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The Deacon

By Mary Howarth


” Can flowers that breathe one little day
In odorous sweetness life away,
And wavering to the earth decay,

Have any claim to rank with her,
Warmed in whose soul impulses stir,
Then bloom to goodness ; and aver

Her worth through spheral joys shall move
When suns and systems cease above,
And nothing lives but perfect Love ? ”

BEST described in the words used by Thomas Woolner to
express his Beautiful Lady, ” A wild-rose blossom of the
wood ” is Johanna. For her loveliness was rarely simple ; her
mind was rarely pure. Happy the man—so one would think—
who should snatch her from the bush, and in his bosom wear her.

Nevertheless Johanna when she married him who to her had
been her heart s rest from the day on which she first of all saw
him, married one in whose brightest moments but a faint concep-
tion of her wonderful beauties was apparent to himself. If


                        256 The Deacon

Johanna was satisfied however, shall it be for any one else to cavil ?
And she was. God in His heaven knows and gladdens over the
rapture of Johanna. To few only is such power to love given ;
to those for whom the angels and the great God care most

There is on earth no joy to be compared with this of perfect
love, save one. And that one, that joy transcending all others, is
when such love is met with such love.

Johanna knew not that joy. Hers was on her own side only.
And therein is the essence of its wondrous pathos, which is indeed
very, very great. But it may be hoped that her mind was blind
to the lack. It may be hoped that she never recognised that her
husband many and many a time bitterly resented his marriage, or
that to it he traced the downfall of his early ambitions.

She, at least, was absolutely and entirely satisfied.


The deacon sat in the schoolroom and looked over a sheet of paper
he held in his hand. It was covered with notes, and was indeed
a synopsis of what he meant to say in church that day, when upon
the occasion of his last appearance at Helga, where he had taught
the children for three years, the priest would address a public fare-
well to him and he would have to reply.

” My friends,” he read in a low voice, ” my brethren, I am
sorry to leave you. But first let me thank you for your kind
words and good wishes. I have tried here in Helga to be a faith-
ful servant to my church and country ; to teach the children as
the State commands, to conduct such services as my priest dictated,
and to make myself unto you what I could of comfort and solace.


                        By Mary Howarth 257

Now I am going further into the world to teach others, to pray
with strangers, to comfort and to solace those whom, so far, I have
not seen and do not know.”

” Hjorth, Hjorth, the breakfast is ready, and here have I invited
Lauritz and Pauline to come in. They were so anxious to see
the deacon eat ! Little curiosities ! have they never seen anyone
eat before ? ”

It was the cheery voice of Karen, the woman who came in in
the morning to clean the schoolhouse and prepare the deacon’s

Hjorth folded up the sheet of paper over which he had hastily
glanced to the end, and, crying out that he would be in the kitchen
immediately, set about to clear away the writing materials he had
been using.

From the outer room came the chatter of young voices, and the
deacon, glancing out of the high window in the schoolroom, saw
that a number of his pupils were congregated about the door.

” They have made you some fancy gardens,” called Karen, ” the
children, I mean. You must come and see them before they fade.
What is in them, Pauline ? Speak up ; the deacon will not chide.
Hjorth, do you hear ? ”

” I hear,” said the deacon.

” Well then, Pauline, what is in them ? “

” There is ling,” piped a small, timid voice.

” And sweet gale,” shouted a bolder one.

” I got the purple loose-strife down by the river and the grass
of Parnassus came from the meadow,” cried a child outside the

” And you remember the name, which is more,” shouted Karen,
approvingly, and glancing at Hjorth, who at that moment appeared
in the kitchen.

The Yellow Book—Vol. VIII. P


                        258 The Deacon

The deacon smiled. His was a serious face, a good deal covered
with black hair, which contrasted strongly with his white com-
plexion and pale grey eyes. When he smiled his expression became
kind and indulgent. He knew this, and sometimes smiled instead
of speaking, a plan that saved him trouble and was effective.

A small, fat, and solemn boy of seven, and a sprightly and
coquettish damsel of four, advanced shyly to the breakfast table
in response to his invitation. Usually quite a home with their
teacher—a due allowance being made for the awe in which they
held his office—they displayed a newly-acquired timidity upon
this occasion. Not even encouraging remarks from Karen, and
an unlimited supply of pancakes added to the usual Norwegian
breakfast fare of smoked salmon, cheese, and flat-brod, sufficed to
put them quite at their ease. They felt towards the deacon that
odd degree of strangeness that forces itself upon one in one’s rela-
tions towards anybody who has been very familiar and is destined
shortly to enter upon another sphere. Thus the sister who is
going to be married, the brother who has accepted an appointment
abroad, the friend who has won distinction from the outer world,
become momentarily some one unknown. The difference disturbs
the old sympathy, but, of course, only quite fleetingly, and is
recognised merely by those whose temperaments cause them to be
hyper-sensitive to such impressions, as children are.

Lauritz and Pauline, moreover, were aware of their own
importance upon the occasion, and were the observed of many
observers, who clustered about the half-opened door and took turns
to peep into the kitchen. This in itself was sufficient to make
them self-conscious and shy. Every time the deacon looked in
that direction there was a fresh little face, a little pale-haired crown,
a couple of pink cheeks, a pair of blue eyes, and a moist open little


                        By Mary Howarth 259

How anxious and inquisitive their expression was at first ! But
they smiled when their master smiled on them, and withdrew their
heads rapidly after the smile.

When breakfast was over, and he had passed outside with
Lauritz and Pauline to admire the mimic gardens the children
had made for him in the sandy soil before the school, Hjorth
dismissed them and bent his steps towards the sea-shore. He
desired to be alone. He wanted to exult once more in the sensa-
tions of the occasion, and to picture again to himself the scene
that was shortly to take place in the church, in which he would
be the man of the hour. Accustomed as he was to live alone,
this habit of introspective and anticipatory imagination had grown
upon him. Whenever he was strongly moved he craved for
solitude and an opportunity to think the whole situation through,
just as urgently as other men crave for the companionship and
sympathy of a dearly loved friend, into whose ears they can tell,
perhaps in a fragmentary way, perhaps fully, as best suits their
needs, all that is in their hearts.

The young deacon would not have felt himself so satisfying if he
had not been true to himself. Mistaken and foolish he was, perhaps,
but at least in his way he was honest.

He almost ran to the shore ; he was so anxious to get to a
certain place where he knew he should be absolutely alone. He
found it. It was a high promontory jutting out into the open
ocean, from which he could see, as he stood looking landwards
upon his left, a wild shallow bay of sand, upon his right a jagged
outline of sea-fringe, one mass of rocks, and then as far as the
horizon pile after pile of strange boulder hills, like an exaggerated
lava field, melting away above the sandy bay into a waving plain
of wild moorland.

He was absolutely alone ; the one human thing in a great in-


                        260 The Deacon

animate world. He had purposely chosen for such moments this
desolate spot, because from it not even a human habitation could
be seen.

Conqueror of the universe, full to overflowing of majesty and
power, conscious even to sorrow of his own omnipotence, he stood
there and gazed around him. The youth, the strength, the
ambition, the perseverance, the dauntlessness within him joined
with the beautiful exhilaration of the air to produce a feeling of
majestic supremacy. There was the world before him ; there
was he, imperial.

His mind went back a little. He had caught the day before,
while he officiated at the funeral of an old man from the fjelds, a
transitory impression that had pleased him. It was while he
headed the procession and chanted the scriptural sentences that
came at the beginning of the service. Between him and the
coffin placed on its shabby bier, a farm trolly, and pulled by a
mountain pony, had come on foot the old man’s near relations, and
next after them all the crowd of followers that could be collected
from the country-side. The dirge-like chant was familiar enough
to him to permit his thoughts to wander while he sang, but
because he had had to lead the procession over the pathless meads
he had not been able to follow up his ideas so carefully and absorb
ingly as here on this rocky promontory. The particularly grati-
fying one that he had caught and stowed away for future enjoyment
was a strange mixture qf the sensations of the moment. He
had left it for absorbing contemplation until a more convenient
season. He had thought he was looking inside that rude coffin
and gazing upon the seamed, grey face of the aged man, pathetic
in its image of care, yet beautiful exceedingly in its meek-
ness and patience. And without knowing at the moment
why he thus spoke, he thought he had quoted these words :

                                                ” God,

                        By Mary Howarth 261

” God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are—or even
as this.”

He had been pleased. Yes ; he had been pleased. Dwelling
over it now it seemed to bear a fantastic, indeed a blasphemous
significance. Why had he been pleased ? He must know.
Gazing around once more with arms stretched out in yearning
love for the prospect and what it meant to him, he recognised that
for the life within him, glorious, promising, full of possibilities
of God only knew what greatness and joy, he had been
rapturously happy that he was not as that corpse : a dead man
after a life of much and grinding misery, such as the constant
struggle for existence implies for the labourer in a sterile

Heaven be praised, he was not as that cold clay, but young
and strong and lusty, free as the ocean behind him, strong as the
hills before him, and full, full, full to the lips, of vivid pulsing

Sorry ? Was he sorry to be leaving this place where there
were less than a dozen houses, for the town where they reckoned
them by hundreds ? He knew he was not sorry.

Was he sorry for one moment to leave anyone in it ; any single
person, beautiful Johanna for example, with her red rose mouth,
her pink cheeks melting in a rich cream, her chestnut hair with
the love locks curling tendril-wise upon her brow ? Would there
be one pang for her ? He passed down from the promontory to
the shore, and from the shore to the road, with his mind strangely
fixed upon Johanna, meeting and greeting many families in
carrioles and stolkjaerres, and on horse-back, who were on their
way to the church.

Not that he had encouraged the thought of her habitually.
Indeed it was she who had encouraged him. She had what he


                        262 The Deacon

called taken a fancy to him, and a very embarrassing fancy it had
been, displayed in bunches of flowers and bowls of wild fruit
which she had deposited upon his desk, when she brought her little
cousins Pauline and Lauritz to school. He had been compelled
to be almost rude when she ran after him across the mead one
evening, to tell him that the fish were rising in a favourite pool,
and to imply a lie when he remarked that that was no business of
his. Also he had purposely neglected her flowers, and pushed the
bowls of fruit aside.

No ; he should not regret Johanna for a moment. She was a
forward child ; just that.

So during the service that came next he paid no more attention
to Johanna Tubering than a deacon should to any member of the
congregation. Neither did he think less of his own vastly im-
portant share in the ceremony. He was conscious all the while
that he was the cynosure of every eye there, and when he stood
up to answer the priest, who in a few fatherly words had bade him
God-speed in his own name and that of the people, the very
modesty and repression of his demeanour was the result of a care-
fully thought out and cultivated attitude of mind and manner,

Johanna’s eyes, on the contrary, were frankly turned towards
him throughout the ceremony. She sat with her aunt and the
other women on the left side of the church ; the men occupying
the pews upon the right. She thought of nothing, this child
Johanna, but that he was going, and would God bless him ? ” Oh,
God, Father in Heaven, bless him, I pray Thee. Oh, my God,
bless him. Oh, Saviour Christ, I beseech Thee to bless him,
Dear God, bless him.” Such were her prayers, what time the
old priest besought the Lord for all sorts and conditions of

And below the oft-repeated supplication came the accompanying


                        By Mary Howarth 263

added plea : ” Oh, God, I do so love him. If it may be that
Thou wilt bless him because I love him so dearly, do so I pray
Thee. Amen.”

She seemed to think that the God she loved would care more
for him because she loved him. God was to her a personality ;
a kind, loving Father, indulgent to His daughters, because He
loved them. Nine times out of ten she did not add the greatest
importunement of all : for Christ’s sake.

She had it in her mind that she herself went hand in hand with


It transpired that Hjorth did not immediately settle in the town
whither he had been sent. Directly he got there he was despatched
to a hamlet up country, where he was to combine the duties of
schoolmaster and deacon during the absence of the priest. It
happened that the praestegaard or parsonage was being thoroughly
overhauled ; something very wrong had been discovered respecting
its drainage. The priest was therefore lodged in the inn, where
the deacon joined him, for there were many matters upon which
the elder man found it necessary to confer with the younger before
his departure.

The deacon now discovered what a strangely desolate life he
had led in that little sea-coast Helga. He had not recognised
while he was there in the middle of the children that he was so
alone. He found himself among these people dizzy with their
talk. Existence seemed to him a dream and not reality. It was
the ending of the tourist season, and there were several English in
the house. If it had been the height of the season the poor man
would certainly have lost his head. As it was, he went a long way
towards doing so.


                        264 The Deacon

After his first shyness had worn off he began to take note of
his companions, and immediately became interested in a certain
young lady who was the governess of some children staying in the
hotel. Had he been told that the cause of his interest in her was
hers in him, he would not have believed it. Hjorth was a man
who was thoroughly imbued with a sense of his own originality.

It all came about after she had asked him to be so kind as to
pass the sugar at “aftens,” the evening meal corresponding to
English high tea. A little discussion ensued as to the Norwegian
for sugar, in which the children, her charges, joined. Hjorth,
who, of course, like every educated Norsemen, could speak English,
instructed them in the word, and then they asked for bread, tea,
coffee, and eggs, all of which he translated for them.

The governess laughed merrily with the children. The
languages were exactly alike, they declared.

Afterwards he met her now and then, taking walks by herself
or with the little girls. Amy Travis contrived that they should
meet alone not seldom. She on her side was interested in him.

She used to draw him out. She was a creature of impulses and
fads, and her fad at the moment was Norway. During the season
that she had just passed in London with the family with whom
she lived, she had taken every opportunity that presented itself of
going to the theatre to see the Ibsen plays. She had read what
she had not seen acted, and was really grateful to the Norwegian
writer, declaring that he had given her a taste for the reading of
drama, and that since she had known Ibsen and not till then, she
had been able to read and enjoy Shakespeare. The deacon was to
her a very romantic object. Moreover he seemed to be much in
the same position that she occupied—a subordinate one. She felt
for him. The mind that is essentially mediocre kicks continually
against the subordinate, though it never rises beyond it. Hjorth,


                        By Mary Howarth 265

to do him justice, did not feel this. But he felt something else
keenly. It was being borne in upon him that he ached for sym-
pathy ; that so far he had only been half a creature ; that he must
have the completion of himself. What has been already said
about Miss Amy Travis ought to be sufficient to show that he
was frightfully over-sanguine, indeed utterly mistaken, in imagin-
ing that in her he would find his other soul side. This girl would
never in her then condition penetrate further than the eyes and
the heart of a man. She was pretty and her manner was
attractive. But good as these two attributes undoubtedly are,
they go but a short way in the formation of that marriage of true
minds that is of all unions the most perfect and enduring on God’s

He talked to her about Ibsen, rallying her gently upon her
enthusiasm, for one whom he, in company with many of his
countrymen, called brain-sick. Nevertheless he spent some hours
of each night reading him up in Norsk, so that in the daytime
he could compare vexed passages with Miss Amy and, if it might
be, explain to her items that had puzzled her, or rather that had
puzzled wiser heads in London, Miss Amy having read in the
newspapers concerning these disputed lines and appropriated unto
herself the bewilderments they expressed. It was significant of
the girl’s mind that they never discussed Ibsen’s theories or ethics.
Amy Travis deduced nothing from what she read, and had there-
for nothing to say upon such topics. But Hjorth did not detect
this. Indeed, he would have been shocked had the girl started
the subject of say heredity with him, or of the rights of men to
suicide, or of other weighty matters shut out from the considera-
tion of women. Had the girl overstepped by half an inch the
limits his inherited convictions set for her, he, the deacon, who
was to be a priest, would have been repulsed instantly. Yet he


                        266 The Deacon

craved the other soul side of him ; fiercely, eagerly. It is impos-
sible to laugh at Hjorth. One does not laugh at a baby who
fondly imagines it has got the moon it cried for, when it is given
an indiarubber ball.

The people in the hotel began to take an interest in the pair.
Trust Norwegians for curiosity. They are one of the most
inquisitive people on the earth’s surface, as inquisitive as the Welsh.
That is where the old romance of their forefathers comes in. It is
what it has worked round to. Now that the ancient days of the
Vikings are over, with all that they brought of glorious sensation-
stirring deeds, the people have to amuse themselves. So they
weave all sorts of romances about other people, feeding their ideas,
or setting them in the right direction, by inquisitive questions.
It is an innocent form of amusement. They are not spiteful.
But not comprehending this national weakness, when to her ears
the general gossip came, Amy Travis’s mistress—shall we call her ?
—spoke to the girl laughingly :

” You are making him worship the very ground you tread on,”
she said. And then she adjured her to remember Ernest.

Whereupon the bright-faced girl also laughed and shook her
head merrily. But at the same time she hated her employer
a little more than she had done before, for her unwarrantable

When once Hjorth got an idea into his head, it consumed him.
He was so passionately constituted, a man of such wildness of
disposition, just the sort to rise to any height. Had he not felt
unconquerable out there on the rocks at Helga ? It is never given
to any one to feel master of the world for nothing. It is a sign of
the will that is indomitable, the best attribute, if all others are
equal, a man or a woman can possess. Yes, a woman also. Hjorth
waited long enough therefore to sound himself only ; not to think


                        By Mary Howarth 267

of her and whether she manifested any show of feeling that should
lead him to suppose she really cared for him. And then he

They were standing together beneath the flag-staff on a
promontory outside the hotel overlooking the lake deep down
below them, and on the other side of the valley the glacier
mountain, part of the way up which they had all that day walked
to see the reindeer cows with their young come down to feed.
It was evening. Amy Travis, in her romantic, high-flown way,
had been telling Hjorth that a party of republican Norsemen who
had been at the inn that day, had said to the manageress that
they hoped next time they came, a pure flag would be flying
instead of the one there was then. What they meant by a pure
flag was the Norwegian without the quarterings of Sweden in the

” And I hope so too,” the girl added, raising her face, so that
the wind blew full upon it. ” This land is too beautiful and too
free to stand yoked. It should be alone ; independent, sole.”

Hjorth stood and admired her. What joy she had in Norway !
How pleasant it was to be so appreciated !

” Yes,” he said, meditatively yet modestly, ” it is a beautiful
land. I am glad you like it.”

” And for why ? ”

” Because I want you to stay in it,” he answered immediately.
” Because I ask you to remain in it—to be my wife, Miss Travis.
That is why.”

It was an open place this, that had shaped itself into his arena
for declaration, and, so far, the dusk of the evening was not suffi-
ciently thick to veil their proceedings. Amy Travis took the situa-
tion in at a flash. Her presence of mind was wonderful. She laughed
a low little laugh, half frightened, half encouraging, stepped


                        268 The Deacon

just the minutest way from him, turned half round on her heel
and spoke :

” What,” she said, ” become a priest’s wife ; out here in
Norway—live in the praestegaard, or not that even ; surely you
are only a deacon so far ?—in the little house behind the schoolroom ?
And in time—perhaps—in time to improve into someone like Frue
Margetson, with her sad, wrinkled face and eager, anxious eyes,
Do you ask me to do this, Herr Hjorth ? ”

” I ask you to be my wife,” he repeated, ignoring the chance
she gave him of tacking away from the serious side of the subject.
He spoke sullenly. The prescience of disappointment was upon
him. Amy Travis turned half towards him and then back before
she spoke.

” Surely you must have known ; surely this must have told
you that I am already engaged,” she asked, holding forth her
left hand and touching a single ring that adorned the third
finger of it.

The deacon shuddered. Here indeed was a blow.

” No, no, I did not,” he stammered, ” the ring told me nothing.
We wear it on the right hand here in Norway.”

” I am sorry,” said the girl ; and then she turned from him in
real earnest and left him standing there beside the flag-staff, where
he continued to stand until the inn-porter came and hauled the
flag down, and the deacon strode off to the house.

This episode annoyed him terribly. His pride was so abased
that he assured himself he had been outrageously badly treated.

It seemed to him so monstrous that a man who was going to be
a priest should be made the subject of a frivolous girl s flirtation.
He was now as enraged with Amy Travis and her attentions as
before he had been flattered by them. It was pretty generally the
feeling in the hotel also that he had been badly treated. They


                        By Mary Howarth 269

looked upon the deacon as a raw young schoolmaster set in a
position above his rights. The mistress of Amy Travis was very
justly vexed with the girl’s conduct, and threatened to tell Ernest
the whole circumstances. But her husband, to whom she confided
her anger, remembering the lad Ernest, and thinking of him
with compassion, counselled her to let Amy bear her own burdens
and Ernest his as he met them. This was after it had leaked out
in the house that the deacon had proposed to Amy, which of
course it did when it became known that that very evening Hjorth
had removed all his belongings to a farm-house a mile away, and
had apprised the priest of the fact that he could no longer stay at
the inn.

A general break-up of the party then occurred. Amy’s
employers moved on upon their travels, taking her with them ;
the priest with his sad-eyed wife left for their holiday, and Hjorth
was alone. But before he went, the priest, who on his part had
thought the deacon extremely foolish, took upon himself the task
of informing him as much. He had lived beyond his first feelings
of sympathy for the lover and disgust for the girl, and blamed
Hjorth pretty plainly for this presumptuous sin of youth, as he
termed it. Hjorth was abandoned, sore and miserable. What
wonder that his mind turned back to Johanna, the girl at Helga
farm, whose deep devotion to himself had been unmistakable ? He
locked the thought of her and her adulation in his heart, however,
struck body and soul into his work, and upon the return of the
priest to his parish, departed to the town with praises ringing in
his ears. The priest had had a holiday, one out of half a dozen
in a lifetime, and Hjorth was flourishing as young men can on
thoughts of love and what love means. Strangely enough, this
rebuff had failed to teach him its most obvious lesson. And yet
why write strangely ? A wise Norwegian proverb has it that ’tis


                        270 The Deacon

the eyes that go blind first, and another in another land that a
man is never a prophet in his own country. So the most open
book is that least read, and the moral that is more plain than
any, discovered last of all.


And now for Johanna.

The Johanna whom Hjorth had left was not the Johanna of
three weeks later. She had been only an imaginative child while
the deacon was at Helga, a child whom nature was expanding
from a lover of fairy stories and the wonderful supernatural, to a
worshipper of the human living hero. When the object of her
delightful day-dreams, of her very active and ever-present admira-
tion was withdrawn, she comprehended reality. Reality became
to her an unpleasant fact. She understood the meaning of life, and
life was sad to the girl.

It was sad to her so far as she could recognise a reason, because
she could look no further forward than the dull, uninteresting
present. Existence is very monotonous in farm life. Every day
brought her the same duties to perform ; the care of her small
cousins and of the poultry yard, the laying of the table and the
clearing up and washing of the things, needlework, more care of
the children and of the poultry yard, more needlework, and then
bed. To a nature in which environment was scarcely less actual
than the spirit of past ages, this was weariness. Johanna came
of a stock of adventurers. The blood of the Vikings coursed in
her veins, and, strangely enough, though she was a gentle maiden,
most delicately and tenderly formed, and though for generations
past her forebears had been drifting slowly and very securely into


                        By Mary Howarth 271

the haven of quiet uneventfulness in which the average modern
Norwegian passes his life, Johanna’s circumstances and Johanna’s
nature were at war with one another. Concentration was the crux
of the girl’s being. Interests spread over the domesticity of farm
life bred in her a state of hopeless ennui. She was unable to put
her desires into words ; and had any far-seeing creature, divining her
mind, suggested that she ought to have been a boy so that she
could go before the mast, or, like so many of her compatriots, to
America, she would have denied the truth of the suggestion, even
while an uneasy questioning of its sagacity troubled her.

The departure of the deacon opened her eyes to her surroundings.
Her daily duties had, while he was near, been gilded with the
beatitude of worship. From a distance she had adored. He had
mingled with her conception of God, and, unconsciously Pantheistic,
she had instilled divinity into everything. God was in the
atmosphere, so that whether there was sunshine or mist, rain or
calm, Johanna was satisfied with His likeness ; God was in the
sea, so that the life of it or the death it dealt were to her alike
acceptable ; God was about her path and around her. She was
seraphically content.

But when Hjorth went, this gracious, goodly Pantheism went
also. Atmosphere, sea, her daily tasks, all were sordid, uninteresting
facts. She saw Helga and her existence there stretch out into the
infinite. Though she was seventeen only a cruel comprehension
of decay haunted her. She noticed for the first time in her life a
darkening, weary look beneath her eyes. It seemed to her that
she was growing old. Not all of a sudden old, be it understood,
but more dismally than that, gradually old. Other signs she
looked for. She could not find them. There were no hollows on
her temples ; no doubling of her chin ; no stoop of her neck ; no
wrinkles anywhere. Nevertheless she realised that age was. She


                        272 The Deacon

would change from year to year though her life remained the
same. Oh, the intense misery of an outlook so completely hope-
less ! Johanna hated her own indifference to life. Yet life under
its new conditions seemed absorbed in indifference. She was a
human being stranded ; impotent to carve her own future ; a
vegetable just sentient enough to be conscious of vegetation.

So the summer chilled into winter. Autumn is not accounted
a season in Norway. As the days shortened and grew colder,
the stove in the farm parlour was lighted, and customs assumed
their character in keeping. Card games began in the evenings,
and there were dances now and then. The first was in honour
of the sheep-shearing. The sheep, which all through the
warm weather had been fending for themselves up in the hills
were brought down to the farm, clipped, and let loose within
its boundary. Then the farm hands made merry, and with
them their master and mistress and the friends of the family.
Johanna the year before had been in her quiet way completely
happy on this joyful occasion. It was true that the deacon was
not present. His dignity he held in too lofty an estimation to
permit him to mix thus freely with the people. But Johanna
had had the impression of him about her. So she had danced
and laughed—all quite quietly, as was her manner—and looked
fresh and light-hearted, and had assured her aunt that she had
thoroughly enjoyed herself. Perhaps most of that delicious con-
tent had been secured by her absence from Helga upon the
business of gathering the flocks upon the mountains. It was so
completely satisfying to return, knowing that he was there ;
knowing that, though upon that Saturday night in the barn he
would not be present among the merrymakers, the next morning
she would see him in church. How those Sundays were
blessed ! Only illness could deny her his presence thrice that


                        By Mary Howarth 273

day, excepting during the three months when he took travelling
school in the mountains. And Hjorth and Johanna were
never ill.

Her uncle invited her to go up with him to fetch the flocks
home again this time. She consented. The affair took them
three days. One whole day they drove up in the old family
carriole into the hills, meeting on the way scores of others on the
same errand as themselves. The next was occupied by a sorting
of the sheep (which had been driven into pens in the valley
by boys) and a village entertainment. The third saw the return
journey. Johanna took the whole occasion with more than usual
quietude. She had no disappointment to face. The blank lack
of interest that life at Helga meant for her would not, she had
felt, be dispelled by the three days’ jaunt to the hills. She had
expected no change. She accepted the listless joylessness of
existence, and did not even sigh for sorrow that such life was.
But her uncle noticed her indifference, and determined to lose no
time in settling the girl. He had already an eligible bridegroom
for her in his eye. He reminded himself of Ole Ormond. Some
sensible man like Ormond would, as the farmer put it mentally,
make all the difference to Johanna. Herr Berg knew nothing of
his niece’s passion for Hjorth. If he had, his honest heart would
have beat heavily with emotion, for Johanna was strangely,
pathetically wistful, and Berg was aware that, just as it ran in
the family to be concentrative, so did it to be constant. Without
any idea but that his niece was sad, and needed brightening, he
thought often of her mother, his sister, who, after three months
of wedded happiness had lost her husband, and had herself died a
heart-broken woman directly after Johanna’s birth. Even, how-
ever, had Berg been conscious of the reason of his niece s grief,
he must have acted as he did. For he would have felt quite sure

The Yellow Book—Vol. VIII. Q


                        274 The Deacon

that for the deacon to look at his niece was something as unlikely as
that his own little Lauritz should some day aspire to a princess of
the reigning house. It was not that the deacon was in reality
far removed in the social scale from Johanna. It was that the
deacon was Hjorth, a man of pronounced ambition, with an
exaggerated estimate of his own peculiar importance.


Never had the tragedy of being, as opposed to the comedy of
doing, been so plainly focussed on the lens of Johanna’s vision as
on the evening upon which she first made the acquaintance of
Ole Ormond. She, who had always been open-eyed to the
influences of nature, was now dominated by what was happening
about her. All was so changed with the outgoing of the Godli-
ness that had before been the essence of all she saw and was
impressed by, that she existed in a maze of mysteries. Mysteries
alarm. Johanna was intimidated. For the winter mists that
constantly rolled down the valley now, that crept up suddenly
and quietly from one point or from all, and sucked up to the very
walls of the farmhouse, seemed to be enveloping her and her life
into what she comprehended it was become. All was narrowing,
encircling closer and more close, towards a prevention of any
change or stir. The tragedy of being is bitter. Johanna’s
realisation of it came early, and found her an easy victim. The
girl had no wit for self-sacrifice. She was unaware that she might
defy the desperation of her case by declaring that, though for her
the actualities of existence were over, there should remain oppor-
tunities for benefiting others of which she would avail herself.
Tragedy with her had the fullest chance. She was devoid of the


                        By Mary Howarth 275

cunning to parry—an easy prey to the foil of cruel circumstance.
Therefore she met Ole Ormond, aware that he was the husband
intended for her, and terrified because Fate had gone against her
and was so powerful. It was Fate now, not God, that held her life.

She tightened her lips therefore, and hardened her heart in
presence of the inevitable.

As for Johanna’s uncle, when he of set purpose invited Ole
Ormond to sup with him at the farm and spend the night, he
acted, as he would have declared, entirely for his niece’s benefit.
Ormond was a thriving man. He had been the only child of his
parents, and they, too, were without relations. The farm he had
inherited had become his, then, without encumbrances. To
Johanna’s uncle—who had charged upon his estate the keeping of
two aged aunts, three sisters, and a mother, all of whom participated
according to Norwegian law, in its profits—this was a circumstance
much in Ole’s favour and to his personal advantage.

But Berg must have hesitated, for he was a humane and kindly
creature, in bringing so inflammatory a nature, so yearning a
nature, as Ormond’s, in contact with that of a girl so sweetly
fascinating as Johanna, had he guessed what Ormond was and
known Johanna’s feelings. A glance at the man would have told
a thinker of such things that Ormond was no ordinary person.
Johanna, to whom the aspect of anything was always arrestive,
looked at him again and again, with the furtive, watching gaze
of a perplexed but interested spectator, at supper upon the first
night of their meeting. Ormond’s hair was absolutely white—
thick, healthy, in generous waves, but white. His face, too, was
white, his features clearly cut and strong, his eyes dark and flashing.
The pathetic droop of his mouth betrayed him. He was a man
of intense feeling. Even while he laughed and made merry with
the house mistress, upon whom the fascination of his picturesque


                        276 The Deacon

presence was not lost, and flung answers to the observations of
his host, the impression of pathos clung to him. Johanna decided
that she liked him. He was not of a pattern with the rest of her
uncle s guests.

He stayed a week at the farm, then went away for a few days,
and then returned. Johanna treated him with absolute trust, the
affectionate trust of a little child. Ormond, on his part, fell
passionately in love with her. But this feeling he did not manifest.
There was nothing vulgar, nothing positive about his wooing. He
had been in the habit all through life of suppressing his emotions.
His intensity had been unwelcome at home to the widowed,
shrewish mother with whom he lived. So he had become used to
reserve, and, as use is second nature, had grown to like it. Though
there was about him, in his every look, his every word, his every
action, something that Johanna would have expressed as kindness
the most patent, there was nothing to tell the girl she was the
personification of all he had in his solitary life dreamed of as heaven,
the possible heaven of this earthly sphere.

There are men whom women could swear loved them unselfishly.
Their manner betokens the essence of highest, purest, least human
love. Women have wept to see such love, have laughed aloud,
with the teardrops still dewing their eyes, to find themselves mis-
taken. There came no opportunity to Johanna to change the
impression she had received of Ole Ormond. She never knew
that his way of loving her was selfish. Had she been told so she
would have been unable to believe it. Had she at last been con-
vinced, she would have been very grieved. Every action of her
immediate after-life was founded on this belief, that Ole loved her
with such completeness that he would forego all things for her
sake, voluntarily arrange all things for her happiness. Love, so she
thought, meant selflessness with Ole.


                        By Mary Howarth 277

Ormond carried his tale to his dearest’s uncle first, and the good
farmer received with acclamation the protestations of his devotion
and the recital of his means. ” They are all right,” he declared ;
“take the rest to Johanna and see if she approves.” So Ormond
took them.

Johanna consented to become his wife.

Fate was too strong to be defied.

It was then arranged that Ole should go home upon some
necessary business, that he should next proceed to the town, where
he should buy the wedding-ring, which, during her betrothal, the
Norwegian bride wears, a badge as sacred and binding as the matri-
monial circlet itself, and that upon his reappearance at the farm the
engagement should be made known and the wedding-day fixed.
There was no need to postpone the event. Ole’s house was ready,
and Johanna’s uncle was anxious to see the girl settled.

To this point matters had come when Hjorth, in his lonely
lodgings, determined to lose no more time in offering himself to
Johanna. He was weary of a solitary life, and in Vik he felt
miserably a unit.


Johanna’s uncle accompanied Ole when he left the farm ;
Johanna, therefore, and her aunt were alone with the children.

It was three mornings after the men had gone that Johanna
received a letter. There was nothing extraordinary in that, as a
circumstance, for Johanna’s schoolfellows often wrote to her.
But this letter she saw at a glance was from no schoolfellow. It
was from Hjorth. She knew his handwriting. Among her
treasures—it was her most precious—she kept a note he had sent
to her aunt, a polite refusal to one of her parties, which the irate


                        278 The Deacon

lady had thrown away in disgust. What could this letter have to
say ? Johanna’s heart beat gladly. At least here was a letter from
him. She covered the envelope with ardent kisses, but did not
open it until her early morning work was finished, and she was
free to rush away into a lonely place where no one would intrude
between her and the supreme moment of her life. She had a
letter from him. So off she ran, and to the sea of course. The
sea called to her, as it had to Hjorth, to come and be solitary, one
with the element whose voice is sympathy in sound, whose very
impersonality is strangely human, something mightier than man,
above the denizens of earth, and beneath the God of heaven. The
meadows were hard and dry, though the damp mists of autumn
still obscured the sky ; the air was very still. Johanna’s skirts as
she hurried only slightly rose with the movement of her feet ;
there was no wind to meddle with them. One hand she kept in
her pocket holding her precious letter ; with the other she pressed
the middle wire of the two fences she had to get through, passing
from the fields on to the broad sands. Her favourite rock she
gained with more than usual celerity, though it was difficult of
access. She was as nimble as a goat. Then her heart began to
beat, as it had beat when she received the letter, at first slowly with
dull thumps that she could feel, almost with pain, then more and
more quickly. The letter must ease her she felt. She drew her hand
out of her pocket with it in it, read it without ado, and instantly
started back for the farm, at a wild run, the slim page clasped in
her palm, her hand and it upon her lips.

Her aunt was in the kitchen, but Johanna called to her from the
house room and Frue Berg entered, her face reddened by the fire,
her eyes sparkling with mingled impatience and wonder at being
thus peremptorily summoned.

” Will you take me ? ” asked Johanna in a small, half-gasping


                        By Mary Howarth 279

voice, as she handed the letter to her. This is what the astonished
farmer’s wife read :


I hope you will not be displeased when you read this. I
write to ask you if you will be my wife. I am very lonely here, and
when I was at Helga I used to think you cared for me. I am going
to write to your uncle to ask him if he will allow your aunt to bring
you here to Vik. I know he has relations in the town who would
take you in, and what I desire is, if my proposition meets with your
approval, that we should be married forthwith. Of course I should
have liked to come to Helga and fetch you away myself. But this I
cannot do. Pray, then, influence your uncle to waive all ceremony,
and what you do must be done quickly. If I could be certain of
seeing you this week I should feel happier than I do now. I never
thought that in so large a town as this I could feel so much alone.
Helga was different.

        Believe me

        Yours faithfully,


Johanna only gave her amazed relative time to read to the end
of the letter, before she interrupted the exclamation she saw was
coming by this question.

” Will you take me this afternoon ? ” she pleaded. Her aunt
flushed anew, but her eyes softened and grew kind as she walked
over to the girl’s side, laid her hand on her shoulder, and looking
into her face said, gently :

” Then it was Hjorth you loved all the time. I knew it.”

Johanna did not make any reply, but she too rose, and while her
aunt went to the tall bureau in the corner of the room, pulled out
a drawer and from it took her black silk dress, Johanna fetched a
small desk, which she placed upon the table, and seated herself to


                        280 The Deacon

write a letter. It was to Ole, and in it the girl expressed quite
simply her reasons for taking the step that was to change both
their lives. She loved Hjorth, she said, and she knew that Ole
loved her so dearly that he would want her to do what pleased her
most. She added that she had known Hjorth one year for every
week that Ole had known her. The meaning of this she was
certain Ole would understand.

” I am not sure whether I should,” demurred Frue Berg, as
she eyed the white frilling in her grown, to see that it was clean.
Johanna looked back at her. She was just leaving the room for
her own.

The train leaves in half-an-hour,” she said, and went away.
” If it’s to be done, it must be done quickly,” muttered the farmer’s
wife to herself. ” I never could think matters over. And it’s a
match, quite a good and high match for Johanna. She loves the
deacon. He’ll rise in the world for certain.”

As the woman and the girl travelled to Vik, Johanna was
speechless, but her aunt was extremely voluble.

” I justify myself for what I am doing,” said she, ” by recollect-
ing the days of my own courtship. My position was exactly that
of yours, Johanna, only that in England we do not think of
betrothals so solemnly as you do here in Norway. What I said
to your uncle was that though I had been engaged to Tom Wills
for a month to please my mother, I should now consider myself.
And it ended in our making a runaway match, very much as you
are doing, my dear.”

Johanna turned her head from the window, whence she had
been gazing over the great expanse of moorland, which is a
peculiarity of that corner of the southern seaboard, and her serene
eyes met those of her aunt, who forthwith continued her rather
nervous harangue.


                        By Mary Howarth 281

“What I shall tell your uncle will be just this,” said she ;
” Johanna cares for the deacon in the same way that I cared for
you. That is why I took her off. He cannot blame me, for, if
he should do so, it will show that his love for me is dead, and
that,” she added, in lower tones, and with a gay toss of her head,
” I am sure is not the case.”

Still Johanna said nothing. She was never a girl of many
words, and this affair had the astonishing strangeness of the un-
expected about it ; that is to say, it so convinced Johanna of its
absolute positiveness that had she known for years past that
Hjorth loved her, she could not have felt more at home with the
knowledge than she did then.

When they alighted at Vik station the farmer’s wife, whose
nervousness was becoming more assertive, proposed that they
should go straight away to Hjorth’s house.

” Better see him and make all arrangements,” she remarked,
” before going to your uncle’s sister’s. Then we shall know how
to act. Let me see now. We have the address in the letter.”
She felt in her pocket for the letter, pulled out her handkerchief,
an extra pair of gloves and her keys, then turned the pocket
inside out, but there was no letter. ” That is annoying,” she
said, ” because I think I have left it on the table for everyone to
look at. But we can’t help it, and I remember that he lives in
the Valbjerg-Gade.”

” The number is 52,” Johanna said quietly, drawing the letter
from her own pocket.

Their few belongings the women had packed in a couple of
boxes used by Norwegians, oval wooden things, gaily painted,
with tightly fitting tops and convenient handles. These they
carried to Hjorth s lodgings, where they arrived ten minutes after
leaving the station. The trepidation, which Frue Berg was slow


                        282 The Deacon

to acknowledge, once more asserted itself as they climbed the
stairs to Hjorth’s room ; so, catching sight of an oil-stove through
the half-opened door of the kitchen as they passed, she declared
she must positively go in and see the ” machine,” so that she might
order one for herself like it.

You go on,” she said to Johanna, ” and I will follow in a few

So Johanna went on calmly enough, and, when she had knocked
at the door of the deacon’s room and had got no reply she walked
inside, to find Hjorth lying back in a chair asleep. As she stood
looking at him his eyes opened, and seeing her, he sprang to his
feet, took her hands in his and kissed them gently.

” So you have come,” he said. ” That is good.”

Nevertheless, five minutes later Johanna walked downstairs
again, and tapping her aunt on the shoulder, separated her from
the woman of the house, with whom she was in lively conversa-
tion concerning the stove, with these words :

” We are to go back by the first train to Helga. He says
so. There are only a few minutes in which to catch it. Be

Then Johanna’s aunt understood that she had made a great
mistake. It did not need any explanation on Johanna’s part,
though the girl gave it in calm, even tones, to assure her that
Hjorth refused to marry one who was already promised to

” Why did you tell him ? ” she asked, rather ruefully.

” Of course I told him,” Johanna replied.

” Then more silly you,” said her aunt. ” That should have
come later.”

So they caught the train, and went journeying homewards.
The afternoon was closing in, and the great Jaederen plain


                        By Mary Howarth 283

stretched drearily, a great, sad, mysterious blank on either side of
them, and when they reached Helga station it was quite dark, and
they had been speechless for more than half an hour.

Hjorth had sent her back ; that was all Johanna’s numbed mind
could comprehend.


Johanna and her aunt separated at the station. Frue Berg set off
at a great pace for the farm, but Johanna turned in just the
opposite direction. Frue Berg was tired, anxious, and very cross.
Foreshadowing, of distress and discomfort as a result of the after-
noon’s escapade haunted her. She vaguely wondered in what
form her niece’s and her own action would be punished, and settled
in her mind that there should be good excuses coined for their
visit to Vik, which Herr Berg would accept without any doubt.
Johanna, she determined, should be made to understand that her
foolishness in telling Hjorth she was betrothed must not be
repeated by making a clean breast of matters to Ormond. ” If
I’d understood the girl,” grumbled the farmer’s wife to herself,
” she should have gone down on her bended knees before I’d have
taken her to Vik.”

As she tramped sullenly along the sandy road leading from
the station, head downwards, walking in growing wrath mingled
largely with resentment, with a thought for the baking she had left
behind, and the teasing side conviction that the fact that she had
done so unhousewifely an action would materially interfere with
the appearance of truth her tale would bear, Frue Berg heard a
sudden chorus of shouts.

” It’s something to do with Lauritz,” she cried out, quite loud ;
and with the mother-wit of a woman there flashed into her mind

                                                a prescience

                        284 The Deacon

a prescience of what was actually partly the case. ” He’s at the
eel-traps,” she said as she ran, ” he s drowning ; my boy’s dead.”

Glimpses of lights flashing here and there in the dimness down
through the leafless trees in the meadows where the river ran,
confirmed her suspicions. Unaccustomed though she was to
running, she struggled on, thick, incessant utterances forcing
themselves from her trembling lips. ” To think I should have
left them—wicked woman as I am. Won’t someone tell me
whether my Lauritz is drowned ? Is he dead—is he dead, I
say ? ” There was not a creature at hand to reply. Frue Berg
had never felt so much alone, nor so helpless, in all her life

As she approached nearer her worst fears were confirmed. The
lanterns were certainly being carried backwards and forwards, in
an agitated medley, beside the river’s brink. But before she
actually reached the crowd of men, women, and children, her ears
were gladdened by tones she recognised, though they were shrill
and terrified, as her boy’s.

” It was here,” she heard Lauritz declare. ” Just here.”

Frue Berg stumbled forward, made a way for herself through
the cluster of folk, and seized the child by the arm.

He was dripping wet.

” What is it all about ? ” she asked roughly, once more anger
predominating now that fear was soothed.

Then Lauritz and a woman servant separated themselves from
the rest, and told their tale, but Lauritz broke away from the
recital to cry, and as his mother’s grip became tighter his wailings
grew more intense, for he feared the wrath to come. Frue Berg
hurried him to the house, listening to the servant the while.

It transpired that Lauritz, whose ambition it had long been to
set some eel traps in a place upon which he had had his eye for


                        By Mary Howarth 285

some time, had seized the very obvious opportunity of his mother’s
absence to carry out the scheme. He had therefore stolen out of
the farm very quietly, had got into the boat, and had pushed off
into the river. His haste and fear that he should be found out
had been his own undoing, for, leaning out of the boat at his work,
he had fallen into the river and would have drowned only for Ole
Ormond’s interference. Frue Berg gasped.

” Ole Ormond,” she screamed, ” how, when did he come ?
Where is he ? ”

” He is there,” replied the servant, pointing out riverwards.
” That is why——”

Lauritz here raised redoubled cries. His mother, who was
undressing him, slapped him and pushed him away. Then she
rose and took the woman servant by the shoulders.

” You shall tell me all,” she said sternly, ” all from the very
beginning. But first, is he dead—Ole Ormond—is he
drowned ? :

” That is what they fear,” declared the woman. ” They can-
not find him. But he saved your son’s life, Frue Berg, that he
did ; it is certain.” The farmer’s wife could have shrieked.
Here was life playing her a sorry trick, and all for one little false
step. She controlled herself, however, to listen. It was important
that every wit she possessed should be about her.

The servant said that Ormond had arrived at the farm an hour
after Frue Berg and her niece had left it. The blot on the
Froken’s letter to him was barely dry when she handed it to Herr
Ormond she declared.

” Then he got the letter,” groaned Frue Berg.

” Certainly, yes, he got the letter,” the maid answered, with
some resentment. ” It was for him, and I saw that he had it.”

” And afterwards ? ”

                                                ” Afterwards

                        286 The Deacon

” Afterwards he seemed angry.”

” Did he say anything ? ”

” Say, no, that is, I know nothing. I was at work in the
kitchen,” the woman replied. ” He went out into the garden and
sat on the seat. He and Lauritz there were talking.”

” Never a word,” whimpered Lauritz from his bed. He had
got himself into that haven of repose and felt that he might speak
at last with impunity.

” What do you mean ? ” his mother asked sharply.

” Just that and no more,” answered the boy. ” What Anna
heard was Ormond talking to himself. I went up to him and he
was swearing—cursing aloud—bad, wicked oath words.”

” Go to sleep,” said the farmer’s wife, and left the room with
the maid.

” You haven’t heard the rest,” Anna whispered, with her apron
to her eyes. She proceeded to narrate that directly she had missed
Lauritz, she had rushed out to the river, and, rinding, the boat gone,
had shouted across the water for him to come back. Almost at
that moment there was a shriek from the lad. ” He is drowning,
he is drowning,” she had cried aloud, running towards Herr Ormond.
Then Herr Ormond had strode past her with all his speed to the
river, and had swam out to Lauritz.

” He came back with him so quickly that I couldn’t have believed
it possible,” concluded she.

” And then ? ”

” No one knows. He was missed. The farm men had hurried
up. But not a creature could discover him. Nils says he must
have slipped back into the stream with cramp on him, and been
taken off by the current over the rocks. They are searching.
God send they may find the good gentleman.”

They were searching still when Frue Berg went out again ;


                        By Mary Howarth 287

dragging the river with huge salmon nets, the handiest means they
could devise.

” It’s for the body,” explained the maid, who kept close by the
mistress’s side ; ” they’ll never find him alive.”

Frue Berg groaned again. A great wish was upon her for her
husband. She longed to tell him everything, to hold back nothing,
to gloss nothing. She sent a man post-haste to Bruvand, where
she believed that he would be, to fetch him.

Four miles out of Helga the man, who was mounted on one of
the creamy yellow farm ponies, met Berg in the stolkjaerre
coming homewards. With him was Johanna. The man shouted
the dire news out to Berg, who whipped up the companion pony
he was driving into a fierce gallop. It was dangerous to drive on
so dark a night at speed so terrible, along a rough road, with loose
stones everywhere, and deep pools at constant intervals unpro-
tected from the causeway, but Berg was a man who got the utmost
out of his cattle with safety. Before he started off, he gave the
mounted man directions.

” Go instantly to Ormond’s house,” he said, ” and see if he is
there. Say nothing of all this to Madam. Simply inquire of the
servant and return with your information. Borrow a horse for
the return.”

There was a long shawl wrap across his shoulders and Johanna’s
which he gathered tightly about her and himself, and gave into her

” What can it mean, child ? ” he whispered as he bent over her
to adjust the wrap. His voice was very tender.

” Lars will find him safe enough,” she declared calmly. ” I
passed him and had speech with him an hour since, on the road.”

” As we go tell me again. The night is still. I shall hear.”

So Johanna retold her tale, and the farmer, tormented as he was


                        288 The Deacon

with fear and sorrow, had the acumen to observe that in no way
did it differ from her previous story. She was as clear, as self-
possessed, as satisfied as she had been before. Her very utterance
bore the sound of simplest truth.

She declared that at the station her only wish was to find her
uncle and Ormond, and tell them all she had done. Ten miles off
was Ormond’s house. She had set out with the intention of
getting there as fast as possible to ask him for his consent to her
marriage with Hjorth. She was certain he would give it when he
knew that Hjorth wanted her, and she him. Seven miles away,
from Helga—three from Bruvand, where Ormond lived—Ormond
had passed her. He was running along the road. She had not
seen him ; she had heard him. He was running towards her, at the
back of her, and she knew that it was he from his step. She had
turned and called Ormond aloud, and Ormond had answered,
” Well.” She resumed that she and he had not come together,
that the voice from the very first travelled across to her from a
path or way beyond the road over water, a short cut probably to
his home, upon which he must have struck directly she had
recognised him by his footstep on the road. It was a grassy path,
she was certain, for whereas his hurrying presence was manifested
by the sound of his feet upon the highway, there was nothing to
hear during their short conversation, although they both ran, and
in the same direction, she on the road, he beyond the lake on the
sward. She described how his voice had travelled, at first clear
and loud, then more and more distantly, until at last it had alto-
gether become inaudible. She had talked the most ; she had told
him everything. ” He will be happy,” she ended with serenity.
” He wished me well and blessed me. I always knew it. I could
not be mistaken. He cared for me just as God cares.”

Upon the arrival of the pair at the farm the same explanation


                        By Mary Howarth 289

was given again, with the same conviction of its truth as far as
Johanna was concerned, and the information added that she had
tarried at the roadside after her interview, if such it could be called,
was over, in order that she might consider whether to proceed to
Bruvand to find her uncle, or whether to go home and await him
there. While she was waiting she had heard the wheels of the
stolkjserre and had run to meet it. Her uncle was in it, and she
had repeated the history to him out there beneath the fjelds on the
lonely road, telling him also of her so recent meeting with Ole.
To her the idea that Ole was drowned was ridiculous. But to
her aunt and to the farm folk it was like a conviction of the
worst fears, this meeting with the unseen. His body, it was true,
was not found, but neither was there to be discovered one
single person who could say they had seen the man after he had
handed Lauritz over to the maid. The farmer’s wife sobbed out
that it was Ormond’s ghost that had held communion with
Johanna. The farm folk shuddered, and believed their mistress.
The girl’s uncle dragged the river the night through with proper
appliances but no result, and in the morning the message that
Lars brought back from Bruvand was that the master had not been
seen there, and up to the time of Lars’ departure for the farm had
not arrived. Then the whole country-side was roused, and search
was made.

But Ormond was not found.


Hjorth in Vik town when the news reached him was absolutely
furious. Fortune was never to favour him, it seemed, in love.
He had persuaded himself that Johanna was really dear to him

The Yellow Book—Vol. VIII. R


                        290 The Deacon

after his disappointment over Amy Travis ; now he knew that
it was no more Johanna than it was the girl who waited on him
in his rooms. He had been lonely and had wanted a companion.
Johanna, the woman who had worshipped him, appealed to him as
a desirable one ; that was all. But here was a pother. Here was
a matter that concerned him nearly ; though it was in no way one
of his making. He had proposed for the second time to a girl who
was already engaged, and this one, foolish idiot, had compromised
him, had involved him in a tragedy that had ended in the self-
inflicted death of her lover.

It was in the spirit of self-defence that Hjorth journeyed down
to Helga, and made his way to the farm. Rumours in Vik so far
had suggested no solution of the mystery of Ormond’s death (all
were convinced that he was dead) that involved any idea of suicide.
Hjorth had not the slightest doubt personally but that suicide had
presented itself to the wretched man. He was persuaded that the
reason of Johanna’s journey to Vik had become known to her
lover, and that the fact of the boy’s accident had put into Ormond’s
way his chance of release. To save his own name from the
stigma of dishonour and treachery that must stick to it, he felt, with-
out any just cause, should his part in the tragedy not be properly
understood by all concerned, he hurried to his former home.

Helga hailed him with welcome ; hailed him with welcome
and not a whisper of reproach. It was at first a relief, as intense
as it was unexpected, to find that he was honoured just as he
had always been in the little sea-board village, from which he
had gone to the big world. Then he became suspicious, and probed
the innermost of the people secretly but certainly. When he was
convinced that Ormond’s death was taken to have occurred as a
result of accident after saving the lad Lauritz’s life men must
die, said the people ; it was sad, but it was that way exactly with


                        By Mary Howarth 291

hosts of others ; they drowned a good deal in Norway—he repented
him of his haste, and almost deplored the sanctity in which he
held his good name.

It had never been in jeopardy. No one, it transpired, had had
the smallest idea that Ormond was a suitor for Johanna’s hand.
The three who had known it—Berg, his wife, and Johanna—had
not breathed the news to any person. It was very clear to
Hjorth, on the other hand, that he and Johanna were looked upon
as a likely couple. People nodded, and smiled, and surmised
with cunning meaning that he was ready for a bride. At the
farm, where he was entertained with the utmost courtesy and
respectful cordiality, he met with no hint of the kind, it is true,
for all mention of what was past was withheld ; but the very fact
of this restraint proved to him clearly that he was looked upon as
the man to save the situation, to remove the tense horror of what
had happened, from the minds of Frue Berg and her husband.

He proposed, therefore, for the third time, and was accepted
with a delight that pleased his pride at last. There was no doubt
about Johanna’s love ; it was intense. From beginning to end
she had cared for him with a passion that had never cooled, a love
that burned unalterably bright.


Johanna had been a wife some time when her story of the
meeting with Ole on the Bruvand road was confirmed by his

She and the deacon were living many miles from Helga then.
They heard the news from the good uncle who had so generously
believed in Johanna at that dreadful time, and had, by his patient
philosophy and calm common-sense, made the best of what seemed


                        292 The Deacon

to have been a fatally foolish step on his wife’s part. Ormond, he
said, had come home from America (he wrote as if they had all
been well aware that he had gone there), with a charming wife
and a beautiful child. He did not mention that he looked quite
an old man, and that the white moustache he wore completely
changed the expression of his face. But so it was. Ormond had
materialised in spite of the few seconds of his last meeting with
Johanna, and the self-abnegation of his parting words ; and the
moustache, had it been removed, would have revealed a cynical
curve of the lips that erstwhile had drooped, before the sorrow that
was to come.

Johanna read about the charming wife and beautiful little child
with eyes that beamed with joy. The deacon, on the other hand,
made no comment—verbal or expressive.

MLA citation:

Howarth, Mary. “The Deacon” The Yellow Book, vol. 8, January 1896, pp. 255-92. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital, 2020.