“But there shall be an end of this! Salve and I shall no longer make a desert of each other’s life!” and she rose from her chair in great agitation.
“What are you saying, Elizabeth?” asked her aunt, whom she had unconsciously awakened.
“Nothing, dear aunt,” she answered, and bent over the invalid with a cup of broth, which she had been keeping warm over the night-light.
“You look so—so happy, Elizabeth.”
“It is because you have slept so well, aunt; and if you drink this you will go to sleep again.”
There was a quiet smile on her lips now, and her whole bearing was changed. The burden of years was taken off her heart. At last the chilling, heavy, bewildering fog which had enclosed her whole life, making every footstep, every thought, every joy uncertain, had lifted, and she could clearly see her way.
Salve had been lucky; he had piloted an English bark into Hesnaes, and his services had been liberally acknowledged. He had, as usual, looked forward with dread to coming home again; but when he found his wife not there, and heard the reason, he had set off at once for Arendal to see after her.
She received him out in the passage.
“Good morning, Salve,” she said, shaking hands with him. “I have been anxious about you, as you may suppose, and have been expecting you. You mustn’t make a noise—come this way,” and she showed him into the room at the side. “Where is Gjert?”
He looked at her in surprise; this was not her usual way of receiving him. There was a confidence in her tone, as if she had taken upon herself to call him to account for his absence. It had hitherto been he always who had taken the initiative and been in a gracious humour or not, according as it pleased him.
“Gjert,” he answered, rather shortly, “is at home in the house. So you have been anxious about me—expected me?” he added, in a peculiar tone, as if he found something to remark upon in this way of addressing him, but deferred comment for the present.
“Why, you know, goodman, that it can’t be the same to me if you are lost out there at sea.”
“How is your aunt?” he asked, abruptly. “Is she seriously ill?”
“She can see you. Come in with me, but step gently.”
Salve felt that he could not very well refuse, and followed her. He had always, as far as possible, avoided seeing Mother Kirstine, and had left his wife to represent him in that quarter. He was afraid of the penetrating eyes which the old woman turned upon him, and had never forgotten the warning she had given him not to go near Elizabeth as long as he harboured a doubt against her in his heart.
It was with great deference that he now approached her bedside.
“Oh, it’s you, Salve,” she said, in a weak voice. “It’s not often I have a sight of you. Elizabeth has been such a blessing to me; and Henrik is so quiet and good. Where is Gjert? Have you not brought him with you?” And her eyes wandered in search of the boy.