you all were to
us in Norway.”

She opened a door on the left of the entrance hall and took him into one
of the prettiest rooms he had ever seen: the soft crimson carpet, the
inlaid rosewood furniture, the bookshelves with their rows of well-bound
books, all seemed to belong to each other, and a delightfully home-like
feeling came over him as he sat by the fire, answering Mrs. Boniface’s
friendly inquiries; he could almost have fancied himself once more in
his father’s study at Bergen—the room where so many of their long winter
evenings had been passed.

They sat there talking for a good half-hour before Roy and his father
returned, but to Frithiof the time seemed short enough. He scarcely knew
what it was that had such a charm for him; their talk was not
particularly brilliant, and yet it somehow interested him.

Mrs. Boniface was one of those very natural, homely people whose
commonplace remarks have a sort of flavor of their own, and Cecil had
something of the same gift. She never tried to make an impression, but
went on her way so quietly, that it was often not until she was gone
that people realized what she had been to them. Perhaps what really
chased away Frithiof’s gloom, and banished the look of the Ishmaelite
from his face, was the perception that these people really cared for
him, that their kindness was not labored formality but a genuine thing.
Tossed about for so long among hard-headed money-makers, forced every
day to confront glaring contrasts of poverty and wealth, familiarized
with the sight of every kind of evil, it was this sort of thing that he
needed.

And surely it is strange that in these days when people are willing to
devote so much time and trouble to good works, so few are willing to
make their own homes the havens of refuge they might be. A home is apt
to become either a mere place of general entertainment, or else a
selfishly guarded spot where we may take our ease without a thought of
those who are alone in the world. Many will ask a man in Frithiof’s
position to an at-home or a dance, but very few care to take such a one
into their real home and make him one of themselves. They will talk
sadly about the temptations of town life, but they will not in this
matter stir an inch to counteract them.

Mrs. Boniface’s natural hospitality and goodness of heart fitted her
admirably for this particular form of kindness; moreover, she knew that
her daughter would prove a help and not a hindrance, for she could in
all things trust Cecil, who was the sort of girl who can be friends with
men without flirting with them. At last the front door opened and
footsteps sounded in the hall; little Lance ran out to greet Mr.
Boniface and Roy, and Frithiof felt a sudden shame as he remembered the
purse-proud tradesman that foolish prejudice had conjured up in his
brain—a being wholly unlike the kindly, pleasant-looking man who now
shook hands with him, seeming in a moment to know who he was and all
about him.

“And so you have been in London all this time!” exclaimed Roy.
“Whereabouts are you staying?”

“Close to Vauxhall Station,” replied Frithiof. “Two or three times I
thought of looking you up, but there was always so much to do.”

“You have found work here, then?”

“No, indeed; I wish I had. It seems to me one may starve in this place
before finding anything to do.”

“Gwen wishes to say good-night to you, Herr Falck,” said Cecil, leading
the little girl up to him; and the bitter look died out of Frithiof’s
face for a minute as he stooped to kiss the baby mouth that was
temptingly offered to him.

“It will be hard if in all London we can not find you something,” said
Mr. Boniface. “What sort of work do you want?”

“I would do anything,” said Frithiof. “Sweep a crossing if necessary.”

They all laughed.

“Many people say that vaguely,” said Mr. Boniface. “But when one comes
to practical details they draw back. The mud and the broom look all very
well in the distance, you see.” Then as a bell was rung in the hall:
“Let us have tea first, and afterward, if you will come into my study we
will talk the matter over. We are old-fashioned people in this house,
and keep to the old custom of tea and supper. I don’t know how you
manage such things in Norway, but to my mind it seems that the middle of
the day is the time for the square meal, as they say in America.”

If the meal that awaited them in the dining-room was not “square,” it
was at any rate very tempting; from the fine damask table cloth to the
silver gypsy kettle, from the delicately arranged chrysanthemums to the
Crown Derby cups and saucers, all bespoke a good taste and the personal
supervision of one who really cared for beauty and order. The very food
looked unlike ordinary food, the horseshoes of fancy bread, the butter
swan in its parsley-bordered lake, the honeycomb, the cakes hot and
cold, and the beautiful bunches of grapes from the greenhouse, all
seemed to have a sort of character of their own. For the first time for
weeks Frithiof felt hungry. No more was said of the unappetizing subject
of the dearth of work, nor did they speak much of their Norwegian
recollections, because they knew it would be a sore subject with him
just now.

“By the way, Cecil,” remarked Mr. Boniface, when presently a pause came
in the general talk, “I saw one of your heroes this morning. Do you go
in for hero-worship in Norway, Herr Falck? My daughter here is a pupil
after Carlyle’s own heart.”

“We at any rate read Carlyle,” said Frithiof.

“But who can it have been?” exclaimed Cecil. “Not Signor Donati?”

“The very same,” said Mr. Boniface.

“But I thought he was singing at Paris?”

“So he is; he only ran over for a day or two on business, and he
happened to look in this morning with Sardoni, who came to arrange about
a song of his which we are going to publish.”

“Sardoni seems to me the last sort of man one would expect to write
songs,” said Roy.

“But in spite of it he has written a very taking one,” said Mr.
Boniface, “and I am much mistaken if it does not make a great hit. If so
his fortune is made, for you see he can write tenor songs for himself
and contralto songs for his wife, and they’ll get double royalties that
way.”

“But Signor Donati, father, what did he say? What is he like?”

“Well, he is so unassuming and quiet that you would never think it
possible he’s the man every one is raving about. And, except for that,
he’s really very much like other people, talked business very sensibly,
and seemed as much interested about this song of Sardoni’s as if there
had never been anything out of the way in his own life at all. I took to
him very much.”

“Can’t you get him to sing next summer?”

“I tried, but it is out of the question. He has signed an agreement only
to sing for Carrington. But he has promised me to sing at one of our
concerts the year after next.”

“Fancy having to make one’s arrangements so long beforehand!” exclaimed
Cecil. “You must certainly hear him, Herr Falck, when you have a chance;
they say he is the finest baritone in Europe.”

“He made us all laugh this morning,” said Mr. Boniface. “I forget now
what started it, something in the words of the song, I fancy, but he
began to tell us how yesterday he had been down at some country place
with a friend of his, and as they were walking through the grounds they
met a most comical old fellow in a tall hat.

“‘Halloo!’ exclaimed his friend, ‘here’s old Sykes the mole-catcher, and
I do declare he’s got another beaver! Where on earth does he get them?’

“‘In England,’ said Donati to his friend, ‘it would hardly do to inquire
after his hatter, I suppose.’

“At which the other laughed of course, and they agreed together that
just for a joke they would find out. So they began to talk to the old
man, and presently the friend remarked:

“‘I say, Sykes, my good fellow, I wish you’d tell me how you manage to
get such a succession of hats. Why, you are rigged out quite fresh since
I saw you on Monday.’

“The old mole-catcher gave a knowing wink, and after a little humming
and hawing he said:

“‘Well, sir, yer see I changed clothes yesterday with a gentleman in the
middle of a field.’

“‘Changed clothes with a gentleman!’ they exclaimed. ‘What do you mean?’

“And the mole-catcher began to laugh outright, and leading them to a gap
in the hedge, pointed away into the distance.

“‘There he be, sir; there he be,’ he said, laughing till he almost
choked. ‘It be naught but a scarecrow; but the scarecrows they’ve kep’
me in clothes for many a year.’”

Frithiof broke out into a ringing boyish laugh; it was the first time he
had laughed for weeks. Cecil guessed as much, and blessed Signor Donati
for having been the cause; but as she remembered what the young
Norwegian had been only a few months before, she could not help feeling
sad—could not help wondering what sorrow had changed him so terribly.
Had Blanche Morgan been faithful to him? she wondered. Or had his change
of fortune put an end to everything between them? In any case he must
greatly resent the way in which his father had been treated by the
English firm, and that alone must make matters very difficult for the
two lovers.

Musing over it all, she became silent and abstracted, and on returning
to the drawing-room took up a newspaper, glancing aimlessly down the
columns, and wondering what her father and Roy would advise Frithiof to
do, and how the discussion in the study was prospering.

All at once her heart began to beat wildly, for she had caught sight of
some lines which threw a startling light on Frithiof’s changed manner,
lines which also revealed to her the innermost recesses of her own
heart.


“The marriage arranged between Lord Romiaux and Miss Blanche Morgan,
only daughter of Austin Morgan, Esq., will take place on the 30th
instant, at Christ Church, Lancaster Gate.”


She was half-frightened at the sudden rage which took possession of her,
at the bitterness of the indignation which burned in her heart. What
right had Blanche Morgan to play with men? to degrade love to a mere
pastime? to make the most sacred thing in the world the sport of a
summer holiday? to ruin men’s lives for her own amusement? to lure on a
mere boy and flatter and deceive him; then quietly to throw him over?

“And how about yourself?” said a voice in her heart. “Are you quite free
from what you blame in Blanche Morgan? Will you not be tempted to hope
that he may like you? Will you not try to please him? Will it not be a
pleasure to you if he cares for your singing?”

“All that is quite true,” she admitted. “I do care to please him; I
can’t help it; but oh, God! let me die rather than do him harm!”

Her quiet life with the vague feeling of something wanting in it had
indeed been changed by the Norwegian holiday. Now, for the first time,
she realized that her uneventful girlhood was over; she had become a
woman, and, woman-like, she bravely accepted the pain which love had
brought into her life, and looked sadly, perhaps, yet unshrinkingly into
the future, where it was little likely that anything but grief and
anxiety awaited her. For she loved a man who was absolutely indifferent
to her, and her love had given her clear insight. She saw that he was a
man whose faith in love, both human and divine, had been crushed out of
him by a great wrong; a man whose whole nature had deteriorated and
would continue to deteriorate, unless some unforeseen thing should
interfere to change his whole view of life.

But the scalding tears which rose to her eyes were not tears of
self-pity; they were tears of sorrow for Frithiof, of disappointment
about his ruined life, of a sad humility as she thought to herself: “Oh!
if only I were fit to help him! If only!”

Meanwhile in the study a very matter-of-fact conversation was being
held.

“What I want to find out,” said Mr. Boniface, “is whether you are really
in earnest in what you say about work. There are thousands of young men
saying exactly the same thing, but when you take the trouble to go into
their complaint you find that the real cry is not ‘Give me work by which
I can get an honest living!’ but ‘Give me work that does not clash with
my tastes—work that I thoroughly like.’”

“I have no particular tastes,” said Frithiof coldly. “The sort of work
is quite indifferent to me as long as it will bring in money.”

“You are really willing to begin at the bottom of the ladder and work
your way up? You are not above taking a step which would place you much
lower in the social scale.”

“A fellow living on the charity of a relation who grudges every
farthing, as taking something away from his own children, is not likely
to trouble much about the social scale,” said Frithiof bitterly.

“Very well. Then I will, at any rate, suggest my plan for you, and see
what you think of it. If you care to accept it until something better
turns up, I can give you a situation in my house of business. Your
salary to begin with would be but small; the man who leaves me next
Monday has had only five and-twenty shillings a week, and I could not,
without unfair favoritism, give you more at first. But every man has a
chance of rising, and I am quite sure that you, with your advantages,
would do so. You understand that, as I said, it is mere work that I am
offering you. Doubtless standing behind a counter will not be very
congenial work to one brought up as you have been; but you might do
infinitely worse, and I can at least promise you that you will be
treated as a man—not, as in many places you would find it, as a mere
‘hand.’”

Possibly, when he first arrived in London, Frithiof might have scouted
such a notion if it had been proposed to him, but now his first question
was whether he was really qualified for the situation. Those hard words
which had so often confronted him—“Experienced only”—flashed into his
mind.

“I have had a good education,” he said, “and, of course, understand
book-keeping and so forth, but I have had no experience.”

“I quite understand that,” said Mr. Boniface. “But you would soon get
into the way of things. My son would show you exactly what your work
would be.”

“Of course I would,” said Roy. “Think it over, Falck, for at any rate it
would keep you going for a time while you look round for a better
opening.”

“Yes, there is no need to make up your mind to-night. Sleep upon it, and
let me know how you decide to-morrow. If you think of accepting the
situation, then come and see me in Regent Street between half-past one
and two o’clock. We close at two on Saturdays. And in any case, whether
you accept or refuse this situation, I hope you will come and spend
Saturday to Monday with us here.”

“You are very good,” said Frithiof, thinking to himself how unlike these
people were to any others he had come across in London. Miss Charlotte
Turnour had tried to do him good; it was part of her creed to try to do
good to people. The Bonifaces, on the other hand, had simply been
friendly and hospitable to him, had shown him that they really cared for
him, that they were sorry for his sorrow, and anxious over his
anxieties. But from Rowan Tree House he went away with a sense of warmth
about the heart, and from Miss Charlotte he invariably turned away
hardened and disgusted. Perhaps it was that she began at the wrong end,
and, like so many people in the world, offered the hard crust of
dogmatic utterances to one who was as yet only capable of being
nourished on the real substance of the loaf—a man who was dying for want
of love, and who no more needed elaborate theological schemes than the
starving man in the desert needs the elaborate courses of a
dinner-party.

It is God’s way to reveal Himself through man, though we are forever
trying to improve upon His way, and endeavoring to convert others by
articles of religion instead of the beauty of holiness.

As Frithiof walked home to Vauxhall he felt more at rest than he had
done for many days. They had not preached at him; they had not given him
unasked-for advice; they had merely given one of the best gifts that can
be given in this world, the sight of one of those homes where the
kingdom of heaven has begun—a home, that is, where “righteousness and
peace and joy” are the rule, and whatever contradicts this reign of love
the rare exception.



                             CHAPTER XIII.


The gloomy little lodging-house felt desolate enough to him as he
unlocked the door with his latch-key and climbed the creaking stairs to
his sparsely furnished room. Evidently the three Miss Turnours were
having a very animated quarrel, for their voices were pitched in that
high key which indicates a stormy atmosphere, and even their words
reached him distinctly as he passed by the bedroom which was the arena
of strife.

“But, my dear Caroline—”

“Don’t talk nonsense, my dear, you know perfectly well—”

“Do you mean to say, my dear—”

“I wonder,” thought Frithiof, “whether they ever allow each other to
finish a sentence. It’s like the catch that they used to sing at
Balholm, about ‘Celia’s Charms.’ If any one ever writes a catch called
‘The Quarrel,’ he must take care to stick in plenty of ‘my dears!’”

Strict economy in gas was practiced by the Miss Turnours, and Frithiof
had to grope about for matches. “Attendance,” too, did not apparently
include drawing down the blind, or turning down the bed. The room looked
most bare and comfortless, and the dismal gray paper, with its oblong
slabs, supposed by courtesy to represent granite, was as depressing as
the dungeon of Giant Despair’s castle.

To stay here with nothing to do—to fag through weary days of
disappointing search after work, and then to return to this night after
night, was but a sorry prospect. Would it not indeed be well for him if
he swallowed his pride and accepted this offer of perfectly honorable
work which had been made to him? The idea was in many ways distasteful
to him, and yet dared he reject it?

Looking honestly into his own mind he detected there something that
urged him to snatch at this first chance of work, lest, with fresh
failure and disappointment, the very desire for work should die within
him, and he should sink into a state which his better nature abhorred.
The clatter of tongues still ascended from below. He took off his boots,
dropping first one and then the other with a resounding thud upon the
floor, after the manner of men. Then wondering whether consciousness of
his being within earshot would allay the storm, he threw down both boots
at once with a portentous noise outside his room and shut and locked the
door with emphasis. Still the female battle continued. He threw himself
down on the bed, wondering what it was that made families so different.
It was not money which gave the tone to the Bonifaces’ house. The
Morgans were infinitely richer. It was not a great profession of
religion. The Miss Turnours were all ardently and disputatiously
religious. What was it?

He fell asleep before he had solved the problem, and had an odd,
confused dream. He dreamed that he was climbing the Romsdalshorn, and
that darkness had overtaken him. Below him was a sheer precipice, and he
could hear the roar of wild beasts as they wandered to and fro thirsting
for his blood.

“They are bound to get me sooner or later,” he thought, “for I can never
hold out till daylight. I may as well let myself go.”

And the thought of the horror of that fall was so great that he almost
woke with it. But something seemed to him to quiet him again. It was
partly curiosity to understand the meaning of a light which had dawned
in the sky, and which deepened and spread every moment. At last he saw
that it had been caused by the opening of a door, and in the doorway,
with a glory of light all about them, he saw the Madonna and the Holy
Child. A path of light traced itself from them on the mountain-side to
the place where he stood, and he struggled up, no longer afraid to go
forward, and without a thought of the beasts or the precipice. And thus
struggling on, all details were lost in a flood of light, and warmth,
and perfect content, and a welcome that left nothing wanting.

A pushing back of chairs in the room below suddenly roused him. With a
sense of bewilderment, he found himself lying on the hard lodging-house
bed, and heard the quarrelsome voices rising through the floor.

“Still at it,” he thought to himself with a bitter smile. And then he
thought of the picture of the Romsdalshorn he had seen that afternoon—he
remembered a horrible temptation that had seized him—remembered Cecil
standing in the open door with the child in her arms, remembered the
perfect welcome he had received from the whole house. Should he in his
foolish pride drift into the miserable state of these poor Turnours, and
drag through life in poverty, because he was too well-born to take the
work he could get?

“These poor ladies would be happier even in service than they are here,
in what they call independence,” he reflected. “I shall take this
situation; it’s the first step up.”

The next morning he went to the Swedish Embassy to ask advice once more.

“I am glad to see you,” said the consul. “I was hoping you would look in
again, for I met old Sivertsen the other day, and he was most anxious to
have your address. He said you went off in a hurry, and never gave him
time to finish what he was saying.”

Frithiof smiled.

“He did nothing but inveigh against the rising generation, and I didn’t
care to waste the whole morning over that.”

“You have too little diplomacy about you,” said the consul. “You do not
make the best of your own case. However, Sivertsen seems to have taken a
fancy to you, and I advise you to go to him again; he will most likely
offer you work. If I were you, I would make up my mind to take whatever
honest work turns up, and throw pride to the winds. Leave your address
here with me, and if I hear of anything I’ll let you know.”

Frithiof, somewhat unwillingly, made his way to Museum Street, and was
ushered into the stuffy little den where Herr Sivertsen sat smoking and
writing serenely. He bowed stiffly, but was startled to see the sudden
change which came over the face of the old Norwegian at sight of him.

“So! You have come back, then!” he exclaimed, shaking him warmly by the
hand, just as though they had parted the best of friends. “I am glad of
it. Why didn’t you tell me the real state of the case? Why didn’t you
tell me you were one of the victims of the accursed thirst for gold? Why
didn’t you tell me of the hardness and rapacity of the English firm? But
you are all alike—all! Young men nowadays can’t put a decent sentence
together; they clip their words as close as if they were worth a mint of
money. A worthless generation! Sit down, now, sit down, and tell me what
you can do.”

Frithiof, perceiving that what had first seemed like boorishness was
really eccentricity, took the proffered chair, and tried to shake off
the mantle of cold reserve which had of late fallen upon him.

“I could do translating,” he replied. “English, German, or Norwegian. I
am willing to do copying; but there, I suppose, the typewriters would
cut me out. Any way, I have four hours to spare in the evening, and I
want them filled.”

“You have found some sort of work, then, already?”

“Yes, I have got work which will bring me in twenty-five shillings a
week, but it leaves me free from eight o’clock, and I want evening
employment.”

Herr Sivertsen gave a grunt which expressed encouragement and approval.
He began shuffling about masses of foolscap and proofs which were strewn
in wild confusion about the writing-table. “These are the revised proofs
of Scanbury’s new book; take this page and let me see how you can render
it into Norwegian. Here are pen and paper. Sit down and try your hand.”

Frithiof obeyed. Herr Sivertsen seemed satisfied with the result.

“Put the same page into German,” he said.

Frithiof worked away in silence, and the old author paced to and fro
with his pipe, giving a furtive glance now and then at the down-bent
head with its fair, obstinate hair brushed erect in Norwegian fashion,
and the fine Grecian profile upon which the dark look of trouble sat
strangely. In spite of the sarcasm and bitterness which disappointment
had roused in Frithiof’s nature the old author saw that such traits were
foreign to his real character—that they were but a thin veneer, and that
beneath them lay the brave and noble nature of the hardy Norseman. The
consul’s account of his young countryman’s story had moved him greatly,
and he was determined now to do what he could for him. He rang the bell
and ordered the Norwegian maid-servant to bring lunch for two, adding an
emphatic “Strax!” (immediately), which made Frithiof look up from his
writing.

“You have finished?” asked Herr Sivertsen.

“Not quite. I can’t get this last bit quite to my mind. I don’t believe
there is an equivalent in German for that expression.”

“You are quite right. There isn’t. I couldn’t get anything for it
myself. What have you put? Good! very good. It is an improvement on what
I had thought of. The sentence runs better.”

He took the paper from the table and mumbled through it in an approving
tone.

“Good! you will do,” he said, at the end. “Now while we lunch together
we can discuss terms. Ha! what has she brought us? Something that
pretends to be German sausage! Good heavens! The depravity of the age!
_This_ German sausage indeed! I must apologize to you for having it on
the table, but servants are all alike nowadays—all alike! Not one of
them can understand how to do the marketing properly. A worthless
generation!”

Frithiof began to be faintly amused by the old man, and as he walked
away from Museum Street with a week’s work under his arm he felt in
better spirits than he had done for some time.

With not a little curiosity he sought out the Bonifaces’ shop in Regent
Street. It had a well-ordered, prosperous look about it: double doors
kept the draught from those within, the place was well warmed
throughout; on each side of the door was a counter with a desk and
stool, Mr. Boniface being one of those who consider that sitting is as
cheap as standing, and the monotony of the long shelves full of
holland-covered portfolios was broken by busts of Beethoven, Mozart,
Wagner, and other great musicians. The inner shop was consecrated to
instruments of all kinds, and through this Frithiof was taken to Mr.
Boniface’s private room.

“Well,” said the shop-owner, greeting him kindly. “And have you made
your decision!”

“Yes, sir, I have decided to accept the situation,” said Frithiof. And
something in his face and bearing showed plainly that he was all the
better for his choice.

“I forget whether I told you about the hours,” said Mr. Boniface.
“Half-past eight in the morning till half-past seven at night, an hour
out of that for dinner, and half an hour for tea. You will have of
course the usual bank holidays, and we also arrange that each of our men
shall have a fortnight some time during the summer.”

“You are very thoughtful for your hands,” said Frithiof. “It is few, I
should fancy, who would allow so much.”

“I don’t know that,” said Mr. Boniface. “A good many, I fancy, try
something of the sort, and I am quite sure that it invariably answers.
It is not in human nature to go on forever at one thing—every one needs
variety. Business becomes a tread-mill if you never get a thorough
change, and I like my people to put their heart into the work. If you
try to do that you will be of real value, and are bound to rise.”

“Look,” said Roy, showing him a neatly drawn-out plan of names and
dates. “This is the holiday chart which we worked out this summer. It
takes my father quite a long time to arrange it all and make each
dovetail properly with the others.”

They lingered for a few minutes talking over the details of the
business, then Roy took Frithiof down into the shop again, and in the
uninterrupted quiet of the Saturday afternoon showed him exactly what
his future work would be. He was to preside at the song-counter, and Roy
initiated him into the arrangement of the brown-holland portfolios with
their black lettering, showed him his desk with account-books,
order-book, and cash-box, even made him practice rolling up music in the
neat white wrappers that lay ready to hand—a feat which at first he did
not manage very quickly.

“I am afraid all this must be very uncongenial to you,” said Roy.

“Perhaps,” said Frithiof. “But it will do as well as anything else. And
indeed,” he added warmly, “one would put up with a great deal for the
sake of being under such a man as Mr. Boniface.”

“The real secret of the success of the business is that he personally
looks after every detail,” said Roy. “All the men he employs are fond of
him; he expects them to do their best for him, and he does his best for
them. I think you may really be happy enough here, though of course it
is not at all the sort of life you were brought up to expect.”

Each thought involuntarily of the first time they had met, and of
Blanche Morgan’s ill-timed speech: “Only a shopkeeper!” Roy understood
perfectly well what it was that brought the bitter look into his
companion’s face, and, thinking that they had stayed long enough for
Frithiof to get a pretty clear idea of the work which lay before him on
Monday morning, he proposed that they should go home together. He had
long ago got over the selfish desire to be quit of the responsibility of
being with the Norwegian; his first awkward shyness had been, after all,
natural enough, for those whose lives have been very uneventful seldom
understand how to deal with people in trouble, and are apt to shrink
away in unsympathetic silence because they have not learned from their
own sore need what it is that human nature craves for in sorrow. But
each time he met Frithiof now he felt that the terrible evening at the
Arundel had broken down the barriers which hitherto had kept him from
friendship with any one out of his own family. Mere humanity had forced
him to stay as the solitary witness of an overwhelming grief, and he had
gained in this way a knowledge of life and a sympathy with Frithiof, of
which he had been quite incapable before.

He began to know intuitively how things would strike Frithiof, and as
they went down to Brixton he prepared him for what he shrewdly surmised
would be the chief disagreeable in his business life.

“I don’t think you heard,” he began “that there is another partner in
our firm—a cousin of my father’s—James Horner. I dare say you will not
come across him very much, but he is fond of interfering now and then,
and sometimes if my father is away he gets fussy and annoying. He is not
at all popular in the shop, and I thought I would just warn you
beforehand, though of course you are not exactly expecting a bed of
roses.”

It would have been hard to say exactly what Frithiof was expecting; his
whole life had been unstrung, and this new beginning represented to him
merely a certain amount of monotonous work to the tune of
five-and-twenty shillings a week.

When they reached Rowan Tree House they found a carriage waiting at the
door.

“Talk of the angel and its wings appear,” said Roy. “The Horners are
calling here. What a nuisance!”

Frithiof felt inclined to echo this sentiment when he found himself in
the pretty drawing-room once more and became conscious of the presence
of an overdressed woman and a bumptious little man with mutton-chop
whiskers and inquisitive eyes, whose air of patronage would have been
comical had it not been galling to his Norwegian independence. Roy had
done well to prepare him, for nothing could have been so irritating to
his sensitive refinement as the bland self-satisfaction, the innate
vulgarity of James Horner. Mrs. Boniface and Cecil greeted him
pleasantly, and Mrs. Horner bowed her lofty bonnet with dignity when he
was introduced to her, and uttered a platitude about the weather in an
encouraging tone, which speedily changed, however, when she discovered
that he was actually “one of the hands.”

“The Bonifaces have no sense of what is fitting,” she said afterward to
her husband. “The idea of introducing one of the shopmen to me! I never
go into Loveday’s drawing-room without longing to leave behind me a book
on etiquette.”

“She’s a well-meaning soul,” said James Horner condescendingly. “But
countrified still, and unpolished. It’s strange after so many years of
London life.”

“Not strange at all,” retorted Mrs. Horner snappishly. “She never tries
to copy correct models, so how’s it likely her manners should improve.
I’m not at all partial to Cecil either. They’ll never make a stylish
girl of her with their ridiculous ideas about stays and all that. I’ll
be bound her waist’s a good five-and-twenty inches.”

“Oh, well, my dear, I really don’t see much to find fault with in
Cecil.”

“But I do,” said Mrs. Horner emphatically. “For all her quietness
there’s a deal of obstinacy about the girl. I should like to know what
she means to do with that criminal’s children that she has foisted on
the family! I detest people who are always doing _outré_ things like
that; it’s all of a piece with their fads about no stays and Jaeger’s
woolen clothes. The old customs are good enough for me, and I’m sure
rather than let myself grow as stout as Loveday I’d tight-lace night as
well as day.”

“She’s not much of a figure, it’s true.”

“Figure, indeed!” echoed his wife. “A feather-bed tied around with a
string, that’s what she is.”

“But she makes the house very comfortable, and always has a good table,”
said Mr. Horner reflectively.

His wife tossed her head and flushed angrily, for she knew quite well
that while the Bonifaces spent no more on housekeeping than she did,
their meals were always more tempting, more daintily arranged. She was
somehow destitute of the gift of devising nice little dinners, and could
by no means compass a pretty-looking supper.

“It seems to me, you know,” said James Horner, “that we go on year after
year in a dull round of beef and mutton, mutton and beef.”

“Well, really, Mr. H.,” she replied sharply, “if you want me to feed you
on game and all the delicacies of the season, you must give me a little
more cash, that’s all.”

“I never said that I wanted you to launch out into all the delicacies of
the season. Loveday doesn’t go in for anything extravagant; but somehow
one wearies of eternal beef and mutton. I wish they’d invent another
animal!”

“And till they do, I’ll thank you not to grumble, Mr. H. If there’s one
thing that seems to me downright unchristian it is to grumble at things.
Why, where’s that idiot of a coachman driving us to? It’s half a mile
further that way. He really must leave us; I can’t stand having a
servant one can’t depend on. He has no brains at all.”

She threw down the window and shouted a correction to the coachman, but
unluckily, in drawing in her head again, the lofty bonnet came violently
into contact with the roof of the carriage. “Dear! what a bother!” she
exclaimed. “There’s my osprey crushed all to nothing!”

“Well, Cecil would say it was a judgment on you,” said James Horner,
smiling. “Didn’t you hear what she was telling us just now? they kill
the parent birds by scores and leave the young ones to die of
starvation. It’s only in the breeding season that they can get those
feathers at all.”

“Pshaw! what do I care for a lot of silly little birds!” said Mrs.
Horner, passing her hand tenderly and anxiously over the crushed bonnet.
“I shall buy a fresh one on Monday, if it’s only to spite that girl;
she’s forever talking up some craze about people or animals being hurt.
It’s no affair of mine; my motto is ‘Live and let live’; and don’t be
forever ferreting up grievances.”

Frithiof breathed more freely when the Horners had left Rowan Tree
House, and indeed every one seemed to feel that a weight had been
removed, and a delightful sense of ease took possession of all.

“Cousin Georgina will wear ospreys to the bitter end, I prophesy,” said
Roy. “You’ll never convince her that anything she likes is really hard
on others.”

“Of course, many people have worn them before they knew of the cruelty,”
said Cecil, “but afterward I can’t think how they can.”

“You see, people as a rule don’t really care about pain at a distance,”
said Frithiof. “Torture thousands of these herons and egrets by a
lingering death, and though people know it is so they wont care; but
take one person within hearing of their cries, and that person will
wonder how any human being can be such a barbarian as to wear these
so-called ospreys.”

“I suppose it is that we are so very slow to realize pain that we don’t
actually see.”

“People don’t really want to stop pain till it makes them personally
uncomfortable,” replied Frithiof.

“That sounds horribly selfish.”

“Most things come round to selfishness when you trace them out.”

“Do you really quite think that? I don’t think it can be true, because
it is not of one’s self that one thinks in trying to do away with the
sufferings of the world; reformers always know that they will have to
endure a great deal of pain themselves, and it is the thought of
lessening it for others that makes them brave enough to go on.”

“But you must allow,” said Frithiof, “that to get up a big subscription
you must have a harrowing account of a catastrophe. You must stir
people’s hearts so that they wont be comfortable again till they have
given a guinea; it is their own pain that prompts them to act—their own
personal discomfort.”

“That may be, perhaps; but it is not altogether selfishness if they
really do give help; it must be a God-like thing that makes them want to
cure pain—a devil would gloat over it. Why should you call it
selfishness because the good pleases them? ‘_Le bien me plaît_’ was a
good enough motto for the Steadfast Prince, why not for the rest of us?”

“But is it orthodox, surely, to do what you dislike doing?”

“Yes,” struck in Roy, “like the nursery rhyme about

 ‘The twelve Miss Pellicoes they say were always taught
 To do the thing they didn’t like, which means the thing they ought.’”

“But that seems to me exactly what is false,” said Cecil. “Surely we
have to grow into liking the right and the unselfish, and hating the
thing that only pleases the lower part of us?”

“But the growth is slow with most of us,” said Mr. Boniface. “There’s a
specimen for you,” and he glanced toward the door, where an altercation
was going on between Master Lance and the nurse who had come to fetch
him to bed.

“Oh, come, Lance, don’t make such a noise,” cried Cecil, crossing the
room and putting a stop to the sort of war-dance of rage and passion
which the little fellow was executing. “Why, what do you think would
happen to you if you were to sit up late?”

“What?” asked Lance, curiosity gaining the upper hand and checking the
frenzy of impatience which had possessed him.

“You would be a wretched little cross white child, and would never grow
up into a strong man. Don’t you want to grow big and strong so that you
can take care of Gwen?”

“And I’ll take care of you, too,” he said benevolently. “I’ll take you
all the way to Norway, and row you in a boat, and shoot the bears.”

Frithiof smiled.

“The trouble generally is to find bears to shoot.”

“Yes, but Cecil did see where a bear had made its bed up on Munkeggen,
didn’t you, Cecil?”

“Yes, yes, and you shall go with me some day,” she said, hurrying the
little fellow off because she thought the allusion to Munkeggen would
perhaps hurt Frithiof.

Roy was on the point of taking up the thread of conversation again about
Norway, but she promptly intervened.

“I don’t know how we shall cure Lance of dancing with rage like that; we
have the same scene every night.”

“You went the right way to work just now,” said Mr. Boniface. “You made
him understand why his own wishes must be thwarted; and you see he was
quite willing to believe what you said. You had a living proof of what
you were arguing—he did what he had once disliked because he saw that it
was the road to something higher, and better, and more really desirable
than his play down here. In time he will have a sort of respectful
liking for the road which once he hated.”

“The only drawback is,” said Frithiof, rather bitterly, “that he may
follow the road, and it may not lead him to what he expects; he may go
to bed like an angel, and yet, in spite of that, lose his health, or
grow up without a chance of taking you to Norway or shooting bears.”

“Well, what then?” said Cecil quietly. “It will have led him on in the
right direction, and if he is disappointed of just those particular
things, why, he must look further and higher.”

Frithiof thought of his dream and was silent.

“I’m going to make tea, Roy,” said Mrs. Boniface, laying down her
netting, “and you had better show Herr Falck his room. I hope you’ll
often come and spend Sunday with us,” she added, with a kindly glance at
the Norwegian.

In the evening they had music. Roy and Cecil both sung well; their
voices were not at all out of the common, but no pains had been spared
on their training, and Frithiof liked the comfortable, informal way in
which they sung one thing after another, treating him entirely as one of
the family.

“And now it is your turn,” said Cecil, after awhile. “Father, where is
that Amati that somebody sent you on approval? Perhaps Herr Falck would
try it?”

“Oh, do you play the violin?” said Mr. Boniface; “that is capital.
You’ll find it in my study cupboard, Cecil; stay, here’s the key.”

Frithiof protested that he was utterly out of practice, that it was
weeks since he had touched his violin, which had been left behind in
Norway; but when he actually saw the Amati he couldn’t resist it, and it
ended in his playing to Cecil’s accompaniment for the rest of the
evening.

To Cecil the hours seemed to fly, and Mrs. Boniface, after a preliminary
round of tidying up the room, came and stood by her, watching her bright
face with motherly contentment.

“Prayer time, darling,” she said, as the sonata came to an end; “and
since it’s Saturday night we mustn’t be late.”

“Ten o’clock already?” she exclaimed; “I had no idea it was so late!
What hymn will you have, father?”

“The Evening Hymn,” said Mr. Boniface; and Frithiof, wondering a little
what was going to happen, obediently took the place assigned him, saw
with some astonishment that four white-capped maid-servants had come
into the drawing-room and were sitting near the piano, and that Mr.
Boniface was turning over the leaves of a big Bible. He had a dim
recollection of having read something in an English poem about a similar
custom, and racked his brain to remember what it could be until the
words of a familiar psalm broke the stillness of the room, and recalled
him to the present.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help,”
read Mr. Boniface. And as he went on, the beautiful old poem with its
tender, reassuring cadences somehow touched Frithiof, so that when they
stood up to sing “Glory to Thee, my God, this night,” he did not cavil
at each line as he would have done a little while before, but stood
listening reverently, conscious of a vague desire for something in which
he felt himself to be lacking. After all, the old beliefs which he had
dismissed so lightly from his mind were not without a power and a beauty
of their own.

“I wish I could be like these people,” he thought to himself, kneeling
for the first time for years.

And though he did not hear a word of the prayer, and could not honestly
have joined in it if he had heard, his mind was full of a longing which
he could not explain. The fact was that in the past he had troubled
himself very little about the matter, he had allowed the “Zeitgeist” to
drive him as it would, and following the fashion of his companions, with
a comfortable consciousness of having plenty to keep him in countenance,
he had thrown off the old faiths.

He owned as much to Cecil the next day when, after breakfast, they
chanced to be alone together for a few minutes.

“Have you found any Norwegian service in London, or will you come with
us?” she asked unconsciously.

“Oh,” he replied, “I gave up that sort of thing long ago, and while you
are out I will get on with some translation I have in hand.”

“I beg your pardon,” she said, coloring crimson; “I had no idea, or I
should not have asked.”

But there was not the faintest shade of annoyance in Frithiof’s face; he
seemed puzzled at her confusion.

“The services bored me so,” he explained. He did not add as he had done
to Blanche that in his opinion religion was only fit for women, perhaps
because it would have been difficult to make such a speech to Cecil, or
perhaps because the recollection of the previous evening still lingered
with him.

“Oh,” said Cecil, smiling as she recognized the boyishness of his
remark; “I suppose every one goes through a stage of being bored. Roy
used to hate Sunday when he was little; he used to have a Sunday pain
which came on quite regularly when we were starting to chapel, so that
he could stay at home.”

“I know you will all think me a shocking sinner to stay at home
translating this book,” said Frithiof.

“No, we shant,” said Cecil quietly. “If you thought it was right to go
to church of course you would go. You look at things differently.”

He was a little startled by her liberality.

“You assume by that that I always do what I know to be right,” he said,
smiling. “What makes you suppose any such thing?”

“I can’t tell you exactly; but don’t you think one has a sort of
instinct as to people? without really having heard anything about them,
one can often know that they are good or bad.”

“I think one is often horribly mistaken in people,” said Frithiof
moodily.

“Yes; sometimes one gets unfairly prejudiced, perhaps, by a mere
likeness to another person whom one dislikes. Oh, I quite allow that
this sort of instinct is not infallible.”

“You are much more liable to think too well of people than not well
enough,” said Frithiof. “You are a woman and have seen but little of the
world. Wait till you have been utterly deceived in some one, and then
your eyes will be opened, and you will see that most people are at heart
mean and selfish and contemptible.”

“But there is one thing that opens one’s eyes to see what is good in
people,” said Cecil. “You can’t love all humanity and yet think them
mean and contemptible, you soon see that they are worth a great deal.”

“It is as you said just now,” said Frithiof, after a minute’s silence,
“we look at things differently. You look at the world out of charitable
eyes. I look at it seeing its baseness and despising it. Some day you
will see that my view is correct; you will find that your kindly
judgments are wrong. Perhaps I shall be the first to undeceive you, for
you are utterly wrong about me. You think me good, but it is ten to one
that I go to the bad altogether; after all, it would be the easiest way
and the most amusing.”

He had gone on speaking recklessly, but Cecil felt much too keenly to be
checked by any conventionality as to the duty of talking only of surface
matters.

“You are unjust to the world, yourself included!” she exclaimed. “I
believe that you have too much of the hardy Norseman about you ever to
hanker after a life of ease and pleasure which must really ruin you.”

“That speech only shows that you have formed too high an estimate of our
national character,” said Frithiof. “Perhaps you don’t know that the
Norwegians are often drunkards?”

“Possibly; and so are the English; but, in spite of that, is not the
real national character true and noble and full of a sense of duty? What
I meant about you was that I think you do try to do the things you see
to be right. I never thought you were perfect.”

“Then if I do the things that I see to be right I can only see a very
little, that’s certain,” he said lightly.

“Exactly so,” she replied, unable to help laughing a little at his tone.
“And I think that you have been too lazy to take the trouble to try and
see more. However, that brings us round again to the things that bore
you. Would you like to write at this table in the window? You will be
quite quiet in here till dinner-time.”

She found him pens and ink, tore a soiled sheet off the blotting-pad,
drew up the blind so as to let in just enough sunshine, and then left
him to his translating.

“What a strange girl she is,” he thought to himself. “As frank and
outspoken as a boy, and yet with all sorts of little tender touches
about her. Sigrid would like her; they did take to one another at
Balholm, I remember.”

Then, with a bitter recollection of one who had eclipsed all others
during that happy week on the Sogne Fjord, the hard look came back to
his face, and taking up his pen he began to work doggedly at Herr
Sivertsen’s manuscript.

The next morning his new life began: he turned his back on the past and
deliberately made his downward step on the social ladder, which
nevertheless meant an upward step on the ladder of honesty and success.
Still there was no denying that the loss of position chafed him sorely;
he detested having to treat such a man as James Horner as his master and
employer; he resented the free-and-easy tone of the other men employed
on the premises. Mr. Horner, who was the sort of man who would have
patronized an archangel for the sake of showing off his own superior
affability, unluckily chanced to be in the shop a good deal during that
first week, and the new hand received a large share of his notice.
Frithiof’s native courtesy bore him up through a good deal, but at last
his pride got the better of him, and he made it so perfectly apparent to
the bumptious little man that he desired to have as little to do with
him as possible, that James Horner’s bland patronage speedily changed to
active dislike.

“What induced you to choose that Falck in Smith’s place?” he said to Mr.
Boniface, in a grumbling tone. He persisted in dropping the broad “a” in
Frithiof’s name, and pronouncing it as if it rhymed with “talc”—a sound
peculiarly offensive to Norwegian ears.

“He is a friend of Roy’s,” was the reply. “What is it that you dislike
about him? He seems to me likely to prove very efficient.”

“Oh, yes; he has his wits about him, perhaps rather too much so, but I
can’t stand the ridiculous airs the fellow gives himself. Order him to
do anything, and he’ll do it as haughtily as though he were master and I
servant; and as for treating him in a friendly way it’s impossible; he’s
as stand-offish as if he were a Crœsus instead of a poor beggar without
a penny to bless himself with.”

“He is a very reserved fellow,” said Mr. Boniface; “and you must
remember that this work is probably distasteful to him. You see he has
been accustomed to a very different position.”

“Why, his father was nothing but a fish merchant who went bankrupt.”

“But out in Norway merchants rank much more highly than with us.
Besides, the Falcks are of a very old family.”

“Well, really I never expected to hear such a radical as you speak up
for old family and all that nonsense,” said James Horner. “But I see you
are determined to befriend this fellow, so it’s no good my saying
anything against it. I hope you may find him all you expect. For my part
I consider him a most unpromising young man; there’s an aggressiveness
about his face and bearing that I don’t like at all. A dangerous,
headstrong sort of character, and not in the least fit for the position
you have given him.”

With which sweeping condemnation Mr. Horner left the room, and Roy, who
had kept a politic silence throughout the scene, threw down his pen and
went into a subdued fit of laughter.

“You should see them together, father, it’s as good as a play,” he
exclaimed. “Falck puts on his grand air and is crushingly polite the
moment Cousin James puts in an appearance, and that nettles him and he
becomes more and more vulgar and fussy, and so they go poking each other
up worse and worse every minute.”

“It’s very foolish of Falck,” said Mr. Boniface. “If he means to get on
in life, he will have to learn the art of rising above such paltry
annoyances as airs of patronage and manners that jar on him.”

Meanwhile, down below in the shop, Frithiof had forgotten his last
encounter with James Horner, and as he set things in order for the
Saturday afternoon closing, his thoughts were far away. He sorted music
and took down one portfolio after another mechanically, while all the
time it seemed to him that he was wandering with Blanche through the
sweet-scented pine woods, hearing her fresh, clear voice, looking into
the lovely eyes which had stolen his heart. The instant two o’clock
sounded the hour of his release, he snatched up his hat and hurried
away; his dreams of the past had taken so strong a hold upon him that he
felt he must try for at least one more sight of the face that haunted
him so persistently.

He had touched no food since early morning, but he could no more have
eaten at that moment than have turned aside in some other direction.
Feeling as though some power outside himself were drawing him onward, he
followed with scarcely a thought of the actual way, until he found
himself within sight of the Lancaster Gate House. A striped red and
white awning had been erected over the steps, he caught sight of it
through the trees, and his heart seemed to stand still. Hastily crossing
the wide road leading to the church, he gained a better view of the
pavement in front of Mr. Morgan’s house; dirty little street children
with eager faces were clustered about the railings, and nurse-maids with
perambulators flanked the red felt which made a pathway to the carriage
standing before the door. He turned sick and giddy.

“Fine doings there, sir,” remarked the crossing-sweeper, who was still
sweeping up the autumn leaves just as he had been doing when Frithiof
had passed him after his interview with Blanche. “They say the bride’s
an heiress and a beauty too. Well, well, it’s an unequal world!” and the
old man stopped to indulge in a paroxysm of coughing, then held out a
trembling hand.

“Got a copper about you, sir?” he asked.

Frithiof, just because the old man made that remark about an unequal
world, dropped a sixpence into the outstretched palm.

“God bless you, sir!” said the crossing-sweeper, beginning to sweep up
the fallen leaves with more spirit than ever.

“Violets, sir, sweet violets?” cried a girl, whose eye had caught the
gleam of the silver coin.

She held the basket toward him, but he shook his head and walked
hurriedly away toward the church. Yet the incident never left his
memory, and to the end of his life the scent of violets was hateful to
him. Like one in a nightmare, he reached the church door. The organ was
crashing out a jubilant march; there was a sort of subdued hum of eager
anticipation from the crowd of spectators.

“Are you a friend of the bride, sir?” asked an official.

“No,” he said icily.

“Then the side aisle, if you please, sir. The middle aisle is reserved
for friends only.”

He quietly took the place assigned him and waited. It did not seem real
to him, the crowded church, the whispering people; all that seemed real
was the horrible sense of expectation.

“Oh, it will be well worth seeing,” remarked a woman, who sat beside
him, to her companion. “They always manages things well in this place.
The last time I come it was to see Lady Graham’s funeral. Lor’! it was
jest beautiful! After all, there aint nothing that comes up to a real
good funeral. It’s so movin’ to the feelin’s, aint it?”

An icy numbness crept over him, a most appalling feeling of isolation.
“This is like dying,” he thought to himself. And then, because the
congregation stood up, he too dragged himself to his feet. The march had
changed to a hymn. White-robed choristers walked slowly up the middle
aisle; their words reached him distinctly:

                      “Still in the pure espousal,
                      Of Christian man and maid.”

Then suddenly he caught sight of the face which had more than once been
pressed to his, of the eyes which had lured him on so cruelly. It was
only for a moment. She passed by with her attendant bride-maids, and
black darkness seemed to fall upon him, though he stood there outwardly
calm, just like an indifferent spectator.

“Did you see her?” exclaimed his neighbor. “My! aint she jest pretty!
Satin dress, aint it?”

“No, bless your heart! not satin,” replied the other. “’Twas brocade,
and a guinea a yard, I shouldn’t wonder.”

Yet through all the whispering and the subdued noise of the great
congregation he could hear Blanche’s clear voice. “I will always trust
you,” she had said to him on Munkeggen. Now he heard her answer “I will”
to another question.

After that, prayers and hymns seemed all mixed up in a wild confusion.
Now and then, between the heads of the crowd, he caught a vision of a
slim, white-robed figure, and presently Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March”
was struck up, and he knew that she would pass down the aisle once more.
Would her face be turned in his direction? Yes; for a little child
scattered flowers before her, and she glanced round at it with a happy,
satisfied smile. As for Frithiof, he just stood there passively, and no
one watching him could have known of the fierce anguish that wrung his
heart. As a matter of fact, nobody observed him at all; he was a mere
unit in the crowd; and with human beings all round him, yet in absolute
loneliness, he passed out of the church into the chill autumnal air, to

                      “Take up his burden of life again,
                Saying only, ‘It might have been.’”



                              CHAPTER XIV.


The cemetery just outside the Stadsport at Bergen, which had called
forth the eager admiration of Blanche Morgan in the previous summer,
looked perhaps even lovelier now that winter had come with its soft,
white shroud. The trees, instead of their green leaves, stretched out
rime-laden branches against the clear, frosty sky; the crosses on the
graves were fringed with icicles, which, touched here and there by the
lovely rays of the setting sun, shone ruby-red, or in the shade gleamed
clear as diamonds against the background of crisp white snow. Away in
the distance Ulriken reared his grand old head majestically, a dark
streak of precipitous rock showing out now and then through the veil
which hid his summer face; and to the right, in the valley, the pretty
Lungegaarsvand was one great sheet of ice, over which skaters glided
merrily.

The body of Sigurd Falck rested beside that of his wife in the midst of
all this loveliness, and one winter afternoon Sigrid and little Swanhild
came to bring to the grave their wreaths and crosses, for it was their
father’s birthday. They had walked from their uncle’s house laden with
all the flowers they had been able to collect, and now stood at the gate
of the cemetery, which opened stiffly, owing to the frost. Sigrid looked
older and even sadder than she had done in the first shock of her
father’s death, but little Swanhild had just the same fair rosy face as
before, and there was a veiled excitement and eagerness in her manner as
she pushed at the cemetery gate; she was able to take a sort of pleasure
in bringing these birthday gifts, and even had in her heart a keen
satisfaction in the certainty that “their grave” would look prettier
than any of the others.

“No one else has remembered his birthday,” she said, as they entered the
silent graveyard. “See, the snow is quite untrodden. Sigrid when are
they going to put father’s name on the stone?” and she pointed to the
slanting marble slab which leaned against the small cross. “There is
only mother’s name still. Wont they put a bigger slab instead where
there will be room for both?”

“Not now,” said Sigrid, her voice trembling.

“But why not, Sigrid? Every one else has names put. It seems as if we
had forgotten him.”

“Oh, no, no,” said Sigrid, with a sob. “It isn’t that, darling; it is
that we remember so well, and know what he would have wished about it.”

“I don’t understand,” said the child wistfully.

“It is in this way,” said Sigrid, taking her hand tenderly. “I can not
have money spent on the tombstone, because he would not have liked it.
Oh, Swanhild!—you must know it some day, you shall hear it now—it was
not only his own money that was lost, it was the money of other people.
And till it is paid back how can I alter this?”

Swanhild’s eyes grew large and bright.

“It was that, then, that made him die,” she faltered. “He would be so
sorry for the other people. Oh, Sigrid, I will be so good: I don’t think
I shall ever be naughty again. Why didn’t you tell me before, and then I
shouldn’t have been cross because you wouldn’t buy me things?”

“I wanted to shield you and keep you from knowing,” said Sigrid. “But
after all, it is better that you should hear it from me than from some
outsider.”

“You will treat me like a baby, Sigrid, and I’m ten years old after
all—quite old enough to be told things.... And oh, you’ll let me help to
earn money and pay back the people, wont you?”

“That is what Frithiof is trying to do,” said Sigrid, “but it is so
difficult and so slow. And I can’t think of anything we can do to help.”

“Poor dear old Frithiof,” said Swanhild. And she gazed over the frozen
lake to the snow mountains which bounded the view, as if she would like
to see right through them into the big London shop where, behind a
counter, there stood a fair-haired Norseman toiling bravely to pay off
those debts of which she had just heard. “Why, on father’s last two
birthdays Frithiof was away in Germany, but then we were looking forward
so to having him home again. There’s nothing to look forward to now.”

Sigrid could not reply, for she felt choked. She stood sadly watching
the child as she bent down, partly to hide her tears, partly to replace
a flower which had slipped out of one of the wreaths. It was just that
sense of having nothing to look forward to which had weighed so heavily
on Sigrid herself all these months; she had passed very bravely through
all the troubles as long as there had been anything to do; but now that
all the arrangements were made, the villa in Kalvedalen sold, the
furniture disposed of, the new home in her uncle’s house grown familiar,
her courage almost failed her, and each day she realized more bitterly
how desolate and forlorn was their position. The first sympathetic
kindness of her aunt and cousins had, moreover, had time to fade a
little, and she became growingly conscious that their adoption into the
Grönvold family was an inconvenience. The house was comfortable but not
too large, and the two sisters occupied the only spare room, so that it
was no longer possible to have visitors. The income was fairly good, but
times were hard, and even before their arrival Fru Grönvold had begun to
practice a few little economies, which increased during the winter, and
became more apparent to all the family. This was depressing enough: and
then, as Swanhild had said, there was nothing to which she could look
forward, for Frithiof’s prospects seemed to her altogether blighted, and
she foresaw that all he was likely to earn for some time to come would
only suffice to keep himself, and could by no possibility support three
people. Very sadly she left the cemetery, pausing again to struggle with
the stiff gate, while Swanhild held the empty flower-baskets.

“Can’t you do it?” exclaimed the child. “What a tiresome gate it is!
worse to fasten than to unfasten. But see! here come the Lundgrens. They
will help.”

Sigrid glanced round, blushing vividly as she met the eager eyes of
Torvald Lundgren, one of Frithiof’s school friends. The greetings were
frank and friendly on both sides, and Madale, a tall, pretty girl of
sixteen, with her hair braided into one long, thick plait, took little
Swanhild’s arm and walked on with her.

“Let us leave those two to settle the gate between them,” she said,
smiling. “It is far too cold to wait for them.”

Now Torvald Lundgren was a year or two older than Frithiof, and having
long been in a position of authority he was unusually old for his age.
As a friend Sigrid liked him, but of late she had half-feared that he
wished to be more than a friend, and consequently she was not well
pleased to see that, by the time the gate was actually shut, Madale and
Swanhild were far in advance of them.

“Have you heard from Frithiof yet?” she asked, walking on briskly.

“No,” said Torvald. “Pray scold him well for me when you next write. How
does he seem? In better spirits again?”

“I don’t know,” said Sigrid; “even to me he writes very seldom. It is
wretched having him so far away and not knowing what is happening to
him.”

“I wish there was anything I could do for him,” said Torvald; “but there
seems no chance of any opening out here for him.”

“That is what my uncle says. Yet it was no fault of Frithiof’s: it seems
hard that he should have to suffer. I think the world is very cruel. You
and Madale were almost the only friends who stood by us; you were almost
the only ones who scattered fir branches in the road on the morning of
my father’s funeral.”

“You noticed that?” he said, coloring.

“Yes; when I saw how little had been strewn, I felt hurt and sore to
think that the others had shown so little respect for him, and grateful
to you and Madale.”

“Sigrid,” he said quietly, “why will you not let me be something more to
you than a friend? All that I have is yours. You are not happy in Herr
Grönvold’s house. Let me take care of you. Come and make my house happy,
and bring Swanhild with you to be my little sister.”

“Oh, Torvald!” she cried, “I wish you had not asked me that. You are so
good and kind, but—but—”

“Do not answer me just yet, then; take time to think it over,” he
pleaded; “indeed I would do my best to make you very happy.”

“I know you would,” she replied, her eyes filling with tears. “But yet
it could never be. I could never love you as a wife should love her
husband, and I am much too fond of you, Torvald, to let you be married
just for your comfortable house.”

“Your aunt led me to expect that, perhaps, in time, after your first
grief had passed—”

“Then it was very wrong of her,” said Sigrid hotly. “You have always
been my friend—a sort of second brother to me—and oh, do let it be so
still. Don’t leave off being my friend because of this, for indeed I can
not help it.”

“My only wish is to help you,” he said sadly; “it shall be as you would
have it.”

And then they walked on together in an uncomfortable silence until they
overtook the others at Herr Grönvold’s gate, where Torvald grasped her
hand for a moment, then, looking at his watch, hurried Madale away,
saying that he should be late for some appointment.

Fru Grönvold had unluckily been looking out of the window and had seen
the little group outside. She opened the front door as the two girls
climbed the steps.

“Why did not the Lundgrens come in?” she asked, a look of annoyance
passing over her thin, worn face.

“I didn’t ask them,” said Sigrid, blushing.

“And I think Torvald had some engagement,” said Swanhild, unconsciously
coming to the rescue.

“You have been out a long time, Swanhild; now run away to your
practicing,” said Fru Grönvold, in the tone which the child detested.
“Come in here, Sigrid, I want a word with you.”

Fru Grönvold had the best of hearts, but her manner was unfortunate;
from sheer anxiety to do well by people she often repulsed them. To
Sigrid, accustomed from her earliest girlhood to come and go as she
pleased and to manage her father’s house, this manner was almost
intolerable. She resented interference most strongly, and was far too
young and inexperienced to see, beneath her aunt’s dictatorial tone, the
real kindness that existed. Her blue eyes looked defiant as she marched
into the sitting-room, and drawing off her gloves began to warm her
hands by the stove.

“Why did you not ask Torvald Lundgren to come in?” asked Fru Grönvold,
taking up her knitting.

“Because I didn’t want to ask him, auntie.”

“But you ought to think what other people want, not always of yourself.”

“I did,” said Sigrid quickly. “I knew he didn’t want to come in.”

“What nonsense you talk, child!” said Fru Grönvold, knitting with more
vigor than before, as if she vented her impatience upon the sock she was
making. “You must know quite well that Torvald admires you very much; it
is mere affectation to pretend not to see what is patent to all the
world.”

“I do not pretend,” said Sigrid angrily, “but you—you have encouraged
him to hope, and it is unfair and unkind of you. He told me you had
spoken to him.”

“What! he has proposed to you?” said Fru Grönvold, dropping her work.
“Did he speak to you to-day, dear?”

“Yes,” said Sigrid, blushing crimson.

“And you said you would let him have his answer later on. I see, dear, I
see. Of course you could not ask him in.”

“I said nothing of the sort,” said Sigrid vehemently. “I told him that I
could never think of marrying him, and we shall still be the good
friends we have always been.”

“My dear child,” cried Fru Grönvold, with genuine distress in her tone,
“how could you be so foolish, so blind to all your own interests? He is
a most excellent fellow, good and steady and rich—all that heart could
wish.”

“There I don’t agree with you,” said Sigrid perversely. “I should wish
my husband to be very different. He is just like Torvald in Ibsen’s ‘Et
Dukkehjem,’ we always told him so.”

“Pray don’t quote that hateful play to me,” said Fru Grönvold. “Every
one knows that Ibsen’s foolish ideas about women being equal to men and
sharing their confidence could only bring misery and mischief. Torvald
Lundgren is a good, upright, honorable man, and your refusing him is
most foolish.”

“He is very good, I quite admit,” said Sigrid. “He is my friend, and has
been always, and will be always. But if he were the only man on earth
nothing would induce me to marry him. It would only mean wretchedness
for us both.”

“Well, pray don’t put your foolish notions about equality and ideal love
into Karen’s head,” said Fru Grönvold sharply. “Since you are so stupid
and unpractical it will be well that Karen should accept the first good
offer she receives.”

“We are not likely to discuss the matter,” said Sigrid, and rising to
her feet she hurriedly left the room.

Upstairs she ran, choking with angry tears, her aunt’s last words
haunting her persistently and inflicting deeper wounds the more she
dwelt upon them.

“She wants me to marry him so that she may be rid of the expense of
keeping us,” thought the poor girl. “She doesn’t really care for us a
bit, for all the time she is grudging the money we cost her. But I wont
be such a bad friend to poor Torvald as to marry him because I am
miserable here. I would rather starve than do that. Oh! how I hate her
maxims about taking what you can get! Why should love and equality and a
true union lead to misery and mischief? It is the injustice of lowering
woman into a mere pleasant housekeeper that brings half the pain of the
world, it seems to me.”

But by the time Sigrid had lived through the long evening, bearing, as
best she might, the consciousness of her aunt’s disappointment and
vexation with her, another thought had begun to stir in her heart. And
when that night she went to her room her tears were no longer the tears
of anger, but of a miserable loneliness and desolation.

She looked at little Swanhild lying fast asleep, and wondered how the
refusal would affect her life.

“After all,” she thought to herself, “Swanhild would have been happier
had I accepted him. She would have had a much nicer home, and Torvald
would never have let her feel that she was a burden. He would have been
very kind to us both, and I suppose I might have made him happy—as happy
as he would ever have expected to be. And I might have been able to help
Frithiof, for we should have been rich. Perhaps I am losing this chance
of what would be best for every one else just for a fancy. Oh, what am I
to do? After all, he would have been very kind, and here they are not
really kind. He would have taken such care of me, and it would surely be
very nice to be taken care of again.”

And then she began to think of her aunt’s words, and to wonder whether
there might not be some truth in them, so that by the time the next day
had dawned she had worried herself into a state of confusion, and had
Torvald Lundgren approached her again might really have accepted him
from some puzzle-headed notion of the duty of being practical and always
considering others before yourself. Fortunately Torvald did not appear,
and later in the morning she took her perplexities to dear old Fru
Askevold, the pastor’s wife, who having worked early and late for her
ten children, now toiled for as many grandchildren, and into the bargain
was ready to be the friend of any girl who chose to seek her out. In
spite of her sixty years she had a bright, fresh-colored face, with a
look of youth about it which contrasted curiously with her snowy hair.
She was little, and plump and had a brisk, cheerful way of moving about
which somehow recalled to one—

                “The bird that comes about our doors
                When autumn winds are sobbing,
                  The Peter of Norway boors,
                  Their Thomas in Finland,
                  And Russia far inland.
                The bird, who by some name or other,
                All men who know it call their brother.”

“Now that is charming of you to come and see me just at the very right
minute, Sigrid,” said Fru Askevold, kissing the girl, whose face, owing
to trouble and sleeplessness, looked more worn than her own. “I’ve just
been cutting out Ingeborg’s new frock, and am wanting to sit down and
rest a little. What do you think of the color! Pretty, isn’t it?”

“Charming,” said Sigrid. “Let me do the tacking for you.”

“No, no; you look tired, my child; sit down here by the stove, and I
will tack it together as we chat. What makes those dark patches beneath
your eyes.”

“Oh, it is nothing. I could not sleep last night, that is all.”

“Because you were worrying over something. That does not pay, child;
give it up. It’s a bad habit.”

“I don’t think I can help it,” said Sigrid. “We all of us have a natural
tendency that way. Don’t you remember how Frithiof never could sleep
before an examination?”

“And you perhaps were worrying your brain about him? Was that it?”

“Partly,” said Sigrid, looking down and speaking nervously. “You see it
was in this way—I had a chance of becoming rich and well to do, of
stepping into a position which would have made me able to help the
others, and because it did not come up to my own notion of happiness I
threw away the chance.”

And so little by little and mentioning no name, she put before the
motherly old lady all the facts of the case.

“Child,” said Fru Askevold, “I have only one piece of advice to give
you—be true to your own ideal.”

“But then one’s own ideal may be unattainable in this world.”

“Perhaps, and if so it can’t be helped. But if you mean your marriage to
be a happy one, then be true. Half the unhappy marriages come from
people stooping to take just what they can get. If you accepted this
man’s offer you might be wronging some girl who is really capable of
loving him properly.”

“Then you mean that some of us have higher ideals than others?”

“Why, yes, to be sure; it is the same in this as in every thing else,
and what you have to do is just to shut your ears to all the
well-meaning but false maxims of the world, and listen to the voice in
your own heart. Depend upon it, you will be able to do far more for
Frithiof and Swanhild if you are true to yourself than you would be able
to do as a rich woman and an unhappy wife.”

Sigrid was silent for some moments.

“Thank you,” she said, at length. “I see things much more clearly now;
last night I could only see things through Aunt Grönvold’s spectacles,
and I think they must be very short-sighted ones.”

Fru Askevold laughed merrily.

“That is quite true,” she said. “The marriages brought about by scheming
relatives may look promising enough at first, but in the long run they
always bring trouble and misery. The true marriages are made in heaven,
Sigrid, though folks are slow to believe that.”

Sigrid went away comforted, yet nevertheless life was not very pleasant
to her just then, for although she had the satisfaction of seeing
Torvald walking the streets of Bergen without any signs of great
dejection in his face, she had all day long to endure the consciousness
of her aunt’s vexation, and to feel in every little economy that this
need not have been practiced had she decided as Fru Grönvold wished. It
was on the whole a very dreary Christmas, yet the sadness was brightened
by one little act of kindness and courtesy which to the end of her life
she never forgot. For after all it is that which is rare that makes a
deep impression on us. The word of praise spoken at the beginning of our
career lingers forever in our hearts with something of the glow of
encouragement and hopefulness which it first kindled there; while the
applause of later years glides off us like water off a duck’s back. The
little bit of kindness shown in days of trouble is remembered when
greater kindness during days of prosperity has been forgotten.

It was Christmas-eve. Sigrid sat in her cold bedroom, wrapped round in
an eider-down quilt. She was reading over again the letter she had last
received from Frithiof, just one of those short unsatisfying letters
which of late he had sent her. From Germany he had written amusingly
enough, but these London letters often left her more unhappy than they
found her, not so much from anything they said as from what they left
unsaid. Since last Christmas all had been taken away from her, and now
it seemed to her that even Frithiof’s love was growing cold, and her
tears fell fast on the thin little sheet of paper where she had tried so
hard to read love and hope between the lines, and had tried in vain.

A knock at the door made her dry her eyes hastily, and she was relieved
to find that it was not her Cousin Karen who entered, but Swanhild, with
a sunny face and blue eyes dancing with excitement.

“Look, Sigrid,” she cried, “here is a parcel which looks exactly like a
present. Do make haste and open it.”

They cut the string and folded back the paper, Sigrid giving a little
cry of surprise as she saw before her the water-color sketch of Bergen,
which had been her father’s last present to her on the day before his
death. Unable to pay for it, she had asked the proprietor of the shop to
take it back again, and had been relieved by his ready consent. Glancing
quickly at the accompanying note, she saw that it bore his signature. It
ran as follows:

“MADAME: Will you do me the honor of accepting the water-color sketch of
Bergen chosen by the late Herr Falck in October. At your wish I took
back the picture then and regarded the purchase as though it had never
been made. I now ask you to receive it as a Christmas-gift and a slight
token of my respect for the memory of your father,” etc., etc.

“Oh!” cried Sigrid, “isn’t that good of him! And how nice of him to wait
for Christmas instead of sending it straight back. Now I shall have
something to send to Frithiof. It will get to him in time for the new
year.”

Swanhild clapped her hands.

“What a splendid idea! I had not thought of that. And we shall have it
up here just for Christmas-day. How pretty it is! People are very kind,
I think!”

And Sigrid felt the little clinging arm round her waist, and as they
looked at the picture together she smoothed back the child’s golden hair
tenderly.

“Yes,” she said, smiling, “after all, people are very kind.”



                              CHAPTER XV.


As Preston Askevold had feared, Frithiof bore the troubles much less
easily. He was without Sigrid’s sweetness of nature, without her
patience, and the little touch of philosophic matter-of-factness which
helped her to endure. He was far more sensitive too, and was terribly
handicapped by the bitterness which was the almost inevitable result of
his treatment by Blanche Morgan, a bitterness which stirred him up into
a sort of contemptuous hatred of both God and man. Sigrid, with her
quiet common sense, her rarely expressed but very real faith, struggled
on through the winter and the spring, and in the process managed to grow
and develop; but Frithiof, in his desolate London lodgings, with his
sore heart and rebellious intellect, grew daily more hard and morose.
Had it not been for the Bonifaces he must have gone altogether to the
bad, but the days which he spent every now and then in that quiet,
simple household, where kindness reigned supreme, saved him from utter
ruin. For always through the darkest part of every life there runs,
though we may sometimes fail to see it, this “golden thread of love,” so
that even the worst man on earth is not wholly cut off from God, since
He will, by some means or other, eternally try to draw him out of death
into life. We are astounded now and then to read that some cold-blooded
murderer, some man guilty of a hideous crime, will ask in his last
moments to see a child who loved him devotedly, and whom he also loved.
We are astonished just because we do not understand the untiring heart
of the All-Father who in His goodness often gives to the vilest sinner
the love of a pure-hearted woman or child. So true is the beautiful old
Latin saying, long in the world but little believed, “Mergere nos
patitur, sed non submergere, Christus” (Christ lets us sink may be, but
not drown).

Just at this time there was only one thing on which Frithiof found any
satisfaction, and that was in the little store of money which by slow
degrees he was able to place in the savings bank. In what way it could
ever grow into a sum large enough to pay his father’s creditors he did
not trouble himself to think, but week by week it did increase, and with
this one aim in life he struggled on, working early and late, and living
on an amount of food which could have horrified an Englishman. Luckily
he had discovered a place in Oxford Street where he could get a good
dinner every day for sixpence, but this was practically his only meal,
and after some months the scanty fare began to tell upon him, so that
even the Miss Turnours noticed that something was wrong.

“That young man looks to me underfed,” said Miss Caroline one day. “I
met him on the stairs just now, and he seems to me to have grown paler
and thinner. What does he have for breakfast, Charlotte? Does he eat as
well as the other lodgers?”

“Dear me, no,” said Miss Charlotte. “It’s my belief that he eats nothing
at all but ship’s biscuits. There’s a tin of them up in his room, and a
tin of cocoa, which he makes for himself. All I ever take him is a jug
of boiling water night and morning!”

“Poor fellow!” said Miss Caroline, sighing a little as she plaited some
lace which must have been washed a hundred times into her dress.

A delicate carefulness in these little details of dress distinguished
the three ladies—they had inherited it with the spelling of their name
and other tokens of good breeding.

“I feel sorry for him,” she added. “He always bows very politely when I
meet him, and he is remarkably good-looking, though with a disagreeable
expression.”

“When one is hungry one seldom looks agreeable,” said Miss Charlotte. “I
wish I had noticed him before,” and she remembered, with a little pang
of remorse, that she had more than once preached to him about his soul,
while all the time she had been too dreamy and unobservant to see what
was really wrong with him.

“Suppose,” she said timidly, “suppose I were to take him a little of the
stewed American beef we shall have for supper.”

“Send it up by the girl,” said Miss Turnour, “she is still in the
kitchen. Don’t take it yourself—it would be awkward for both of you.”

So Miss Charlotte meekly obeyed, and sent up by the shabby servant-girl
a most savory little supper. Unluckily the girl was a pert cockney, and
her loud, abrupt knock at the door in itself irritated Frithiof.

“Come in,” he said, in a surly tone.

“Look here,” said the girl, “here’s something to put you in a better
temper. Missus’s compliments, and she begs you’ll accept it,” and she
thrust the tray at him with a derisive grin.

“Have the goodness to take that down again,” said Frithiof, in a fit of
unreasoning anger. “I’ll not be treated like your mistress’ pet dog.”

Something in his manner cowed the girl. She beat a hasty retreat, and
was planning how she could manage to eat the despised supper herself,
when at the foot of the stairs she met Miss Charlotte, and her project
was nipped in the bud.

“It aint no use, miss, ’e wont touch it,” she explained; “’e was as
angry as could be, and says ’e, ‘Take it away. I’ll not be treated like
your mistress’ pet dog,’ says ’e. So, bein’ frightened, I ran downstairs
agen.”

Miss Charlotte looked troubled, and later on, when as usual she took up
the jug of hot water, she felt nervous and uncomfortable, and her knock
was more timid than ever. However, she had scarcely set down the jug on
the floor when there came sounds of hasty footsteps in the room, and
Frithiof flung open the door.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “You meant to be kind, I’m sure, but the
girl was rude, and I lost my temper. I ask your forgiveness.”

There were both pathetic and comic elements in the little scene; the
meek Miss Charlotte stood trembling as if she had seen a ghost, gazing
up at the tall Norseman who, in the hurry of the moment, had forgotten
to remove the wet towel which, in common with most night-workers, he was
in the habit of tying round his forehead.

Miss Charlotte stooped to pick up the jug.

“I am so sorry the girl was rude,” she said. “I wish I had brought it
myself. You see, it was in this way; we all thought you looking so
poorly, and we were having the beef for supper and we thought perhaps
you might fancy some, and—and—”

“It was very good of you,” he said, touched, in spite of himself, by the
kindness. “I regret what I said, but you must make allowance for a
bad-tempered man with a splitting headache.”

“Is that the reason you tie it up?” asked Miss Charlotte.

He laughed and pulled off the towel, passing his hand over the mass of
thick light hair which it had disordered.

“It keeps it cooler,” he said, “and I can get through more work.”

She glanced at the table, and saw that it was covered with papers and
books.

“Are you wise to do so much work after being busy all day?” she said.
“It seems to me that you are not looking well.”

“It is nothing but headache,” he said. “And the work is the only
pleasure I have in the world.”

“I was afraid from your looks that you had a hard life,” she said
hesitatingly.

“It is not hard outwardly. As far as work goes it is easy enough, but
there is a deadly monotony about it.”

“Ah! if only”—she began.

He interrupted her.

“I know quite well what you are going to say—you are going to recommend
me to attend one of those religious meetings where people get so full of
a delightful excitement. Believe me, they would not have the slightest
effect on me. And yet, if you wish it, I will go. It shall be my sign of
penitence for my rudeness just now.”

Miss Charlotte could not make out whether his smile was sarcastic or
genuine. However, she took him at his word, and the next evening carried
him off to a big brightly lighted hall, to a revivalist meeting, from
which she hoped great things.

It was a hot June evening. He came there tired with the long day’s work,
and his head felt dull and heavy. Merely out of politeness to his
companion he tried to take some sort of interest in what went on,
stifled his inclination to laugh now and then, and watched the
proceedings attentively, though wearily enough. In front of him rose a
large platform with tiers of seats one above the other. The men and
women seated there had bright-looking faces. Some looked self-conscious
and self-satisfied, several of the women seemed overwrought and
hysterical, but others had a genuine look of content which impressed
him. Down below was a curiously heterogeneous collection of
instruments—cornets, drums, tambourines, trumpets, and pipes. A hymn was
given out, followed by a chorus; the words were solemn, but the tune was
the reverse; still it seemed to please the audience, who sung three
choruses to each verse, the first loud, the second louder, the third a
perfect frenzy of sound, the drums thundering, the tambourines dashing
about wildly, the pipes and cornets at their shrillest, and every one
present singing or shouting with all his might. It took him some time to
recover from the appalling noise, and meantime a woman was praying. He
did not much attend to what she said, but the audience seemed to agree
with her, for every minute or two there was a chorus of fervent “Amens,”
which rolled through the hall like distant thunder. After that the young
man who conducted the meeting read a story out of the Bible, and spoke
well and with a sort of simple directness. There was very little in what
he said, but he meant every word of it. It might have been summed up in
three sentences: “There is only one way of being happy. I have tried it
and have found it answer. All you who haven’t tried it begin at once.”

But the words which meant much to him conveyed nothing to Frithiof. He
listened, and wondered how a man of his own age could possibly get up
and say such things. What was it he had found? How had he found it? If
the speaker had shown the least sign of vanity his words would have been
utterly powerless; but his quiet positiveness impressed people, and it
was apparent to every one that he believed in a strength which was not
his own. There followed much that seemed to Frithiof monotonous and
undesirable; about thirty people on the platform, one after another, got
up and spoke a few words, which invariably began with “I thank the Lord
I was saved on such and such a night.” He wondered and wondered what the
phrase meant to them, and revolved in his mind all the theological
dogmas he had ever heard of. Suddenly he was startled to find that some
one was addressing him, a hymn was being sung, and there was a good deal
of movement in the hall; people went and came, and an elderly woman had
stepped forward and taken a place beside him.

“Brother,” she said to him, “are you saved?”

“Madame,” he replied coldly, “I have not the slightest idea.”

“Oh, then,” she said, with a little gesture that reminded him of Miss
Charlotte, “let me beg you to come at once to Christ.”

“Madame,” he said, still in his coldly polite voice, “you must really
excuse me, but I do not know what you mean.”

She was so much surprised and puzzled by both words and manner that she
hesitated what to reply; and Frithiof, who hated being questioned, took
his hat from the bench, and bowing formally to her, left the hall. In
the street he was joined by Miss Charlotte.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, “I am so sorry you said that. You will have made
that poor woman so terribly unhappy.”

“It is all her own fault,” said Frithiof. “Why did she come meddling
with my private affairs? If her belief was real she would have been able
to explain it in a rational way, instead of using phrases which are just
empty words.”

“You didn’t leave her time to explain. And as to her belief being real,
do you think, if it were not real, that little, frail woman would have
had courage to go twice to prison for speaking in the streets? Do you
think she would have been able to convert the most abandoned thieves,
and induce them to make restitution, paying in week by week what they
could earn to replace what they had stolen?”

“Does she do that? Then I respect her. When you see her again please
apologize for my abruptness, and tell her that her form of religion is
too noisy for my head and too illogical for my mind.”

They walked home in silence, Miss Charlotte grieving over the hopeless
failure of the meeting to achieve what she desired. She had not yet
learned that different natures need different kinds of food, and that to
expect Frithiof to swallow the teachings which exactly suited certain
minds was about as sensible as to feed a baby with Thorley’s Food for
Cattle. However, there never yet was an honest attempt to do good which
really failed, though the vast majority fail apparently. It was
impossible that the revivalists’ teaching could ever be accepted by the
Norseman; but their ardent devotion, their practical, aggressive lives,
impressed him not a little, and threw a somewhat disagreeable light over
his own selfishness. Partly owing to this, partly from physical causes,
he felt bitterly out of heart with himself for the next few weeks. In
truth he was thoroughly out of health, and he had not the only power
which can hold irritability in check—the strong restraint of love.
Except a genuine liking for the Bonifaces, he had nothing to take him
out of himself, and he was quite ready to return with interest the
dislike which the other men in the shop felt for him, first on account
of his foreign birth, but chiefly because of his proud manner and hasty
temper. Sometimes he felt that he could bear the life no longer; and at
times, out of his very wretchedness, there sprung up in him a vague pity
for those who were in his own position. As he stood there behind the
counter he would say to himself, “There are thousands and thousands in
this city alone who have day after day to endure this horrible monotony,
to serve the customers who are rude, and the customers who are civil,
the hurried ones who are all impatience, the tiresome ones who dawdle,
the bores, who give you as much trouble as they can, often for nothing.
One day follows another eternally in the same dull round. I am a hundred
times better off than most—there are no hurried meals here, no fines, no
unfairness—and yet what drudgery it is!”

And as he glanced out at the sunny street and heard the sound of horses’
hoofs in the road, a wild longing used to seize him for the freedom and
variety of his life in Norway, and the old fierce rebellion against his
fate woke once more in his heart, and made him ready to fly into a rage
on the smallest provocation.

One day he was sent for to Mr. Boniface’s private room; he was quite
well aware that his manner, even to Roy himself, whom he liked, had been
disagreeable in the extreme, and the thought crossed his mind that he
was going to receive notice to leave.

Mr. Boniface was sitting at his writing-table, the sunlight fell on his
quiet, refined face, lighted up his white hair and trim beard, and made
his kindly gray eyes brighter than ever. “I wanted a few words with you,
Falck,” he said. “Sit down. It seems to me that you have not been
looking well lately, and I thought perhaps you had better take your
holiday at once instead of the third week in August. I have spoken to
Darnell, and he would be willing to give you his turn and take the later
time. What do you think?”

“You are very good, sir,” said Frithiof, “but I shall do very well with
the August holiday, and, as a matter of fact, it will only mean that I
shall do more translating.”

“Would you not do well to go home? Come, think of it, I would give you
three weeks if you want to go to Bergen.”

Frithiof felt a choking sensation in his throat, because it was of the
old life that he had been dreaming all the morning with a restless,
miserable craving.

“Thank you,” he said, with an effort, “but I can not go back to Norway.”

“Now, tell me candidly, Falck, is it the question of expense that
hinders you?” said Mr. Boniface. “Because if it is merely that, I would
gladly lend you the money. You must remember that you have had a great
deal to bear lately, and I think you ought to give yourself a good
rest.”

“Thank you,” replied Frithiof, “but it is not exactly the expense. I
have money enough in hand to pay for my passage, but I have made up my
mind not to go back till I can clear off the last of the debts of—of our
firm,” he concluded, with a slight quiver in his voice.

“It is a noble resolution,” said Mr. Boniface, “and I would not for a
moment discourage you. Still you must remember that it is a great
undertaking, and that without good health you can never hope for
success. I don’t think you get enough exercise. Now, why don’t you join
our cricket club?”

“I don’t play,” said Frithiof. “In Norway we are not great at those
games, or indeed at any kind of exercise for the mere sake of exercise.
That is an idea that one only finds among Englishmen.”

“Possibly; but living in our climate you would do well to follow our
habits. Come, let me persuade you to join the club. You look to me as if
you needed greater variety.”

“I will think about it for next year; but just now I have work for Herr
Sivertsen on hand which I can’t put aside,” said Frithiof.

“Well, then, things must go on as they are for the present,” said Mr.
Boniface; “but at least you can bring your translating down to Rowan
Tree House, and spend your holiday with us.”

“You are very kind,” said Frithiof, the boyish expression returning to
his face just for a minute. “I shall be only too delighted.”

And the interview seemed somehow to have done him good, for during the
next few days he was less irritable, and found his work in consequence
less irksome.



                              CHAPTER XVI.


But the change for the better did not last long, for Frithiof was
without the motive which “makes drudgery divine.” And there was no
denying that the work he had to do was really drudgery.

It has been the fashion of late years to dwell much on the misery of the
slums, and most of us are quite ready to be stirred into active sympathy
with the abjectly poor, the hungry, or the destitute. It is to be
feared, however, that very few of us have much consideration for the
less romantic, less sensational lives of the middle class, the thousands
who toil for us day after day behind the counter or at the desk. And yet
are their lives one whit less worthy of sympathy? Are they not educated
to a point which makes them infinitely more sensitive? Hood has given us
a magnificent poem on the sorrows of a shirt-maker; but who will take
trouble to find poetry in the sorrows and weariness of shop assistants?
It has been said that the very atmosphere of trade kills romance, that
no poet or novelist would dare to take up such a theme; and yet
everywhere the human heart is the same, and shop-life does not interfere
with the loves and hatreds, the joys and sorrows which make up the life
of every human being, and out of which are woven all the romances which
were ever written. No one would dispute the saying that labor is
worship, yet nevertheless we know well enough that while some work of
itself ennobles the worker, there is other work which has to be ennobled
by the way in which it is done. An artist and a coal-heaver both toil
for the general good, but most people will admit that the coal-heaver is
heavily handicapped. If in the actual work of shop assistants there is a
prosaic monotony, then it is all the more probable that they need our
warmest sympathy, our most thoughtful considerateness, since they
themselves are no machines, but men and women with exactly the same
hopes and desires as the rest of us. It is because we consider them of a
different order that we tolerate the long hours, that we allow women to
stand all day long to serve us, though it has been proved that terrible
diseases are the consequence. It is because we do not in our hearts
believe that they are of the same flesh and blood, that we think with a
sort of contempt of the very people who are brought most directly into
contact with us, and whose hard-working lives often put ours to shame.

About the middle of July the Bonifaces went down to Devonshire for their
usual summer holiday, and Frithiof found that, as Roy had predicted, Mr.
Horner made himself most disagreeable, and never lost a chance of
interfering. It must be owned that there are few things so trying as
fussiness, particularly in a man, of whom such weakness seems unworthy.
And Mr. Horner was the most fussy mortal on earth. It seemed as if he
called forth all that was bad in Frithiof, and Frithiof also called out
everything that was bad in him. The breach between the two was made much
wider by a most trivial incident. A miserable-looking dog unluckily made
its way into the shop one morning and disturbed Mr. Horner in his
sanctum.

“What is the meaning of this?” he exclaimed, bearing down upon Frithiof.
“Can you not keep stray curs off the premises? Just now too, with
hydrophobia raging!” And he drove and kicked the dog to the door.

Now there is one thing which no Norseman can tolerate for a moment, and
that is any sort of cruelty to animals. Frithiof, in his fury, did not
measure his words, or speak as the employed to the employer, and from
that time Mr. Horner’s hatred of him increased tenfold. To add to all
this wretchedness an almost tropical heat set in, London was like a
huge, overheated oven; every day Frithiof found the routine of business
less bearable, every day he was less able to fight against his love for
Blanche, and he rapidly sunk into the state which hard-headed people
flatter themselves is a mere foolish fancy—that most real and trying
form of illness which goes by the name of depression. Again and again he
wrestled with the temptation that had assailed him long ago in Hyde
Park, and each sight of James Horner, each incivility from those he had
to serve, made the struggle harder.

He was sitting at his desk one morning adding up a column which had been
twice interrupted, and which had three times come to a different result,
when once again the swing-door was pushed open, and a shadow falling
across his account-book warned him that the customer had come to the
song-counter. Annoyed and impatient, he put down his pen and went
forward, forcing up the sort of cold politeness which he assumed now,
and which differed strangely from the bright, genial courtesy, that had
once been part of his nature.

The customer was evidently an Italian. He was young and strikingly
handsome; when he glanced at you, you felt that he had looked you
through and through, yet that his look was not critical, but kindly; it
penetrated yet at the same time warmed. Beside him was a bright-eyed boy
who looked up curiously at the Norseman, as though wondering how on such
a sunny day any one could wear such a clouded face.

Now Frithiof was quite in the humor to dislike any one, more especially
a man who was young, handsome, well-dressed, and prosperous-looking; but
some subtle influence crept over him the instant he heard the Italian’s
voice; his hard eyes softened a little, and without being able to
explain it he felt a strong desire to help this man in finding the song
which he had come to inquire about, knowing only the words and the air,
not the name of the composer. Frithiof, who would ordinarily have been
inclined to grumble at the trouble which the search involved, now threw
himself into it heart and soul, and was as pleased as his customer when
after some little time he chanced to find the song.

“A thousand thanks,” said the Italian warmly. “I am delighted to get
hold of this; it is for a friend who has long wanted to hear it again,
but who was only able to write down the first part of the air.”

And he compared the printed song with the little bit of manuscript which
he had shown to Frithiof. “Now, was it only a happy fluke that made you
think of Knight’s name?”

“I know another of his songs, and thought this bore a sort of likeness
to it,” said Frithiof, pleased with his success.

“You know much more of English music than I do, most likely,” said the
Italian; “yet surely you, too, are a foreigner.”

“Yes,” replied Frithiof, “I am Norwegian. I have only been here for nine
months, but to try and learn a little about the music is the only
interesting part of this work.”

The stranger’s sympathetic insight showed him much of the weariness and
discontent and _Heimweh_ which lay beneath these words.

“Ah, yes,” he said, “I suppose both work and country seem flat and dull
after your life among the fjords and mountains. I know well enough the
depression of one’s first year in a new climate. But courage! the worst
will pass. I have grown to love this England which once I detested.”

“It is the airlessness of London which depresses one,” said poor
Frithiof, rolling up the song.

“Yes, it is certainly very oppressive to-day,” said the Italian; “I am
sorry to have given you so much trouble in hunting up this song for me.
We may as well take it with us, Gigi, as we are going home.”

And then with a pleasant farewell the stranger bowed and went out of the
shop, leaving behind him a memory which did more to prevent the blue
devils from gaining the mastery of Frithiof’s mind than anything else
could possibly have done. When he left, however, at his usual dinner
hour, he was without the slightest inclination to eat, and with a
craving for some relief from the monotony of the glaring streets he
walked up to Regent’s Park, hoping that there perhaps he might find the
fresh air for which he was longing. He thought much of his unknown
customer, half laughing to himself now and then to think that such a
chance encounter should have made upon him so deep an impression, should
have wakened within him desires such as he had never before felt for a
life which should be higher, nobler, more manly than his past.

“Come along, will you?” shouted a rough voice behind him. He glanced
round and saw an evil-looking tramp who was speaking to a most forlorn
little boy at his heels.

The child seemed ready to drop, but with a look of misery and fear and
effort most painful to see in such a young face, it hurried on, keeping
up a wretched little sort of trot at the heels of its father, who
tramped on doggedly. Frithiof was not in the habit of troubling himself
much about those he came across in life, his heart had been too much
embittered by Blanche’s treatment, he had got into the way now of
looking on coldly and saying with a shrug of the shoulders that it was
the way of the world. But to-day the magical influence of a noble life
was stirring within him; a man utterly unknown to him had spoken to him
a few kindly words, had treated him with rare considerateness, had
somehow raised him into a purer atmosphere. And so it happened that he,
too, began to feel something of the same divine sympathy, and to forget
his own wretchedness in the suffering of the little child. Presently the
tramp paused outside a public-house.

“Wait for me there in the park,” he said to the child, giving it a push
in the direction.

And the little fellow went on obediently, until, just at the gate, he
caught sight of a costermonger’s barrow on which cool green leaves and
ripe red strawberries were temptingly displayed. Frithiof lingered a
minute to see what would happen, but nothing happened at all, the child
just stood there patiently. There was no expectation on his tired little
face, nothing but intense appreciation of a luxury which must forever be
beyond his hopes of enjoyment.

“Have you ever tasted them?” said Frithiof, drawing nearer.

The boy shook his head shyly.

“Would you like to?”

Still he did not speak, but a look of rapture dawned in the wistful
child eyes, and he gave a little spring in the air which was more
eloquent than words.

“Six-pennyworth,” said Frithiof to the costermonger; then signing to the
child to follow, he led the way into the park, sat down on the nearest
seat, put the basket of strawberries down beside him, and glanced at his
little companion.

“There, now, sit down by me and enjoy them,” he said.

And the child needed no second bidding, but began to eat with an eager
delight which was pleasant to see. After awhile he paused, however, and
shyly pushed the basket a little nearer to his benefactor. Frithiof,
absorbed in his own thoughts, did not notice it, but presently became
conscious of a small brown hand on his sleeve, and looked round.

“Eat too,” said the child, pointing to the basket.

And Frithiof, to please him, smiled and took two or three strawberries.

“There, the rest are for you,” he said. “Do you like them?”

“Yes,” said the child emphatically; “and I like you.”

“Why do you like me?”

“I was tired, and you was kind to me, and these is real jammy!”

But after this fervent little speech, he said no more. He did not, as a
Norwegian child would have done, shake hands as a sign of gratitude, or
say in the pretty Norse way, “_Tak for maden_” (thanks for the meal);
there had never been any one to teach him the expression of the
courtesies of life, and with him they were not innate. He merely looked
at his friend with shining eyes like some animal that feels but cannot
speak its gratitude. Then before long the father reappeared, and the
little fellow with one shy nod of the head ran off, looking back
wistfully every now and then at the stranger who would be remembered by
him to the very end of his life.

The next day something happened which added the last drops to Frithiof’s
cup of misery, and made it overflow. The troubles of the past year, and
the loneliness and poverty which he had borne, had gradually broken down
his health, and there came to him now a revelation which proved the
final blow. He was dining at his usual restaurant. Too tired to eat
much, he had taken up a bit of one of the society papers which some one
had left there, and his eye fell on one of those detestable paragraphs
which pander to the very lowest tastes of the public. No actual name was
given, but every one knowing anything about her could not fail to see
that Blanche Romiaux was the woman referred to. The most revolting
insinuations, the most contemptible gossip, ended with the words, “An
interesting divorce case may soon be expected.”

Frithiof grew deathly white. He tried to believe that it was all a lie,
tried to work himself up into a rage against the editor of the paper,
tried to assure himself that, whatever Blanche might have been before
marriage, after it she must necessarily become all that was womanly and
pure. But deep down in his heart there lurked a fearful conviction that
in the main this story was true. Feeling sick and giddy, he made his way
along Oxford Street, noticing nothing, walking like a man in a dream.
Just in front of Buzzard’s a victoria was waiting, and a remarkably
good-looking man stood on the pavement talking to its occupant. Frithiof
would have passed by without observing them had not a familiar voice
startled him into keen consciousness. He looked up hastily and saw Lady
Romiaux—not the Blanche who had won his heart in Norway, for the lips
that had once been pressed to his wore a hard look of defiance, and the
eyes that had insnared him had now an expression that confirmed only too
well the story he had just read. He heard her give a little artificial
laugh in which there was not even the ghost of merriment, and after that
it seemed as if a great cloud had descended on him. He moved on
mechanically, but it was chiefly by a sort of instinct that he found his
way back to the shop.

“Good heavens, Mr. Falck! how ill you are looking!” exclaimed the head
man as he glanced at him. “It’s a good thing Mr. Robert will be back
again soon. If I’m not very much mistaken, he’ll put you into the
doctor’s hands.”

“Oh, it is chiefly this hot weather,” said Frithiof, and as if anxious
to put an end to the conversation, he turned away to his desk and began
to write, though each word cost him a painful effort, and seemed to be
dragged out of him by sheer force. At tea-time he wandered out in the
street, scarcely knowing what he was doing, and haunted always by
Blanche’s sadly altered face. When he returned he found that the boy who
dusted the shop had spilled some ink over his order-book, whereupon he
flew into one of those violent passions to which of late he had been
liable, so entirely losing his self-control that those about him began
to look alarmed. This recalled him to himself, and much disgusted at
having made such a scene, he sunk into a state of black depression. He
could not understand himself; could not make out what was wrong; could
not conceive how such a trifle could have stirred him into such
senseless rage. He sat, pen in hand, too sick and miserable to work, and
with a wild confusion of thoughts rushing through his brain. He was
driving along the Strand-gaden with Blanche, and talking gayly of the
intense enjoyment of mere existence; he was rowing her on the fjord, and
telling her the Frithiof Saga; he was saving her on the mountain, and
listening to her words of love; he was down in the sheltered nook below
the flagstaff at Balholm, and she was clinging to him in the farewell
which had indeed been forever.

“I can bear it no longer,” he said to himself. “I have tried to bear
this life, but it’s no use—no use.”

Yet after a while there rose within him a thought which checked the
haunting visions of failure and the longing for death. He remembered the
face which had so greatly struck him the day before, and again those
kindly words rang in his ear, “Courage! the worst will pass.”

Who was this man? What gave him his extraordinary influence? How had he
gained his insight, and sympathy, and fearless brightness? If one man
had attained to all this, why not any man? Might not life still hold for
him something that was worth having? There floated back to him the
remembrance of the last pleasurable moment he had known—it was the sight
of the child’s enjoyment of the strawberries.

At length closing-time came. He dragged himself back to Vauxhall, shut
himself into his dreary little room, pulled the table toward the open
window, and began to work at Herr Sivertsen’s translating. Night after
night he had gone on, with the dogged courage of his old Viking
ancestors, upheld by the same fierce, fighting nature which had made
them the terror of the North. But at last he was at the very end of his
strength. A violent shivering fit seized him. Work was no longer
possible; he could only stagger to the bed, with that terrible
consciousness of being utterly and hopelessly beaten, which to a man is
so hard to bear.

Oppressed by a frightful sense of loneliness, dazed by physical pain,
and tortured by the thought of Blanche’s disgrace, there was yet one
thing which gave him moments of relief—like a child he strained his eyes
to see the picture of Bergen which hung by the bedside.

Later on, when the summer twilight deepened into night, and he could no
longer make out the harbor, and the shipping, and the familiar
mountains, he buried his face in the pillow and sobbed aloud, in a
forlorn misery which, even in Paradise, must have wrung his mother’s
heart.

Roy Boniface came back from Devonshire the following day, his holiday
being shortened by a week on account of the illness of Mrs. Horner’s
uncle. As there was every reason to expect a legacy from this aged
relative, Mr. Horner insisted on going down at once to see whether they
could be of any use; and since the shop was never left without one of
the partners, poor Roy, anathematizing the whole race of the Horners,
had to come back and endure as best he might a London August and an
empty house.

Like many other business men, he relieved the monotony of his daily work
by always keeping two or three hobbies in hand. The mania for collecting
had always been encouraged at Rowan Tree House, and just now botany was
his keenest delight. It was even perhaps absorbing too much of his time,
and Cecil used laughingly to tell him that he loved it more than all the
men and women in the world put together. He was contentedly mounting
specimens on the night of his return, when James Horner looked in, the
prospective legacy making him more than ever fussy and pompous.

“Ah, so you have come: that’s all right!” he exclaimed. “I had hoped you
would have come round to us. However, no matter; I don’t know that there
is anything special to say, and of course this sad news has upset my
wife very much.”

“Ah,” said Roy, somewhat skeptical in his heart of hearts about the
depth of her grief. “We were sorry to hear about it.”

“We go down the first thing to-morrow,” said James Horner, “and shall,
of course, stay on. They say there is no hope of recovery.”

“What do you think of that?” said Roy, pointing to a very minute flower
which he had just mounted. “It is the first time it has ever been found
in England.”

“H’m, is it really?” said James Horner, regarding it with that would-be
interested air, that bored perplexity, which Roy took a wicked delight
in calling forth. “Well, you know, I don’t understand,” he added, “how a
practical man like you can take an interest in such trumpery bits of
things. What are your flowers worth when you’ve done them? Now, if you
took to collecting autographs, there’d be some sense in that, for I
understand that a fine collection of autographs fetches a good round sum
in the market.”

“That would only involve more desk-work,” said Roy, laughing. “Writing
to ask for them would bore me as much as writing in reply must bore the
poor celebrities.”

“By the by,” said Mr. Horner, “I have just remembered to tell you that
provoking fellow, Falck, never turned up to-day. He never even had the
grace to send word that he wasn’t coming.”

“Of course he must be ill,” said Roy, looking disturbed. “He is the last
fellow to stay away if he could possibly keep up. We all thought him
looking ill before he left.”

“I don’t know about illness,” said James Horner, putting on his hat;
“but he certainly has the worst temper I’ve ever come across. It was
extremely awkward without him to-day, for already we are short of
hands.”

“There can hardly be much doing,” said Roy. “London looks like a desert.
However, of course I’ll look up Falck. I dare say he’ll be all right
again by to-morrow.”

But he had scarcely settled himself down comfortably to his work after
James Horner’s welcome departure when the thought of Frithiof came to
trouble him. After all, was it likely that a mere trifle would hinder a
man of the Norwegian’s nature from going to business? Was it not much
more probable that he was too ill even to write an excuse? And if so,
how helpless and desolate he would be!

Like most people, Roy was selfish. Had he lived alone he would have
become more selfish every day; but it was impossible to live in the
atmosphere of Rowan Tree House without, at any rate, trying to consider
other people. With an effort he tore himself away from his beloved
specimens, and set off briskly for Vauxhall, where, after some
difficulty, he found the little side street in which, among dozens of
others precisely like it, was the house of the three Miss Turnours.

A little withered-up lady opened the door to him, and replied nervously
to his question.

“Mr. Falck is ill,” she said. “He seems very feverish; but he was like
it once before, when he first came to England, and it passed off in a
day or two.”

“Can I see him?” said Roy.

“Well, he doesn’t like being disturbed at all,” said Miss Charlotte.
“He’ll hardly let me inside the room. But if you would just see him, I
should really be glad. You will judge better if he should see the doctor
or not.”

“Thank you, I’ll go up then. Don’t let me trouble you.”

“It is noise he seems to mind so much,” said Miss Charlotte. “So if you
will find your way up alone, perhaps it would be best. It is the first
door you come to at the top of the last flight of stairs.”

Roy went up quietly, opened the door as noiselessly as he could, and
went in. The window faced the sunset, so that the room was still fairly
light, and the utter discomfort of everything was fully apparent.

“I wish you wouldn’t come in again,” said an irritable voice from the
bed. “The lightest footstep is torture.”

“I just looked in to ask how you were,” said Roy, much shocked to see
how ill his friend seemed.

“Oh, it’s you!” said Frithiof, turning his flushed face in the direction
of the speaker. “Thank God, you’ve come! That woman will be the death of
me. She does nothing but ask questions.”

“I’ve only just got back from Devonshire, but they said you hadn’t
turned up to-day, and I thought I would come and see after you.”

Frithiof dragged himself up and drank feverishly from the ewer which
stood on a chair beside him.

“I tried to come this morning,” he said, “but I was too giddy to stand,
and had to give it up. My head’s gone wrong somehow.”

“Poor fellow! you should have given up before,” said Roy. “You seem in
terrible pain.”

“Yes, yes; it’s like a band of hot iron,” moaned poor Frithiof. Then
suddenly starting up in wild excitement, “There’s Blanche! there’s
Blanche! Let me go to her! Let me go! I will see her once more—only this
once!”

Roy with some difficulty held him down, and after awhile he seemed to
come to himself. “Was I talking nonsense?” he said. “It’s a horrid
feeling not being able to control one’s self. If I go crazy you can just
let me die, please. Life’s bad enough now, and would be intolerable
then. There she is again! She’s smiling at me. Oh, Blanche—you did care
once. Come back! Come back! He can’t love you as I love! But it’s no
use—no use! she is worse than dead. I tell you I saw it in that cursed
paper, and I saw it in her own face. Why, one might have known! All
women are like it. What do they dare so long as their vanity is
satisfied? It’s just as Björnsen says:

                 “‘If thou hadst not so smiled on me,
                 Now I should not thus weep for thee.’”

And then he fell into incoherent talk, chiefly in Norwegian, but every
now and then repeating the English rendering of Björnsen’s lines.

Meanwhile Roy turned over in his mind half a dozen schemes, and at
length decided to leave Frithiof during one of the quiet intervals,
while he went for their own doctor, Miss Charlotte mounting guard
outside the door, and promising to go to him if he seemed to need care.

Dr. Morris, who was an old friend, listened to Roy’s description, and
returned with him at once, much to the relief of poor Miss Charlotte,
who was frightened out of her senses by one of Frithiof’s paroxysms of
wild excitement.

“Do you think seriously of him?” said Roy, when, the excitement having
died down, Frithiof lay in a sort of stupor, taking no notice at all of
his surroundings.

“If we can manage to get him any sleep he will pull through all right,”
said Dr. Morris, in his abrupt way. “If not, he will sink before many
days. You had better send for his mother, if he has one.”

“He has only a sister, and she is in Norway.”

“Well, send for her, for he will need careful nursing. You say you will
take charge of him? Very well; and to-morrow morning I will send in a
nurse, who will set you at liberty for a few hours. Evidently he has had
some shock. Can you make out what it was at all?”

“Well; last autumn, I believe—indeed, I am sure—he was jilted by an
English girl with whom he was desperately in love. It all came upon the
top of the other troubles of which I told you.”

“And what is this paper he raves about? What is the girl’s name? We
might get some clew in that way.”

“Oh,” said Roy, “she was married some months ago. She is now Lady
Romiaux.”

The doctor gave a stifled exclamation.

“That explains all. I suppose the poor fellow honestly cared for her,
and was shocked to see the paragraph in this week’s _Idle Time_. Your
friend has had a narrow escape, if he could but see it in that light.
For the husband of that heartless little flirt must be the most
miserable man alive. We shall soon have another of those detestable
_causes célèbres_, and the newspapers lying about in every household
will be filled with all the poisonous details.”

As Roy kept watch through the long nights and days that followed, as he
listened to the delirious ravings of his patient, and perceived how a
man’s life and health had been ruined by the faithlessness of a vain
girl, he became so absorbed in poor Frithiof, so devoted to him, that he
altogether forgot his specimens and his microscope. He wondered greatly
how many victims had been sacrificed to Blanche Romiaux’s selfish love
of admiration, and he longed to have her in that room, and point to the
man who tossed to and fro in sleepless misery, and say to her, “This is
what your hateful flirting has brought about.”

But the little Norwegian episode had entirely passed out of Lady
Romiaux’s mind. Had she been questioned she would probably have replied
that her world contained too many hard realities to leave room for the
recollection of mere dreams.

The dream, however, had gone hard with Frithiof. Sleeping draughts had
no effect on him, and his temperature remained so high that Dr. Morris
began to fear the worst.

Roy used to be haunted by the thought that he had telegraphed for Sigrid
Falck, and that he should have to meet her after her long journey with
the news that all was over. And remembering the bright face and sunny
manner of the Norwegian girl, his heart failed him at the thought of her
desolation. But Frithiof could not even take in the idea that she had
been sent for. Nothing now made any difference to him. Sleep alone could
restore him. But sleep refused to come, and already the death-angel
hovered near, ready to give him the release for which he so greatly
longed.



                             CHAPTER XVII.


Although it was the middle of August, a bitterly cold wind blew round
the dreary little posting station of Hjerkin, on the Dovrefield, and at
the very time when Frithiof lay dying in the intolerable heat of London,
Sigrid, shivering with cold, paced drearily along the bleak mountain
road with her aunt. They had come to the Dovrefield a fortnight before
for the summer holiday, but the weather had been unfavorable, and away
from home, with nothing very particular to occupy their time, Fru
Grönvold and Sigrid seemed to jar upon each other more than ever.
Apparently the subject they were discussing was not at all to the girl’s
taste, for as they walked along there were two ominous little
depressions in her forehead, nor did her black fur hat entirely account
for the shadow that overspread her face.

“Yes,” said Fru Grönvold emphatically, “I am sorry to have to say such a
thing of you, Sigrid, but it really seems to me that you are playing the
part of the dog in the manger. You profess absolute indifference to
every man you meet, yet you go on absorbing attention, and standing in
Karen’s light, in a way which I assure you is very trying to me.”

Sigrid’s cheek flamed.

“I have done nothing to justify you in saying such a thing,” she said
angrily.

“What!” cried Fru Grönvold. “Did not that Swedish botanist talk to you
incessantly? Does not the English officer follow you about whenever he
has the opportunity?”

“The botanist talked because we had a subject in common,” replied
Sigrid. “And probably the officer prefers talking to me because my
English is more fluent than Karen’s.”

“And that I suppose was the reason that you must be the one to teach him
the _spring dans_? And the one to sing him the ‘Bridal Song of the
Hardanger’?”

“Oh!” exclaimed Sigrid, with an impatient little stamp of the foot, “am
I to be forever thinking of this wretched scheming and match-making? Can
I not even try to amuse a middle-aged Englishman who is disappointed of
his reindeer, and finds himself stranded in a dreary little inn with a
handful of foreigners? I have only been courteous to him—nothing more;
and if I like talking to him it is merely because he comes from
England.”

“I don’t wish to be hard on you,” said Fru Grönvold, “but naturally I
have the feelings of a mother, and do not like to see Karen eclipsed. I
accuse you of nothing worse, my dear, than a slight forwardness—a little
deficiency in tact. There is no occasion for anger on your part.”

Sigrid bit her lip hard to keep back the retort that she longed to make,
and they walked in silence toward the little cluster of wooden buildings
on the hill-side, the lowest of which contained the bedrooms, while
further up the hill the kitchen and dining-room stood on one side of the
open courtyard, and on the other the prettily arranged public
sitting-room. In warm weather Hjerkin is a little paradise, but on this
windy day, under a leaden sky, it seemed the most depressing place on
earth.

“I shall go in and write to Frithiof,” said Sigrid, at length. And
escaping gladly from Fru Grönvold, she ran up to her room.

“Here we are at Hjerkin,” she wrote, “for a month, and it is more
desolate than I can describe to you, uncle and Oscar out shooting all
day long, and scarcely a soul to speak to, for most of the English have
been driven away by the bad weather, and two girls from Stockholm who
were here for their health are leaving this afternoon, unable to bear
the dullness any longer. If something doesn’t happen soon I think I
shall grow desperate. But surely something will happen. We can’t be
meant to go on in this wretched way, apart from each other. I am
disappointed that you think there is no chance of any opening for me in
London. If it were not for Swanhild I think I should try for work—any
sort of work except teaching—at Christiania. But I can’t bear to leave
her, and uncle would object to my trying for anything of the sort in
Bergen. I can’t help thinking of the old times when we were children,
and of the summer holidays then. Don’t you remember when we had the
island all to ourselves, and used to rush down the fir-hill, and
frighten poor old Gro?”

                  *       *       *       *       *

She stopped writing because the thought of those past days had blinded
her with tears, and because the longing for her father’s presence had
overwhelmed her; they had been so much to each other that there was not
an hour in the day when she did not miss him. The dreary wind howling
and whistling round the little wooden house seemed to harmonize only too
well with her sadness, and when the unwelcome supper-bell began to ring
she wrapped her shawl about her, and climbed the steep path to the
dining-room, slowly and reluctantly, with a look on her pale face which
it was sad to see in one so young.

Swanhild came dancing to meet her.

“Major Brown has got us such beautiful trout for supper, Sigrid, and
uncle says I may go out fishing, too, some day. And you’ll come with us,
wont you?”

“You had better take Karen,” said Sigrid listlessly. “You know I never
did care much for fishing. You shall catch them and I will eat them,”
she added, with a dreary little smile. And throughout supper she hardly
spoke, and at the first opportunity slipped away quietly, only, however,
to be pursued by Swanhild.

“What is the matter?” said the child, slipping her arm round her
sister’s waist. “Are you not coming to the sitting-room?”

“No,” said Sigrid, “I am tired, and it is so cold in there. I am going
into the kitchen to buy some stamps. Frithiof’s letter ought to go
to-morrow.”

As she spoke she opened the door of the roomy old kitchen, which is the
pride of Hjerkin. Its three windows were shaded by snowy muslin
curtains; its spotless floor was strewn with juniper; the walls, painted
a peacock-blue, were hung with bright dish-covers, warming-pans, quaint
old bellows and kitchen implements. There was a tall old clock in a
black and gold case, a pretty corner cupboard in shaded brown, and a
huge, old-fashioned cabinet with cunning little drawers and nooks and
corners, all painted in red and blue and green, with an amount of
gilding which gave it quite an Eastern look.

“Ah, how cozy the fire looks!” cried Swanhild, crossing over to the
curious old grate which filled the whole of one corner of the room, and
which certainly did look very tempting with its bright copper kettles
and saucepans all glowing in the ruddy light.

“Bless your heart,” said the kind old landlady, “sit down and warm
yourself.”

And one of the white-sleeved servant-girls brought a little chair which
stood by a long wooden settle, and put it close by the fire for the
child, and Sigrid, her purchase made, joined the little group, and sat
silently warming her hands, finding a sort of comfort in the mere
physical heat, and in the relief of being away from her aunt. The
landlady told Swanhild stories, and Sigrid listened dreamily, letting
her thoughts wander off now and then to Frithiof, or back into the far
past, or away into the future which looked so dreary. Still the kindness
of these people, and the interest and novelty of her glimpse into a
different sort of life, warmed her heart and cheered her a little.
Sitting there in the firelight she felt more at home than she had done
for many months.

“Come, Swanhild,” she said at last reluctantly, “it is ten o’clock, and
time you were in bed.”

And thanking the landlady for her kindness, the two sisters crossed over
the courtyard to the sitting-room, where Fru Grönvold was watching the
progress of a rubber in which Karen was Major Brown’s partner, and had
just incurred his wrath by revoking.

“Where in the world have you been?” said Fru Grönvold, knitting
vehemently. “We couldn’t think what had become of you both.”

“I went to the kitchen to get some stamps,” said Sigrid coldly. She
always resented her aunt’s questioning.

“And it was so lovely and warm in there,” said Swanhild gayly, “and Fru
Hjerkin has been telling me such beautiful stories about the Trolds. Her
mother really saw one, do you know.”

After this a cold good-night was exchanged, and Fru Grönvold’s brow grew
darker still when Major Brown called out in his hearty way:

“What, going so early, Miss Falck? We have missed you sadly to-night.”
Then, as she said something about the English mail, “Yes, yes, quite
right. And I ought to be writing home, too, instead of playing.”

“That means that he will not have another rubber,” thought Sigrid, as
she hurried down the hill to the _dépendence_, “and I shall be blamed
for it.”

She fell into a state of blank depression, and long after Swanhild was
fast asleep she sat struggling with the English letter, which, do what
she would, refused to have a cheerful tone forced into it.

“The only comfort is,” she thought, “that the worst has happened to us;
what comes now must be for the better. How the wind is raging round the
house and shrieking at the windows! And, oh, how dreary and wretched
this life is!”

And in very low spirits she blew out the candle, and lay down to sleep
as best she might in a bed which shook beneath her in the gale.

With much that was noble in Sigrid’s nature there was interwoven a
certain fault of which she herself was keenly conscious. She could love
a few with the most ardent and devoted love, but her sympathies were not
wide; to the vast majority of those she met she was absolutely
indifferent, and though naturally bright and courteous and desirous of
giving pleasure, yet she was too deeply reserved to depend at all on the
outer circle of friends; she liked them well enough, but it would not
greatly have troubled her had she never met them again. Very few had the
power to call out all the depths of tenderness, all the womanly
sweetness which really characterized her, while a great many repelled
her, and called out the harder side of her nature.

It was thus with Fru Grönvold. To her aunt, Sigrid was like an icicle,
and her hatred of the little schemes and hopes and anxieties which
filled Fru Grönvold’s mind blinded her to much that was worthy of all
admiration. However, like all the Falcks, Sigrid was conscientious, and
she had been struggling on through the spring and summer, making
spasmodic efforts to overcome her strong dislike to one who in the main
was kind to her, and the very fact that she had tried made her now more
conscious of her failure.

“My life is slipping by,” she thought to herself, “and somehow I am not
making the most of it. I am harder and colder than before all this
trouble came; I was a mere fine-weather character, and the storm was too
much for me. If I go on hating auntie perhaps I shall infect Swanhild,
and make her turn into just such another narrow-hearted woman. Oh, why
does one have to live with people that rub one just the wrong way?”

She fell asleep before she had solved this problem, but woke early and
with a restless craving, which she could not have explained, dressed
hastily, put on all the wraps that she possessed, and went out into the
fresh morning air.

“I have got to put up with this life,” she said to herself, “and I shall
just walk off this stupid discontented mood. What can’t be cured must be
endured. Oh, how beautiful it is out all alone in the early morning! I
am glad the wind is quite gone down, it has just cooled the air so that
to breathe it is like drinking iced water. After all, one can’t talk of
merely enduring life when there is all this left to one.”

Leaving the steep high-road, she struck off to the left, intent on
gaining the top of Hjerkinshö. Not a house was in sight, not a trace of
any living being; she walked on rapidly, for, although the long upward
slope was in parts fairly steep, the gray lichen with which the ground
was thickly covered was so springy and delicious to walk on that she
felt no fatigue, the refreshing little scrunch that it made beneath her
feet seemed in itself to invigorate her. By the time she reached the top
of the hill she was glowing with exercise, and was glad to sit down and
rest by the cairn of stones. All around her lay one great undulating
sweep of gray country, warmed by the bright sunlight of the summer
morning, and relieved here and there by the purple shadow of some cloud.
Beyond, there rose tier above tier of snowy peaks, Snehaetten standing
out the most nobly of all, and some eighty attendant peaks ranged round
the horizon line as though they were courtiers in attendance on the
monarch of the district. At first Sigrid was so taken up by this
wonderful panorama that she had not a thought for anything beyond it,
but after awhile the strange stillness roused her; for the first time in
her life she had come into absolute silence, and what made the silence
was the infinite space.

“If one could always be in a peace like this,” she thought, “surely life
would be beautiful then! If one could get out of all the littleness and
narrowness of one’s own heart, and be silent and quiet from all the
worries and vexations and dislikes of life! Perhaps it was the longing
for this that made women go into convents; some go still into places
where they never speak. That would never suit me; out of sheer
perversity I should want to talk directly. But if one could always have
a great wide open space like this that one could go into when one began
to get cross—”

But there all definite thought was suddenly broken, because nature and
her own need had torn down a veil, and there rushed into her
consciousness a perception of an infinite calm, into which all might at
any moment retire. The sense of that Presence which had so clearly
dawned on her on the night of her father’s death returned to her now
more vividly, and for the first time in her life she was absolutely at
rest.

After a time she rose and walked quietly home, full of an eager
hopefulness, to begin what she rightly felt would be a new life. She
stopped to pick a lovely handful of flowers for her aunt; she smiled at
the thought of the annoyance she had felt on the previous night about
such a trifle, and went forward almost gayly to meet the old troubles
which but a few hours before had seemed intolerable, but now looked
slight and easy.

Poor Sigrid! she had yet to learn that with fresh strength comes harder
fighting in the battle of life, and that of those to whom much is given
much will be required.

They were very cheerful that morning at breakfast; Fru Grönvold seemed
pleased with the flowers, and everything went smoothly. Afterward, when
they were standing in a little group outside the door, she even passed
her arm within Sigrid’s quite tenderly, and talked in the most amiable
way imaginable of the excursion which was being planned to Kongswold.

“Look! look!” cried Swanhild merrily, “here are some travelers. Two
carioles and a stolkjaerre coming up the hill. Oh! I hope they will be
nice, and that they will stay here.”

The arrival caused quite a little bustle of excitement, and many
speculations were made as to the relationship of the two sportsmen and
the two ladies in the stolkjaerre. Major Brown came forward to do the
honors of the place, as the landlord happened not to be at hand.

“Is there any one of the name of Falck here?” asked one of the travelers
as he dismounted from his cariole. “We were at Dombaas last night and
promised to bring this on; we told the landlord that we meant to sleep
at Fokstuen, but he said there was no quicker way of delivery. Seems a
strange mode of delivering telegrams, doesn’t it?”

“Why, Miss Falck, I see it is for you,” said Major Brown, glancing at
the direction.

She stepped hastily forward to take it from him with flushed cheeks and
trembling hands; it seemed an eternity before she had torn it open, and
the few words within half paralyzed her.

For a moment all seemed to stand still, then she became conscious of the
voices around.

“Oh, we were almost blown away at Fokstuen,” said one.

“But such _flatbrod_ as they make there!” said another, “we brought away
quite a tinful.”

“Nothing wrong, my dear, I hope?” said Fru Grönvold. “Child, child, what
is it? Let me read.”

Then came an almost irresistible impulse to burst into a flood of tears,
checked only by the presence of so many strangers, and by the necessity
of explaining to her aunt.

“It is in English,” she said in a trembling voice. “From Mr. Boniface.
It says only, ‘Frithiof dangerously ill. Come.’”

“Poor child! you shall go at once,” said Fru Grönvold. “What can be
wrong with Frithiof? Dangerously ill! See, it was sent from London
yesterday. You shall not lose a moment, my dear. Here is your uncle,
I’ll tell him everything, and do you go and pack what things you need.”

The girl obeyed; it seemed as if when once she had moved she was capable
only of the one fear—the terrible fear lest she should miss the English
steamer. Already it was far too late to think of catching the Thursday
steamer from Christiania to London, but she must strain every nerve to
catch the next one. Like one in a frightful dream she hastily packed,
while Swanhild ran to and fro on messages, her tears falling fast, for
she, poor little soul, would be left behind, since it was impossible
that she should be taken to London lodgings, where, for aught they knew,
Frithiof might be laid up with some infectious illness. In all her
terrible anxiety Sigrid felt for the child, and with a keen pang
remembered that she had not set her the best of examples, and that all
her plans for a new life, and for greater sympathy with her aunt, were
now at an end. The old life with all its lost opportunities was over—it
was over, and she rightly felt that she had failed.

“I have murmured and rebelled,” she thought to herself, “and now God is
going to take from me even a chance of making up for it. Oh, how hard it
is to try too late!”

“We have been looking out the routes, dear,” said Fru Grönvold, coming
into the room, “and the best way will be for you to try for the Friday
afternoon boat from Christiania; it generally gets to Hull a little
before the Saturday one from Bergen, your uncle says.”

“When can I start?” asked Sigrid eagerly.

“You must start almost at once for Lille-elvedal; it will be a terribly
tiring drive for you, I’m afraid—eighty-four kilometers and a rough
road. But still there is time to do it, which is the great thing. At
Lille-elvedal you will take the night train to Christiania; it is a
quick one, and will get you there in ten hours, quite in time to catch
the afternoon boat, you see. Your uncle will take you and see you into
the train, and if you like we can telegraph to some friend to meet you
at the Christiania station: the worst of it is, I fear most people are
away just now.”

“Oh, I shall not want any one,” said Sigrid. “If only I can catch the
steamer nothing matters.”

“And do not worry more than you can help,” said Fru Grönvold. “Who
knows? You may find him much better.”

“They would not have sent unless they feared—” Sigrid broke off
abruptly, unable to finish her sentence. And then with a few incoherent
words she clung to her aunt, asking her forgiveness for having annoyed
her so often, and thanking her for all her kindness. And Fru Grönvold,
whose conscience also pricked her, kissed the girl, and cried over her,
and was goodness itself.

Then came the wrench of parting with poor Swanhild, who broke down
altogether, and had to be left in the desolate little bedroom sobbing
her heart out, while Sigrid went downstairs with her aunt, bade a
hurried farewell to Major Brown, Oscar, and Karen; then, with a pale,
tearless face she climbed into the stolkjaerre, and was driven slowly
away in the direction of Dalen.

Her uncle talked kindly, speculating much as to the cause of Frithiof’s
illness, and she answered as guardedly as she could, all the time
feeling convinced that somehow Blanche Morgan was at the bottom of it
all. Were they never to come to the end of the cruel mischief wrought by
one selfish woman’s vanity? One thing was clear to her; if Frithiof was
spared to them she could never leave him again, and the thought of a
possible exile from Norway made her look back lingeringly at the scenes
she was leaving. Snehaetten’s lofty peaks still appeared in the
distance, rising white and shining into the clear blue sky; what ages it
seemed since she had watched it from Hjerkinshö in the wonderful
stillness which had preceded this great storm! Below her, to the right,
lay a lovely, smiling valley with birch and fir-trees, and beyond were
round-topped mountains, with here and there patches of snow gleaming out
of black, rocky clefts.

But soon all thought of her present surroundings was crowded out by the
one absorbing anxiety, and all the more because of her father’s recent
death hope seemed to die within her, and something seemed to tell her
that this hurried journey would be in vain. Each time the grisly fear
clutched at her heart, the slowness of their progress drove her almost
frantic, and the easy-going people at Dalen, who leisurely fetched a
horse which proved to be lame, and then, after much remonstrance,
leisurely fetched another, tried her patience almost beyond bearing.
With her own hands she helped to harness the fresh pony, and at the
dreary little station of Kroghaugen, where all seemed as quiet as the
grave, she not only made the people bestir themselves, but on hearing
that it was necessary to make some sort of a meal there, fetched the
fagots herself to relight the fire, and never rested till all that the
place would afford was set before Herr Grönvold.

                  *       *       *       *       *

At length the final change had been made. Ryhaugen was passed, and they
drove on as rapidly as might be for the last stage of their journey. At
any other time the beautiful fir forest through which they were passing
would have delighted her, and the silvery river in the valley below,
with its many windings and its musical ripple, would have made her long
to stay. Now she scarcely saw them; and when, in the heart of the
forest, the skydsgut declared that his horse must rest for half an hour,
she was in despair.

“But there is plenty of time, dear,” said her uncle kindly. “Come and
take a turn with me; it will rest you.”

She paced to and fro with him, trying to conquer the frenzy of
impatience which threatened to overmaster her.

“See,” he said at length, as they sat down to rest on one of the
moss-covered boulders, “I will give you now, while we are quiet and
alone, the money for your passage. Here is a check for fifty pounds, you
will have time to get it cashed in Christiania”; then as she protested
that it was far too much, “No, no; you will need it all in England. It
may prove a long illness; and, in any case,” he added awkwardly, “there
must be expenses.”

Sigrid, with a horrible choking in her throat, thanked him for his help,
but that “in any case” rang in her ears all through the drive, all
through the waiting at the hotel at Lille-elvedal, all through that
weary journey in the train.

Yet it was not until she stood on board the _Angelo_ that tears came to
her relief. A great crowd had collected on the quays, for a number of
emigrants were crossing over to England _en route_ for America. Sigrid,
standing there all alone, watched many a parting, saw strong men step on
to the deck sobbing like children, saw women weeping as though their
hearts would break. And when the crowd of those left behind on the quay
began to sing the songs of the country, great drops gathered in her eyes
and slowly fell. They sung with subdued voices. “For Norge, Kjaempers
Foderland,” and “Det Norske Flagg.” Last of all, as the great steamer
moved off, they sung, with a depth of pathos which touched even the
unconcerned foreigners on board, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet.”

The bustle and confusion on the steamer, the busy sailors, the weeping
emigrants, the black mass of people on shore waving their hats and
handkerchiefs, some sobbing, some singing to cheer the travelers, and
behind the beautiful city of Christiania with its spires and towers, all
this had to Sigrid the strangest feeling of unreality; yet it was a
scene that no one present could ever forget. Bravely the friends on
shore sung out, their voices bridging over the widening waters of the
fjord, the sweet air well suiting the fervor of the words:

     “Yes, we love with fond devotion Norway’s mountain domes,
     Rising storm-lashed o’er the ocean, with their thousand homes—
     Love our country when we’re bending thoughts to fathers grand,
     And to saga night that’s sending dreams upon our land.
     Harald on its throne ascended by his mighty sword;
     Hakon Norway’s rights defended, helped by Oyvind’s sword;
     From the blood of Olaf sainted, Christ’s red cross arose.”

But there the distance became too great for words to traverse it, only
the wild beauty of the music floated after the outward-bound vessel, and
many a man strained his ears to listen to voices which should never
again be heard by him on earth, and many a woman hid her face and sobbed
with passionate grief.



                             CHAPTER XVIII.


On the following Monday afternoon, Roy Boniface, pale and worn with all
that he had been through, paced the arrival platform at King’s Cross
Station. Already the train from Hull was signaled and he longed for
Sigrid’s advent, yet dreaded unspeakably the first few moments, the
hurried questions, the sad answers that must follow. The steamer had
been hindered by a fog, and the passengers had not been landed at Hull
until that morning, so that Sigrid had only had time to telegraph the
hour of her arrival, and had been unable to wait for a reply to tell her
of Frithiof’s state. He should have to tell her all—tell her amid the
unsympathizing crowd which jarred upon him even now; for during the last
few days he had lived so entirely with his patient that the outer world
seemed strange to him. His heart beat quickly as the engine darted into
sight and one carriage after another flitted past him. For a minute he
could nowhere see her; but hastening up the platform, and closely
scanning the travelers, he at length caught sight of the golden hair and
black dress which he had been imagining to himself, and heard the clear
voice saying, with something of Frithiof’s quiet decision:

“It is a black trunk from Hull, and the name is Falck.”

Roy came quickly forward, and the instant she caught sight of him all
her calmness vanished.

“Frithiof?” she asked, as he took her hand in his.

“He is still living,” said Roy, not daring to give an evasive answer to
the blue eyes which seemed to look into his very heart. Whether she had
feared the worst, or had hoped for better news, he could hardly tell;
she turned deathly white, and her lips quivered piteously.

“I will see to your luggage,” he said; “but before you go to him you
must have something to eat; I see you are quite worn out with the long
journey, and unless you are calm, you will only agitate him.”

She did not speak a word, but passively allowed him to take her to the
refreshment-room and get her some tea; she even made a faint effort to
attack the roll and butter which had been placed before her, but felt
too completely tired out to get on with it. Roy, seeing how matters
were, quietly drew the plate away, cut the roll into thin slices, and
himself spread them for her. It was months since they had parted at
Balholm as friendly fellow-travelers, yet it seemed now to Sigrid the
most natural thing in the world to depend on him, while he, at the first
glimpse of her questioning face, at the first grasp of her hand, had
realized that he loved her. After her lonely journey, with its lack of
sympathy, it was inexpressibly comforting to her to have beside her one
who seemed instantly to perceive just what she needed. To please him she
tried hard to eat and drink, and before long they were driving to
Vauxhall, and all fear lest she should break down was over.

“Now,” she said at last, “tell me more about his illness. What brought
it on?”

“The doctor says it must have been brought on by a great shock, and it
seems that he heard very sad news that day of Lady Romiaux.”

“I knew it was that wretched girl in some way,” cried Sigrid, clenching
her hand. “I wish she were dead!”

He was startled by her extreme bitterness, for by nature she was gentle,
and he had not expected such vehemence from her.

“She is, as Frithiof incessantly says, ‘Worse than dead,’” replied Roy.
“It is a miserable story. Apparently he got hold of some newspaper, read
it all, and was almost immediately broken down by it. They say he was
hardly himself when he left the shop that night, and the next evening,
when I saw him, I found him delirious.”

“It is his brain that is affected, then?” she faltered.

“Yes; he seems to have been out of health for a long time, but he never
would give way. All the troubles of last autumn told on him, and this
was merely, as they say, the last straw. But if only we could get him
any sleep, he might even now recover.”

“How long has he been without it?”

“I came to him on Tuesday evening; it was on the Monday that he read
that paragraph, just this day week, and he has never slept since then.
When did my telegram reach you, by the by?”

“Not until Thursday. You see, though you sent it on Wednesday morning,
yet it had to be forwarded from Bergen, as we were in an out-of-the-way
place on the Dovrefield.”

“And you have been traveling ever since? You must be terribly worn out.”

“Oh, the traveling was nothing; it was the terrible anxiety and the
slowness of everything that almost maddened one. But nothing matters
now. I am at least in time to see him.”

“This is the house where he is lodging,” said Roy as the cab drew up.
“Are you fit to go to him now, or had you not better rest first?”

“No, no, I must go to him directly,” she said. And, indeed, it seemed
that the excitement had taken away all her fatigue; her cheeks were
glowing, her eyes, though so wistful, were full of eagerness. She
followed him into the gloomy little house, spoke a courteous word or two
to Miss Charlotte, stood in the passage to receive her, and then hastily
mounted the stairs, and entered the darkened room where, instead of the
excitement which she had pictured to herself, there reigned an ominous
calm. A hospital nurse, whose sweet, strong face contrasted curiously
with her funereal garments, was sitting beside the mattresses, which for
greater convenience had been placed on the floor. Frithiof lay in the
absolute stillness of exhaustion, and Sigrid, who had never seen him
ill, was for a moment almost overcome. That he, who had always been so
strong, so daring, so full of life and spirit, should have sunk to this!
It seemed hardly possible that the thin, worn, haggard face on the
pillow could be the same face which had smiled on her last from the deck
of the steamer when he had started on that fatal visit to the Morgans.
He was talking incoherently, and twice she caught the name of Blanche.

“If she were here I could kill her!” she thought to herself; but the
fierce indignation died down almost instantly, for all the tenderness of
her womanly nature was called out by Frithiof’s need.

“Try if you can get him to take this,” said the nurse, handing her a cup
of beef-tea.

He took it passively, but evidently did not in the least recognize her.
It was only after some time had gone by that the tone of her voice and
the sound of his native tongue affected him. His eyes, which for so many
days had seen only the phantoms of his imagination, fixed themselves on
her face, and by degrees a light of recognition dawned in them.

“Sigrid!” he exclaimed, in a tone of such relief that tears started to
her eyes.

She bent down and kissed him.

“I have come to take care of you. And after you have been to sleep we
will have a long talk,” she said gently. “There, let me make your
pillows comfortable.”

Her presence, instead of exciting him to wonder or to ask questions,
acted upon him like a soothing spell.

“Talk,” he said. “It is so good to hear Norse once more.”

“I will talk if you will try to sleep. I will sit here and say you some
of Björnsen’s songs.” And, with his hand still in hers, she said, in her
quieting voice, “Jeg har sogt,” and “Olaf Trygvason,” and “Prinsessen.”

This last seemed specially to please him, and while, for the sixth time,
she was repeating it, Roy, who had been watching them intently, made her
a little sign, and, glancing down, she saw that Frithiof had fallen
asleep. No one stirred, for they all knew only too well how much
depended on that sleep. The nurse, who was one of those cheerful and
buoyant characters that live always in the present—and usually in the
present of others—mused over her three companions, and settled in her
practical mind the best means of relieving Sigrid without disturbing the
patient.

Sigrid herself was living in the past, and was watching sadly enough
Frithiof’s altered face. Could he ever again be the same strong, hardy,
dauntless fellow he had once been? She remembered how in the old days he
had come back from hunting fresh and invigorated when every one else had
been tired out. She thought of his room in the old home in Kalvedalen
with its guns and fishing-tackle, its reindeer skins and bear skins, its
cases of stuffed birds, all trophies of his prowess. And then she looked
round this dreary London room, and thought how wretched it must have
felt to him when night after night he returned to it and sat working at
translations in which he could take no sort of interest.

As for Roy, having lived for so many days in that sick-room with
scarcely a thought beyond it, he had now plunged into a sudden reaction;
a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Sigrid had come, and
with one bound he had stepped into a bright future; a future in which he
could always watch the fair, womanly face now before him; a future in
which he should have the right to serve and help her, to shield her from
care and turn her poverty to wealth. But that last thought brought a
certain anxiety with it. For he fancied that Sigrid was not without a
share of Frithiof’s independent pride. If once she could love him the
question of money could, of course, make no difference, but he feared
that her pride might perhaps make out of her poverty and his riches a
barrier which should shut out even the thought of love.

Of all those who were gathered together in that room, Frithiof was the
most entirely at rest, for at last there had come to his relief the
priceless gift of dreamless and unbroken sleep. For just as the
spiritual life dies within us if we become absorbed in the things of
this world and neglect the timeless calm which is our true state, so the
body and mind sink if they cannot for brief intervals escape out of the
bonds of time into the realms of sleep. The others lived in past,
present, or future, but Frithiof lay in that blissful state of entire
repose which builds up, all unconsciously to ourselves, the very fibers
of our being. What happens to us in sleep that we wake once more like
new beings? No one can exactly explain. What happens to us when

            “We kneel how weak, we rise how full of power”?

No one can precisely tell us. But the facts remain. By these means are
body and spirit renewed.

For the next day or two Frithiof realized little. To the surprise and
delight of all he slept almost incessantly, waking only to take food, to
make sure that Sigrid was with him, and to enjoy a delicious sense of
ease and relief.

“He is out of the wood now,” said Dr. Morris cheerfully. “You came just
in time, Miss Falck. But I will give you one piece of advice: if
possible stay in England and make your home with him; he ought not to be
so much alone.”

“You think that he may have such an attack again?” asked Sigrid
wistfully.

“No, I don’t say that at all. He has a wonderful constitution, and there
is no reason why he should ever break down again. But he is more likely
to get depressed if he is alone, and you will be able to prevent his
life from growing too monotonous.”

So as she lived through those quiet days in the sick-room, Sigrid racked
her brain to think of some way of making money, and searched, as so many
women have done before her, the columns of the newspapers, and made
fruitless inquiries, and wasted both time and money in the attempt. One
day Roy, coming in at his usual hour in the morning to relieve guard,
brought her a fat envelope which he had found waiting for her in the
hall. She opened it eagerly, and made a little exclamation of
disappointment and vexation.

“Anything wrong?” he asked.

She began to laugh, though he fancied he saw tears in her eyes. “Oh,”
she said, “it seems so ridiculous when I had been expecting such great
things from it. You know I have been trying to hear of work in London,
and there was an advertisement in the paper which said that two pounds a
week might easily be realized either by men or women without interfering
with their present occupations, and that all particulars would be given
on the receipt of eighteen-pence. So I sent the money, and here is a
wretched aluminium pencil in return, and I am to make this two pounds a
week by getting orders for them.”

The absurdity of the whole thing struck her more forcibly and she
laughed again more merrily; Roy laughed too.

“Have you made any other attempts?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Sigrid, “I began to try in Norway, and even attempted a
story and sent it to one of our best novelists to ask his opinion.”

“And what did he say?”

“Well,” she said, smiling, “he wrote back very kindly, but said that he
could not conscientiously recommend any one to write stories whose sole
idea in taking up the profession was the making of money. My conscience
pricked me there, and so I never tried writing again and never will.
Then the other day I wrote to another place which advertised, and got
back a stupid bundle of embroidery patterns. It is mere waste of money
answering these things. They say a woman can earn a guinea a time by
shaving poodles, but you see I have no experience of poodles,” and she
laughed merrily.

Roy sat musing over the perplexities of ordinary life. Here was he with
more money than he knew what to do with, and here was the woman he loved
struggling in vain to earn a few shillings. Yet, the mere fact that he
worshiped her made him chivalrously careful to avoid laying her under
any obligation. As far as possible he would serve her, but in this vital
question of money it seemed that he could only stand aside and watch her
efforts. Nor did he dare to confess the truth to her as yet, for he
perceived quite plainly that she was absorbed in Frithiof, and could not
possibly for some time to come be free even to consider her own personal
life. Clearly at present she regarded him with that frank friendliness
which he remembered well at Balholm, and in his helpfulness had
discerned nothing that need be construed as the attentions of a lover.
After all he was her brother’s sole friend in England, and it was
natural enough that he should do all that he could for them.

“My father and mother come home to-night,” he said at length, “and if
you will allow me I will ask them if they know of anything likely to
suit you. Cecil will be very anxious to meet you again. Don’t you think
you might go for a drive with her to-morrow afternoon? I would be here
with your brother.”

“Oh, I should so like to meet her again,” said Sigrid, “we all liked her
so much last summer. I don’t feel that I really know her at all yet, for
she is not very easy to know, but she interested me just because of
that.”

“I don’t think any one can know Cecil who has not lived with her,” said
Roy, “she is so very reserved.”

“Yes; at first I thought she was just gentle and quiet without very much
of character, but one day when we were out together we tried to get some
branches of willow. They were so stiff to break that I lazily gave up,
but she held on to hers with a strong look in her face which quite
startled me, and said, ‘I can’t be beaten just by a branch.’”

“That is Cecil all over,” said Roy, smiling; “she never would let
anything daunt her. May I tell her that you will see her to-morrow?”

Sigrid gladly assented, and the next day both Mrs. Boniface and Cecil
drove to the little house at Vauxhall. Roy brought Sigrid down to the
carriage, and with a very happy, satisfied feeling introduced her to his
mother, and watched the warm meeting with Cecil.

“I can’t think what would have become of Frithiof if it had not been for
all your kindness,” said Sigrid. “Your son has practically saved his
life, I am sure, by taking care of him through this illness.”

“And the worst is over now, I hope,” said Mrs. Boniface. “That is such a
comfort.”

At the first moment Sigrid had fallen in love with the sweet-natured,
motherly old lady, and now she opened all her heart to her, and they
discussed the sad cause of Frithiof’s breakdown, and talked of past days
in Norway, and of the future that lay before him, Cecil listening with
that absolute command of countenance which betokens a strong nature, and
her companions little dreaming that their words, though eagerly heard,
were like so many sword-thrusts to her. The neat brougham of the
successful tradesman might have seemed prosaic enough, and an unlikely
place in which to find any romance, but nevertheless the three occupants
with their joys and sorrows, their hopes and fears, were each living out
an absorbing life story. For every heart has its own romance, and
whether living in the fierce glare of a palace, in the whirl of society,
in a quiet London suburb, or in an East-end court, it is all the same.
The details differ, the accessories are strangely different, but the
love which is the great mainspring of life is precisely the same all the
world over.

“What makes me so miserable,” said Sigrid, “is to feel that his life is,
as it were, over, though he is so young: it has been spoiled and ruined
for him when he is but one-and-twenty.”

“But the very fact of his being so young seems to me to give hope that
brighter things are in store for him,” said Mrs. Boniface.

“I do not think so,” said Sigrid. “That girl has taken something from
him which can never come again: it does not seem to me possible that a
man can love like that twice in a lifetime.”

“Perhaps not just in that way,” said Mrs. Boniface.

“And besides,” said Sigrid, “what girl would care to take such love as
he might now be able to give? I am sure nothing would induce me to
accept any secondary love of that kind.”

She spoke as a perfectly heart-whole girl, frankly and unreservedly. And
what she said was true. She never could have been satisfied with less
than the whole; it was her nature to exact much; she could love very
devotedly, but she would jealously demand an equal devotion in return.

Now Cecil was of a wholly different type. Already love had taken
possession of her, it had stolen into her heart almost unconsciously and
had brought grave shadows into her quiet life, shadows cast by the
sorrow of another. Her notion of love was simply freedom to love and
serve; to give her this freedom there must of course be true love on the
other side, but of its kind or of its degree she would never trouble
herself to think. For already her love was so pure and deep that it
rendered her almost selfless. Sigrid’s speech troubled her for a minute
or two; if one girl could speak so, why not all girls? Was she perhaps
less truly womanly that she thought less of what was owing to herself?

“It may be so,” she admitted, yet with a latent consciousness that so
infinite a thing as love could not be bound by any hard and fast rules.
“But I cannot help it. Whether it is womanly or not, I would die to give
him the least real comfort.”

“Tell Harris to stop, Cecil,” said Mrs. Boniface. “We will get some
grapes for Mr. Falck.”

And glad to escape from the carriage for a minute, and glad, too, to be
of use even in such a far-off way, Cecil went into the fruiterer’s,
returning before long with a beautiful basket of grapes and flowers.



                              CHAPTER XIX.


“See what I have brought you,” said Sigrid, re-entering the sick-room a
little later on.

Frithiof took the basket and looked, with a pleasure which a few weeks
ago would have been impossible to him, at the lovely flowers and fruit.

“You have come just at the right time, for he will insist on talking of
all the deepest things in heaven and earth,” said Roy, “and this makes a
good diversion.”

“They are from Mrs. Boniface. Is it not kind of her! And do you know,
Frithiof, she and Doctor Morris have been making quite a deep plot; they
want to transplant us bodily to Rowan Tree House, and Doctor Morris
thinks the move could do you no harm now that you are getting better.”

His face lighted up with something of its former expression.

“How I should like never to see this hateful room again!” he exclaimed.
“You don’t know how I detest it. The old ghosts seem to haunt it still.
There is nothing that I can bear to look at except your picture of
Bergen, which has done me more than one good turn.”

Sigrid, partly to keep him from talking too much, partly because she
always liked to tell people of that little act of kindness, gave Roy the
history of the picture, and Frithiof lay musing over the curious
relative power of kindness and cruelty, and was obliged, though somewhat
reluctantly, to admit to himself that a very slight act of kindness
certainly did exert an enormous and unthought-of influence.

Physical disorder had had much to do with the black view of life which
he had held for the last few months, but now that the climax had been
reached and rest had been forced upon him, his very exhaustion and
helplessness enabled him to see a side of life which had never before
been visible to him. He was very much softened by all that he had been
through. It seemed that while the events of the past year had imbittered
and hardened him, this complete breakdown of bodily strength had brought
back something of his old nature. The bright enjoyment of mere existence
could of course never return to him, but still, notwithstanding the scar
of his old wound, there came to him during those days of his
convalescence a sense of keen pleasure in Sigrid’s presence, in his
gradually returning strength, and in the countless little acts of
kindness which everybody showed him.

The change to Rowan Tree House seemed to work wonders to him. The house
had always charmed him, and the recollection of the first time he had
entered it, using it as a shelter from the storm of life, much as Roy
and Cecil had used his father’s house as a shelter from the drenching
rain of Bergen, returned to him again and again through the quiet weeks
that followed. The past year looked now to him like a nightmare to a man
who was awakened in broad daylight. It seemed to him that he was lying
at the threshold of a new life, worn and tired with the old life, it was
true, yet with a gradually increasing interest in what lay beyond, and a
perception that there were many things of which he had as yet but the
very faintest notion.

Sigrid told him all the details of her life in Norway since they had
last seen each other, of her refusal of Torvald Lundgren, of her
relations with her aunt, of the early morning on Hjerkinshö. And her
story touched him. When, stirred by all that had happened into unwonted
earnestness, she owned to him that after that morning on the mountain
everything had seemed different, he did not, as he would once have done,
laughingly change the subject, or say that religion was all very well
for women.

“It was just as if I had worn a crape veil all my life,” she said,
looking up from her work for a moment with those clear, blue, practical
eyes of hers. “And up there on the mountain it seemed as if some one had
lifted it quite away.”

Her words stirred within him an uneasy sense of loss, a vague desire,
which he had once or twice felt before. He was quite silent for some
time, lying back idly in his chair and watching her as she worked.

“Sigrid!” he said at last, with a suppressed eagerness in his voice,
“Sigrid, you wont go back again to Norway and leave me?”

“No, dear, I will never leave you,” she said warmly. “I will try to find
some sort of work. To-night I mean to talk to Mr. Boniface about it.
Surely in this huge place there must be something I can do.”

“It is its very hugeness that makes one despair,” said Frithiof. “Good
God! what I went through last autumn! And there are thousands in the
same plight, thousands who would work if only they could meet with
employment.”

“Discussing the vexed question of the unemployed?” said Mr. Boniface,
entering the room in time to hear this last remark.

“Yes,” said Sigrid, smiling. “Though I’m a wretched foreigner come to
swell their number. But what can be the cause of such distress?”

“I think it is this,” said Mr. Boniface, “population goes on increasing,
but practical Christianity does not increase at the same rate.”

“Are you what they call a Christian Socialist?” asked Sigrid.

“No; I am not very fond of assuming any distinctive party name, and the
Socialists seem to me to look too much to compulsion. You can’t make
people practical Christians by Act of Parliament; you have no right to
force the rich to relieve the poor. The nation suffers, and all things
are at a dead-lock because so many of us neglect our duty. If we argued
less about the ‘masses,’ and quietly did as we would be done by to those
with whom life brings us into contact, I believe the distress would soon
be at an end.”

“Do you mean by that private almsgiving?” asked Frithiof. “Surely that
can only pauperize the people.”

“I certainly don’t mean indiscriminate almsgiving,” said Mr. Boniface;
“I mean only this. You start with your own family; do your duty by them.
You have a constant succession of servants passing through your
household; be a friend to them. You have men and women in your employ;
share their troubles. Perhaps you have tenants; try to look at life from
their point of view. If we all tried to do this the cure would indeed be
found, and the breach between the rich and poor bridged over.”

How simply and unostentatiously Mr. Boniface lived out his own theory
Frithiof knew quite well. He reflected that all the kindness he himself
had received had not tended to pauperize him, had not in the least
crushed his independence or injured his self-respect. On the contrary,
it had saved him from utter ruin, and had awakened in him a gratitude
which would last all his life. But this new cure was not to depend only
on taxation or on the State, but on a great influence working within
each individual. The idea set him thinking, and the sense of his own
ignorance weighed upon him.

One morning it chanced that, sitting out in the veranda at the back of
the house, he overheard Lance’s reading-lesson, which was going on in
the morning-room. Sounds of laborious wrestling with the difficulties of
“Pat a fat cat,” and other interesting injunctions, made him realize how
very slow human nature is to learn any perfectly new thing, and how
toilsome are first steps. Presently came a sound of trotting feet.

“Gwen! Gwen!” shouted Lance, “come here to us. Cecil is going to read to
us out of her Bible, and it’s awfully jolly!”

He heard a stifled laugh from Cecil.

“Oh, Lance,” she said, “Gwen is much too young to care for it. Come,
shut the door, and we will begin.”

Again came the sound of trotting feet, then Cecil’s clear, low voice.
“What story do you want?”

“Read about the three men walking in the fender and the fairy coming to
them,” said Lance promptly.

“Not a fairy, Lance.”

“Oh, I mean a angel,” he replied apologetically.

So she read him his favorite story of Nebuchadnezzar the king, and the
golden image and the three men who would not bow down to it.

“You see,” she said at the end, “they were brave men; they would not do
what they knew to be wrong. We want you to grow like them.”

There was a silence, broken at last by Lance.

“I will only hammer nails in wood,” he said gravely.

“How do you mean?” asked Cecil, not quite seeing the connection.

“Not into the tables and chairs,” said Lance, who had clearly
transgressed in this matter, and had applied the story to his own life
with amusing simplicity.

“That’s right,” said Cecil. “God will be pleased if you try.”

“He can see us, but we can’t see him,” said Lance, in his sweet childish
tones, quietly telling forth in implicit trust the truth that many a man
longs to believe.

A minute after he came dancing out into the garden, his short, sunny
curls waving in the summer wind, his cheeks glowing, his hazel eyes and
innocent little mouth beaming with happiness.

“He looks like an incarnate smile,” thought Frithiof.

And then he remembered what Roy had told him of the father and mother,
and he thought how much trouble awaited the poor child, and felt the
same keen wish that Cecil had felt that he might be brought up in a way
which should make him able to resist whatever evil tendencies he had
inherited. “If anything can save him it will be such a home as this,” he
reflected.

Then, as Cecil came out into the veranda, he joined her, and they walked
together down one of the shady garden paths.

“I overheard your pupil this morning,” he began, and they laughed
together over the child’s quaint remarks. “That was very good, his
turning the story to practical account all by himself. He is a lucky
little beggar to have you for his teacher. I wonder what makes a child
so ready to swallow quite easily the most difficult things in heaven and
earth?”

“I suppose because he knows he can’t altogether understand, and is
willing to take things on trust,” said Cecil.

“If anything can keep him straight when he grows up it will be what you
have taught him,” said Frithiof. “You wonder that I admit that, and a
year ago I couldn’t have said as much, but I begin to think that there
is after all a very great restraining power in the old faith. The
difficulty is to get up any sort of interest in that kind of thing.”

“You talk as if it were a sort of science,” said Cecil.

“That is precisely what it seems to me; and just as one man is born with
a love of botany, another takes naturally to astronomy, and a third has
no turn for science whatever, but is fond of hunting and fishing, so it
seems to me with religion. All of you, perhaps, have inherited the
tendency from your Puritan forefathers, but I have inherited quite the
opposite tendency from my Viking ancestors. Like them, I prefer to love
my friend and hate my enemy, and go through life in the way that best
pleases me. I am not a reading man; I can’t get up the faintest sort of
interest in these religious matters.”

“We are talking of two different things,” said Cecil. “It is of the mere
framework of religion that you are speaking. Very likely many of us are
born without any taste for theology, or sermons, or Church history. We
are not bound surely to force up an interest in them.”

“Then if all that is not religion, pray what is it? You are not like
Miss Charlotte, who uses phrases without analyzing them. What do you
mean by religion?”

“I mean knowing and loving God,” she said, after a moment’s pause.

Her tone was very gentle, and not in the least didactic.

“I have believed in a God always—more or less,” said Frithiof slowly.
“But how do you get to know Him?”

“I think it is something in the same way that people get to know each
other,” said Cecil. “Cousin James Horner, for instance, sees my father
every day; he has often stayed in the same house with him, and has in a
sense known him all his life. But he doesn’t really know him at all. He
never takes the trouble really to know any one. He sees the outside of
my father—that is all. They have hardly anything in common.”

“Mr. Horner is so full of himself and his own opinions that he never
could appreciate such a man as your father,” said Frithiof. Then,
perceiving that his own mouth had condemned him, he relapsed into
silence. “What is your receipt, now, for getting to know a person?” he
said presently, with a smile.

“First,” she said thoughtfully, “a desire to know and a willingness to
be known. Then I think one must forget one’s self as much as possible,
and try to understand the feelings, and words, and acts of the one you
wish to know in the light of the whole life, or as much as you can learn
of it, not merely of the present. Then, too, I am quite sure that you
must be alone together, for it is only alone that people will talk of
the most real things.”

He was silent, trying in his own mind to fit her words to his own need.

“Then you don’t think, as some do, that when once we set out with a real
desire all the rest is quite easy and to be drifted into without any
special effort.”

“No,” she said, “I do not believe in drifting. And if we were not so
lazy I believe we should all of us know more of God. It is somehow
difficult to take quite so much pains about that as about other things.”

“It can’t surely be difficult to you; it always seems to be easy to
women, but to us men all is so different.”

“Are you so sure of that?” she said quietly.

“I have always fancied so,” he replied. “Why, the very idea of shutting
one’s self in alone to think—to pray—it is so utterly unnatural to a
man.”

“I suppose the harder it is the more it is necessary,” said Cecil. “But
our Lord was not always praying on mountains; he was living a quite
ordinary shop life, and must have been as busy as you are.”

Her words startled him; everything connected with Christianity had been
to him lifeless, unreal, formal—something utterly apart from the
every-day life of a nineteenth century man. She had told him that to her
religion meant “knowing” and “loving,” and he now perceived that by
“loving” she meant the active living of the Christ-life, the constant
endeavor to do the will of God. She had not actually said this in so
many words, but he knew more plainly than if she had spoken that this
was her meaning.

They paced in silence the shady garden walk. To Frithiof the whole world
seemed wider than it had ever been before. On the deadly monotony of his
business life there had arisen a light which altogether transformed it.
He did his best even now to quench its brightness, and said to himself,
“This will not last; I shall hate desk and counter and all the rest of
it as badly as ever when I go back.” For it was his habit since Blanche
had deceived him to doubt the lastingness of all that he desired to
keep. Still, though he doubted for the future, the present was
wonderfully changed, and the new idea that had come into his life was
the best medicine he could have had.

Sigrid watched his returning strength with delight; indeed, perhaps she
never realized what he had been during his lonely months of London life.
She had not seen the bitterness, the depression, the hardness, the too
evident deterioration which had saddened Cecil’s heart through the
winter and spring; and she could not see as Cecil saw how he was
struggling up now into a nobler manhood. Roy instinctively felt it. Mr.
Boniface, with his ready sympathy and keen insight, found out something
of the true state of the case; but only Cecil actually knew it. She had
had to bear the worst of the suffering all through those long months,
and it was but fair that the joy should be hers alone.

Frithiof hardly knew which part of the day was most pleasant to him, the
quiet mornings after Mr. Boniface and Roy had gone to town, when he and
Sigrid were left to their own devices; the pleasant little break at
eleven, when Mrs. Boniface looked in to remind them that fruit was good
in the morning, and to tempt him with pears and grapes, while Cecil and
the two children came in from the garden, bringing with them a sense of
freshness and life; the drowsy summer afternoon when he dozed over a
novel; the drive in the cool of the day, and the delightful home
evenings with music and reading aloud.

Quiet the life was, it is true, but dull never. Every one had plenty to
do, yet not too much, for Mr. Boniface had a horror of the modern craze
for rushing into all sorts of philanthropic undertakings, would have
nothing to do with bazaars, groaned inwardly when he was obliged by a
sense of duty to attend any public meeting, and protested vehemently
against the multiplication of “Societies.”

“I have a pet Society of my own,” he used to say with a smile. “It is
the Keeping at Home Society. Every householder is his own president, and
the committee is formed by his family.”

Notwithstanding this, he was the most widely charitable man, and was
always ready to lend a helping hand; but he loved to work quietly, and
all who belonged to him caught something of the same tone, so that in
the house there was a total absence of that wearing whirl of good works
in which many people live nowadays, and though perhaps they had not so
many irons in the fire, yet the work they did was better done in
consequence, and the home remained what it was meant to be, a center of
love and life, not a mere eating-house and dormitory.

Into the midst of this home there had come now some strangely fresh
elements. Three distinct romances were being worked out beneath that
quiet roof. There was poor Frithiof with his shattered life, his past an
agony which would scarcely bear thinking of, his future a desperate
struggle with circumstances. There was Cecil, whose life was so far
bound up with his that when he suffered she suffered too, yet had to
live on with a serene face and make no sign. There was Roy already madly
in love with the blue-eyed, fair-haired Sigrid, who seemed in the glad
reaction after all her troubles to have developed into a totally
different being, and was the life of the party. And yet in spite of the
inevitable pain of love, these were happy days for all of them. Happy to
Frithiof because his strength was returning to him; because, with an
iron resolution, he as far as possible shut out the remembrance of
Blanche; because the spirit life within him was slowly developing, and
for the first time he had become conscious that it was a reality.

Happy for Cecil, because her love was no foolish sentimentality, no
selfish day-dream, but a noble love which taught her more than anything
else could possibly have done; because, instead of pining away at the
thought that Frithiof was utterly indifferent to her, she took it on
trust that God would withhold from her no really good thing, and made
the most of the trifling ways in which she could at present help him.
Happiest of all perhaps for Roy, because his love-story was full of
bright hope—a hope that each day grew fuller and clearer.

“Robin,” said Mrs. Boniface, one evening, to her husband, as together
they paced to and fro in the veranda, while Frithiof was being initiated
into lawn-tennis in the garden, “I think Sigrid Falck is one of the
sweetest girls I ever saw.”

“So thinks some one else, if I am not much mistaken,” he replied.

“Then you, too, have noticed it. I am so glad. I hoped it was so, but
could not feel sure. Oh, Robin, I wonder if he has any chance? She would
make him such a sweet little wife!”

“How can we tell that she has not left her heart in Norway?”

“I do not think so,” said Mrs. Boniface. “No, I feel sure that can’t be,
from the way in which she speaks of her life there. If there is any
rival to be feared it is Frithiof. They seem to me wrapped up in each
other, and it is only natural, too, after all their trouble and
separation and this illness of his. How strong he is getting again, and
how naturally he takes to the game! He is such a fine-looking fellow,
somehow he dwarfs every one else,” and she glanced across to the
opposite side of the lawn, where Roy with his more ordinary height and
build certainly did seem somewhat eclipsed. And yet to her motherly eyes
that honest, open, English face, with its sun-burned skin, was perhaps
the fairest sight in the world.

Not that she was a blindly and foolishly loving mother; she knew that he
had his faults. But she knew, too, that he was a sterling fellow, and
that he would make the woman he married perfectly happy.

They were so taken up with thoughts of the visible romance that was
going on beneath their eyes, that it never occurred to them to think of
what might be passing in the minds of the two on the other side of the
net. And perhaps that was just as well, for the picture was a sad one,
and would certainly have cast a shadow upon their hearts. Cecil was too
brave and resolute and self-controlled to allow her love to undermine
her health; nor did she so brood upon her inevitable loss that she
ceased to enjoy the rest of her life. There was very much still left to
her, and though at times everything seemed to her flavorless and
insipid, yet the mood would pass, and she would be able intensely to
enjoy her home life. Still there was no denying that the happiness which
seemed dawning for Roy and Sigrid was denied to the other two; they were
handicapped in the game of life just as they were at tennis—the setting
sun shone full in their faces and made the play infinitely more
difficult, whereas the others playing in the shady courts had a
considerable advantage over them.

“Well, is the set over?” asked Mr. Boniface, as the two girls came
toward them.

“Yes,” cried Sigrid merrily. “And actually our side has won! I am so
proud of having beaten Cecil and Frithiof, for, as a rule, Frithiof is
one of those detestable people who win everything. It was never any fun
playing with him when we were children, he was always so lucky.”

As she spoke Frithiof had come up the steps behind her.

“My luck has turned, you see,” he said, with a smile in which there was
a good deal of sadness. But his tone was playful, and indeed it seemed
that he had entirely got rid of the bitterness which had once dominated
every look and word.

“Nonsense!” she cried, slipping her hand into his arm. “Your luck will
return; it is only that you are not quite strong again yet. Wait a day
or two, and I shall not have a chance against you. You need not grudge
me my one little victory.”

“It has not tired you too much?” asked Mrs. Boniface, glancing up at
Frithiof. There was a glow of health in his face which she had never
before seen, and his expression, which had once been stern, had grown
much more gentle. “But I see,” she added, “that is a foolish question,
for I don’t think I have ever seen you looking better. It seems to me
this is the sort of exercise you need. We let you stay much too long
over that translating in the old days.”

“Yes,” said Sigrid; “I hardly know whether to laugh or cry when I think
of Frithiof, of all people in the world, doing learned translations for
such a man as Herr Sivertsen. He never could endure sedentary life.”

“And yet,” said Mr. Boniface, pacing along the veranda with her, “I
tried in vain to make him take up cricket. He declared that in Norway
you did not go in for our English notions of exercise for the sake of
exercise.”

“Perhaps not,” said Sigrid; “but he was always going in for the wildest
adventures, and never had the least taste for books. Poor Frithiof, it
only shows how brave and resolute he is; he is so set upon paying off
these debts that he will sacrifice everything to that one idea, and will
keep to work which must be hateful to him.”

“He is a fine fellow,” said Mr. Boniface. “I had hardly realized what
his previous life must have been, though of course I knew that the
drudgery of shop life was sorely against the grain.”

“Ever since he was old enough to hold a gun, he used to go with my
father in August to the mountains in North Fjord for the reindeer
hunting,” said Sigrid. “And every Sunday through the winter he used to
go by himself on the wildest excursions after sea-birds. My father said
it was good training for him, and as long as he took with him old Nils,
his skydsmand—I think you call that boatman in English—he was never
worried about him when he was away. But sometimes I was afraid for him,
and old Gro, our nurse, always declared that he would end by being
drowned. Come here, Frithiof, and tell Mr. Boniface about your night on
the fjord by Bukken.”

His eyes lighted up at the recollection.

“Ah, it was such fun!” he cried; “though we were cheated out of our
sport after all. I had left Bergen on the Saturday, going with old Nils
to Bukken, and there as usual we took a boat to row across to Gjelleslad
where I generally slept, getting up at four in the morning to go after
the birds. Well, that night Nils and I set out to row across, but had
not got far when the most fearful storm came down on us. I never saw
such lightning, before or since, and the wind was terrific; we could do
nothing against it, and indeed it was wonderful that we did not go to
the bottom. By good luck we were driven back to land, and managed to
haul up the boat, turn it up, and shelter as best we could under it, old
Nils swearing like a trooper and declaring I should be the death of him
some day. For four mortal hours we stayed there, and the storm still
raged. At last, by good luck, I hunted up four men who were willing to
run the risk of rowing us back to Bergen. Then off we set, Nils vowing
that we should be drowned, and so we were very nearly. It was the
wildest night I ever knew, and the rowing was fearful work, but at last
we got safely home.”

“And you should have seen him,” cried Sigrid. “He roused us all up at
half-past six in the morning, and there he was, soaked to the skin, but
looking so bright and jolly, and making us roar with laughter with his
description of it all. And I really believe it did him good; for after a
few hours’ sleep he came down in the best possible of humors. And don’t
you remember, Frithiof, how you played it all on your violin?”

“And was only successful in showing how well Nils growled,” said
Frithiof, laughing.

The reference to the violin suggested the usual evening’s music, and
they went into the drawing-room, where Sigrid played them some Norwegian
airs, Roy standing near her, and watching her fair, sweet face, which
was still glowing with the recollection of those old days of which they
had talked.

“Was it possible,” he thought, “that she who was so devoted to her
brother, that she who loved the thought of perilous adventures, and so
ardently admired the bold, fearless, peril-seeking nature of the old
Vikings, was it possible that she could ever love such an ordinary,
humdrum, commonplace Londoner as himself?” He fell into great
despondency, and envied Frithiof his Norse nature, his fine physique,
his daring spirit.

How infinitely harder life was rendered to his friend by that same
nature, he did not pause to think, and sorry as he was for Frithiof’s
troubles, he scarcely realized at all the force with which they had
fallen upon the Norwegian’s proud, self-reliant character.

Absorbed in the thought of his own love, he had little leisure for such
observations. The one all-engrossing question excluded everything else.
And sometimes with hope he asked himself, “Can she love me?”—sometimes
in despair assured himself that it was impossible—altogether impossible.



                              CHAPTER XX.


If any one had told Roy that his fate was to be seriously affected by
Mrs. James Horner, he would scarcely have credited the idea. But the
romances of real life are not as a rule spoiled by some black-hearted
villain, but are quite unconsciously checked by uninteresting matrons,
or prosaic men of the world, who, with entire innocence, frustrate hopes
and in happy ignorance go on their way, never realizing that they have
had anything to do with the actual lives of those they meet. If the life
at Rowan Tree House had gone on without interruption, if Sigrid had been
unable to find work and had been at perfect leisure to consider Roy’s
wooing, it is quite probable that in a few weeks their friendship might
have ended in betrothal. But Mrs. James Horner gave a children’s party,
and this fact changed the whole aspect of affairs.

“It is, as you say, rather soon after my poor uncle’s death for us to
give a dance,” said Mrs. Horner, as she sat in the drawing-room of Rowan
Tree House discussing the various arrangements. “But you see it is dear
Mamie’s birthday, and I do not like to disappoint her; and Madame
Lechertier has taken the idea up so warmly, and has promised to come as
a spectator. It was at her suggestion that we made it a fancy dress
affair.”

“Who is Madame Lechertier?” asked Sigrid, who listened with all the
interest of a foreigner to these details.

“She is a very celebrated dancing mistress,” explained Cecil. “I should
like you to see her, for she is quite a character.”

“Miss Falck will, I hope, come to our little entertainment,” said Mrs.
Horner graciously. For, although she detested Frithiof, she had been,
against her will, charmed by Sigrid. “It is, you know, quite a small
affair—about fifty children, and only from seven to ten. I would not,
for the world, shock the congregation, Loveday, so I mean to make it all
as simple as possible. I do not know that I shall even have ices.”

“My dear, I do not think ices would shock them,” said Mrs. Boniface,
“though I should think perhaps they might not be wholesome for little
children who have got heated with dancing.”

“Oh, I don’t really think they’ll be shocked at all,” said Mrs. Horner,
smiling. “James could do almost anything before they’d be shocked. You
see, he’s such a benefactor to the chapel and is so entirely the leading
spirit, why, where would they be without him?”

Mrs. Boniface murmured some kindly reply. It was quite true, as she knew
very well. James Horner was so entirely the rich and generous head of
the congregation that everything had to give way to him, and the
minister was not a little hampered in consequence. It was perhaps the
perception of this which made Mr. Boniface, an equally rich and generous
man, play a much more quiet part. He worked quite as hard to further the
good of the congregation, but his work was much less apparent, nor did
he ever show the least symptom of that love of power which was the bane
of James Horner’s existence.

Whether Mr. Boniface entirely approved of this children’s fancy-dress
dance, Sigrid could not feel sure. She fancied that, in spite of all his
kindly, tolerant spirit, he had an innate love of the older forms of
Puritanism, and that his quiet, home-keeping nature could not understand
at all the enjoyment of dancing or of character-dresses. Except with
regard to music, the artistic side of his nature was not highly
developed, and while his descent from Puritan forefathers had given him
an immense advantage in many ways, and had undoubtedly helped to make
him the conscientious, liberty loving, God-fearing man he was, yet it
had also given him the Puritan tendency to look with distrust on many
innocent enjoyments. He was always fearful of what these various forms
of amusement might lead to. But he forgot to think of what dullness and
dearth of amusement might lead to, and had not fully appreciated the
lesson which Englishmen must surely have been intended to learn from the
violent reaction of the Restoration after the restrictions of the
Commonwealth.

But no matters of opinion ever made even a momentary discomfort in that
happy household. Uniformity there was not, for they thought very
differently, and each held fast to his own view; but there was something
much higher than uniformity, there was unity, which is the outcome of
love. Little differences of practice came from time to time; they went
their various ways to church and chapel on Sunday, and Roy and Cecil
would go to hear Donati at the opera-house, while the father and mother
would have to wait till there was a chance of hearing the celebrated
baritone at St. James’s Hall; but in the great aims of life they were
absolutely united, and worked and lived in perfect harmony. At length
the great day came, and Mr. Boniface and Roy on their return from town
were greeted by a bewitching little figure on the stairs, with curly
hair combed out to its full length and a dainty suit of crimson velvet
trimmed with gold lace.

“Why, who are you?” said Mr. Boniface, entering almost unconsciously
into the fun of the masquerade.

“I’m Cinderella’s prince,” shouted Lance gleefully, and in the highest
spirits the little fellow danced in to show Frithiof his get-up,
capering all over the room in that rapturous enjoyment of childhood, the
sight of which is one of the purest pleasures of all true men and women.
Frithiof, who had been tired and depressed all day, brightened up at
once when Lance, who was very fond of him, came to sit on his knee in
that ecstasy of happy impatience which one only sees in children.

“What is the time now?” he asked every two minutes. “Do you think it
will soon be time to go? Don’t you almost think you hear the carriage
coming?”

“As for me,” said Sigrid, “I feel like Cinderella before the fairy
godmother came. You are sure Mrs. Horner will not mind this ordinary
black gown?”

“Oh, dear, no,” said Cecil. “You see, she herself is in mourning; and
besides, you look charming, Sigrid.”

The compliment was quite truthful, for Sigrid, in her quiet black dress,
which suited her slim figure to perfection, the simple folds of white
net about her neck, and the delicate blush roses and maidenhair which
Roy had gathered for her, certainly looked the most charming little
woman imaginable.

“I wish you could come, too,” said Cecil, glancing at Frithiof, while
she swathed the little prince in a thick plaid. “It will be very pretty
to see all the children in costume.”

“Yes,” he replied; “but my head would never stand the noise and the
heat. I am better here.”

“We shall take great care of him,” said Mrs. Boniface; “and you must
tell us all about it afterward. Don’t keep Lance up late if he seems to
get tired, dearie. Good-by, and mind you enjoy yourself.”

“There goes a happy quartet,” said Mr. Boniface, as he closed the door
behind them. “But here, to my way of thinking, is a more enviable trio.
Did you ever see this book, Frithiof?”

Since his illness they had fallen into the habit of calling him by his
Christian name, for he had become almost like one of the family. Even in
his worst days they had all been fond of him, and now in these days of
his convalescence, when physical suffering had brought out the gentler
side of his nature, and his strength of character was shown rather in
silent patience than in dogged and desperate energy, as of old, he had
won all hearts. The proud, willful isolation which had made his
fellow-workers detest him had been broken down at length, and gratitude
for all the kindness he had received at Rowan Tree House had so changed
him that it seemed unlikely that he would ever sink again into such an
extremity of hard bitterness. His laughter over the book which Mr.
Boniface had brought him seemed to his host and hostess a promising
sign, and over “Three in Norway” these three in England passed the
pleasant evening which Mr. Boniface had predicted.

Meanwhile Sigrid was thoroughly enjoying herself. True, Mr. and Mrs.
Horner were vulgar, and now and then said things which jarred on her,
but with all their failings they had a considerable share of genuine
kindliness, and the very best side of them showed that night, as they
tried to make all their guests happy. A children’s party generally does
call out whatever good there is in people; unkind gossip is seldom heard
at such a time, and people are never bored, for they are infected by the
genuine enjoyment of the little ones, the dancers who do not, as in
later life, wear masks, whose smiles are the smiles of real and intense
happiness, whose laughter is so inspiriting. It was, moreover, the first
really gay scene which had met Sigrid’s eyes for nearly a year, and she
enjoyed to the full the quaint little cavaliers, the tiny court ladies,
with their powdered hair and their patches; the Red Riding-hoods and
Bo-Peeps; the fairies and the peasants; the Robin Hoods and Maid
Marians. The dancing was going on merrily when Mme. Lechertier was
announced, and Sigrid looked up with interest to see what the lady who
was pronounced to be “quite a character” was like. She was a tall and
wonderfully graceful woman, with an expressive but plain face. In repose
her expression was decidedly autocratic, but she had a most charming
smile, and a perfect manner. The Norwegian girl took a great fancy to
her, and the feeling was mutual, for the great Mme. Lechertier, who, it
was rumored, was of a keenly critical disposition, instantly noticed
her, and turned to the hostess with an eager question.

“What a charming face that golden-haired girl has!” she said in her
outspoken and yet courteous way. “With all her simplicity there is such
a pretty little touch of dignity. See how perfect her bow is! What is
her name? And may I not be introduced to her?”

“She is a friend of my cousin’s,” explained Mrs. Horner, glad to claim
this sort of proprietorship in any one who had called forth compliments
from the lips of so critical a judge.

“She is Norwegian, and her name is Falck.”

Sigrid liked the bright, clever, majestic-looking Frenchwoman better
than ever after she had talked with her. There was, indeed, in Mme.
Lechertier something very refreshing. Her chief charm was that she was
so utterly unlike any one else. There was about her an individuality
that was really astonishing, and when you heard her talk you felt the
same keen sense of novelty and interest that is awakened by the first
sight of a foreign country. She in her turn was enchanted by Sigrid’s
perfect naturalness and vivacity, and they had become fast friends, when
presently a pause in the music made them both look up.

The pianist, a pale, worn-looking lady, whose black silk dress had an
ominously shiny back, which told its tale of poverty, all at once broke
down, and her white face touched Sigrid’s heart.

“I think she is faint,” she exclaimed. “Do you think I might offer to
play for her?”

“It is a kind thought,” said Mme. Lechertier, and she watched with
interest while the pretty Norwegian girl hastened to the piano, and with
a few hurried words relieved the pianist, who beat a hasty retreat into
the cooler air of the hall.

She played extremely well, and being herself a born dancer, entered into
the spirit of the waltz in a way which her predecessor had wholly failed
to do. Mme. Lechertier was delighted, and when by and by Sigrid was
released she rejoined her, and refused to be borne off to the
supper-room by Mr. Horner.

“No, no,” she said; “let the little people be attended to first. Miss
Falck and I mean to have a quiet talk here.”

So Sigrid told her something of her life at Bergen, and of the national
love of music and dancing, and thoroughly interested her.

“And when do you return?” asked Mme. Lechertier.

“That depends on whether I can find work in England,” replied Sigrid.
“What I wish is to stay in London with my brother. He has been very ill,
and I do not think he ought to live alone.”

“What sort of work do you wish for?” asked Madame Lechertier.

“I would do anything,” said Sigrid. “But the worst of it is everything
is so crowded already, and I have no very special talent.”

“My dear,” said Madame Lechertier, “it seems to me you have a very
decided talent. You play dance music better than any one I ever heard,
and that is saying a good deal. Why do you not turn this to account?”

“Do you think I could?” asked Sigrid, her eyes lighting up eagerly. “Do
you really think I could earn my living by it?”

“I feel sure of it,” said Madame Lechertier. “And if you seriously think
the idea is good I will come and discuss the matter with you. I hear you
are a friend of my old pupil, Miss Boniface.”

“Yes, we are staying now at Rowan Tree House; they have been so good to
us.”

“They are delightful people—the father is one of nature’s true
gentlemen. I shall come and see you, then, and talk this over. To-morrow
morning, if that will suit you.”

Sigrid went home in high spirits, and the next day, when as usual she
and Frithiof were alone in the morning-room after breakfast, she told
him of Madame Lechertier’s proposal, and while they were still
discussing the matter the good lady was announced.

Now, like many people, Madame Lechertier was benevolent by impulse. Had
Sigrid been less attractive, she would not have gone out of her way to
help her; but the Norwegian girl had somehow touched her heart.

“It will be a case of ‘Colors seen by candlelight will not look the same
by day,’” she had reflected as she walked to Rowan Tree House. “I shall
find my pretty Norse girl quite commonplace and uninteresting, and my
castle in the air will fall in ruins.”

But when she was shown into the room where Sigrid sat at work, all her
fears vanished. “The girl has bewitched me!” she thought to herself.
“And the brother, what a fine-looking fellow! There is a history behind
that face if I’m not mistaken.”

“We have just been talking over what you said to me last night, Madame,”
said Sigrid brightly.

“The question is,” said Madame Lechertier, “whether you are really in
earnest in seeking work, and whether you will not object to my proposal.
The fact is that the girl who for some time has played for me at my
principal classes is going to be married. I have, of course, another
assistant upon whom I can, if need be, fall back; but she does not
satisfy me, we do not work well together, and her playing is not to be
compared to yours. I should only need you in the afternoon, and during
the three terms of the year. Each term is of twelve weeks, and the
salary I should offer you would be £24 a term—£2 a week, you see.”

“Oh, Frithiof!” cried Sigrid, in great excitement, “we should be able to
help Swanhild. We could have her over from Norway. Surely your salary
and mine together would keep us all?”

“Who is Swanhild?” asked Madame Lechertier.

“She is our little sister, Madame. She is much younger—only eleven years
old, and as we are orphans, Frithiof and I are her guardians.”

Madame Lechertier looked at the two young faces, smiling to think that
they should be already burdened with the cares of guardianship. It
touched her, and yet at the same time it was almost comical to hear
these two young things gravely talking about their ward.

“You see,” said Frithiof, “there would be her education; one must not
forget that.”

“But at the high schools it is very cheap, is it not, Madame?” said
Sigrid.

“About ten pounds a year,” said Madame Lechertier. “What is your little
sister like, because if she is at all like you—”

“Here is her photograph,” said Sigrid, unfastening her writing-case and
taking out Swanhild’s picture. “This is taken in her peasant costume
which she used to wear sometimes for fun when when we were in the
country. It suits her very well, I think.”

“But she is charming,” cried Madame Lechertier. “Such a dainty little
figure—such well-shaped legs! My dear, I have a bright thought—an
inspiration. Send for your little Swanhild, and when you come to me each
afternoon bring her also in this fascinating costume. She shall be my
little pupil-teacher, and though, of course, her earnings would be but
small, yet they would more than cover her education at a high school,
and she would be learning a useful profession into the bargain.”

She glanced at Frithiof and saw quite plainly that he shrank from the
idea, and that it would go hard with his proud nature to accept such an
offer. She glanced at Sigrid, and saw that the sister was ready to
sacrifice anything for the sake of getting the little girl to England.
Then, having as much tact as kindness, she rose to go.

“You will talk it over between you and let me know your decision,” she
said pleasantly. “Consult Mr. and Mrs. Boniface, and let me know in a
day or two. Why should you not come in to afternoon tea with me
to-morrow, for I shall be at home for once, and can show you my
canaries? Cecil will bring you. She and I are old friends.”

When she was gone Sigrid returned to the room with dancing eyes.

“Is she not delightful!” she cried. “For myself, Frithiof, I can’t
hesitate for a moment. The work will be easy, and she will be thoroughly
kind.”

“She has a bad temper,” said Frithiof.

“How do you know?”

“Because no sweet-tempered woman ever had such a straight, thin-lipped
mouth.”

“I think you are very horrid to pick holes in her when she has been so
kind to us. For myself I must accept. But how about Swanhild?”

“I hate the thought for either of you,” said Frithiof moodily.

Somehow, though his own descent in the social scale had been
disagreeable enough, yet it had not been so intolerable to him as this
thought of work for his sisters.

“Now, Frithiof, don’t go and be a goose about it,” said Sigrid
caressingly. “If we are ever to have a nice, cosy little home together
we must certainly work at something, and we are not likely to get
lighter, or more congenial, or better-paid work than this. Come, dear,
you have got, as Lance would say, to ‘grin and bear it.’”

He sighed.

“In any case, we must give Swanhild herself a voice in the matter,” he
said at length. “Accept the offer if you like, provisionally, and let us
write to her and tell her about it.”

“Very well, we will write a joint letter and give her all sorts of
guardianly advice. But, all the same, you know as well as I do that
Swanhild will not hesitate for a moment. She is dying to come to
England, and she is never so happy as when she is dancing.”

Frithiof thought of that day long ago, when he had come home after
meeting the Morgans at the Bergen landing quay, and had heard Sigrid
playing as he walked up the garden path, and had found Swanhild dancing
so merrily with Lillo, and the old refrain that had haunted him then
returned to him now in bitter mockery:

                   “To-day is just a day to my mind;
                   All sunny before and sunny behind,
                     Over the heather.”

When Roy came home that evening the matter was practically decided.
Frithiof and Sigrid had had a long talk in the library with Mr. and Mrs.
Boniface, and by and by in the garden Sigrid told him gleefully what she
called the “good news.”

“I can afford to laugh now at my aluminium pencils and the embroidery
patterns, and the poodle shaving,” she said gayly. “Was it not lucky
that we happened to go to Mrs. Horner’s party, and that everything
happened just as it did?”

“Do you really like the prospect?” asked Roy.

“Indeed I do. I haven’t felt so happy for months. For now we need never
again be parted from Frithiof. It will be the best thing in the world
for him to have a comfortable little home; and I shall take good care
that he doesn’t work too hard. Mr. Boniface has been so good. He says
that Frithiof can have some extra work to do if he likes; he can attend
some of your concerts, and arrange the platform between the pieces; and
this will add nicely to his salary. And then, too, when he heard that I
had quite decided on accepting Mme. Lechertier’s offer, he proposed
something else for us too.”

“What was that?” said poor Roy, his heart sinking down like lead.

“Why, he thinks that he might get us engagements to play at children’s
parties or small dances. Frithiof’s violin playing is quite good enough,
he says. And don’t you think it would be much better for him than poring
so long over that hateful work of Herr Sivertsen’s?”

Roy was obliged to assent. He saw only too clearly that to speak to her
now of his love would be utterly useless—indeed, worse than useless. She
would certainly refuse him, and there would be an end of the pleasant
intercourse. Moreover, it would be far more difficult to help them, as
they were now able to do in various small ways.

“Frithiof is rather down in the depths about it,” said Sigrid. “And I do
hope you will cheer him up. After all, it is very silly to think that
there is degradation in any kind of honest work. If you had known what
it was to live in dependence on relations for so long you would
understand how happy I am to-night. I, too, shall be able to help in
paying off the debts!”

“Is her life also to be given up to that desperate attempt?” thought Roy
despondently.

And if Sigrid had not been absorbed in her own happy thoughts, his
depression, and perhaps the cause of it, would have been apparent to
her. But she strolled along the garden path beside him, in blissful
ignorance, thinking of a busy, successful future, in which Roy Boniface
played no part at all.

She was his friend, she liked him heartily. But that was all. Whether
their friendship could ever now deepen into love seemed doubtful.



                              CHAPTER XXI.


During the next few days Sigrid was absorbed in deep calculations. She
found that, exclusive of Swanhild’s small earnings, which would be
absorbed by her education and the few extras that might be needed, their
actual yearly income would be about £150. Frithiof’s work for Herr
Sivertsen, and whatever they might earn by evening engagements, could be
laid aside toward the fund for paying off the debts, and she thought
that they might perhaps manage to live on the rest. Mrs. Boniface seemed
rather aghast at the notion, and said she thought it impossible.

“I don’t suppose that we shall spend as little on food as Frithiof did
when he was alone,” said Sigrid, “for he nearly starved himself; and I
don’t mean to allow him to try that again. I see that the great
difficulty will be rent, for that seems so high in London. We were
talking about it this morning, and Frithiof had a bright idea. He says
there are some very cheap flats—workmen’s model lodgings—that might
perhaps do for us; only of course we must make sure that they are quite
healthy before we take Swanhild there.”

“Clean and healthy they are pretty sure to be,” said Mrs. Boniface, “but
I fancy they have strict rules which might be rather irksome to you.
Still, we can go and make inquiries. After all, you would in some ways
be better off than in ordinary lodgings, where you are at the mercy of
the landlady.”

So that afternoon they went to an office where they could get
information as to model dwellings, and found that four rooms could be
obtained in some of them at the rate of seven and sixpence a week. At
this their spirits rose not a little, and they drove at once to a block
which was within fairly easy distance both of the shop and of the rooms
in which Madame Lechertier gave her afternoon dancing-classes.

To outward view the model dwellings were certainly not attractive. The
great high houses with their uniform ugly color, the endless rows of
windows, all precisely alike; the asphalt courtyard in the center,
though tidy and clean, had a desolate look. Still, when you realized
that one might live in such a place for so small a sum, and thought of
many squalid streets where the rental would be twice as high, it was
more easy to appreciate these eminently respectable lodgings.

“At present we have no rooms to let, sir,” was the answer of the
superintendent to Frithiof’s inquiry.

Their spirits sank, but rose again when he added, “I think, though, we
are almost certain to have a set vacant before long.”

“Could we see over them?” they asked.

“Well, the set that will most likely be vacant belongs to a
north-country family, and I dare say they would let you look in. Here,
Jessie, ask your mother if she would mind just showing her rooms, will
you?”

The child, glancing curiously at the visitors, led the way up flight
after flight of clean stone stairs, past wide-open windows, through
which the September wind blew freshly, then down a long passage until at
length she reached a door, which she threw open to announce their
advent. A pleasant-looking woman came forward and asked them to step in.

“You’ll excuse the place being a bit untidy,” she said. “My man has just
got fresh work, and he has but now told me we shall have to be flitting
in a week’s time. We are going to Compton Buildings in the Goswell
Road.”

After Rowan Tree House, the rooms, of course, felt tiny, and they were a
good deal blocked up with furniture, to say nothing of five small
children who played about in the kitchen. But the place was capitally
planned, every inch was turned to account, and Sigrid thought they might
live there very comfortably. She talked over sundry details with the
present owner.

“There’s but one thing, miss, I complain of, and that is that they don’t
put in another cupboard or two,” said the good woman. “Give me another
cupboard and I should be quite content. But you see, miss, there’s
always a something that you’d like to alter, go where you will.”

“I wonder,” said Sigrid, “if we took them, whether I could pay one of
the neighbors to do my share of sweeping and scrubbing the stairs, and
whether I could get them to scrub out these rooms once a week. You see,
I don’t think I could manage the scrubbing very well.”

“Oh, miss, there would be no difficulty in that,” said the woman.
“There’s many that would be thankful to earn a little that way, and the
same with laundry work. You wont find no difficulty in getting that
done. There’s Mrs. Hallifield in the next set; she would be glad enough
to do it, I know, and you couldn’t have a pleasanter neighbor; she’s a
bit lonesome, poor thing, with her husband being so much away. He’s a
tram-car man, he is, and gets terrible long hours week-day and Sunday
alike.”

Owing to the good woman’s north-country accent Sigrid had not been able
quite to follow this last speech, but she understood enough to awaken in
her a keen curiosity, and to show her that their new life might have
plenty of human interest in it. She looked out of one of the windows at
the big square of houses and tried to picture the hundreds of lives
which were being lived in them.

“Do you know, I begin to like this great court-yard,” she said to Cecil.
“At first it looked to me dreary, but now it looks to me like a great,
orderly human hive; there is something about it that makes one feel
industrious.”

“We will settle down here, then,” said Frithiof, smiling; “and you shall
be queen bee.”

“You think it would not hurt Swanhild?” asked Sigrid, turning to Mrs.
Boniface. “The place seems to me beautifully airy.”

“Indeed,” said Mrs. Boniface, “I think in many ways the place is most
comfortable, and certainly you could not do better, unless you give a
very much higher rent.”

But nevertheless she sighed a little, for though she admired the
resolute way in which these two young things set to work to make the
best of their altered life, yet she could not help feeling that they
scarcely realized how long and tedious must be the process of slowly
economizing on a narrow income until the burden which they had taken on
their shoulders could at length be removed. Even to try to pay off debts
which must be reckoned by thousands out of precarious earnings which
would be counted by slow and toilsome units, seemed to her hopeless. Her
kind, gentle nature was without that fiber of dauntless resolution which
strengthened the characters of the two Norwegians. She did not
understand that the very difficulty of the task incited them to make the
attempt, nerved them for the struggle, and stimulated them to that
wonderful energy of patience which overcomes everything.

As for Sigrid, she was now in her element. A true woman, she delighted
in the thought of having rooms of her own to furnish and arrange. She
thought of them by day, she dreamed of them by night; she pored over
store lists and furniture catalogues, and amused them all by her
comments.

“Beds are ruinously dear,” she said, after making elaborate
calculations. “We must have three really comfortable ones since we mean
to work hard all day, and they must certainly be new; the three of them
with all their belongings will not leave very much out of twelve pounds,
I fear. But then as to chairs and tables they might well be second-hand,
and we wont go in for a single luxury; it will look rather bare, but
then there will be less trouble about cleaning and dusting.”

“You will become such a domestic character that we shant know you,” said
Frithiof, laughing. “What do you think we can possibly furnish the rooms
on?”

“Wait a moment and I’ll add up my list,” she said cheerfully. “I never
knew before how many things there were in a house that one can’t do well
without. Now that must surely be all. No, I have forgotten brushes and
brooms and such things. Now then for the adding up. You check me, Cecil,
for fear I make it too little—this is a terrible moment.”

“Twenty-eight pounds,” exclaimed both girls in a breath.

“You can surely never do it on that?” said Cecil.

“It seems a great deal to me,” said Sigrid; “still, I have more than
that over from uncle’s fifty-pound check, even after Doctor Morris is
paid. No, on the whole, I think we need not worry, but may spend as much
as that with a clear conscience. The thing I am anxious about is my
weekly bill. Look here, we must somehow manage to live on one hundred
and forty-five pounds a year, that will leave five pounds in case of
illness or any great need. For charity it leaves nothing, but we can’t
give while we are in debt. Two pounds fifteen shillings a week for three
of us! Why, poor people live on far less.”

“But then you are accustomed to such a different way of living,” said
Cecil.

“That’s true. But still, I think it can somehow be done. You must still
go on with your sixpenny dinners, Frithiof, for it will fit in better.
Then as you and Swanhild will be out all day and I am out for a great
part of the year in the afternoon, I think our coals will last well,
only one fire for part of the day will surely not ruin us.”

“Let me see that neatly arranged paper,” said Frithiof. “I have become
rather a connoisseur in the matter of cheap living, and you had better
take me into your counsels.”

“You don’t know anything about it,” said Sigrid, laughing. “Yours was
not cheap living but cheap starving, which in the end is a costly
affair.”

Frithiof did not argue the point, having in truth often known what
hunger meant in the old days; but he possessed himself of the paper and
studied it carefully. It contained for him much more than the bare
details, it was full of a great hope, of an eager expectation, the
smallness of each item represented a stepping-stone in the highway of
honor, a daily and hourly clearing of his father’s name. He looked long
at the carefully considered list.

                                         £ s. d.

                        Food,            1  2  0
                        Rent,            0  7  6
                        Fuel and light,  0  2  0
                        Laundress,       0  5  0
                        Charwoman,       0  3  0
                        Clothing,        0 14  0
                        Extras,          0  1  6
                                        —— —— ——
                            Total,      £2 15  0
                                        —— —— ——

“With a clever manager it will be quite possible,” he said, “and you are
no novice, Sigrid, but have been keeping house for the last eleven
years.”

“After a fashion,” she replied, “but old Gro really managed things.
However, I know that I shall really enjoy trying my hand at anything so
novel, and you will have to come and see me very often, Cecil, to
prevent my turning into a regular housekeeping drudge.”

Cecil laughed and promised, and the two girls talked merrily together as
they stitched away at the household linen, Frithiof looking up from his
newspaper every now and then to listen. Things had so far brightened
with him that he was ready to take up his life again with patience, but
he had his days of depression even now, though, for Sigrid’s sake, he
tried not to give way more than could be helped. There was no denying,
however, that Blanche had clouded his life, and though he never
mentioned her name, and as far as possible crowded the very thought of
her out of his mind, resolutely turning to work, or books, or the lives
of others, yet her influence was still strong with him, and was one of
the worst foes he had to fight against. It was constantly mocking him
with the vanity of human hopes, with the foolishness of his perfect
trust which had been so grossly betrayed; it was an eternal temptation
to think less highly of women, to take refuge in cynical contempt, and
to sink into a hard, joyless skepticism.

On the other hand, Sigrid, as his sister, and Cecil, as a perfectly
frank and outspoken friend, were no small help to him in the battle.
They could not altogether enter into his thoughts or wholly understand
the loneliness and bitterness of his life, any more than he could enter
into their difficulties, for, even when surrounded by those we love, it
is almost always true that

              “Our hermit spirits dwell and range apart.”

But they made life a very different thing to him and gave him courage to
go on, for they were a continual protest against that lowered side of
womanhood that Blanche had revealed to him. One woman having done her
best to ruin the health alike of his body and his soul, it remained for
these two to counteract her bad influence, and to do for him all that
can be done by sisterly love and pure unselfish friendship.

If there is one thing more striking to an observer of life than any
other it is the strange law of compensation, and its wholly unexpected
working. We see people whose lives are smooth and easy rendered
miserable by some very trifling cause. And, again, we see people whose
griefs and wrongs are heartrending, and behold in spite of their sorrows
they can take pleasure in some very slight amusement, which seems to
break into their darkened lives with a welcome brightness enhanced by
contrast. It was thus with Frithiof. He entered, as men seldom trouble
themselves to enter, into all the minutiæ of the furnishing, spent hours
in Roy’s workshop busy at the carpenter’s bench over such things as
could be made or mended, and enjoyed heartily the planning and arranging
which a year ago he would have voted an intolerable bore.

At length the day came when they were to leave Rowan Tree House. Every
one was sorry to lose them, and they felt going very much, for it was
impossible to express how much those restful weeks had done for them
both. They each tried to say something of the sort to Mr. and Mrs.
Boniface, but not very successfully, for Sigrid broke down and cried,
and Frithiof felt that to put very deep gratitude into words is a task
which might well baffle the readiest speaker. However, there was little
need for speech on either side.

“And when you want change or rest,” said Mrs. Boniface, shaking his hand
warmly, “you have only got to lock up your rooms and come down here to
us. There will always be a welcome ready for the three of you. Don’t
forget that.”

“Let it be your second home,” said Mr. Boniface.

Cecil, who was the one to feel most, said least. She merely shook hands
with him, made some trifling remark about the time of Swanhild’s train,
and wished him good-by; then, with a sore heart, watched the brother and
sister as they stepped into the carriage and drove away.

That chapter of her life was over, and she was quite well aware that the
next chapter would seem terribly dull and insipid. For a moment the
thought alarmed her.

“What have I been doing,” she said to herself, “to let this love get so
great a hold on me? Why is it that no other man in the world seems to me
worth a thought, even though he may be better, and may live a nobler
life than Frithiof?”

She could not honestly blame herself, for it seemed to her that this
strange love had, as the poet says, “Slid into her soul like light.”
Unconsciously it had begun at their very first meeting on the steamer at
Bergen; it had caused that vague trouble and uneasiness which had seized
her at Balholm, and had sprung into conscious existence when Frithiof
had come to them in England, poor, heartbroken, and despairing. The
faithlessness of another woman had revealed to her the passionate
devotion which surged in her own heart, and during these weeks of close
companionship her love had deepened inexpressibly. She faced these facts
honestly, with what Mrs. Horner would have termed “an entire absence of
maidenly propriety.” For luckily Cecil was not in the habit of
marshalling her thoughts into the prim routine prescribed by the world
in general, she had deeper principles to fall back upon than the
conventionalities of such women as Mrs. Horner, and she did not think it
well either willfully to blind herself to the truth, or to cheat her
heart into believing a lie. Quite quietly she admitted to herself that
she loved Frithiof, with a pain which it was impossible to ignore, she
allowed that he did not love her, and that it was quite possible—nay,
highly probable—that she might never be fit to be more to him than a
friend.

Here were the true facts, and she must make the best she could of them.
The thought somehow braced her up. Was “the best” to sit there in her
room sobbing as if her heart would break? How could her tears serve
Frithiof? How could they do anything but weaken her own character and
unfit her for work? They did not even relieve her, for such pain is to
be relieved, not by tears, but by active life. No, she must just go on
living and making the most of what had been given her, leaving the rest

                     “In His high hand
                 Who doth hearts like streams command.”

For her faith was no vague shadow, but a most practical reality, and in
all her pain she was certain that somehow this love of hers was to be of
use, as all real love is bound to be. She stood for some minutes at the
open window; a bird was perched on a tree close by, and she watched it
and noticed how, when suddenly it flew away, the branch quivered and
trembled.

“It is after all only natural to feel this going away,” she reflected.
“Like the tree, I shall soon grow steady again.” And then she heard
Lance’s voice calling her, and, going to the nursery, found a childish
dispute in need of settling, and tiny arms to cling about her, and soft
kisses to comfort her.

Meanwhile, Frithiof and Sigrid had reached the model lodgings, and, key
in hand, were toiling up the long flights of stone stairs. All had been
arranged on the previous day, and now, as they unlocked their door, the
moment seemed to them a grave one, for they were about to begin a new
and unknown life. Sigrid’s heart beat quickly as they entered the little
sitting-room. The door opened straight into it, which was a drawback,
but Mrs. Boniface’s present of a fourfold Japanese screen gave warmth
and privacy, and picturesqueness, by shutting off that corner from view;
and, in spite of extreme economy in furnishing, the place looked very
pretty. A cheerful crimson carpet covered the floor, the buff-colored
walls were bare indeed, for there was a rule against knocking in nails,
but the picture of Bergen stood on the mantel-piece between the
photographs of their father and mother, serving as a continual
remembrance of home and of a countryman’s kindness. Facing the fire was
a cottage piano lent by Mr. Boniface for as long as they liked to keep
it, and on the open shelves above a corner cupboard were ranged the blue
willow-pattern cups and saucers which Sigrid had delighted in buying.

“They were much too effective to be banished to the kitchen, were they
not?” she said. “I am sure they are far prettier than a great deal of
the rare old china I have seen put up in drawing-rooms.”

“How about the fire?” said Frithiof. “Shall I light it?”

“Yes; do. We must have a little one to boil the kettle, and Swanhild is
sure to come in cold after that long journey. I’ll just put these
flowers into Cecil’s little vases. How lovely they are! Do you know,
Frithiof, I think our new life is going to be like the smell of these
chrysanthemums—healthy and good, and a sort of bitter-sweet.”

“I never knew they had any smell,” he said, still intent on his fire.

“Live and learn,” said Sigrid, laughingly holding out to him the basket
of beautiful flowers—red, white, crimson, yellow, russet, and in every
variety.

He owned that she was right. And just as with the scent of violets there
always rose before him the picture of the crowded church, and of Blanche
in her bridal dress, so ever after the scent of chrysanthemums brought
back to him the bright little room and the flickering light of the newly
kindled fire, and Sigrid’s golden hair and sweet face. So that, in
truth, these flowers were to him a sort of tonic, as she had said,
“Healthy and good.”

“I should like to come to King’s Cross too,” said Sigrid. “But perhaps
it is better that I should stay here and get things quite ready. I hope
Swanhild will turn up all right. She seems such a little thing to travel
all that way alone.”

When he had set off, she began with great satisfaction to lay the table
for tea; the white cloth was certainly coarse; but she had bought it and
hemmed it, and declared that fine damask would not have suited the
willow-pattern plates nearly so well. Then, after a struggle, the tin of
pressed beef was opened, and the loaf and butter and the vases of
chrysanthemums put in their places, and the toast made and standing
before the fire to keep hot. After that she kept putting a touch here
and a touch there to one thing and another, and then standing back to
see how it looked, much as an artist does when finishing a picture. How
would it strike Swanhild? was the thought which was always with her. She
put everything tidy in the bare little kitchen, where, in truth, there
was not one unnecessary piece of furniture. She took some of Frithiof’s
things out of his portmanteau, and made his narrow little bedroom look
more habitable; and she lingered long in the room with the two beds side
by side, tidying and arranging busily, but running back into the
sitting-room every few minutes to see that all was well there.

At last she heard the door-handle turned, and Frithiof’s voice.

“You’ll find her quite a domesticated character,” he was saying; and in
another minute Swanhild was in her arms, none the worse for her lonely
journey, but very glad to feel her cares at an end.

“Oh, Sigrid!” she cried, with childlike glee; “what a dear, funny little
room! And how cosy you have made it! Why, there’s the picture of Bergen!
and oh, what a pretty-looking tea-table! I’m dreadfully hungry, Sigrid.
I was afraid to get out of the train for fear it should go on. They seem
to go so dreadfully fast here, everything is in a bustle.”

“You poor child, you must be starving!” cried Sigrid. “Come and take
your things off quickly. She really looks quite thin and pale, does she
not, Frithiof?”

He glanced at the fair, merry little face, smiling at him from under its
fringe of golden hair.

“She doesn’t feel so very bony,” he said, laughing.

“Oh, and I did eat something,” explained Swanhild. “There was an old
lady who gave me two sandwiches, but they were so dreadfully full of
fat. I do really think there ought to be a law against putting fat in
sandwiches so that you bite a whole mouthful of it.”

They all laugh, and Frithiof, who was unstrapping the box which he had
carried up, looked so cheerful and bright, that Sigrid began to think
Swanhild might prove a very valuable little companion.

“What do you think of your new bedroom?” he asked.

“It’s lovely!” cried Swanhild. “What a funny, round bath, and such a
tiny tin washing-stand, just like the one in the old doll’s house on
three legs. And oh, Sigrid, auntie has sent us three lovely eider-down
quilts as a Christmas present, only she thought I might as well bring
them now.”

It was a very merry meal, that first tea in the model lodgings. Swanhild
had so much to tell them and so much to hear, and they lingered at the
table with a pleasant consciousness that actual work did not begin till
the following day.

“There’s one thing which we had better make up our minds to at once,”
said Sigrid, when at length they rose. “Since we have got to wait on
ourselves, we may as well try to enjoy it and get what fun we can out of
it. Come, Swanhild, I will wash the tea-things and you shall dry them.”

“As for me,” said Frithiof, suddenly appearing at the kitchen door in
his shirt sleeves, “I am shoe-black to the establishment.”

“You! oh, Frithiof!” cried Swanhild, startled into gravity. There was
something incongruous in the idea of her big brother turning to this
sort of work.

“I assure you it is in the bond,” he said, smiling. “Sigrid is cook and
housekeeper; you are the lady-help; and I am the man for the coals,
knives, and boots. Every respectable household has a man for that part
of the work, you know.”

“Yes, yes,” she hesitated; “but you—”

“She clearly doesn’t think me competent,” he said, laughingly
threatening her with his brush.

“Order! order! you two, or there will be teacups broken,” said Sigrid,
laughing. “I believe he will do the boots quite scientifically, for he
has really studied the subject. There, put the china in the
sitting-room, Swanhild, on the corner shelves, and then we will come and
unpack.”

By nine o’clock everything was arranged, and they came back to the
sitting-room, where Frithiof had lighted the pretty little lamp, and was
writing to Herr Sivertsen to say he would be glad of more work.

“Come,” said Sigrid, “the evening wont be complete without some music,
and I am dying to try that piano. What shall be the first thing we play
in our new home, Swanhild?”

“‘For Norge,’” said the little girl promptly.

“Do you know we had quite a discussion about that at Rowan Tree House
the other night,” said Sigrid. “They were all under the impression that
it was an English air, and only knew it as a glee called “The Hardy
Norseman.” Mr. Boniface calls Frithiof his Hardy Norseman because he got
well so quickly.”

“Come and sing, Frithiof, do come,” pleaded Swanhild, slipping her hand
caressingly into his and drawing him toward the piano. And willingly
enough he consented, and in their new home in this foreign land they
sang together the stirring national song—

              “To Norway, mother of the brave,
              We crown the cup of pleasure,
              And dream our freedom come again
              And grasp the vanished treasure.
              When once the mighty task’s begun,
              The glorious race is swift to run;
              To Norway, mother of the brave,
              We crown the cup of pleasure.

                    *      *      *      *      *

              “Then drink to Norway’s hills sublime,
              Rocks, snows, and glens profound;
              ‘Success!’ her thousand echoes cry,
              And thank us with the sound.
              Old Dovre mingles with our glee,
              And joins our shouts with three times three.
              Then drink to Norway’s hills sublime.
              Rocks, snows, and glens profound.”



                             CHAPTER XXII.


“My dear, she is charming, your little Swanhild! She is a born dancer
and catches up everything with the greatest ease,” said Madame
Lechertier one autumn afternoon, when Sigrid at the usual time entered
the big, bare room where the classes were held. She was dressed at
madame’s request in her pretty peasant costume, and Swanhild, also, had
for the first time donned hers, which, unlike Sigrid’s, was made with
the shortest of skirts, and, as Madame Lechertier said, would prove an
admirable dress for a pupil teacher.

“You think she will really be of use to you, Madame?” asked Sigrid,
glancing to the far end of the big room, where the child was, for her
own amusement, practicing a step which she had just learnt. “If she is
no good we should not of course like her to take any money.”

“Yes, yes,” said Madame Lechertier, patting her on the shoulder
caressingly. “You are independent and proud, I know it well enough. But
I assure you, Swanhild will be a first-rate little teacher, and I am
delighted to have her. There is no longer any need for her to come to me
every morning, for I have taught her all that she will at present need,
and no doubt you are in a hurry for her to go on with her ordinary
schooling.”

“I have arranged for her to go to a high school, in the mornings, after
Christmas,” said Sigrid, “and she must, till then, work well at her
English or she will not take a good place. It will be a very busy life
for her, but then we are all of us strong and able to get through a good
deal.”

“And her work with me is purely physical and will not overtask her,”
said Madame, glancing with approving eyes at the pretty little figure at
the end of the room. “Dear little soul! she has the most perfect manners
I ever saw in a child! Her charm to me is that she is so bright and
unaffected. What is it, I wonder, that makes you Norwegians so
spontaneous? so perfectly simple and courteous?”

“In England,” said Sigrid, “people seem to me to have two sides, a rough
home side, and a polite society side. The Bonifaces reverse the order
and keep their beautiful side for home and a rather shy side for
society, but still they, like all the English people I have met, have
distinctly two manners. In Norway there is nothing of that. I think
perhaps we think less about the impression we are making; and I think
Norwegians more naturally respect each other.”

She was quite right; it was this beautiful respect, this reverence for
the rights and liberties of each other, that made the little home in the
model lodgings so happy; while her own sunny brightness and sweetness of
temper made the atmosphere wholesome. Frithiof, once more amid congenial
surroundings, seemed to regain his native courtesy, and though Mr.
Horner still disliked him, most of those with whom he daily came in
contact learnt at any rate to respect him, and readily forgave him his
past pride and haughtiness when they learnt how ill he had been and saw
what a change complete recovery had wrought in him.

Swanhild prospered well on that first Saturday afternoon, and Madame
Lechertier was quite satisfied with her little idea as to the Norwegian
costumes; the pretty foreigner at the piano, and the dainty little Norse
girl who danced so bewitchingly, caused quite a sensation in the class,
and the two sisters went home in high spirits, delighted to have pleased
their kind-hearted employer. They had only just returned and taken off
their walking things when there came a loud knock at the door. Swanhild
still in her Hardanger dress ran to see what was wanted, and could
hardly help laughing at the funny-looking old man who inquired whether
Frithiof were in.

“Still out, you say,” he panted; “very provoking. I specially wanted to
see him on a matter of urgency.”

“Will you not come in and wait?” said the child. “Frithiof will soon be
home.”

“Thank you,” said old Herr Sivertsen. “These stairs are terrible work. I
shall be glad not to have to climb them again. But houses are all alike
in London—all alike! Story after story, till they’re no better than the
Tower of Babel.”

Sigrid came forward with her pretty, bright greeting and made the old
man sit down by the fire.

“Frithiof has gone for a walk with a friend of his,” she explained. “But
he will be home in a few minutes. I always persuade him to take a good
walk on Saturday if possible.”

“In consequence of which he doesn’t get through half as much work for
me,” said Herr Sivertsen. “However, you are quite right. He needed more
exercise. Is he quite well again?”

“Quite well, thank you; though I suppose he will never be so strong as
he once was,” she said a little sadly. “You see, overwork and trouble
and poor living must in the long run injure even a strong man.”

“There are no strong men nowadays, it seems to me,” said the old author
gruffly. “They all knock up sooner or later—a degenerate race—a
worthless generation.”

“Well, the doctor says he must have had a very fine constitution to have
recovered so fast,” said Sigrid. “Still, I feel rather afraid sometimes
of his doing too much again. Were you going to suggest some more work
for him?”

“Yes, I was; but perhaps it is work in which you could help him,” said
Herr Sivertsen, and he explained to her his project.

“If only I could make time for it,” she cried. “But you see we all have
very busy lives. I have to see to the house almost entirely, and there
is always either mending or making in hand. And Swanhild and I are out
every afternoon at Madame Lechertier’s academy. By the by, that is why
we have on these peasant costumes, which must have surprised you.”

“It is a pretty dress, and takes me back to my old days at home,” said
Herr Sivertsen. “As to the work, do what you can of it, there is no
immediate hurry. Here comes your brother!” and the old man at once
button-holed Frithiof, while Roy, who had returned with him, was ready
enough to talk with Sigrid as she stood by the fire making toast, little
Swanhild in the mean time setting the table for afternoon tea, lighting
the lamp, and drawing the curtains.

Herr Sivertsen found himself drinking tea before he knew what he was
about, and the novelty of the little household quite shook him out of
his gruff surliness. Strange bygone memories came floating back to him
as he listened to the two girls’ merry talk, watched them as suddenly
they broke into an impromptu dance, and begged them to sing to him the
old tunes which for so many years he had not heard.

“I am sorry to say,” observed Sigrid, laughing, “that our next-door
neighbor, Mrs. Hallifield, tells me the general belief in the house is
that we belong to the Christy Minstrels. English people don’t seem to
understand that one can dance and sing at home for pure pleasure and not
professionally.”

After that the old author often paid them a visit, and they learned to
like him very much and to enjoy his tirades against the degenerate
modern race. And thus with hard work, enlivened now and then by a visit
to Rowan Tree House, or by a call from the Bonifaces, the winter slipped
by, and the trees grew green once more, and they were obliged to own
that even this smoky London had a beauty all its own.

“Did you ever see anything so lovely as all this pink may and yellow
laburnum?” cried Sigrid, as one spring evening she and Frithiof walked
westward to fulfill one of the evening engagements to which they had now
become pretty well accustomed.

“No; we had nothing equal to this at Bergen,” he admitted, and in very
good spirits they walked on, past the great wealthy houses; he with his
violin-case, and she with a big roll of music, well content with the
success they had worked hard to win, and not at all disposed to envy the
West End people. It was indeed a great treat to Sigrid to have a glimpse
of so different a life. She had toiled so often up the long stone
stairs, that to be shown up a wide, carpeted staircase, into which one’s
feet seemed to sink as into moss, was a delightful change, and snugly
ensconced in her little corner behind the piano, she liked to watch the
prettily decorated rooms and the arrival of the gayly dressed people.
Frithiof, who had at first greatly disliked this sort of work, had
become entirely accustomed to it: it no longer hurt his pride, for
Sigrid had nearly succeeded in converting him to her doctrine, that a
noble motive ennobles any work; and if ever things annoyed him or chafed
his independence, he thought of the debts at Bergen, and was once more
ready to endure anything. This evening he happened to be particularly
cheerful; things had gone well lately at the shop; his health was
increasing every day, and the home atmosphere had done a great deal to
banish the haunting thoughts of the past which in solitude had so preyed
on his mind. They discussed the people in Norwegian during the
intervals, and in a quiet way were contriving to get a good deal of fun
out of the evening, when suddenly their peace was invaded by the
unexpected sight of the very face which Frithiof had so strenuously
tried to exile from his thoughts. They had just finished a waltz. Sigrid
looked up from her music and saw, only a few yards distant from her, the
pretty willowy figure, the glowing face and dark eyes and siren-like
smile of Lady Romiaux. For a moment her heart seemed to stop beating,
then with a wild hope that possibly Frithiof might not have noticed her,
she turned to him with intense anxiety. But his profile looked as though
it were carved in white stone, and she saw only too plainly that the
hope was utterly vain.

“Frithiof,” she said in Norwegian, “you are faint. Go out into the cool
and get some water before the next dance.”

He seemed to hear her voice, but not to take in her words; there was a
dazed look in his face, and such despair in his eyes that her heart
failed her. All the terrible dread for his health again returned to her.
It seemed as if nothing could free him from the fatal influence which
Blanche had gained over him.

How she longed to get up and rush from the house! How she loathed that
woman who stood flirting with the empty-headed man standing at her side!
If it had not been for her perfidy how different all might now be!

“I can’t help hating her!” thought poor Sigrid. “She has ruined
Frithiof’s life, and now in one moment has undone the work of months.
She brought about my father’s failure; if she had been true we should
not now be toiling to pay off these terrible debts—hundreds of homes in
Bergen would have been saved from a cruel loss—and he—my father—he might
have been alive and well! How can I help hating her?”

At that moment Blanche happened to catch sight of them. The color
deepened in her cheeks.

“Have they come to that?” she thought. “Oh, poor things! How sorry I am
for them! Papa told me Herr Falck had failed; but to have sunk so low!
Well, since they lost all their money it was a mercy that all was over
between us. And yet, if I had been true to him—”

Her companion wondered what made her so silent all at once. But in truth
poor Blanche might well be silent, for into her mind there flashed a
dreadful vision of past sins; standing there in the ball-room in her gay
satin dress and glittering diamonds, there had come to her, almost for
the first time, a sense of responsibility for the evil she had wrought.
It was not Frithiof’s life alone that she had rendered miserable. She
had sinned far more deeply against her husband, and though in a sort of
bravado she tried to persuade herself that she cared for nothing, and
accepted the invitations sent her by the people who would still receive
her at their houses, she was all the time most wretched. So strangely
had good and evil tendencies been mingled in her nature that she caught
herself wondering sometimes whether she really was one woman; she had
her refined side and her vulgar side; she could be one day
tender-hearted and penitent, and the next day a hard woman of the world;
she could at one time be the Blanche of that light-hearted Norwegian
holiday, and at another the Lady Romiaux of notoriety.

“How extraordinary that I should chance to meet my Viking here!” she
thought to herself. “How very much older he looks! How very much his
face has altered! One would have thought that to come down in the world
would have cowed him a little; but it seems somehow to have given him
dignity. I positively feel afraid of him. I, who could once turn him
round my finger—I, for whom he would have died! How ridiculous of me to
be afraid! After all, I could soon get my old power over him if I chose
to try. I will go and speak to them; it would be rude not to notice them
in their new position, poor things.”

With a word of explanation to her partner she hastily crossed over to
the piano. But when she met Frithiof’s eyes her heart began to beat
painfully, and once more the feeling of fear returned to her. He looked
very grave, very sad, very determined. The greeting which she had
intended to speak died away on her lips; instead, she said, rather
falteringly:

“Will you tell me the name of the last waltz?”

He bowed, and began to turn over the pile of music to find the piece.

“Frithiof,” she whispered, “have you forgotten me? Have you nothing to
say to me?”

But he made as though he did not hear her, gravely handed her the music,
then, turning away, took up his violin and signed to Sigrid to begin the
next dance.

Poor Blanche was eagerly claimed by her next partner, and with burning
cheeks and eyes bright with unshed tears, was whirled off though her
feet seemed weighted and almost refused to keep time with that violin
whose tones seemed to tear her heart. “I have no longer any power over
him,” she thought. “I have so shocked and disgusted him that he will not
even recognize me—will not answer me when I speak to him! How much
nobler he is than these little toads with whom I have to dance, these
wretches who flatter me, yet all the time despise me in their hearts!
Oh, what a fool I have been to throw away a heart like that, to be
dazzled by a mere name, and, worst of all, to lose not only his love but
his respect! I shall see his face in a moment as we go past that corner.
There he is! How sad and stern he looks, and how resolutely he goes on
playing! I shall hate this tune all my life long. I have nothing left
but the power to give him pain—I who long to help him, who am tortured
by this regret!”

All this time she was answering the foolish words of her partner at
random. And the evening wore on, and she laughed mechanically and talked
by rote, and danced, oh, how wearily! thinking often of a description of
the Inferno she had lately seen in one of the magazines, in which the
people were obliged to go on pretending to amuse themselves, and
dancing, as she now danced, when they only longed to lie down and die.

“But, after all, I can stop,” she reflected. “I am not in the Inferno
yet—at least I suppose not, though I doubt if it can be much worse than
this. How pretty and innocent that little fair-haired girl looks—white
net and lilies of the valley; I should think it must be her first dance.
Will she ever grow like me, I wonder? Perhaps some one will say to her,
‘That is the celebrated Lady Romiaux.’ Perhaps she will read the
newspapers when the case comes on, as it must come soon. They may do her
terrible harm. Oh, if only I could undo the past! I never thought of all
this at the time. I never thought till now of any one but myself.”

That thought of the possibility of stopping the dismal mockery of
enjoyment came to her again, and she eagerly seized the first
opportunity of departure; but when once the strain of the excitement was
over her strength all at once evaporated. Feeling sick and faint, she
lay back in a cushioned chair in the cloak-room; her gold plush mantle
and the lace mantilla which she wore on her head made her look ghastly
pale, and the maid came up to her with anxious inquiries.

“It is nothing but neuralgia,” she replied wearily. “Let them call my
carriage.”

And then came a confused sound of wheels outside in the street and
shouts echoing through the night, while from above came the sound of the
dancers, and that resolute, indefatigable violin still going on with the
monotonous air of “Sir Roger de Coverley,” as though it were played by a
machine rather than by a man with a weary head and a heavy heart.
Blanche wandered back to recollections of Balholm; she saw that merry
throng in the inn parlor, she saw Ole Kvikne with his kindly smile, and
Herr Falck with his look of content, and she flew down the long lines of
merry dancers once more to meet Frithiof—the boyish, happy-looking
Frithiof with whom she had danced “Sir Roger” two years ago.

“Lady Romiaux’s carriage is at the door,” said a voice, and she hastily
got up, made her way through the brightly lighted hall, and with a sense
of relief stepped into her brougham. Still the violin played on, its gay
tune ringing out with that strange sadness which dance music at a
distance often suggests. Blanche could bear it no longer; she drew up
the carriage window, sank back into the corner, and broke into a
passionate fit of weeping.

It was quite possible for Lady Romiaux to go, but the dance was not yet
over, and Frithiof and Sigrid had, of course, to stay to the bitter end.
Sigrid, tired as she was herself, had hardly a thought for anything
except her twin. As that long, long evening wore on it seemed to her
that if possible she loved him better than she had ever done before; his
quiet endurance appealed to her very strongly, but for his sake she
eagerly wished for the end, for she saw by the look of his forehead that
one of his worst headaches had come on.

And at length the programme had been toiled through. She hurried
downstairs to put on her cloak and hat, rejoining Frithiof in a few
minutes in the crowded hall, where he stood looking, to her fond fancy,
a thousand times nobler and grander than any of the other men about him.

He gave a sigh of relief as they passed from the heated atmosphere of
the house into the cool darkness without. The stars were still visible,
but faint tokens of the coming dawn were already to be seen in the
eastern sky. The stillness was delightful after the noise of the music
and dancing, which had so jarred upon him; but he realized now how great
the strain had been, and even out here in the quiet night it seemed to
him that shadowy figures were being whirled past him, and that Blanche’s
eyes were still seeking him out.

“You are very tired?” asked Sigrid, slipping her arm into his.

“Yes, tired to death,” he said. “It is humiliating for a fellow to be
knocked up by so little.”

“I do not call it ‘little,’” she said eagerly. “You know quite well it
was neither the heat nor the work which tired you. Oh, Frithiof, how
could that woman dare to speak to you!”

“Hush!” he said sadly. “Talking only makes it worse. I wish you would
drive the thought out of my head with something else. Say me some
poetry—anything.”

“I hardly know what I can say unless it is an old poem that Cecil gave
me when we were at Rowan Tree House, but I don’t think it is in your
style quite.”

“Anything will do,” he said.

“Well, you shall have it then; it is an old fourteenth-century hymn.”
And in her clear voice she repeated the following lines as they walked
home through the deserted streets:

                “Fighting the battle of life,
                  With a weary heart and head;
                For in the midst of the strife
                  The banners of joy are fled!
                Fled, and gone out of sight,
                  When I thought they were so near,
                And the murmur of hope this night
                  Is dying away on my ear.

                Fighting alone to-night,
                  With not even a stander-by
                To cheer me on in the fight,
                  Or to hear me when I cry;
                Only the Lord can hear,
                  Only the Lord can see,
                The struggle within, how dark and drear,
                  Though quiet the outside be.

                Lord, I would fain be still
                  And quiet behind my shield,
                But make me to know Thy will,
                  For fear I should ever yield;
                Even as now my hands,
                  So doth my folded will,
                Lie waiting Thy commands,
                  Without one anxious thrill.

                But as with sudden pain
                  My hands unfold and clasp,
                So doth my will stand up again
                  And take its old firm grasp;
                Nothing but perfect trust,
                  And love of Thy perfect will,
                Can raise me out of the dust,
                  And bid my fears be still.

                Oh, Lord, Thou hidest Thy face,
                  And the battle-clouds prevail;
                Oh, grant me Thy sweet grace,
                  That I may not utterly fail.
                Fighting alone to-night,
                  With what a beating heart!
                Lord Jesus in the fight,
                  Oh! stand not Thou apart!”

He made no comment at all when she had ended the poem, but in truth it
had filled his mind with other thoughts. And the dim, dreary streets
through which they walked, and the gradually increasing light in the
east, seemed like a picture of his own life, for there dawned for him in
his sadness a clearer revelation of the Unseen than had ever before been
granted him.



                             CHAPTER XXIII.


It seemed to Sigrid that she had hardly gone to bed before it was time
to get up again; she sleepily wished that Londoners would give dances at
more reasonable hours, then, remembering all that had happened, she
forgot her own weariness and turned with an eager question to Swanhild.
It was the little sister’s daily duty to go in and wake Frithiof up, a
task of some difficulty, for either his bad habit of working at night
during his lonely year in town, or else his illness, had left him with a
tendency to be wide awake between twelve and two and sound asleep
between six and seven.

“You haven’t called him yet, have you?” asked Sigrid, rubbing her eyes.

“No, but it is quite time,” said Swanhild, shutting up her atlas and
rearing up in the bed where she had been luxuriously learning geography.

“Oh, leave him a little longer,” said Sigrid. “We were so late last
night, and his head was so bad, that I don’t suppose he has had much
sleep. And, Swanhild, whatever you do, don’t speak of the dance to him
or ask him any questions. As ill luck would have it Lady Romiaux was
there.”

Now Swanhild was a very imaginative child, and she was just at the age
when girls form extravagant adorations for women. At Balholm she had
worshiped Blanche; even when told afterward how badly Frithiof had been
treated her love had not faltered, she had invented every possible
excuse for her idol, and though never able to speak of her, still
cherished a little hoard of souvenirs of Balholm. There is something
laughable and yet touching in these girlish adorations, and as
safeguards against premature thoughts of real love they are certainly
worthy of all encouragement. Men were at present nothing at all to her
but a set of big brothers, who did well enough as playfellows. All the
romance of her nature was spent on an ideal Blanche—how unlike the real
Lady Romiaux innocent Swanhild never guessed. While the world talked
hard things, this little Norwegian girl was secretly kissing a fir-cone,
which Blanche had once picked up on their way to the priest’s _saeter_,
or furtively unwrapping a withered rose which had been fastened in
Blanche’s hair at the merry dance on that Saturday night. Her heart beat
so fast that she felt almost choked when Sigrid suddenly mentioned Lady
Romiaux’s name.

“How was she looking?” she asked, turning away her blushing face with
the most comical parody of a woman’s innate tendency to hide her love.

“Oh, she was looking just as usual, as pretty, and as siren-like as
ever, wretched woman!” Then, remembering that Swanhild was too young to
hear all the truth, she suddenly drew up. “But there, don’t speak of her
any more. I never wish to hear her name again.”

Poor Swanhild sighed; she thought Sigrid very hard and unforgiving, and
this made her cling all the more to her beloved ideal; it was true she
had been faithless to Frithiof, but no doubt she was very sorry by this
time, and as the child knelt down to say her morning prayers she paused
long over the petition for “Blanche,” which for all this time had never
been omitted once.

Frithiof came to breakfast only a few minutes before the time when he
had to start for business. His eyes looked very heavy, and his face had
the pale, set look which Sigrid had learnt to interpret only too well.
She knew that while they had been sleeping he had been awake, struggling
with those old memories which at times would return to him; he had
conquered, but the conquest had left him weary, and exhausted and
depressed.

“If only she had been true to him!” thought Swanhild. “Poor Blanche! if
he looked at all like this last night how terribly sorry she must have
felt.”

After all, the child with her warm-hearted forgiveness, and her scanty
knowledge of facts, was perhaps a good deal nearer the truth than
Sigrid. Certainly Blanche was not the ideal of her dreams, but she was
very far from being the hopelessly depraved character that Sigrid deemed
her; she was a woman who had sinned very deeply, but she was not utterly
devoid of heart, and there were gleams of good in her to which the
Norwegian girl, in her hot indignation, was altogether blind. Sigrid was
not faultless, and as with Frithiof, so there lingered too with her a
touch of the fierce, unforgiving spirit which had governed their Viking
ancestors.

More than once that morning as she moved about her household tasks she
said under her breath—“I wish that woman were dead!—I wish she were
dead!”

“You don’t look well this morning, Mr. Falck,” said the foreman, a
cheerful, bright-eyed, good-hearted old man, who had managed to bring up
a large family on his salary, and to whom Frithiof had often applied for
advice on the subject of domestic economy. The two liked each other now
cordially, and worked well together, Foster having altogether lost the
slight prejudice he had at first felt against the foreigner.

“We were up late last night,” said Frithiof, by way of explanation. But
the old man was shrewd and quick-sighted, and happening later on to be
in Mr. Boniface’s private room, he seized the opportunity to remark:

“We shall have Mr. Falck knocking up again, sir, if I’m not mistaken: he
is looking very ill to-day.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Mr. Boniface. “You were quite right to
tell me, Foster. We will see what can be done.”

And the foreman knew that there was no favoritism in this speech, for
Mr. Boniface considered the health of his employees as a matter of the
very highest importance, and being a Christian first and a tradesman
afterward, did not consider money-making to be the great object of life.
Many a time good old Foster himself had been sent down for a few days at
the seaside with his family, and it was perhaps a vivid remembrance of
the delights of West Codrington that made him add as he left the room:

“He looks to me, sir, as if he needed bracing up.”

Mr. Boniface was much of the same opinion when he noticed Frithiof later
on in the day. A thoroughly good salesman the Norwegian had always
been—clear-headed, courteous, and accurate; but now the look of effort
which he had borne for some time before his illness was clearly visible,
and Mr. Boniface seized the first chance he could get of speaking to him
alone. About five o’clock there came a lull in the tide of customers;
Darnell, the man at the opposite counter, had gone to tea, and Frithiof
had gone back to his desk to enter some songs in the order-list.

“Frithiof,” said Mr. Boniface, coming over to him and dropping the
somewhat more formal style of address which he generally used toward him
during business hours, “you have got one of your bad headaches.”

“Yes,” replied the Norwegian candidly, “but it is not a disabling one. I
shall get through all right.”

“What plans have you made for your Whitsuntide holiday?”

“I don’t think we had made any plan at all.”

“Then I want you all to come away with us for a few days,” said the
shop-owner. “You look to me as if you wanted rest. Come to us for a
week; I will arrange for your absence.”

“You are very good,” said Frithiof warmly. “But indeed I would rather
only take the general holiday of Saturday to Tuesday. I am not in the
least ill, and would rather not take extra days when there is no need.”

“Independent as ever,” said Mr. Boniface, with a smile. “Well, it must
be as you like. We will see what the three days will do for you.”

Where and how this holiday was to be spent only Mr. and Mrs. Boniface
knew, and Cecil and Roy were as much astonished as any one when, at two
o’clock on Saturday afternoon, a coach and four stopped at the gate of
Rowan Tree House.

“What! are we to drive there?” asked Cecil. “Oh, father, how delightful!
Will it be very far?”

“Yes, a long drive; so keep out plenty of wraps, in case the evening is
chilly. We can tuck away the children inside if they get tired. Now, are
we all ready? Then we will drive to the model lodgings.”

So off they started, a very merry party, but still merrier when the
three Norwegians had joined them, the girls, as usual, dressed in black,
for economy’s sake, but wearing very dainty little white sailor hats,
which Sigrid had sat up on the previous night to trim. She enjoyed her
new hat amazingly; she enjoyed locking up the lodgings and handing the
key to the caretaker; she enjoyed the delicious prospect of three days’
immunity from cooking, and cleaning, and anxious planning of food and
money; and she enjoyed Roy’s presence, with the frank, free happiness of
a girl who is as yet quite heart-whole.

“I feel like the ‘linen-draper bold,’ in the ballad,” said Mr. Boniface,
with his hearty laugh. “But I have taken precautions, you see, against a
similar catastrophe. We have had more than the ‘twice ten tedious years’
together, have we not, Loveday?”

“Yes,” she said, with her sweet, expressive smile, “we are just
beginning the twenty-seventh, Robin, and have had many holidays, unlike
Mr. and Mrs. Gilpin.”

They were still like lovers, this husband and wife of twenty-six years’
standing; and it was with a sort of consciousness that they would be
happier if left to themselves, that Frithiof, who sat between Mrs.
Boniface and Cecil, turned toward the latter, and began to talk to her.

Cecil was looking her very best that day. The sun lighted up her fair
hair, the fresh wind brought a glow of healthy color to her cheeks, her
honest gray eyes had lost the grave look which they usually wore, and
were bright and happy-looking; for she was not at all the sort of girl,
who, because she could not get her own wish, refused to enjoy life. She
took all that came to her brightly enough, and, with a presentiment that
such a treat as this drive with Frithiof would not often fall to her
lot, she gave herself up to present happiness, and put far from her all
anxieties and fears for the future. From the back seat, peals of
laughter from Lance, and Gwen, and Swanhild reached them. In front, by
the side of the driver, they could see Roy and Sigrid absorbed in their
own talk; and with such surroundings it would have been hard indeed if
these two, the Norwegian, with his sad story, and Cecil, with her life
overshadowed by his trouble, had not been able for a time to throw off
everything that weighed them down, and enjoy themselves like the rest.

“This is a thousand times better than a cariole or a stolkjaerre,” said
Frithiof. “What a splendid pace we are going at, and how well you see
the country! It is the perfection of traveling.”

“So I think,” said Cecil. “At any rate, on such a day as this. In rain,
or snow, or burning heat, it might be rather trying. And then, of
course, in the old days we should not have had it all snugly to
ourselves like this; which makes such a difference.”

He thought over those last words for a minute, and reflected how among
“ourselves” Cecil included the little children of a criminal, and the
foreigners who had scarcely been known to them for two years. Her warm,
generous heart had for him a very genuine attraction. Possibly, if it
had not been for that chance meeting with Blanche, which had caused an
old wound to break out anew, some thought of love might have stirred in
his breast. As it was, he was merely grateful to her for chasing away
the gloom that for the last few days had hung about him like a fog. She
was to him a cheering ray of sunshine; a healthy breeze that dispersed
the mist; a friend—but nothing more.

On they drove, free of houses at last, or passing only isolated farms,
little villages, and sleepy country towns. The trees were in all the
exquisite beauty of early June, and the Norwegians, accustomed to less
varied foliage, were enthusiastic in their admiration. They had never
known before what it was to drive along a road bordered by picturesque
hedges, with stately elms here and there, and with oaks and beeches,
sycamores and birches, poplars and chestnuts scattered in such lavish
profusion throughout the landscape.

“If we can beat you in mountains, you can certainly beat us in trees!”
cried Sigrid, her blue eyes bright with happiness.

She was enjoying it all as only those who have been toiling in a great
town can enjoy the sights and sounds of the country. The most humdrum
things had an attraction for her, and when they stopped by and by for
tea, at a little roadside inn, she almost wished their drive at an end,
such a longing came over her to run out into the fields and just gather
flowers to her heart’s content.

At last, after a great deal of tea and bread and butter had been
consumed, they mounted the coach again, leaving a sort of reflection of
their happiness in the hearts of the people of the inn.

“There’s merry-makers and merry-makers,” remarked the landlord, glancing
after them; “yon’s the right sort, and no mistake.”

And now Mr. Boniface began to enjoy to the full his surprise. How he
laughed when they implored him to say where they were going! How
triumphant he was when the driver, who was as deaf as a post, utterly
declined to answer leading questions put to him by Roy!

“I believe we are going to Helmstone, or some great watering-place,
where we shall have to be proper and wear gloves,” said Cecil.

This was received with groans.

“But to get a sight of the sea one would put up with glove-wearing,”
said Sigrid. “And we could, at any rate, walk out into the country, I
suppose, for flowers.”

Mr. Boniface only smiled, however, and looked inscrutable. And finding
that they could not guess their destination in the least, they took to
singing rounds, which made the time pass by very quickly. At length
Frithiof started to his feet with an eager exclamation.

“The sea!” he cried.

And sure enough, there, in the distance, was the first glimpse of a long
blue line, which made the hearts of the Norwegians throb with eager
delight.

“It seems like being at home again,” said Swanhild, while Frithiof
seemed to drink in new life as the fresh salt wind blew once more upon
him, bringing back to his mind the memory of many a perilous adventure
in his free, careless boyhood.

“A big watering-place,” groaned Roy. “I told you so. Houses, churches, a
parade, and a pier; I can see them all.”

“Where? where?” cried every one, while Mr. Boniface laughed quietly and
rubbed his hands.

“Over there, to the left,” said Roy.

“You prophet of evil!” cried Cecil merrily; “we are turning quite away
to the right.”

And on they went between the green downs, till they came to a tiny
village, far removed from railways, and leaving even that behind them,
paused at length before a solitary farm-house, standing a little back
from the road, with downs on either side of it, and barely a quarter of
a mile from the sea.

“How did you hear of this delightful place, father?” cried Cecil; “it is
just perfect.”

“Well, I saw it when you and Roy were in Norway two summers ago,” said
Mr. Boniface. “Mother and I drove out here from Southborne, and took
such a fancy to this farm that, like Captain Cuttle, we made a note of
it, and kept it for a surprise party.”

Mr. Horner, in his suburban villa, was at that very moment lamenting his
cousin’s absurd extravagance.

“He was always wanting in common-sense, poor fellow,” observed Mrs.
Horner. “But to hire a coach-and-four just to take into the country his
own family and that criminal’s children, and those precious Norwegians,
who apparently think themselves on a level with the highest in the
land—that beats everything! I suppose he’ll be wanting to hire a palace
for them next bank holiday!”

As a matter of fact, the farm-house accommodation was rather limited,
but no one cared about that. Though the rooms were small, they had a
most delicious smell of the country about them, and every one, moreover,
was in a humor to be as much out of doors as possible.

The time seemed to all of them a little like that summer holiday at
Balholm in its freedom and brightness and good-fellowship. The
delightful rambles over the breezy downs, the visit to the lighthouse,
the friendly chats with the coast-guardsmen, the boating excursions, and
the quiet country Sunday—all remained in their memories for long after.

To Roy those days were idyllic; and Sigrid, too, began to understand for
the first time that he was something more to her than Frithiof’s friend.
The two were much together, and on the Monday afternoon, when the rest
of the party had gone off again to the lighthouse for Lance’s special
benefit, they wandered away along the shore, nominally searching among
the rocks for anemones, but far too much absorbed in each other to prove
good collectors.

It took a long time really to know Roy, for he was silent and reserved;
but by this time Sigrid had begun to realize how much there was in him
that was well worth knowing, and her bright, easy manner had always been
able to thaw his taciturn moods. He had, she perceived, his father’s
large-mindedness; he studied the various problems of the day in the same
spirit; to money he was comparatively indifferent; and he was wholly
without that spirit of calculation, that sordid ambition which is very
unjustly supposed to animate most of those engaged in retail trade.
Sigrid had liked him ever since their first meeting in Norway, but only
within the last two days had any thought of love occurred to her. Even
now that thought was scarcely formed; she was only conscious of being
unusually happy, and of feeling a sort of additional happiness, and a
funny sense of relief when the rest of the party climbed the hill to the
lighthouse, leaving her alone with Roy. Of what they talked she scarcely
knew, but as they wandered on over low rocks and pools and shingle, hand
in hand, because the way was slippery and treacherous, it seemed to her
that she was walking in some new paradise. The fresh air and beauty
after the smoke and the wilderness of streets; the sense of protection,
after the anxieties of being manager-in-chief to a very poor household;
above all, the joyous brightness after a sad past, made her heart dance
within her; and in her happiness she looked so lovely that all thought
of obstacles and difficulties left Roy’s mind.

They sat down to rest in a little sheltered nook under the high chalk
cliffs, and it was there that he poured out to her the confession of his
love, being so completely carried away that for once words came readily
to his lips, so that Sigrid was almost frightened by his eagerness. How
different was this from Torvald Lundgren’s proposal! How utterly changed
was her whole life since that wintry day when she had walked back from
the Bergen cemetery!

What was it that had made everything so bright to her since then? Was it
not the goodness of the man beside her—the man who had saved her
brother’s life—who had brought them together once more—who now loved her
and asked for her love?

When at last he paused, waiting for her reply, she was for a minute or
two quite silent; still her face reassured Roy, and he was not without
hope, so that the waiting-time was not intolerable to him.

“If it were only myself to be thought about,” she said at length, “I
might perhaps give you an answer more readily. But, you see, there are
other people to be considered.”

The admission she had made sent a throb of delight to Roy’s heart. Once
sure of her love he dreaded no obstacles.

“You are thinking of Frithiof,” he said. “And of course I would never
ask you to leave him; but there would be no need. If you could love
me—if you will be my wife—you would be much freer than you now are to
help him.”

The thought of his wealth suddenly flashed into Sigrid’s mind, giving
her a momentary pang; yet, since she really loved him, it was impossible
that this should be a lasting barrier between them. She looked out over
the sea, and the thought of her old home, and of the debts, and the slow
struggle to pay them, came to her; yet all the time she knew that these
could not separate her from Roy. She loved him, and the world’s praise
or blame were just nothing to her. She could not care in the least about
the way in which such a marriage would be regarded by outsiders. She
loved him; and when once sure that her marriage would be right—that it
would not be selfish, or in any way bad in its effects on either
Frithiof or Swanhild—it was impossible that she should hesitate any
longer.

But of this she was not yet quite sure. All had come upon her so
suddenly that she felt as if she must have time to think it out quietly
before making a definite promise.

“Give me a fortnight,” she said, “and then I will let you have my
answer. It would not be fair to either of us if I spoke hastily when so
much is at stake.”

Roy could not complain of this suggestion: it was much that he was able
at last to plead his own cause with Sigrid, and in her frank blue eyes
there lurked something which told him that he need fear no more.

Meanwhile time sped on, and, unheeded by these two, the tide was coming
in. They were so absorbed in their own affairs that it was not until a
wave swept right into the little bay, leaving a foam-wreath almost at
their feet, that they realized their danger. With a quick exclamation
Roy started up.

“What have I been thinking of?” he cried in dismay. “Why, we are cut
off!”

Sigrid sprang forward and glanced toward Britling Gap. It was too true.
Return was absolutely impossible.

“We could never swim such a distance,” she said. And turning, she
glanced toward the steep white cliff above.

“And that too is utterly impossible,” said Roy. “Our only hope is in
some pleasure-boat passing. Stay, I have an idea.”

Hastily opening his knife he began to scoop out footholds in the chalk.
He saw that their sole chance lay in making a standing-place out of
reach of the water, and he worked with all his might, first securing a
place for the feet, then, higher up, scooping holes for the hands to
cling to; he spoke little, his mind was too full of a torturing sense of
blame, a bitter indignation with himself for allowing his very love to
blind him to such a danger.

As for Sigrid, she picked up a pointed stone and began to work too with
desperate energy. She was naturally brave, and as long as she could do
anything her heart scarcely beat faster than usual. It was the
waiting-time that tried her, the clinging to that uncompromising white
cliff, while below the waves surged to and fro with the noise that only
that morning she had thought musical, but which now seemed to her almost
intolerable. If it had not been that Roy’s arm was round her, holding
her closely, she could never have borne up so long; she would have
turned giddy and fallen back into the water. But his strength seemed to
her equal to anything, and her perfect confidence in him filled her with
a wonderful energy of endurance.

In their terrible position all sense of time left them; they could not
tell whether it was for minutes or for hours that they had clung to
their frail refuge, when at length a shout from above reached their
ears.

“Courage!” cried a voice. “A boat is coming to your help. Hold on!”

Hope renewed their strength in a wonderful way; they were indeed less to
be pitied than those who had the fearful anxiety of rescuing them, or
watching the rescue.

It was Frithiof who had first discovered them; the rest of the party,
after seeing over the lighthouse, had wandered along the cliffs talking
to an old sailor, and, Lance being seized with a desire to see over the
edge, Frithiof had set Cecil’s mind at rest by lying down with the
little fellow and holding him securely while he glanced down the sheer
descent to the sea. A little farther on, to the left, he suddenly
perceived, to his horror, the two clinging figures, and at once
recognized them. Dragging the child back, he sprang up and seized the
old sailor’s arm, interrupting a long-winded story to which Mr. Boniface
was listening.

“There are two people down there, cut off by the tide,” he said. “What
is the quickest way to reach them?”

“Good Lord!” cried the old man; “why, there’ll be nought quicker than a
boat at Britling Gap, or ropes brought from there and let down.”

“Tell them help is coming,” said Frithiof “I will row round.”

And without another word he set off running like the wind toward the
coast-guard station. On and on he rushed over the green downs, past the
little white chalk-heaps that marked the coast-guard’s nightly walk,
past the lighthouse and down the hill to the little sheltered cove.
Though a good runner, he was sadly out of training; his breath came now
in gasps, his throat felt as though it were on fire, and all the time a
terrible dread filled his heart. Supposing he were too late!

At Britling Gap not a soul was in sight, and he dared not waste time in
seeking help. The boat was in its usual place on the beach. He shoved it
out to sea, sprang into it, paused only to fling off his coat, then with
desperate energy pulled toward the place where Roy and Sigrid awaited
their rescuer with fast-failing strength.

And yet in all Frithiof’s anxiety there came to him a strange sense of
satisfaction, an excitement which banished from his mind all the
specters of the past, a consciousness of power that in itself was
invigorating. Danger seemed to be his native element, daring his
strongest characteristic, and while straining every nerve and making the
little boat bound through the water, he was more at rest than he had
been for months, just because everything personal had faded into entire
insignificance before the absorbing need of those whom he loved.

How his pulses throbbed when at length he caught sight of Sigrid’s
figure! and with what skill he guided his boat toward the cliff,
shouting out encouragement and warning! The two were both so stiff and
exhausted that it was no easy task to get them down into the boat, but
he managed it somehow, and a glad cheer from above showed that the
watchers were following their every movement with eager sympathy.

“Let us walk back quickly,” said Mr. Boniface, “that we may be ready to
meet them,” and with an intensity of relief they hurried back to
Britling Gap, arriving just in time to greet the three as they walked up
the beach. Sigrid, though rather pale and exhausted, seemed little the
worse for the adventure, and a glad color flooded her cheeks when Mr.
Boniface turned to Frithiof and grasping his hand, thanked him warmly
for what he had done. Cecil said scarcely anything; she could hardly
trust herself to speak, but her heart beat fast as, glancing at
Frithiof, she saw on his face the bright look which made him once more
like the Frithiof she had met long ago at Bergen.



                             CHAPTER XXIV.


Mr. Boniface insisted on keeping them all till the following day, when
once more they enjoyed the delights of coaching, getting back to London
in the cool of the evening, laden with wild roses, hawthorn, and field
flowers, which gladdened more than one of their neighbors’ rooms in the
model lodgings.

It was not till Wednesday in Whitsun-week that Frithiof found himself in
his old place behind the counter, and it took several days before they
all got into working order again, for though the holiday had done them
good, yet it was not very easy to get back into the routine of business.
But by Monday everything was in clockwork order again, and even Mr.
Horner, though ready enough at all times to grumble, could find nothing
to make a fuss about. It happened that day that Mr. Horner was more in
the shop than usual, for Roy had unexpectedly been obliged to go to
Paris on business, and it chanced, much to his satisfaction, that, while
Mr. Boniface was dining, Sardoni the tenor called to speak about a song.
There was nothing that he enjoyed so much as interviewing any well-known
singer; he seemed to gain a sort of reflected glory in the process, and
Frithiof could hardly help smiling when at the close of the interview
they passed through the shop, so comical was the obsequious manner of
the little man toward the tall, jolly-looking singer, and so curious the
contrast between the excessive politeness of his tone to the visitor,
and his curt command, “Open the door, Falck.”

Frithiof opened the door promptly, but the tenor, whose mischievous eyes
evidently took in everything that savored of fun, saw plainly enough
that the Norseman, with his dignity of manner and nobility of bearing,
deemed Mr. Horner as a man beneath contempt.

“Oh, by the way, Mr. Horner,” he exclaimed suddenly, turning back just
as he had left the shop; “I quite forgot to ask if you could oblige me
with change for a five-pound note. I have tried to get it twice this
morning, but change seems to be short.”

“With the greatest pleasure,” said Mr. Horner deferentially.

And pushing past Frithiof, he himself deposited the note in the till and
counted out five sovereigns, which he handed with a bow to Sardoni.

Then, with a friendly “good-day,” the singer went out, and Mr. Horner,
rubbing his hands with an air of great satisfaction, retired to Mr.
Boniface’s room. The afternoon passed on just as hundreds of afternoons
had passed before it, with the usual succession of customers, the usual
round of monotonous work; there was nothing to mark it in any way, and
no sense of coming evil made itself felt. In the most prosaic manner
possible, Frithiof went out for the few minutes’ stroll in the streets
which he called tea-time. He was in good spirits, and as he walked along
he thought of the days by the sea, and of the boating which he had so
much enjoyed, living it all over again in this hot, dusty London, where
June was far from delightful. Still, it was something to be out in the
open air, to get a few moments of leisure and to stretch one’s legs. He
walked along pretty briskly, managing to get some little enjoyment out
of his short respite, and this was well; for it was long before he could
enjoy anything again in that unconcerned, free-hearted way. Yet nothing
warned him of this; quite carelessly he pushed open the double
swing-doors and re-entered the shop, glancing with surprise but with no
special concern at the little group behind the counter. Mr. Horner was
finding fault about something, but that was a very ordinary occurrence.
A thin, grave-looking man stood listening attentively, and Mr. Boniface
listened too with an expression of great trouble on his face. Looking
up, he perceived Frithiof, and with an exclamation of relief came toward
him.

“Here is Mr. Falck!” he said; “who no doubt will be able to explain
everything satisfactorily. A five-pound note has somehow disappeared
from your till this afternoon, Frithiof; do you know anything about it?”

“It was certainly in the till when I last opened it,” said Frithiof;
“and that was only a few minutes before I went out.”

“Very possibly,” said Mr. Horner. “The question is whether it was there
when you shut it again.”

The tone even more than the words made Frithiof’s blood boil.

“Sir,” he said furiously, “do you dare to insinuate that I—”

But Mr. Boniface laid a hand on his arm and interrupted him.

“Frithiof,” he said, “you know quite well that I should as soon suspect
my own son as you. But this note has disappeared in a very extraordinary
way, while only you and Darnell were in the shop, and we must do our
best to trace it out. I am sure you will help me in this disagreeable
business by going through the ordinary form quietly.”

Then, turning to the private detective who had been hastily called in by
Mr. Horner, he suggested that they should come to his own room. Mr.
Horner shut the door with an air of satisfaction. From the first he had
detested the Norwegian, and now was delighted to feel that his dislike
was justified. Mr. Boniface, looking utterly miserable, sat down in his
arm-chair to await the result of the inquiry, and the two men who lay
under suspicion stood before the detective, who with his practiced eye
glanced now at one, now at the other, willing if possible to spare the
innocent man the indignity of being searched.

Darnell was a rather handsome fellow, with a short dark beard and heavy
moustache: he looked a trifle paler than usual, but was quite quiet and
collected, perhaps a little upset at the unusual disturbance in the shop
where for so long he had worked, yet without the faintest sign of
personal uneasiness about him. Beside him stood the tall Norwegian, his
fair skin showing all too plainly the burning color that had rushed to
his face the instant he knew that he lay actually under suspicion of
thieving. Mr. Horner’s words still made him tingle from head to foot,
and he could gladly have taken the man by the throat and shaken the
breath out of him. For the suspicion, hard enough for any man to bear,
was doubly hard to him on account of his nationality. That a Norwegian
should be otherwise than strictly honorable was to Frithiof a monstrous
idea. He knew well that he and his countrymen in general had plenty of
faults, but scrupulous honesty was so ingrained in his Norse nature,
that to have the slightest doubt cast upon his honor was to him an
intolerable insult. The detective could not, of course, understand this.
He was a clever and a conscientious man, but his experience was, after
all, limited. He had not traveled in Norway, or studied the character of
its people; he did not know that you may leave all your luggage outside
an inn in the public highway without the least fear that in the night
any one will meddle with it: he did not know that if you give a Norse
child a coin equal to sixpence in return for a great bowl of milk, it
will refuse with real distress to keep it, because the milk was worth a
little less; he had not heard the story of the lost chest of plate,
which by good chance was washed up on the Norwegian coast, how the
experts examined the crest on the spoons, and after infinite labor and
pains succeeded in restoring it to its rightful owner in a far-away
southern island. It was, after all, quite natural that he should suspect
the man who had colored so deeply, who protested so indignantly against
the mere suspicion of guilt, who clearly shrank from the idea of being
searched.

“I will examine you first,” said the detective; and Frithiof, seeing
that there was no help for it, submitted with haughty composure to the
indignity. For an instant even Mr. Horner was shaken in his opinion,
there was such an evident consciousness of innocence in the Norwegian’s
whole manner and bearing now that the ordeal had actually come.

In solemn silence two pockets were turned inside out. The right-hand
waistcoat pocket was apparently empty, but the careful detective turned
that inside out too. Suddenly Mr. Boniface started forward with an
ejaculation of astonishment.

“I told you so,” cried Mr. Horner vehemently.

And Frithiof, roused to take notice, which before he had not
condescended to do, looked down and saw a sight that made his heart
stand still.

Carefully pinned to the inside of the pocket was a clean, fresh,
five-pound note. He did not speak a word, but just stared at the thing
in blank amazement. There was a painful silence. Surely it could be
nothing but a bad dream!

He looked at the unconcerned detective, and at Mr. Horner’s excited
face, and at Mr. Boniface’s expression of grief and perplexity. It was
no dream; it was a most horrible reality—a reality which he was utterly
incapable of explaining. With an instinct that there was yet one man
present who trusted him, in spite of appearances, he made a step or two
toward Mr. Boniface.

“Sir,” he said, in great agitation, “I swear to you that I knew nothing
of this. It has astounded me as much as it has surprised you. How it
came there I can’t say, but certainly I didn’t put it there.”

Mr. Boniface was silent, and glancing back Frithiof saw on the thin lips
of the detective a very expressive smile. The sight almost maddened him.
In the shock of the discovery he had turned very pale, now the violence
of his wrath made him flush to the roots of his hair.

“If you didn’t put it there, who did?” said Mr. Horner indignantly.
“Don’t add to your sin, young man, by falsehood.”

“I have never spoken a falsehood in my life; it is you who lie when you
say that I put the note there,” said Frithiof hotly.

“My poor fellow,” said Mr. Boniface, “I am heartily sorry for you, but
you must own that appearances are against you.”

“What! you too, sir!” cried Frithiof, his indignation giving place to
heartbroken wonder.

The tone went to Mr. Boniface’s heart.

“I think you did it quite unconsciously,” he said. “I am sure you never
could have taken it had you known what you were about. You did it in
absence of mind—in a fit of temporary aberration. It is, perhaps, a mere
result of your illness last summer, and no one would hold you
responsible for it.”

A horrible wave of doubt passed over Frithiof. Could this indeed be the
explanation? But it was only for a moment. He could not really believe
it; he knew that there was no truth in this suggestion of brain
disturbance.

“No one in absence of mind could deliberately have pinned the note in,”
he said. “Besides my head was perfectly clear, not even aching or
tired.”

“Quite so; I am glad that so far you own the truth,” said Mr. Horner.
“Make a free confession at once and we will not press the prosecution.
You yielded to a sudden temptation, and, as we all know, have special
reasons for needing money. Come, confess!”

“You are not bound to incriminate yourself,” said the detective, who, as
acting in a private capacity, was not bound to urge the prosecution.
“Still, what the gentleman suggests is by far the best course for you to
take. There’s not a jury in the land that would not give a verdict
against you.”

“I shall certainly not tell a lie to save open disgrace,” said Frithiof.
“The jury may say what it likes. God knows I am innocent.”

The tone in which he said the last words made Mr. Boniface look at him
more closely. Strangely enough it was in that moment of supreme
bitterness, when he fully realized the hopelessness of his position,
when one of his employers deemed him a madman and the other a thief,
then, when disgrace and ruin and utter misery stared him in the face,
that the faint glimpses of the Unseen, which, from time to time, had
dawned for him, broadened into full sunlight. For the first time in his
life he stood in close personal relationship with the Power in whom he
had always vaguely believed, the higher Presence became to him much more
real than men surrounding him with their pity and indignation and
contempt.

But Mr. Horner was not the sort of man to read faces, much less to read
hearts; the very emphasis with which Frithiof had spoken made him more
angry.

“Now I _know_ that you are lying!” he cried: “don’t add blasphemy to
your crime. You are the most irreligious fellow I ever came across—a man
who, to my certain knowledge, never attends any place of public worship,
and do you dare to call God to witness for you?”

Nothing but the strong consciousness of this new Presence kept Frithiof
from making a sharp retort. But a great calmness had come over him, and
his tone might have convinced even Mr. Horner had he not been so full of
prejudice. “God knows I am innocent,” he repeated; “and only He can tell
how the note got here; I can’t.”

“One word with you, if you please, Mr. Harris,” said Robert Boniface,
suddenly pushing back his chair and rising to his feet, as though he
could no longer tolerate the discussion.

He led the way back to the shop, where, in low tones, he briefly gave
the detective his own opinion of the case. He was sure that Frithiof
firmly believed he was telling the truth, but, unable to doubt the
evidence of his own senses, he was obliged to take up the plausible
theory of temporary aberration. The detective shrugged his shoulders a
little, and said it might possibly be so, but the young man seemed to
him remarkably clear-headed. However, he accepted his fee and went off,
and Mr. Boniface returned sadly enough to his room.

“You can go back to the shop, Darnell,” he said.

The man bowed and withdrew, leaving Frithiof still standing
half-bewildered where the detective had left him, the cause of all his
misery lying on the writing-table before him, just as fresh and
crisp-looking as when it had issued from the Bank of England.

“This has been a sad business, Frithiof,” said Mr. Boniface, leaning his
elbow on the mantel-piece, and looking with his clear, kindly eyes at
the young Norwegian. “But I am convinced that you had no idea what you
were doing, and I should not dream of prosecuting you, or discharging
you.”

Poor Frithiof was far too much stunned to be able to feel any gratitude
for this. Mr. Horner, however, left him no time to reply.

“I think you have taken leave of your senses, Boniface,” he said
vehemently. “Save yourself the annoyance of prosecuting, if you like;
but it is grossly unfair to the rest of your employees to keep a thief
in your house. Not only that, but it is altogether immoral; it is
showing special favor to vice; it is admitting a principle which, if
allowed, would ruin all business life. If there is one thing noticeable
in all successful concerns it is that uncompromising severity is shown
to even trifling errors—even to carelessness.”

“My business has hitherto been successful,” said Mr. Boniface quietly,
“and I have never gone on that principle, and never will. Why are we to
have a law of mercy and rigidly to exclude it from every-day life? But
that is the way of the world. It manages, while calling itself
Christian, to shirk most of Christ’s commands.”

“I tell you,” said Mr. Horner, who was now in a towering passion, “that
it is utterly against the very rules of religion. The fellow is not
repentant; he persists in sticking to a lie, and yet you weakly forgive
him.”

“If,” said Mr. Boniface quietly, “you knew a little more of Frithiof
Falck you would know that it is quite impossible that he could
consciously have taken the money. When he took it he was not himself. If
he had wanted to hide it—to steal it—why did he actually return to the
shop with it in his possession? He might easily have disposed of it
while he was out.”

“If that is your ground, then I object to having a man on my premises
who is afflicted with kleptomania. But it is not so. The fellow is as
long-headed and quick-witted as any one I know; he has managed to
hoodwink you, but from the first I saw through him, and knew him to be a
designing—”

“Sir,” broke in Frithiof, turning to Mr. Boniface—his bewildered
consternation changing now to passionate earnestness—“this is more than
I can endure. For God’s sake call back the detective, examine further
into this mystery; there _must_ be some explanation!”

“How can any man examine further?” said Mr. Boniface sadly. “The note is
missed, and is actually found upon you. The only possible explanation is
that you were not yourself when you took it.”

“Then the least you can do is to dismiss him,” resumed Mr. Horner. But
Mr. Boniface interrupted him very sharply.

“You will please remember, James, that you are in no way concerned with
the engagement or dismissal of those employed in this house. That is
entirely my affair, as is set forth in our deed of partnership.”

“Which partnership will need renewing in another six months,” said Mr.
Horner, growing red with anger. “And I give you fair warning that, if
this dishonest fellow is kept on, I shall then withdraw my capital and
retire from the business.”

With this Parthian shot he went out, banging the door behind him.

Frithiof had borne in silence all the taunts and insults showered on
him; but when he found himself alone with the man to whom he owed so
much, he very nearly broke down altogether. “Sir,” he said, trying in
vain to govern his voice, “you have been very good to me; but it will be
best that I should go.”

“I would not have you leave for the world,” said Mr. Boniface. “Remember
that your sisters are dependent on you. You must think first of them.”

“No,” said Frithiof firmly; “I must first think of what I owe to you. It
would be intolerable to me to feel that I had brought any loss on you
through Mr. Horner’s anger. I must go.”

“Nonsense,” said Mr. Boniface. “I cannot hear of such a thing. Why, how
do you think you would get another situation with this mystery still
hanging over you? I, who know you so well, am convinced of your perfect
freedom from blame. But strangers could not possibly be convinced of
it.”

Frithiof was silent; he thought of Sigrid and Swanhild suffering through
his trouble, he remembered his terrible search for work when he first
came to London, and he realized that it was chiefly his own pride that
prompted him never to return to the shop. After all, what a prospect it
was! With one partner deeming him a thief and the other forced to say
that he must be subject to a form of insanity; with the men employed in
the shop all ready to deem him a dishonest foreigner! How was he to bear
such a terrible position? Yet bear it he must; nay, he must be thankful
for the chance of being allowed to bear it.

“If you are indeed willing that I should stay,” he said, at length,
“then I will stay. But your theory—the theory that makes you willing
still to trust me—is mistaken. I know that there is not a minute in this
day when my head has not been perfectly clear.”

“My dear fellow, you must allow me to keep what theory I please. There
is no other explanation than this, and you would be wisest if you
accepted it yourself.”

“That is impossible,” said Frithiof sadly.

“It is equally impossible that I can doubt the evidence of my own
senses. The note was there, and you can’t possibly explain its presence.
How is it possible that Darnell could have crossed over to your till,
taken out the note and pinned it in your pocket? Besides, what motive
could he have for doing such a thing?”

“I don’t know,” said Frithiof; “yet I shall swear to my dying day that I
never did it myself.”

“Well, there is no use in arguing the point,” said Robert Boniface
wearily. “It is enough for me that I can account to myself for what must
otherwise be an extraordinary mystery. You had better go back to your
work now, and do not worry over the affair. Remember that I do not hold
you responsible for what has happened.”

After this of course nothing more could be said. Frithiof left the room
feeling years older than when he had entered it, and with a heavy heart
took that first miserable plunge into the outer world—the world where he
must now expect to meet with suspicious looks and cold dislike.



                              CHAPTER XXV.


As he walked down the sort of avenue of pianos and harmoniums in the
inner shop, there came to his mind, why, he could not have told, words
spoken to him long before by that customer who had left on his mind so
lasting an impression, “Courage! the worst will pass.” Though he could
not exactly believe the words, yet he clung to them with a sort of
desperation. Also he happened to notice the clock, and practically
adopted Sydney Smith’s wise maxim, “Take short views.” There were
exactly two hours and a quarter before closing time; he could at any
rate endure as long as that, and of the future he would not think. There
were no customers in the shop, but he could hear voices in eager
discussion, and he knew quite well what was the subject of their talk.
Of course the instant he came into sight a dead silence ensued, and the
little group, consisting of Foster, Darnell, one of the tuners, and the
boy who made himself generally useful, dispersed at once, while in the
ominous quiet Frithiof went to his usual place. The first few minutes
were terrible; he sat down at his desk, took up his pen, and opened the
order-book, making a feint of being actually employed, but conscious
only of the dreadful silence and of the eyes that glanced curiously at
him; again a burning flush passed over his face, just from the horror
and shame of even being suspected of dishonesty. It was a relief to him
when a customer entered, a man entirely ignorant of all that had passed,
and only bent on securing the best seats to be had for Mr. Boniface’s
concert on the following day. Carlo Donati, the celebrated baritone, was
to sing, and as he had only appeared once before that season, except in
opera, there was a great demand for tickets, which kept them pretty busy
until at length the longed-for closing came; the other men lingered a
little to discuss afresh the great event of the day, but Frithiof, who
had been watching the hands of the clock with longing eyes, felt as if
he could not have borne the atmosphere of the shop for another minute,
and snatching up his hat made for the door. None of them said good-night
to him; they were not intentionally unkind, but they were awkward, and
they felt that the strange affair of the afternoon had made a great gulf
between them and the culprit. However, Frithiof was past caring much for
trifles, for after the first moment of intense relief, as he felt the
cool evening air blowing on him, the sense of another trouble to be met
had overpowered all else. He had got somehow to tell Sigrid of his
disgrace, to bring the cloud which shadowed him into the peaceful home
that had become so dear to him. Very slowly he walked through the noisy
streets, very reluctantly crossed the great courtyard, and mounted
flight after flight of stairs. At the threshold he hesitated, wondering
whether it would be possible to shield them from the knowledge. He could
hear Sigrid singing in the kitchen as she prepared the supper, and
something told him that it would be impossible to conceal his trouble
from her. With a sigh he opened the door into the sitting-room; it
looked very bright and cheerful; Swanhild stood at the open window
watering the flowers in the window-box, red and white geraniums and
southernwood, grown from cuttings given by Cecil. She gave him her usual
merry greeting.

“Come and look at my garden, Frithiof,” she said. “Doesn’t it look
lovely?”

“Why, you are late,” said Sigrid, coming in with the cocoa, her face a
little flushed with the fire, which was trying on that summer-day. Then,
glancing at him, “How tired you look! Come, sit down and eat. I have got
a German sausage that even Herr Sivertsen would not grumble at. The heat
has tired you, and you will feel better after you have had something.”

He ate obediently, though the food almost choked him; Swanhild, fancying
that he had one of his bad headaches, grew quiet, and afterwards was not
surprised to find that he did not as usual get out his writing
materials, but asked Sigrid to go out with him for a turn.

“You are too tired to try the translating?” she asked.

“Yes, I’ll try it later,” he said; “but let us have half an hour’s walk
together now.”

She consented at once and went to put on her hat, well knowing that
Frithiof never shirked his work without good reason; then leaving strict
orders with Swanhild not to sit up after nine, they left her absorbed in
English history, and went down into the cool, clear twilight. Some
children were playing quietly in the courtyard; Sigrid stopped for a
minute to speak to one of them.

“Is your father better this evening?” she asked.

“Yes, miss, and he’s a-goin’ back to work to-morrow,” replied the child,
lifting a beaming face up to the friendly Norwegian lady, who had become
a general favorite among her neighbors.

“That is one of the little Hallifields,” explained Sigrid, as they
passed on. “The father, you know, is a tram-car conductor, and the work
is just killing him by inches; some day you really must have a talk with
him and just hear what terrible hours he has to keep. It makes me sick
to think of it. How I wish you were in Parliament, Frithiof, and could
do something to put down all the grievances that we are forever coming
across!”

“There was once a time when at home we used to dream that I might even
be a king’s minister,” said Frithiof.

Something in his voice made her sorry for her last speech; she knew that
one of his fits of depression had seized him.

“So we did, and perhaps after all you may be. It was always, you know,
through something very disagreeable that in the old stories the highest
wish was attained. Remember the ‘Wild Swans.’ And even ‘Cinderella’ has
that thought running through it. We are taught the same thing from our
nursery days upward. And, you know, though there are some drawbacks, I
think living like this, right among the people, is a splendid training.
One can understand their troubles so much better.”

“I should have thought you had troubles enough of your own,” he said
moodily, “without bothering yourself with other people’s.”

“But since our own troubles I have somehow cared more about them; I
don’t feel afraid as I used to do of sick people, and people who have
lost those belonging to them. I want always to get nearer to them.”

“Sigrid,” he said desperately, “can you bear a fresh trouble for
yourself? I have bad news for you to-night.”

Her heart seemed to stop beating.

“Roy?” she asked breathlessly, her mind instinctively turning first to
fears for his safety.

At any other time Frithiof would have guessed the truth through that
tremulous, unguarded question, which had escaped her involuntarily. But
he was too miserable to notice it then.

“Oh, no, Roy is still at Paris. They heard to-day that he could not be
back in time for the concert. It is I who have brought this trouble on
you. Though how it came about God only knows. Listen, and I’ll tell you
exactly how everything happened.”

By this time they had reached one of the parks, and they sat down on a
bench under the shade of a great elm-tree. Frithiof could not bear to
look at Sigrid, could not endure to watch the effect of his words; he
fixed his eyes on the smutty sheep that were feeding on the grass
opposite him. Then very quietly and minutely he told exactly what had
passed that afternoon.

“I am glad,” she exclaimed when he paused, “that Mr. Boniface was so
kind. And yet, how can he think that of you?”

“You do not think it, then?” he asked, looking her full in the face.

“What! think that you took it in absence of mind? Think that it would be
possible for you deliberately to take it out of the till and pin it in
your own pocket! Why, of course not! In actual delirium, I suppose, a
man might do anything, but you are as strong and well as any one else.
Of course, you had nothing whatever to do with it, either consciously or
unconsciously.”

“Yet the thing was somehow there, and the logical inference is, that I
must have put it there,” he said, scanning her face with keen attention.

“I don’t care a fig for logical inference,” she cried, with a little
vehement motion of her foot. “All I know is that you had nothing
whatever to do with it. If I had to die for maintaining that, I would
say it with my last breath.”

He caught her hand in his and held it fast.

“If you still believe in me, the worst is over,” he said. “With the rest
of the world, of course, my character is gone, but there is no help for
that.”

“But there must be help,” said Sigrid. “Some one else must be guilty.
The other man in the shop must certainly have put it there.”

“For what purpose?” said Frithiof sadly. “Besides, how could he have
done it without my knowledge?”

“I don’t know,” said Sigrid, beginning to perceive the difficulties of
the case. “What sort of a man is he?”

“I used to dislike him at first, and he naturally disliked me because I
was a foreigner. But latterly we have got on well enough. He is a very
decent sort of fellow, and I don’t for a moment believe that he would
steal.”

“One of you must have done it,” said Sigrid. “And as I certainly never
could believe that you did it, I am forced to think the other man
guilty.”

Frithiof was silent. If he did not agree with her, was he not bound to
accept Mr. Boniface’s theory? The horrible mystery of the affair was
almost more than he could endure; his past had been miserable enough,
but he had never known anything equal to the misery of being innocent
yet absolutely unable to prove this innocence. Sigrid, glancing at him
anxiously, could see even in the dim twilight what a heavy look of
trouble clouded his face, and resolutely turning from the puzzling
question of how the mystery could be explained, she set herself to make
as light of the whole affair as was possible.

“Look, Frithiof,” she said; “why should we waste time and strength in
worrying over this? After all, what difference does it make to us in
ourselves? Business hours must, of course, be disagreeable enough to
you, but at home you must forget the disagreeables; at home you are my
hero, unjustly accused and bearing the penalty of another’s crime.”

He smiled a little, touched by her eagerness of tone, and cheered, in
spite of himself, by her perfect faith in him. Yet all through the night
he tossed to and fro in sleepless misery, trying to find some possible
explanation of the afternoon’s mystery, racking his brain to think of
all that he had done or said since that unlucky hour when Sardoni had
asked for change.

The next morning, as a natural consequence, he began the day with a
dull, miserable headache; at breakfast he hardly spoke, and he set off
for business looking so ill that Sigrid wondered whether he could
possibly get through his work. It was certainly strange, she could not
help thinking, that fate seemed so utterly against him, and that when at
last his life was beginning to look brighter, he should again be the
victim of another’s fault. And then, with a sort of comfort, there
flashed into her mind an idea which almost reconciled her to his lot.
What if these obstacles so hard to be surmounted, these difficulties
that hemmed him in so persistently, were after all only the equivalent
to the physical dangers and difficulties of the life of the old Vikings?
Did it not, in truth, need greater courage and endurance for the
nineteenth-century Frithiof to curb all his natural desires and
instincts and toil at uncongenial work in order to pay off his father’s
debts, than for the Frithiof of olden times to face all the dangers of
the sea, and of foes spiritual and temporal who beset him when he went
to win back the lost tribute money? It was, after all, a keen pleasure
to the old Frithiof to fight with winds and waves; but it was a hard
struggle to the modern Frithiof to stand behind a counter day after day.
And then again, was it not less bitter for the Frithiof of the Saga to
be suspected of sacrilege, than for Frithiof Falck to be suspected of
the most petty and contemptible act of dishonesty?

She was right. Anything, however painful and difficult, would have been
gladly encountered by poor Frithiof if it could have spared him that
miserable return to his old place in Mr. Boniface’s shop. And that day’s
prosaic work needed greater moral courage than any previous day of his
life.

About half-past nine there arrived a telegram which did not mend
matters. Mr. Boniface was seriously unwell, would not be in town that
day, and could not be at St. James’s Hall that evening for the concert.
Mr. Horner would take his place. Frithiof’s heart sank at this news; and
when presently the fussy, bumptious, little man entered the shop the
climax of his misery was reached. Mr. Horner read the telegram with a
disturbed air.

“Dear! dear! seriously ill, I’m afraid, or he would at least make an
effort to come to-night. But after all the annoyance of yesterday I am
not surprised—no, not at all. Such a thing has never happened in his
business before, ay, Mr. Foster?”

“Oh, no, sir,” said the foreman in a low voice, sorry in his heart for
the young Norwegian, who could not avoid hearing every word.

“It was quite enough to make him ill. Such a disgraceful affair in a
house of this class. For his own sake he does well to hush it up, though
I intend to see that all proper precautions are taken; upon that, at any
rate, I insist. If I had my own way there should have been none of this
misplaced leniency. Here, William!” and he beckoned to the boy, who was
irreverently flicking the bust of Mozart with a duster.

“Yes, sir,” said William, who, being out of the trouble himself,
secretly rather enjoyed the commotion it had caused.

“Go at once to Smith, the ironmonger, and order him to send some one
round to fix a spring bell on a till. Do you understand?”

“Quite, sir,” replied William, unable to resist glancing across the
counter.

Frithiof went on arranging some music that had just arrived, but he
flushed deeply, and Mr. Horner, glad to have found a vulnerable point of
attack, did not scruple to make the most of his opportunity. Never,
surely, did ironmonger do his work so slowly! Never, surely, did an
employer give so much of his valuable time to directing exactly what was
to be done, and superintending an affair about which he knew nothing.
But the fixing of that detestable bell gave Mr. Horner a capitol excuse
for being in the shop at Frithiof’s elbow, and every word and look
conveyed such insulting suspicion of the Norwegian that honest old
Foster began to feel angry.

“Why should I mind this vulgar brute?” thought Frithiof, as he forced
himself to go on with his work with the air of quiet determination which
Mr. Horner detested. But all the same he did care, and it was the very
vulgarity of the attack that made him inwardly wince. His headache grew
worse and worse, while in maddening monotony came the sounds of piano
tuning from the inner shop, hammering and bell-ringing at the till close
by, and covert insults and innuendoes from the grating voice of James
Horner. How much an employer can do for those in his shop, how close and
cordial the relation may be, he had learnt from his intercourse with Mr.
Boniface. He now learnt the opposite truth, that no position affords
such constant opportunities for petty tyranny if the head of the firm
happens to be mean or prejudiced. The miserable hours dragged on
somehow, and at last, late in the afternoon, Foster came up to him with
a message.

“Mr. Horner wishes to speak to you,” he said; “I will take your place
here.” Then, lowering his voice cautiously, “It’s my opinion, Mr. Falck,
that he is trying to goad you into resigning, or into an impertinent
answer which would be sufficient to cause your dismissal.”

“Thank you for the warning,” said Frithiof gratefully, and a little
encouraged by the mere fact that the foreman cared enough for him to
speak in such a way, he went to the private room, determined to be on
his guard and not to let pride or anger get the better of his dignity.

Mr. Horner replied to his knock, but did not glance round as he entered
the room.

“You wished to speak to me, sir?” asked Frithiof.

“Yes, when I have finished this letter. You can wait,” said Mr. Horner
ungraciously.

He waited quietly, thinking to himself how different was the manner both
of Mr. Boniface and of his son, who were always as courteous to their
employees as to their customers, and would have thought themselves as
little justified in using such a tone to one of the men as of employing
the slave-whip.

Mr. Horner, flattering himself that he was producing an impression and
emphasizing the difference between their respective positions, finished
his letter, signed his name with a flourish characteristic of his
opinion of himself, then swung round his chair and glanced at Frithiof.

“Mr. Boniface left no instructions as to whether you were to attend as
usual at St. James’s Hall to-night,” he began. “But since no one else is
used to the work I suppose there is no help for it.”

He paused, apparently expecting some rejoinder, but Frithiof merely
stood there politely attentive.

“Since you know the work, and are used to it, you had better attend as
usual, for I should be vexed if any hitch should occur in the
arrangements. But understand, pray, that I strongly disapprove of your
remaining in our employ at all, and that it is only out of necessity
that I submit to it, for I consider you unfit to mix with respectable
people.”

Whatever the Norwegian felt, he managed to preserve a perfectly unmoved
aspect. Mr. Horner, who wanted to stir him into indignant expostulation,
was sorely disappointed that his remarks fell so flat.

“I see you intend to brazen it out,” he said crushingly. “But you don’t
deceive me. You may leave the room, and take good care that all the
arrangements to-night are properly carried out.”

“Yes, sir,” said Frithiof, with the quietness of one who knows that he
remains master of the situation. But afterward, when he was once more in
the shop, the insults returned to his mind with full force, and lay
rankling there for many a day to come. Owing to the concert, his release
came a little sooner than usual, and it was not much after seven when
Sigrid heard him at the door. His face frightened her; it looked so worn
and harassed.

“You will have time for some supper?” she asked pleadingly.

“No,” he said, passing by her quickly, “I am not hungry, and must change
my clothes and be off again.”

“He might fancy some coffee,” said Sigrid to herself. “Quick, Swanhild,
run and get it ready while I boil the water. There is nothing like
strong _café noir_ when one is tired out.”

Perhaps it did him some good; and the glimpse of his home certainly
cheered him; yet, nevertheless, he was almost ready that night to give
up everything in despair.

Physical exhaustion had dulled the glow of inner comfort that had come
to him on the previous day. In his miserable depression all his old
doubts assailed him once more. Was there any rule of justice after all?
Was there anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, but cruel
lust of power, and an absolute indifference to suffering? His old hatred
against those who succeeded once more filled his heart, and though at
one time he had felt curious to see Donati, and had heard all that Cecil
had to say in favor of the Italian’s courage and unselfishness, yet now,
in his bitterness of soul, he began to hate the man merely because of
his popularity.

“I detest these conceited, set-up idols of the public,” he thought to
himself. “When all men speak well of a fellow it is time to suspect him.
His goodness and all the rest of it is probably all calculation—a sort
of advertisement!”

The architects of most English music-halls have scant regard for the
comfort of the _artistes_. It often used to strike Frithiof as a strange
thing that in the Albert Hall, singers, whose health and strength were
of priceless value, had to wait about in draughty, sloping passages, on
uncomfortable chairs, while at St. James’s Hall they had only the option
of marching up and down a cold, stone staircase to the cloak-room
between every song, or of sitting in the dingy little den opening on to
the platform steps—a den which resembles a family pew in a meetinghouse.
Here, sitting face to face on hard benches, were ranged to-night many of
the first singers of the day. There was Sardoni, the good-natured
English tenor and composer. There was Mme. Sardoni-Borelli, with her
noble and striking face and manner; besides a host of other celebrities,
all the more dear to the audience because for years and years they had
been giving their very best to the nation. But Carlo Donati had not yet
arrived, and Mr. Horner kept glancing anxiously through the glass doors
on to the staircase in hopes of catching sight of the great baritone.
Frithiof lived through it all like a man in a dream, watched a young
English tenor who was to make his first appearance that night, saw him
walking to and fro in a tremendous state of nervousness, heard the poor
fellow sing badly enough, and watched him plunge down the steps again
amid the very faint applause of the audience. Next came the turn of Mme.
Sardoni-Borelli. Her husband handed her the song she was to sing, she
gave some directions to the accompanist as to the key in which she
wanted it played, and mounted the platform with a composed dignity that
contrasted curiously with the manner of the _débutant_ who had preceded
her. Mr. Horner turned to Frithiof at that moment.

“Go and see whether Signor Donati has come,” he said. “His song is next
on the programme.”

“Ah,” said Sardoni, with a smile, “he is such a tremendous fellow for
home, he never comes a moment too soon, and at the theater often runs it
even closer than this. He is the quickest dresser I ever knew, though,
and is never behind time.”

Frithiof made his way to the cloak room, and, as he walked through the
narrow room leading to it, he could distinctly hear the words of some
one within. The voice seemed familiar to him.

“Badly received? Well, you only failed because of nervousness. In your
second song you will be more used to things, and you will see, it will
go much better.”

“But _you_ surely can never have had the same difficulty to struggle
with?” said the young tenor, who, with a very downcast face, stood
talking to the newly arrived baritone.

“Never!” exclaimed the other, with a laugh which rang through the room,
“Ask Sardoni! He’ll tell you of my first appearance.”

Then, as Frithiof gave his message, the speaker turned round and
revealed to the Norwegian that face which had fascinated him so
strangely just before his illness—a face not only beautiful in outline
and coloring, but full of an undefined charm, which made all theories as
to the conceit and objectionableness of successful men fall to the
ground.

“Thank you,” he said, bowing in reply; “I will come down at once.” Then,
turning again to the _débutant_ with a smile, “You see, through failing
to get that _encore_ that you ought to have deserved, you have nearly
made me behind time. Never mind, you will get a very hearty one in the
second part to make up. Come down with me, wont you. It is far better
fun in that family pew below than up here. Clinton Cleve is here, isn’t
he? Have you been introduced to him?”

The young man replied in the negative; Frithiof perceived that the idea
had cheered him up wonderfully, and knew that a word from the veteran
tenor might be of great use to a beginner.

“I’ll introduce you,” said Donati as they went down the stairs. Frithiof
held open the swing-doors for them and watched with no small curiosity
the greeting between Donati and the other _artistes_. His manner was so
very simple that it was hard to realize that he was indeed the man about
whom all Europe was raving; but nevertheless he had somehow brought a
sort of new atmosphere into the place, and even Mr. Horner seemed
conscious of this, for he was less fidgety and fussy than usual, and
even seemed willing to keep in the background. There was a hearty
greeting to Madame Sardoni as she came down the steps and a brisk little
conversation in the interval; then, having wrapped her shawl about her
again, talking brightly all the while, Donati picked up his music and
stepped on to the platform. It was only then that Frithiof realized how
great was his popularity, for he was greeted rapturously, and certainly
he well merited the thunder of applause which broke forth again at the
close of a song which had been given with unrivaled delicacy of
expression and with all the charm of his wonderful voice. For the time
Frithiof forgot everything; he was carried far away from all
consciousness of disgrace and wretchedness, far away from all
recollection of Mr. Horner’s presence; he could only look in
astonishment and admiration at the singer, who stood laughing and
talking with Sardoni, periodically mounting the platform to bow his
acknowledgments to the audience, who still kept up their storm of
applause. When at length he had convinced them that he did not intend to
sing again, he began to talk to Clinton Cleve, and soon had won for the
young _débutant_ a few minutes’ kindly talk with the good-natured old
singer who, though he had been the idol of the British public for many
years, had not forgotten the severe ordeal of a first appearance. The
young tenor brightened visibly, and when he sang again acquitted himself
so well that he won the _encore_ which Donati had prophesied.

All went smoothly until, early in the second part, the Italian baritone
was to sing a song with violin obligato. By some unlucky accident
Frithiof forgot to place the music-stand for the violinist; and
perceiving this as soon as they were on the platform, Donati himself
brought it forward and put it in position. It was but a trifling
occurrence, but quite sufficient to rouse Mr. Horner. When the singer
returned he apologized to him profusely, and turned upon Frithiof with a
rebuke, the tone of which made Donati’s eyes flash.

“Pray do not make so much of it,” he said, with a touch of dignity in
his manner. Then returning again from one of his journeys to the
platform, and noticing the expression of Frithiof’s face, he paused to
speak to him for a moment before returning to give the _encore_ that was
emphatically demanded. It was not so much what he said as his manner of
saying it that caused Frithiof’s face to brighten, and brought a frown
to James Horner’s brow.

“It is merely my duty to enlighten Signor Donati,” said the little man
to himself—“merely my duty!”



                             CHAPTER XXVI.


Carlo Donati had considerable insight into character; not only had he
been born with this gift, but his wandering life had brought him into
contact with all sorts and conditions of men, and had been an excellent
education to one who had always known how to observe. He was, moreover,
of so sympathetic a temperament that he could generally tell in a moment
when trouble was in the air, and the ridiculously trivial affair about
the music-stand, which could not have dwelt in his mind for a minute on
its own account, opened his eyes to the relations existing between Mr.
Horner and the Norwegian. That something was wrong with the latter he
had perceived when Frithiof had first spoken to him in the cloak-room,
and now, having inadvertently been the cause of bringing upon him a
severe rebuke, he was determined to make what amends lay in his power.

He cut short Mr. Horner’s flattering remarks and reiterated apologies as
to the slight _contretemps_.

“It is of no consequence at all,” he said. “By the by, what is the
nationality of that young fellow? I like his face.”

“He is Norwegian,” replied Mr. Horner, glancing at Frithiof, who was
arranging the platform for Madame Gauthier, the pianiste.

“You think, no doubt, that I spoke too severely to him just now, but you
do not realize what a worthless fellow he is. My partner retains him
merely out of charity, but he has been proved to be unprincipled and
dishonest.”

The last few words reached Frithiof distinctly as he came down the
steps; he turned ghastly pale, his very lips grew white; it was as
though some one had stabbed him as he re-entered the little room, and
the eyes that turned straight to the eyes of the Italian were full of a
dumb anguish which Donati never forgot. Indignant with the utter want of
kindness and tact which Mr. Horner had shown, he turned abruptly away
without making the slightest comment on the words; but often through the
evening, when Frithiof was engrossed in other things, Donati quietly
watched him, and the more he saw of him the less was he able to believe
in the truth of the accusation. Meantime he was waiting for his
opportunity, but he was unable to get a word with the Norwegian until
the end of the concert, when he met him on the stairs.

“Are you at liberty?” he asked. “Is your work here over?”

Frithiof replied in the affirmative, and offered to look for the great
baritone’s carriage, imagining that this must be the reason he had
addressed him.

“Oh, as, to the carriage!” said Donati easily, “it will be waiting at
the corner of Sackville Street. But I wanted a few minutes’ talk with
you, and first of all to apologize for having been the unwilling hearer
of that accusation, which I am quite sure is false.”

Frithiof’s clouded face instantly cleared; all the old brightness
returned for a moment to his frank blue eyes, and forgetful of the fact
that he was not in Norway, and that Donati was the idolized public
singer, he grasped the hand of the Italian with that fervent,
spontaneous gratitude which is so much more eloquent than words.

“Thank you,” he said simply.

“Well, now, is it possible for an outsider to help in unraveling the
mystery?” said Donati. “For when a man like you is accused in this way I
take it for granted there must be a mystery.”

“No one can possibly explain it,” said Frithiof, the troubled look
returning to his face. “I can’t tell in the least how the thing
happened, but appearances were altogether against me. It is the most
extraordinary affair, but God knows I had no hand in it.”

“I want to hear all about it,” said Donati with that eagerness of manner
and warmth of interest which made him so devotedly loved by thousands.
“I am leaving England to-morrow; can’t you come back and have supper
with me now, and let me hear this just as it all happened?”

Even if he had wished to refuse, Frithiof could hardly have done so;
and, as it was, he was so miserable that he would have caught at much
less hearty sympathy. They walked along the crowded pavement toward
Sackville Street, and had almost reached the carriage when a
conversation immediately behind them became distinctly audible.

“They make such a fuss over this Donati,” said the speaker. “But I
happen to know that he’s a most disreputable character. I was hearing
all about him the other day from some one who used to know him
intimately. They say, you know, that—”

Here the conversation died away in the distance, and what that curse of
modern society—the almighty “They”—said as to Donati’s private affairs
remained unknown to him.

Frithiof glanced at the singer’s face. Apparently he had not yet reached
those sublime heights where insults cease from troubling and slanders
fail to sting. He was still young, and naturally had the disadvantages
as well as the immense gains of a sensitive artistic temperament. A
gleam of fierce anger swept over his face, and was quickly succeeded by
a pained look that made Frithiof’s heart hot within him; in silence the
Italian opened the door of the carriage, signed to Frithiof to get in,
and they drove off together.

“No matter,” said Donati in a minute, speaking reflectively, and as if
he were alone. “I do not sing for a gossiping public. I sing for
Christ.”

“But that they should dare to say such a thing as that!” exclaimed
Frithiof, growing more and more indignant as his companion’s serenity
returned.

“For one’s self,” said Donati, “it is—well—not much; but for the sake of
those belonging to one it certainly does carry a sting. But every one
who serves the public in a public capacity is in the same boat.
Statesmen, artists, authors, actors, all must endure this plague of
tongues. And, after all, it merely affects one’s reputation, not one’s
character. It doesn’t make one immoral to be considered immoral, and it
doesn’t make you a thief to be considered dishonest. But now I want to
hear about this accusation of Mr. Horner’s. When did it all happen?”

In the dim light Frithiof told his story; it was a relief to tell it to
sympathetic ears; Donati’s faith in him seemed to fill him with new
life, and though the strange events of that miserable Monday did not
grow any clearer in the telling, yet somehow a rope began to dawn in his
heart.

“It certainly is most unaccountable,” said Donati, as the carriage drew
up before a pretty little villa in Avenue Road. He paused to speak to
the coachman. “We shall want the carriage in time to go to the 9.40
train at Charing Cross, Wilson; good-night.”

“But if you start so early,” said Frithiof, “I had better not hinder you
any longer.”

“You do not hinder me; I am very much interested. You must certainly
come in to supper, and afterward I want to hear more about this. How
unlucky it was that the five-pound note should have been changed that
day by Sardoni!”

At this moment the door was opened; Frithiof caught a vision of a slim
figure in a pale rose-colored tea gown, and the loveliest face he had
ever seen was raised to kiss Donati as he entered.

“How nice and early you are!” exclaimed a fresh, merry voice. Then,
catching sight of a stranger, and blushing a little, she added, “I
fancied it was Jack and Domenica you were bringing back with you.”

“Let me introduce you to my wife, Herr Falck,” said Donati, and Frithiof
instantly understood that here lay the explanation of the Italian’s
faultless English, since, despite her foreign name, it was impossible
for a moment to mistake Francesca Donati’s nationality.

The house was prettily, but very simply, furnished, and about it there
was that indefinable air of home that Frithiof had so often noticed in
Rowan Tree House.

“You must forgive a very unceremonious supper, Herr Falck,” said
Francesca, herself making ready the extra place that was needed at
table. “But the fact is, I have sent all the servants to bed, for I knew
they would have to be up early to-morrow, and they feel the traveling a
good deal.”

“Much more than you and I do,” said Donati. “We have grown quite
hardened to it.”

“Then this is not your regular home?” asked Frithiof.

“Yes, it is our English home. We generally have five months here and
five at Naples, with the rest of the time either at Paris, or Berlin, or
Vienna. After all, a wandering life makes very little difference when
you can carry about your home with you.”

“And baby is the best traveler in the world,” said Donati, “and in every
way the most model baby. I think,” glancing at his wife, “that she is as
true a gipsy as Gigi himself.”

“Poor Gigi! he can’t bear being left behind! By the by, had you time to
take him back to school before the concert, or did he go alone?”

“I had just time to take him,” said Donati, waiting upon Frithiof as he
talked. “He was rather doleful, poor old man; but cheered up when I told
him that he was to spend the summer holidays at Merlebank, and to come
to Naples at Christmas. It is a nephew of mine of whom we speak,” he
explained to Frithiof; “and, of course, his education has to be thought
of, and cannot always fit in with my engagements. You go in very much
for education in Norway, I understand?”

Frithiof found himself talking quite naturally and composedly about
Norwegian customs and his former life, and it was not until afterward
that it struck him as a strange thing that on the very day after his
disgrace, when, but for Mr. Boniface’s kindness he might actually have
been in prison, he should be quietly, and even for the time happily,
talking of the old days. Nor was it until afterward that he realized how
much his interview with the great baritone would have been coveted by
many in a very different position; for Donati would not go into London
society though it was longing to lionize him. His wife did not care for
it, and he himself said that with his art, his home, and his own
intimate friends, no time was left for the wearing gayeties of the
season. The world grumbled, but he remained resolute, for though always
ready to help any one who was in trouble, and without the least touch of
exclusiveness about him, he could not endure the emptiness and
wastefulness of the fashionable world. Moreover, while applause that was
genuinely called forth by his singing never failed to give him great
pleasure, the flatteries of celebrity-hunters were intolerable to him,
so that he lost nothing and gained much by the quiet life which he
elected to lead. It was said of the great actor Phelps that “His theater
and his home were alike sacred to him as the Temple of God.” And the
same might well have been said of Donati, while something of the calm of
the Temple seemed to lurk about the quiet little villa, where refinement
and comfort reigned supreme, but where no luxuries were admitted.
Francesca had truly said that the wandering life made very little
difference to them, for wherever they went they made for themselves that
ideal home which has been beautifully described as

                      “A world of strife shut out,
                      A world of love shut in.”

They did not linger long over the supper-table, for Frithiof was
suffering too much to eat, and Donati, like most of his countrymen, had
a very small appetite. Francesca with a kindly good-night to the
Norwegian went upstairs to her baby, and the two men drew their chairs
up to the open French window at the back of the room looking on to the
little garden to which the moonlight gave a certain mysterious charm.

“I have thought over it,” said Donati, almost abruptly, and as if the
matter might naturally engross his thoughts as much as those of his
companion. “But I can’t find the very slightest clue. It is certainly a
mystery.”

“And must always remain so,” said Frithiof despairingly.

“I do not think that at all. Some day all will probably be explained.
And be sure to let me hear when it is, for I shall be anxious to know.”

A momentary gleam of hope crossed Frithiof’s face, but the gloom quickly
returned.

“It will never be explained,” he said. “I was born under an unlucky
star; at the very moment when all seems well something has always
interfered to spoil my life; and with my father it was exactly the
same—it was an undeserved disgrace that actually killed him.”

And then, to his own astonishment, he found himself telling Donati, bit
by bit, the whole of his own story. The Italian said very little, but he
listened intently, and in truth possessed exactly the right
characteristics for a confidant—rare sympathy, tact, and absolute
faithfulness. To speak out freely to such a man was the best thing in
the world for Frithiof, and Donati, who had himself had to battle with a
sea of troubles, understood him as a man who had suffered less could not
possibly have done.

“It is to this injustice,” said Frithiof, as he ended his tale, “to this
unrighteous success of the mercenary and scheming, and failure of the
honorable, that Christianity tells one to be resigned. It is that which
sets me against religion—which makes it all seem false and
illogical—actually immoral.”

Probably Donati would not even have alluded to religion had not his
companion himself introduced the subject. It was not his way to say much
on such topics, but when he did speak his words came with most wonderful
directness and force. It was not so much that he said anything
noteworthy or novel, but that his manner had about it such an intensity
of conviction, such rare unconsciousness, and such absolute freedom from
all conventionality. “Pardon me, if I venture to show you a flaw in your
argument,” he said quietly. “You say we are told to be resigned. Very
well. But what is resignation? It was well defined once by a noble
Russian writer who said that it is ‘placing God between ourselves and
our trouble.’ There is nothing illogical in that. It is the merest
common-sense. When finite things worry and perplex you, turn to the
Infinite from which they may be safely and peacefully viewed.”

Frithiof thought of those words which had involuntarily escaped his
companion after the remark of the passer-by in Piccadilly—“No matter!—I
do not sing for a gossiping world.” He began to understand Donati
better—he longed with an intensity of longing to be able to look at life
with such eyes as his.

“These things are so real to you,” he said quickly. “But to me they are
only a hope—or, if for an hour or two real, they fade away again. It may
be all very well for you in your successful happy life, but it is
impossible for me with everything against me.”

“Impossible!” exclaimed Donati, his eyes flashing, and with something in
his tone which conveyed volumes to the Norwegian.

“If not impossible at any rate very difficult,” he replied.

“Yes, yes,” said Donati, his eyes full of sympathy. “It is that to all
of us. Don’t think I make light of your difficulties. It is hard to seek
God in uncongenial surroundings, in a life harassed and misunderstood,
and in apparent failure. But—don’t let the hardness daunt you—just go
on.”

The words were commonplace enough, but they were full of a wonderful
power because there lurked beneath them the assurance—

                 “I have been through where ye must go;
                 I have seen past the agony.”

“Do you know,” said Frithiof, smiling, “that is almost what you said to
me the first time I saw you. You have forgotten it, but a year ago you
said a few words to me which kept me from making an end of myself in a
fit of despair. Do you remember coming to the shop about a song of
Knight’s?”

“Why yes,” said Donati. “Was that really you? It all comes back to me
now—I remember you found the song for me though I had only the merest
scrap of it, without the composer’s name.”

“It was just before my illness,” said Frithiof. “I never forgot you, and
recognized you the moment I saw you to-night. Somehow you saved my life
then just by giving me a hope.”

Perhaps no greater contrast could have been found than these two men
who, by what seemed a mere chance, had been thrown together so
strangely. But Donati almost always attracted to himself men of an
opposite type; as a rule it was not the religious public that understood
him or appreciated him best, it was the men of the world, and those with
whom he came in contact in his professional life. To them his character
appealed in a wonderful way, and many who would have been ashamed to
show any enthusiasm as a rule, made an exception in favor of this man,
who had somehow fascinated them and compelled them into a belief in
goodness little in accord with the cynical creed they professed.

To Frithiof in his wretchedness, in his despairing rebellion against a
fate which seemed relentlessly to pursue him, the Italian’s faith came
with all the force of a new revelation. He saw that the success, for
which but a few hours ago he had cordially hated the great singer, came
from no caprice of fortune, but from the way in which Donati had used
his gifts; nor had the Italian all at once leapt into fame, he had gone
through a cruelly hard apprenticeship, and had suffered so much that not
even the severe test of extreme popularity, wealth, and personal
happiness could narrow his sympathies, for all his life he would carry
with him the marks of a past conflict—a conflict which had won for him
the name of the “Knight-errant.”

The same single-hearted, generous nature which had fitted him for that
past work, fitted him now to be Frithiof’s friend. For men like Donati
are knights-errant all their life long, they do not need a picturesque
cause, or seek a paying subject, but just travel through the world,
succoring those with whom they come in contact. The troubles of the
Norwegian in his prosaic shop-life were as much to Donati as the
troubles of any other man would have been; position and occupation were,
to him, very insignificant details; he did not expend the whole of his
sympathies on the sorrows of East London, and shut his heart against the
griefs of the rich man at the West End; nor was he so engrossed with his
poor Neapolitans that he could not enter into the difficulties of a
London shopman. He saw that Frithiof was one of that great multitude
who, through the harshness and injustice of the world, find it almost
impossible to retain their faith in God, and, through the perfidy of one
woman, are robbed of the best safeguard that can be had in life. His
heart went out to the man, and the very contrast of his present life
with its intense happiness quickened his sympathies. But what he said
Frithiof never repeated to any one, he could not have done it even had
he cared to try. When at length he rose to go Donati had, as it were,
saved him from moral death, had drawn him out of the slough of despond,
and started him with renewed hope on his way.

“Wait just one moment,” he said, as they stood by the door; “I will give
you one of my cards and write on it the Italian address. There! _Villa
Valentino, Napoli._ Don’t forget to write and tell me when this affair
is all cleared up.”

Frithiof grasped his hand, and, again thanking him, passed out into the
quiet, moonlit street.



                             CHAPTER XXVII.


The events of Monday had cast a shadow over Rowan-Tree House. Cecil no
longer sang as she went to and fro, Mr. Boniface was paying the penalty
of a stormy interview late on Monday evening with his partner, and was
not well enough to leave his room, and Mrs. Boniface looked grave and
sad, for she foresaw the difficulties in which Frithiof’s disgrace would
involve others.

“I wish Roy had been at home,” she said to her daughter as, on the
Wednesday afternoon, they sat together in the verandah.

Cecil looked up for a moment from the little frock which she was making
for Gwen.

“If he had been at home, I can’t help thinking that this never would
have happened,” she said. “And I have a sort of hope that he will find
out some explanation of it all.”

“My dear, what explanation can there be but the one that satisfies your
father?” said Mrs. Boniface. “Frithiof must have taken it in a fit of
momentary aberration. But the whole affair shows that he is not so
strong yet as we fancied, and I fear is a sign that all his life he will
feel the effects of his illness. It is that which makes me so sorry for
them all.”

“I do not believe that he took it,” said Cecil. “Nothing will ever make
me believe that.”

She stitched away fast at the little frock, in a sudden panic, lest the
tears which burned in her eyes should attract her mother’s notice. Great
regret and sympathy she might allow herself to show, for Frithiof was a
friend and a favorite of every one in the house; but of the grief that
filled her heart she must allow no trace to be seen, for it would make
her mother miserable to guess at the extent of her unhappiness.

“Did you see him last night at the concert?” asked Mrs. Boniface.

“Yes,” said Cecil, choking back her tears; “just when he arranged the
platform. He was looking very ill and worn.”

“That is what I am so afraid of. He will go worrying over this affair,
and it is the very worst thing in the world for him. I wish your father
were better, and I would go and have a talk with Sigrid; but I hardly
like to leave the house. How would it be, dearie, if you went up and saw
them?”

“I should like to go,” said Cecil quickly. “But it is no use being there
before seven, for Madame Lechertier has her classes so much later in
this hot weather.”

“Well, go up at seven, then, and have a good talk with her; make her
understand that we none of us think a bit the worse of him for it, and
that we are vexed with Cousin James for having been so disagreeable and
harsh. You might, if you like, go to meet Roy; he comes back at
half-past eight, and he will bring you home again.”

Cecil cheered up a good deal at this idea; she took Lance round the
garden with her, that he might help her to gather flowers for Sigrid,
and even smiled a little when of his own accord the little fellow
brought her a beautiful passion-flower which he had gathered from the
house wall.

“This one’s for my dear Herr Frithiof!” he exclaimed, panting a little
with the exertions he had made to reach it. “It’s all for his own self,
and I picked it for him, ’cause it’s his very favorite.”

“You know, Cecil,” said her mother, as she returned to the seat under
the verandah and began to arrange the flowers in a basket, “I have
another theory as to this affair. It happened exactly a week after that
day at the seaside when we all had such a terrible fright about Roy and
Sigrid. Frithiof had a long run in the sun, which you remember was very
hot that day; then he had all the excitement of rowing out and rescuing
them, and though at the time it seemed no strain on him at all, yet I
think it is quite possible that the shock may have brought back a slight
touch of the old trouble.”

“And yet it seemed to do him good at the time,” said Cecil. “He looked
so bright and fresh when he came back. Besides, to a man accustomed as
he once was to a very active life, the rescue was, after all, no such
great exertion.”

Mrs. Boniface sighed.

“It would grieve me to think that it was really caused by that, but if
it is so, there is all the more reason that they should clearly
understand that the affair makes no difference at all in our opinion of
him. It is just possible that it may be his meeting with Lady Romiaux
which is the cause. Sigrid told me they had accidentally come across her
again, and that it had tried him very much.”

Cecil turned away to gather some ferns from the rockery; she could not
bear to discuss that last suggestion. Later on in the afternoon it was
with a very heavy heart that she reached the model lodgings and knocked
at the door that had now become so familiar to her.

Swanhild flew to greet her with her usual warmth. It was easy to see
that the child knew nothing of the trouble hanging over the house. “What
lovely flowers! How good of you!” she cried.

But Sigrid could not speak: she only kissed her, then turned to Swanhild
and the flowers once more.

“They are beautiful,” she said. “Don’t you think we might spare some for
Mrs. Hallifield? Run and take her some, dear.”

When the child ran off she drew Cecil into their bedroom. The two girls
sat down together on the bed, but Sigrid, usually the one to do most of
the talking, was silent and dejected. Cecil saw at once that she must
take the initiative.

“I have been longing to come and see you,” she said. “But yesterday was
so filled up. Father and mother are so sorry for all this trouble, and
are very much vexed that Mr. Horner has behaved badly about it.”

“They are very kind,” said Sigrid wearily. “Of course most employers
would have prosecuted Frithiof, or, at any rate, discharged him.”

“But, Sigrid, what can be the explanation of it? Oh, surely we can
manage to find out somehow! Who can have put the note in his pocket?”

“What!” cried Sigrid. “Do not you, too, hold Mr. Boniface’s opinion, and
think that he himself did it unintentionally?”

“I!” cried Cecil passionately. “Never! never! I am quite sure he had
nothing whatever to do with it.”

Sigrid flung her arms round her.

“Oh, how I love you for saying that!” she exclaimed.

It was the first real comfort that had come to her since their trouble,
and, although before Frithiof she was brave and cheerful, in his absence
she became terribly anxious and depressed. But with the comfort there
came a fresh care, for something at that moment revealed to her Cecil’s
secret. Perhaps it was the burning cheek, that was pressed to hers, or
perhaps a sort of thrill in her companion’s voice as she spoke those
vehement words, and declared her perfect faith in Frithiof.

The thought filled her with hot indignation against Blanche. “Has she
not only spoilt Frithiof’s life, but Cecil’s too?” she said to herself.
And in despair she looked on into the future, and back into the sad
past. “If it had not been for Blanche he might have loved her—I think he
would have loved her And oh! how happy she would have made him! how
different his whole life would have been! But now, with disgrace, and
debt, and broken health, all that is impossible for him. Blanche has
robbed him, too, of the very power of loving; she has cheated him out of
his heart. Her hateful flirting has ruined the happiness of two people,
probably of many more, for Frithiof was not the only man whom she
deceived. Oh! why does God give women the power to bring such misery
into the world?”

She was recalled from her angry thoughts by Cecil’s voice; it was sweet
and gentle again now, and no longer vehement.

“Do you know, Sigrid,” she said, “I have great hopes in Roy. He will be
home to-night, and he will come to it all like an outsider, and I think,
perhaps, he will throw some light on the mystery. I shall meet him at
Charing Cross, and as we drive home, will tell him just what happened.”

“Is it to-night he comes home?” said Sigrid, with a depth of relief in
her tone. “Oh, how glad I am! But there is Swanhild back again. You wont
say anything before her, for we have not mentioned it to her; there
seemed no reason why she should be made unhappy, and Frithiof likes to
feel that one person is unharmed by his trouble.”

“Yes, one can understand that,” said Cecil. “And Swanhild is such a
child, one would like to shelter her from all unhappiness. Are you sure
that you don’t mind my staying. Would you not rather be alone to-night?”

“Oh, no, no,” said Sigrid. “Do stay to supper. It will show Frithiof
that you do not think any the worse of him for this—it will please him
so much.”

They went back to the sitting-room and began to prepare the evening
meal; and when, presently, Frithiof returned from his work, the first
thing he caught sight of on entering the room was Cecil’s sweet,
open-looking face. She was standing by the table arranging flowers, but
came forward quickly to greet him. Her color was a little deeper than
usual, her hand-clasp a little closer, but otherwise she behaved exactly
as if nothing unusual had happened.

“I have most unceremoniously asked myself to supper,” she said, “for I
have to meet Roy at half-past eight.”

“It is very good of you to come,” said Frithiof gratefully.

His interview with Carlo Donati had done much for him, and had helped
him through a very trying day at the shop, but though he had made a good
start and had begun his new life bravely, and borne many disagreeables
patiently, yet he was now miserably tired and depressed, just in the
mood which craves most for human sympathy.

“Lance sent you this,” she said, handing him the passion-flower and
making him smile by repeating the child’s words.

He seemed touched and pleased; and the conversation at supper-time
turned a good deal on the children. He asked anxiously after Mr.
Boniface, and then they discussed the concert of the previous night, and
he spoke a little of Donati’s kindness to him. Then, while Sigrid and
Swanhild were busy in the kitchen, she told him what she knew of
Donati’s previous life, and how it was that he had gained this
extraordinary power of sympathy and insight.

“I never met any one like him,” said Frithiof. “He is a hero and a
saint, if ever there was one, yet without one touch of the asceticism
which annoys one in most good people. That the idol of the operatic
stage should be such a man as that seems to me wonderful.”

“You mean because the life is a trying one?”

“Yes; because such very great popularity might be supposed to make a man
conceited, and such an out-of-the-way voice might make him selfish and
heedless of others, and to be so much run after might make him consider
himself above ordinary mortals, instead of being ready, as he evidently
is, to be the friend of any one who is in need.”

“I am so glad you like him, and that you saw so much of him,” said
Cecil. “I wonder if you would just see me into a cab now, for I ought to
be going.”

He was pleased that she had asked him to do this; and when she had said
good-by to Sigrid and Swanhild, and was once more alone with him,
walking through the big court-yard, he could not resist alluding to it.

“It is good of you,” he said, “to treat me as though I were under no
cloud. You have cheered me wonderfully.”

“Oh,” she said, “it is not good of me—you must not think that I believe
you under a cloud at all. Nothing would ever make me believe that you
had anything whatever to do with that five-pound note. It is a mystery
that will some day be cleared up.”

“That is what Signor Donati said. He, too, believed in me in spite of
appearances being against me. And Sigrid says the same. With three
people on my side I can wait more patiently.”

Cecil had spoken very quietly, and quite without the passionate
vehemence which had betrayed her secret to Sigrid, for now she was on
her guard; but her tone conveyed to Frithiof just the trust and
friendliness which she wished it to convey; and he went home again with
a fresh stock of hope and courage in his heart.

Meanwhile Cecil paced gravely up and down the arrival platform at
Charing Cross. She, too, had been cheered by their interview, but,
nevertheless, the baffling mystery haunted her continually, and in vain
she racked her mind for any solution of the affair. Perhaps the anxiety
had already left its traces on her face, for Roy at once noticed a
change in her.

“Why, Cecil, what has come over you? You are not looking well,” he said,
as they got into a hansom and set off on their long drive.

“Father has not been well,” she said, in explanation. “And I think we
have all been rather upset by something that happened on Monday
afternoon in the shop.”

Then she told him exactly what had passed, and waited hopefully for his
comments on the story. He knitted his brows in perplexity.

“I wish I had been at home,” he said. “If only James Horner had not gone
ferreting into it all this would never have happened. Frithiof would
have discovered his mistake, and all would have been well.”

“But you don’t imagine that Frithiof put the note in his pocket?” said
Cecil, her heart sinking down in deep disappointment.

“Why, who else could have put it there? Of course he must have done it
in absence of mind. Probably the excitement and strain of that unlucky
afternoon at Britling Gap affected his brain in some way.”

“I cannot think that,” she said, in a low voice. “And, even if it were
so, that is the last sort of thing he would do.”

“But that is just the way when people’s brains are affected, they do the
most unnatural things; it is a known fact that young innocent girls will
often in delirium use the most horrible language such as in real life
they cannot possibly have heard. Your honest man is quite likely under
the circumstances to become a thief. Is not this the view that my father
takes?”

“Yes,” said Cecil. “But somehow—I thought—I hoped—that you would have
trusted him.”

“It doesn’t in the least affect my opinion of his character. He was
simply not himself when he did it. But one can’t doubt such evidence as
that. The thing was missed from the till and found pinned into his
pocket; how can any reasonable being doubt that he himself put it
there?”

“It may be unreasonable to refuse to believe it—I cannot help that,”
said Cecil.

“But how can it possibly be explained on any other supposition?” he
urged, a little impatiently.

“I don’t know,” said Cecil; “at present it is a mystery. But I am as
sure that he did not put it there as that I did not put it there.”

“Women believe what they wish to believe, and utterly disregard logic,”
said Roy.

“It is not only women who believe in him. Carlo Donati has gone most
carefully into every detail, and he believes in him.”

“Then I wish he would give me his recipe,” said Roy, with a sigh. “I am
but a matter-of-fact, prosaic man of business, and cannot make myself
believe that black is white, however much I wish it. Have you seen Miss
Falck? Is she very much troubled about it?”

“Yes, she is so afraid that he will worry himself ill; but, of course,
she too believes in him. I think she suspects the other man in the shop,
Darnell—but I don’t see how he can have anything to do with it, I must
own.”

There was a silence. Cecil looked sadly at the passers-by, lovers
strolling along happily in the cool of the evening, workers just set
free from the long day’s toil, children reveling in the fresh sweet air.
How very brief was the happiness and rest as compared to the hard,
wearing drudgery of most of those lives! Love perhaps brightened a few
minutes of each day, but in the outside world there was no love, no
justice, nothing but a hard, grinding competition, while Sorrow and Sin,
Sickness and Death hovered round, ever ready to pounce upon their
victims. It was unlike her to look so entirely on the dark side of
things, but Frithiof’s persistent ill-luck had depressed her, and she
was disappointed by Roy’s words. Perhaps it was unreasonable of her to
expect him to share her view of the affair, but somehow she had expected
it, and now there stole into her heart a dreary sense that everything
was against the man she loved. In her sheltered happy home, where a
bitter word was never heard, where the family love glowed so brightly
that all the outside world was seen through its cheering rays, sad
thoughts of the strength of evil seldom came, there was ever present so
strong a witness for the infinitely greater power of love. But driving
now along these rather melancholy roads, weighed down by Frithiof’s
trouble; a sort of hopelessness seized her, the thought of the miles and
miles of houses all round, each one representing several troubled,
struggling lives, made her miserable. Personal trouble helps us
afterward to face the sorrows of humanity, and shows us how we may all
in our infinitesimal way help to brighten other lives—take something
from the world’s great load of pain and evil. But at first there must be
times of deadly depression, and in these it is perhaps impossible not to
yield a little for the moment to the despairing thought that evil is
rampant and all-powerful. Poverty, and sin, and temptation are so easily
visible everywhere, and to be ever conscious of the great unseen world
encompassing us, and of Him who makes both seen and unseen to work
together for good, is not easy.

Cecil Boniface, like every one else in this world, had, in spite of her
ideal home, in spite of all the comforts that love and money could give
her, to “dree her weird.”



                            CHAPTER XXVIII.


If Roy had seemed unsympathetic as they drove home it was not because he
did not feel keenly. He was indeed afraid to show how keenly he felt,
and he would have given almost anything to have been able honestly to
say that he, too, believed in some unexplained mystery which should
entirely free his friend from reproach. But he could not honestly
believe in such a thing—it would have been as easy to him to believe in
the existence of fairies and hobgoblins. Since no such thing as magic
existed, and since Darnell had never been an assistant of Maskelyne and
Cooke, he could not believe that he had anything to do with the
five-pound note. Assuredly no one but Frithiof could have taken it out
of the till and carefully pinned it to the lining of his waistcoat
pocket. The more he thought over the details of the story, the more
irrational seemed his sister’s blind faith. And yet his longing to share
in her views chafed and irritated him as he realized the impossibility.

His mind was far too much engrossed to notice Cecil much, and that,
perhaps, was a good thing, for just then in her great dejection any
ordinarily acute observer could not have failed to read her story. But
Roy, full of passionate love for Sigrid, and of hot indignation with
James Horner for having been the instrument of bringing about all this
trouble, was little likely to observe other people.

Why had he ever gone to Paris? he wondered angrily, when his father or
James Horner could have seen to the business there quite as well. He had
gone partly because he liked the change, and partly because he was
thankful for anything that would fill up the wretched time while he
waited for Sigrid’s definite reply to his proposal. But now he blamed
himself for his restlessness, and was made miserable by the perception
that had he chosen differently all would have now been well.

He slept little that night, and went up to business the next morning in
anything but a pleasant frame of mind, for he could hardly resist his
longing to go straight to Sigrid, and see how things were with her. When
he entered the shop Darnell was in his usual place at the left-hand
counter, but Frithiof was arranging some songs on a stand in the center,
and Roy was at once struck by a change that had come over him; he could
not define it, but he felt that it was not in this way that he had
expected to find the Norwegian after a trouble which must have been so
specially galling to his pride. “How are you?” he said, grasping his
hand; but it was impossible before others to say what was really in his
heart, and it was not till an hour or two later that they had any
opportunity of really speaking together. Then it chanced that Frithiof
came into his room with a message.

“There is a Mr. Carruthers waiting to speak to you,” he said, handing
him a card; “he has two manuscript songs which he wishes to submit to
you.”

“Tell him I am engaged,” said Roy. “And that as for songs, we have
enough to last us for the next two years.”

“They are rather good; he has shown them to me. You might just glance
through them,” suggested Frithiof.

“I shall write a book some day on the sorrows of a music-publisher!”
said Roy. “How many thousands of composers do you think there can be in
this overcrowded country? No, I’ll not see the man; I’m in too bad a
temper; but you can just bring in the songs, and I will look at them and
talk to you at the same time.”

Frithiof returned in a minute, carrying the neat manuscripts which meant
so much to the composer and so little, alas! to the publisher. Roy
glanced through the first.

“The usual style of thing,” he said. “Moon, man, and maid, rill and
hill, quarrel, kisses—all based on ‘So the Story Goes.’ I don’t think
this is worth sending to the reader. What’s the other? Words by
Swinburne: ‘If Love were what the Rose is.’ Yes, you are right; this one
is original; I rather like that refrain. We will send it to Martino and
see what he thinks of it. Tell Mr. Carruthers that he shall hear about
it in a month or two. And take him back this moonlight affair. Don’t go
yet; he can wait on tenter-hooks a little longer. Of course they have
told me at home about all this fuss on Monday, and I want you to promise
me one thing.”

“What is that?” said Frithiof.

“That you wont worry about this miserable five-pound note. That, if you
ever think of it again, you will remember that my father and I both
regard the accident as if it had never happened.”

“Then you too take his view of the affair?” said Frithiof.

“Yes, it seems to me the only reasonable one; but don’t let us talk of a
thing that is blotted out and done away. It makes no difference whatever
to me, and you must promise that you wont let it come between us.”

“You are very good,” said Frithiof sadly; and, remembering the
hopelessness of arguing with one who took this view of his trouble, he
said no more, but went back to the poor composer, whose face lengthened
when he saw that his hands were not empty, but brightened into radiant
hope as Frithiof explained that one song would really have the rare
privilege of being actually looked at. Being behind the scenes, he
happened to know that the vast majority of songs sent to the firm
remained for a few weeks in the house, and were then wrapped up again
and returned without even being glanced at. His intervention had, at any
rate, saved Mr. Carruthers from that hard fate.

“And yet, poor fellow,” he reflected, “even if he does get his song
published it is a hundred to one that it will fall flat and never do him
any good at all; where one succeeds a thousand fail; that seems the law
of the world, and I am one of the thousand. I wonder what is the use of
it all!”

Some lines that Donati had quoted to him returned to his mind:

                  “Glorious it is to wear the crown
                    Of a deserved and pure success;
                  He that knows how to fail has won
                    A crown whose luster is not less.”

His reflections were interrupted by the entrance of two customers,
evidently a very recently married couple, who had come to choose a
piano. Once again he had to summon Roy, who stood patiently discoursing
on the various merits of different makers until at last the purchase had
been made. Then, unable any longer to resist the feverish impatience
which had been consuming him for so long, he snatched up his hat, left
word with Frithiof that he should be absent for an hour, and getting
into a hansom drove straight to the model lodgings.

He felt a curious sense of incongruity as he walked across the
court-yard; this great business-like place was, as Sigrid had once said,
very much like a hive. An air of industry and orderliness pervaded it,
and Roy, in his eager impatience, felt as if he had no right there at
all. This feeling cast a sort of chill over his happiness as he knocked
at the familiar door. A voice within bade him enter, and, emerging from
behind the Japanese screen, he found Sigrid hard at work ironing. She
wore a large brown holland apron and bib over her black dress, her
sleeves were turned back, revealing her round, white arms up to the
elbow, and the table was strewn with collars and cuffs.

“I thought it was Mrs. Hallifield come to scrub the kitchen,” she
exclaimed, “or I should not have cried ‘Come in!’ so unceremoniously.
Cecil told us you were expected last night.”

“Will you forgive me for coming at this hour?” he began eagerly. “I knew
it was the only time I was sure to find you at home, and I couldn’t rest
till I had seen you.”

“It was very good of you to come,” she said, coloring a little; “you
wont mind if I just finish my work while we talk?”

The ironing might, in truth, have waited very well; but somehow it
relieved her embarrassment to sprinkle and arrange and iron the “fine
things” which, from motives of economy, she washed herself.

“I have seen Frithiof,” he said, rather nervously. “He is looking better
than I had expected after such an annoyance.”

“You have spoken to him about it?”

“Only for a minute or two. After all, what is there to say but that the
whole affair must be forgotten, and never again mentioned by a soul. I
want so to make you understand that it is to us nothing at all, that it
is ridiculous to suppose that it can affect our thoughts of him. It was
the sort of thing that might happen to any one after such an illness.”

Sigrid looked up at him. There was the same depth of disappointment in
her expression as there had been in Cecil’s.

“You take that view of it,” she said slowly. “Somehow I had hoped you
would have been able to find the true explanation.”

“If there were any other you surely know that I would seek for it with
all my might,” said Roy. “But I do not see how any other explanation can
possibly exist.”

She sighed.

“You are disappointed,” he said. “You thought I should have taken the
view that Carlo Donati takes. I only wish I could. But, you see, my
nature is more prosaic. I can’t make myself believe a thing when all the
evidences are against it.”

“I am not blaming you,” said Sigrid. “It is quite natural, and of course
most employers would have taken a far harder view of the matter, and
turned Frithiof off at a moment’s notice. You and Mr. Boniface have been
very kind.”

“Don’t speak like that,” he exclaimed. “How can you speak of kindness as
between us? You know that Frithiof is like a brother to me.”

“No,” she said; “you are mistaken. I know that you are fond of him; but,
if he were like a brother to you, then you would understand him; you
would trust him through everything as I do.”

Perhaps she was unreasonable. But then she was very unhappy and very
much agitated; and women are not always reasonable, or men either, for
that matter.

“Sigrid,” he said passionately, “you are not going to let this come
between us? You know that I love you with all my heart, you know that I
would do anything in the world for you, but even for love of you I
cannot make myself believe that black is white.”

“I am not reproaching you because you do not think as we think,” she
said quickly. “But in one way this must come between us.”

“Hush!” he said imploringly; “wait a little longer. I will not to-day
ask you for your answer; I will wait as long as you please; but don’t
speak now while your mind is full of this trouble.”

“If I do not speak now, when do you think I shall be more at leisure?”
she asked coldly. “Oh! it seems a light thing to you, and you are kind,
and pass it over, and hush it up, but you don’t realize how bitter it is
to a Norwegian to have such a shadow cast on his honesty. Do you think
that even if you forget it we can forget? Do you think that the other
men in the shop hold your view? Do you think that Mr. Horner agrees with
you?”

“Perhaps not. What do I care for them?” said Roy.

“No; that is just it. To you it is a matter of indifference, but to
Frithiof it is just a daily torture. And you would have me think of
happiness while he is miserable! You would have me go and leave him when
at any moment he may break down again!”

“I would never ask you to leave him,” said Roy. “Our marriage would not
at all involve that. It would be a proof to him of how little this
wretched business affects my opinion of him; it would prove to all the
world that we don’t regard it as anything but the merest accident.”

“Do you think the world would be convinced?” said Sigrid, very bitterly.
“I will tell you what it would say. It would say that I had so entangled
you that you could not free yourself, and that, in spite of Frithiof’s
disgrace, you were obliged to marry me. And that shall never be said.”

“For heaven’s sake don’t let the miserable gossip, the worthless opinion
of outsiders, make our lives miserable. What do we care for the world?
It is nothing to us. Let them say what they will; so long as they only
say lies what difference does it make to us?”

“You don’t know what you are talking about,” she said, and for the first
time the tears rushed to her eyes. “Your life has been all sheltered and
happy. But out there in Bergen I have had to bear coldness and contempt
and the knowledge that even death did not shield my father from the
poisonous tongues of the slanderers. Lies can’t make the things they say
true, but do you think that lies have no power to harm you? no power to
torture you? Oh! before you say that you should just try.”

Her words pierced his heart; the more he realized the difficulties of
her life the more intolerable grew the longing to help her, to shield
her, to defy the opinion of outsiders for her sake.

“But don’t you see,” he urged, “that it is only a form of pride which
you are giving way to? It is only that which is keeping us apart.”

“And what if it is,” she replied, her eyes flashing. “A woman has a
right to be proud in such matters. Besides, it is not only pride. It is
that I can’t think of happiness while Frithiof is miserable. My first
duty is to him; and how could I flaunt my happiness in his face? how
could I now bring back to him the remembrance of all his past troubles?”

“At least wait,” pleaded Roy, once more; “at least let me once more ask
your final answer a few months hence.”

“I will wait until Frithiof’s name is cleared,” she said passionately.
“You may ask me again then, not before.”

Then seeing the despair in his face her strength all at once gave way,
she turned aside trying to hide her tears. He stood up and came toward
her, her grief gave him fresh hope and courage.

“Sigrid,” he said, “I will not urge you any more. It shall be as you
wish. Other men have had to wait. I suppose I, too, can bear it. I only
ask one thing, tell me this once that you love me.”

He saw the lovely color flood her cheek, she turned toward him silently
but with all her soul in her eyes. For a minute he held her closely, and
just then it was impossible that he could realize the hopelessness of
the case. Strong with the rapture of the confession she had made, it was
not then, nor indeed for many hours after, that cold despair gripped his
heart once more. She loved him—he loved her with the whole strength of
his being. Was it likely that a miserable five-pound note could for ever
divide them? Poor Roy! as Sigrid had said, he had lived such a sheltered
life. He knew so little of the world.



                             CHAPTER XXIX.


It is of course a truism that we never fully appreciate what we have,
until some trouble or some other loss shows us all that has grown
familiar in a fresh light. Our life-long friends are only perhaps valued
at their true worth when some friendship of recent growth has proved
fleeting and full of disappointment. And though many may love their
homes, yet a home can only be properly appreciated by one who has had to
bear from the outside world contempt and misunderstanding and harsh
judgment. Fond as he had been of his home before, Frithiof had never
until now quite realized what it meant to him. But as each evening he
returned from work, and from the severe trial of an atmosphere of
suspicion and dislike, he felt much as the sailor feels when, after
tossing about all day in stormy seas he anchors at night in some harbor
of refuge. Sigrid knew that he felt this, and she was determined that he
should not even guess at her trouble. Luckily she had plenty to do, so
that it was impossible for her to sit and look her sorrow in the face,
or brood over it in idleness. It was with her certainly as she went
about her household work, with her as she and Swanhild walked through
the hot and crowded streets, and with her as she played at Madame
Lechertier’s Academy. But there was something in the work that prevented
the trouble from really preying on her mind, she was sad indeed yet not
in despair.

Nevertheless Madame Lechertier’s quick eyes noted at once the change in
her favorite.

“You are not well, _chérie_,” she said, “your face looks worn. Why, my
dear, I can actually see lines in your forehead. At your age that is
inexcusable.”

Sigrid laughed.

“I have a bad habit of wrinkling it up when I am worried about
anything,” she said. “To-day, perhaps, I am a little tired. It is so hot
and sultry, and besides I am anxious about Frithiof, it is a trying time
for him.”

“Yes, this heat is trying to the strongest,” said Madame Lechertier,
fanning herself. “Swanhild, my angel, there are some new bonbons in that
box, help yourself.”

This afternoon it happened to be a children’s class, and Madame
Lechertier invariably regaled them in the intervals of rest with the
most delicious French sweetmeats. It was a pretty sight to see the
groups of little ones, and Swanhild in her dainty Norwegian costume,
handing the bonbons to each in turn. Sigrid always liked to watch this
part of the performance, and perhaps the most comforting thought to her
just then was, that as far as Swanhild was concerned, the new life, in
spite of its restrictions and economies, seemed to answer so well. The
child was never happier than when hard at work at the academy; even on
this hot summer day she never complained; and in truth the afternoons
just brought the right amount of variety into what would otherwise have
been a very monotonous life.

“Sigrid,” said the little girl, as they walked home together, “is it
true what you said to Madame Lechertier about Frithiof feeling the heat?
Is it really that which has made him so grave the last few days?”

“It is partly that,” replied Sigrid. “But he has a good deal to trouble
him that you are too young to understand, things that will not bear
talking about. You must try to make it bright and cheerful at home.”

Swanhild sighed. It was not so easy to be bright and cheerful all by
one’s self, and of late Frithiof and Sigrid had been—as she expressed it
in the quaint Norse idiom—silent as lighted candles. People talk a great
deal about the happy freedom from care which children can enjoy, but as
a matter of fact many a child feels the exact state of the home
atmosphere, and puzzles its head over the unknown troubles which are
grieving the elders, often magnifying trifles into most alarming and
menacing sources of danger. But Frithiof never guessed either little
Swanhild’s perplexities, or Sigrid’s trouble; when he returned all
seemed to him natural and homelike; and perhaps it was as much with the
desire to be still with them as from any recollection of Donati’s words,
that on the following Sunday he set off with them to the service held
during the summer evenings at Westminster Abbey.

What impression the beautiful service made on him Sigrid could not tell,
but the sermon was unluckily the very last he ought to have heard. The
learned Oxford professor who preached to the great throng of people that
night could have understood very little how his words would affect many
of his hearers; he preached as a pessimist, he drew a miserable picture
of the iniquity and injustice of the world, all things were going wrong,
the times were out of joint, but he suggested no remedy, he did not even
indicate that there was another side to the picture. The congregation
dispersed. In profound depression, Frithiof walked down the nave, and
passed out into the cool evening air. Miserable as life had seemed to
him before, it now seemed doubly miserable, it was all a great wretched
problem to which there was no solution, a purposeless whirl of buying
and selling, a selfish struggle for existence. They walked past the
Aquarium, the dingy side streets looked unlovely enough on that summer
night, and the dreary words he had heard haunted him persistently,
harmonizing only too well with the _cui bono_ that at all times was apt
to suggest itself to his mind. A wretched, clouded life in a miserable
world, misfortunes which he had never deserved eternally dogging his
steps, his own case merely one of a million similar or worse cases.
Where was the use of it all?

A voice close beside him made him start. They were passing a corner
where two streets crossed each other, and the words that fell upon his
ear, spoken with a strange fervor yet with deep reverence, were just
these:

“Jesus, blessed Jesus!”

He glanced sharply round and saw a little crowd of people gathered
together; the words had been read from a hymn-book by a man whose whole
heart had been thrown into what he read. They broke into Frithiof’s
revery very strangely. Then immediately the people began to sing the
well-known hymn, “The Great Physician now is near,” and the familiar
tune, which had long ago penetrated to Norway, brought to Frithiof’s
mind a host of old memories. Was it after all true that the problem had
been solved? Was it true that in spite of suffering and sin and misery
the pledge of ultimate victory had already been given? Was it true that
he whose uncongenial work seemed chiefly to consist of passive endurance
had yet a share in helping to bring about the final triumph of good?

From the words read by the street preacher, his mind involuntarily
turned to the words spoken to him a few days before by a stage singer.
Donati had spoken of living the life of the crucified. He had said very
little, but what he said had the marvelous power of all essentially true
things. He had spoken not as a conventional utterer of platitudes, but
as one man who has fought and agonized and overcome, many speak to
another man who, bewildered by the confusion of the battle-field, begins
to doubt his own cause. And far more than anything actually said there
came to him the thought of Donati’s own life, what he had himself
observed of it, and what he had heard of his story from Cecil. A
wonderfully great admission was made lately by a celebrated agnostic
writer when he said that, “The true Christian saint, though a rare
phenomenon, is one of the most wonderful to be witnessed in the moral
world.” Nor was the admission much qualified by the closing remark,—“So
lofty, so pure, so attractive that he ravishes men’s souls into oblivion
of the patent and general fact that he is an exception among thousands
of millions of professing Christians.”

Frithiof’s soul was not in the least ravished into oblivion of this
fact; he was as ready as before, perhaps more ready, to admit the
general selfishness of mankind, certainly he was more than ever
conscious of his own shortcomings, and daily found pride and selfishness
and ungraciousness in his own life and character. But his love for
Donati, his great admiration for him, had changed his whole view of the
possibilities of human life. The Italian had doubtless been specially
fortunate in his parentage, but his life had been one of unusual
temptation, his extremely rapid change from great misery to the height
of popularity and success had alone been a very severe trial, though
perhaps it was what Frithiof had heard of his three years in the
traveling opera company that appealed to him most. Donati was certainly
saint and hero in one; but it was not only men of natural nobility who
were called to live this life of the crucified. All men were called to
it. Deep down in his heart he knew that even for him it was no
impossibility. And something of Donati’s incredulous scorn as he flung
back the word “impossible” in his face, returned to him now and nerved
him to a fresh attack on the uncongenial life and the faulty character
with which he had to work. The week passed by pretty well, and the
following Sunday found him tired indeed, but less down-hearted, and
better able to keep at arm’s length his old foe depression. For that
foe, though chiefly due to physical causes, can, as all doctors will
bear witness, to be a great extent held in check by spiritual energy.

The morning was so bright that Sigrid persuaded him to take a walk, and
fully intending to return in an hour’s time to his translating, he paced
along the embankment. But either the fine day, or the mere pleasure of
exercise, or some sort of curiosity to see a part of London of which he
had heard a great deal, lured him on. He crossed BlackFriars Bridge and
walked farther and farther, following the course of the river eastward
into a region, dreary indeed, yet at times picturesque, with the river
gleaming in the sunshine, and on the farther bank the Tower—solid and
grim, as befitted the guardian of so many secrets of the past. Even here
there was a quiet Sunday feeling, while something familiar in the sight
of the water and the shipping carried him back in imagination to Norway,
and there came over him an intense longing for his own country. It was a
feeling that often took possession of him, nor could he any more account
for its sudden seizures than the Swiss can account for that sick longing
for his native mountains to which he is often liable.

“It’s no use,” he thought to himself. “It will take me the best part of
my life to pay off the debts, and till they are paid I can’t go.”

He turned his eyes from the river, as though by doing so he could drag
his thoughts from Norway, when to his astonishment he all at once caught
sight of his own national flag—the well known blue and white cross on
the red ground. His breath came fast, he walked on quickly to get a
nearer view of the building from which the flag floated. Hurriedly
pushing open the door, he entered the place, and found himself in a
church, which presented the most curious contrast to churches in
general, for it was almost full of men, and the seven or eight women who
were there made little impression, their voices being drowned in the
hearty singing of the great bulk of the congregation.

They began to sing just as he entered; the tune was one which he had
known all his life, and a host of memories came back to him as he heard
once more the slow and not too melodious singing, rendered striking,
however, because of the fervor of the honest Norsemen. Tears, which all
his troubles had not called forth, started now to his eyes as he
listened to the words which carried him right out of the foreign land
back to his childhood at Bergen.

[Illustration:

  Sörg o kjare fader du, Jeg wil ik-ke
  sör-ge, Ik-ke med be kym-ret hu,
  Om min frem-tid spör-ge. Sörg du for mig
  al min tid, Sörg for mig og mi-ne; Gud al-mæg-tig
  naa-dig, blid, Sörg for al-le di-ne!]

Translation.

                     “Care, oh, dear Father, Thou,
                     I will not care;
                     Not with troubled mind
                     About my future ask.
                     Care thou for me all my life,
                     Care for me and mine;
                     God Almighty, gracious, good,
                     Care for all Thine!”

An onlooker, even a foreigner not understanding the language, could not
fail to have been touched by the mere sight of this strange gathering in
the heart of London,—the unpretentious building, the antique look of the
clergyman in his gown and Elizabethan ruff, the ranks of men—numbering
nearly four hundred—with their grave, weather-beaten faces, the greater
number of them sailors, but with a sprinkling of business men living in
the neighborhood, and the young Norseman who had just entered, with his
pride broken down by memories of an old home, his love of Norway leading
him to the realization that he was also a citizen of another country,
and his stern face softened to that expression which is always so full
of pathos—the expression of intent listening.

In the Norwegian church the subject of the sermon is arranged throughout
the year. On this second Sunday after Trinity it was on the Gospel for
the day, the parable of the Master of the House who made a great supper,
and of the guests who “all with one consent began to make excuse.” There
was nothing new in what Frithiof heard; he had heard it all in the old
times, and, entirely satisfied with the happiness of self-pleasing, had
been among the rich who had been sent empty away. Now he came poor and
in need, and found that after all it is the hungry who are “filled with
good things.”

Very gradually, and helped by many flashes of light which had from time
to time come to him in his darkest hours, he had during the last two
years groped his way from the vague and somewhat flippant belief in a
good providence, which he had once announced to Blanche as his creed,
and had learnt to believe in the All-Father. His meeting with Donati had
exercised, and still continued to exercise, an extraordinary influence
over him; but it was not until this Sunday morning, in his own national
church, not until in his own language he once more heard the entreaty,
“Come, for all things are now ready!” that he fully realized how he had
neglected the life of Sonship.

With an Infinite Love belonging to him by right, he had allowed himself
to be miserable, isolated, and bitter. To many distinct commands he had
turned a deaf ear. To One who needed him and asked his love he had
replied in the jargon of the nineteenth century, but in the spirit of
the old Bible story, that practical matters needed him and that he could
not come.

When the preacher went on to speak of the Lord’s Supper, and the
distinct command that all should come to it, Frithiof began to perceive
for the first time that he had regarded this service merely as the
incomprehensible communication of a great gift—whereas this was in truth
only one side of it, and he, also, had to give himself up to One who
actually needed him. It was characteristic of his honest nature that
when he at last perceived this truth he no longer made excuse but
promptly obeyed, not waiting for full understanding, not troubling at
all about controversial points, but simply doing what he recognized as
his duty.

And when in a rapid survey of the past there came recollections of
Blanche and the wrong she had done him, he was almost startled to find
how quietly he could think of her, how possible it had become to blot
out all the resentful memories, all the reproachful thoughts that for so
long had haunted him. For the first time he entirely forgave her, and in
the very act of forgiving he seemed to regain something of the
brightness which she had driven from his life, and to gain something
better and truer than had as yet been his.

All the selfish element had died out of his love for her; there remained
only the sadness of thinking of her disgrace, and a longing that, even
yet, the good might prevail in her life. Was there no recovery from such
a fall? Was no allowance to be made for her youth and her great
temptations? If she really repented ought not her husband once more to
receive her; and give her the protection which he alone could give?

Kneeling there in the quiet he faced that great problem, and with eyes
cleared by love, with his pride altogether laid low, and knowing what it
was both to forgive and to be forgiven, he saw beyond the conventional
view taken by the world. There was no escaping the great law of
forgiveness laid down by Christ, “If he repent, forgive him.” “Forgive
even as also ye are forgiven.” And if marriage was taken as a symbol of
the union between Christ and the Church, how was it possible to exclude
the idea of forgiveness for faithlessness truly repented of? Had he been
in Lord Romiaux’s place he knew that he must have forgiven her, that if
necessary he must have set the whole world at defiance, in order once
more to shelter her from the deadly peril to which, alone, she must
always be exposed.

And so it happened that love turned to good even the early passion that
had apparently made such havoc of his life, and used it now to raise him
out of the thought of his own trouble and undeserved disgrace, used it
to lift him out of the selfishness and hardness that for so long had
been cramping an otherwise fine nature.



                              CHAPTER XXX.


Perhaps it was almost a relief both to Frithiof and to Sigrid that, just
at this time, all intercourse with Rowan Tree House should become
impossible. Lance and Gwen had sickened with scarlatina, and, of course,
all communication was at end for some time to come; it would have been
impossible that things should have gone on as before after Frithiof’s
trouble: he was far too proud to permit such a thing, though the
Bonifaces would have done their best utterly to forget what had
happened. It would moreover have been difficult for Sigrid to fall back
in her former position of familiar friendship after her last interview
with Roy. So that, perhaps, the only person who sighed over the
separation was Cecil, and she was fortunately kept so busy by her little
patients that she had not time to think much of the future. Whenever the
thought did cross her mind—“How is all this going to end?”—such
miserable perplexity seized her that she was glad to turn back to the
present, which, however painful, was at any rate endurable. But the
strain of that secret anxiety, and the physical fatigue of nursing the
two children, began to tell on her, she felt worn and old, and the look
that always frightened Mrs. Boniface came back to her face—the look that
made the poor mother think of the two graves in Norwood Cemetery.

By the middle of August, Lance and Gwen had recovered, and were taken
down to the seaside, while Rowan Tree House was delivered into the hands
of the painters and whitewashers to be thoroughly disinfected. But in
spite of lovely weather that summer’s holiday proved a very dreary one.
Roy was in the depths of depression, and it seemed to Cecil that a great
shadow had fallen upon everything.

“Robin,” said Mrs. Boniface, “I want you to take that child to
Switzerland for a month; this place is doing her no good at all. She
wants change and mountain air.”

So the father and mother plotted and planned, and in September Cecil,
much against her will, was packed off to Switzerland to see
snow-mountains, and waterfalls, when all the time she would far rather
been seeing the prosaic heights of the model lodging-houses, and the
dull London streets. Still, being a sensible girl, she did her best with
what was put before her, and, though her mind was a good deal with
Sigrid and Frithiof in their trouble and anxiety, yet physically she
gained great good from the tour, and came back with a color in her
cheeks which satisfied her mother.

“By-the-by, dearie,” remarked Mrs. Boniface, the day after her return,
“your father thought you would like to hear the _Elijah_ to-night at the
Albert Hall, and he has left you two tickets.”

“Why, Albani is singing, is she not?” cried Cecil. “Oh yes; I should
like to go of all things!”

“Then I tell you what we will do; we will send a card and ask Mrs.
Horner to go with you, for it’s the Church meeting to-night, and father
and I do not want to miss it.”

Cecil could make no objection to this, though her pleasure was rather
damped by the prospect of having Mrs. Horner as her companion. There was
little love lost between them, for the innate refinement of the one
jarred upon the innate vulgarity of the other, and _vice versâ_.

It was a little after seven o’clock when Cecil drove to the Horners’
house and was ushered into the very gorgeous drawing-room. It was empty,
and by a sort of instinct which she could never resist, she crossed over
to the fireplace and gazed up at the clock, which ever since her
childhood had by its ugliness attracted her much as a moth is attracted
to a candle. It was a huge clock with a little white face and a great
golden rock, upon which golden pigs browsed with a golden swineherd in
attendance.

“My dear,” exclaimed Mrs. Horner, entering with a perturbed face, “did
not my letter reach you in time? I made sure it would. The fact is, I am
not feeling quite up to going out to-night. Could you find any one else,
do you think, who would go with you?”

Cecil thought for a moment.

“Sigrid would have liked it, but I know she is too busy just now,” she
remarked.

“And, oh, my dear, far better go alone than take Miss Falck!” said Mrs.
Horner. “I shall never forget what I endured when I took her with me to
hear Corney Grain; she laughed aloud, my dear; laughed till she
positively cried, and even went so far as to clap her hands. It makes me
hot to think of it even.”

Mrs. Horner belonged to that rather numerous section of English people
who think that it is a sign of good breeding to show no emotion. She had
at one time been rather taken by Sigrid’s charming manner, but the
Norwegian girl was far too simple and unaffected, far too spontaneous,
to remain long in Mrs. Horner’s good books; she had no idea of enjoying
things in a placid, conventional, semi-bored way, and her clear, ringing
laugh was in itself an offense. Mrs. Horner herself never gave more than
a polite smile, or at times, when her powers of restraint were too much
taxed, a sort of uncomfortable gurgle in her throat, with compressed
lips, which gallantly tried to strangle her unseemly mirth.

“I always enjoy going anywhere with Sigrid,” said Cecil, who, gentle as
she was, would never consent to be over-ridden by Mrs. Horner. “It seems
to me that her wonderful faculty for enjoying everything is very much to
be envied. However, there is no chance of her going to-night; I will
call and see whether one of the Greenwoods is disengaged.”

So with hasty farewells she went off, laughing to herself as the cab
rattled along to think of Mrs. Horner’s discomfort and Sigrid’s intense
appreciation of Corney Grain. Fate, however, seemed to be against her;
her friends, the Greenwoods, were out for the evening, and there was
nothing left for it but to drive home again, or else to go in alone and
trust to finding Roy afterward. To sacrifice her chance of hearing the
_Elijah_ with Albani as soprano merely to satisfy Mrs. Grundy was too
much for Cecil. She decided to go alone, and, writing a few words on a
card asking Roy to come to her at the end of the oratorio, she sent it
to the _artistes’_ room by one of the attendants, and settled herself
down to enjoy the music, secretly rather glad to have an empty chair
instead of Mrs. Horner beside her.

All at once the color rushed to her cheeks, for, looking up, she saw
Frithiof crossing the platform; she watched him place the score on the
conductor’s desk, and turn to answer the question of some one in the
orchestra, then disappear again within the swing-doors leading to the
back regions. She wondered much what he was thinking of as he went
through his prosaic duties so rapidly, wondered if his mind was away in
Norway all the time—whether autumn had brought to him, as she knew it
generally did, the strong craving for his old life of adventure—the
longing to handle a gun once more; or whether, perhaps, his trouble had
overshadowed even that, and whether he was thinking instead of that
baffling mystery which had caused them all so much pain. And all through
the oratorio she seemed to be hearing everything with his ears;
wondering how the choruses would strike him, or hoping that he was in a
good place for hearing Albani’s exquisite rendering of “Hear ye,
Israel.” She wondered a little that Roy did not come to her, or, at any
rate, send her some message, and at the end of the last chorus began to
feel a little anxious and uncomfortable. At last, to her great relief,
she saw Frithiof coming toward her.

“Your brother has never come,” he said, in reply to her greeting. “I
suppose this fog must have hindered him, for he told me he should be
here; and I have been expecting him every moment.”

“Is the fog so bad as all that?” said Cecil, rather anxiously.

“It was very bad when I came,” said Frithiof. “However, by good luck, I
managed to grope my way to Portland Road, and came down by the
Metropolitan. Will you let me see you home?”

“Thank you, but it is so dreadfully out of your way. I should be very
glad if you would, only it is troubling you so much.”

Something in her eager yet half-shy welcome, and in the sense that she
was one of the very few who really believed in him, filled Frithiof with
a happiness which he could scarcely have explained to himself.

“You will be giving me a very great pleasure,” he said. “I expect there
will be a rush on the trains. Shall we try for a cab?”

So they walked out together into the dense fog, Cecil with a blissful
sense of confidence in the man who piloted her so adroitly through the
crowd, and seemed so astonishingly cool and indifferent amid the
perilous confusion of wheels and hoofs, which always appeared in the
quarter where one least expected them.

At last, after much difficulty, Frithiof secured a hansom, and put her
into it. She was secretly relieved that he got in too.

“I will come back with you if you will allow me,” he said; “for I am not
quite sure whether this is not a more dangerous part of the adventure
than when we were on foot. I never saw such a fog! Why, we can’t even
see the horse, much less where he is going.”

“How thankful I am that you were here! It would have been dreadful all
alone,” said Cecil; and she explained to him how Mrs. Horner had failed
her at the last moment.

He made no comment, but in his heart he was glad that both Mrs. Horner
and Roy should have proved faithless, and that the duty of seeing Cecil
home had devolved upon him.

“You have not met my mother since she came back from the sea,” said
Cecil. “Are you still afraid of infection? The house has been thoroughly
painted and fumigated.”

“Oh, it is not that,” said Frithiof “but while this cloud is still over
me, I can’t come. You do not realize how it affects everything.”

Perhaps she realized much more than he fancied, but she only said.

“It does not affect your own home.”

“No, that’s true,” said Frithiof. “It has made me value that more, and
it has made me value your friendship more. But, you see, you are the
only one at Rowan Tree House who still believes in me; and how you
manage to do it passes my comprehension—when there is nothing to prove
me innocent.”

“None of the things which we believe in most can be absolutely proved,”
said Cecil. “I can’t logically justify my belief in you any more than in
our old talks I could justify my belief in the unseen world.”

“Do you remember that first Sunday when I was staying with you, and you
asked me whether I had found a Norwegian church!”

“Yes, very well. It vexed me so much to have said anything about it; but
you see, I had always lived with people who went to church or chapel as
regularly as they took their meals.”

“Well, do you know I was wrong; there is a Norwegian church down near
the Commercial Docks at Rotherhithe.”

And then lured on by her unspoken sympathy, and favored by the darkness,
he told her of the strong influence which the familiar old chorale had
had upon him, and how it had carried him back to the time of his
confirmation—that time which to all Norwegians is full of deep meaning
and intense reality, so that even in the indifferentism of later years
and the fogs of doubt which pain and trouble conjure up, its memory
still lingers, ready to be touched into life at the very first
opportunity.

“It is too far for Sigrid and Swanhild to go very often, but to me it is
like a bit of Norway planted down in this great wilderness of houses,”
he said. “It was strange that I should have happened to come across it
so unexpectedly just at the time when I most needed it.”

“But that surely is what always happens,” said Cecil. “When we really
need a thing we get it.”

“You learned before I did to distinguish between needing and wanting,”
said Frithiof. “It comes to some people easily, I suppose. But I, you
see, had to lose everything before understanding—to lose even my
reputation for common honesty. Even now it seems to be hardly possible
that life should go on under such a cloud as that. Yet the days pass
somehow, and I believe that it was this trouble which drove me to what I
really needed.”

“It is good of you to tell me this,” said Cecil. “It seems to put a
meaning into this mystery which is always puzzling me and seeming so
useless and unjust. By the by, Roy tells me that Darnell has left.”

“Yes,” said Frithiof, “he left at Michaelmas. Things have been rather
smoother since then.”

“I can’t help thinking that his leaving just now is in direct evidence
against him,” said Cecil. “Sigrid and I suspected him from the first. Do
you not suspect him?”

“Yes,” he replied, “I do. But without any reason.”

“Why did he go?”

“His wife was ill, and was ordered to a warmer climate. He has taken a
situation at Plymouth. After all, there is no real evidence against him,
and a great deal of evidence against me. How is it that you suspect
him?”

“It is because I know you had nothing to do with it,” said Cecil.

He had guessed what her answer would be, yet loved to hear her say the
words.

It seemed to him that the dense fog, and the long drive at foot pace,
and the anxiety to see the right way, and the manifold difficulties and
dangers of this night, resembled his own life. And then it struck him
how tedious the drive would have been to him but for Cecil’s presence,
and he saw how great a difference her trust and friendship made to him.
He had always liked her, but now gratitude and reverence woke a new
feeling in his heart. Blanche’s faithlessness had so crippled his life
that no thought of love in the ordinary sense of the word—of love
culminating in marriage—came to his mind. But yet his heart went out to
Cecil, and a new influence crept into his life—an influence that
softened his hardness, that quieted his feverish impatience, that
strengthened him to endure.

“Sigrid and Swanhild have been away with Mme. Lechertier, have they
not?” asked Cecil, after a silence.

“Yes, they went to Hastings for a fortnight. We shut up the rooms, and I
went down to Herr Sivertsen, who was staying near Warlingham, a charming
little place in the Surrey hills.”

“Sigrid told me you were with him, but I fancied she meant in London.”

“No; once a year he tears himself from his dingy den in Museum Street,
and goes down to this place. We were out of doors most of the day, and
in the evening worked for four or five hours at a translation of Darwin
which he is very anxious to get finished. Hullo! what is wrong?”

He might well ask, for the horse was kicking and plunging violently.
Shouts and oaths echoed through the murky darkness. Then they could just
make out the outline of another horse at right angles with their own. He
was almost upon them, struggling frantically, and the shaft of the cab
belonging to him would have struck Cecil violently in the face had not
Frithiof seized it and wrenched it away with all his force. Then,
suddenly, the horse was dragged backward, their hansom shivered, reeled,
and finally fell on its side.

Cecil’s heart beat fast, she turned deadly white, just felt in the
horrible moment of falling a sense of relief when Frithiof threw his arm
around her and held her fast; then for an interval realized nothing at
all, so stunning was the violence with which they came to the ground.
Apparently both the cabs had gone over and were lying in an
extraordinary entanglement, while both horses seemed to be still on
their feet, to judge by the sounds of kicking and plunging. The danger
was doubled by the blinding fog, which made it impossible to realize
where one might expect hoofs.

“Are you hurt?” asked Frithiof anxiously.

“No,” replied Cecil, gasping for breath. “Only shaken. How are we to get
out?”

He lifted her away from him, and managed with some difficulty to
scramble up. Then, before she had time to think of the peril, he had
taken her in his arms, and, rashly perhaps, but very dexterously,
carried her out of danger. Had she not trusted him so entirely it would
have been a dreadful minute to her; and even as it was she turned sick
and giddy as she was lifted up, and heard hoofs in perilous proximity,
and felt Frithiof cautiously stepping out into that darkness that might
be felt, and swaying a little beneath her weight.

“Wont you put me down?—I am too heavy for you,” she said. But, even as
she spoke, she felt him shake with laughter at the idea.

“I could carry you for miles, now that we are safely out of the wreck,”
he said. “Here is a curbstone, and—yes, by good luck, the steps of a
house. Now, shall we ring up the people and ask them to shelter you
while I just lend a hand with the cab?”

“No, no, it is so late, I will wait here. Take care you don’t get hurt.”

He disappeared into the fog, and she understood him well enough to know
that he would keenly enjoy the difficulty of getting matters straight
again.

“I think accidents agree with you,” she said laughingly, when by and by
he came back to her, seeming unusually cheerful.

“I can’t help laughing now to think of the ridiculous way in which both
cabs went down and both horses stood up,” he said. “It is wonderful that
more damage was not done. We all seem to have escaped with bruises, and
nothing is broken except the shafts.”

“Let us walk home now,” said Cecil “Does any one know whereabout we
are?”

“The driver says it is Battersea Bridge Road, some way from Rowan Tree
House, you see, but, if you would not be too tired, it would certainly
be better not to stay for another cab.”

So they set off, and, with much difficulty, at length groped their way
to Brixton, not getting home till long after midnight. At the door
Frithiof said good-by, and for the first time since the accident Cecil
remembered his trouble; in talking of many things she had lost sight of
it, but now it came back to her with a swift pang, all the harder to
bear because of the happiness of the last half-hour.

“You must not go back without resting and having something to eat,” she
said pleadingly.

“You are very kind,” he replied, “but I can not come in.”

“But I shall be so unhappy about you, if you go all that long way back
without food; come in, if it is only to please me.”

Something in her tone touched him, and at that moment the door was
opened by Mr. Boniface himself.

“Why, Cecil,” he cried. “We have been quite anxious about you.”

“Frithiof saw me home because of the fog,” she explained. “And our
hansom was overturned at Battersea, so we have had to walk from there.
Please ask Frithiof to come in, father, we are so dreadfully cold and
hungry, yet he will insist on going straight home.”

“It’s not to be thought of,” said Mr. Boniface. “Come in, come in, I
never saw such a fog.”

So once more Frithiof found himself in the familiar house which always
seemed so homelike to him, and for the first time since his disgrace he
shook hands with Mrs. Boniface; she was kindness itself, and yet somehow
the meeting was painful and Frithiof wished himself once more in the
foggy streets. Cecil seemed intuitively to know how he felt, for she
talked fast and gayly as though to fill up the sense of something
wanting which was oppressing him.

“I am sure we are very grateful to you,” said Mrs. Boniface, when she
had heard all about the adventure, and his rescue of Cecil. “I can’t
think what Cecil would have done without you. As for Roy, finding it so
foggy and having a bad headache, he came home early and is now gone to
bed. But come in and get warm by the fire. I don’t know why we are all
standing in the hall.”

She led the way into the drawing-room, and Cecil gave a cry of
astonishment, for, standing on the hearth-rug was a little figure in a
red dressing-gown, looking very much like a wooden Noah in a toy ark.

“Why, Lance,” she cried, “you up at this time of night!”

The little fellow flew to meet her and clung round her neck.

“I really couldn’t exackly help crying,” he said, “for I couldn’t keep
the tears out of my eyes.”

“He woke up a few minutes ago,” said Mrs. Boniface, “and finding your
bed empty thought that something dreadful had happened to you, and as
nurse was asleep I brought him down here, for he was so cold and
frightened.”

By this time Lance had released Cecil and was clinging to Frithiof.

“Gwen and me’s been ill,” he said proudly, “and I’ve grown a whole inch
since you were here last. My throat doesn’t hurten me now at all.”

The happy unconsciousness of the little fellow seemed to thaw Frithiof
at once, the wretched five-pound note ceased to haunt him as he sat with
Lance on his knee, and he ate without much thought the supper that he
had fancied would choke him. For Lance, who was faithful to his old
friends, entirely refused to leave him, but serenely ate biscuits and
begged stray sips of his hot cocoa, his merry childish talk filling up
the gaps in a wonderful way and setting them all at their ease.

“Had you not better stay here for the night?” said Mrs. Boniface
presently. “I can’t bear to think of your having that long walk through
the fog.”

“You are very kind,” he said, “but Sigrid would be frightened if I
didn’t turn up,” and kissing Lance, he sat him down on the hearthrug,
and rose to go. Cecil’s thanks and warm hand-clasp lingered with him
pleasantly, and he set out on his walk home all the better for his visit
to Rowan Tree House.



                             CHAPTER XXXI.


Had it not been for the fog his long walk might have made him sleepy,
but the necessity of keeping every faculty on the alert and of sharply
watching every crossing and every landmark made that out of the
question. Moreover, now that he had quite recovered from his illness it
took a great deal to tire him, and, whenever he did succumb, it was to
mental worry, never to physical fatigue. So he tramped along pretty
cheerfully, rather enjoying the novelty of the thing, but making as much
haste as he could on account of Sigrid. He had just reached the outer
door of the model lodgings and was about to unlock it with the key which
was always furnished to those whose work detained them beyond the hour
of closing, when he was startled by something that sounded like a sob
close by him. He paused and listened; it came again.

“Who is there?” he said, straining his eyes to pierce the thick curtain
of fog that hung before him.

The figure of a woman approached him.

“Oh, sir,” she said, checking her sobs, “have you the key, and can you
let me in?”

“Yes, I have a key. Do you live here?”

“No, sir, but I’m sister to Mrs. Hallifield. Perhaps you know
Hallifield, the tram conductor. I came to see him to-night because he
was taken so ill, but I got hindered setting out again, and didn’t allow
time to get back to Macdougal’s. I’m in his shop, and the rule at his
boarding-house is that the door is closed at eleven and mayn’t be opened
any more, and when I got there sir, being hindered with the fog, it was
five minutes past.”

“And they wouldn’t let you in?” asked Frithiof. “What an abominable
thing—the man ought to be ashamed of himself for having such a rule!
Come in; why you must be half-frozen! I know your sister quite well!”

“I can never thank you enough,” said the poor girl. “I thought I should
have had to stay out all night! There’s a light, I see, in the window;
my brother-in-law is worse, I expect.”

“What is wrong with him?” asked Frithiof.

“Oh, he’s been failing this long time,” said the girl; “it’s the long
hours of the trams he’s dying of. There’s never any rest for them you
see, sir; winter and summer, Sunday and week-day they have to drudge on.
He’s a kind husband and a good father too, and he will go on working for
the sake of keeping the home together, but it’s little of the home he
sees when he has to be away from it sixteen hours every day. They say
they’re going to give more holidays and shorter hours, but there’s a
long time spent in talking of things, it seems to me, and in the
meanwhile John’s dying.”

Frithiof remembered how Sigrid had mentioned this very thing to him in
the summer when he had told her of his disgrace; he had been too full of
his own affairs to heed her much, but now his heart grew hot at the
thought of this pitiable waste of human life, this grinding out of a
larger dividend at the cost of such terrible suffering. It was a sign
that his new life had actually begun when, instead of merely railing at
the injustice of the world, he began to think what he himself could do
in this matter.

“Perhaps they will want the doctor fetched. I will come with you to the
door and you shall just see,” he said.

And the girl thanking him, knocked at her sister’s door, spoke to some
one inside, and returning, asked him to come in. To his surprise he
found Sigrid in the little kitchen; she was walking to and fro with the
baby, a sturdy little fellow of a year old.

“You are back at last,” she said, “I was getting quite anxious about
you. Mr. Hallifield was taken so much worse to-day, and hearing the baby
crying I came in to help.”

“How about the doctor? Do they want him fetched?”

“No, he came here about ten o’clock, and he says there is nothing to be
done; it is only a question of hours now.”

At this moment the poor wife came into the kitchen; she was still quite
young, and the dumb anguish in her face brought the tears to Sigrid’s
eyes.

“What, Clara!” she exclaimed, perceiving her sister, “you back again!”

“I was too late,” said the girl, “and they had locked me out. But it’s
no matter now that the gentleman has let me in here. Is John worse
again.”

“He’ll not last long,” said the wife, “and he be that set on getting in
here to the fire, for he’s mortal cold. But I doubt if he’s strength to
walk so far.”

“Frithiof, you could help him in,” said Sigrid.

“Will you, sir? I’ll thank you kindly if you will,” said Mrs.
Hallifield, leading the way to the bedroom.

Frithiof followed her, and glancing toward the bed could hardly control
the awed surprise which seized him as for the first time he saw a man
upon whom the shadow of death had already fallen. Once or twice he had
met Hallifield in the passage setting off to his work in the early
morning, and he contrasted his recollection of the brisk,
fair-complexioned, respectable-looking conductor, and this man propped
up with pillows, his face drawn with pain, and of that ghastly ashen hue
which is death’s herald.

“The Norwegian gentleman is here, and will help you into the kitchen,
John,” said the wife, beginning to swathe him in blankets.

“Thank you, sir,” said the man gratefully. “It’s just a fancy I’ve got
to die in there by the fire, though I doubt I’ll never get warm any
more.”

Frithiof carried him in gently and set him down in a cushioned chair
drawn close to the fire; he seemed pleased by the change of scene, and
looked round the tidy little room with brightening eyes.

“It’s a nice little place!” he said. “I wish I could think you would
keep it together, Bessie, but with the four children you’ll have a hard
struggle to live.”

For the first time she broke down and hid her face in her apron. A look
of keen pain passed over the face of the dying man, he clinched and
unclinched his hands. But Sigrid, who was rocking the baby on the other
side of the hearth, bent forward and spoke to him soothingly.

“Don’t you trouble about that part of it,” she said. “We will be her
friends. Though we are poor yet there are many ways in which we can help
her, and I know a lady who will never let her want.”

He thanked her with a gratitude that was pathetic.

“I’m in a burial club,” he said, after a pause, stretching out his
nerveless fingers toward the fire; “she’ll have no expenses that way;
they’ll bury me very handsome, which’ll be a satisfaction to her, poor
girl. I’ve often thought of it when I saw a well-to-do looking funeral
pass alongside the tram, but I never thought it would come as soon as
this. I’m only going in thirty-five, which isn’t no great age for a
man.”

“The work was too much for you,” said Frithiof.

“Yes, sir, it’s the truth you speak, and there’s many another in the
same boat along with me. It’s a cruel hard life. But then, you see, I
was making my four-and-six a day, and if I gave up I knew it meant
starvation for the wife and the children; there is thousands out of
work, and that makes a man think twice before giving in—spite of the
long hours.”

“And he did get six shillings a day at one time,” said the wife looking
up, “but the company’s cruel hard, sir, and just because he had a
twopence in his money and no ticket to account for its being there they
lowered him down to four-and-six again.”

“Yes, that did seem to me hard; I’ll not deny, I swore a bit that day,”
said Hallifield. “But the company never treats us like men, it treats us
like slaves. They might have known me to be honest and careful, but it
seems as if they downright liked to catch a fellow tripping, and while
that’s so there’s many that’ll do their best to cheat.”

“But is nothing being done to shorten the hours, to make people
understand how frightful they are?” asked Sigrid.

“Oh, yes, miss, there’s Mrs. Reaney working with all her might for us,”
said Hallifield. “But you see folks are hard to move, and if we had only
the dozen hours a day that we ought to have and every other Sunday at
home, why, miss, they’d perhaps not get nine per cent. on their money as
they do now.”

“They are no better than murderers!” said Frithiof hotly.

“Well,” said Hallifield, “so it has seemed to me sometimes. But I never
set up to know much; I’ve had no time for book-learning, nor for
religion either, barely time for eating and sleeping. I don’t think God
Almighty will be hard on a fellow that has done his best to keep his
wife and children in comfort, and I’ll not complain if only He’ll just
let me sit still and do nothing for a bit, for I’m mortal tired.”

He had been talking eagerly, and for the time his strength had returned
to him, but now his head dropped forward, and his hands clutched
convulsively at the blankets.

With a great cry the poor wife started forward and flung her arms round
him.

“He’s going!” she sobbed. “He’s going! John—oh, John!”

“Nine per cent. on their money!” thought Frithiof. “My God! if they
could but see this!”

                  *       *       *       *       *

By-and-by, when he had done all that he could to help, he went back to
his own room, leaving Sigrid still with the poor widow. The scene had
made a deep impression on him; he had never before seen any one die, and
the thought of poor Hallifield’s pathetic confession that he had had no
time for anything, but the toil of living, returned to him again and
again.

“That is a death-bed that ought not to have been,” he reflected. “It
came for the hateful struggle for wealth. Yet the shareholders are no
worse than the rest of the world, it is only that they don’t think, or,
if they do think for a time, allow themselves to be persuaded that the
complaints are exaggerated. How easily men let themselves be hoodwinked
by vague statements and comfortable assurances when they want to be
persuaded, when it is to their own interest to let things go on as
before.”

And then, quite unable to sleep, he lay thinking of the great problems
which had so often haunted him, the sharp contrasts between too great
wealth and too great poverty, the unequal chances in life, the grinding
competition, the ineffable sadness of the world. But his thoughts were
no longer tainted by bitterness and despair, because, though he could
not see a purpose in all the great mysteries of life, yet he trusted One
who had a purpose, One who in the end must overcome all evil, and he
knew that he himself was bound to live and could live a life which
should help toward that great end.

Three days later poor Hallifield’s “handsome funeral” set out from the
door of the model lodgings, and Frithiof, who had given up his
half-holiday to go down to the cemetery, listened to the words of the
beautiful service, thinking to himself how improbable it was that the
tram-conductor had ever had the chance of hearing St. Paul’s teaching on
the resurrection.

Was there not something wrong in a system which should so tire out a man
that the summit of his wishes on his dying day should be but an echo of
the overworked woman whose epitaph ended with—

              “I’m going to do nothing for ever and ever”?

How could this great evil of the overwork of the many, and the too great
leisure of the few, be set right? A socialism which should compulsorily
reduce all to one level would be worse than useless. Love of freedom was
too thoroughly ingrained in his Norse nature to tolerate that idea for a
moment. He desired certain radical reforms with his whole heart, but he
saw that they alone would not suffice—nothing but individual love,
nothing but the consciousness of individual responsibility, could really
put an end to the misery and injustice of the present system. In a word,
the only true remedy was the life of Sonship.



                             CHAPTER XXXII.


One December day another conclave was held in Mr. Boniface’s private
room. Mr. Boniface himself sat with his arm chair turned round toward
the fire, and on his pleasant, genial face there was a slight cloud, for
he much disliked the prospect of the discussion before him. Mr. Horner
stood with his back to the mantel-piece, looking even more pompous and
conceited than usual, and Roy sat at the writing-table, listening
attentively to what passed, and relieving his feelings by savagely
digging his pen into the blotting-pad to the great detriment of its
point.

“It is high time we came to an understanding on this matter,” Mr. Horner
was saying. “Do you fully understand that when I have once said a thing
I keep to it? Either that Norwegian must go, or when the day comes for
renewing our partnership I leave this place never to re-enter it.”

“I do not wish to have any quarrel with you about the matter,” said Mr.
Boniface. “But I shall certainly not part with Falck. To send him away
now would be most cruel and unjustifiable.”

“It would be nothing of the sort,” retorted Mr. Horner hotly. “It would
be merely following the dictates of common-sense and fairness.”

“This is precisely the point on which you and I do not agree,” said Mr.
Boniface with dignity.

“It is not only his dishonesty that has set me against him,” continued
Mr. Horner. “It is his impertinent indifference, his insufferable manner
when I order him to do anything.”

“I have never myself found him anything but a perfect gentleman,” said
Mr. Boniface.

“Gentleman! Oh! I’ve no patience with all that tomfoolery! I want none
of your gentlemen; I want a shopman who knows his place and can answer
with proper deference.”

“You do not understand the Norse nature,” said Roy. “Now here in the
newspaper, this very day, is a good sample of it.” He unfolded the
morning paper eagerly and read them the following lines, taking a wicked
delight in the thought of how it would strike home:

“Their noble simplicity and freedom of manners bear witness that they
have never submitted to the yoke of a conqueror, or to the rod of a
petty feudal lord; a peasantry at once so kind-hearted, so truly humble
and religious, and yet so nobly proud, where pride is a virtue, who
resent any wanton affront to their honor or dignity. As an instance of
this, it may be mentioned that a naturalist, on finding that his hired
peasant companions had not done their work of dredging to his
satisfaction, scolded them in violent and abusive language. The men did
not seem to take the slightest notice of his scolding. ‘How can you
stand there so stupidly and apathetically, as though the matter did not
concern you?’ said he, still more irritated. ‘It is because we think,
sir, that such language is only a sign of bad breeding,’ replied an
unawed son of the mountains, whom even poverty could not strip of the
consciousness of his dignity.”

“You insult me by reading such trash,” said Mr Horner, all the more
irritated because he knew that Roy had truth on his side, and that he
had often spoken to Frithiof abusively. “But if you like to keep this
thief in your employ—”

“Excuse me, but I can not let that expression pass,” said Mr. Boniface.
“No one having the slightest knowledge of Frithiof Falck could believe
him guilty of dishonesty.”

“Well, then, this lunatic with a mania for taking money that belongs to
other people—this son of a bankrupt, this designing foreigner—if you
insist on keeping him I withdraw my capital and retire. I am aware that
it is a particularly inconvenient time to withdraw money from the
business, but that is your affair. ‘As you have brewed so you must
drink.’”

“It may put me to some slight inconvenience,” said Mr. Boniface. “But as
far as I am concerned I shall gladly submit to that rather than go
against my conscience with regard to Falck. What do you say, Roy?”

“I am quite at one with you, father,” replied Roy, with a keen sense of
enjoyment in the thought of so quietly baffling James Horner’s malicious
schemes.

“This designing fellow has made you both his dupes,” said Mr. Horner
furiously. “Someday you’ll repent of this and see that I was right.”

No one replied, and, with an exclamation of impatient disgust, James
Horner took up his hat and left the room, effectually checkmated.
Frithiof, happening to glance up from his desk as the angry man strode
through the shop, received so furious a glance that he at once realized
what must have passed in the private room. It was not, however, until
closing time that he could speak alone with Roy, but the moment they
were out in the street he turned to him with an eager question.

“What happened to Mr. Horner to-day?”

“He heard a discourse on the Norwegian character which happened to be in
the _Daily News_, by good luck,” said Roy, smiling. “By-the-by, it will
amuse you, take it home.”

And, drawing the folded paper from his coat-pocket, he handed it to
Frithiof.

“He gave me such a furious glance as he passed by, that I was sure
something had annoyed him,” said Frithiof.

“Never mind, it is the last you will have from him,” said Roy, rubbing
his hands with satisfaction. “He has vowed that he will never darken our
doors again. Think what a reign of peace will set in.”

“He has really retired, then?” said Frithiof. “I was afraid it must be
so. I can’t stand it, Roy; I can’t let you make such a sacrifice for
me.”

“Sacrifice! stuff and nonsense!” said Roy cheerfully. “I have not felt
so free and comfortable for an age. We shall be well rid of the old
bore.”

“But his capital?”

“Goes away with him,” said Roy; “it will only be a slight inconvenience;
probably he will hurt himself far more than he hurts us, and serve him
right, too. If there’s a man on earth I detest it is my worthy cousin
James Horner.”

Frithiof naturally shared this sentiment, yet still he felt very sorry
that Mr. Horner had kept his word and left the firm, for all through the
autumn he had been hoping that he might relent and that his bark would
prove worse than his bite. The sense of being under such a deep
obligation to the Bonifaces was far from pleasant to him; however, there
seemed no help for it and he could only balance it against the great
relief of being free from James Horner’s continual provocations.

Later in the evening, when supper was over, he went round to see Herr
Sivertsen about some fresh work, and on returning to the model lodgings
found Swanhild alone.

“Where is Sigrid?” he asked.

“She has gone in to see the Hallifields,” replied the little girl,
glancing up from the newspaper which she was reading.

“You look like the picture of Mother Hubbard’s dog, that Lance is so
fond of,” he said, smiling. “Your English must be getting on, or you
wouldn’t care for the _Daily News_. Are you reading the praises of the
Norse character?”

As he spoke he leaned over her shoulder to look at the letter which Roy
had mentioned; but Swanhild had turned to the inner sheet and was deep
in what seemed to her strangely interesting questions and answers
continued down three columns. A hurried glance at the beginning showed
Frithiof in large type the words, “The Romiaux Divorce Case.”

He tore the paper away from her, crushed it in his hands, and threw it
straight into the fire. Swanhild looked up in sudden panic, terrified
beyond measure by his white face and flashing eyes, terrified still more
by the unnatural tone in his voice when he spoke.

“You are never to read such things,” he said vehemently. “Do you
understand? I am your guardian and I forbid you.”

“It was only that I wanted to know about Blanche,” said Swanhild,
conscious that, in some way she could not explain, he was unjust to her.

But, unluckily, the mention of Blanche’s name was just the one thing
that Frithiof could not bear; he lost his self-control. “Don’t begin to
argue,” he said fiercely. “You ought to have known better than to read
that poisonous stuff! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

This was more than Swanhild could endure; with a sense of intolerable
injury she left the parlor, locked herself into her bedroom, and cried
as if her heart would break, taking good care, however, to stifle her
sobs in the pillow, since she, too, had her full share of the national
pride.

“It is ungenerous of him to hate poor Blanche so,” she thought to
herself. “Whatever she has done I shall always love her—always. And he
had no right to speak so to me, it was unfair—unfair! I didn’t know it
was wrong to read the paper. Father would never have scolded me for it.”

And in this she was quite right; only a very inexperienced “guardian”
could have made so great a mistake as to reproach her and hold her to
blame for quite innocently touching pitch. Perhaps even Frithiof might
have been wiser had not the sudden shock and the personal pain of the
discovery thrown him off his balance.

When Sigrid returned in a few minutes she found him pacing the room as
restlessly as any wild beast at the Zoo.

“Frithiof,” she said, “what is the matter with you? Have you and Herr
Sivertsen had a quarrel?”

“The matter is this” he said hoarsely, checking his restlessness with an
effort and leaning against the mantel-piece as he talked to her. “I came
back just now and found Swanhild reading the newspaper—reading the
Romiaux Divorce Case, thoroughly fascinated by it too.”

“I had no idea it had begun,” said Sigrid. “We so seldom see an English
paper; how did this one happen to be lying about?”

“Roy gave it to me to look at an account of Norway; I didn’t know this
was in it too. However, I gave Swanhild a scolding that she’ll not soon
forget.”

Sigrid looked up anxiously, asking what he had said and listening with
great dissatisfaction to his reply.

“You did very wrong indeed,” she said warmly. “You forget that Swanhild
is perfectly innocent and ignorant; you have wronged her very cruelly,
and she will feel that, though she wont understand it.”

Now Frithiof, although he was proud and hasty, was neither ungenerous
nor conceited; as soon as he had cooled down and looked at the question
from this point of view, he saw at once that he had been wrong.

“I will go to her and beg her pardon,” he said at length.

“No, no, not just yet,” said Sigrid, with the feeling that men were too
clumsy for this sort of work. “Leave her to me.”

She rapped softly at the bedroom door and after a minute’s pause heard
the key turned in the lock. When she entered the room was quite dark,
and Swanhild, with her face turned away, was vigorously washing her
hands. Sigrid began to hunt for some imaginary need in her box, waiting
till the hands were dry before she touched on the sore subject. But
presently she plunged boldly into the heart of the matter.

“Swanhild,” she said, “you are crying.”

“No,” said the child, driving back the tears that started again to her
eyes at this direct assertion, and struggling hard to make her voice
cheerful.

But Sigrid put her arm round her waist and drew her close.

“Frithiof told me all about it, and I think he made a great mistake in
scolding you. Don’t think any more about it.”

But this was more than human nature could possibly promise; all that she
had read assumed now a tenfold importance to the child. She clung to
Sigrid, sobbing piteously.

“He said I ought to be ashamed of myself, but I didn’t know—I really
didn’t know.”

“That was his great mistake,” said Sigrid quietly. “Now, if he had found
me reading that report he might justly have reproached me, for I am old
enough to know better. You see, poor Blanche has done what is very
wrong, she has broken her promise to her husband and brought misery and
disgrace on all who belong to her. But to pry into all the details of
such sad stories does outsiders a great deal of harm; and now you have
been told that, I am sure you will never want to read them again.”

This speech restored poor little Swanhild’s self-respect, but
nevertheless Sigrid noticed in her face all through the evening a look
of perplexity which made her quite wretched. And though Frithiof was all
anxiety to make up for his hasty scolding, the look still remained, nor
did it pass the next day; even the excitement of dancing the shawl dance
with all the pupils looking on did not drive it away, and Sigrid began
to fear that the affair had done the child serious harm. Her practical,
unimaginative nature could not altogether understand Swanhild’s dreamy,
pensive tendencies. She herself loved one or two people heartily, but
she had no ideals, nor was she given to hero-worship. Swanhild’s
extravagant love for Blanche, a love so ardent and devoted that it had
lasted more than two years in spite of every discouragement, was to her
utterly incomprehensible; she was vexed that the child should spend so
much on so worthless an object; it seemed to her wrong and unnatural
that the love of that pure, innocent little heart should be lavished on
such a woman as Lady Romiaux. It was impossible for her to see how even
this childish fancy was helping to mold Swanhild’s character and fit her
for her work in the world; still more impossible that she should guess
how the child’s love should influence Blanche herself and change the
whole current of many lives.

But so it was; and while the daily life went on in its usual
grooves—Frithiof at the shop, Sigrid busy with the household work,
playing at the academy, and driving away thoughts of Roy with the cares
of other people—little Swanhild in desperation took the step which meant
so much more than she understood.

It was Sunday afternoon. Frithiof had gone for a walk with Roy, and
Sigrid had been carried off by Madame Lechertier for a drive. Swanhild
was alone, and likely to be alone for some time to come. “It is now or
never,” she thought to herself; and opening her desk, she drew from it a
letter which she had written the day before, and read it through very
carefully. It ran as follows:


“DEAR SIR.—It says in your prayer-book that if any can not quiet their
conscience, but require comfort and counsel, they may come to any
discreet and learned minister and open their grief, thus avoiding all
scruple and doubtfulness. I am a Norwegian; not a member of your church,
but I have often heard you preach; and will you please let me speak to
you, for I am in a great trouble?

                     “I am, sir, yours very truly,

                                                       “SWANHILD FALCK.”


Feeling tolerably satisfied with this production, she inclosed it in an
envelope, directed it to “The Rev. Charles Osmond, Guilford Square,” put
on her little black fur hat and her thick jacket and fur cape, and
hurried downstairs, leaving the key with the door-keeper, and making all
speed in the direction of Bloomsbury.

Swanhild, though in some ways childish, as is usually the case with the
youngest of the family, was in other respects a very capable little
woman. She had been treated with respect and consideration, after the
Norwegian custom; she had been consulted in the affairs of the little
home commonwealth; and of course had been obliged to go to and from
school alone every day, so she did not feel uncomfortable as she
hastened along the quiet Sunday streets; indeed, her mind was so taken
up with the thought of the coming interview that she scarcely noticed
the passers-by, and only paused once, when a little doubtful whether she
was taking the nearest way, to ask the advice of a policeman.

At length she reached Guilford Square, and her heart began to beat fast
and her color to rise. All was very quiet here; not a soul was stirring;
a moldy-looking statue stood beneath the trees in the garden; hospitals
and institutions seemed to abound; and Mr. Osmond’s house was one of the
few private houses still left in what, eighty years ago, had been a
fashionable quarter.

Swanhild mounted the steps, and then, overcome with shyness, very nearly
turned back and gave up her project; however, though shy she was plucky,
and making a valiant effort, she rang the bell, and waited trembling,
half with fear, half with excitement.

The maid-servant who opened the door had such a pleasant face that she
felt a little reassured.

“Is Mr. Osmond at home?” she asked, in her very best English accent.

“Yes, miss,” said the servant.

“Then will you please give him this,” said Swanhild, handing in the
neatly written letter. “And I will wait for an answer.”

She was shown into a dining-room, and after a few minutes the servant
reappeared.

“Mr. Osmond will see you in the study, miss,” she said.

And Swanhild, summoning up all her courage, followed her guide, her blue
eyes very wide open, her cheeks very rosy, her whole expression so
deprecating, so pathetic, that the veriest ogre could not have found it
in his heart to be severe with her. She glanced up quickly, caught a
glimpse of a comfortable room, a blazing fire, and a tall, white-haired,
white-bearded man who stood on the hearth rug. A look of astonishment
and amusement just flitted over his face, then he came forward to meet
her, and took her hand in his so kindly that Swanhild forgot all her
fears, and at once felt at home with him.

“I am so glad to see you,” he said, making her sit down in a big chair
by the fire. “I have read your note, and shall be very glad if I can
help you in any way. But wait a minute. Had you not better take off that
fur cape, or you will catch cold when you go out again?”

Swanhild obediently took it off.

“I didn’t know,” she said, “whether you heard confessions or not, but I
want to make one if you do.”

He smiled a little, but quite kindly.

“Well, in the ordinary sense I do not hear confessions,” he said. “That
is to say, I think the habit of coming regularly to confession is a bad
habit, weakening to the conscience and character of the one who
confesses, and liable to abuse on the part of the one who hears the
confession. But the words you quoted in your letter are words with which
I quite agree, and if you have anything weighing on your mind and think
that I can help you, I am quite ready to listen.”

Swanhild seemed a little puzzled by the very home-like and ordinary
appearance of the study. She looked round uneasily.

“Well?” said Charles Osmond, seeing her bewildered look.

“I was wondering if people kneel down when they come to confession,”
said Swanhild, with a simple directness which charmed him.

“Kneel down to talk to me!” he said, with a smile in his eyes. “Why, no,
my child; why should you do that? Sit there by the fire and get warm,
and try to make me understand clearly what is your difficulty.”

“It is just this,” said Swanhild, now entirely at her ease. “I want to
know if it is ever right to break a promise.”

“Certainly it is sometimes right,” said Charles Osmond. “For instance,
if you were to promise me faithfully to pick some one’s pocket on your
way home, you would be quite right to break a promise which you never
had any right to make. Or if I were to say to you, ‘On no account tell
any one at your home that you have been here talking to me,’ and you
agreed, yet such a promise would rightly be broken, because no outsider
has any right to come between you and your parents.”

“My father and mother are dead,” said Swanhild. “I live with my brother
and sister, who are much older than I am—I mean really very old, you
know—twenty-three. They are my guardians; and what troubles me is that
last summer I did something and promised some one that I would never
tell them, and now I am afraid I ought not to have done it.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Well, ever since then there has seemed to be a difference at home, and,
though I thought what I did would help Frithiof and Sigrid, and make
every one happier, yet it seems to have somehow brought a cloud over the
house. They have not spoken to me about it, but ever since then Frithiof
has had such a sad look in his eyes.”

“Was it anything wrong that you promised to do—anything that in itself
was wrong, I mean?”

“Oh, no,” said Swanhild; “the only thing that could have made it wrong
was my doing it for this particular person.”

“I am afraid I can not follow you unless you tell me a little more
definitely. To whom did you make this promise? To any one known to your
brother and sister?”

“Yes, they both know her; we knew her in Norway, and she was to have
married Frithiof; but when he came over to England he found her just
going to be married to some one else. I think it was that which changed
him so very much; but perhaps it was partly because at the same time we
lost all our money.”

“Do your brother and sister still meet this lady?”

“Oh, no; they never see her now, and never speak of her; Sigrid is so
very angry with her because she did not treat Frithiof well. But I can’t
help loving her still, she is so very beautiful; and I think, perhaps,
she is very sorry that she was so unkind to Frithiof.”

“How did you come across her again?” asked Charles Osmond.

“Quite accidentally in the street, as I came home from school,” said
Swanhild. “She asked me so many questions and seemed so sorry to know
that we were so very poor, and when she asked me to do this thing for
her I only thought how kind she was, and I did it, and promised that I
would never tell.”

“She had no right to make you promise that, for probably your brother
would not care for you still to know her, and certainly would not wish
to be under any obligation to her.”

“No; that was the reason why it was all to be a secret,” said Swanhild.
“And I never quite understood that it was wrong till the other day, when
I was reading the newspaper about her, and Frithiof found me and was so
very angry, and threw the paper in the fire.”

“How did the lady’s name happen to be in the paper?”

“Sigrid said it was because she had broken her promise to her husband;
it was written in very big letters—‘The Romiaux Divorce Case,’” said
Swanhild.

Charles Osmond started. For some minutes he was quite silent. Then, his
eyes falling once more on the wistful little face that was trying so
hard to read his thoughts, he smiled very kindly.

“Do you know where Lady Romiaux is living?” he asked. But Swanhild had
no idea. “Well, never mind; I think I can easily find out, for I happen
to know one of the barristers who was defending her. You had better, I
think, sit down at my desk and write her just a few lines, asking her to
release you from your promise; I will take it to her at once, and if you
like you can wait here till I bring back the answer.”

“But that will be giving you so much trouble,” said Swanhild, “and on
Sunday, too, when you have so much to do.”

He took out his watch.

“I shall have plenty of time,” he said, “and if I am fortunate enough to
find Lady Romiaux, you shall soon get rid of your trouble.”



                            CHAPTER XXXIII.


Having established Swanhild at the writing-table, Charles Osmond left
her for a few minutes and went up to the drawing-room; it was one of
those comfortable, old-fashioned rooms which one seldom sees now, and
resting on the sofa was one of those old-world ladies whose sweet
graciousness has such a charm to the more restless end of the nineteenth
century. No less than four generations were represented in the room, for
by the fire sat Charles Osmond’s daughter-in-law, and on her knee was
her baby son—the delight of the whole house.

“Erica,” he said, coming toward the hearth, “strangely enough the very
opportunity I wanted has come. I have been asked to see Lady Romiaux on
a matter connected with some one who once knew her, so you see it is
possible that after all your wish may come true, and I may be of some
use to her.”

Erica looked up eagerly, her face which in repose was sad, brightened
wonderfully.

“How glad I am, father! You know Donovan always said there was so much
that was really good in her, if only some one could draw it out.”

“How did the case end?” asked Mrs. Osmond.

“It ended in a disagreement of the jury,” replied her son, “Why, I can’t
understand, for the evidence was utterly against her, according to
Ferguson. I am just going round to see him now, and find out her address
from him, and in the mean time there’s a dear little Norwegian girl in
my study, who will wait till I bring back an answer. Would you like her
to come up here?”

“Yes, yes,” said Erica, “by all means let us have her if she can talk
English. Rae is waking up, you see, and we will come down and fetch
her.”

Swanhild had just finished her letter when the door of the study opened,
and looking up she saw Charles Osmond once more, and beside him a lady
who seemed to her more lovely than Blanche; she was a good deal older
than Lady Romiaux and less strikingly beautiful, but there was something
in her creamy-white coloring and short auburn hair, something in the
mingled sadness and sweetness of her face that took Swanhild’s heart by
storm.

“This is my daughter-in-law, Mrs. Brian Osmond, and this is my
grandson,” said Charles Osmond, allowing Rae’s tiny fingers to play with
his long white beard.

“Will you come upstairs and stay with us till Mr. Osmond comes back?”
said Erica, shaking hands with her, and wondering not a little what
connection there could be between this fair-haired, innocent little
Norse girl and Lady Romiaux. And then seeing that Swanhild was shy she
kept her hand in hers and led her up to the drawing-room, where, with
the baby to play with, she was soon perfectly happy, and chattering away
fast enough to the great amusement of old Mrs. Osmond, who heard the
whole story of the model lodgings, of the dancing classes, and of the
old home in Norway.

In the mean while Charles Osmond had reached his friend’s chambers, and
to his great satisfaction found him in.

“As far as I know,” replied Mr. Ferguson, “Lady Romiaux is still in
lodgings in George Street.” He drew a card from his pocket-book and
handed it to the clergyman. “That’s the number; and to my certain
knowledge she was there yesterday. Her father wont have anything to do
with her.”

“Poor child!” said Charles Osmond, half to himself, “I wonder what will
become of her?”

Mr. Ferguson shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, she’s brought it all on herself,” he said. “There is no doubt
whatever that she is guilty, and how the jury disagreed I’m sure I don’t
know.”

Charles Osmond did not stay to discuss the matter, but made the best of
his way to George Street, and sent in his card with a request that Lady
Romiaux would, if possible, see him on a matter of business.

In a minute or two he was ushered into a drawing-room, which had the
comfortless air of most lodging-house rooms; standing on the hearthrug
was a young, delicate-looking girl; for a moment he did not recognize
her as the Lady Romiaux whose portraits were so well known, for trouble
had sadly spoiled her beauty, and her eyelids were red and swollen,
either with want of sleep or with many tears.

She bowed, then meeting his kindly eyes, the first eyes she had seen for
so long which did not stare at her in hateful curiosity, or glance at
her with shrinking disapproval, she came quickly forward and put her
hand in his.

“For what reason can you have come?” she exclaimed; “you of all men.”

He was struck with the wild look in her great dark eyes, and intuitively
knew that other work than the delivery of little Swanhild’s letter
awaited him here.

“Why do you say, ‘Of all men’ in that tone?” he asked.

“Because you are one of the very few men who ever made me wish to do
right,” she said quickly. “Because I used sometimes to come to your
church—till—till I did not dare to come, because what you said made me
so miserable!”

“My poor child,” he said; “there are worse things than to be miserable;
you are miserable now, but your very misery may lead you to peace.”

“No, no,” she sobbed, sinking down on the sofa and hiding her face in
her hands. “My life is over—there is nothing left for me. And yet,” she
cried, lifting her head and turning her wild eyes toward him, “yet I
have not the courage to die, even though my life is a misery to me and a
snare to every one I come across.”

“Are you alone here?” he asked.

“Yes; my father and mother will have nothing to say to me—and there is
no one else—I mean no one else that I would have.”

He breathed more freely.

“You must not say your life is over,” he replied. “Your life in society
is over, it is true, but there is something much better than that which
you may now begin. Be sure that if you wish to do right it is still
possible for you.”

“Ah, but I can’t trust myself.” she sobbed. “It will be so very
difficult all alone.”

“Leave that for God to arrange,” he said. “Your part is to trust to Him
and try your best to do right. Tell me, do you not know my friend
Donovan Farrant, the member for Greyshot?”

She brushed the tears from her eyes and looked up more quietly.

“I met him once at a country house in Mountshire,” she said, “He and his
wife were there just for two days, and they were so good to me. I think
he guessed that I was in danger then, for one day he walked with me in
the grounds, and he spoke to me as no one had ever spoken before. He saw
that my husband and I had quarreled, and he saw that I was flirting out
of spite with—with—well, no matter! But he spoke straight out, so that
if it hadn’t been for his wonderful tact and goodness I should have been
furious with him. And he told me how the thing that had saved him all
through his life was the influence of good women; and just for a few
days I did want to be good, and to use my power rightly. But the
Farrants went away, and I vexed my husband again and we had another
quarrel, and when he was gone down to speak at Colonel Adair’s election,
I went to stay, against his wish, at Belcroft Park; and when I had done
that, it seemed as if I were running right down a steep hill and really
couldn’t stop myself.”

“But now,” said Charles Osmond, “you must begin to climb the hill once
more. You must be wondering through all this time what was the errand
that brought me here. I brought you this letter from a little Norwegian
girl—Swanhild Falck. In the midst of your great trouble I dare say her
trouble will seem very trifling, still I hope you will be able to
release her from her promise, for it is evidently weighing on her mind.”

“That’s another instance of the harm I do wherever I go,” said poor
Blanche, reading the letter, “and in this case I was really trying to
undo the past, very foolishly as I see now. Tell Swanhild that she is
quite free from her promise, and that if it has done harm I am sorry.
But I always do harm! Do you remember that story of Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s about the daughter of the botanist, who was brought up on
the juices of a beautiful poison-plant, and who poisoned with her breath
every one that came near her? I think I am like that.”

“I remember it,” he replied. “A weird, unwholesome story. But if I
remember right, the heroine died herself rather than poison others.”

“Yes, and that is what I wish to do,” she said, with once more that look
in her eyes which had startled him. “But I am a coward; I haven’t the
courage.”

“Wait,” he said gravely: “there is a real truth in your idea, but do not
set about it in a wrong way. To seek physical death would only be to
take another wrong step. It is not you, but your selfishness that must
die.”

“But if I were not what you would call selfish, if I did not love to
attract men and make them do just what I please, if I did not enjoy the
feeling that they are in love with me, I should no longer be myself,”
she said.

“You would no longer be your false self,” he replied. “You would be your
true self. Do you think God made you beautiful that you might be a snare
in the world? He made you to be a joy and a blessing, and you have
abused one of his best gifts.”

She began to cry again, to sob piteously, almost like a child.

Charles Osmond spoke once more, and there was a great tenderness in his
voice.

“You have found now that self-pleasing brings misery to yourself and
every one else. I know you wish to do right, but you must do more than
that; you must resolutely give your body, soul, and spirit to God,
desiring only to do his will.”

She looked up once more, speaking with the vehemence of despair.

“Oh,” she said, “it seems all real now while I talk to you, but I know
it will fade away, and the temptations will be much more strong. You
don’t know what the world is—you are good, and you have no time to see
with your own eyes how, underneath all that is so respectable, it is
hollow and wicked.”

“It will be your own fault if you are not stronger than the temptations
with which God allows you to be assailed,” he said. “You loathe and fear
evil, and that is a step in the right direction, but now you must turn
right away from it, and learn to look at purity, and goodness, and love.
Don’t believe that vice is to conquer—that is the devil’s lie. The
strength of the Infinite the love of the All-Father will conquer—and
that love and that strength are for you.”

“What!” sobbed Blanche, “for a woman who has dishonored her name—a woman
cast out of society?”

Charles Osmond took her hand in his strong, firm clasp.

“Yes, my child,” he said, “they are for you.”

There was a long silence.

“And now,” he said, at length, “unless you have any other friends to
whom you would rather go, I am going to ask you to come home with me. I
can promise you at least rest and shelter, and a welcome from my dear
old mother, who, being very near to the other world, does not judge
people after the custom of this one.”

“But,” she said, with a look of mingled relief and perplexity, “how can
I let you do so much for a mere stranger? Oh, I should like to
come—but—but—”

“You are no longer a stranger,” he replied, “And you must not refuse me
this. You shall see no one at all if you prefer it. Ours is a busy
house, but in some ways it is the quietest house in London. My son and
his wife live with us. They, too, will be so glad if we can be of any
use to you. Come, I can not leave you here in this loneliness.”

“Do you mean that I am to come now?” she said, starting up.

“Yes, if you will,” he replied. “But I will go and call a hansom; and
since I am in rather a hurry, perhaps you will let your maid follow with
your things later on in the evening.”

So in a few minutes they were driving together to Guilford Square, and
Blanche was transplanted from her miserable loneliness into the heart of
one of the happiest homes in the country. Leaving her in the study,
Charles Osmond went in search of Swanhild.

“It is all right,” he said, handing her a little note in Blanche’s
writing; and while the child eagerly read it he turned to his
daughter-in-law.

“Will you tell them to get the spare room ready, Erica, dear?” he said.
“I have persuaded Lady Romiaux to stay with us for a little while.”

Swanhild caught the words, and longed to ask to see Blanche, but she
remembered that Sigrid would not like it; and then, with a sudden
recollection that the afternoon was almost over, and that she must go
home, she thanked Charles Osmond, reluctantly parted with the baby,
kissed old Mrs. Osmond and Erica, who made her promise to come and see
them again, and hurried back to the model lodgings.

Her happiness and relief, and the pleasurable excitement of having
learned to know a new and delightful family, were slightly clouded by
the uncomfortable thought of the confession that lay before her. What
would Frithiof and Sigrid say to her? And how should she put into words
the story of what she more and more felt to have been a wrong and
foolish, and very childish scheme of help?

“Oh, how I wish it were over!” she thought, to herself, as she marched
on to her disagreeable work like a little Trojan. Big Ben was striking
five as she crossed the court-yard. She had been away from home more
than two hours. She hurried on to the porter’s office, and asked
breathlessly for the key.

“Mr. Falck took it ten minutes ago,” said the man.

And Swanhild turned away with a sigh and a little shiver, and began very
slowly to mount the stone stairs.

“Oh! what will he say to me?” she thought, as she clasped Blanche’s note
fast in her little cold hands.



                             CHAPTER XXXIV.


Although she had climbed the stairs so slowly, poor Swanhild was still
out of breath when she reached the door leading into the little parlor;
she paused a moment to recover herself, and, hearing voices within,
became a degree more miserable, for she had counted upon finding
Frithiof alone. Clearly Sigrid must also have returned, and, indeed,
things were even worse than that, for as she opened the door and emerged
round the Japanese screen she saw Roy standing by the fire; for this she
had been utterly unprepared, and, indeed, it was very seldom that he
came now to the model lodgings.

“At last!” exclaimed Frithiof, “why, Swanhild, where on earth have you
been to? We were just thinking of having you cried.”

“We were preparing an advertisement to appear in all the papers
to-morrow morning,” said Roy, laughing, “and were just trying to agree
as to the description; you’ll hardly believe me, but your guardian
hadn’t the least notion what color your eyes are.”

Frithiof drew her toward him, smiling.

“Let me see now in case she is ever lost again,” he said, but noticing a
suspicious moisture in the blue eyes he no longer teased her, but made
her sit down on his knee and drew off her gloves.

“What is the matter, dear?” he said, “you look cold and tired; where
have you been to?”

“I have been to see Mr. Osmond,” said Swanhild, “you know we often go to
his church, Sigrid and I, and there was something I wanted to ask him
about. Last summer I made a promise which I think was wrong, and I
wanted to know whether I might break it.”

“What did he say?” asked Frithiof, while Sigrid and Roy listened in
silent astonishment.

“He said that a wrong promise ought to be broken, and he managed to get
me leave to speak from the person to whom I made the promise. And now I
am going to tell you about it.”

Frithiof could feel how the poor little thing was trembling.

“Don’t be frightened, darling,” he said, “just tell us everything and no
one shall interrupt you.”

She gave his hand a grateful little squeeze and went on.

“It happened just after we had come back from the sea last June. I was
coming home from school on Saturday morning when, just outside the
court-yard, I met Lady Romiaux. Just for a moment I did not know her,
but she knew me directly, and stopped me and said how she had met you
and Sigrid at a party and had ever since been so miserable to think that
we were so poor, and somehow she had found out our address, and wanted
to know all about us, only when she actually got to the door she did not
like to come in. And she said she was so glad to see me, and asked all
sorts of questions, and when she heard that you meant to pay off the
debts she looked so sad, and she said that the bankruptcy was all her
fault, and she asked how much I thought you had got toward it, and
seemed quite horrified to think what a little it was, and what years the
work would take. And then she said to me that she wanted to help, too,
just a little, only that you must never know, and she thought I could
easily pay in a five-pound note to your account at the bank, she said,
without your knowing anything about it. She made me promise to do it
secretly, and never to tell that it was from her. You can’t think how
kindly she said it all, and how dreadfully sad she looked—I don’t think
I could possibly have said ‘no’ to her. But afterward I began to see
that I couldn’t very well pay the note into your account at the
post-office, for I hadn’t got your little book that you always take, and
besides I didn’t know which office you went to. So I worried about it
all the next day, which was Sunday, and in the evening at church it
suddenly came into my head that I would put it with your other money
inside your waistcoat pocket.” Roy made an involuntary movement, Sigrid
drew a little nearer, but Frithiof never stirred. Swanhild continued:

“So the next morning, when I went into your bedroom to wake you up, I
slipped the note into your pocket, and then I thought, just supposing
you were to lose it, it seemed so light and so thin, and I pinned it to
the lining to make it quite safe. You were sleeping very soundly, and
were quite hard to wake up. At first I felt pretty happy about it, and I
thought if you asked me if I had put it there when you found it out I
should be able to say ‘yes’ and yet to keep Blanche’s secret. But you
never said a word about it, and I was sure something had troubled you
very much, and I was afraid it must be that, yet dared not speak about
it and I tried to find out from Sigrid, but she only said that you had
many troubles which I was too young to understand. It often made me very
unhappy, but I never quite understood that I had done wrong till the
night you found me reading the paper, and then I thought that I ought
not to have made the promise to Lady Romiaux. This is the note which Mr.
Osmond brought me from her.”

Frithiof took the little crumpled sheet and read it.


“DEAR SWANHILD: You are quite free to speak about that five-pound note,
I never ought to have made you promise secrecy, and indeed, gave the
money just by a sudden impulse. It was a foolish thing to do, as I see
now, but I meant it well. I hope you will all forgive me. Yours
affectionately,

                                                              “BLANCHE.”


Then Roy and Sigrid read the note together, and Roy grasped Frithiof’s
hand.

“Will you ever forgive me?” he said. “Cecil was right, and I ought to
have known that this miserable affair would one day be explained.”

Frithiof still looked half-stunned, he could not realize that the cloud
had at last dispersed, he was so taken up with the thought of the
extraordinary explanation of the mystery—of the childish, silly, little
plan that had brought about such strange results.

“Oh, Swanhild!” cried Sigrid, “if only you had spoken sooner how much
pain might have been saved.”

“Don’t say that,” said Frithiof, rousing himself, “she has chosen the
right time, depend upon it. I can hardly believe it at all yet. But, oh!
to think of having one’s honor once more unstained—and this death in
life over!”

“What do you mean? What do you mean?” sobbed poor little Swanhild,
utterly perplexed by the way in which her confession had been received.

“Tell her,” said Sigrid, glancing at Roy.

So he told her exactly what had happened in the shop on that Monday in
June.

“We kept it from you,” said Frithiof, “because I liked to feel that
there was at any rate one person unharmed by my disgrace, and because
you seemed so young to be troubled with such things.”

“But how can it have happened?” said Swanhild; “who took the note really
from the till?”

“It must have been Darnell,” said Roy. “He was present when Sardoni got
the change, he saw James Horner put away the note, he must have managed
during the time that you two were alone in the shop to take it out, and
no doubt if he had been searched first the other five-pound note would
have been found on him. What a blackguard the man must be to have let
you suffer for him! I’ll have the truth out of him before I’m a day
older.”

“Oh! Frithiof, Frithiof! I’m so dreadfully sorry,” sobbed poor Swanhild.
“I thought it would have helped you, and it has done nothing but harm.”

But Frithiof stooped down and silenced her with a kiss “You see the harm
it has done,” he said, “but you don’t see the good. Come, stop crying,
and let us have tea, for your news has given me an appetite, and I’m
sure you are tired and hungry after all this.”

“But could it ever have entered any one’s head that such an improbable
thing should actually happen?” said Roy, as he mused over the story. “To
think that Sardoni should get change for his note, and Darnell steal it
on the very day that Swanhild had given you that unlucky contribution to
the debt-fund!”

“It is just one of those extraordinary coincidences which do happen in
life,” said Sigrid. “I believe if every one could be induced to tell all
the strange things of the kind that had happened we should see that they
are after all pretty common things.”

“I wonder if there is a train to Plymouth to-night?” said Roy. “I shall
not rest till I have seen Darnell. For nothing less than his confession
signed and sealed will satisfy James Horner. Do you happen to have a
Bradshaw?”

“No, but we have something better,” said Sigrid, smiling; “on the next
landing there is Owen, one of the Great Western guards. I know he is at
home, for I passed him just now on the stairs, and he will tell you
about the trains.”

“What a thing it is to live in model lodgings!” said Roy, smiling. “You
seem to me to keep all the professions on the premises. Come, Frithiof,
do go and interview this guard and ask him how soon I can get down to
Plymouth and back again.”

Frithiof went out, there was still a strange look of abstraction in his
face. “I scarcely realized before how much he had felt this,” said Roy.
“What a fool I was to be so positive that my own view of the case was
right! Looking at it from my own point of view I couldn’t realize how
humiliating it must all have been to him—how exasperating to know that
you were in the right yet not to be able to convince any one.”

“It has been like a great weight on him all through the autumn,” said
Sigrid, “and yet I know what he meant when he told Swanhild, that it had
done him good as well as harm. Don’t you remember how at one time he
cared for nothing but clearing off the debts? Well, now, though he works
hard at that, yet he cares for other people’s troubles too—that is no
longer his one idea.”

And then because she knew that Roy was thinking of the hope that this
change had brought into their lives, and because her cheeks grew
provokingly hot, she talked fast and continuously, afraid to face her
own thoughts, yet all the time conscious of such happiness as she had
not known for many months.

Before long Frithiof returned.

“I don’t think you can do it,” he said. “Owen tells me there is a train
from Paddington at 9.50 this evening, but it isn’t a direct one and you
wont get to Plymouth till 9.28 to-morrow morning. A most unconscionable
time, you see.”

“Why not write to Darnell?” suggested Sigrid.

“No, no, he would get out of it in some mean way. I intend to pounce on
him unexpectedly, and in that way to get at the truth,” replied Roy.
“This train will do very well. I shall sleep on the way, but I must just
go to Regent Street and get the fellow’s address.”

This, however, Frithiof was able to tell him, and they lingered long
over the tea-table, till at length Roy remembered that it might be as
well to see his father and let him know what had happened before
starting for Devonshire. Very reluctantly he left the little parlor, but
he took away with him the grateful pressure of Sigrid’s hand, the sweet,
bright glance of her blue eyes, and the echo of her last words, spoken
softly and sweetly in her native language.

“_Farvel! Tak skal De have._” (Farewell! Thanks you shall have.) Why had
she spoken to him in Norse? Was it perhaps because she wished him to
feel that he was no foreigner, but one of themselves? Whatever her
reason, it touched him and pleased him that she had spoken just in that
way, and it was with a very light heart that he made his way to Rowan
Tree House.

The lamp was not lighted in the drawing-room, but there was a blazing
fire, and on the hearth-rug sat Cecil with Lance nestled close to her,
listening with all his ears to one of the hero stories which she always
told him on Sunday evenings.

“Has father gone to chapel?” asked Roy.

“Yes, some time ago,” replied Cecil. “Is anything the matter?”

Something told her that Roy’s unexpected appearance was connected with
Frithiof, and, accustomed always to fear for him, her heart almost stood
still.

“Don’t look so frightened,” said Roy, as the firelight showed him her
dilated eyes. “Nothing is the matter—I have brought home some very good
news. Frithiof is cleared, and that wretched business of the five-pound
note fully explained.”

“At last!” she exclaimed. “What a relief! But how? Do tell me all.”

He repeated Swanhild’s story, and then, hoping to catch his father in
the vestry before the service began, he hurried off, leaving Cecil to
the only companionship she could have borne in her great happiness—that
of little Lance.

But Roy found himself too late to catch his father, there was nothing
for it but to wait, and, anxious to speak to him at the earliest
opportunity, he made his way into the chapel that he might get hold of
him when the service was over, for otherwise there was no saying how
long he might not linger talking with the other deacons, who invariably
wanted to ask his advice about a hundred and one things.

He was at this moment giving out the hymn, and Roy liked to hear him do
this once more; it carried him back to his boyhood—to the times when
there had been no difference of opinion between them. He sighed just a
little, for there is a sadness in all division because it reminds us
that we are still in the days of school-time, that life is as yet
imperfect, and that by different ways, not as we should wish all in the
same way, we are being trained and fitted for a perfect unity elsewhere.

Mr. Boniface was one of those men who are everywhere the same; he
carried his own atmosphere about with him, and sitting now in the
deacon’s seat beneath the pulpit he looked precisely as he did in his
home or in his shop. It was the same quiet dignity, that was noticeable
in him, the same kindly spirit, the same delightful freedom from all
self-importance. One could hardly look at him without remembering the
fine old saying, “A Christian is God Almighty’s gentleman.”

When, by and by, he listened to Roy’s story, told graphically enough as
they walked home together, his regret for having misjudged Frithiof was
unbounded. He was almost as impatient to get hold of Darnell as his son
was.

“Still,” he observed, “you will not gain much by going to-night, why not
start to-morrow by the first train?”

“If I go now,” said Roy, “I shall be home quite early to-morrow evening,
and Tuesday is Christmas eve—a wretched day for traveling. Besides, I
can’t wait.”

Both father and mother knew well enough that it was the thought of
Sigrid that had lent him wings, and Mr. Boniface said no more, only
stipulating that he should be just and generous to the offender.

“Don’t visit your own annoyance on him, and don’t speak too hotly,” he
said. “Promise him that he shall not be prosecuted or robbed of his
character if only he will make full confession, and see what it was that
led him to do such a thing, I can’t at all understand it. He always
seemed to me a most steady, respectable man.”

Roy being young and having suffered severely himself through Darnell’s
wrong-doing, felt anything but judicial as he traveled westward on that
cold December night; he vowed that horsewhipping would be too good for
such a scoundrel, and rehearsed interviews in which his attack was
brilliant and Darnell’s defense most feeble. Then he dozed a little,
dreamed of Sigrid, woke cold and depressed to find that he must change
carriages at Bristol, and finally after many vicissitudes was landed at
Plymouth at half-past nine on a damp and cheerless winter morning.

Now that he was actually there he began to dislike the thought of the
work before him, and to doubt whether after all his attack would be as
brilliant in reality as in imagination. Rather dismally he made a hasty
breakfast and then set off through the wet, dingy streets to the shop
where Darnell was at present employed. To his relief he found that it
was not a very large one, and, on entering, discovered the man he
sought, behind the counter and quite alone. As he approached him he
watched his face keenly; Darnell was a rather good-looking man, dark,
pale, eminently respectable; he looked up civilly at the supposed
customer,—then, catching sight of Roy, he turned a shade paler and gave
an involuntary start of surprise.

“Mr. Robert!” he stammered.

“Yes, Darnell; I see you know what I have come for,” said Roy quietly.
“It was certainly a very strange, a most extraordinary coincidence that
Mr. Falck should, unknown to himself, have had another five-pound note
in his pocket that day last June, but it has been fully explained. Now I
want your explanation.”

“Sir!” gasped Darnell; “I don’t understand you; I—I am at a loss—”

“Come, don’t tell any more lies about it,” said Roy impatiently. “We
knew now that you must have taken it, for no one else was present. Only
confess the truth and you shall not be prosecuted; you shall not lose
your situation here. What induced you to do it?”

“Don’t be hard on me, sir,” stammered the man. “I assure you I’ve
bitterly regretted it many a time.”

“Then why did you not make a clean breast of it to my father?” said Roy.
“You might have known that he would never be hard on you.”

“I wish I had,” said Darnell, in great distress; “I wish to God I had,
sir, for it’s been a miserable business from first to last. But I was in
debt, and there was nothing but ruin before me, and I thought of my wife
who was ill, and I knew that the disgrace would kill her.”

“So you went and disgraced yourself still more,” said Roy hotly. “You
tried to ruin another man instead of yourself.”

“But he wasn’t turned off,” said Darnell. “And they put it all on his
illness, and it seemed as if, after all, it would not hurt him so much.
It was a great temptation, and when I had once given way to it there
seemed no turning back.”

“Tell me just how you took it,” said Roy, getting rather more calm and
judicial in his manner.

“I saw Mr. Horner give Signor Sardoni the change, sir, and I saw him put
the note in the till; and I was just desperate with being in debt and
not knowing how to get straight again.”

“But wait a minute—how had you got into such difficulties?” interrupted
Roy. “And how could a five-pound note help you out again?”

“Well, sir, I had been unlucky in a betting transaction, but I thought I
could right myself if only I could get something to try again with; but
there wasn’t a soul I could borrow from. I thought I should get straight
again at once if only I had five pounds in hand, and so I did, sir; I
was on my feet again the very next day.”

“I might have known it was betting that had ruined you,” said Roy. “Now
go back and tell me when you took the note.”

“I kept on thinking and planning through the afternoon, sir, and then,
presently, all was quiet, and only Mr. Falck with me in the shop, and I
was just wondering how to get rid of him, when Mr. Horner opened the
door of Mr. Boniface’s room and called to me. Then I said, ‘Do go, Mr.
Falck, for I have an order to write to catch the post.’ And he went for
me, and I hurried across to his counter while he was gone, and took the
note out of his till and put it inside my boot; and when he came back he
found me writing at my desk just as he had left me. He came up looking a
little put out, as if Mr. Horner had rubbed him the wrong way, and he
says to me, ‘It’s no use; you must go yourself, after all.’ So I went to
Mr. Horner, leaving Mr. Falck alone in the shop.”

“Were you not afraid lest he should open the till and find out that the
note was gone?”

“Yes, I was very much afraid. But all went well, and I intended to go
out quickly at tea-time—it was close upon it then—and do what I could to
get it straight again. I thought I could invent an excuse for not
returning to the shop that night; say I’d been taken suddenly ill or
something of that sort. It was Mr. Falck’s turn to go first; and while
he was out, as ill-luck would have it, Mr. Horner came to take change
from the till, and then all the row began. I made sure I was ruined, and
no one was more surprised than myself at the turn that affairs took.”

“But,” exclaimed Roy, “when you were once more out of debt, how was it
that you did not confess, and do what you could to make up for your
shameful conduct?”

“Well, sir, I hadn’t the courage. Sometimes I thought I would; and then,
again, I couldn’t make up my mind to; and I got to hate Mr. Falck, and I
hated him more because he behaved well about it; and I got into the way
of spiting him and making the place disagreeable to him; and I hoped
that he would leave. But he stuck to his post through it all; and I
began to think that it would be safer that I should leave, for I felt
afraid of him somehow. So at Michaelmas I took this situation. And oh!
sir, for my wife’s sake don’t ruin me; don’t expose all this to my
employer!”

“I promised you just now that you should not be exposed; but you must
write a few words of confession to my father; and be quick about it, for
I want to catch the express to London.”

Darnell, who was still pale and agitated, seized pen and paper, and
wrote a few words of apology and a clear confession. To write was hard,
but he was in such terror lest his employers should return and discover
his miserable secret that he dared not hesitate—dared not beat about the
bush.

Roy watched him with some curiosity, wondering now that he had not
suspected the man sooner. But, as a matter of fact, Darnell had been
perfectly self-possessed until his guilt was discovered; it was the
exposure that filled him with shame and confusion, not the actual
dishonesty.

“I don’t know how to thank you enough, sir, for your leniency,” he said,
when he had written, in as few words as possible, the statement of the
facts.

“Well, just let the affair be a lesson to you,” said Roy. “There’s a
great deal said about drunkenness being the national sin, but I believe
it is betting that is at the root of half the evils of the day.
Fortunately, things are now set straight as far as may be, yet remember
that you have wronged and perhaps irrevocably injured a perfectly
innocent man.”

“I bitterly regret it, sir; I do, indeed,” said Darnell.

“I hope you do,” said Roy; “I am sure you ought to.”

And while Darnell still reiterated thanks, and apologies, and abject
regrets, Roy stalked out of the shop and made his way back to the
station.

“To think that I believed in that cur, and doubted Falck!” he said to
himself with disgust. “And yet, could any one have seemed more
respectable than Darnell? more thoroughly trustworthy? And how could I
disbelieve the evidence that was so dead against Frithiof? Sigrid and
Cecil trusted him, and I ought to have done so too, I suppose; but women
seem to me to have a faculty for that sort of thing which we are quite
without.”

Then, after a time, he remembered that the last barrier that parted him
from Sigrid was broken down; and it was just as well that he had the
railway carriage to himself, for he began to sing so jubilantly that the
people in the next compartment took him for a school-boy returning for
his Christmas holidays.

It had been arranged that if he could catch the express from Plymouth he
should meet his father at the shop, and arriving at Paddington at
half-past six he sprang into a hansom and drove as quickly as possible
to Regent Street.

Frithiof just glanced at him inquiringly as he passed through the shop,
then, reassured by the expression of his face, turned once more to the
fidgety and impatient singing-master who, for the last quarter of an
hour, had been keeping him hard at work in hunting up every conceivable
song that was difficult to find, and which, when found, was sure to
prove unsatisfactory.

He wondered much what had passed at Plymouth, and when at last he had
got rid of his customer, Roy returned to the shop with such evident
excitement and triumph in his manner that old Foster thought he must be
taking leave of his senses.

“My father wants to speak to you, Frithiof,” he said.

And Frithiof followed him into the little inner room which had been the
scene of such disagreeable interviews in the past. A strange, dreamlike
feeling came over him as he recalled the wretched summer day when the
detective had searched him, and in horrible, bewildered misery he had
seen the five-pound note, lying on that same leather-covered table, an
inexplicable mystery and a damning evidence against him.

But visions of the past faded as Mr. Boniface grasped his hand. “How can
I ever apologize enough to you, Frithiof!” he said. “Roy has brought
back a full confession from Darnell, and the mystery is entirely cleared
up. You must forgive me for the explanation of the affair that I was
content with last summer—I can’t tell you how I regret all that you have
had to suffer.”

“Here is Darnell’s letter,” said Roy, handing it to him.

And Frithiof read it eagerly, and asked the details of his friend’s
visit to Plymouth.

“Will this satisfy Mr. Horner, do you think?” he said, when Roy had told
him all about his interview with Darnell.

“It cannot fail to convince every one,” said Mr. Boniface. “It is proof
positive that you are free from all blame and that we owe you every
possible apology and reparation.”

“You think that Mr. Horner will be content, and will really sign the
fresh deed of partnership?” said Frithiof.

“He will be forced to see that your honor is entirely vindicated,” said
Mr. Boniface. “But I shall not renew the offer of partnership to him. He
has behaved very ill to you, he has been insolent to me, and I am glad
that, as far as business goes, our connection is at an end. All that is
quite settled. And now we have a proposal to make to you. We want you,
if nothing better has turned up, to accept a junior partnership in our
firm.”

Frithiof was so staggered by the unexpectedness of this offer that for a
moment or two he could not say a word.

“You are very good,” he said at length. “Far, far too good and kind to
me. But how can I let you do so much for me—how can I let you take as
partner a man who has no capital to bring into the business?”

“My dear boy, money is not the only thing wanted in business,” said Mr.
Boniface, laying his hand on Frithiof’s shoulder. “If you bring no
capital with you bring good abilities, a great capacity for hard work,
and a high sense of honor; and you will bring too, what I value very
much—a keen sympathy with those employed by you, and a real knowledge of
their position and its difficulties.”

“I dare not refuse your offer,” said Frithiof. “I can’t do anything but
gratefully accept it, but I have done nothing to deserve such kindness
from you.”

“It will be a comfort to me,” said Mr. Boniface, “to feel that Roy has
some one with whom he can work comfortably. I am growing old, and shall
not be sorry to do a little less, and to put some of my burden on to
younger shoulders.”

And then, after entering a little more into detail as to the proposed
plan, the three parted, and Frithiof hurried home eager to tell Sigrid
and Swanhild of the great change that had some over their affairs.



                             CHAPTER XXXV.


Cheerfulness reigned once more in the model lodgings. As Frithiof opened
the door of the parlor he heard such talking and laughter as there had
not been for some time past, despite Sigrid’s laudable endeavors.
Swanhild came dancing to meet him.

“Look! look!” she cried, “we have got the very dearest little Christmas
tree that ever was seen. And Madame Lechertier has promised to come to
tea to-morrow afternoon, and we are going out presently to buy the
candles for it.”

“Unheard-of extravagance,” he said, looking at the little fir tree upon
which Sigrid was fastening the candle-holders.

“Only a shilling,” she said apologetically. “And this year we really
couldn’t do without one. But you have brought some good news—I can see
it in your face. Oh, tell me, Frithiof—tell me quickly just what
happened.”

“Well, Darnell has made a full confession for one thing,” he replied.
“So the last vestige of the cloud has disappeared. You can’t think how
nice the other men were when they heard about it. Old Foster gave me
such a hand-shake that my arm aches still.”

“And Mr. Boniface?”

“You can fancy just what he would be as far as kindness and all that
goes. But you will never guess what he has done. How would you like to
count our savings toward the debt-fund by hundreds instead of by units?”

“What do you mean?” she cried.

“I mean that he has offered me the junior partnership,” said Frithiof,
watching her face with keen delight, and rewarded for all he had been
through by her rapture of happiness and her glad surprise.

As for Swanhild, in the reaction after the long strain of secret anxiety
which had tried her so much all the autumn, she was like a wild thing;
she laughed and sang, danced and chattered, and would certainly never
have eaten any supper had she not set her heart on going out to buy
Christmas presents at a certain shop in Buckingham Palace Road, which
she was sure would still be open.

“For it is just the sort of shop for people like us,” she explained,
“people who are busy all day and can only do their shopping in the
evening.”

So presently they locked up the rooms and all three went out together on
the merriest shopping expedition that ever was known. There was a
feeling of Yule-tide in the very air, and the contentment and relief in
their own hearts seemed to be reflected on every one with whom they came
in contact. The shops seemed more enticing than usual, the presents more
fascinating, the servers more obliging and ready to enter into the
spirit of the thing. Swanhild, with five shillings of her own earning to
lay out on Christmas gifts, was in the seventh heaven of happiness;
Sigrid, with her own secret now once more a joy and not a care, moved
like one in a happy dream; while Frithiof, free from the miserable cloud
of suspicion, freed, moreover, by all that he had lived through from the
hopelessness of the struggle, was the most perfectly happy of all.
Sometimes he forced himself to remember that it was through these very
streets that he had wandered in utter misery when he first came to
London; and recollecting from what depths Sigrid had saved him, he
thought of her with a new and strange reverence—there was nothing he
would not have done for her.

His reflections were interrupted by Swanhild’s voice.

“We will have every one from Rowan Tree House, wont we?” she said.

“And Herr Sivertsen,” added Sigrid. “He must certainly come, because he
is all alone.”

“And whatever happens, we must have old Miss Charlotte,” said Frithiof;
“but it strikes me we shall have to ask people to bring their own mugs,
like children at a school-treat.”

But Sigrid scouted this suggestion, and declared that the blue and white
china would just go round, while, as to chairs, they could borrow two or
three from the neighbors.

Then came the return home, and the dressing of the tree, amid much fun
and laughter, and the writing of the invitations, which must be posted
that night. In all London there could not have been found a merrier
household. All the past cares were forgotten; even the sorrows which
could not be healed had lost their sting, and the Christmas promised to
be indeed full of peace and goodwill.

How ten people—to say nothing of Lance and Gwen—managed to stow
themselves away in the little parlor was a mystery to Frithiof. But
Sigrid was a person of resources, and while he was out the next day she
made all sorts of cunning arrangements, decorated the room with ivy and
holly, and so disposed the furniture that there was a place for every
one.

At half-past four the guests began to arrive. First Mrs. Boniface and
Cecil with the children, who helped to light the tree; then Madame
Lechertier, laden with boxes of the most delicious _bonbons_ for every
one of the party, and soon after there came an abrupt knock, which they
felt sure could only have been given by Herr Sivertsen. Swanhild ran to
open the door and to take his hat and coat from him. Her eager welcome
seemed to please the old man, for his great massive forehead was
unusually free from wrinkles as he entered and shook hands with Sigrid,
and he bowed and smiled quite graciously as she introduced him to the
other guests. Then he walked round the Christmas tree with an air of
satisfaction, and even stooped forward and smelled it.

“So,” he said contentedly, “you keep up the old customs, I see! I’m glad
of it—I’m glad of it. It’s years since I saw a properly dressed tree.
And the smell of it! Great heavens! it makes me feel like a boy again!
I’m glad you don’t follow with the multitude, but keep to the good old
Yule ceremonies.”

In the mean time Cecil was pouring out tea and coffee in the kitchen,
where, for greater convenience, the table had been placed.

“Sigrid has allowed me to be lady-help and not visitor,” she said
laughingly to Frithiof. “I told her she must be in the other room to
talk to every one after the English fashion, for you and Swanhild will
be too busy fetching and carrying.”

“I am glad to have a chance of saying one word alone to you,” said
Frithiof. “Are you sure that Mrs. Boniface does not object to this new
plan as to the partnership?”

“Why, she is delighted about it,” said Cecil. “And she will tell you so
when she has you to herself. I am so glad—so very glad that your trouble
is over at last, and everything cleared up.”

“I can hardly believe it yet,” said Frithiof. “I’m afraid of waking and
finding that all this is a dream. Yet it feels real while I talk to you,
for you were the only outsider who believed in me and cheered me up last
summer. I shall never forget your trust in me.”

Her eyes sank beneath his frank look of gratitude. She was horribly
afraid lest she should betray herself, and to hide the burning color
which surged up into her face, she turned away and busied herself with
the teapot, which did not at all want refilling.

“You have forgotten Signor Donati,” she said, recovering her
self-possession.

“Ah! I must write to him,” said Frithiof. “I more and more wonder how he
could possibly have had such insight into the truth. Here come Mr.
Boniface and Roy.”

He returned to the parlor, while Cecil from the background watched the
greetings with some curiosity. In honor of Herr Sivertsen, and to please
Frithiof, both Sigrid and Swanhild wore their Hardanger peasant dress,
and Cecil thought she had never seen Sigrid look prettier than now, as
she shook hands with Roy, welcoming him with all the charm of manner,
with all the vivacity which was characteristic of her.

“Tea for Mr. Boniface, and coffee for Roy,” announced Swanhild, dancing
in. “Lance, you can hand the crumpets, and mind you don’t drop them
all.”

She pioneered him safely through the little crowd, and Frithiof returned
to Cecil. They had a comfortable little _tête-à-tête_ over the
tea-table.

“I dare to think now,” he said, “of the actual amount of the debts, for
at last there is a certainty that in time I can pay them.”

“How glad I am!” said Cecil. “It will be a great relief to you.”

“Yes, it will be like getting rid of a haunting demon,” said Frithiof.
“And to see a real prospect of being free once more is enough to make
this the happiest Christmas I have ever known—to say nothing of getting
rid of the other cloud. I sometimes wonder what would have become of me
if I had never met you and your brother.”

“If you had never sheltered us from the rain in your house,” she said,
smiling.

“It is in some ways dreadful to see how much depends on quite a small
thing,” said Frithiof thoughtfully.

And perhaps, could he have seen into Cecil’s heart, he would have been
more than ever impressed with this idea.

Before long they rejoined the rest of the party, and then, all standing
round the tree, they sang _Glädelig Jul_, and an English carol, after
which the presents were distributed, amid much laughter and quite a
babel of talk. The whole entertainment had been given for a few
shillings, but it was probably one of the most successful parties of the
season, for all seemed full of real enjoyment, and all were ready to
echo Lance’s outspoken verdict, that Christmas trees in model lodgings
were much nicer than anywhere else.

“But it isn’t fair that the model lodgings should have both Christmas
Eve and Christmas Day,” said Mrs. Boniface, “so you will come down to
Rowan Tree House this evening, and stay with us for a few days, will you
not?”

There was no resisting the general entreaty, and indeed, now that all
was cleared up, Frithiof looked forward very much to staying once more
in the household which had grown so home-like to him. It was arranged
that they should go down to Brixton later in the evening; and when their
guests had left, Sigrid began, a little sadly, to make the necessary
preparations. She was eager to go, and yet something told her that never
again under the same circumstances, would the little household be under
her care.

“I will take in the tree to the Hallifields,” she said; “the children
will be pleased with it. And, Frithiof, don’t you think that before we
leave you had better just call and thank Mr. Osmond for his help, and
for having been so kind to Swanhild? He will like to know that all is
cleared up.”

Frithiof agreed and set off for Guilford Square. The night was frosty,
and the stars shone out bright and clear. He walked briskly through the
streets, not exactly liking the prospect of his interview with the
clergyman, yet anxious to get it over, and really grateful for what had
been done by him.

Charles Osmond received him so kindly that his prejudices vanished at
once, and he told him just how the five-pound note had affected his
life, and how all had been satisfactorily explained.

“Such coincidences are very strange,” said Charles Osmond, “but it is
not the first time that I have come across something of the sort.
Indeed, I know of a case very similar to yours.”

“If Lady Romiaux is still with you,” said Frithiof, flushing a little,
“perhaps you will tell her that all is set straight, and thank her for
having released Swanhild from her promise.”

“She is still here,” said Charles Osmond, “and I will certainly tell
her. I think when she gave the money to your sister she yielded to a
kind impulse, not at all realizing how foolish and useless such a plan
was. After all, though she has lived through so much, she is still in
some ways a mere child.”

He looked at the Norwegian, wondering what lay beneath that handsome
face, with its Grecian outline and northern coloring.

As if in answer to the thought, Frithiof raised his frank blue eyes, and
met the searching gaze of his companion.

“Will not Lord Romiaux remember her youth?” he said. “Do you not think
there is at least a hope that he will forgive her?”

Then Charles Osmond felt a strange gladness at his heart, and over his
face there came a look of indescribable content, for the words revealed
to him the noble nature of the man before him; he knew that not one in a
thousand would have so spoken under the circumstances. The interest he
had felt in this man, whose story had accidentally become known to him,
changed to actual love.

“I am not without a strong hope that those two may be atoned,” he
replied. “But as yet I do not know enough of Lord Romiaux to feel sure.
It would probably involve the sacrifice of his public life. I do not
know whether his love is equal to such a sacrifice, or whether he has
strength and courage enough to offend the world, or whether he in the
least understands the law of forgiveness.”

“If you could only get to know him,” said Frithiof.

“I quite hope to do so, and that before long,” said Charles Osmond. “I
think I can get at him through a mutual friend—the member for
Greyshot—but we must not be in too great a hurry. Depend upon it, the
right time will come if we are only ready and waiting. Do you know the
old Scotch proverb, ‘Where twa are seeking they’re sure to find?’ There
is a deep truth beneath those words, a whole parable, it seems to me.”

“I must not keep you,” said Frithiof, rising. “But I couldn’t rest till
I had thanked you for your help, and let you know what had happened.”

“The affair has made us something more than mere acquaintances,” said
Charles Osmond. “I hope we may learn to know each other well in the
future. A happy Christmas to you.”

He had opened the study door, they were in the passage outside, and he
grasped the Norwegian’s hand. At that moment it happened that Blanche
passed from the dining-room to the staircase; she just glanced round to
see who Charles Osmond was addressing so heartily, and, perceiving
Frithiof, colored painfully and caught at the banisters for support.

Having realized what was the Norseman’s character, Charles Osmond did
not regret the meeting; he stood by in silence, glancing first at his
companion’s startled face, then at Blanche’s attitude of downcast
confusion.

As for Frithiof, in that moment he realized that his early passion was
indeed dead. Its fierce fire had utterly burned out; the weary pain was
over, the terrible battle which he had fought so long was at an end, all
that was now left was a chivalrous regard for the woman who had made him
suffer so fearfully, a selfless desire for her future safety.

He strode toward her with outstretched hand. It was the first time he
had actually touched her since they had parted long ago on the steamer
at Balholm, but he did not think of that; the past which had lingered
with him so long and with such cruel clearness seemed now to have
withered like the raiment of a Viking whose buried ship is suddenly
exposed to the air.

“I have just been telling Mr. Osmond,” he said, “that, thanks to your
note to Swanhild, a curious mystery has been explained; he will tell you
the details.”

“And you forgive me?” faltered Blanche.

“Yes, with all my heart,” he said.

For a moment her sorrowful eyes looked into his; she knew then that he
had entirely freed himself from his old devotion to her, for they met
her gaze frankly, fearlessly, and in their blue depths there was nothing
but kindly forgiveness.

“Thank you,” she said, once more taking his hand. “Good-by.”

“Good-by,” he replied.

She turned away and went upstairs without another word. And thus, on
this Christmas eve, the two whose lives had been so strangely woven
together parted, never to meet again till the clearer light of some
other world had revealed to them the full meaning of their early love.



                             CHAPTER XXXVI.


For a time Frithiof was rather silent and quiet, but Sigrid and Swanhild
were in high spirits as they went down to Rowan Tree House, arriving
just in time for supper. The atmosphere of happiness, however, is always
infectious, and he soon threw off his taciturnity, and dragging himself
away from his own engrossing thoughts, forgot the shadows of life in the
pure brightness of this home which had been so much to him ever since he
first set foot in it.

With Swanhild for an excuse they played all sorts of games; but when at
last she had been sent off to bed, the fun and laughter quieted down,
Mr. and Mrs. Boniface played their nightly game of backgammon; Roy and
Sigrid had a long _tête-à-tête_ in the little inner drawing-room; Cecil
sat down at the piano and began to play Mendelssohn’s Christmas pieces;
and Frithiof threw himself back in the great arm-chair close by her,
listening half dreamily and with a restful sense of pause in his life
that he had never before known. He desired nothing, he reveled in the
sense of freedom from the love which for so long had been a misery to
him; the very calm was bliss.

“That is beautiful,” he said, when the music ceased. “After all there is
no one like Mendelssohn, he is so human.”

“You look like one of the lotos-eaters,” said Cecil, glancing at him.

“It is precisely what I feel like,” he said, with a smile. “Perhaps it
is because you have been giving me

                ‘Music that gentlier on the spirit lies
                Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes.’

I remember so well how you read that to me after I had been ill.”

She took a thin little red volume from the bookshelves beside her and
turned over the leaves. He bent forward to look over her, and together
they read the first part of the poem.

“It is Norway,” he said. “What could better describe it?”

          “A land of streams! Some like a downward smoke,
            Slow dripping veils of thinnest lawn did go;
          And some through wavering lights and shadows broke,
            Rolling a slumbrous sheet of foam below.

          ... Far off, three mountain-tops,
            Three silent pinnacles of aged snow,
          Stood sunset-flushed; and, dewed with showery drops,
          Up-clomb the shadowy pine above the woven copse.”

“You will not be a true lotos-eater till you are there once more,” said
Cecil, glancing at him. For his dreamy content was gone, and a
wistfulness which she quite understood had taken its place. “Don’t you
think now that all is so different, you might perhaps go there next
summer?” she added.

“No,” he replied, “you must not tempt me. I will not go back till I am a
free man and can look every one in the face. The prospect of being free
so much sooner than I had expected ought to be enough to satisfy me.
Suppose we build castles in the air; that is surely the right thing to
do on Christmas eve. When at last these debts are cleared, let us all go
to Norway together. I know Mr. Boniface would be enchanted with it, and
you, you did not see nearly all that you should have seen. You must see
the Romsdal and the Geiranger, and we must show you Oldören, where we so
often spent the summer holiday.”

“How delightful it would be!” said Cecil.

“Don’t say ‘would,’ say ‘will,’” he replied. “I shall not thoroughly
enjoy it unless we all go together, a huge party.”

“I think we should be rather in the way,” she said. “You would have so
many old friends out there, and would want to get rid of us. Don’t you
remember the old lady who was so outspoken at Balholm when we tried to
be friendly and not to let her feel lonely and out of it?”

Frithiof laughed at the recollection.

“Yes,” he said; “she liked to be alone, and preferred to walk on quickly
and keep ‘out of the ruck,’ as she expressed it. We were ‘the ruck,’ And
how we laughed at her opinion of us.”

“Well, of course you wouldn’t exactly put it in that way, but all the
same, I think you would want to be alone when you go back.”

He shook his head.

“No; you are quite mistaken. Now, promise that if Mr. Boniface agrees,
you will all come too.”

“Very well,” she said, smiling, “I promise.”

“Where are they going to?” he exclaimed, glancing into the inner room
where Roy was wrapping a thick sofa blanket about Sigrid’s shoulders.

“Out into the garden to hear the bells, I dare say,” she replied. “We
generally go out if it is fine.”

“Let us come too,” he said; and they left the bright room and went out
into the dusky veranda, pacing silently to and fro, absorbed in their
own thoughts while the Christmas bells rang

                “Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
                Peace and goodwill to all mankind.”

But the other two, down in a sheltered path at the end of the garden,
were not silent, nor did they listen very much to the bells.

“Sigrid,” said Roy, “have you forgotten that you made me a promise last
June?”

“No,” she said, her voice trembling a little, “I have not forgotten.”

“You promised that when Frithiof was cleared I might ask you for your
answer.”

She raised her face to his in the dim starlight.

“Yes, I did promise.”

“And the answer is—?”

“I love you.”

The soft Norse words were spoken hardly above her breath, yet Roy knew
that they would ring in his heart all his life long.

“My darling!” he said, taking her in his arms. “Oh, if you knew what the
waiting has been to me! But it was my own fault—all my own fault. I
ought to have trusted your instinct before my own reason.”

“No, no,” she said, clinging to him; “I think I was hard and bitter that
day; you must forgive me, for I was so very unhappy. Don’t let us speak
of it any more. I hate to think of it even.”

“And nothing can ever come between us again,” he said, still keeping his
arm round her as they walked on.

“No; never again,” she repeated; “never again. I know I am too proud and
independent, and I suppose it is to crush down my pride that I have to
come to you like this, robbed of position and money, and—”

“How can you speak of such things,” he said reproachfully. “You know
they are nothing to me—you know that I can never feel worthy of you.”

“Such things do seem very little when one really loves,” she said
gently. “I have thought it over, and it seems to me like this—the proof
of your love to me is that you take me poor, an exile more or less
burdened with the past; the proof of my love to you is that I kill my
pride—and yield. It would have seemed impossible to me once; but now—Oh,
Roy! how I love you—how I love you!”

                  *       *       *       *       *

“And about Frithiof?” said Roy presently. “You will explain all to him,
and make him understand that I would not for the world break up his
home.”

“Yes,” she replied, “I will tell him; but I think not to-night. Just
till to-morrow let it be only for ourselves. Hark! the clocks are
striking twelve! Let us go in and wish the others a happy Christmas.”

But Roy kept the first of the good wishes for himself; then, at length
releasing her, walked beside her toward the house, happy beyond all
power of expression.

And now once more outer things began to appeal to him he became
conscious of the Christmas bells ringing gayly in the stillness of the
night, of the stars shining down gloriously through the clear, frosty
air, of the cheerful glimpse of home to be seen through the uncurtained
window of the drawing-room.

Cecil and Frithiof had left the veranda and returned to the piano; they
were singing a carol, the German air of which was well known in Norway.
Sigrid did not know the English words; but she listened to them now
intently, and they helped to reconcile her to the one thorn in her
perfect happiness—the thought that these other two were shut out from
the bliss which she enjoyed.

Quietly she stole into the room and stood watching them as they sang the
quaint old hymn:

                    “Good Christian men rejoice,
                    In heart and soul and voice;
                    Now ye hear of endless bliss;
                            Joy! joy!
                    Jesus Christ was born for this!
                    He hath oped the heavenly door.
                    And man is blessed evermore.
                    Christ was born for this.”

Cecil, glancing up at her when the carol was ended, read her secret in
her happy, glowing face. She rose from the piano.

“A happy Christmas to you,” she said, kissing her on both cheeks.

“We have been out in the garden, right down in the lower path, and you
can’t think how lovely the bells sound,” said Sigrid.

Then, with a fresh stab of pain at her heart, she thought of Frithiof’s
spoiled life; she looked wistfully across at him, conscious that her
love for Roy had only deepened her love for those belonging to her.

Was he never to know anything more satisfying than the peace of being
freed from the heavy load of suspicion? Was he only to know the pain of
love? All her first desire to keep her secret to herself died away as
she looked at him, and in another minute her hand was on his arm.

“Dear old boy,” she said to him in Norse, “wont you come out into the
garden with me for a few minutes?”

So they went out together into the starlight, and wandered down to the
sheltered path where she and Roy had paced to and fro so long.

“What a happy Christmas it has been for us all!” she said thoughtfully.

“Very; and how little we expected it,” said Frithiof.

“Do you think,” she began falteringly, “do you think, Frithiof, it would
make you less happy if I told you of a new happiness that has come to
me?”

Her tone as much as the actual words suddenly enlightened him.

“Whatever makes for your happiness makes for mine,” he said, trying to
read her face.

“Are you sure of that?” she said, the tears rushing to her eyes. “Oh, if
I could quite believe you, Frithiof, how happy I should be!”

“Why should you doubt me?” he asked. “Come, I have guessed your secret,
you are going to tell me that—”

“That Roy will some day be your brother as well as your friend,” she
said, finishing his sentence for him.

He caught her hand in his and held it fast.

“I wish you joy, Sigrid, with all my heart. This puts the finishing
touch to our Christmas happiness.”

“And Roy has been making such plans,” said Sigrid, brushing away her
tears; “he says that just over the wall there is a charming little house
back to back, you know, with this one, and it will just hold us all, for
of course he will never allow us to be separated. He told me that long
ago, when he first asked me.”

“Long ago?” said Frithiof; “why, what do you mean, Sigrid? I thought it
was only to-night.”

“It was only to-night that gave him his answer,” said Sigrid. “It was
when we were at the sea last June that he first spoke to me, and
then—afterward—perhaps I was wrong, but I would not hear anything more
about it till your cloud had passed away. I knew some day that your name
must be cleared, and I was angry with Roy for not believing in you. I
dare say I was wrong to expect it, but somehow I did expect it, and it
disappointed me so dreadfully. He says himself now that he ought to have
trusted—”

“It was a wonder that you didn’t make him hate me forever,” said
Frithiof. “Why did you not tell me about it before?”

“How could I?” she said. “It would only have made you more unhappy. It
was far better to wait.”

“But what a terrible autumn for you!” exclaimed Frithiof. “And to think
that all this should have sprung from that wretched five-pound note! Our
stories have been curiously woven together, Sigrid.”

As she thought of the contrast between the two stories her tears broke
forth afresh; she walked on silently hoping that he would not notice
them, but a drop fell right on to his wrist; he stopped suddenly, took
her face between his hands and looked full into her eyes.

“You dear little goose,” he said, “what makes you cry! Was it because I
said our stories had been woven together?”

“It’s because I wish they could have been alike,” she sobbed.

“But it wasn’t to be,” he said quietly. “It is an odd thing to say to
you to-night, when your new life is beginning, but to-night I also am
happy, because now at last my struggle is over—now at last the fire is
burned out. I don’t want anything but just the peace of being free to
the end of my life. Believe me, I am content.”

Her throat seemed to have closed up, she could not say a word just
because she felt for him so intensely. She gave him a little mute
caress, and once more they paced along the garden path. But her whole
soul revolted against this notion of content. She understood it as
little as the soldier marching to his first battle understands the calm
indifference of the comrade who lies in hospital. Surely Frithiof was to
have something better in his life than this miserable parody of love?
This passion, which had been almost all pain, could surely not be the
only glimpse vouchsafed him of the bliss which had transfigured the
whole world for her? There came back to her the thought of the old study
at Bergen, and she seemed to hear her father’s voice saying—

“I should like an early marriage for Frithiof, but I will not say too
much about you, Sigrid, for I don’t know how I should ever spare you.”

And she sighed as she remembered how his plans had been crossed and his
business ruined, and his heart broken—how both for him and for Frithiof
failure had been decreed.

Yet the Christmas bells rang on in this world of strangely mingled joy
and sorrow, and they brought her much the same message that had been
brought to her by the silence on Hjerkinshö—

“There is a better plan which can’t go wrong,” she said, to herself.



                            CHAPTER XXXVII.


“I have some news for you,” said Mr. Horner to his wife a few days after
this, as one evening he entered the drawing-room. The huge gold clock
with the little white face pointed to the hour of eight, the golden pigs
still climbed the golden hill, the golden swineherd still leaned
meditatively on his golden staff. Mrs. Horner, arrayed in peacock-blue
satin, glanced from her husband to the clock and back again to her
husband.

“News?” she said in a distinctly discouraging tone “Is it that which
makes you so late? However, it’s of no consequence to me if the dinner
is spoiled, quite the contrary, I am not particular. But I beg you wont
grumble if the meat is done to a cinder.”

“Never mind the dinner,” replied Mr. Horner captiously. “I have other
things to think of than overdone joints. That fool Boniface has taken me
at my word, and actually doesn’t intend to renew the partnership.”

“What!” cried his wife, “not now that all this affair is cleared up, and
you have apologized so handsomely to young Falck?”

“No; it’s perfectly disgraceful,” said James Horner, looking like an
angry turkey-cock as he paced to and fro. “I shook hands with Falck and
told him I was sorry to have misjudged him, and even owned to Boniface
that I had spoken hastily, but would you believe it, he wont reconsider
the matter. He not only gives me the sack but he takes in my place that
scheming Norwegian.”

“But the fellow has no capital,” cried Mrs. Horner, in great agitation.
“He is as poor as a rook! He hasn’t a single penny to put into the
concern.”

“Precisely. But Boniface is such a fool that he overlooks that and does
nothing but talk of his great business capacities, his industry, his
good address, and a lot of other rubbish of that sort. Why without money
a fellow is worth nothing—absolutely nothing.”

“From the first I detested him,” said Mrs. Horner. “I knew that the
Bonifaces were deceived in him. It’s my belief that although his
character is cleared as to this five-pound note business, yet he is
really a mere adventurer. Depend upon it he’ll manage to get everything
into his own hands, and will be ousting Roy one of these days.”

“Well, he’s hardly likely to do that, for it seems the sister has been
keeping her eyes open, and that idiot of a Roy is going to marry her.”

“To marry Sigrid Falck?” exclaimed Mrs. Horner, starting to her feet.
“Actually to bring into the family a girl who plays at dancing-classes
and parties—a girl who sweeps her own house and cooks her own dinner!”

“I don’t know that she is any the worse for doing that,” said James
Horner. “It’s not the girl herself that I object to, for she’s pretty
and pleasant enough, but the connection, the being related by marriage
to that odious Falck, who has treated me so insufferably, who looks down
on me and is as stand-offish as if he were an emperor.”

“If there is one thing I do detest,” said Mrs. Horner, “it is pushing
people—a sure sign of vulgarity. But it’s partly Loveday’s fault. If I
had had to deal with the Falcks they would have been taught their proper
place, and all this would not have happened.”

At this moment dinner was announced. The overdone meat did not improve
Mr. Horner’s temper, and when the servants had left the room he broke
out into fresh invectives against the Bonifaces.

“When is the wedding to be?” asked his wife.

“Some time in February, I believe. They are house-furnishing already.”

Mrs. Horner gave an ejaculation of annoyance.

“Well, the sooner we leave London the better,” she said. “I’m not going
to be mixed up with all this; we’ll avoid any open breach with the
family of course, but for goodness’ sake do let the house and let us
settle down elsewhere. There’s that house at Croydon I was very partial
to, and you could go up and down easy enough from there.”

“We’ll think of it,” said Mr. Horner reflectively. “And, by the by,
must, I suppose, get them some sort of wedding present.”

“By good luck,” said Mrs. Horner, “I won a sofa-cushion last week in a
raffle at the bazaar for the chapel organ fund. It’s quite good enough
for them, I’m sure. I did half think of sending it to the youngest Miss
Smith, who is to be married on New Year’s Day, but they’re such rich
people that I suppose I must send them something a little more showy and
expensive. This will do very well for Sigrid Falck.”

Luckily the opinion of outsiders did not at all mar the happiness of the
two lovers. They were charmed to hear that the Horners were leaving
London, and when in due time the sofa-cushion arrived, surmounted by
Mrs. Horner’s card, Sigrid, who had been in the blessed condition of
expecting nothing, was able to write a charming little note of thanks,
which by its straightforward simplicity, made the donor blush with an
uncomfortable sense of guilt.

“And after all,” remarked Sigrid to Cecil, “we really owe a great deal
to Mrs. Horner, for if she had not asked me to that children’s fancy
ball I should never have met Madame Lechertier, and how could we ever
have lived all together if it had not been for that?”

“In those days I think Mrs. Horner rather liked you, but somehow you
have offended her.”

“Why of course it was by earning my living and setting up in model
lodgings; I utterly shocked all her ideas of propriety, and, when once
you do that, good-by to all hopes of remaining in Mrs. Horner’s good
books. It would have grieved me to displease any of your relations if
you yourselves cared for them, but the Horners—well, I can not pretend
to care the least about them.”

The two girls were in the little sitting-room of the model lodgings,
putting the finishing touches to the white cashmere wedding-dress which
Sigrid had cut out and made for herself during the quiet days they had
spent at Rowan Tree House. Every one entered most heartily into all the
busy preparations, and Sigrid could not help thinking to herself that
the best proof that trouble had not spoiled or soured the lives either
of Cecil or Frithiof lay in their keen enjoyment of other people’s
happiness.

The wedding was to be extremely quiet. Early in the morning, when Cecil
went to see if she could be of any use, she found the bride-elect in her
usual black dress and her housekeeping apron of brown holland, busily
packing Frithiof’s portmanteau.

“Oh, let me do it for you,” she said. “The idea of your toiling away
to-day just as if you were not going to be married!”

Sigrid laughed merrily.

“Must brides sit and do nothing until the ceremony?” she asked. “If so,
I am sorry for them; I couldn’t sit still if I were to try. How glad I
am to think Frithiof and Swanhild will be at Rowan Tree House while we
are away! I should never have had a moment’s peace if I had left them
here, for Swanhild is, after all, only a child. It is so good of Mrs.
Boniface to have asked them.”

“Since you are taking Roy away from us, I think it is the least you
could do,” said Cecil, laughing. “It will be such a help to have them
this evening, for otherwise we should all be feeling very flat, I know.”

“And we shall be on our way to the Riviera,” said Sigrid, pausing for a
few minutes in her busy preparations; a dreamy look came into her clear,
practical eyes, and she let her head rest against the side of the bed.

“Sometimes, do you know,” she exclaimed, “I can’t believe this is all
real, I think I am just imagining it all, and that I shall wake up
presently and find myself playing the Myosotis waltz at the academy—it
was always such a good tune to dream to.”

“Wait,” said Cecil; “does this make it feel more real,” and hastily
going into the outer room she returned bearing the lovely wedding
bouquet which Roy had sent.

“Lilies of the valley!” exclaimed Sigrid. “Oh, how exquisite! And myrtle
and eucharist lilies—it is the most beautiful bouquet I ever saw.”

“Don’t you think it is time you were dressing,” said Cecil. “Come, sit
down and let me do your hair for you while you enjoy your flowers.”

“But Swanhild’s packing—I don’t think it is quite finished.”

“Never mind, I will come back this afternoon with her and finish
everything; you must let us help you a little just for once.”

And then, as she brushed out the long, golden hair, she thought how few
brides showed Sigrid’s wonderful unselfishness and care for others, and
somehow wished that Roy could have seen her just as she was, in her
working-day apron, too full of household arrangements to spend much time
over her own toilet.

Swanhild, already dressed in her white cashmere and pretty white beaver
hat, danced in and out of the room fetching and carrying, and before
long the bride, too, was dressed, and with her long tulle veil over the
dainty little wreath of real orange blossom from Madame Lechertier’s
greenhouse, and the homemade dress which fitted admirably, she walked
into the little sitting-room to show herself to Frithiof.

“I shall hold up your train, Sigrid, in case the floor is at all dusty,”
said Swanhild, much enjoying the excitement of the first wedding in the
family, and determined not to think of the parting till it actually
came.

Frithiof made an involuntary exclamation as she entered the room.

“You look like Ingeborg,” he said, “when she came into the new temple of
Balder.”

              “Followed by many a fair attendant maiden,
              As shines the moon amid surrounding stars,”

quoted Swanhild in Norse from the old saga, looking roguishly up at her
tall brother.

Sigrid laughed and turned to Cecil.

“She says that I am the moon and shine with a borrowed light, and that
you are the stars with light of your own. By-the-by, where is my other
little bridesmaid?”

“Gwen is to meet us at the church,” explained Cecil. “Do you know I
think the carriage must be waiting, for I see the eldest little
Hallifield tearing across the court-yard.”

“Then I must say good-by to every one,” said Sigrid; and with one last
look round the little home which had grown so dear to them, she took
Frithiof’s arm and went out into the long stone passage, where a group
of the neighbors stood waiting to see the last of her, and to give her
their hearty good wishes. She had a word and a smile for every one, and
they all followed her down the stairs and across the court-yard and
stood waving their hands as the carriage drove off.

That chapter of her life was ended, and the busy hive of workers would
no longer count her as queen-bee of the establishment. The cares and
troubles and wearing economies were things of the past, but she would
take with her and keep forever many happy memories; and many friendships
would still last and give her an excuse for visiting afterward the scene
of her first home in London.

She was quite silent as they drove through the busy streets, her eyes
had again that sweet, dreamy look in them that Cecil had noticed earlier
in the morning; she did not seem to see outward things, until after a
while her eyes met Frithiof’s, and then her face, which had been rather
grave, broke into sudden brightness, and she said a few words to him in
Norse, which he replied to with a look so full of loving pride and
contentment that it carried the sunshine straight into Cecil’s heart.

“This marriage is a capital thing for him,” she thought to herself. “He
will be happy in her happiness.”

By this time they had reached the church; Lance, in the dress he had
worn at Mrs. Horner’s fancy ball, stood ready to hold the bride’s train,
and Gwen came running up to take her place in the little procession.

A few spectators had dropped in, but the church was very quiet, and up
in the chancel there were only Roy and his best man, Madame Lechertier,
old Herr Sivertsen, and the father and mother of the bridegroom. Charles
Osmond read the service, and his pretty daughter-in-law had begged leave
to play the organ, for she had taken a fancy not only to little
Swanhild, but to the whole family, when at her father-in-law’s request
she had called upon them. After the wedding was over and the procession
had once more passed down the aisle, she still went on playing, having a
love of finishing in her nature. Charles Osmond came out of the vestry
and stood beside her.

“I am glad you played for them,” he said when the last chord had been
struck. “It was not at all the sort of wedding to be without music.”

“It was one of the nicest weddings I was ever at,” she said: “and as to
your Norseman—he is all you said, and more. Do you know, there is a
strong look about him which somehow made me think of my father. Oh! I do
hope he will be able to pay off the debts.”

“There is only one thing which could hinder him,” said Charles Osmond.

“What is that?” asked Erica, looking up quickly.

“Death,” he replied quietly.

She made no answer, but the word did not jar upon her, for she was one
of those who have learned that death is indeed the Gate of Life.

Silently she pushed in the stops and locked the organ.



                            CHAPTER XXXVIII.


One spring evening, rather more than two years after the wedding, Sigrid
was working away in the little back garden, to which, now that her
household duties were light, she devoted a good deal of her time. It
joined the garden of Rowan Tree House, and, for greater convenience, an
opening had been made in the hedge, and a little green gate put up. Upon
this gate leaned Cecil chatting comfortably, her tennis racquet under
her arm, and with a pleasant consciousness that the work of the day was
over, and that Roy and Frithiof might soon be expected for the nightly
game which, during the season, they seldom cared to miss.

“They are late this evening,” said Sigrid. “I wonder whether Herr
Sivertsen has caught Frithiof. I hope not, for the tennis does him so
much good.”

“Is he working very hard?” asked Cecil.

“He always works furiously; and just now I think he has got what some
one called ‘the lust of finishing’ upon him; we see very little of him,
for when he is not at business he is hard at work over Herr Sivertsen’s
manuscript. But it really seems to agree with him; they say, you know,
that work without worry harms no one.”

“A very moral precept,” said a voice behind her, and glancing up she saw
Frithiof himself crossing the little lawn.

The two years had not greatly altered him, but he seemed more full of
life and vigor than before, and success and hope had entirely banished
the look of conflict which for so long had been plainly visible in his
face. Sigrid felt proud of him as she glanced round; there was something
in his mere physical strength which always appealed to her.

“We were just talking about you,” she said, “and wondering when you
would be ready to play.”

“After that remark of yours which I overheard I almost think I shall
have to eschew tennis,” he said, laughing. “Why should I give a whole
hour to it when Herr Sivertsen is impatiently waiting for the next
installment?”

“Herr Sivertsen is insatiable,” said Sigrid, taking off her
gardening-gloves. “And I’m not going to allow you to return to your old
bad ways; as long as you live with me you will have to be something more
than a working drudge.”

“Since Sigrid has begun baby’s education,” said Frithiof, turning
laughingly to Cecil, “we notice that she has become very dictatorial to
the rest of us.”

“You shouldn’t make stage asides in such a loud voice,” said Sigrid,
pretending to box his ears. “I am going to meet Roy and to fetch the
racquets, and you take him into the garden, Cecil, and make him behave
properly.”

“Are you really so specially busy just now?” asked Cecil, as he opened
the little gate and joined her; “or was it only your fun?”

“No, it was grim earnest,” he replied. “For since Herr Sivertsen has
been so infirm I have had most of his work to do. But it is well-paid
work, and a very great help toward the debt fund. In ten years’ time I
may be free.”

“You will really have paid off everything?”

“I quite hope to be able to do so.”

“It will be a great work done,” she said thoughtfully. “But when it is
all finished, I wonder whether you will not feel a little like the men
who work all their lives to make a certain amount and then retire, and
can’t think what to do with themselves?”

“I hope not,” said Frithiof; “but I own that there is a chance of it.
You see, the actual work in itself is hateful to me. Never, I should
think, was there any one who so loathed indoor work of all kinds,
specially desk work. Yet I have learned to take real interest in the
business, and that will remain and still be my duty when the debts are
cleared off. It is a shocking confession, but I own that when Herr
Sivertsen’s work is no longer a necessity it will be an immense relief
to me, and I doubt if I shall ever open that sort of book again.”

“It must be terrible drudgery,” said Cecil, “since you can’t really like
it.”

“Herr Sivertsen has given me up as a hopeless case; he has long ago
ceased to talk about Culture with a capital C to it; he no longer
expects me to take any interest in the question whether earth-worms do
or do not show any sensitiveness to sound when placed on a grand piano.
I told him that the bare idea is enough to make any one in the trade
shudder.”

Cecil laughed merrily. It was by no means the first time that he had
told her of his hopeless lack of all literary and scientific tastes, and
she admired him all the more for it, because he kept so perseveringly to
the work, and disregarded his personal tastes so manfully. They had,
moreover, many points in common, for there was a vein of poetry in his
nature as well as in hers; like most Norwegians, he was musical, and his
love of sport and of outdoor life had not robbed him of the gentler
tastes—love of scenery and love of home.

“See!” she exclaimed, “there is the first narcissus. How early it is! I
must take it to mother, for she is so fond of them.”

He stooped to gather the flower for her, and as she took it from him, he
just glanced at her for a moment; she was looking very pretty that
evening, her gray eyes were unusually bright, there was a soft glow of
color in her fair face, an air of glad contentment seemed to hover about
her. He little guessed that it was happiness in his success which was
the cause of all this.

Even as he watched her, however, her color faded, her lips began to
quiver, she seemed to be on the point of fainting.

“Is anything the matter?” he asked, alarmed by the sudden change in her
face. “Are you ill, Cecil?”

She did not reply, but let him help her to the nearest garden seat.

“It is the scent of the narcissus; it is too strong for you,” he
suggested.

“No,” she gasped. “But a most awful feeling came over me. Something is
going to happen, I am sure of it.”

He looked perplexed. She dropped the narcissus from her hand, and he
picked it up and put it on the farther side of the bench, still clinging
to his own theory that it was the cause of her faintness. Her face,
which a moment before had been so bright, was now white as the flower
itself, and the look of suffering in it touched him.

His heart began to beat a little uneasily when he saw a servant
approaching them from the house.

“She is right,” he thought to himself. “What on earth can it be?”

“Master asked me to give you this, Miss Cecil,” said the maid, handing
her a little penciled note.

She sat up hastily, making a desperate effort to look as if nothing were
wrong with her. The servant went back to the house, and Frithiof waited
anxiously to hear what the note was about. She read it through and then
handed it to him.

It ran as follows:

“Mr. Grantley has come, and wishes to see the children. He will not take
them away for a few days, but you had better bring them down to see
him.”

“He is out of prison!” exclaimed Frithiof. “But surely his time is not
up yet. I thought he had five years?”

“The five years would be over next October. I knew it would come some
day, but I never thought of it so soon, and to take them away in a few
days!”

“I remember now,” said Frithiof; “there is a rule that by good behavior
in prison they can slightly shorten their time. I am so sorry for you;
it will be a fearful wrench to you to part with Lance and Gwen.”

She locked her hands together, making no attempt at an answer.

“How exactly like the world,” thought Frithiof to himself. “Here is a
girl passionately devoted to these children, while the mother, who never
deserved them at all, has utterly deserted them. To have had them for
five years and then suddenly to lose them altogether, that is a fearful
blow for her; they ought to have thought of it before adopting the
children.”

“Is there nothing I can do to help you?” he said, turning toward her.
“Shall I go and fetch Lance and Gwen?”

With an effort she stood up.

“No, no,” she said, trying hard to speak cheerfully. “Don’t let this
spoil your game. I am better, I will go and find them.”

But by a sudden impulse he sprang up, made her take his arm and walked
to the house with her.

“You are still rather shaky, I think,” he said. “Let me come with you, I
can at any rate save you the stairs. How strange it was that you should
have known beforehand that this was coming! Did you ever have a
presentiment of that kind over anything else?”

“Never,” she said. “It was such an awful feeling. I wonder what it is
that brings it.”

He left her in the hall and ran upstairs to the nursery, where he was
always a welcome visitor. Both children rushed to meet him with cries of
delight.

“Cecil has sent me up with a message to you,” he said.

“To say we may come down,” shouted Lance. “Is it that, Herr Frithiof?”

“No,” cried Gwen, dancing round him, “it’s to say a holiday for
to-morrow, I guess.”

“No, not that exactly,” he said; “but your father has come, and Cecil
wants you to come down and see him.”

The children’s faces fell. It seemed almost as if they instinctively
knew of the cloud that hung over their father. They had always known
that he would some day come to them; but his name had been little
mentioned. It was difficult to mention it without running the risk of
the terrible questions which as children they were so likely to ask. All
the gladness and spirit seemed to have left them. They were both shy,
and the meeting with this unknown parent was a terror to them. They
clung to Frithiof as he took them downstairs, and, catching sight of
Cecil leaning back in one of the hall chairs, they made a rush for her,
and poured out all their childish fears as she clung to them and kissed
them with all the tenderness of a real mother.

“We don’t want to go and see father,” said Lance stoutly. “We had much
rather not.”

“But you must think that he wants to see you very much,” said Cecil. “He
remembers you quite well, though you have forgotten him; and now that he
has come back to you, you must both make him very happy, and love him.”

“I don’t like him at all,” said Gwen perversely.

“It is silly and wrong to say that,” said Cecil. “You will love him when
you see him.”

“I love you,” said Gwen, with a vehement hug.

“Have you only room for one person in your heart?”

“I rather love Herr Frithiof,” said Gwen, glancing up at him through her
eyelashes.

They both smiled, and Cecil, seeing that little would be gained by
discussing the matter, got up and led them toward the drawing-room, her
pale, brave face contrasting curiously with Gwen’s rosy cheeks and
rebellious little air.

Mr. Boniface sat talking to the new-comer kindly enough. They both rose
as Cecil and the children entered.

“This is my daughter,” said Mr. Boniface.

And Cecil shook hands with the ex-prisoner, and looked a little
anxiously into his face.

He was rather a pleasant-looking man of five-and-thirty, and so much
like Lance that she could not help feeling kindly toward him. She hoped
that the children would behave well, and glanced at Gwen nervously.

But Gwen, who was a born flirt, speedily forgot her dislike, and was
quite willing to meet the stranger’s advances half-way. In two minutes’
time she was contentedly sitting on his knee, while Lance stood shyly
by, studying his father with a gravity which was, however, inclined to
be friendly and not critical. When he had quite satisfied himself he
went softly away, returning before long with a toy pistol and a boat,
which he put into his father’s hands.

“What is this?” said Mr. Grantley.

“It’s my favorite toys,” said Lance. “I wanted to show them you. Quick,
Gwen, run and find your doll for father.”

He seemed touched and pleased; and indeed they were such well-trained
children that any parent must have been proud of them. To this
ex-convict, who for years had been cut off from all child-life, the mere
sight of them was refreshing. He seemed quite inclined to sit there and
play with them for the rest of the evening. And Cecil sat by in a sort
of dream, hearing of the new home that was to be made for the children
in British Columbia—where land was to be had for a penny an acre, and
where one could live on grapes and peaches, and all the most delicious
fruits. Then, presently, with many expressions of gratitude for all that
had been done for the children, Mr. Grantley took leave, and she led the
little ones up to bed, leaving Mr. and Mrs. Boniface to go out into the
garden and tell Roy and Sigrid what had passed.

“How does Cecil take it?” asked Sigrid anxiously.

“Very quietly,” was the reply; “but I am afraid she feels losing them so
soon.”

Frithiof, with an uncomfortable recollection of what had passed in the
garden, doubted if Mrs. Boniface fully understood the depth of Cecil’s
feelings. He left them talking over the drawbacks and advantages of
colonial life, and went in to his translating; but though he forgot the
actual cause, he was conscious all the time of a disturbing influence,
and even while absorbed in his work, had an irritating sense that
something had gone wrong, and that trouble was in the air.

He went to bed and dreamed all night of Cecil. She haunted him
persistently; sometimes he saw her leaning back on the garden seat, with
the narcissus just falling from her hand, sometimes he saw her with the
children clinging to her as they had done in the hall.

From that time forward a great change came over his attitude toward her.
Hitherto his friendship with her had, it must be owned, been chiefly
selfish. He had always heartily liked her, had enjoyed being at Rowan
Tree House, had fallen into the habit of discussing many things with her
and valuing her opinion, but it was always of himself he had thought—of
what she could do for him, of what he could learn from her, of how much
enjoyment he could get from her music and her frank friendliness, and
her easy way of talking. It was not that he was more selfish than most
men, but that they had learned really to know each other at a time when
his heart was so paralyzed by Blanche’s faithlessness, so crushed by the
long series of misfortunes, that giving had been out of the question for
him; he could merely take and make the most of whatever she could give
him.

But now all this was altered. The old wounds, though to the end of his
life they must leave a scar, were really healed. He had lived through a
great deal, and had lived in a way that had developed the best points in
his character. He had now a growingly keen appreciation for all that was
really beautiful—for purity, and strength, and tenderness, and for that
quality which it is the fashion to call Altruism, but which he, with his
hatred of affectation in words, called goodness.

As he thought of Cecil during those days he began to see more and more
clearly the full force of her character. Hitherto he had quietly taken
her for granted; there was nothing very striking about her, nothing in
the least obtrusive. Perhaps if it had not been for that strange little
scene in the garden he would never have taken the trouble to think of
her actual character.

Through the week that followed he watched her with keen interest and
sympathy. That she should be in trouble—at any rate, in trouble that was
patent to all the world—was something entirely new. Their positions
seemed to be reversed; and he found himself spontaneously doing
everything he could think of to please and help her. Her trouble seemed
to draw them together; and to his mind there was something very
beautiful in her passionate devotion to the children—for it was a
devotion that never in the least bordered on sentimentality. She went
through everything very naturally, having a good cry now and then, but
taking care not to make the children unhappy at the prospect of the
parting, and arranging everything that they could possibly want, not
only on the voyage, but for some time to come in their new home.

“She is so plucky!” thought Frithiof to himself, with a thrill of
admiration. For he was not at all the sort of man to admire
helplessness, or languor, or cowardice; they seemed to him as unlovely
in a woman as in a man.

At last the actual parting came. Cecil would have liked to go down to
the steamer and see the children start, but on thinking it over she
decided that it would be better not.

“They will feel saying good-by,” she said, “and it had better be here.
Then they will have the long drive with you to the docks, and by that
time they will be all right again, and will be able to enjoy the steamer
and all the novelty.”

Mr. Boniface was obliged to own that there was sound common-sense in
this plan; so in their own nursery, where for nearly five years she had
taken such care of them, Cecil dressed the two little ones for the last
time, brushed out Gwen’s bright curls, coaxed Lance into his reefer, and
then, no longer able to keep back her tears, clung to them in the last
terrible parting.

“Oh, Cecil, dear, darling Cecil,” sobbed Lance, “I don’t want to go
away; I don’t care for the steamer one bit.”

She was on the hearthrug, with both children nestled close to her, the
thought of the unknown world that they were going out into, and the
difficult future awaiting them, came sweeping over her; just as they
were then, innocent, and unconscious, and happy, she could never see
them again.

“Be good, Lance,” she said, through her tears. “Promise me always to try
to be good.”

“I promise,” said the little fellow, hugging her with all his might.
“And we shall come back as soon as ever we’re grown up—we shall both
come back.”

“Yes, yes,” said Cecil, “you must come back.”

But in her heart she knew that however pleasant the meeting in future
years might be, it could not be like the present; as children, and as
her own special charge, she was parting with them forever.

The carriage drove up to the door; there came sounds of hurrying feet
and fetching and carrying of luggage; Cecil took them downstairs, and
then, with a last long embrace from Lance, and kisses interspersed with
sobs from Gwen, she gave them up to her father, and turned to take leave
of their nurse.

“I will take great care of them, miss,” said the maid, herself crying,
“and you shall hear from me regularly.”

In another minute the carriage had driven away, and Cecil was left to
make the best she might of what she could not but feel, at first, a
desolate life.



                             CHAPTER XXXIX.


Hardly had the bustle of departure quieted down at Rowan Tree House when
a fresh anxiety arose. Herr Sivertsen, who had for some time been out of
health, was seized with a fatal illness, and for three days and nights
Frithiof was unable to leave him; on the third night the old Norseman
passed quietly away, conscious to the last minute, and with his latest
breath inveighing against the degeneracy of the age.

“Frithiof is a rare exception,” he said, turning his dim eyes toward
Sigrid, who stood by the bedside. “And to him I leave all that I have.
As for the general run of young men nowadays—I wash my hands of them—a
worthless set—a degenerate—”

His voice died away, he sighed deeply, caught Frithiof’s hand in his,
and fell back on the pillow lifeless.

When the will was read it affirmed that Herr Sivertsen, who had no
relations living, had indeed left his property to Frithiof. The will was
terse and eccentric in the extreme, and seemed like one of the old man’s
own speeches, ending with the familiar words, “for he is one of the few
honest and hard-working men in a despicable generation.”

Naturally there was only one way to which Frithiof could think of
putting his legacy. Every penny of it went straight to his debt-fund.
Mr. Horner heard of it and groaned. “What!” he exclaimed, “pay away the
principal; hand over thousands of pounds in payment of debts that are
not even his own—debts that don’t affect his name! He ought to put the
money into this business, Boniface; it would only be a fitting way of
showing you his gratitude.”

“He put into the business what I value far more,” said Mr. Boniface. “He
put into it his honest Norwegian heart, and this legacy will save him
many years of hard, weary work and anxiety.”

When summer came it was arranged that they should go to Norway, and
Frithiof went about his work with such an air of relief and contentment,
that had it not been for one hidden anxiety Sigrid’s happiness would
have been complete.

Her marriage had been so extremely happy that she was less than ever
satisfied with the prospect that seemed to lie before Cecil. The secret
which she had found out at the time of Frithiof’s disgrace weighed upon
her now a good deal; she almost wished that Roy would guess it; but no
one else seemed to have any suspicion of it at all, and Sigrid of course
could not speak, partly because she was Frithiof’s sister, partly
because she had a strong feeling that to allude to that matter would be
to betray Cecil unfairly. Had she been a matchmaker she might have done
endless harm; had she been a reckless talker she would probably have
defeated her own ends; but happily she was neither, and though at times
she longed to give Frithiof a good shaking, when she saw him entirely
absorbed in his work and blind to all else, she managed to keep her own
counsel, and to await, though somewhat impatiently, whatever time should
bring. One evening it chanced that the brother and sister were alone for
a few minutes during the intervals of an amateur concert, which Cecil
had been asked to get up at Whitechapel.

“How do you think it has gone off?” said Sigrid, as he sat down beside
her in the little inner room.

“Capitally; Cecil ought to be congratulated,” he replied. “I am glad she
has had it on hand, for it must have taken her thoughts off the
children.”

“Yes,” said Sigrid; “anything that does that is worth something.”

“Yet she seems to me to have plenty of interests,” said Frithiof. “She
is never idle; she is a great reader.”

“Do you think books would ever satisfy a woman like Cecil?” exclaimed
Sigrid, with a touch of scorn in her voice.

He looked at her quickly, struck by something unusual in her tone, and
not at all understanding the little flush of hot color that had risen in
her face.

“Oh,” he said teasingly, “you think that every one has your ideal of
happiness, and cannot manage to exist without the equivalent of Roy and
baby, to say nothing of the house and garden.”

“I don’t think anything of the sort,” she protested, relieved by his
failure to appropriate to himself her rather unguarded speech.

“Norway will be the best thing in the world for her,” he said. “It is
the true panacea for all evils. Can you believe that in less than a week
we shall actually be at Bergen once more!”

And Sigrid, looking at his eager, blue eyes, and remembering his brave
struggles and long exile, could not find it in her heart to be angry
with him any more. Besides, he had been very thoughtful for Cecil just
lately, and seemed to have set his heart on making the projected tour in
Norway as nearly perfect as might be. To Sigrid there was a serious
drawback—she was obliged to leave her baby behind in England; however,
after the first wrench of parting, she managed to enjoy herself very
well, and Mrs. Boniface, who was to spend the six weeks of their absence
in Devonshire with some of her cousins, promised to take every possible
care of her little grandson, to telegraph now and then, and to write at
every opportunity. It had been impossible for Mr. Boniface to leave
London, but the two younger members of the firm, with Sigrid, Cecil, and
little Swanhild, made a very merry party, and Frithiof, at length free
from the load of his father’s debts, seemed suddenly to grow ten years
younger. Indeed, Sigrid, who for so long had seen her hopes for Cecil
defeated by the cares and toils brought by these same debts, began to
fear that now his extreme happiness in his freedom would quite suffice
to him, and that he would desire nothing further.

Certainly, for many years he had known nothing like the happiness of
that voyage, with its bright expectation, its sense of relief. To look
back on the feverish excitement of his voyage to England five years
before was like looking back into some other life; and if the world was
a graver and sadder place to him now than it had been long ago, he had
at any rate learned that life was not limited to three-score years and
ten, and had gained a far deeper happiness of which no one could rob
him. On the Wednesday night he slept little, and very early in the
morning was up on the wet and shining deck eagerly looking at the first
glimpse of his own country. His heart bounded within him when the red
roofs and gables of Stavanger came into sight, and he was the very first
to leap off the steamer, far too impatient to touch Norwegian soil once
more to dream of waiting for the more leisurely members of the party.
The quiet little town seemed still fast asleep; he scarcely met a soul
in the primitive streets with their neat wooden houses and their
delightful look of home. In a rapture of happiness he walked on drinking
down deep breaths of the fresh morning air, until coming at length to
the cathedral he caught sight of an old woman standing at the door, key
in hand.

He stopped and had a long conversation with her for the mere pleasure of
hearing his native tongue once more; he made her happy with a _kroner_
and enjoyed her grateful shake of the hand, then, partly to please her,
entered the cathedral. In the morning light, the severe beauty of the
old Norman nave was very impressive; he knelt for a minute or two, glad
to have the uninterrupted quiet of the great place before it had been
reached by any of the tourists. It came into his mind how, long ago, his
father’s last words to him had been “A happy return to Gammle Norge,”
how for so long those words had seemed to him the bitterest mockery—an
utter impossibility—and how, at last in a very strange and different
way, they had come true. He had come back, and, spite of all that had
intervened, he was happy.

Later in the day, when they slowly steamed into Bergen harbor and saw
once more the place that he had so often longed for, with its dear
familiar houses and spires, its lovely surrounding mountains, his
happiness was not without a strong touch of pain. For after all, though
the place remained, his home had gone forever, and though Herr Grönvold
stood waiting for them on the landing quay with the heartiest of
welcomes, yet he could not but feel a terrible blank.

Cecil read his face in a moment, and understood just what he was
feeling.

“Come and let us look for the luggage,” she said to Roy, wishing to
leave the three Norwegians to themselves for a few minutes.

“Rather different to our last arrival here,” said Roy brightly. He was
so very happy that it was hardly likely he should think just then of
other people. But as Cecil gave the assent which seemed so
matter-of-fact her eyes filled with tears, for she could not help
thinking of all the brightness of that first visit, of Frithiof with his
boyish gayety and light-heartedness, of the kindness and hospitality of
his father, of the pretty villa in Kalvedalen, of poor Blanche in her
innocent girlhood.

They were all to stay for a few days with the Grönvolds, and there was
now plenty of room for them, since Karen and the eldest son were married
and settled in homes of their own. Fru Grönvold and Sigrid met with the
utmost affection, and all the petty quarrels and vexations of the past
were forgotten; indeed, the very first evening they had a hearty laugh
over the recollection of their difference of opinion about Torvald
Lundgren.

“And, my dear” said Fru Grönvold, who was as usual knitting an
interminable stocking. “You need not feel at all anxious about him, he
is very happily married, and I think, yes, certainly can not help
owning, that he manages his household with a firmer hand than would
perhaps have suited you. He has a very pretty little wife who worships
the ground he treads on.”

“Which you see I could never have done,” said Sigrid merrily. “Poor
Torvald! I am very glad he is happily settled. Frithiof must go and see
him. How do you think Swanhild is looking, Auntie?”

“Very well and very pretty,” said Fru Grönvold. “One would naturally
suppose that, at her rather awkward age, she would have lost her good
looks, but she is as graceful as ever.”

“She is a very brave, hard-working little woman,” said Sigrid. “I told
you that she had begged so hard to stay on with Madame Lechertier that
we had consented. It would indeed have been hardly fair to take her away
all at once, when Madame had been so kind and helpful to us; and
Swanhild is very independent, you know, and declares that she must have
some sort of profession, and that to be a teacher of dancing is clearly
her vocation.”

“By and by, when she is grown up, she is going to keep my house,” said
Frithiof.

“No, no,” said Sigrid; “I shall never spare her, unless it is to get
married; you two would never get on by yourselves. By the by, I am sure
Cecil is keeping away from us on purpose; she went off on the plea of
reading for her half-hour society, but she has been gone quite a long
time. Go and find her, Frithiof, and tell her we very much want her.”

He went out and found Cecil comfortably installed in the dining-room
with her book.

“Have you not read enough?” he said. “We are very dull without you in
there.”

“I thought you would have so much to talk over together,” she said,
putting down her book and lifting her soft gray eyes to his.

“Not a bit,” he replied; “we are pining for music and want you to sing,
if you are not too tired. What learned book were you reading, after such
a journey? Plato?”

“A translation of the ‘Phaedo,’” she said. “There is such a strange
little bit here about pleasure being mixed with pain always.”

“Oh, they had found that out in those days, had they?” said Frithiof.
“Read the bit to me; for, to tell you the truth, it would fit in rather
well with this return to Bergen.”

Cecil turned over the pages and read the following speech of Socrates:

“‘How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related
to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; for they never
come to man together, and yet he who pursues either of them is generally
compelled to take the other. They are two, and yet they grow together
out of one head or stem; and I cannot help thinking that if Æsop had
noticed them he would have made a fable about God trying to reconcile
their strife, and when he could not, he fastened their heads together;
and this is the reason why, when one comes the other follows.’”

“It’s odd to think that all these hundreds of years people have been
racking their brains to find some explanation of the great problem,”
said Frithiof, “that generation after generation of unsatisfied people
have lived and died.”

“A poor woman from East London once answered the problem to me quite
unconsciously,” said Cecil. “She was down in the country for change of
air, and she said to me, ‘It’s just like Paradise here, miss, and if it
could always go on it would be heaven.’”

He sighed.

“Come and sing me ‘Princessen,’” he said, “if you are really not too
tired. I am very much in the mood of that restless lady in the poem.”

And, in truth, often during those days at Bergen he was haunted by the
weird ending of the song—

              “‘What _do_ I then want, my God?’ she cried
              Then the sun went down.”

He had a good deal of business to see to, and the clearing off of the
debts was, of course, not without a considerable pleasure; he greatly
enjoyed, too, the hearty welcome of his old friends; but there was
always something wanting. For every street, every view, every inch of
the place was associated with his father, and, dearly as he loved
Bergen, he felt that he could not have borne to live in it again. He
seemed to find his chief happiness in lionizing Cecil, and sometimes,
when with her, the pain of the return was forgotten, and he so enjoyed
her admiration of his native city that he no longer felt the terrible
craving for his father’s presence. They went to Nestun, and wandered
about in the woods; they took Cecil to see the quaint old wooden church
from Fortun; they had a merry picnic at Fjessanger, and an early
expedition to the Bergen fish market, determined that Cecil should enjoy
that picturesque scene with the weather-beaten fishermen, the bargaining
housewives with their tin pails, the boats laden with their shining
wealth of fishes. Again and again, too, they walked up the beautiful
_fjeldveien_ to gain that wonderful bird’s-eye view over the town and
the harbor and the lakes. But perhaps no one was sorry when the visit
came to an end, and they were once more on their travels, going by sea
to Molde and thence to Naes.

It was quite late one evening that they steamed down the darkening
Romsdalsfjord. The great Romsdalshorn reared its dark head solemnly into
the calm sky, and everywhere peace seemed to reign. The steamer was
almost empty; Frithiof and Cecil stood alone at the forecastle end,
silently reveling in the exquisite view before them.

A thousand thoughts were seething in Frithiof’s mind; that first glimpse
of the Romsdalshorn had taken him back to the great crisis of his life;
in strange contrast to that peaceful scene he had a vision of a crowded
London street; in yet stranger contrast to his present happiness and
relief he once more looked into the past, and thought of his hopeless
misery, of his deadly peril, of the struggle he had gone through, of the
chance which had made him pause before the picture shop, and of his
recognition of the painting of his native mountains. Then he thought of
his first approach to Rowan Tree House on that dusky November afternoon,
and he thought of his strange dream of the beasts, and the precipice,
and the steep mountain-side, and the opening door with the Madonna and
Child framed in dazzling light. Just at that moment from behind the dark
purple mountains rose the great, golden-red moon. It was a sight never
to be forgotten, and the glow and glamour cast by it over the whole
scene was indescribable. Veblungsnaes with its busy wooden pier and its
dusky houses with here and there a light twinkling from a window; the
Romsdalshorn with its lofty peak, and the beautiful valley beyond bathed
in that sort of dim brightness and misty radiance which can be given by
nothing but the rising moon.

Frithiof turned and looked at Cecil.

She had taken off her hat that she might better enjoy the soft evening
breeze which was ruffling up her fair hair; her blue dress was one of
those shades which are called “new,” but which are not unlike the old
blue in which artists have always loved to paint the Madonna; her face
was very quiet and happy; the soft evening light seemed to etherealize
her.

“You will never know how much I owe to you,” he said impetuously. “Had
it not been for all that you did for me in the past I could not possibly
have been here to-night.”

She had been looking toward Veblungsnaes, but now she turned to him with
a glance so beautiful, so rapturously happy, that it seemed to waken new
life within him. He was so amazed at the strength of the passion which
suddenly took possession of him that for a time he could hardly believe
he was in real waking existence; this magical evening light, this
exquisite fjord with its well-known mountains, might well be the scenery
of some dream; and Cecil did not speak to him, she merely gave him that
one glance and smile, and then stood beside him silently, as though
there were no need of speech between them.

He was glad she was silent, for he dreaded lest anything should rouse
him and take him back to the dull, cold past—the past in which for so
long he had lived with his heart half dead, upheld only by the intention
of redeeming his father’s honor. To go back to that state would be
terrible; moreover, the aim no longer existed. The debts were paid—his
work was over, and yet his life lay before him.

Was it to be merely a business life—a long round of duty work? or was it
possible that love might glorify the every-day round—that even for him
this intense happiness, which as yet he could hardly believe to be real,
might actually dawn?

And the steamer glided on over the calm moonlit waters, and drew nearer
to Veblungsnaes, where an eager-faced crowd waited for the great event
of the day. A sudden terror seized Frithiof that some one would come to
their end of the steamer and break the spell that bound him, and then
the very fear itself made him realize that this was no dream, but a
great reality. Cecil was beside him, and he loved her—a new era had
begun in his life. He loved her, and grudged whatever could interfere
with that strange sense of nearness to her and of bliss in the
consciousness which had suddenly changed his whole world.

But no one came near them. Still they stood there—side by side, and the
steamer moved on peacefully once more, the silvery track still marking
the calm fjord till they reached the little boat that was to land them
at Naes. He wished that they could have gone on for hours, for as yet
the mere consciousness of his own love satisfied him—he wanted nothing
but the rapture of life after death—of brightness after gloom. When it
was no longer possible to prolong that strange, weird calm, he went,
like a man half awake, to see after the luggage, and presently, with an
odd, dazzled feeling found himself on the shore, where Herr Lossius, the
landlord, stood to welcome them.

“Which is the hotel?” asked Roy.

And Herr Lossius replied in his quaint, careful English, “It is yonder,
sir—that house just under the moon.”

“Did you ever hear such a poetical direction?” said Cecil, smiling as
they walked up the road together.

“It suits the evening very well,” said Frithiof. “I am glad he did not
say, ‘First turning to your right, second to your left, and keep
straight on,’ like a Londoner.”

But the “house under the moon,” though comfortable enough, did not prove
a good sleeping-place. All the night long Frithiof lay broad awake in
his quaint room, and at length, weary of staring at the picture of the
stag painted on the window-blind, he drew it up and lay looking out at
the dark Romsdalshorn, for the bed was placed across the window, and
commanded a beautiful view.

He could think of nothing but Cecil, of the strange, new insight that
had come to him so suddenly, of the marvel that, having known her so
long and so intimately, he had only just realized the beauty of her
character, with its tender, womanly grace, its quiet strength, its
steadfastness, and repose. Then came a wave of anxious doubt that drove
sleep farther than ever from him. It was no longer enough to be
conscious of his love for her. He began to wonder whether it was in the
least probable that she could ever care for him. Knowing the whole of
his past life, knowing his faults so well, was it likely that she would
ever dream of accepting his love?

He fell into great despondency; but the recollection of that sweet,
bright glance which she had given him in reply to his impetuous burst of
gratitude, reassured him; and when, later on, he met her at breakfast
his doubts were held at bay, and his hopes raised, not by anything that
she did or said, but by her mere presence.

Whether Sigrid at all guessed at the state of affairs and arranged
accordingly, or whether it was a mere chance, it so happened that for
the greater part of that day as they traveled through the beautiful
Romsdal, Frithiof and Cecil were together.

“What will you do?” said Cecil to herself, “when all this is over? How
will you go back to ordinary life when the tour is ended!”

But though she tried in this way to take the edge off her pleasure, she
could not do it. Afterward might take care of itself. There was no
possibility of realizing it now, she would enjoy to the full just the
present that was hers, the long talks with Frithiof, the delightful
sense of fellowship with him, the mutual enjoyment of that exquisite
valley.

And so they drove on, past Aak, with its lovely trees and its rippling
river, past the lovely Romsdalshorn, past the Troltinderne, with their
weird outline looming up against the blue sky like the battlements and
pinnacles of some magic city. About the middle of the day they reached
Horgheim, where it had been arranged that they should spend the night.
Frithiof was in a mood to find everything beautiful; he even admired the
rather bare-looking posting-station, just a long, brown, wooden house
with a high flight of steps to the door and seats on either side. On the
doorstep lay a fine white and tabby cat, which he declared he could
remember years before when they had visited the Romsdal.

“And that is very possible,” said the landlady, with a pleased look.
“For we have had him these fourteen years.”

Every one crowded round to look at this antiquated cat.

“What is his name?” asked Cecil, speaking in Norse.

“His name is Mons,” said the landlady, “Mons Horgheim.”

They all laughed at the thought of a cat with a surname, and then came a
general dispersion in quest of rooms. Cecil and Swanhild chose one which
looked out across a grassy slope to the river; the Rauma just at this
part is very still, and of a deep green color; beyond were jagged, gray
mountains and the moraine of a glacier covered here and there with birch
and juniper. Half-a-dozen little houses with grass-grown roofs nestled
at the foot, and near them were sweet-smelling hayfields and patches of
golden corn.

They dined merrily on salmon, wild strawberries, and cream, and then a
walk was proposed. Cecil, however, excused herself, saying that she had
letters to write home, and so it chanced that Frithiof and Sigrid had
what did not often fall to their lot in those days, the chance of a
quiet talk.

“What is wrong with you, dear old boy?” she said; for since they had
left Horgheim she could not but notice that he had grown grave and
absorbed.

“Nothing,” he said, with rather a forced laugh. But, though he tried to
resume his usual manner and talked with her and teased her playfully,
she knew that he had something on his mind, and half-hopefully,
half-fearfully, made one more attempt to win his confidence.

“Let us rest here in the shade,” she said, settling herself comfortably
under a silver birch. “Roy and Swanhild walk at such a pace that I think
we will let them have the first view of the Mongefos.”

He threw himself down on the grass beside her, and for a time there was
silence.

“You did not sleep last night,” she said presently.

“How do you know that?” he said, his color rising a little.

“Oh, I know it by your forehead. You were worrying over something. Come,
confess.”

He sat up and began to speak abruptly.

“I want to ask you a question,” he said, looking up the valley beyond
her and avoiding her eyes. “Do you think a man has any business to offer
to a woman a love which is not his first passion?”

“At one time I thought not,” said Sigrid. “But as I grew older and
understood things more it seemed to me different. I think there would be
few marriages in the world if we made a rule of that sort. And a woman
who really loved would lose sight of all selfishness and littleness and
jealousy just because of the strength of her love.”

He turned and looked straight into her eyes.

“And if I were to tell Cecil that I loved her, do you think she would at
any rate listen to me?”

“I am not going to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that question,” said Sigrid,
suddenly bending forward and giving him a kiss—a salute almost unknown
between a Norwegian brother and sister. “But I will say instead ‘Go and
try.’”

“You think then—”

She sprang to her feet.

“I don’t think at all,” she said laughingly. “Good-by. I am going to
meet the others at the Mongefos, and you—you are going back to Horgheim.
Adjö.”

She waved her hand to him and walked resolutely away. He watched her out
of sight, then fell back again to his former position on the grass, and
thought. She had told him nothing and yet somehow had brought to him a
most wonderful sense of rest and peace.

Presently he got up, and began to retrace his steps along the valley.



                              CHAPTER XL.


The afternoon was not so clear as the morning had been, yet it had a
beauty of its own which appealed to Frithiof very strongly. The blue sky
had changed to a soft pearly gray, all round him rose grave, majestic
mountains, their summits clear against the pale background, but wreaths
of white mist clinging about their sides in fantastic twists and curves
which bridged over huge yawning chasms and seemed to join the valley
into a great amphitheater. The stern gray and purple rocks looked hardly
real, so softened were they by the luminous summer haze. Here and there
the white snow gleamed coldly in long deep crevices, or in broad clefts
where from year’s end to year’s end it remained unmelted by sun or rain.
On each side of the road there was a wilderness of birch and fir and
juniper bushes, while in the far distance could be heard the Mongefos
with its ceaseless sound of many waters, repeated on either hand by the
smaller waterfalls. Other sound there was none save the faint tinkle of
cowbells or the rare song of the little black and white wagtails, which
seemed the only birds in the valley.

Suddenly he perceived a little further along the road a slim figure
leaning against the fence, the folds of a blue dress, the gleam of
light-brown hair under a sealskin traveling cap. His heart began to beat
fast, he strode on more quickly, and Cecil, hearing footsteps, looked
up.

“I had finished my letter and thought I would come out to explore a
little,” she said, as he joined her. “You have come back?”

“Yes,” he said, “I have come back to you.”

She glanced at him questioningly, startled by his tone, but before his
eager look her eyelids dropped, and a soft glow of color suffused her
face.

“Cecil,” he said, “do you remember what you said years ago about men who
worked hard to make their fortune and then retired and were miserable
because they had nothing to do?”

“Oh yes,” she said, “I remember it very well, and have often seen
instances of it.”

“I am like that now,” he continued. “My work seems over, and I stand at
the threshold of a new life. It was you who saved me from ruin in my old
life—will you be my helper now?”

“Do you think I really could help?” she said wistfully.

He looked at her gentle eyes, at her pure, womanly face, and he knew
that his life was in her hands.

“I do not know,” he said gravely. “It depends on whether you could love
me—whether you will let me speak of my love for you.”

Then, as he paused, partly because his English words would not come very
readily, partly in hope of some sign of encouragement from her, she
turned to him with a face which shone with heavenly light.

“There must never be any secrets between us,” she said, speaking quite
simply and directly. “I have loved you ever since you first came to
us—years ago.”

It was nothing to Frithiof that they were standing at the side of the
king’s highway—he had lost all sense of time and place—the world only
contained for him the woman who loved him—the woman who let him clasp
her in his strong arm—let him press her sweet face to his.

And still from the distance came the sound of many waters, and the faint
tinkle of the cowbells, and the song of the little black and white
birds. The grave gray mountains seemed like strong and kindly friends
who sheltered them and shut them in from all intrusion of the outer
world, but they were so entirely absorbed in each other that they had
not a thought of anything else.

“With you I shall have courage to begin life afresh,” he said, after a
time. “To have the right to love you—to be always with you—that will be
everything to me.”

And then as he thought of her true-hearted confession, he tried to
understand a little better the unseen ordering of his life, and he loved
to think that those weary years had been wasted neither on him nor on
Cecil herself. He could not for one moment doubt that her pure,
unselfish love had again and again shielded him from evil, that all
through his English life, with its hard struggles and bitter sufferings,
her love had in some unknown way been his safeguard, and that his life,
crippled by the faithlessness of a woman, had by a woman also been
redeemed. All his old morbid craving for death had gone; he eagerly
desired a long life, that he might live with her, work for her, shield
her from care, fill up, to the best of his power, what was incomplete in
her life.

“I shall have a postscript to add to my letter,” said Cecil presently,
looking up at him with the radiant smile which he so loved to see on her
lips. “What a very feminine one it will be! We say, you know, in
England, that a woman’s postscript is the most important part of her
letter.”

“Will your father and mother ever spare you to me?” said Frithiof.

“They will certainly welcome you as their son,” she replied.

“And Mr. and Mrs. Horner?” suggested Frithiof mischievously.

But at the thought of the consternation of her worthy cousins Cecil
could do nothing but laugh.

“Never mind,” she said, “they have always disapproved of me as much as
they have of you; they will perhaps say that it is, after all, a highly
suitable arrangement!”

“I wonder whether Swanhild will say the same?” said Frithiof with a
smile; “here she comes, hurrying home alone. Will you wait by the river
and let me just tell her my good news?”

He walked along the road to meet his sister, who, spite of added years
and inches, still retained much of her childlikeness.

“Why are you all alone?” he said.

“Oh, there is no fun,” said Swanhild. “When Roy and Sigrid are out on a
holiday they are just like lovers, so I came back to you.”

“What will you say when I tell you that I am betrothed,” he said
teasingly.

She looked up in his face with some alarm.

“You are only making fun of me,” she protested.

“On the contrary, I am stating the most serious of facts. Come, I want
your congratulations.”

“But who are you betrothed to?” asked Swanhild, bewildered. “Can it be
to Madale? And, oh dear, what a horrid time to choose for it—you will be
just no good at all. I really do think you might have waited till the
end of the tour.”

“It might possibly have been managed if you had spoken sooner,” said
Frithiof, with mock gravity, “but you come too late—the deed is done.”

“Well, I shall have Cecil to talk to, so after all it doesn’t much
matter,” said Swanhild graciously.

“But, unfortunately, she also has become betrothed,” said Frithiof,
watching the bewildered little face with keen pleasure, and seeing the
light of perception suddenly dawn on it.

Swanhild caught his hand in hers.

“You don’t mean—” she began.

“Oh yes,” cried Frithiof, “but I do mean it very much indeed. Come,” and
he hurried her down the grassy slope to the river. “I shall tell Cecil
every word you have been saying.” Then, as she rose to meet them, he
said with a laugh, “This selfish child thinks we might have put it off
till the end of the tour for her special benefit.”

“No, no,” cried Swanhild, flying toward Cecil with outstretched arms. “I
never knew it was to you he was betrothed—and you could never be that
horrid, moony kind who are always sitting alone together in corners.”

At which ingenuous congratulations they all laughed so immoderately that
Mons Horgheim the cat was roused from his afternoon nap on the steps of
the station, and after a preliminary stretch strolled down toward the
river to see what was the matter, and to bring the sobriety and
accumulated wisdom of his fourteen years to bear upon the situation.

“Ah, well,” said Swanhild, with a comical gesture, “there is clearly
nothing for me but, as they say in Italy, to stay at home and nurse the
cat.”

And catching up the astonished Mons, she danced away, eager to be the
first to tell the good news to Roy and Sigrid.

“It will be really very convenient,” she remarked, to the infinite
amusement of her elders. “We shall not lose Frithiof at all; he will
only have to move across to Rowan Tree House.”

And ultimately that was how matters arranged themselves, so that the
house which had sheltered Frithiof in his time of trouble became his
home in this time of his prosperity.

He had not rushed all at once into full light and complete manhood and
lasting happiness. Very slowly, very gradually, the life that had been
plunged in darkness had emerged into faint twilight as he had struggled
to redeem his father’s name; then, by degrees, the brightness of dawn
had increased, and, sometimes helped, sometimes hindered by the lives
which had come into contact with his own, he had at length emerged into
clearer light, till, after long waiting, the sun had indeed risen.

As Swanhild had prophesied, they were by no means selfish lovers, and,
far from spoiling the tour, their happiness did much to add to its
success.

Cecil hardly knew which part of it was most delightful to her, the
return of Molde and the pilgrimage to the quaint little jeweler’s shop
where they chose two plain gold betrothal rings such as are always used
in Norway; or the merry journey to the Geiranger; or the quiet days at
Oldören, in that lovely valley with the river curving and bending its
way between wooded banks, and the rampart of grand, craggy mountains
with snowy peaks, her own special mountain, as Frithiof called
Cecilienkrone, dominating all.

It was at Oldören that she saw for the first time one of the prettiest
sights in Norway—a country wedding. The charming bride, Pernilla, in her
silver-gilt crown and bridal ornaments, had her heartiest sympathy, and
Frithiof, happening to catch sight of the fiddler standing idly by the
churchyard gate when the ceremony was over, brought him into the hotel
and set every one dancing. Anna Rasmusen, the clever and charming
manager of the inn, volunteered to try the _spring dans_ with Halfstan,
the guide. The hamlet was searched for dancers of the _halling_, and the
women showed them the pretty _jelster_ and the _tretur_.

By degrees all the population of the place crowded in as spectators, and
soon Johannes and Pernilla, the bride and bridegroom, made their way
through the throng, and, each carrying a decanter, approached the
visitors, shook hands with them, and begged that they would drink their
health. There was something strangely simple and charming about the
whole thing. Such a scene could have been found in no other country save
in grand, free old Norway, where false standards of worth are abolished,
and where mutual respect and equal rights bind each to each in true
brotherhood.

The day after the wedding they spent at the Brixdals glacier, rowing all
together up the lake, but afterward separating, Frithiof and Cecil
walking in advance of the others up the beautiful valley.

“There will soon be a high-road to this glacier,” said Frithiof, “but I
am glad they are only beginning it now, and that we have this rough
path.”

And Cecil was glad too. She liked the scramble and the little bit of
climbing needed here and there; she loved to feel the strength and
protection of Frithiof’s hand as he led her over the rocks and bowlders.
At last, after a long walk, they reached a smooth, grassy oasis, shaded
by silver birches and bordered by a river, beyond, the Brixdalsbrae
gleamed white through the trees, with here and there exquisite shades of
blue visible in the ice even at that distance.

“This is just like the Land of Beulah,” said Cecil, smiling, “and the
glacier is the celestial city. How wonderful those broken pinnacles of
ice are!”

“Look at these two little streams running side by side for so long and
at last joining,” said Frithiof. “They are like our two lives. For so
many years you have been to me as we should say _fortrölig_.”

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“It is untranslatable,” he said. “It is that in which one puts one’s
trust and confidence, but more besides. It means exactly what you have
always been to me.”

Cecil looked down at the little bunch of forget-me-nots and lilies of
the valley—the Norwegian national flowers with which Frithiof loved to
keep her supplied—and the remembrance of all that she had borne during
these five years came back to her, and by contrast made the happy
present yet sweeter.

“I think,” she said, “I should like Signor Donati to know of our
happiness; he was the first who quite understood you.”

“Yes, I must write to him,” said Frithiof. “There is no man to whom I
owe more.”

And thinking of the Italian’s life and character and of his own past, he
grew silent.

“Do you know,” he said at length, “there is one thing I want you to do
for me. I want you to give me back my regard for the Sogne once more. I
want, on our way home, just to pass Balholm again.”

And so one day it happened that they found themselves on the
well-remembered fjord, and coming up on deck when dinner was over, saw
that already the familiar scenes of the Frithiof saga were coming into
view.

“Look! look!” said Frithiof. “There, far in front of us is the
Kvinnafos, looking like a thread of white on the dark rock; and over to
the right is Framnaes!”

Cecil stood beside him on the upper deck, and gradually the scene
unfolded. They saw the little wooded peninsula, the lovely mountains
round the Fjaerlands fjord, Munkeggen itself, with much more snow than
during their last visit, and then, once again, King Bele’s grave, and
the scattered cottages, with their red-tiled roofs, and the familiar
hotel, somewhat enlarged, yet recalling a hundred memories.

Gravely and thoughtfully Frithiof looked on the little hamlet and on
Munkeggen. It was a picture that had been traced on his mind by pleasure
and engraved by pain. Cecil drew a little nearer to him, and though no
word passed between them, yet intuitively their thoughts turned to one
who must ever be associated with those bright days spent in the house of
Ole Kvikne long ago. There was no indignation in their thoughts of her,
but there was pain, and pity, and hope, and the love which is at once
the source and the outcome of forgiveness. They wondered much how
matters stood with her out in the far-off southern seas, where she
struggled on in a new life, which must always, to the very end, be
shadowed by the old. And then Frithiof thought of his father, of his own
youth, of the wonderful glamor and gladness that had been doomed so soon
to pass into total eclipse, and feeling like some returned ghost, he
glided close by the flagstaff, and the gray rocks, and the trees which
had sheltered his farewell to Blanche. A strange and altogether
indescribable feeling stole over him, but it was speedily dispelled.
There was a link which happily bound his past to his present—a memory
which nothing could spoil—on the quay he instantly perceived the
well-remembered faces of the kindly landlord, Ole Kvikne, and his
brother Knut.

“See!” she exclaimed with a smile, “there are the Kviknes looking not a
day older! We must see if they remember us.”

Did they not remember? Of course they did! And what bowing and
hand-shaking went on in the brief waiting time. They had heard of
Frithiof, moreover, and knew how nobly he had redeemed his father’s
name. They were enchanted at meeting him once more.

“Let me have the pleasure, Kvikne, to introduce to you my betrothed, who
was also your guest long ago,” said Frithiof, taking Cecil’s hand and
placing it in that of the landlord.

And the warm congratulations and hearty good wishes of Ole and Knut
Kvikne were only cut short by the bell, which warned the travelers that
they must hasten up the gangway.

“We shall come back,” said Frithiof. “Another summer we shall stay with
you.”

“Yes,” said Cecil. “After all there is nothing equal to Balholm. I had
forgotten how lovely it was.”

As they glided on they left the little place bathed in sunshine, and in
silence they watched it, till at last a bend in the fjord hid it from
view.

Frithiof fell into deep thought.

What part had that passionate first love of his played in his
life-story? Well, it had been to him a curse; it had dragged him down
into depths of despair and to the verge of vice; it had steeped him in
bitterness and filled his heart with anguish. Yet a more perfect love
had awaited him—a passion less fierce but more tender, less vehement but
more lasting; and all those years Cecil’s heart had really been his,
though he had so little dreamed of it.

As if in a picture, he saw the stages through which he had passed—the
rapture of mere physical existence; the intolerable pain and humiliation
of Blanche’s betrayal; the anguish of bereavement; the shame of
bankruptcy; the long effort to pay the debts; the slow return to belief
in human beings; the toilsome steps that had each brought him a clearer
knowledge of the Unseen, for which he had once felt no need; and,
finally, this wonderful love springing up like a fountain in his life,
ready to gladden his somewhat prosaic round of daily work.

It was evening when they left the steamer at Sogndal, but they were none
of them in a mood for settling down, and indeed the weather was so hot
that they often preferred traveling after supper. So it was arranged
that they should go on to a very primitive little place called
Hillestad, sleep there for a few hours, and then proceed to the Lyster
fjord. Cecil, who was a much better walker than either Sigrid or
Swanhild, was to go on foot with Frithiof; the others secured a
stolkjaerre and a carriole, and went on in advance with the luggage.

The two lovers walked briskly along the side of the fjord, but slackened
their pace when they reached the long, sandy hill, with its sharp
zigzags; the evening was still and cloudless; above them towered huge,
rocky cliffs, partly veiled by undergrowth, and all the air was sweet
with the scent of the pine trees. They were close to St. Olaf’s well,
where, from time immemorial, the country people have come to drink and
pray for recovery from illness.

“Don’t you think we ought to drink to my future health,” said Frithiof.

He smiled, yet in his eyes she saw all the time the look of sadness that
had come to him as they approached Balholm.

The one sting in his perfect happiness was the thought that he could not
bring to Cecil the unbroken health that had once been his. He knew that
the strain of his passed trouble had left upon him marks which he must
carry to his grave, and that the consequences of Blanche’s faithlessness
had brought with them a secret anxiety which must to some extent shadow
Cecil’s life. The knowledge was hard: it humiliated him.

Cecil knew him so well that she read his thoughts in an instant.

“Look at all these little crosses set up in the moss on this rock!” she
exclaimed when they had scrambled up the steep ascent. “I wonder how
many hundreds of years this has been the custom? I wonder how many
troubled people have come here to drink?”

“And have gained nothing by their superstition?” said Frithiof.

“It was superstition,” she said thoughtfully. “And yet, perhaps, the
sight of the cross and the drinking of the water at least helped them to
new thoughts of suffering and of life. Who knows, perhaps some of them
went away able to glory in their infirmities?”

He did not speak for some minutes, but stood lost in the train of
thought suggested to him by her words. The sadness gradually died out of
his face, and she quite understood that it was with no trace of
superstition, but merely as a sign of gratitude for a thought which had
helped him, that he took two little straight twigs, stooped to drink
from St. Olafskilde, and then set up his cross among the others in the
mossy wall. After that they clambered down over the bowlders into the
sandy road once more, and climbed the steep hill leisurely, planning
many things for the future—the rooms in Rowan Tree House, the little
wooden cottage that they meant to build at Gödesund, three hours by
water from Bergen, on a tiny island, which might be bought at a trifling
cost; the bright holiday weeks that they would spend there; the work
they might share; the efforts they might make together in their London
life.

But the sharp contrast between this pictured future and the actual past
could hardly fail to strike one of Frithiof’s temperament; it was the
thought of this which prompted him to speak as they paused to rest on
the wooded heights above Hillestad.

“I almost wonder,” he said, “that you have courage to marry such an
ill-starred fellow as I have always proved to be. You are very brave to
take the risk.”

She answered him only with her eyes.

“So,” he said with a smile, “you think, perhaps, after all the troubles
there must be a good time coming?”

“That may very well be,” she replied, “but now that we belong to each
other outer things matter little.”

“Do you remember the lines about Norway in the Princess?” he said. “Your
love has made them true for me.”

“Say them now,” she said; “I have forgotten,”

And, looking out over the ruddy sky where, in this night hour, the glow
of sunset mingled with the glow of dawn, he quoted the words:

                              “I was one
              To whom the touch of all mischance but came
              As night to him that sitting on a hill
              Sees the midsummer, midnight, Norway sun
              Set into sunrise.”

She followed the direction of his gaze and looked, through the fir-trees
on the hill upon which they were resting, down to the lovely lake which
lay below them like a sheet of mother-of-pearl in the tranquil light.
She looked beyond to the grand cliff-like mountains with their snowy
tops touched here and there into the most exquisite rose-color by the
rising sun; and then she turned back to the strong Norse face with its
clearly cut features, its look of strength, and independence, and noble
courage, and her heart throbbed with joy as she thought how foreign to
it was that hard, bitter expression of the past. As he repeated the
words “Set into sunrise” his eyes met hers fully; all the tenderness and
strength of his nature and an infinite promise of future possibilities
seemed to strike down into her very soul in that glance. He drew her
toward him, and over both of them there stole the strange calm which is
sometimes the outcome of strong feeling.

All nature seemed full of perfect peace; and with the sight of those
snowy mountains and the familiar scent of the pines to tell him that he
was indeed in his own country, with Cecil’s loving presence to assure
him of his new possession, and with a peace in his heart which had first
come to him in bitter humiliation and trouble, Frithiof, too, was at
rest.

After all, what were the possible trials that lay before them? What was
all earthly pain? Looked at in a true light, suffering seemed, indeed,
but as this brief northern night, and death but as the herald of eternal
day.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“Cecil,” said Frithiof, looking again into her sweet, grave eyes, “who
would have thought that the _Linnæa_ gathered all those years ago should
prove the first link in the chain that was to bind us together forever?”

“It was strange,” she replied, with a smile, as she gathered one of the
long trails growing close by and looked at the lovely little white bells
with their pink veins.

He took it from her, and began to twine it in her hair.

“I didn’t expect to find it here,” he said, “and brought a fine plant of
it from Nord fjord. We must take it home with us that you may have some
for your bridal wreath.”

She made a little exclamation of doubt.

“Why, Frithiof? How long do you think it will go on flowering?”

“For another month,” he said, taking her glowing face between his hands
and stooping to kiss her.

“Only a month!” she faltered.

“Surely that will be long enough to read the banns?” he said, with a
smile. “And you really ought not to keep the _Linnæa_ waiting a day
longer.”



------------------------------------------------------------------------



Transcriber’s note:

 1. Added table of CONTENTS.

 2. Changed “keep him from taking” to “keep him from talking” on p. 173.

 3. Changed “be better of” to “be better off” on p. 194.

 4. The publisher often used “ö” instead of “ø”.

 5. “Björnsen”, “Bjornsen”, and “Bjornson” are all likely references to
      the author “Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson”.

 6. Retained anachronistic and non-standard spellings as printed.

 7. Retained poetry as printed.

 8. Silently corrected typographical errors.





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