“Even more than the two others, if it were possible,” interrupted Katrina, drying her eyes on the corner of her apron. “If we have anything to reproach ourselves for, it is for bestowing upon him too large a share of our tenderness.”
“Dame Hersebom, you must not do me the injustice to suppose that your kindness to the little shipwrecked child inspires me with any other feeling than the greatest admiration,” said the doctor.
“No, you must not think such a thing. But if you wish me to speak frankly—I must say that this tenderness has blinded you to your duty. You should have endeavored to discover the family of the infant, as far as your means permitted.”
There was perfect silence for a few minutes.
“It is possible that we have done wrong,” said Mr. Hersebom, who had hung his head under this reproach. “But what is done can not be altered. Erik belongs to us now, and I do not wish any one to speak to him about these old reminiscences.”
“You need have no fear, I will not betray your confidence,” answered the doctor, rising.
“I must leave you, my good friends, and I wish you good-night—a night free from remorse,” he added, gravely.
Then he put on his fur cloak, and shook hands cordially with his hosts, and being conducted to the door by Hersebom, he took the road toward his factory.
The fisherman stood for a moment on the threshold, watching his retreating figure in the moonlight.
“What a devil of a man!” he murmured, as at last he closed his door.
Mr. Hersebom’s reflections.
The next morning Dr. Schwaryencrona had just finished breakfast with his overseer, after having made a thorough inspection of his factory when he saw a person enter whom he did not at first recognize as Mr. Hersebom.
He was clothed in his holiday suit: his embroidered waistcoat, his furred riding coat, and his high hat, and the fisherman looked very different to what he did in his working clothes. But what made the change more apparent, was the deep sadness and humility portrayed in his countenance. His eyes were red, and looked as if he had had no sleep all the night.
This was in fact the case. Mr. Hersebom who up to this time had never felt his conscience trouble him, had passed hours of sad remorse, on his mattress of skins.
Toward morning he had exchanged confidences with Dame Katrina, who had also been unable to close her eyes.
“Wife, I have been thinking of what the doctor said to us,” he said, after several hours of wakefulness.
“I have been thinking of it also, ever since he left us,” answered his worthy helpmate.
“It is my opinion that there is some truth in what he said, and that we have perhaps acted more egotistically than we should have done. Who knows but that the child may have a right to some great fortune, of which he is deprived by our negligence? Who knows if his family have not mourned for him these twelve years, and they could justly accuse us of having made no attempt to restore him to them?”