When he came to Merdoe he moored the cutter in silence—scarcely looking at Gjert, who came down to help him—and went in, without speaking, to the house, where he stood by the window for a while writing on the window-pane. It was soon quite dark outside; Gjert had lit a candle, and had sat down by the table. He understood that there was something wrong again with his mother, but did not dare to ask after her, as he was longing to do. His father, during the rest of the evening, never stirred from the corner of the bench which was his son’s sleeping-place; it was made to serve the double purpose of bench and bed.
When supper-time arrived, Gjert put some food on the table. He felt that the situation somehow was dangerous, and went on his tiptoes to make as little noise as possible; but he was the more awkward in consequence, and made a clatter with the plates.
This, and the dread of him which his son showed, irritated Salve. He flared up suddenly, and burst out in a thundering voice—
“Don’t you ask after your mother, boy?”
Gjert would have been frightened under ordinary circumstances, but his anxiety for his mother, for whom his heart bled, gave him courage to answer boldly—
“Yes, father; I have been wanting all the time to ask how mother was. Is she not coming? Poor mother!” and the boy burst into tears, laid his head upon his arm, and sobbed.
“Mother will come back when her aunt over in Arendal is well again,” said the pilot, soothingly. But he soon broke out again.
“You have nothing to blubber for,” he said; “you can go in and see her if you like t-omorrow morning the first thing. You may go now and sleep in our bed.”
Gjert obeyed; and his father paced to and fro on the floor afterwards for a long while in great agitation.
“That is her game, then, is it?” he exclaimed. “She knew what she was about, and she knew who it was she was threatening.”
He sat down again on the bench-bed with clasped hands, and eyes fixed on the ground. Passion was working strongly within him.
“But she does not put compulsion upon me.”
The candle was expiring in the socket, and he lit another and put it in its place. It was past midnight. He remained for a little with the candlestick in his hand, and then took the light in to Gjert. The boy was lying in his mother’s place, and had evidently cried himself to sleep.
His father stood for a long while over him. His lips quivered, and his face became ashy pale. He controlled himself with an effort and went back to the other room, where he sat down in the same attitude as before.
When Gjert came in in the morning, he found his father lying down on the bench with all his clothes on. He was asleep. It was evident that he had sat up the whole night. It went to the boy’s heart; and he felt sorry for his father now.
The latter woke shortly after and looked at him rather confusedly at first. Then he said, gently—