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34

(1921) Author: Sigrid Undset
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Candles were burning on the altar. The light was reflected
manifold on the halo of the tabernacle, fluttered on
candlesticks and brass ornaments and made the paper roses in the
altar vases look red and yellow. A priest stood with his back
turned to them, reading silently from a book; a pair of acolytes
moved to and fro, bowed, made the sign of the cross and various
other movements which seemed meaningless to Helge.

The little church was dark; in the two side chapels tiny
nightlight flames flickered, hanging from brass chains in front
of images blacker than the darkness itself.

Jenny Winge knelt on a rush stood. Her folded hands
rested on the prie-Dieu, and her head was raised, showing her
profile clearly outlined against the soft candlelight, which
trembled in the fair waves of her hair and stole down the
delicate bend of her bare neck.

Heggen and Ahlin took two chairs quietly from the pile
against one of the pillars.

This quiet service before dawn was quaint and impressive;
Gram followed attentively every movement of the priest. The
acolytes hung a white garment, with a golden cross on it, over
his shoulders. He took the Host, turned round and held it up
to the light. The boys swung the incense, and the sharp, sweet
smell of it floated to where Helge stood, but he waited in vain
for music or singing.

Miss Winge apparently made some pretence of being a
Catholic, since she was kneeling like that. Heggen sat looking
straight in front of him towards the altar. He had laid one
arm about the shoulders of Francesca, who had fallen asleep
leaning against him. Ahlin sat behind a pillar, probably
asleep too — he could not see him.

It was extraordinary to sit here with utter strangers; he felt
lonely, but no longer depressed. The happy feeling of freedom
from the previous night returned. He looked at the others,

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