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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Landed Proprietor
By Fredrika Bremer (1801–1865)
 
From ‘The Home’

LOUISE possessed the quality of being a good listener in a higher degree than any one else in the family, and therefore she heard more than any one else of his Excellency; but not of him only, for Jacobi had always something to tell her, always something to consult her about; and in case she were not too much occupied with her thoughts about the weaving, he could always depend upon the most intense sympathy, and the best advice both with regard to moral questions and economical arrangements, dress, plans for the future, and so forth. He also gave her good advice—which however was very seldom followed—when she was playing Postilion; he also drew patterns for her tapestry work, and was very fond of reading aloud to her—but novels rather than sermons.  1
  But he was not long allowed to sit by her side alone; for very soon a person seated himself at her other side whom we will call the Landed Proprietor, as he was chiefly remarkable for the possession of a large estate in the vicinity of the town.  2
  The Landed Proprietor seemed to be disposed to dispute with the Candidate—let us continue to call him so, as we are all, in one way or the other, Candidates in this world—the place which he possessed. The Landed Proprietor had, besides his estate, a very portly body; round, healthy-looking cheeks; a pair of large gray eyes, remarkable for their want of expression; and a little rosy mouth, which preferred mastication to speaking, which laughed without meaning, and which now began to direct to “Cousin Louise”—for he considered himself related to the Lagman—several short speeches, which we will recapitulate in the following chapter, headed
  STRANGE QUESTIONS
  3
  “Cousin Louise, are you fond of fish—bream for instance?” asked the Landed Proprietor one evening, as he seated himself by the side of Louise, who was busy working a landscape in tapestry.  4
  “Oh, yes! bream is a very good fish,” answered she, phlegmatically, without looking up.  5
  “Oh, with red-wine sauce, delicious! I have splendid fishing on my estate, Oestanvik. Big fellows of bream! I fish for them myself.”  6
  “Who is the large fish there?” inquired Jacobi of Henrik, with an impatient sneer; “and what is it to him if your sister Louise is fond of bream or not?”  7
  “Because then she might like him too, mon cher! A very fine and solid fellow is my cousin Thure of Oestanvik. I advise you to cultivate his acquaintance. What now, Gabrielle dear, what now, your Highness?”  8
  “What is that which—”  9
  “Yes, what is it? I shall lose my head over that riddle. Mamma dear, come and help your stupid son!”  10
  “No, no! Mamma knows it already. She must not say it!” exclaimed Gabrielle with fear.  11
  “What king do you place above all other kings, Magister?” asked Petrea for the second time,—having this evening her “raptus” of questioning.  12
  “Charles the Thirteenth,” answered the Candidate, and listened for what Louise was going to reply to the Landed Proprietor.  13
  “Do you like birds, Cousin Louise?” asked the Landed Proprietor.  14
  “Oh yes, particularly the throstle,” answered Louise.  15
  “Well,—I am glad of that!” said the Landed Proprietor. “On my estate, Oestanvik, there is an immense quantity of throstles. I often go out with my gun, and shoot them for my dinner. Piff, paff! with two shots I have directly a whole dishful.”  16
  Petrea, who was asked by no one “Do you like birds, cousin?” and who wished to occupy the Candidate, did not let herself be deterred by his evident confusion, but for the second time put the following question:—“Do you think, Magister, that people before the Flood were really worse than they are nowadays?”  17
  “Oh, much, much better,” answered the Candidate.  18
  “Are you fond of roasted hare, Cousin Louise?” asked the Landed Proprietor.  19
  “Are you fond of roasted hare, Magister?” whispered Petrea waggishly to Jacobi.  20
  “Brava, Petrea!” whispered her brother to her.  21
  “Are you fond of cold meat, Cousin Louise?” asked the Landed Proprietor, as he was handing Louise to the supper-table.  22
  “Are you fond of Landed Proprietor?” whispered Henrik to her as she left it.  23
  Louise answered just as a cathedral would have answered: she looked very solemn and was silent.  24
  After supper Petrea was quite excited, and left nobody alone who by any possibility could answer her. “Is reason sufficient for mankind? What is the ground of morals? What is properly the meaning of ‘revelation’? Why is everything so badly arranged in the State? Why must there be rich and poor?” etc., etc.  25
  “Dear Petrea!” said Louise, “what use can there be in asking those questions?”  26
  It was an evening for questions; they did not end even when the company had broken up.  27
  “Don’t you think, Elise,” said the Lagman to his wife when they were alone, “that our little Petrea begins to be disagreeable with her continual questioning and disputing? She leaves no one in peace, and is stirred up herself the whole time. She will make herself ridiculous if she keeps on in this way.”  28
  “Yes, if she does keep on so. But I have a feeling that she will change. I have observed her very particularly for some time, and do you know, I think there is really something very uncommon in that girl.”  29
  “Yes, yes, there is certainly something uncommon in her. Her liveliness and the many games and schemes which she invents—”  30
  “Yes, don’t you think they indicate a decided talent for the fine arts? And then her extraordinary thirst for learning: every morning, between three and four o’clock, she gets up in order to read or write, or to work at her compositions. That is not at all a common thing. And may not her uneasiness, her eagerness to question and dispute, arise from a sort of intellectual hunger? Ah, from such hunger, which many women must suffer throughout their lives, from want of literary food,—from such an emptiness of the soul arise disquiet, discontent, nay, innumerable faults.”  31
  “I believe you are right, Elise,” said the Lagman, “and no condition in life is sadder, particularly in more advanced years. But this shall not be the lot of our Petrea—that I will promise. What do you think now would benefit her most?”  32
  “My opinion is that a serious and continued plan of study would assist in regulating her mind. She is too much left to herself with her confused tendencies, with her zeal and her inquiry. I am too ignorant myself to lead and instruct her, you have too little time, and she has no one here who can properly direct her young and unregulated mind. Sometimes I almost pity her, for her sisters don’t understand at all what is going on within her, and I confess it is often painful to myself; I wish I were more able to assist her. Petrea needs some ground on which to take her stand. Her thoughts require more firmness; from the want of this comes her uneasiness. She is like a flower without roots, which is moved about by wind and waves.”  33
  “She shall take root, she shall find ground as sure as it is to be found in the world,” said the Lagman, with a serious and beaming eye, at the same time striking his hand on the book containing the law of West Gotha, so that it fell to the ground. “We will consider more of this, Elise,” continued he: “Petrea is still too young for us to judge with certainty of her talents and tendencies. But if they turn out to be what they appear, then she shall never feel any hunger as long as I live and can procure bread for my family. You know my friend, the excellent Bishop B——: perhaps we can at first confide our Petrea to his guidance. After a few years we shall see; she is still only a child. Don’t you think that we ought to speak to Jacobi, in order to get him to read and converse with her? Apropos, how is it with Jacobi? I imagine that he begins to be too attentive to Louise.”  34
  “Well, well! you are not so far wrong; and even our cousin Thure of Oestanvik,—have you perceived anything there?”  35
  “Yes, I did perceive something yesterday evening; what the deuce was his meaning with those stupid questions he put to her? ‘Does cousin like this?’ or ‘Is cousin fond of that?’ I don’t like that at all myself. Louise is not yet full-grown, and already people come and ask her, ‘Does cousin like—?’ Well, it may signify very little after all, which would perhaps please me best. What a pity, however, that our cousin is not a little more manly; for he has certainly got a most beautiful estate, and so near us.”  36
  “Yes, a pity; because, as he is at present, I am almost sure Louise would find it impossible to give him her hand.”  37
  “You do not believe that her inclination is toward Jacobi?”  38
  “To tell the truth, I fancy that this is the case.”  39
  “Nay, that would be very unpleasant and very unwise: I am very fond of Jacobi, but he has nothing and is nothing.”  40
  “But, my dear, he may get something and become something; I confess, dear Ernst, that I believe he would suit Louise better for a husband than any one else we know, and I would with pleasure call him my son.”  41
  “Would you, Elise? then I must also prepare myself to do the same. You have had most trouble and most labor with the children, it is therefore right that you should decide in their affairs.”  42
  “Ernst, you are so kind!”  43
  “Say just, Elise; not more than just. Besides, it is my opinion that our thoughts and inclinations will not differ much. I confess that Louise appears to me to be a great treasure, and I know of nobody I could give her to with all my heart; but if Jacobi obtains her affections, I feel that I could not oppose their union, although it would be painful to me on account of his uncertain prospects. He is really dear to me, and we are under great obligations to him on account of Henrik; his excellent heart, his honesty, and his good qualities, will make him as good a citizen as a husband and father, and I consider him to be one of the most agreeable men to associate with daily. But, God bless me! I speak as if I wished the union, but that is far from my desire: I would much rather keep my daughters at home, so long as they find themselves happy with me; but when girls grow up, there is never any peace to depend on. I wish all lovers and questioners a long way off. Here we could live altogether as in a kingdom of heaven, now that we have got everything in such order. Some small improvements may still be wanted, but this will be all right if we are only left in peace. I have been thinking that we could so easily make a wardrobe here: do you see on this side of the wall—don’t you think if we were to open—What! are you asleep already, my dear?”
*        *        *        *        *
  44
  Louise was often teased about Cousin Thure; Cousin Thure was often teased about Cousin Louise. He liked very much to be teased about his Cousin Louise, and it gave him great pleasure to be told that Oestanvik wanted a mistress, that he himself wanted a good wife, and that Louise Frank was decidedly one of the wisest and most amiable girls in the whole neighborhood, and of the most respectable family. The Landed Proprietor was half ready to receive congratulations on his betrothal. What the supposed bride thought about the matter, however, is difficult to divine. Louise was certainly always polite to her “Cousin Thure,” but more indifference than attachment seemed to be expressed in this politeness; and she declined, with a decision astonishing to many a person, his constantly repeated invitations to make a tour to Oestanvik in his new landau drawn by “my chestnut horses,” four-in-hand. It was said by many that the agreeable and friendly Jacobi was much nearer to Louise’s heart than the rich Landed Proprietor. But even towards Jacobi her behavior was so uniform, so quiet, and so unconstrained that nobody knew what to think. Very few knew so well as we do that Louise considered it in accordance with the dignity of a woman to show perfect indifference to the attentions or doux propos of men, until they had openly and fully explained themselves. She despised coquetry to that degree that she feared everything which had the least appearance of it. Her young friends used to joke with her upon her strong notions in this respect, and often told her that she would remain unmarried.  45
  “That may be!” answered Louise calmly.  46
  One day she was told that a gentleman had said, “I will not stand up for any girl who is not a little coquettish!”  47
  “Then he may remain sitting!” answered Louise, with a great deal of dignity.  48
  Louise’s views with regard to the dignity of woman, her serious and decided principles, and her manner of expressing them, amused her young friends, at the same time that they inspired them with great regard for her, and caused many little contentions and discussions in which Louise fearlessly, though not without some excess, defended what was right. These contentions, which began in merriment, sometimes ended quite differently.  49
  A young and somewhat coquettish married lady felt herself one day wounded by the severity with which Louise judged the coquetry of her sex, particularly of married ladies, and in revenge she made use of some words which awakened Louise’s astonishment and anger at the same time. An explanation followed between the two, the consequence of which was a complete rupture between Louise and the young lady, together with an altered disposition of mind in the former, which she in vain attempted to conceal. She had been unusually joyous and lively during the first days of her stay at Axelholm; but she now became silent and thoughtful, often absent; and some people thought that she seemed less friendly than formerly towards the Candidate, but somewhat more attentive to the Landed Proprietor, although she constantly declined his invitation “to take a tour to Oestanvik.”  50
  The evening after this explanation took place, Elise was engaged with Jacobi in a lively conversation in the balcony.  51
  “And if,” said Jacobi, “if I endeavor to win her affections, oh, tell me! would her parents, would her mother see it without displeasure? Ah, speak openly with me; the happiness of my life depends upon it!”  52
  “You have my approval and my good wishes,” answered Elise; “I tell you now what I have often told my husband, that I should very much like to call you my son!”  53
  “Oh!” exclaimed Jacobi, deeply affected, falling on his knees and pressing Elise’s hand to his lips: “oh, that every act in my life might prove my gratitude, my love—!”  54
  At this moment Louise, who had been looking for her mother, approached the balcony; she saw Jacobi’s action and heard his words. She withdrew quickly, as if she had been stung by a serpent.  55
  From this time a great change was more and more perceptible in her. Silent, shy, and very pale, she moved about like a dreaming person in the merry circle at Axelholm, and willingly agreed to her mother’s proposal to shorten her stay at this place.  56
  Jacobi, who was as much astonished as sorry at Louise’s sudden unfriendliness towards him, began to think the place was somehow bewitched, and wished more than once to leave it.  57
 
 
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