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- Absalom's Hair - 10/22 -
left the room. It now struck him how pleasant it would have been for his mother if he had taken her with him to explore and make acquaintance with this new Hellebergene. The evening before, in his father's rooms, it had seemed as though nothing could ever separate them--and the first thing in the morning he was off with some one else. This evening he knew that nothing could be done, but next morning he begged her earnestly to come with them, and they would show her what he had seen the day before; but she only shook her head and took up a book. Day after day he made a similar request, but always with the same result. She thought that these invitations were merely formal, and so, from one point of view, they were. He was most ready to appease her, most ready to show her everything, for he felt himself to blame, though he certainly thought that she might have understood; but her presence would have marred their tete-a-tete; he would have been embarrassed enough if she had acquiesced!
The Dean, with his wife and daughter, came the following Sunday to return Fru Kaas's visit. She was politeness itself, and specially thanked Helene for her care of Hellebergene. Helene coloured without knowing why, but when Rafael also coloured, she blushed still deeper. This was the event of the visit; nothing else of importance occurred.
In their daily walks through the fields and woods, the two young people soon exhausted the topic of Hellebergene. He took up another theme. His inventions became the topic of conversation. He had acquired, from his studies with his mother, an unusual facility in explaining his meaning, and in Helene he found a listener such as he had rarely before met with. She was sufficiently acquainted with the laws of nature to understand a simple description. But all the same it was not his inventions but himself that he discoursed on. He quite realised this, and became all the more eager. Her eyes made his reasoning clearer. He had never before had such complete faith in himself as when near her, and now no misgivings succeeded.
Helene, however, had not hitherto known the direction and results of his studies. He was an engineer, that was all that she had heard on the subject. When he had told her more about it he rose considerably in her estimation. It was SHE now who began to feel constrained. At first she did not understand why she felt obliged to put more restraint upon herself. After a time she began to excuse herself from joining him, and their walks became more rare. "She had so much to do now."
He did not comprehend the reason of this; he fancied that his mother might be to blame (which, by the way, was quite a mistake), and he grew angry. He was already greatly affronted that his mother had chosen to confound his former gallantries with his present attachment. He quite forgot that at first he had merely sought to amuse himself here as elsewhere. He gave himself up entirely to his passion, which would brook no hindrance, no opposition; it became majestic. In Helene he had found his future life.
But her parents had grown less cordial of late owing to Fru Kaas's coldness, and the time came when all attempts to obtain meetings with Helene failed. He had never been so infatuated. He seemed to see her continually before him--her luxuriant beauty, her light step, her grey eyes gazing steadfastly into his.
Why could they not be married to-morrow or the next day? What could be more natural? What could more certainly help him forward?
The constraint between his mother and himself had reached a greater pitch than ever before. He thought seriously of leaving her and the country. He still had some money left, the proceeds of the patent, and he could easily make more. How irksome it became to him to go into the fields and woods without Helene! He could not study; he had no one to talk to; what should he do?
Devote himself to boating!--row out far beyond the bay, right up to the town! One day, as he rowed along the coast, beyond the bay, he noticed that the clay and flag-stone formation in the hills and ridges was speckled with grey. Helene had told him how extraordinary it looked out there now that the trees were gone, but as they would have had to come out in the boat to see it he had let the remark pass. Now he decided to land there. The shore rose steeply from the water, but he scrambled up. He had expected to find limestone, but he could hardly believe his own eyes: it was cement stone! Absolutely, undoubtedly, cement stone! How far did it extend? As far as he could see; it might even extend to the boundary of the estate. In any case, here was sufficient for extensive works for many, many years, if only there were enough silica with the clay and lime. He had soon knocked off a few pieces, which he put into the boat, and set out for home to analyse them.
Seldom had any one rowed faster than he did; now he shot past the islands into the bay, up to the landing-place before the house. If the cement stone contained the right proportions, here was what would make Helene and himself independent of every one; AND THAT AT ONCE!
A little later, with dirty hands and clothes, his face bathed in perspiration, he rushed up to his mother with the result of his investigations.
"Here is something for you to see."
She was reading; she looked up and turned as white as a sheet.
"Is that the cement stone?" she asked, as she put down her book.
"Did you know about it?" he exclaimed, in the greatest astonishment.
"Good gracious, yes," she answered. She walked across to the window, came back again, pressing her hands together. "So you have found it too?"
"Who did before me?"
"Your father, Rafael, your father, the first time that I was here, a little time before we were to leave." She paused. "He came rushing in as you did just now--not so quickly, not so quickly, he was weak in the legs, but otherwise just like you." She let her eyes rest, with a peculiar look, on Rafael's dirty hands. The hands themselves were not well shaped, they were almost exactly his father's.
Rafael noticed nothing.
"Had HE found the bed of cement stone, then?"
"Yes. He locked the door behind him. I got up from my chair and asked him how he dared? He could hardly speak." She paused for a moment, recalling it all again. "Yes, and it was THAT stuff."
"What did he say, mother?"
She had turned to leave the room.
"Your father believed that I had brought luck to the house."
"And why was it not so, then?"
She faced him quickly. He coloured.
"Pardon, mother, you misunderstood me. I meant, why did it come to nothing about the cement?"
"You did not know your father: there were too many hooks about him for him to be able to carry out anything."
"Yes! eccentricity, egotism, passion, which caught fast in everything."
"What did he propose to do?"
"No one was to be allowed to have anything to do with it, no one was to know of it, he was to be everything! For this reason the timber was to be cut down and sold; and when we were married--I say when we were married, the whole of my fortune was to be used as well."
He saw the horror with which she still regarded it; she was passing through the whole struggle again; and he understood that he must not question her further. She made a gesture with her hand; and he asked hurriedly, "Why did you not tell me before, mother?"
"Because it would have brought you no good," she answered decidedly.
He felt, nay, he saw that she believed that it would bring him no good now. She again raised her hand, and he left her.
When he was once more in the boat, taking his great news to the parsonage, he thought to himself, Here is the reason of my father's and mother's deadly enmity.
The cement stone! She did not trust him, she would not give him both herself and her fortune, so there was no cement, nor were any trees felled.
"Well, he scored after all. Yes, and mother too; but God help ME!"
Then he reckoned up what the timber and the fortune together would have been worth, and what further sum could have been raised on the property, the value of the cement-bed being taken into consideration. He understood his father better than his mother. What a fortune, what power, what magnificence, what a life!
At the parsonage he carried every one with him.
The Dean, because he saw at once what this was worth. "You are a rich man now," he said. The Dean's wife, because she felt attracted by his ability and enthusiasm. Helene? Helene was silent and frightened. He turned towards her and asked if she would come with him in the boat to see it. She really must see how extensive the bed was.
"Yes, dear, go with him," said her father.
Rafael wished to sit behind her in the boat and hastened towards the bow; but, without a word, she passed him, sat down, and took
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