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

PETREA TO IDA.

From my Hermitage in the Garret.

“‘Illusions! Illusions!’ you cry over all joys, all faith, all love in life. I shout back with all my might over your own words, ’Illusions! Illusions!’ All depends upon what we fix our faith and our affections. Must the beauty of love and worth of life be at an end to woman when her first spring, her bloom of love, her moments of romance are past? No, do not believe that, Ida. Nothing in this world is such an illusion as this belief. Life is rich; its tree blossoms eternally, because it is nourished by immortal fountains. It bears dissimilar fruits, varies in colour and glory, but all beautiful; let us undervalue none of them, for all of them are capable of producing plants of eternal life.

“Youthful love the beaming passion-flower of earth! Who will belie its captivating beauty, who will not thank the Creator that he gave it to the children of earth? But ah! I will exclaim to all those who drink of its nectar, and to those who must do without it ’There are flowers which are as noble as this, and which are less in danger than it of being paled by the frosts of the earth flowers from whose chalices also you may suck life from the life of the Eternal!’

“Ah! if we only understood how near to us Providence has placed the fountains of our happiness if we had only understood this from the days of our childhood upwards, acted upon it, and profited by it, our lives would then seldom lead through dry wildernesses! Happy are those children whose eyes are early opened by parents and home to the rich activity of life. They will then experience what sweetness and joy and peace can flow out of family relationships, out of the heartfelt union between brothers and sisters, between parents and children: and they will experience how these relations, carefully cherished in youth, will become blessings for our maturer years.

“You pray me to speak of my home and my family. But when I begin with this subject, who can say, Ida, whether I shall know how to leave off! This subject is so rich to me, so dear and yet how weak will not my description be, how lifeless in comparison with the reality!

“The dwelling-house which may be said to have the same relation to home as the body has to the soul arisen, now out of its ashes, stands on the same place on which, twelve years ago, it was burnt down. I wish you had been with me yesterday in the library at breakfast. It was Leonore’s birthday, and the family had occasioned her a surprise by a little gift which was exactly according to her taste ornament combined with convenience. It was an insignificant gift wherefore then did it give us all so much pleasure? wherefore were there sweet tears in her pious eyes, and in ours also? We were all so still, and yet we felt that we were very happy happy because we mutually loved one another, and mutually pleased one another so much. The sun shone at that time into the room and see, Ida! this sunbeam which shines day by day into the house is the best image of its state; it is that which chases hence all darkness, and turns all shadows into the glorification of its light!

“I will now, lively Ida, talk to you some little about the daughters of the house, and in order that you may not find my picture too sentimental, I will introduce first to you ’Honour to whom honour is due!’

‘OUR ELDEST,’

well known for industry, morality, moral lecturing, cathedral airs, and many good properties. She married eleven years ago upon a much smaller than common capital of worldly wealth; but both she and her husband knew how to turn their pound to account, and so, by degrees, their house, under her careful hands, came to be what people call a well-to-do house.

“Eight wild Jacobis during this time sprung up in the house without bringing about any revolution in it, so good were the morals which they drew in with the mother’s milk. I call them the ‘Berserkers,’ because when I last saw them they were perfect little monsters of strength and swiftness, and because we shall rely upon their prowess to overturn certain planks of which more anon; on which account I will inspire them and their mother beforehand with a certain old-gothic ambition.

“So now! After the married couple had kept school eleven years he instructing the boys in history, Latin, and such like; and she washing, combing, and moralising the same, and in fact, becoming a mother to many a motherless boy, it pleased the mercy of the Almighty to call them not directly to heaven, but through his angel the Consistorium to the pastoral care of the rural parish adjoining this town the highest goal of their wishes ever since they began to have wishes one with another. Their approaching journey here has given rise to great pleasure it is hard to say in which of the two families the greatest. Thus, then, Louise will become a pastor’s wife perhaps soon also an archdeacon’s, and then she arrives at the desired situation in which she can impart moral lectures with power of which sister Petrea might have the benefit of a good part, and pay it back with interest.

“But the moral lectures of our eldest have a much milder spirit than formerly, which is owing to the influence of Jacobi; for it has occurred in their case, as in the case of many another happily-married couple, they have ennobled one another; and it is a common saying in our family, that she without him would not have become what she now is, neither would he have been without her what he now is.

“The Rose of the Family, the daughter Eva, had once in her life a great sorrow a bitter conflict; but she came forth victorious. True it is that an angel stood by her side and assisted her. Since then she has lived for the joy of her family and her friends, beautiful, and amiable, and happy, and has from time to time rejected lovers; but she may soon be put out of the position to continue this course. I said that an angel stood beside her in the bitter conflict. There was a time when this angel was an ugly, uncomfortable girl, a trouble to herself, and properly beloved by none. But there is no one in the family now who is more beloved or more in favour than she is. Never, through the power of God, did there take place a greater change than in her. Now it gives one pleasure to look at her and to be near her. Her features, it is true, have not improved themselves, nor has her complexion become particularly red-and-white; but she has become lovely, lovely from the heartfelt expression of affection and intelligence; beautiful from the quiet, unpretending grace of her whole being. Her only pretension is that she will serve all and help all; and thus has she attached every one, by degrees, to her, and she is become the heart, the peace of the house; and, for herself, she has struck deep root down into the family, and is become happy through all these charms. She has attached herself, in the closest manner, to her sister Eva, and these two could not live separated from each other.

“You know the undertaking which these two sisters, while yet young, commenced together. You know also how well it succeeded; how it obtained confidence and stability, and how it won universal respect for its conductors, and how also, after a course of ten years independent of this institution they had realised a moderate income; so that they can, if they are so disposed, retire from it, and it will still continue to prosper under the direction of Annette P., who was taken as assistant from the beginning, and who in respect of character and ability has proved herself a person of rare worth. The name of the sisters Frank stood estimably at the head of this useful establishment; but it is a question whether it would have prospered to such an extent, whether it would have developed itself so beautifully and well without the assistance of a person who, however, has carefully concealed his activity from the eye of the public, and whose name, for that reason, was never praised. Without Assessor Munter’s unwearied care and assistance so say the sisters the undertaking could never have gone forward. What a wonderful affectionate constancy lies in the soul of this man! He has been, and is still, the benefactor of our family; but if you would see and hear him exasperated, tell him so, and see how he quarrels with all thanks to himself. The whole city is now deploring that it is about to lose him. He is going to reside on his estate in the country, for it is impossible that he could sustain much longer the way in which he is at present overworked both night and day. His health has for some time evidently declined, and we rejoice that he can now take some rest, by which he may regain new strength. We all love him from our hearts; but one of us has set on foot a plot to oblige another of us to ally herself with him, and therefore our good Assessor is now exposed to a secret proceeding, which but I forget that I was to write about the daughters of the family.

“There is a peculiar little world in the house a world into which nothing bad can enter where live flowers, birds, music, and Gabriele. The morning would lose its sweetest charms, if during the same Gabriele’s birds and flowers did not play a part, and the evening twilight would be duskier if it were not enlivened by Gabriele’s guitar and songs. Her flower-stand has extended itself by degrees into an orangery not large to be sure, but yet large enough to shelter a beautiful vine, which is now covered with grapes, and many beautiful and rare plants also, so as to present to the family a little Italy, where they may enjoy all the charms of the south, in the midst of a northern winter. A covered way leads from the dwelling-house down into the orangery, and it is generally there that in winter they take their afternoon coffee. The aviary is removed thither; and there upon a table covered with a green cloth, lie works on botany, together with the writings of the Swedish gardening society, which often contain such interesting articles. There stand two comfortable armed chairs, on which the most magnificent birds and flowers are worked, you can easily imagine for whom. There my mother sits gladly, and reads or looks at her ‘little lady’ (she never grows out of this appellation) as she tends her flowers in the sun, or plays with her tame birds. One may say, in fact, that Gabriele strews the evening of her mother’s days with flowers.

“A man dear to the Swedish heart has said, ’that the grand natural feature of northern life is a conquered winter,’ and this applies equally to life individually, to family life, and to that of human nature. It so readily freezes and grows stiff, snow so readily falls upon the heart; and winter makes his power felt as much within as without the house. In order to keep it warm within, in order that life may flourish and bloom, it is needful to preserve the holy fire everburning. Love must not turn to ashes and die out; if it do, then all is labour and heaviness, and one may as well do nothing but sleep. But if fire be borrowed from heaven, this will not happen; then will house and heart be warm, and life bloom incessantly, and a thousand causes will become rich sources of joy to all. If it be so within the house then may it snow without then winter thou mayst do thy worst!

“But I return to Gabriele, whose lively wit and joyous temper, united to her affectionate and innocent heart, make her deservedly the favourite of her parents, and the joy of every one. She asserts continually her own good-for-nothingness, her uselessness, and incorrigible love to a sweet ‘far niente;’ but nobody is of her opinion in this respect, for nobody can do without her, and one sees that when it is necessary, she can be as decided and as able as any one need be. It is now some time since Gabriele made any charades. I almost fancy that the cause of this is a certain Baron L., who was suspected for a long time of having set fire to a house, and who now is suspected of a design of setting fire to a heart, and who, with certain words and glances, has put all sorts of whims into her head I will not say heart.

“And so then we have nothing bad to say of ‘this Petrea,’ as one of the friends of the house still calls her, but no longer in anger. This Petrea has had all kind of botherations in the world: in the first place with her own nose, with which she could not get into conceit, and then with various other things, as well within her as without her, and for a long time it seemed as if her own world would never come forth out of chaos.

“It has however. With eyes full of grateful tears I will dare to say this, and some time I may perhaps more fully explain how this has been done. And blessed be the home which has turned back her wandering steps, has healed the wounds of her heart, and has offered her a peaceful haven, an affectionate defence, where she has time to rest after the storms, and to collect and to know herself. Without this home, without this influence, Petrea certainly might have become a witch, and not, as now, a tolerably reasonable person.

“You know my present activity, which, whilst it conducts me deeper into life, discovers to me more beauty, more poetry, than I had ever conceived of it in the dreams of my youth. Not merely from this cause, although greatly owing to it, a spring has began to blossom for me on the other side of my thirty years, which, were it ever to wither, would be from my own fault. And if even still a painful tear may be shed over past errors or present faults; if the longing after what is yet unattainably better, purer, and brighter, may occasion many a pang what matters it? What matter if the eye-water burn, so that the eye only become clear; if heaven humiliate, so that it only draw us upwards?

“One of Petrea’s means of happiness is, to require very few of the temporal things of earth. She regards such things as nearly related to the family of illusions, and will, on that account, have as little as possible to do with them. And thus has she also the means of obtaining for herself many a hearty and enduring pleasure. I will not, however, be answerable for her not very soon being taken by a frenzy of giving a feast up in her garret, and thereby producing all kinds of illusions; such, for example, as the eating little cakes, the favourite illusion of my mother, and citron-souffle, the almost perfect earthly felicity of ‘our eldest,’ in which a reconciliation skal with the frenzy-feast might be proposed to her beloved ‘eldest.’

“Would you now make a summa summarum of Petrea’s state, it stands thus: that which was a fountain of disquiet in her is now become a fountain of quiet. She believes in the actuality of life, and in her own part therein. She does not allow her peace to be disturbed by accidental troubles, be they from within or from without; she calls them mist-clouds, passing storms, after which the sun will come forth again. And should her little garret tumble to pieces one of these days, she would regard even that as a passing misfortune, and hold herself ready, in all humility to mount up yet a little higher.

“But enough of Petrea and her future ascension.

“Yet one daughter dwelt in the family, and her lovely image lives still in the remembrance of all, but a mourning veil hangs over it; for she left home, but not in peace. She was not happy, and for many years her life is wrapped in darkness. People think that she is dead; her friends have long believed so, and mourned her as such; but one among them believes it not. I do not believe that she is dead. I have a strong presentiment that she will return; and it would gladden me to show her how dear she is to me. I have built plans for her future with us, and I expect her continually, or else a token where I may be able to find her; and be it in Greenland or in Arabia Deserta whence her voice calls me, I will find out a way to her.

“I would that I could now describe to you the aged pair, to whom all in the house look up with love and reverence, who soon will have been a wedded couple forty years, and who appear no longer able to live the one without the other but my pen is too weak for that. I will only venture upon a slight outline sketch. My father is nearly seventy years old but do you think he indulges himself with rest? He would be extremely displeased if he were to sleep longer in a morning than usual: he rises every morning at six, it being deeply impressed upon him to lose as little of life as possible. It is unpleasant to him that his declining sight compels him now to less activity. He likes that we should read aloud to him in an evening, and that romances. My mother smilingly takes credit to herself for having seduced him to that kind of reading; and he confesses, with smiles, that it is really useful for old people, because it contributes to preserve the heart young. For the rest, he is in all respects equally, perhaps more, good, more noble-hearted than ever; and from that cause he is to us equally respect-inspiring and dear. Oh, Ida, it is a happy feeling to be able intrinsically to honour and love those who have given us life!

“And now must I, with a bleeding heart, throw a mournful shadow over the bright picture of the house, and that shadow comes at the same time from a beautiful image from my mother! I fear, I fear, that she is on the way to leave us! Her strength has been declining for two years. She has no decided malady, but she becomes visibly weaker and feebler, and no remedy, as yet, has shown itself availing for her. They talk now of the air of next spring of Selzer-water, and a summer journey; my father would travel to the world’s end with her they hope with certainty that she will recover; she hopes so herself, and says smilingly yes, to the Selzer-water, and the journey, and all that we propose; says she would gladly live with us, that she is happy with us, yet nevertheless there is a something about her, and even in her smiles, that tells me that she herself does not cherish full faith in the hope which she expresses. Ah! when I see daily her still paler countenance; the unearthly expression in her gentle features when I perceive her ever slower gait, as she moves about, still arranging the house and preparing little gratifications for her family; then comes the thought to me that she perhaps will soon leave us, and it sometimes is difficult to repress my tears.

“But why should I thus despair? Why not hope like all the rest? Ah, I will hope, and particularly for the sake of him who, without her, could no more be joyful on earth. For the present she is stronger and livelier than she has been for a long time. The arrival of Louise and her family have contributed to this, as also another day of joy which is approaching, and which has properly reference to my father. She goes about now with such joy of heart, with the almanack in her hand, and prepares everything, and thinks of everything for the joyful festival. My father has long wished to possess a particular piece of building land which adjoins our little garden, in order to lay it out for a great and general advantage; but he has sacrificed so much for his children, that he has nothing remaining wherewith to carry out his favourite plan. His children in the mean time have, during the last twelve years, laid by a sum together, and now have latterly borrowed together what was wanting for the purchase of the land. On the father’s seventieth birthday therefore, with the joint help of the ‘Berserkers,’ will the wooden fence be pulled down, and the genius of the new place, represented by the graceful figure of Gabriele, will deliver over to him the purchase-deed, which is made out in his name. How happy he will be! Oh, it makes us all happy to think of it! How he will clear away, and dig, and plant! and how it will gladden and refresh his old age. May he live so long that the trees which he plants may shake their leafy branches over his head, and may their rustling foretel to him the blessing, which his posterity to the third and fourth generation will pronounce upon his beneficent activity.

“I would speak of the circle of friends which has ever enclosed our home most cordially, of the new Governor Stejernhoek and his wife, whom we like so much, and whose removal here was particularly welcome to my father, who almost sees a son in him. I would speak also of the servants of the house, who are yet more friends than servants but I fear extending my letter to too great a length.

“Perhaps you blame me secretly for painting my picture in colours too uniformly bright, perhaps you will ask, ’Come there then not into this house those little knocks, disturbances, rubs, overhastinesses, stupidities, procrastinations, losses, and whatever those spiritual mosquitoes may be called, which occasion by their stings irritation, unquiet, and vexation, and whose visits the very happiest families cannot avoid?’

“Yes, certainly. They come, but they vanish as quickly as they come, and never leave a poisonous sting behind, because a universal remedy is employed against them, which is called ‘Forgive, forget, amend!’ and which the earlier applied the better, and which makes also the visits of these ugly fiends of rarer occurrence; they come, indeed, in pure and mild atmospheres never properly forth.

“Would you, dearest Ida, be convinced of the truth of the picture, come here and see for yourself. We should all like it so much. Come, and let our house provide for you the divertisement, perhaps also the rest which is so needful to your heart. Come, and believe me, Ida, that when one observes the world from somewhat of an elevation as for instance, a garret one sees illusions like mist, passing over the earth, but above it heaven vaulting itself in eternal brightness.”