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"How very singular. You don't know how curious I am to see him."
And Inga walked on in silence under the sunny birches which grew along the road, trying vainly to picture to herself this strange phenomenon of a man.
"I brought his book," remarked Arnfinn, making a gigantic effort to be generous, for he felt dim stirrings of jealousy within him. "If you care to read it, I think it will explain him to you better than anything I could say."
The Oddsons were certainly a happy family though not by any means a harmonious one. The excellent pastor, who was himself neutrally good, orthodox, and kind-hearted, had often, in the privacy of his own thought, wondered what hidden ancestral influences there might have been at work in giving a man so peaceable and inoffensive as himself two daughters of such strongly defined individuality. There was Augusta, the elder, who was what Arnfinn called "indiscriminately reformatory," and had a universal desire to improve everything, from the Government down to agricultural implements and preserve jars. As long as she was content to expend the surplus energy, which seemed to accumulate within her through the long eventless winters, upon the Zulu Mission, and other legitimate objects, the pastor thought it all harmless enough; although, to be sure, her enthusiasm for those naked and howling savages did at times strike him as being somewhat extravagant. But when occasionally, in her own innocent way, she put both his patience and his orthodoxy to the test by her exceedingly puzzling questions, then he could not, in the depth of his heart, restrain the wish that she might have been more like other young girls, and less ardently solicitous about the fate of her kind. Affectionate and indulgent, however, as the pastor was, he would often, in the next moment, do penance for his unregenerate thought, and thank God for having made her so fair to behold, so pure, and so noble-hearted.
Toward Arnfinn, Augusta had, although of his own age, early assumed a kind of elder-sisterly relation; she had been his comforter during all the trials of his boyhood; had yielded him her sympathy with that eager impulse which lay so deep in her nature, and had felt forlorn when life had called him away to where her words of comfort could not reach him. But when once she had hinted this to her father, he had pedantically convinced her that her feeling was unchristian, and Inga had playfully remarked that the hope that some one might soon find the open Polar Sea would go far toward consoling her for her loss; for Augusta had glorious visions at that time of the open Polar Sea. Now, the Polar Sea, and many other things, far nearer and dearer, had been forced into uneasy forgetfulness; and Arnfinn was once more with her, no longer a child, and no longer appealing to her for aid and sympathy; man enough, ap- parently, to have outgrown his boyish needs and still boy enough to be ashamed of having ever had them.
It was the third Sunday after Arnfinn's return. He and Augusta were climbing the hillside to the "Giant's Hood," from whence they had a wide view of the fjord, and could see the sun trailing its long bridge of flame upon the water. It was Inga's week in the kitchen, therefore her sister was Arnfinn's companion. As they reached the crest of the "Hood," Augusta seated herself on a flat bowlder, and the young student flung himself on a patch of greensward at her feet. The intense light of the late sun fell upon the girl's unconscious face, and Arnfinn lay, gazing up into it, and wondering at its rare beauty; but he saw only the clean cut of its features and the purity of its form, being too shallow to recognize the strong and heroic soul which had struggled so long for utterance in the life of which he had been a blind and unmindful witness.
"Gracious, how beautiful you are, cousin!" he broke forth, heedlessly, striking his leg with his slender cane; "pity you were not born a queen; you would be equal to almost anything, even if it were to discover the Polar Sea."
"I thought you were looking at the sun, Arnfinn," answered she, smiling reluctantly.
"And so I am, cousin," laughed he, with an other-emphatic slap of his boot.
"That compliment is rather stale."
"But the opportunity was too tempting."
"Never mind, I will excuse you from further efforts. Turn around and notice that wonderful purple halo which is hovering over the forests below. Isn't it glorious?"
"No, don't let us be solemn, pray. The sun I have seen a thousand times before, but you I have seen very seldom of late. Somehow, since I returned this time, you seem to keep me at a distance. You no longer confide to me your great plans for the abolishment of war, and the improvement of mankind generally. Why don't you tell me whether you have as yet succeeded in convincing the peasants that cleanliness is a cardinal virtue, that hawthorn hedges are more picturesque than rail fences, and that salt meat is a very indigestible article?"
"You know the fate of my reforms, from long experience," she answered, with the same sad, sweet smile. "I am afraid there must be some thing radically wrong about my methods; and, moreover, I know that your aspirations and mine are no longer the same, if they ever have been, and I am not ungenerous enough to force you to feign an interest which you do not feel."
"Yes, I know you think me flippant and boyish," retorted he, with sudden energy, and tossing a stone down into the gulf below. "But, by the way, my friend Strand, if he ever comes, would be just the man for you. He has quite as many hobbies as you have, and, what is more, he has a profound respect for hobbies in general, and is universally charitable toward those of others."
"Your friend is a great man," said the girl, earnestly. "I have read his book on `The Wading Birds of the Norwegian Highlands,' and none but a great man could have written it."
"He is an odd stick, but, for all that, a capital fellow; and I have no doubt you would get on admirably with him."
At this moment the conversation was interrupted by the appearance of the pastor's man, Hans, who came to tell the "young miss" that there was a big tramp hovering about the barns in the "out-fields," where he had been sleeping during the last three nights. He was a dangerous character, Hans thought, at least judging from his looks, and it was hardly safe for the young miss to be roaming about the fields at night as long as he was in the neighborhood.
"Why don't you speak to the pastor, and have him arrested?" said Arnfinn, impatient of Hans's long-winded recital.
"No, no, say nothing to father," demanded Augusta, eagerly. "Why should you arrest a poor man as long as he does nothing worse than sleep in the barns in the out-fields?"
"As you say, miss," retorted Hans, and departed.
The moon came up pale and mist-like over the eastern mountain ridges, struggled for a few brief moments feebly with the sunlight, and then vanished.
"It is strange," said Arnfinn, "how everything reminds me of Strand to-night. What gloriously absurd apostrophes to the moon he could make! I have not told you, cousin, of a very singular gift which he possesses. He can attract all kinds of birds and wild animals to himself; he can imitate their voices, and they flock around him, as if he were one of them, without fear of harm."
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Tales From Two Hemispheres -by- Hjalmar Hjorth Boysen