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Strand dropped the hand as if it had been a hot coal, blushed to the edge of his hair, and made another profound reverence. He was a tall, huge-limbed youth, with a frame of gigantic mold, and a large, blonde, shaggy head, like that of some good-natured antediluvian animal, which might feel the disadvantages of its size amid the puny beings of this later stage of creation. There was a frank directness in his gaze, and an unconsciousness of self, which made him very winning, and which could not fail of its effect upon a girl who, like Augusta, was fond of the uncommon, and hated smooth, facile and well-tailored young men, with the labels of society and fashion upon their coats, their mustaches, and their speech. And Strand, with his large sun-burned face, his wild-growing beard, blue woolen shirt, top boots, and unkempt appearance generally, was a sufficiently startling phenomenon to satisfy even so exacting a fancy as hers; for, after reading his book about the Wading Birds, she had made up her mind that he must have few points of resemblance to the men who had hitherto formed part of her own small world, although she had not until now decided just in what way he was to differ.
"Suppose I help you carry your knapsack," said Arnfinn, who was flitting about like a small nimble spaniel trying to make friends with some large, good-natured Newfoundland. "You must be very tired, having roamed about in this Quixotic fashion!"
"No, I thank you," responded Strand, with an incredulous laugh, glancing alternately from Arnfinn to the knapsack, as if estimating their proportionate weight. "I am afraid you would rue your bargain if I accepted it."
"I suppose you have a great many stuffed birds at home," remarked the girl, looking with self-forgetful admiration at the large brawny figure.
"No, I have hardly any," answered he, seating himself on the ground, and pulling a thick note-book from his pocket. "I prefer live creatures. Their anatomical and physiological peculiarities have been studied by others, and volumes have been written about them. It is their psychological traits, ii you will allow the expression, which interest me, and those I can only get at while they are alive."
Some minutes later they were all on their way to the Parsonage. The sun, in spite of its mid- summer wakefulness, was getting red-eyed and drowsy, and the purple mists which hung in scattered fragments upon the forest below had lost something of their deep-tinged brilliancy. But Augusta, quite blind to the weakened light effects, looked out upon the broad landscape in ecstasy, and, appealing to her more apathetic companions, invited them to share her joy at the beauty of the faint-flushed summer night.
"You are getting quite dithyrambic, my dear," remarked Arnfinn, with an air of cousinly superiority, which he felt was eminently becoming to him; and Augusta looked up with quick surprise, then smiled in an absent way, and forgot what she had been saying. She had no suspicion but that her enthusiasm had been all for the sunset.
In a life so outwardly barren and monotonous as Augusta's--a life in which the small external events were so firmly interwoven with the subtler threads of yearnings, wants, and desires --the introduction of so large and novel a fact as Marcus Strand would naturally produce some perceptible result. It was that deplorable inward restlessness of hers, she reasoned, which had hitherto made her existence seem so empty and unsatisfactory; but now his presence filled the hours, and the newness of his words, his manner, and his whole person afforded inexhaustible material for thought. It was now a week since his arrival, and while Arnfinn and Inga chatted at leisure, drew caricatures, or read aloud to each other in some shady nook of the garden, she and Strand would roam along the beach, filling the vast unclouded horizon with large glowing images of the future of the human race. He always listened in sympathetic silence while she unfolded to him her often childishly daring schemes for the amelioration of suffering and the righting of social wrongs; and when she had finished, and he met the earnest appeal of her dark eye, there would often be a pause, during which each, with a half unconscious lapse from the impersonal, would feel more keenly the joy of this new and delicious mental companionship. And when at length he answered, sometimes gently refuting and sometimes assenting to her proposition, it was always with a slow, deliberate earnestness, as if he felt but her deep sincerity, and forgot for the moment her sex, her youth, and her inexperience. It was just this kind of fellowship for which she had hungered so long, and her heart went out with a great gratitude toward this strong and generous man, who was willing to recognize her humanity, and to respond with an ever-ready frankness, unmixed with petty suspicions and second thoughts, to the eager needs of her half- starved nature. It is quite characteristic, too, of the type of womanhood which Augusta represents (and with which this broad continent of ours abounds), that, with her habitual disregard of appearances, she would have scorned the notion that their intercourse had any ultimate end beyond that of mutual pleasure and instruction.
It was early in the morning in the third week of Strand's stay at the Parsonage. A heavy dew had fallen during the night, and each tiny grass-blade glistened in the sun, bending under the weight of its liquid diamond. The birds were improvising a miniature symphony in the birches at the end of the garden; the song- thrush warbled with a sweet melancholy his long-drawn contralto notes; the lark, like a prima donna, hovering conspicuously in mid air, poured forth her joyous soprano solo; and the robin, quite unmindful of the tempo, filled out the pauses with his thoughtless staccato chirp. Augusta, who was herself the early bird of the pastor's family, had paid a visit to the little bath-house down at the brook, and was now hurrying homeward, her heavy black hair confined in a delicate muslin hood, and her lithe form hastily wrapped in a loose morning gown. She had paused for a moment under the birches to listen to the song of the lark, when suddenly a low, half articulate sound, very unlike the voice of a bird, arrested her attention; she raised her eyes, and saw Strand sitting in the top of a tree, apparently conversing with himself, or with some tiny thing which he held in his hands.
"Ah, yes, you poor little sickly thing!" she heard him mutter. "Don't you make such an ado now. You shall soon be quite well, if you will only mind what I tell you. Stop, stop! Take it easy. It is all for your own good, you know. If you had only been prudent, and not stepped on your lame leg, you might have been spared this affliction. But, after all, it was not your fault--it was that foolish little mother of yours. She will remember now that a skein of hemp thread is not the thing to line her nest with. If she doesn't, you may tell her that it was I who said so."
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Tales From Two Hemispheres -by- Hjalmar Hjorth Boysen