When their conversation took this turn, Erik always remained silent. Sometimes, however, he would revert to the subject himself, and try to prove to Otto, or rather to himself, that there was no better state of existence than their own.
“It is what I have always heard,” the other would answer with his calm smile.
And poor Erik would turn away and stifle a sigh.
The truth is that he suffered cruelly after renouncing his studies and seeing himself condemned to a life of manual labor. When these thoughts came to him he fought against them with all his might. He did not wish any one to suspect that he felt in this way, and in hiding them within his own breast he suffered all the more.
A catastrophe which occurred at the beginning of the spring, only served to increase his discouragement.
One day, as there was a great deal of work to do at home in piling together the salted fish, Mr. Hersebom had intrusted it to Erik and to Otto, and had gone out to fish alone. The weather was stormy, and the sky very cloudy for the time of the year. The two young men, although they worked actively, could not help noticing that it was exceptionally dull, and they felt the atmosphere very heavy.
“It is singular!” said Erik, “but I feel a roaring in my ears as if I were some distance above the earth in a balloon.”
Almost immediately his nose began to bleed. Otto had a similar sensation, although not quite so severe.
“I think the barometer must be very low,” said Erik. “If I had time I would run to Mr. Malarius’ and see.”
“You have plenty of time,” said Otto. “Our work is nearly done, and even if you were delayed I could easily finish it alone.”
“Then I will go,” replied Erik. “I do not know why the state of the atmosphere should trouble me so much. I wish father was home.”
As he walked toward the school, he met Mr. Malarius on the road.
“Is it you, Erik?” said the teacher. “I am glad to see you, and make sure that you are not on the sea. I was just going to inquire. The barometer has fallen with such rapidity during the last half hour. I have never seen anything like it. We are surely going to have a change of weather.”
Mr. Malarius had hardly finished speaking, when a distant grumbling, followed by a lugubrious roaring, fell upon their ears. The sky became covered with a cloud as black as ink, which spread rapidly in all directions, and obscured every object with great swiftness. Then suddenly, after an interval of complete silence, the leaves of the trees, the bits of straw, the sand, and even the stones, were swept away by a sudden gust of wind.
The hurricane had begun.
It raged with unheard-of violence. The chimneys, the window shutters, and in some places even the roofs of the houses were blown down; and the boat-houses without exception were carried away and destroyed by the wind. In the fiord, which was usually as calm as a well in a court-yard, the most terrible tempest raged; the waves were enormous and came and went, breaking against the shore with a deafening noise.