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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Elizabeth’s Choice
By Jonas Lie (1833–1908)
 
From ‘A Norse Love Story’: Translation of Sara Chapman (Thorp) Bull

IN the evening, when the gentlemen were sitting in the grove alone, and Elizabeth came out with a fresh supply of hot water for their toddy, the chairman permitted himself to offer a joke which drove the blood up to her cheeks. She made no reply, but the mug trembled in her hands as she put it down, and at the same time she gave to the one concerned a glance so decidedly bitter and scornful that he for an instant felt himself corrected.  1
  “By heavens, Beck!” he exclaimed, “did you see what eyes she fixed on me? they fairly lightened.”  2
  “Yes, she is a noble girl,” replied Beck; who was enraged, but had his reason for being circumspect before his superior.  3
  “Ah, a noble girl!” added the latter in an irritated tone, which made Carl feel that he meant she ought rather to be called an impudent servant.  4
  “Yes, I mean a handsome girl,” added Carl, evasively correcting himself with a forced laugh.  5
  Elizabeth had heard it. She was wounded, and commenced in her own mind, for the first time, a comparison between the lieutenant and Salve. Salve would not have prevaricated thus if he had been in this one’s stead.  6
  When later in the evening he chanced upon her alone, as she was putting things in order on the steps after their departure, he said half anxiously:—  7
  “You did not really take that to heart, Elizabeth, from the old, coarse, blustering brute? He is really a brave and honest fellow, who does not mean anything by his talk.”  8
  Elizabeth was silent, and sought to leave him and go inside with what she had in her hands.  9
  “Yes, but I cannot endure that you should be insulted, Elizabeth!” he broke out suddenly in wild passion, and tried to seize her arm: “this hand, with which you work, is dearer to me than all the fine ladies’ together.”  10
  “Herr Beck!” she burst out wildly, with tears in her eyes, “I go my way this very night if I hear more!”  11
  She disappeared in the hallway, but Beck followed.  12
  “Elizabeth,” he whispered, “I am in earnest!” She tore herself violently from him and went into the kitchen, where the sisters were standing talking by the fire.  13
  Young Beck, in the beautiful starlit night, took a lonely walk into the interior of the island, and did not return until past midnight.  14
  He had not meant it so decidedly in earnest; but now, since he had seen her before him, so wonderfully beautiful, with the tears in her eyes—now, yes, now he did mean it in sober earnest. He was ready to engage himself to her in spite of all considerations, if need be.  15
  The next morning he went with his pleasure-boat to Arendal. He had however first, in passing, whispered to her:—  16
  “I am in earnest!”  17
  These words, again repeated, entirely confused Elizabeth. She had lain and thought upon this same remark during the night, and resented it with indignation; for it could only signify that he ventured to declare to her that he was charmed with her, and she had already determined to carry out her threat to leave the house. But now, repeated—in that tone! Did he really mean to offer her his hand and heart—to become his, the officer’s wife?  18
  There lay before her fancy a glittering expanse of early dreams which almost intoxicated her. She was distracted and pale the entire week, and thought with dread of Sunday, when he should come again. What would he then say? And what should she answer?  19
  He did not come, however, since a business trip had unexpectedly become necessary. On the contrary, Marie Fostberg came, and she felt that the girl’s disposition in some way or other must have changed; for she evidently shunned every assistance from her, and in glances which Marie accidentally caught there was something hard and unfriendly. It affected her more closely than she herself would admit. Faithful as she was, she sought—following a sudden impulse—to pat her in a friendly way on the shoulder; but this apparently made quite another impression,—she could just as well have caressed a piece of wood: and when she entered the sitting-room she could not help asking, “What has come over Elizabeth?” But the others had remarked nothing.  20
  Carl Beck, contrary to custom, came not the next Saturday, but earlier, in the middle of the week; and he walked with rapid strides through the rooms when he did not see Elizabeth in the sitting-room.  21
  He found her at last up-stairs. She stood looking out of the window in the upper hall, from which there was a view of the grove up the mountain slope, and of the sky above. She heard his step, and that he was coming up the stairs; and she felt an unspeakable anxiety, a panic, almost as if she could spring out of the window. What should she answer?  22
  Then he came, and put his arm about her waist, and half above a whisper asked:—  23
  “Elizabeth! will you be mine?”  24
  For the first time in her life she felt near fainting. She hardly knew what she did, but pushed him, involuntarily, violently from her.  25
  He seized her hand again, and asked:—  26
  “Elizabeth, will you become my wife?”  27
  She was very pale, as she answered:—  28
  “Yes.”  29
  But when he would again place his arm about her waist, she suddenly sprang back with an expression of terror.  30
  “Elizabeth!” said he tenderly,—and sought again to draw her to him,—“what affects you so? If you knew how I have longed for this hour!”  31
  “Not now—no more now!” she prayed, while she held her hand against him; “later—”  32
  “Why, you say ‘yes,’ Elizabeth—that you are my—” But he felt that now she would have him go. For a long time she sat on a chest up there, silent and gazing before her.  33
  It was accomplished, then. Her heart beat so loud that she could hear it, and it was as if she felt a dull pain there. Her face gradually assumed a rigid, cold look. She thought he was now telling his stepmother that they were engaged, and she was preparing herself for what she would have to endure.  34
  She waited to be called down; at last she determined to go herself.  35
  In the sitting-room each one sat wholly taken up with his own work. The lieutenant pretended to be reading a book,—over which, however, when she entered he sent her a stolen, tenderly anxious glance.  36
  Supper was brought in, and everything went on as usual. He joked a little, as was his wont. She thought it was as if a fog had enveloped them all. Mina asked her once if anything ailed her, and she answered mechanically, “No.”  37
  It was therefore to happen later in the evening. She went in and out as usual with the tea things; still it was as if she could not feel the floor under her feet, or what she carried in her hands.  38
  The evening passed, and they retired without anything having occurred. In the dim light of the stairway he grasped her hand warmly, and said, “Good-night, my Elizabeth, my—my Elizabeth!” But she would not return his grasp, and when he approached her brow with his lips she drew back quickly.  39
  “I came out here alone to tell you this, dear, beloved Elizabeth!” whispered he, with a trembling fervor in his voice, while he sought to embrace her. “I must return again to-morrow. Shall I go without a sign that you care for me?”  40
  She slowly bent her brow toward him, and he kissed it, when she immediately left him.  41
  “Good-night, my beloved!” whispered he after her.  42
  Elizabeth lay long awake. She felt the need of having a good cry, and her heart was chilled within her. When she at last slept she did not dream about her lover, but about Salve—the whole time about Salve. She saw him gazing at her with his earnest face; it was so heavy with sorrow, and she stood like a criminal before him. He said something which she could not hear, but she understood that he cursed her, and that he had thrown her dress overboard.  43
  She arose early, and sought to engage her thoughts with other dreams,—her future as the officer’s wife. But it was as if everything that heretofore had seemed only as gold would now present itself before her as brass. She felt unhappy and restless, and bethought herself a long time before entering the sitting-room.  44
  Carl Beck did not go that morning; he had perceived that there was something or other that put Elizabeth out of sorts.  45
  During the forenoon, when his sisters were out and his stepmother was occupied, he fortunately chanced to have the opportunity of speaking with her alone. She was still in a fever, and expected that he had spoken to Madam Beck.  46
  “Elizabeth,” he said, gently smoothing her hair, for she seemed so embarrassed as she stood looking down, “I could not go before I had spoken with you again.”  47
  Her eyes were still lowered, but she did not reject his hand.  48
  “Do you really care for me? Will you become my wife?”  49
  She was silent. At last, a little paler, and as if somewhat overcome, she said:—  50
  “Yes, Herr Beck!”  51
  “Say du to me—say Carl,” he fervently prayed, “and—look at me!”  52
  She looked at him; but not as he had expected. It was with a fixed, cold glance, wherewith she said:—  53
  “Yes—when we are betrothed.”  54
  “Are we not betrothed?”  55
  “When will your stepmother know it?” she asked, somewhat hesitatingly.  56
  “Dear Elizabeth! they must not notice anything here at home until—until three months are past, when I am—”  57
  But he now noticed the expression of her face, and the quick way in which she withdrew her hand, which led him to reserve what he had originally thought, and he corrected himself hastily:  58
  “During next week, from Arendal I shall write to father, and then I will tell my stepmother what I have written. Are you satisfied, Elizabeth, dear Elizabeth! or will you have it done now?” he exclaimed resolutely, and again seized her hand.  59
  “No, no, not now!—next week—do not let it be done until next week!” she broke out in sudden dread; at the same time she almost beseechingly returned the pressure of his hand—the first he had gotten from her.  60
  “And then will you be mine, Elizabeth?”  61
  “Yes—then!” She sought to escape his eye.  62
  “Farewell then, Elizabeth; but I will come again on Saturday; I can be no longer without seeing you.”  63
  “Farewell!” said she, somewhat lifelessly.  64
  He sprang down to the sail-boat which lay in waiting; but she did not look after him, and passed in the opposite direction with bowed head into the house.  65
  Small things often weigh heavily in the world of impressions. Elizabeth was overwhelmed by his noble way of thinking, when he had declared that he would elevate her to be his wife. She felt it was her worth which in his eyes had outweighed all else. That he should shrink from the outward struggle with the family, had on the other hand not occurred to her. To be sure, she had felt that it would be painful; but on this point she sheltered herself behind his manly shield. When he now so unexpectedly began to put off the time of announcement, first even by saying that he intended to be absent when the matter came up at home, there passed through her a feeling which she, in her inward dread, instinctively grasped as a saving straw, which possibly might enable her to reconsider.  66
  The two days passed hard and heavily with her, until Carl Beck returned again, and the nights were as a fever.  67
  Saturday evening he came, and she was the first one he greeted. He hardly seemed longer to be desirous of concealing their relation to each other: while she, pale and quiet, was busy going in and out of the room.  68
  He had with him a letter from his father, which was read at the table. It was dated from a South-American port, and spoke of Salve. In the latitude of Cape Hatteras they had had hard weather, during which it was necessary to cut away the main-mast’s rigging. The topmast still remained hanging by a couple of ropes, and reeled forward and back in the violent sea, against the under-rigging, so that the latter was threatened with destruction. Then Salve Kristiansen had ventured up to cut away the rest, and while he sat there the whole went overboard. He fell with it, but was so fortunate in falling as to catch hold of a topping-lift and save himself. “It was a great piece of daring,” added the communication in closing; “but for the rest, everything is not with him as it should be, and as was expected.”  69
  “Oh, no! I thought that before,” remarked young Beck, and shrugged his shoulders scornfully: “he was a God-forsaken scamp, and if he did not end that time he will soon have another chance.”  70
  He did not see the angry eyes Elizabeth fixed upon him at these words. She felt with despair, at this instant, that it was her fault alone that Salve behaved so recklessly, and had become what he was. She sat for a long time silent, angry, and quiet, with her hands in her lap; she was meditating a decision.  71
  Before they retired, Carl Beck whispered to her:—  72
  “I have sent a letter to father to-day, and to-morrow, Elizabeth, will be our betrothal day! Mina will show a pair of wondering eyes.”  73
  Elizabeth was the last one up, as she put the room to rights, and when she went she took a piece of paper with writing materials out with her. She lay down on her bed; but at midnight she sat with a candle and covered a scrap of paper with letters. It read:—
          “PARDON me that I cannot become your wife, for my heart is another’s.
ELIZABETH RAKLEV.”    
  74
  She folded it together, and fastened it with a pin in want of a wafer. Then she softly opened the door to the chamber where Madam Beck slept, put her mouth close to her ear, and whispered her name. She awoke, and was quite frightened when she saw Elizabeth standing before her fully dressed, and apparently ready to leave.  75
  “Madam Beck!” said she softly, “I will confide something to you, and beg advice and help of you. Your stepson has asked if I would be his wife. It was last Sunday—and I answered yes; but now I will not. And now I want to go to my aunt; or I would prefer to go further, if you know of any way for me. For otherwise I fear he will follow me.”  76
  Madam Beck sat as if the heavens had fallen. She assumed an incredulous, scornful expression; but when she felt that everything really must be as stated, she involuntarily sat up higher in bed.  77
  “But why do you come with this just now, in the night?” she remarked at last, suspiciously examining her: she thought she still lacked full light in the matter.  78
  “Because he has written his father to-day about it, and is going to tell you and the rest to-morrow.”  79
  “Ah, he has already written! Hence it was for this reason that he got you into this house!” she uttered after a pause, somewhat bitterly. Then it struck her that there was something noble in Elizabeth’s conduct. She looked at her more amiably and said:—  80
  “Yes, you are right: it is best for you to go to—a place where he cannot so easily reach you.”  81
  She gave herself again to thought; then a bright idea struck her, and she rose and dressed. There was a man’s definiteness about her, and she was wont to direct affairs. The Dutch skipper Garvloit, who was married to her half-sister, had just during the last days been inquiring for a Norse girl, that could help them about the house; and here indeed was a place for Elizabeth. She had only to go on board his trader, which lay ready to sail.  82
  She wrote at once a letter to Garvloit, which she handed to Elizabeth, together with a tolerably large sum of money: “Your wages for your work here,” she said.  83
  In the still, moonlit night Elizabeth rowed alone the little boat into Arendal. The bright sound was filled with myriads of reflected stars ’twixt the deep shadows of the sloping ridges, while more than one light mast betrayed that there were vessels close to the land. Occasionally the falling stars shot athwart the heavens, and she felt a jubilant gladness which she must often subdue by hard rowing for long stretches. She was, as it were, liberated, freed from some pressing evil. And Marie Fostberg—how delighted she would be to see her now!  84
  She reached town before daybreak and went straight up to her aunt’s, to whom she explained that Madam Beck desired that she should get a place in Holland with Skipper Garvloit, who was just ready to sail. She showed her the letter, there was such pressing haste. The aunt listened for a time, and then said suddenly:—  85
  “Elizabeth, there has been something out of the way with the naval officer!”  86
  “Yes, aunt, there has,” she answered, promptly: “he has offered himself to me!”  87
  “Well, then—”  88
  “And then I as good as promised him; but I will not have him. So I told Madam Beck.”  89
  The aunt’s gestures showed that she thought this astounding intelligence.  90
  “So you will not have him?” she said at last: “then it was perhaps because you would rather have Salve?”  91
  “Yes, aunt,” she answered, somewhat softly.  92
  “Why didn’t you take him, then?” said the aunt, a little harshly.  93
  The tears came to Elizabeth’s eyes.  94
  “Yes, as one makes his bed so he must lie,” remarked the old woman, who was always strong in proverbs; and gave her attention to the morning coffee.  95
  Elizabeth, on the way to get some one to row her out to the trader, went in by the post-office, where she found Marie already up, in her morning dress and busy in the day-room. The latter was very much astonished when Elizabeth told her her new decision. It was so profitable, and an almost independent position, and Madam Beck had herself advised it, Elizabeth explained; and showed much ingenuity in avoiding putting her on the track. That Marie Fostberg did not after all get things to rhyme, Elizabeth could understand by her eyes. When they took leave they embraced each other and wept.  96
  There was grand amazement out at the country-place that Elizabeth was absent. The lieutenant had found her letter in the crack of his door, but had not imagined that she had left; and he had gone out with it in violent excitement, without coming home again until late in the afternoon.  97
  Madam Beck had meanwhile intrusted the matter to the daughters, and they understood that it was to be kept secret from outsiders.  98
  Although his eyes searched, still he did not inquire expressly for Elizabeth until evening; and when he heard that she was gone, and probably was now under way for Holland, he sat for a time as if petrified. Thereupon he looked scornfully upon them, one after another.  99
  “If I knew that I had any one of you to thank for this,” he burst out at last, “then—” Here he grasped the chair he sat upon, cast it on the floor so that it broke, and jumped upon it. But her letter was unfortunately plain enough: she loved another, and he also knew who that other was.  100
 
 
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