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

STRANGE QUESTIONS.

“Cousin Louise, are you fond of fish? for example, bream?” asked the Landed-proprietor one evening as he seated himself beside Louise, who was industriously working a landscape in her embroidery-frame.

“Oh, yes! bream is good fish,” replied she, very phlegmatically, and without looking up from her work.

“Oh, with red-wine sauce,” said the Landed-proprietor, “delicate! I have magnificent fishing on my estate at Oestanvik. Big fellows of bream! I catch them myself.”

“Who is that great fish there?” asked Jacobi from Henrik, with an impatient sneer, “and what matters it to him whether your sister Louise likes bream or not?”

“Because in that case she might like him, mon cher,” replied Henrik; “a most respectable and substantial fellow is my Cousin Thure of Oestanvik. I advise you to cultivate his acquaintance. Well, now, Gabriele dear, what wants your highness? Yes, what is it? I shall lose my head about the riddle. Mamma dear, come and help your stupid son!”

“No, no, mamma knows it already! Mamma must not tell,” exclaimed Gabriele, terrified.

“What king do you set up above all other kings, Master Jacobi?” for the second time asked Petrea, who this evening had a sort of question mania.

“Charles the Thirteenth,” replied he, and listened to Louise’s answer to the Landed-proprietor.

“Cousin Louise, are you fond of birds?” asked the Landed-proprietor.

“Oh, yes, particularly of fieldfares,” answered Louise.

“Nay, that’s capital!” said the Landed-proprietor. “There are innumerable fieldfares on my estate of Oestanvik. I often go out myself with my gun and shoot them for my dinner; piff-paff! with two shots I have killed a whole dishful!”

“Don’t you imagine, Master Jacobi, that the people before the Flood were much wickeder than those of our time?” asked Petrea, who wished to occupy the Candidate, nothing deterred by his evident abstraction, and whom nobody had asked if she liked fieldfares.

“Oh, much much better,” answered Jacobi.

“Cousin Louise, are you fond of roast hare?” asked the
Landed-proprietor.

“Master Jacobi, are you fond of roast hare?” whispered Petrea, waggishly, to the Candidate.

“Bravo, Petrea!” whispered her brother to her.

“Cousin Louise, are you fond of cold meat?” asked the Landed-proprietor, as he handed Louise to the supper-table.

“Should you like to be a landed-proprietor?” whispered Henrik to her as she left it.

Louise answered exactly as a cathedral would have answered looked very solemn, and was silent.

Petrea, like something let quite loose, after supper would not let anybody remain quiet who by any possibility could be made to answer her. “Is reason sufficient for mankind?” asked she. “What is the foundation of morals? What is the proper meaning of revelation? Why is the nation always so badly off? Why must there be rich and poor?” etc., etc.

“Dear Petrea,” said Louise, “what can be the use of asking such questions?”

It was an evening for questions; there was not even an end to them when people separated for the night.

“Do you not think,” asked the Judge from his wife when they were alone together, “that our little Petrea begins to be quite disagreeable with her perpetual questions and disputations? She leaves nobody at peace, and is at times in a sort of unceasing disquiet. She will, some time or other, make herself quite ridiculous if she goes on so.”

“Yes,” replied Elise, “if she goes on so; but I think she will not. I have observed Petrea narrowly for some time, and do you know I fancy there is something out of the common way in that young girl.”

“Yes, yes,” said he, “in the common way she certainly is not; the merriment and the everlasting joviality which she occasions, and the comical devices that she has ”

“Yes,” replied the mother, “do they not indicate a decided turn for art? And then she has a remarkable thirst for knowledge. Every morning she is up between three and four, in order to read or write, or to work at her Creation. It is, in fact, quite uncommon; and may not this unrest, this zeal to question and dispute, arise from a sort of intellectual hunger? Ah! from such hunger, which many a woman for want of fitting aliment suffers through the whole of her life! From such an emptiness of the soul proceed unrest, discontentedness, nay, innumerable faults!”

“I believe you are right, Elise,” said her husband; “and no condition in life is more melancholy, particularly in advanced years. But this shall not be the lot of my Petrea that we will prevent. What do you think now would be good for her?”

“I fancy,” said Elise, “that a course of serious and well-directed study would assist in regulating her mind. She is too much left to herself, with her disarranged bent with her enthusiasm and her attempts. I myself have too little knowledge to instruct her, you have too little time, and there is no one here who would undertake the guidance of her young unsettled mind. I am sometimes extremely grieved about her; for her sisters do not understand the workings of her mind, which I must confess sometimes give me pain. I wish I were better able to help her. Petrea requires a ground on which to take her stand as yet she has none; her thoughts require some firm holding-place; from the want of this comes her unrest. She is like a flower without roots, which is driven about by wind and wave.”

“She shall be firmly rooted; she shall find firm ground to stand upon, if such is to be found in the world!” said the Judge, with a grave yet beaming eye, and striking his hand at the same time with such violence on a volume of West-Gotha law, that it fell to the ground. “We will think about it,” continued he; “Petrea is yet too young for one to say with certainty what is her decided bent; but we will strengthen her powers! she shall no longer know hunger of any kind, so long as I live and can get my own bread. You know my friend, the excellent Bishop B . Perhaps we can at first confide Petrea to his guidance. After a few years we shall see as yet she is only a child. But don’t you think we might speak with Jacobi, whether he could not read with her and talk with her apropos! how is it with Jacobi? I fancy he begins to think about Louise.”

“Yes, yes, you are not wrong,” said Elise; “and our Cousin Thure of Oestanvik have you remarked nothing there?”

“Yes, I did remark something,” replied he. “The thousand! What stupid questions were those that he put to her! ‘Does Cousin like this?’ or, ‘Does Cousin like that?’ But I don’t like that! not I! Louise is not yet grown up, and already shall people come and ask her, does Cousin like? Nay, perhaps, after all it means nothing; that would please me best. What a pity it is, however, that our Cousin Thure is not more of a man! A most beautiful estate he has, and so near us.”

“Yes, a pity,” said Elise; “because such as he is now, I am quite convinced Louise would find it impossible to endure him.”

“You do not think she would like Jacobi?” asked the father.

“To tell the truth,” returned she, “I think it probable she might.”

“Nay,” said he, “that would be very unpleasant, and very imprudent: I am very fond of Jacobi, but he has nothing, and he is nothing.”

“But, my love,” reasoned his wife, “he may become something, and he may get something. I confess, dear Ernst, that he would suit Louise better for a husband than almost any one else, and I would willingly call him son.”

“Would you, Elise!” exclaimed the Judge, “then I suppose I must prepare myself to do the same. You have had most trouble, most labour, with the children, and you have, therefore, most to say in their affairs.”

“You are so good, Ernst,” said Elise.

“Say reasonable nothing more than reasonable,” said he; “beyond this I have the belief that our thoughts and our inclinations do not differ much. I confess that I consider Louise as a great treasure, and I know nobody whom, of my own will, I would confer her upon; still, if Jacobi obtains her affections, I could not find in my heart to oppose a union between them, although, on account of his uncertain prospects, it would make me anxious. I am much attached to Jacobi, and on Henrik’s account we have much to thank him for. His excellent heart, his honesty, his good qualities, will make him as good a citizen as husband and father, and he belongs at the same time to that class of persons with whom it is most pleasant to have daily intercourse. But, God forbid! I am talking just as if I wished the union, and I am a long way from that yet. I would much rather keep my daughters with me as long as they could feel themselves happy with me; but when girls grow up, one cannot reckon on peace. I wish all wooers and question-askers at Jericho! Now, we could live here as in a kingdom of heaven, since we have got all into such nice order some little improvements, it is true, I could yet make, though things are well enough, if we could be at peace. I have been thinking that we could so easily make a wardrobe. See on this side, in the wall; don’t you think that if we here opened Heavens! are you already asleep, my dear?”