“It is a more serious affair than you think,” continued Fern, thrusting his peaked staff deep into the sod. “If the glacier goes on advancing at this rate, your farm is doomed within a year.”
The old peasant raised his grizzly head, scratched with provoking deliberation the fringe of beard which lined his face like a frame, and stared with a look of supercilious scorn at his informant.
“If our fare don’t suit you,” he growled, “you needn’t stay. We shan’t try to keep you.”
“I had no thought of myself,” retorted Fern, calmly; for he had by this time grown somewhat accustomed to his host’s disagreeable ways. “You will no doubt have observed that the glacier has, within the last thirty years, sent out a new branch to the westward, and if this branch continues to progress at its present rate, nothing short of a miracle can save you. During the first week after my arrival it advanced fifteen feet, as I have ascertained by accurate measurements, and during the last seven days it has shot forward nineteen feet more. If next winter should bring a heavy fall of snow, the nether edge may break off, without the slightest warning, and an avalanche may sweep down upon you, carrying houses, barns, and the very soil down into the fjord. I sincerely hope that you will heed my words, and take your precautions while it is yet time. Science is not to be trifled with; it has a power of prophecy surer than that of Ezekiel or Daniel.”
“The devil take both you and your science!” cried the old man, now thoroughly aroused. “If you hadn’t been poking about up there, and digging your sneezing-horn in everywhere, the glacier would have kept quiet, as it has done before, as far back as man’s memory goes. I knew at once that mischief was brewing when you and your black Satan came here with your pocket-furnaces, and your long-legged gazing-tubes, and all the rest of your new-fangled deviltry. If you don’t hurry up and get out of my house this very day, I will whip you off the farm like a dog.”
Tharald would probably have continued this pleasing harangue for an indefinite period (for excitement acted as a powerful stimulus to his imagination), had he not just then felt the grasp of a hand upon his arm, and seen a pair of blue eyes, full of tearful appeal, raised to his.
“Get away, daughter,” he grumbled, with that shade of gruffness which is but the transition to absolute surrender. “I am not talking to you.”
“Oh, father,” cried the girl, still clinging to his arm, “it is very wrong in you to talk to him in that way. You know very well that he would never do us any harm. You know he cannot move anything as large as the glacier.”
“The devil only knows what he can’t do,” muttered Tharald, with a little explosive grunt, which might be interpreted as a qualified concession. The fact was, he was rather ashamed of his senseless violence, but did not feel it to be consistent with his dignity to admit unconditionally that he had been in the wrong.