Read PART I: CHAPTER X of The Home , free online book, by Fredrika Bremer, on ReadCentral.com.

THE END OF THE DAY.

Evening came, and with it lights and guests. A strong, self-sacrificing amiability governed Elise’s manner this evening. She was almost cordial towards Emelie; cared for the comfort of every one, played the piano for the children’s dance, and appeared to exist only in order to serve others. The beautiful Emelie, on the contrary, thought of herself; was livelier and more brilliant than ever, and, as usual, assembled all the gentlemen around her. The conversation was lively in this group; it turned from politics to literature, and then dwelt awhile on theatricals, in which Emelie, equally animated and sarcastic, characterised the Scribe and Mellesville school as a dramatic manufactory.

“For the rest,” added she, “the stage acts very prudently and sensibly in letting the curtain fall the moment the hero and heroine approach the altar; novels do the same, and that, also, with good reason, otherwise nobody would be able to read them.”

“How so?” asked the Judge, with great earnestness.

“Because,” answered Emelie, “the illusion of life is extinguished on the other side of this golden moment, and reality steps forward then in all its heaviness and nakedness. Look at a young couple in the glowing morning of their union, how warm love is then; how it penetrates and beautifies everything; how it glows and speaks in glance and word, and agreeable action; how its glory changes the whole of life into poetry! ‘Thou, thou!’ is the one thought of the young people then. But observe the same couple a few years later ’I, I!’ and ‘my pleasure,’ is the phrase now. The adoring all-resigning lover is then become the exacting married man, who will be waited on and obeyed. And the loving all-sacrificing bride, she is become the unwieldy and care-burdened housewife, who talks of nothing but trouble, bad saltings, and negligent maid-servants. And what are tete-a-tete communications between these two? ’How, my dear! is the butter really used up already? Why, I gave you money only the other day for butter! You really must look better after things, and see what the cook does with the butter; I will not allow such extravagance in the house! Do you want something more?’ ’Yes, indeed, my love, I and the children must have new over-dresses. Little Peter’s coat is worn out, and little Paul has grown out of his; and my old cloak cannot last to eternity!’ People,” continued the sarcastic Emilie, “may thank their stars, too, if out of such interesting communications as these no hateful quarrels arise; and if, in the happy repose of their homes, harmless yawnings have only taken place of the kisses which have left it. Contracted circumstances, meannesses, and domestic trials, destroy the happiness of marriage, even as the worm destroys the flower, bringing bitterness and sourness into the temper; and though the married pair may continue to the very day of their death to address each other as ‘My sweet friend,’ yet, very often, in petto, it is ‘My sour friend.’ Yet, after all, this is nothing, in fact, but what is perfectly natural; and, in this respect, marriage only follows the eternal law of nature in all earthly existence. Every form of life carries in itself decay and dissolution a poisonous snake-king gnaws even at the root of the world’s tree.”

Several of the listeners, and among them the Candidate, had laughed loudly at Emelie’s descriptions; but the Judge had not once moved his lips, and replied, when she had done, with an earnestness that confounded even her satire.

“If all this were true, Emelie,” said he, “then were life, even in the best point of view, good for nothing; and with justice might it indeed be called an illusion. But it is not so; and you have only described marriage in its lowest, and not either in its best or its truest sense. I do not deny the difficulties which exist in this as in every other circumstance of life; but I am confident that they may and must be overcome; and this will be done if the married pair bring only right intentions into the house. Then want and care, disturbing, nay even bitter hours, may come, but they will also go; and the bonds of love and truth will be consolation, nay, even will give strength. You have spoken, Emelie, of death and separation as the end of the drama of life; you have forgotten the awaking again, and the second youth, of which the ancient northern Vala sings. Married life, like all life, has such a second youth; yes, indeed, a progressive one, because it has its foundation in the life which is eternal; and every contest won, every danger passed through, every pain endured, change themselves into blessings on home and on the married pair, who have thus obtained better knowledge, and who are thus more closely united.”

He spoke with unusual warmth, and not without emotion, and his expressive glance sought and dwelt upon his wife, who had approached unobserved, and who had listened to Emelie’s bitter satire with stinging pain, because she knew that there was a degree of truth in it.

But as her husband spoke, she felt that he perceived the full truth, and her heart beat freer and stronger, and all at once a clearness was in her soul. With her head bent forward, she gazed on him with a glance full of tenderness and confidence, forgetting herself, and listening with fervour to every word which he uttered. In this very moment their eyes met, and there was much, inexpressibly much, in their glance; a clear crimson of delight flushed her cheek, and made her beautiful. The gentle happiness which now animated her being, together with her lovely figure, her graceful movements, and the purity of her brow, made her far more fascinating than her lovely rival. Her husband followed her with his eyes, as kindly and attentively she busied herself among her guests, or with the little Gabriele in her arms mingled in the children’s dance, for which Evelina’s foster-daughters were playing a four-handed piece. He had suddenly cooled towards his “old flame,” nor was he at all warmed again by the sharp tone with which the little caressing Petrea was reproved for being too obtrusive.

“Our little Louise in time will dance very well,” remarked the Judge to his wife, as he noticed with great pleasure the little brisees and chassees of his daughter whom the twelve-years-old Nils Gabriel Stjernhoek twirled round, and with whom he conversed with great gravity, and a certain knightly politeness.

In the mean time Mrs. Gunilla was instructing Emelie on the manners and character of the French; and Emelie, whose countenance since the discussion of the marriage question had worn a bitter expression, endeavoured with a tolerably sharp tone to make her superior information felt, and in return was mown down, as it were, at one stroke by Mrs. Gunilla, who had never been in France.

The Candidate followed Elise everywhere with glances of devotion, and appeared this evening perfectly enchanted by her amiability.

“Fie, for shame! to take all the confections to yourself!” moralised the little Queen-bee to the little S ne, a fat, quiet boy, who took the confections and the reproof with the same stoical indifference. Louise cast a look of high indignation upon him, and then gave her share of sweetmeats to a little girl, who complained that she had had none.

Supper came, and Emelie, whose eyes flashed unusual fire, seemed to wish fervently to win back that regard which she, perhaps, feared to have lost already, and with her playful and witty conversation electrified the whole company. Jacobi, who was excited in no ordinary manner, drank one glass of wine after another, talked and laughed very loud, and looked between whiles upon Elise with glances which expressed his sentiments in no doubtful manner. These glances were not the first of the kind which the quick eye of Elise’s rival observed.

“That young man,” said she, in a low but significant whisper to the Judge, and with a glance on Jacobi, “seems to be very charming; he has really remarkably attractive talents is he nearly related to Elise?”

“No,” returned he, looking at her rather surprised; “but he has been for nearly three months a member of our family.”

“Indeed!” said she, in a significant and grave manner; “I should have thought but as for that,” added she, in an apparently careless tone “Elise is really so kind and so amiable, that for him who is with her daily, it must be very difficult not to love her.”

The Judge felt the sting of the viper, and with a glance which flashed a noble indignation, he replied to his beautiful neighbour, “You are right, Emelie; I know no woman who deserves more love or esteem than she!”

Emelie bit her lip and grew pale; and she would assuredly have grown yet paler, could she only have understood the sentiment which she had awakened in the breast of her former admirer.

Ernst Frank had a keen sense of moral meanness, and when this displayed itself no gifts of genius or of nature had power to conceal it. He clearly understood her intentions, and despised her for them. In his eyes, at this moment, she was hateful. In the mean time his composure was destroyed. He looked on Jacobi, and observed his glances and his feelings; he looked on Elise, and saw that she was uneasy, and avoided his eye.

A horrible spasmodic feeling thrilled through his soul; in order to conceal what he felt he became more than usually animated, yet there was a something hostile, a something sternly sarcastic in his words, which still, on account of the general gaiety, remained unobserved by most.

Never before was Assessor Munter so cheerful, so comically cross with all mankind. Mrs. Gunilla and he shouted as if desperate against each other. The company rose from the supper-table in full strife, and adjourned to the dancing-room.

“Music, in heaven’s name! music!” exclaimed the Assessor with a gesture of despair, and Elise and the Colonel’s widow hastened to the piano. It was a pleasant thought, after the screaming of that rough voice had been heard, to play one of Blangini’s beautiful night-pieces, which seem to have been inspired by the Italian heaven, and which awaken in the soul of the hearer a vision of those summer nights, with their flowery meadows, of their love, of their music, and of all their unspeakable delights.

Un’ eterna constanza in amor!” were the words which, repeated several times with the most bewitching modulations, concluded the song.

Un’ eterna constanza in amor!” repeated the Candidate, softly and passionately pressing his hand to his heart, as he followed Elise to a window, whither she had gone to gather a rose for her rival. As Elise’s hand touched the rose, the lips of Jacobi touched her hand.

Emelie sang another song, which delighted the company extremely; but Ernst Frank stood silent and gloomy the while. Words had been spoken this evening which aroused his slumbering perception; and with the look he cast upon Jacobi and his wife, he felt as if the earth were trembling under his feet. He saw that which passed at the window, and gasped for breath. A tempest was aroused in his breast; and at the same moment turning his eyes, he encountered, those of another person, which were riveted upon him with a questioning, penetrating expression. They were those of the Assessor. Such a glance as that from any other person had been poison to the mind of Frank, but from Jeremias Munter it operated quite otherwise; and as shortly afterwards he saw his friend writing something on a strip of paper, he went to him, and looking over his shoulder, read these words:

“Why regardest thou the mote in thy brother’s eye, yet seest not the beam in thine own eye?”

“Is this meant for me?” asked he, in a low but excited voice.

“Yes,” was the direct reply.

The Judge took the paper, and concealed it in his breast.

He was pale and silent, and began to examine himself. The company broke up; he had promised Emelie to accompany her home; but now, while she, full of animation, jested with several gentlemen, and while her servant drew on her fur-shoes, he stood silent and cold beside his “old flame” as a pillar of ice. Mrs. Gunilla and the Assessor quarrelled till the last moment. Whilst all this was going on, Elise went quietly to Jacobi, who stood somewhat apart, and said to him in a low voice, “I wish to speak with you, and will wait for you in the parlour, when they are all gone.” Jacobi bowed; a burning crimson flashed to his cheek; the Judge threw a penetrating glance upon them, and passed his hand over his pale countenance.

“It gives me great pleasure,” cried Mrs. Gunilla, speaking shrilly and staccato “it gives me great pleasure to see my fellow-creatures, and it gives me great pleasure if they will see me. If they are not always agreeable, why I am not always agreeable myself! Heart’s-dearest! in this world one must have patience one with another, and not be everlastingly requiring and demanding from others. Heaven help me! I am satisfied with the world, and with my own fellow-creatures, as our Lord has been pleased to make them. I cannot endure that people should be perpetually blaming, and criticising, and mocking, and making sour faces at everything, and saying ‘I will not have this!’ and ’I will not have that!’ and ’I will not have it so! It is folly; it is unbearable; it is wearisome; it is stupid!’ precisely as if they themselves only were endurable, agreeable, and clever! No, I have learned better manners than that. It is true that I have no genius, nor learning, nor talents, as so many people in our day lay claim to, but I have learned to govern myself!”

During this moral lecture, and endeavouring all the time to overpower it, the Assessor exclaimed, “And can you derive the least pleasure from your blessed social life? No, that you cannot! What is social life, but a strift to get into the world in order to discover that the world is unbearable? but a scheming and labouring to get invited, to be offended and put out of sorts if not invited; and if invited, then to complain of weariness and vexation, and thus utter their lamentations. Thus people bring a mass of folks together, and wish them at Jericho! and all this strift only to get poorer, more out of humour, more out of health; in one word, to obtain the perfectly false position, vis-a-vis, of happiness! See there! Adieu, adieu! When the ladies take leave, they never have done.”

“There is not one single word of truth in all that you have said,” was the last but laughing salutation of Mrs. Gunilla to the Assessor, as, accompanied by the Candidate, she left the door. The Judge, too, was gone; and Elise, left alone, betook herself to the parlour.

Suddenly quick steps were heard behind her she thought “Jacobi” turned round, and saw her husband; but never before had she seen him looking as then; there was an excitement, an agitation, in his countenance that terrified her. He threw his arm violently round her waist, riveted his eyes upon her with a glance that seemed as if it would penetrate into her inmost soul.

“Ernst, Ernst, be calm!” whispered she, deeply moved by his state of mind, the cause of which she imagined. He seized her hand and pressed it to his forehead it was damp and cold; the next moment he was gone.

We will now return to the Candidate.

Wine and love, and excited expectation, had so inflamed the imagination of the young man, that he hardly knew what he did whether he walked, or whether he flew; and more than once, in descending the stairs, had he nearly precipitated Mrs. Gunilla, who exclaimed with kindness, but some little astonishment, “The Cross preserve me! I cannot imagine, heart’s-dearest, how either you or I go to-night! I think we are all about to see, now again, all’s going mad. No, I thank you, I’ll take care of my nose, crooked as it is. I think I can go safer by myself. I can hold by ”

“A thousand thousand times pardon,” interrupted the Candidate, whilst he pressed Mrs. Gunilla’s arm tightly; “it is all my fault. But now we will go safely and magnificently; I was a little dizzy!”

“Dizzy!” repeated she. “Heart’s-dearest, we should take care on that very account; one should take care of one’s head as well as one’s heart; one should take care of that, or it may go still more awry than it now is with us! He, he, he, he but listen to me, my friend,” said Mrs. Gunilla, suddenly becoming very grave: “I will tell you one thing, and that is ”

“Your most gracious Honour, pardon me,” interrupted he, “but I think I feel rather unwell I there, now we are at your door! Pardon me!” and the Candidate tumbled up-stairs again.

In the hall of the Franks’ dwelling he drew breath. The thought of the mysterious meeting with Elise filled him at the same time with joy and uneasiness. He could not collect his bewildered thoughts, and with a wildly-beating heart went into the room where Elise awaited him.

As soon as he saw her white lovely figure standing in the magical lamplight his soul became intoxicated, and he was just about to throw himself at her feet, when Elise, hastily, and with dignity, drew back a few paces.

“Listen to me, Jacobi,” said she, with trembling but earnest voice.

“Listen to you!” said he, passionately “oh, that I might listen to you for ever! oh, that I ”

“Silence!” interrupted Elise, with a severity very unusual to her; “not one word more of this kind, or our conversation is at an end, and we are separated for ever!”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Jacobi, “what have ”

“I beseech you, listen to me!” continued Elise; “tell me, Jacobi, have I given you occasion to think thus lightly of me?”

Jacobi started. “What a question!” said he, stammering, and pale.

“Nevertheless,” continued Elise, with emotion, “I must have done so; your behaviour to me this evening has proved it. Could you think, Jacobi, that I, a wife, the mother of many children, could permit the sentiment which you have been so thoughtless as to avow this evening? Could you imagine that it would not occasion me great uneasiness and pain? Indeed, it is so, Jacobi; I fear that you have gone sadly wrong; and if I myself, through any want of circumspection in my conduct, have assisted thereto, may God forgive me! You have punished me for it, Jacobi have punished me for the regard I have felt for you and shown to you; and if I now must break a connexion which I hoped would gladden my life, it is your own fault. Only one more such glance one more such declaration, as you have made this evening, and you must remove from this house.”

The crimson of shame and indignation burned on Jacobi’s cheek. “In truth,” said he, “I have not deserved such severity.”

“Ah! examine yourself, Jacobi,” said she, “and you will judge yourself more severely than I have done. You say that you love me, Jacobi, and you do not dread to destroy the peace and happiness of my life. Already, perhaps, are poisonous tongues in activity against me. I have seen this evening glances directed upon me and upon you, which were not mild; and thoughts and feelings are awakened in my husband’s soul, which never ought to have been awakened there. You have disturbed the peace of a house, into which you were received with friendship and confidence. But I know,” continued she, mildly, “that you have not intended anything criminal! no bad intentions have guided your behaviour; folly only has led you to treat so lightly that relationship which is the holiest on earth. You have not reflected on your life, on your duty, and your situation, in this family, with seriousness.”

Jacobi covered his face with his hands, and a strong emotion agitated him.

“And seriousness,” again began Elise, with warmth and deep earnestness “seriousness! how it clothes how it dignifies the man! Jacobi, the saviour of my child my young friend! I would not have spoken thus to you if I had not had great faith on your better your nobler self; if I had not hoped to have won a friend in you a friend for my whole life, for myself and my Ernst. Oh, Jacobi, listen to my prayer! you are thrown among people who are willing from their very hearts to be your friends! Act so that we may love and highly esteem you; and do not change into grief that hearty goodwill which we both feel for you! Combat against, nay, banish from your heart, every foolish sentiment which you, for a moment, have cherished for me. Consider me as a sister, as a mother! Yes,” continued she, pausing over this word, and half prophetically, “perhaps you may even yet call me mother; and if you will show me love and faith, Jacobi, as you have said, I will accept it from my son! Oh, Jacobi! if you would deserve my blessing, and my eternal gratitude, be a faithful friend, a good instructor of my boy my Henrik! Your talents as a teacher are of no common kind. Your heart is good your understanding is capable of the noblest cultivation your path is open before you to all that which makes man most estimable and most amiable. Oh, turn not away from it, Jacobi tread this path with seriousness ”

“Say not another word!” exclaimed Jacobi. “Oh, I see all! forgive me, angelic Elise! I will do all, everything, in order to deserve hereafter your esteem and your friendship. You have penetrated my heart you have changed it. I shall become a better man. But tell me that you forgive me that you can be my friend, and that you will!”

Jacobi, in the height of his excitement, had thrown himself on his knee before her; Elise also was deeply affected; tears streamed from her eyes, whilst she extended her hand to him, and bending over him said, from the very depths of her heart, “Your friend, for ever!”

Calmly, and with cheerful countenances, both raised themselves; but an involuntary shudder passed through both as they saw the Judge standing in the room, with a pale and stern countenance.

Jacobi went towards him: “Judge Frank,” said he, with a firm but humble voice, “you behold here a ”

“Silence, Jacobi!” interrupted Elise, quickly; “you need not blush on account of your bended knee, nor is any explanation needful. It is not, is it, Ernst?” continued she, with the undaunted freshness of innocence: “you desire no explanation; you believe me when I say that Jacobi now, more than ever, deserves your friendship. A bond is formed between us three, which, as I hope before God, nothing will disturb, and no poisonous tongues censure. You believe me, Ernst?”

“Yes,” said he, giving her his hand; “if I could not, then ” he did not finish his sentence, but fixed his eyes with a stern expression immovably on her. “I will speak with you,” said he, after a moment, and in a calmer voice. “Good night, Mr. Jacobi.”

Jacobi bowed, withdrew a few steps, and then returned. “Judge Frank,” said he, in a voice which showed the excitement of his feelings, “give me your hand; I will deserve your friendship.”

The outstretched hand was grasped firmly and powerfully, and Jacobi left the room in haste.

“Come here, Elise,” said the Judge, with warmth, leading his wife to the sofa, and enclosing her in his arms. “Speak to me! Tell me, has anything in my behaviour of late turned your heart from me!”

Elise’s head sunk upon the breast of her husband, and she was silent. “Ah, Ernst!” said she at length, with a painful sigh, “I also am dissatisfied with myself. But, oh!” added she more cheerfully, “when I lean myself on you thus, when I hear your heart beating, and know what is within that heart, then, Ernst, I feel how I love you how I believe on you! Then I reproach myself with being so weak, so unthankful, so ready to take offence, then oh, Ernst! love me! Look on me always as now, then life will be bright to me; then shall I have strength to overcome all even my own weakness; then I shall feel that only a cloud, only a shadow of mist, and no reality can come between us. But now all is vanished. Now I can lay open to you all the innermost loopholes of my heart can tell you all my weaknesses ”

“Be still, be still now,” said the Judge, with a bright and affectionate look, and laying his hand on her mouth. “I have more failings than you; but I am awake now. Weep not, Elise; let me kiss away your tears! Do you not feel, as I do now, that all is right? Do we not believe in the Eternal Good, and do we not believe in each other? Let us forgive and forget, and have peace together. Hereafter, when the error of this time has in some measure passed from our remembrance, we will talk it over, and wonder how it ever came between us. Now, all is so bright between us, and we both of us see our way clearly. Our errors will serve us for warnings. Wherefore do we live in the world, unless to become better? Look at me, Elise. Are you friendly towards me? Can you have confidence in me?”

“I can! I have!” said she; “there is not a grain of dust any longer between us.”

“Then we are one!” said he, with a joyful voice. “Let us, then, in God’s name, go thus together through life. What He has united, let no man, no accident, nothing in this world, separate!”

Night came; but light had arisen in the breast both of husband and wife.

The furrow of disunion bears commonly thorns and thistles, but it may likewise bear seed for the granary of heaven.