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Four weeks after Strand's departure, as the summer had already assumed that tinge of sadness which impresses one as a foreboding of coming death, Augusta was walking along the beach, watching the flight of the sea-birds. Her latest "aberration," as Arnfinn called it, was an extraordinary interest in the habits of the eider- ducks, auks, and sea-gulls, the noisy monotony of whose existence had, but a few months ago, appeared to her the symbol of all that was vulgar and coarse in human and animal life. Now she had even provided herself with a note-book, and (to use once more the language of her unbelieving cousin) affected a half-scientific interest in their clamorous pursuits. She had made many vain attempts to imitate their voices and to beguile them into closer intimacy, and had found it hard at times to suppress her indignation when they persisted in viewing her in the light of an intruder, and in returning her amiable approaches with shy suspicion, as if they doubted the sincerity of her intentions.
She was a little paler now, perhaps, than before, but her eyes had still the same lustrous depth, and the same sweet serenity was still diffused over her features, and softened, like a pervading tinge of warm color, the grand simplicity of her presence. She sat down on a large rock, picked up a curiously twisted shell, and seeing a plover wading in the surf, gave a soft, low whistle, which made the bird turn round and gaze at her with startled distrust. She repeated the call, but perhaps a little too eagerly, and the bird spread its wings with a frightened cry, and skimmed, half flying, half running, out over the glittering surface of the fjord. But from the rocks close by came a long melancholy whistle like that of a bird in distress, and the girl rose and hastened with eager steps toward the spot. She climbed up on a stone, fringed all around with green slimy sea- weeds, in order to gain a wider view of the beach. Then suddenly some huge figure started up between the rocks at her feet; she gave a little scream, her foot slipped, and in the next moment she lay--in Strand's arms. He offered no apology, but silently carried her over the slippery stones, and deposited her tenderly upon the smooth white sand. There it occurred to her that his attention was quite needless, but at the moment she was too startled to make any remonstrance.
"But how in the world, Mr. Strand, did you come here?" she managed at last to stammer. "We all thought that you had gone away."
"I hardly know myself," said Strand, in a beseeching undertone, quite different from his usual confident bass. "I only know that--that I was very wretched, and that I had to come back."
Then there was a pause, which to both seemed quite interminable, and, in order to fill it out in some way, Strand began to move his head and arms uneasily, and at length seated himself at Augusta's side. The blood was beating with feverish vehemence in her temples, and for the first time in her life she felt something akin to pity for this large, strong man, whose strength and cheerful self-reliance had hitherto seemed to raise him above the need of a woman's aid and sympathy. Now the very shabbiness of his appearance, and the look of appealing misery in his features, opened in her bosom the gate through which compassion could enter, and, with that generous self-forgetfulness which was the chief factor of her character, she leaned over toward him, and said:
"You must have been very sick, Mr. Strand. Why did you not come to us and allow us to take care of you, instead of roaming about here in this stony wilderness?"
"Yes; I have been sick," cried Strand, with sudden vehemence, seizing her hand; "but it is a sickness of which I shall never, never be healed."
And with that world-old eloquence which is yet ever new, he poured forth his passionate confession in her ear, and she listened, hungrily at first, then with serene, wide-eyed happiness. He told her how, driven by his inward restlessness, he had wandered about in the mountains, until one evening at a saeter, he had heard a peasant lad singing a song, in which this stanza occurred:
"A woman's frown, a woman's smile,
Then it had occurred to him for the first time in his life that a woman's behavior need not be the logical indicator of her deepest feelings, and, enriched with this joyful discovery, inspired with new hope, he had returned, but had not dared at once to seek the Parsonage, until he could invent some plausible reason for his return; but his imagination was very poor, and he had found none, except that he loved the pastor's beautiful daughter.
The evening wore on. The broad mountain- guarded valley, flooded now to the brim with a soft misty light, spread out about them, and filled them with a delicious sense of security. The fjord lifted its grave gaze toward the sky, and deepened responsively with a bright, ever- receding immensity. The young girl felt this blessed peace gently stealing over her; doubt and struggle were all past, and the sun shone ever serene and unobscured upon the widening expanses of the future. And in his breast, too, that mood reigned in which life looks boundless and radiant, human woes small or impossible, and one's own self large and all-conquering. In that hour they remodeled this old and obstinate world of ours, never doubting that, if each united his faith and strength with the other's, they could together lift its burden.
That night was the happiest and most memorable night in the history of the Gran Parsonage. The pastor walked up and down on the floor, rubbing his hands in quiet contentment. Inga, to whom an engagement was essentially a sol- emn affair, sat in a corner and gazed at her sister and Strand with tearful radiance. Arnfinn gave vent to his joy by bestowing embraces promiscuously upon whomsoever chanced to come in his way.
This story, however, has a brief but not unimportant sequel. It was not many weeks after this happy evening that Arnfinn and the maiden with the "amusingly unclassical nose" presented themselves in the pastor's study and asked for his paternal and unofficial blessing. But the pastor, I am told, grew very wroth, and demanded that his nephew should first take his second and third degrees, attaching, besides, some very odious stipulations regarding average in study and college standing, before there could be any talk about engagement or matrimony. So, at present, Arnfinn is still studying, and the fair-haired Inga is still waiting.
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Tales From Two Hemispheres -by- Hjalmar Hjorth Boysen