It was perhaps the third time when Tharald had thus protested his blamelessness, that his guest, feeling that reasoning was unavailing, let drop some rather commonplace remark about the culpability of all men before God.
Tharald suddenly flared up, and brought down his fist with a blow on the table.
“Somebody has been bearing tales to you, young man,” he cried. “Have you been listening to parish talk?”
“That matters little,” answered Fern, coolly. “No one is so blameless that he can claim exemption from misfortune as his just desert.”
“Aha, so they have told you that the farm is not mine,” continued his host, while his gray eyes glimmered uneasily under his bushy brows. “They have told you that silly nursery tale of the planting of the fern and the sweet-brier, and of Ulf, who sought his death in the glacier. They have told you that I stole the bride of my brother Arne, and that he fled from me over the sea,—and you have believed it all.”
At the sound of the name Arne, a flash darted through Maurice’s mind; he sprang up, stood for a moment tottering, and then fell back into the chair. Dim memories of his childhood rose up within him; he remembered how his father, who was otherwise so brave and frank and strong, had recoiled from speaking of that part of his life which preceded his coming to the New World. And now, he grasped with intuitive eagerness at this straw, but felt still a vague fear of penetrating into the secret which his father had wished to hide from him. He raised his head slowly, and saw Tharald’s face contracted into an angry scowl and his eyes staring grimly at him.
“Well, does the devil ride you?” he burst forth, with his explosive grunt.
Maurice brushed his hand over his face as if to clear his vision, and returned Tharald’s stare with frank fearlessness. There was no denying that in this wrinkled, roughly hewn mask there were lines and suggestions which recalled the free and noble mold of his father’s features. It was a coincidence of physiognomic intentions rather than actual resemblance—or a resemblance, such as might exist between a Vandyck portrait and the same face portrayed by some bungling village artist.
The old man, too, was evidently seeing visions; for he presently began to wince under Maurice’s steady gaze, and some troubled memory dwelt in his eye as he rose, and took to sauntering distractedly about on the floor.
“How long is it since your brother Arne fled over the sea?” asked Maurice, firmly.
“How does that concern you?”
“It does concern me, and I wish to know.”
Tharald paused in his walk, and stood long, measuring his antagonist with a look of slow, pondering defiance. Then he tossed his head back with a grim laugh, walked toward a carved oaken press in a corner, took out a ponderous Bible, and flung it down on the table.
“I am beginning to see through your game,” he said gruffly. “Here is the family record. Look into it at your leisure. And if you are right, let me know. But don’t you tell me that that scare about the glacier wasn’t all humbug. If it is your right of entail you want to look up, I sha’n’t stand in your way.”