It was the 14th of May, and Uncle Richard was riding on Don Juan along the road from Bratvold. To-morrow was the great day at Sandsgaard. The ship was to be launched in the morning, and in the evening was to be given the yearly ball.
The old gentleman was deep in thought, and Don Juan went pacing slowly along, turning his well-shaped head on every side, while the south wind that came swelling up along the coast persisted in lifting the locks of his long mane and throwing them on the wrong side, and played with the forelock on his brow.
The road led over swelling ground covered with heather, past well-stocked farms, over moors, and desolate wastes thickly strewn with boulders. Not a tree was to be seen as far as the eye could reach, and it reached far, both out to sea and over the country, which sloped gradually up to the mountains many a mile inland.
What a wealth of life seemed bursting from the thawing earth! How many balmy odours seemed to rise; how many changing colours; how many wreaths of mist were gliding over the pools, and hanging in the rushes, or spreading themselves over the moorland; while the clear sunny air was ringing with the song of larks singing in emulation! There were the plovers racing after each other, the sandpipers, the snipes, starlings, and ducks. A whole life of joyous bustle; while out to the westward could be seen the line of bright yellow sand standing out against the dark-blue sea.
Uncle Richard saw but little of all this as he went along. Things had not gone well with him during the winter. While at home, Madeleine was constantly in his thoughts; and when he went to Sandsgaard and saw her, it did not tend to make him more cheerful.
She had told him about Pastor Martens’s proposal to her; but there was nothing to worry over in that, thought the attache, especially as she had refused the offer. There must be some other cause for her depression, and to-day he had made up his mind to talk to Christian Frederick, who always gave such good advice. He had also determined that he would at length take courage, and ask his brother how money matters stood between them. It was really too bad not to have a clear knowledge of one’s own affairs.
At Sandsgaard he found the whole house in an uproar. On the second floor the furniture was being moved, dusting was going on, and candles were being put in the chandeliers. Downstairs the table was already laid for supper; only the old gentlemen’s bedrooms and the offices were respected; and in the window of the still-room he noticed jellies and blancmanges, which had been put there to cool.
“Oh dear me! what a bustle it all is!” said Mrs. Garman, faintly.
She had had her armchair moved into a room at the side of the kitchen, where the dishing-up was done.
Here she remained the whole day, and had samples of everything that was cooked in the kitchen brought to her. The kitchen-maids were as nervous as if they had been undergoing an examination.