One evening thin, soft clouds are floating in the sky; one evening all is still and mild; one evening the air is filled with fine white down from the aspens and poplars.
It is quite late, and no one is up except Uncle Theodore, who is walking in the garden and is considering how he can separate the young man and the young woman.
For never, never in the world shall it come to pass that Maurits leaves his house with her at his side while Uncle Theodore stands on the steps and wishes them a pleasant journey.
Is it a possibility to let her go at all, since she has filled the house for three days with merry chirping, since she in her quiet way has accustomed them to be cared for and petted by her, since they have all grown used to seeing that soft, supple little creature roving about everywhere. Uncle Theodore says to himself that it is not possible. He cannot live without her.
Just then he strikes against a dandelion which has gone to seed, and, like men’s resolutions and men’s promises, the white ball of down is scattered, its white floss flies out and is dispersed.
The night is not cold as the nights generally are in that part of the country. The warmth is kept in by the grey cloud blanket. The winds show themselves merciful for once and do not blow.
Uncle Theodore sees her, Downie. She is weeping because Maurits has forsaken her. But he draws her to him and kisses away her tears.
Soft and fine, the white down falls from the great ripe clusters of the trees,—so light that the air will scarcely let them fall, so fine and delicate that they hardly show on the ground.
Uncle Theodore laughs to himself when he thinks of Maurits. In thought he goes in to him the next morning while he is still lying in his bed. “Listen, Maurits,” he means to say to him. “I do not wish to inspire you with false hopes. If you marry this girl, you need not expect a penny from me. I will not help to ruin your future.”
“Do you think so badly of her, uncle?” Maurits will say.
“No, on the contrary; she is a nice girl, but still not the one for you. You shall have a woman like Elizabeth Westling. Be sensible, Maurits; what will become of you if you break off your studies and go into trade for that child’s sake. You are not suited to it, my boy. Something more is needed for such work than to be able to lift your hat gracefully from your head and to say: ’Thank you, my children!’ You are cut out and made for a civil official. You can become minister.”
“If you have such a good opinion of me,” Maurits will answer, “help me with my examination and let us afterwards be married!”
“Not at all, not at all. What do you think would become of your career if you had such a weight as a wife? The horse which drags the bread wagon does not go fast ahead. Think of the girl from the bakery as a minister’s wife! No, you ought not to engage yourself for at least ten years, not before you have made your place. What would the result be if I helped you to be married? Every year you would come to me and beg for money. You and I would both weary of that.”