Read CHAPTER V - CONFIRMATION of The Visionary Pictures From Nordland, free online book, by Jonas Lie, on ReadCentral.com.

While matters were in this state between our parents, the time came for Susanna and me to be confirmed. As I was not entered until some time after the confirmation course had begun, it was arranged that, besides the class in the church every Monday, I was to read alone with the minister on Fridays.

In his abrupt way my father made me a little private speech, in which he expressed a hope that I would not disgrace him before the minister.

The lesson up in the minister’s study was an entirely new mental development for me. The big, grey-haired man, with his broad, powerful face, and massive silver spectacles, generally pushed up on to his forehead above the heavy eyebrows, sat on the sofa with his big meerschaum pipe in his mouth, and expounded, while I, smart and attentive, listened in the chair on the opposite side of the table.

I became more and more convinced that the minister must be an honourable and thoroughly sincere man, but at the same time hard and severe; for he always talked about our duties, and that we must not think that pardon would be given us if we tried to escape from them. Sometimes, too, he would be in the humour for reflections which were not quite intended for me; there were all kinds of attempts to reason away doubts that might possibly arise in matters of belief, especially about miracles, which he generally wanted to explain in a natural way. He could be exceedingly clever in his comparisons, and I used then to think in this, as in much of the strong-willed expression of his face when he talked, that I recognised Susanna’s nature. The small, well-shaped hands and the well-proportioned though not tall figure, she had evidently inherited from her father, as also a certain quick movement of the head when her words were to be made more impressive than usual. But Susanna had in addition a warmth and impulsiveness, almost volcanic in their nature, which struck me as foreign to the expression that lay in the minister’s cold, clear, intelligent eyes.

The minister praised me for my thoughtfulness, but repeated several times, to my secret humiliation, that I had a way of furtively looking down that I must try to get rid of. He doubtless thought that I was excessively embarrassed, perhaps, too, that I suffered under the consciousness of my father’s position with regard to him.

However that may be, his cold, piercing, blue or grey eyes sometimes looked at me as if they saw right through me and cut me up like an orange, right into my secret with Susanna. I felt like a traitor who was betraying his confidence, and I pictured to myself what he would think of me one day, when he came to know all, and that during his instruction on the subject of my eternal happiness I could have sat before him so false and bold. I became more and more convinced during the lessons on the Explanation, [Of Luther’s Catechism] that my relations with Susanna, as long as they were kept a secret from her parents, were wrong, and now I was going, with this deliberate sin on my conscience, coolly and with premeditation to kneel at the Lord’s Table.

These scruples haunted me at home, too, and at last became a real martyrdom to me. All sin, said the Explanation, could be forgiven, except sin against the Holy Ghost.

The deeper my imagination was plunged in meditation on this mysterious crime against Heaven, which was beyond the limits of pardon and could not be forgiven, the higher rose the torturing anxiety in my mind lest the very sin that I was now calmly and deliberately about to commit, was of that kind.

My hesitation was especially on the subject of the Sacrament, which I now boldly, and with full purpose, intended to desecrate, by concealing the fact that I was deceiving the very person that would give it to me. I tried in vain to dismiss these thoughts, or at any rate to put them off, until the very last day before confirmation. My mind became every day more uneasy, and in my imagination there arose thoughts that no longer depended on my own will, and I stood dismayed before all the visions and possibilities of hell’s terror.

I dared not reassure myself by trying to get Susanna to talk about my fears; for as long as she was ignorant that what was to be done was a sin, she was not to blame; and rather than involve her with myself, I would bear my burden alone. To reveal the whole thing at the last moment to the stern minister would, of course, disclose our engagement, would be an unbearable scandal for us both, and, as I thought, would only result in my losing Susanna; and this I dared not risk without her consent. The whole thing was thus knotted into an impossible ring, out of which no escape seemed possible.

On the last two Mondays when I stood in the church while the minister examined us, I often looked earnestly over at Susanna. She stood there, bright, smiling and inattentive; she suspected nothing, and could give no help.

During the days immediately before the confirmation my distress rose to fever height, several times I was scarcely in my right mind, and felt dreadfully unhappy. It seemed to me at last that I was actually throwing away my eternal happiness for Susanna’s sake. At night I started up from terrifying dreams, in which I saw myself kneeling at the altar with Susanna beside me she looking so unsuspecting, so supernaturally beautiful, while the minister stood with a face of thunder, as if he knew that a soul would now be destroyed, and that, in the Communion, he was carrying out God’s vengeance. Another night I awoke with a fancy that a scornful laugh came from under the bed, and with a conviction that the Evil One lurked there, curled up like a great snake. I hid myself with a beating heart under the down quilt, until I heard people moving in the yard below in the morning, and then I ventured to fly from the room.

It was Confirmation Day.

I stood at the glass that morning, before church-time, dressing myself in my new clothes, in the “blue room,” the room in which my mother had been confined during the many years she was ill. I could see, through the small-paned windows, boat after boat full of nicely-dressed confirmation candidates, with their parents in holiday costume, rowing, in the bright autumn day, across the bay, and landing, some at our pier, others at the parsonage landing-place.

An impression of solemnity suddenly filled me with despair; I thought of how all these people would come into God’s kingdom as easily as they were now rowing into the sunny bay this quiet Sunday morning, while I alone stood without hope of salvation. I saw all at once that in my sad, spiritually dark home, I had always, from childhood upwards, really had a feeling in my inmost heart that happiness and blessedness were not meant for me, and that all the happiness and joy I hitherto had was really only borrowed sunshine from the parsonage. And with the sin I was carrying, I could only have Susanna as a loan until I died, when we should have to part, and I must go back to the evil powers of unhappiness, which, from my earliest hour here at home, had taken possession of me.

I leant against the wall and cried.

As I was about to continue my dressing, and turned to the glass, it was without terror, even with a certain tranquillity, that my gaze fell on the old vision of my childhood, the lady with the rose whom I saw standing behind me in the open chamber-door, pale and sorrowful, looking at me, until she suddenly vanished.

The church bells were ringing and the people were streaming towards the church. To-day Anne Kvaen and all the house servants were also among the churchgoers. Father went with me, and bowed respectfully to the minister when they met at the entrance.

The order in which we confirmation candidates were to stand in church had been decided the Monday before. I was to stand first on the boys’ side, Susanna first on the girls’ side.

One hymn had already been sung before Susanna came with her mother, dressed like a grown-up lady in a black silk dress, with gauze on her neck and arms, and a locket on her breast. She remained sitting by her mother in the parsonage pew until the affecting sermon was over.

I must have looked very ill and exhausted; for as the minister began the catechising at me, he stopped in the middle of a question with a look as if asking what was the matter with me. I answered his question correctly, and with a nod he went across to Susanna, who stood there with folded hands, looking down, tearful and rather pale with excitement before her question came. While her father put it, she looked up at him with her sweet blue eyes so innocently and trustfully that it was more than clear that she had no thought of an evil conscience at that moment. When it was got through and her father went on to the next candidate, she smiled, relieved though serious, across to me as if I were the person to whom she could properly turn in this hour.

I looked, as often as I could do so unnoticed, across to her as she stood there, tall and beautiful, with her luxuriant hair dressed in grown-up fashion. Now and then she looked across at me, but I avoided meeting her eye. Her glance now seemed to add to my sin, just as every sacred word I heard only added to my load, and had an effect the very opposite of comforting.

The service was long, and the nervous strain affected me, as it has often done since, in such a way that there was a singing in my ears and dark spots swam before my eyes. Wherever I looked there appeared to my horror a dark blot, and, full of anxiety, I thought that perhaps this was already the beginning of the curse. I dared not look at Susanna any more for fear of throwing the black spot on her, and at last I could not forbear looking at the floor where I stood to see if there were possibly burnt marks under my feet. I thought of the sea-sprite, who in Vaagen’s church had enticed the minister’s daughter to go with him, and whose instinct had driven him out of church during the blessing, whereas I was condemned to stand.

After the promise was given, I remember only dimly that another discourse was pronounced and more hymns were sung.

When I once more found myself upon the way home with my father, who with an anxious look supported me, my last recollection of the whole thing was that Susanna, who I suppose discovered that I was ill, had towards the end of the service looked at me with just the same expression as the lady with the rose had done that very morning quiet, pale, sorrowful, like one who would be glad to help, but could not.

I think that what my father had said to me about not disgracing him before the minister contributed not a little to the fact that I kept up to the last; for I fainted as soon as we got home and was put to bed, while my father, who had now become seriously alarmed, immediately sent an express messenger for the doctor.

When he came the next day, he found me in wild delirium. My fancy overflowed, like a river from which all dams are removed, with a stream of the wildest conceptions. It seemed to me that dreadful forms danced and nodded round the bed, and among them one with a long letter of condemnation, with a seal under it, and that Anne Kvaen was there, rolling glittering eyes, while now and again Susanna looked at me with a glance full of pain, as if it were not in her power to hinder my perdition.

From what I learned afterwards, the doctor at first thought it was a nervous fever, but from certain symptoms and the nature of my ravings, concerning which Anne Kvaen, who probably had her own thoughts on the subject, thought it necessary to inform him, he quite changed his opinion. He had attended my poor mother in her mental illness, and now found the same fancy about the lady and the rose, and the same dread of evil spirits in me the son.

Three weeks later I was quite well again, though pale and exhausted by the long nervous paroxysms. The whole millstone weight of sin was, as it were, gone from my bosom, and I went to the altar without the smallest scruple.

And I felt quite a dignified person when, on the following Sunday, I went on a confirmation visit to the parsonage in my black dress-coat. On this occasion Susanna sat perhaps a little on show on my account like a grown-up lady at her own work-table in the window-seat. When her mother went out of the room to fetch red-currant wine and cakes, I, at a sign from her, had hastily to look at her precious work-table with all the drawers, both those above and those that appeared below when she pushed the upper drawers away. In one of these last, which she opened with an arch look, but shut again like lightning as her mother came in, lay the brass ring with glass stones in it that I had once given her, and I recognised two or three old scraps of letters dating from the time when we were children.

When I went away it was with a beating heart, for I had unexpectedly an interview in which Susanna’s true feeling had been revealed to me more clearly than it could have been by any verbal assurance.

It struck me that something must lately have happened at home, for the curt, cold way in which my father used to treat me was wonderfully changed. For instance, he made me a present of a double-barrelled gun in a sealskin case, and a watch, and he proposed that during the days before my going away Jens and the four-oared boat should be at my disposal as often as I wished to go out shooting or fishing.

I understood what had happened when the doctor one day made his appearance, and asked me to go up with him to my room.

The broadly-built, bald, little doctor, in his homespun coat, and steel-rimmed spectacles on his snub-nose, was one of the hardy people of our fjord districts who glory in going out in all kinds of weather. You always saw him in the best of spirits when he had just been out in stormy weather. He was a decided and clear-headed man, whose manner involuntarily inspired confidence, and he also possessed a warmth and open-heartedness that made him, when he chose, very winning. He was the doctor both at our house and the parsonage, and a confidential friend of both families.

When we came up to my room, he told me to sit down and listen to him, while he himself, as usual, made out a route on the floor, where, with his hands behind him, he could walk up and down while he talked.

He had, he said, considered carefully whether he should conceal from me what he had on his mind, or speak out as he was now doing, but had decided on the latter course, as my recovery depended upon my being perfectly clear as to what it was I was suffering from. My last illness had, partly at any rate, been an outbreak of a disposition to insanity, which he knew lay in the family on my mother’s side for several generations back. That this outbreak had now taken place in me was certainly due to the fact that I had given myself up to all kinds of imaginary influences, in conjunction with the idle life which he knew I had always led at home. The only certain means for stopping the development of this disposition was work with a fixed, determined end in view for instance, study which he thought I showed an ability for, and in addition a healthy life walks, hunting, fishing, companions and interests; but no more idleness, no more exciting novels, no more unhealthy dreams. He had talked to my father upon the subject, and recommended that I should go to the training college at Trondenaes as a fitting preparation for study, and as a measure that would also afford the necessary interruption to my present life.

When the doctor soon after left me, I remained sitting in my room, serious and much moved.

That I had thus become transparent to myself, and had solved my own riddle, was an extraordinary relief to me I may say it was an episode in my life.

The feeling of being mentally ill, which had always, as long as I could remember, lain a silent pressure, a foreboding of unhappiness, in the background of my mind although dissipated in the brighter summer-time of my companionship with Susanna was therefore no sin, no burden of crime, no dark mysterious exception in me from every other natural order of things, but only a disease, actually only a disease, which was to be treated with a correspondingly natural treatment!

I had never thought that any one could be as glad to hear that he was mad, or at any rate that there was danger of his becoming so, as over-good news; but now I know that such a thing can be.

I prayed now, as it seemed for the first time in my life, really, confidently, and trustfully to God, to whom I stood in the same relation as every one else, or, if there were any difference, even nearer, because I was a poor, sick creature.

I felt as if God’s sun had shone out upon me after a long, weary, rainy day. I prayed for myself, for Susanna, for my father; and in the enjoyment of this new condition of security I went on to pray first for every single person at home, then for those at the parsonage, then for the clerk, and at last, for want of others, as we do in church, for “all who are sick and sorrowful,” among whom, with a glad heart, I now classed myself.