She attempted to smile, feeling that it was expected of her; but the result was hardly proportionate to the effort. Her features were not of that type which lends itself easily to disguises. A simple maidenly soul, if the whole infinite variety of human masks had been at its disposal, would have chosen just such a countenance as this as its complete expression. There was nothing striking in it, unless an entirely faultless combination of softly curving lines and fresh flesh-tints be rare enough to merit that appellation; nor would any one but a cynic have called it a commonplace face, for the absolute sweetness and purity which these simple lines and tints expressed appealed directly to that part of one’s nature where no harsh adjectives dwell. It was a feeling of this kind which suddenly checked Fern in the scientific meditation he was about to indulge, and spoiled the profound but uncharitable result at which he had already half arrived. A young man who could extract scientific information from the features of a beautiful girl could hardly be called human; and our hero with all his enthusiasm for abstract things, was as yet not exalted above the laws which govern his species.
The girl had, under his kindly ministry, recovered her breath and her spirits. She had risen, brushed the moss and loose earth from her dress, and was about to proceed on her way.
“I thank you,” she said simply, reaching him her hand in Norse fashion. “You have been very good to me.”
“Not at all,” he answered, shaking her hand heartily. “And now, wouldn’t you please tell me your name?”
“Elsie Tharald’s daughter Ormgrass.”
“Ah, indeed! Then we shall soon be better acquainted. I am living at your father’s house.”
Two weeks had passed since Maurice’s arrival at the farm. Elsie was sitting on the topmost step of the store-house stairs, intent upon some kind of coarse knitting-work, whose bag-like convexity remotely suggested a stocking. Some straggling rays of the late afternoon sun had got tangled in the loose locks on her forehead, which shone with a golden translucence. At the foot of the stairs stood her father, polishing with a woollen rag the tarnished silver of an ancient harness. At this moment Fern was seen entering the yard at the opposite side, and with his usual brisk step approaching the store-house. Elsie, looking up from her knitting, saw at once that there was something unusual in his manner—something which in another man you might have called agitation, but which with him was but an intenser degree of self-command.
“Good-evening,” he said, as he stopped in front of her father. “I have something I wish to speak with you about.”
“Speak on, young man,” answered Tharald, rubbing away imperturbably at one of the blinders. “Elsie isn’t likely to blab, even if what you say is worth blabbing.”