Chapter III. 'Lizebeth on the Warpath
 

On the following morning 'Lizebeth stood full of expectation at the kitchen door, and made all kinds of signs when Sally came rushing into the living-room from breakfast. The signs were indeed understood by the child but she had no time to go to the kitchen. She waved her school-bag and shouted in rushing by 'Lizebeth: "When I come from school; it is too late now!" Followed by Edi and Ritz she continued her run.

Something very particular must be in preparation, for after school all the scholars were standing again in a dense circle, beating their hands in the air and shouting as loud as they could, to have their views heard. Sally, who had waited a few moments for her brothers, went on home for she knew how long such meetings were apt to last and that her brothers would only arrive home when the soup was being served. Sally stepped into the house and with her school-bag in her hand she went straight to the kitchen.

"Now I will tell you everything that happened yesterday, 'Lizebeth," she said.

'Lizebeth nodded encouragingly and Sally began, and became more and more excited the longer she talked. She was most excited when she came to telling about the lady and her little boy, describing the way she talked, how she and the boy were dressed, and her aristocratic way. But all at once 'Lizebeth jumped as if a wasp had stung her and she called out, "What do you say, Sally? This woman wears a silk dress in the middle of the week? Silk? And she lives at Marianne's? And the boy wears velvet pants and a jacket all of velvet? Well, well! I have lived ten years with your great-grandfather and thirty with your grandfather and twelve with your father, and I have seen your father grow up from the first day of his life and your little brothers. And I have known them since they were babies and none of them ever had velvet pants on their body, and yet they were all ministers, your great-grandfather, your grandfather, your father, and the little ones will be ministers too, and none of them ever had even a piece of velvet on them and this woman in the middle of the week walks about in silk, yes indeed! And then taking rooms at Marianne's and living where the basket mender has lived, I tell you, Sally, there is something behind that! But it has to come out, and if Marianne wants to help a hundred times to cover it up, I tell you, Sally, I will bring out what is behind it all. Yes, indeed, velvet pants? I wonder what we shall hear next!"

Sally stood quite astounded before the anger-spouting 'Lizebeth, and could not understand the cause of this outbreak. But she had enough of it, so she turned round and hastened into the sitting-room, where, according to her expectations, at the very last moment, just when 'Lizebeth came into the room with the soup tureen, the brothers appeared, in a peculiar way. At each side of 'Lizebeth one crawled into the room, then shot straight across the room, like the birds before a storm shoot through the air so that one fears they will run their heads against something. Fortunately the two boys did not run their heads against anything, but each landed quite safely on his chair, and at once 'Lizebeth placed the soup on the table; but so decidedly and with such an angry face, as if she wanted to say: "There! If you had to put up with what I have to, then you would not trouble about your soup."

When she was again out of the room the father said, looking at his wife: "There will be a thunder storm, sure signs are visible." Then turning to his sons he continued: "But what do boys deserve, who come so late to table and from pure bad conscience almost knock it over?"

Ritz looked crestfallen into his plate, and from there in a somewhat roundabout way past his mother's plate, slyly across to his aunt, to see whether it looked like an order to go to bed at once. And it was so beautiful today, how beautiful the running about this evening after school would be!

There was no order, for the general attention was claimed by 'Lizebeth, who with the same signs of snorting anger threw more than placed the rest of the meal on the table and then grumbled herself out again.

As soon as dinner was over the father put on his little velvet cap and went in perfect silence out into the garden. For the storms in the house were more unpleasant to him than those that come from the sky. As soon as he had left the room 'Lizebeth stood in the doorway, both arms akimbo and looking quite warlike; she said: "I should think it would make no difference if I were to make a call on Marianne. I should think it is fully four years since I went to see her in the Middle Lot."

The pastor's wife had listened with astonishment to this speech, which sounded very reproachful. Now she said soothingly: "But, 'Lizebeth, I should hope that you do not think that I would oppose your going to Marianne or anywhere else; or that I ever have done so. Do go as soon as you feel like it."

"Just as if nothing had to be done, and as if I were and had been on a visit in the parsonage at Upper Wood for fifty years and more," was the answer. "No, no, I know what has to be done if no one else does. I can wait until Sunday afternoon; that is a time when the likes of me may go out, and if it suits the lady then, then I go, and shall not stay away very long. Why? I know why if no one else knows it."

"Of course that suits me, too," the lady pacified again, "do just what you think best." She did not say more for she had already noticed that a fire of anger was kindled in 'Lizebeth which would blaze up if another word fell in it. She could not imagine what had struck 'Lizebeth, but she found it more advisable not to touch on it. So 'Lizebeth grumbled for a little while, then she went away, since no further chance for outbreaks was offered. But there was no peace during the whole week; all noticed that, and each went carefully by 'Lizebeth as if she were a powder magazine which, at a careless touch, might fly up in the air at any moment. At last Sunday came. 'Lizebeth, after dinner, rushed about the kitchen with such a great noise, one could notice that many thoughts were working in her which she tried to give vent to. But she went into her room only after everything was bright and in its place.

She dressed herself in her Sunday-best and entered the sitting-room to take leave, just as though she was going on a long journey, for it was an event for 'Lizebeth to leave the parsonage for several hours. Now she wandered with slow steps along the road and looked to the right and left on the way to see what was growing in the field belonging to this or that neighbor. But her thoughts began again to work in her; one could see that, for she began to walk quicker and quicker and to talk half aloud to herself. Now she had arrived. Marianne had seen her from her little window and was surprised that this time 'Lizebeth was so soon keeping her promise. For years she had promised, had sent the messages that she would soon come; but she had never come and now she was there after the message had been brought only three days ago. Marianne went to meet her friend with a pleasant smile and welcomed her near the hedge before the cottage; then she conducted her guest around the cottage and up the narrow, wooden stairs. 'Lizebeth did not like this way and before she had reached the top of the stairs she had to speak out.

"Listen, Marianne," she said, "formerly one dared to come in the front door and through the kitchen, but now your oldest friends have to come by the back way, which, no doubt, is on account of the strange people whom you have taken into your house. I have heard much of them and now I see for myself that they, from pure pride, do not know what to order next, that you dare not go through your own house."

"Dear me, 'Lizebeth, what queer thoughts you do have," said Marianne, quite frightened. "That is not true, no one has forbidden me anything. And the people are so good and not a bit proud, and so friendly, and so kind and humble."

"Catch your breath, Marianne," 'Lizebeth interrupted her; "with all your excitement you cannot prove that white is black, and when such people come along, no one knows whence, and take a living-room and a bedroom in such a hut, so hidden as yours is, Marianne, where they pay next to nothing, and the woman struts about in a silk skirt and her little son in velvet; then there is something behind it all, and if she has silk skirts then she must have other things too, and she must know why she hides all these things in a hut which really does not look larger than a large henhouse. I wanted only to warn you, Marianne; you surely will be the loser with such a crowd."

"'Lizebeth," Marianne said now more emphatically than she had ever been known to speak, "it would be well, if all people were as this woman is, and you and I could thank God if we were like her. I have never in this world seen a better and a more patient and a more amiable human being. And in regard to the silk skirt, please be still and do not talk about it, 'Lizebeth; many a thing looks different to what it really is, and it would be better for you, if you would not load your conscience with wrong against a suffering woman on whom God has His eye."

Marianne did not wish to tell what she knew, that the lady had only the one skirt and no other whatsoever, and so, of course, was obliged to wear it. She did not want to tell that to 'Lizebeth now she heard how the latter judged.

"I do not think of loading my conscience with anything," 'Lizebeth continued, "and that much is not as it looks, that I know; but when a little boy of whom no one knows from where he came, wears velvet pants on bright week-days and even a velvet jacket, then they are velvet pants and do not only look so, that is certain. There is something behind that and it will come out and it will not look the best. Yes indeed, wearing velvet pants, such a little tramp of whom no one knows from where he comes, yes indeed."

"Do not sin against the dear boy," Marianne said seriously. "Look at him and you will see that he looks like a little angel, and he is one."

"So, that too," 'Lizebeth continued, "and pray when did you see an angel, Marianne, that you know he looks just like them? I should like to know! But I have served over fifty years in a respectable house, and I have helped to bring up the old parson, and the present one and his two sons; but we have never known anything of velvet pants, no, never, and we were, I should think, different people from these. That is what I wanted to tell you, Marianne, and that is the main reason why I came to you, so that you should know what one is forced to think. And with regard to the angels, I can tell you that we have a little boy that looks exactly like the angels that blow the trumpets in the picture; such fat, firm, red cheeks has our Moritzli, like painted, and such round arms and legs."

"Yes, it is true, little Ritz was always a splendid little fellow, I should like to see him again," Marianne answered good-naturedly.

This reconciled 'Lizebeth a little; in a much friendlier tone she said: "Then come again to Upper Wood, you will have time, more than I. Then you can look at the other, too, and can see what a pretty, straight nose he has, that no angel could have a prettier one, and in the whole school he is by far the brightest,--that the teacher himself says of Eduardi."

'Lizebeth always called the boys by their full names, for the shortening of the names, Ritz and Edi, seemed to her a degrading of their names and an injustice to her favorites.

"Yes, yes, I believe you. What a delight it must be to see such a well-ordered household and all so happy together and so joyous," Marianne said with a sigh, and she threw a glance at the room of the stranger, and now 'Lizebeth was completely pacified, for she felt the parsonage again on the top.

"What is the matter with the people?" she asked with compassion.

"I do not know what to say," was the answer, "I do not understand it all myself."

"I thought as much, with such strangers one is never secure."

"No, no, I did not mean anything like that," Marianne opposed. "I tell you they are the best people one could find. I would do anything for the woman."

Marianne did not like to tell her friend what she knew and to consult with her about things she could not comprehend, for 'Lizebeth had evidently no love for the two and was full of distrust, and Marianne had taken them both into her heart so that she could not bear sharp remarks about them even from her good friend. She therefore was silent and 'Lizebeth could get nothing more out of her concerning her lodgers.

During this long talk a good deal of time had passed. 'Lizebeth rose from the wooden bench behind the table where she and Marianne had been sitting and was about to bid good-bye. But Marianne would not allow that, for the friend must first drink a cup of coffee; then she was going to walk with her. So they did, and as the two friends wandered together through the evening, they had much to tell each other and were very talkative; only when 'Lizebeth began to talk about the strangers in Marianne's house, was the latter silent and hardly spoke. Where the road went into the woods, they parted, and Marianne had to promise to return the call as soon as possible. Then 'Lizebeth stepped out vigorously and arrived at home in such good spirits that the parson's wife resolved to send her often to Marianne on a visit.

When Marianne on her return came near her cottage, she heard lovely singing; she well knew the song. Every evening at twilight the stranger sat down at the piano and sang, and she sang so beautifully and with a voice that came from such depths that it touched Marianne's heart so that she could not tear herself away when she heard the song, until it was ended. But there was one song in particular which Marianne loved to hear and which the woman sang every day, either at the beginning or the end of her songs. It always seemed as if a great joy came into her voice and as if she wanted to make this joy appeal to all who listened. And yet this song touched Marianne's heart so deeply that she wept every time she heard it. So it happened this evening. There was a log lying before the house-door which served her for a resting-place when, in the evening, she wanted to get a little fresh air. She rolled it under the window so that she might look for a moment into the room. There sat the lady, and her large blue eyes looked up to the evening sky so seriously and sorrowfully, and yet there was something which sounded again like a great joy in the beautiful song she was singing. The little boy sat on a footstool beside her and looked at his mother with his joyful, bright eyes, and listened to the singing.

Marianne could not look long. A strange feeling came over her, and she stepped down from the log, put her apron to her eyes and wept and wept, until the singing had died away.