Part 2 out of 4
laces, sit a while quietly after I'm ready, and stare vacantly before me,
holding the letter in my hand. Then I get up and go.
The flickering ray of a gas lamp gleams up the
street. I make straight for the light, lean my parcel
against the lamp-post and open the letter. All
this with the utmost deliberation. A stream of
light, as it were, darts through my breast, and I hear
that I give a little cry--a meaningless sound of
joy. The letter was from the editor. My story
was accepted--had been set in type immediately,
straight off! A few slight alterations.... A
couple of errors in writing amended.... Worked
out with talent ... be printed tomorrow ...
I laughed and cried, took to jumping and running down the street, stopped,
slapped my thighs, swore loudly and solemnly into space at nothing in
particular. And time went.
All through the night until the bright dawn I "jodled" about the streets
and repeated--"Worked out with talent--therefore a little masterpiece--a
stroke of genius--and half-a-sovereign."
A few weeks later I was out one evening. Once more I had sat out in a
churchyard and worked at an article for one of the newspapers. But whilst
I was struggling with it eight o'clock struck, and darkness closed in, and
time for shutting the gates.
I was hungry--very hungry. The ten shillings had, worse luck, lasted all
too short. It was now two, ay, nearly three days since I had eaten
anything, and I felt somewhat faint; holding the pencil even had taxed me
a little. I had half a penknife and a bunch of keys in my pocket, but not
When the churchyard gate shut I meant to have gone straight home, but,
from an instinctive dread of my room--a vacant tinker's workshop, where
all was dark and barren, and which, in fact, I had got permission to
occupy for the present--I stumbled on, passed, not caring where I went,
the Town Hall, right to the sea, and over to a scat near the railway
At this moment not a sad thought troubled me. I forgot my distress, and
felt calmed by the view of the sea, which lay peaceful and lovely in the
murkiness. For old habit's sake I would please myself by reading through
the bit I had just written, and which seemed to my suffering head the best
thing I had ever done.
I took my manuscript out of my pocket to try and decipher it, held it
close up to my eyes, and ran through it, one line after the other. At last
I got tired, and put the papers back in my pocket. Everything was still.
The sea stretched away in pearly blueness, and little birds flitted
noiselessly by me from place to place.
A policeman patrols in the distance; otherwise there is not a soul
visible, and the whole harbour is hushed in quiet.
I count my belongings once more--half a penknife, a bunch of keys, but not
a farthing. Suddenly I dive into my pocket and take the papers out again.
It was a mechanical movement, an unconscious nervous twitch. I selected a
white unwritten page, and--God knows where I got the notion from--but I
made a cornet, closed it carefully, so that it looked as if it were filled
with something, and threw it far out on to the pavement. The breeze blew
it onward a little, and then it lay still.
By this time hunger had begun to assail me in earnest. I sat and looked at
the white paper cornet, which seemed as if it might be bursting with
shining silver pieces, and incited myself to believe that it really did
contain something. I sat and coaxed myself quite audibly to guess the sum;
if I guessed aright, it was to be mine.
I imagined the tiny, pretty penny bits at the bottom and the thick fluted
shillings on top--a whole paper cornet full of money! I sat and gazed at
it with wide opened eyes, and urged myself to go and steal it.
Then I hear the constable cough. What puts it into my head to do the same?
I rise up from the seat and repeat the cough three times so that he may
hear it. Won't he jump at the corner when he comes. I sat and laughed at
this trick, rubbed my hands with glee, and swore with rollicking
recklessness. What a disappointment he will get, the dog! Wouldn't this
piece of villainy make him inclined to sink into hell's hottest pool of
torment! I was drunk with starvation; my hunger had made me tipsy.
A few minutes later the policeman comes by, clinking his iron heels on the
pavement, peering on all sides. He takes his time; he has the whole night
before him; he does not notice the paper bag--not till he comes quite
close to it. Then he stops and stares at it. It looks so white and so full
as it lies there; perhaps a little sum--what? A little sum of silver
money?... and he picks it up. Hum ... it is light--very light; maybe an
expensive feather; some hat trimming.... He opened it carefully with his
big hands, and looked in. I laughed, laughed, slapped my thighs, and
laughed, like a maniac. And not a sound issued from my throat; my laughter
was hushed and feverish to the intensity of tears.
Clink, clink again over the paving-stones, and the policeman took a turn
towards the landing-stage. I sat there, with tears in my eyes, and
hiccoughed for breath, quite beside myself with feverish merriment. I
commenced to talk aloud to myself all about the cornet, imitated the poor
policeman's movements, peeped into my hollow hand, and repeated over and
over again to myself, "He coughed as he threw it away--he coughed as he
threw it away." I added new words to these, gave them additional point,
changed the whole sentence, and made it catching and piquant. He coughed
I exhausted myself in weaving variations on these words, and the evening
was far advanced before my mirth ceased. Then a drowsy quiet overcame me;
a pleasant languor which I did not attempt to resist. The darkness had
intensified, and a slight breeze furrowed the pearl-blue sea. The ships,
the masts of which I could see outlined against the sky, looked with their
black hulls like voiceless monsters that bristled and lay in wait for me.
I had no pain--my hunger had taken the edge off it. In its stead I felt
pleasantly empty, untouched by everything around me, and glad not to be
noticed by any one. I put my feet up on the seat and leant back. Thus I
could best appreciate the well-being of perfect isolation. There was not a
cloud on my mind, not a feeling of discomfort, and so far as my thought
reached, I had not a whim, not a desire unsatisfied. I lay with open eyes,
in a state of utter absence of mind. I felt myself charmed away. Moreover,
not a sound disturbed me. Soft darkness had hidden the whole world from my
sight, and buried me in ideal rest. Only the lonely, crooning voice of
silence strikes in monotones on my ear, and the dark monsters out there
will draw me to them when night comes, and they will bear me far across
the sea, through strange lands where no man dwells, and they will bear me
to Princess Ylajali's palace, where an undreamt-of grandeur awaits me,
greater than that of any other man. And she herself will be sitting in a
dazzling hall where all is amethyst, on a throne of yellow roses, and will
stretch out her hands to me when I alight; will smile and call as I
approach and kneel: "Welcome, welcome, knight, to me and my land! I have
waited twenty summers for you, and called for you on all bright nights.
And when you sorrowed I have wept here, and when you slept I have breathed
sweet dreams in you!"... And the fair one clasps my hand and, holding it,
leads me through long corridors where great crowds of people cry,
"Hurrah!" through bright gardens where three hundred tender maidens laugh
and play; and through another hall where all is of emerald; and here the
In the corridors and galleries choirs of musicians march by, and rills of
perfume are wafted towards me.
I clasp her hand in mine; I feel the wild witchery of enchantment shiver
through my blood, and I fold my arms around her, and she whispers, "Not
here; come yet farther!" and we enter a crimson room, where all is of
ruby, a foaming glory, in which I faint.
Then I feel her arms encircle me; her breath fans my face with a whispered
"Welcome, loved one! Kiss me ... more ... more...."
I see from my seat stars shooting before my eyes, and my thoughts are
swept away in a hurricane of light....
I had fallen asleep where I lay, and was awakened by the policeman. There
I sat, recalled mercilessly to life and misery. My first feeling was of
stupid amazement at finding myself in the open air; but this was quickly
replaced by a bitter despondency, I was near crying with sorrow at being
still alive. It had rained whilst I slept, and my clothes were soaked
through and through, and I felt a damp cold in my limbs.
The darkness was denser; it was with difficulty that I could distinguish
the policeman's face in front of me.
"So, that's right," he said; "get up now."
I got up at once; if he had commanded me to lie down again I would have
obeyed too. I was fearfully dejected, and utterly without strength; added
to that, I was almost instantly aware of the pangs of hunger again.
"Hold on there!" the policeman shouted after me; "why, you're walking off
without your hat, you Juggins! So--h there; now, go on."
"I indeed thought there was something--something I had forgotten," I
stammered, absently. "Thanks, good-night!" and I stumbled away.
If one only had a little bread to eat; one of those delicious little brown
loaves that one could bite into as one walked along the street; and as I
went on I thought over the particular sort of brown bread that would be so
unspeakably good to munch. I was bitterly hungry; wished myself dead and
buried; I got maudlin, and wept.
There never was any end to my misery. Suddenly I stopped in the street,
stamped on the pavement, and cursed loudly. What was it he called me? A
"Juggins"? I would just show him what calling me a "Juggins" means. I
turned round and ran back. I felt red-hot with anger. Down the street I
stumbled, and fell, but I paid no heed to it, jumped up again, and ran on.
But by the time I reached the railway station I had become so tired that I
did not feel able to proceed all the way to the landing-stage; besides, my
anger had cooled down with the run. At length I pulled up and drew breath.
Was it not, after all, a matter of perfect indifference to me what such a
policeman said? Yes; but one couldn't stand everything. Right enough, I
interrupted myself; but he knew no better. And I found this argument
satisfactory. I repeated twice to myself, "He knew no better"; and with
that I returned again.
"Good Lord!" thought I, wrathfully, "what things you do take into your
head: running about like a madman through the soaking wet streets on dark
nights." My hunger was now tormenting me excruciatingly, and gave me no
rest. Again and again I swallowed saliva to try and satisfy myself a
little; I fancied it helped.
I had been pinched, too, for food for ever so many weeks before this last
period set in, and my strength had diminished considerably of late. When I
had been lucky enough to raise five shillings by some manoeuvre or another
they only lasted any time with difficulty; not long enough for me to be
restored to health before a new hunger period set in and reduced me again.
My back and shoulders caused me the worst trouble. I could stop the little
gnawing I had in my chest by coughing hard, or bending well forward as I
walked, but I had no remedy for back and shoulders. Whatever was the
reason that things would not brighten up for me? Was I not just as much
entitled to live as any one else? for example, as Bookseller Pascha or
Steam Agent Hennechen? Had I not two shoulders like a giant, and two
strong hands to work with? and had I not, in sooth, even applied for a
place as wood-chopper in Moellergaden in order to earn my daily bread? Was
I lazy? Had I not applied for situations, attended lectures, written
articles, and worked day and night like a man possessed? Had I not lived
like a miser, eaten bread and milk when I had plenty, bread alone when I
had little, and starved when I had nothing? Did I live in an hotel? Had I
a suite of rooms on the first floor? Why, I am living in a loft over a
tinker's workshop, a loft already forsaken by God and man last winter,
because the snow blew in. So I could not understand the whole thing; not a
bit of it.
I slouched on, and dwelt upon all this, and there was not as much as a
spark of bitterness or malice or envy in my mind.
I halted at a paint-shop and gazed into the window. I tried to read the
labels on a couple of the tins, but it was too dark. Vexed with myself
over this new whim, and excited--almost angry at not being able to make
out what these tins held,--I rapped twice sharply on the window and went
Up the street I saw a policeman. I quickened my pace, went close up to
him, and said, without the slightest provocation, "It is ten o'clock."
"No, it's two," he answered, amazed.
"No, it's ten," I persisted; "it is ten o'clock!" and, groaning with
anger, I stepped yet a pace or two nearer, clenched my fist, and said,
"Listen, do you know what, it's ten o'clock!"
He stood and considered a while, summed up my appearance, stared aghast at
me, and at last said, quite gently, "In any case, it's about time ye were
getting home. Would ye like me to go with ye a bit?"
I was completely disarmed by this man's unexpected friendliness. I felt
that tears sprang to my eyes, and I hastened to reply:
"No, thank you! I have only been out a little too late in a cafe. Thank
you very much all the same!"
He saluted with his hand to his helmet as I turned away. His friendliness
had overwhelmed me, and I cried weakly, because I had not even a little
coin to give him.
I halted, and looked after him as he went slowly on his way. I struck my
forehead, and, in measure, as he disappeared from my sight, I cried more
I railed at myself for my poverty, called myself abusive names, invented
furious designations--rich, rough nuggets--in a vein of abuse with which I
overwhelmed myself. I kept on at this until I was nearly home. On coming
to the door I discovered I had dropped my keys.
"Oh, of course," I muttered to myself, "why shouldn't I lose my keys? Here
I am, living in a yard where there is a stable underneath and a tinker's
workshop up above. The door is locked at night, and no one, no one can
open it; therefore, why should I not lose my keys?
"I am as wet as a dog--a little hungry--ah, just ever such a little
hungry, and slightly, ay, absurdly tired about my knees; therefore, why
should I not lose them?
"Why, for that matter, had not the whole house flitted out to Aker by the
time I came home and wished to enter it?" ... and I laughed to myself,
hardened by hunger and exhaustion.
I could hear the horses stamp in the stables, and I could see my window
above, but I could not open the door, and I could not get in.
It had begun to rain again, and I felt the water soak through to my
shoulders. At the Town Hall I was seized by a bright idea. I would ask the
policeman to open the door. I applied at once to a constable, and
earnestly begged him to accompany me and let me in, if he could.
Yes, if he could, yes! But he couldn't; he had no key. The police keys
were not there; they were kept in the Detective Department.
What was I to do then?
Well, I could go to an hotel and get a bed!
But I really couldn't go to an hotel and get a bed; I had not money, I had
been out--in a cafe ... he knew....
We stood a while on the Town Hall steps. He considered and examined my
personal appearance. The rain fell in torrents outside.
"Well then, you must go to the guard-house and report yourself as
homeless!" said he.
Homeless? I hadn't thought of that. Yes, by Jove, that was a capital idea;
and I thanked the constable on the spot for the suggestion. Could I simply
go in and say I was homeless?
* * * * *
"Your name?" inquired the guard.
I don't know why I lied; my thoughts fluttered about disconnectedly and
inspired me with many singular whims, more than I knew what to do with. I
hit upon this out-of-the-way name on the spur of the moment, and blurted
it out without any calculation. I lied without any occasion for doing so.
This was driving me into a corner with a vengeance. Occupation! what was
my occupation? I thought first of turning myself into a tinker--but I
dared not; firstly, I had given myself a name that was not common to every
and any tinker--besides, I wore _pince-nez_. It suddenly entered my
head to be foolhardy. I took a step forward and said firmly, almost
The guard gave a start before he wrote it down, whilst I stood as
important as a homeless Cabinet Minister before the barrier. It roused no
suspicions. The guard understood quite well why I hesitated a little
before answering. What did it look like to see a journalist in the night
guard-house without a roof over his head?
"On what paper, Herr Tangen?"
"_Morgenbladet_!" said I. "I have been out a little too late this
evening, more's the shame!"
"Oh, we won't mention that," he interrupted, with a smile; "when young
people are out ... we understand!"
Turning to a policeman, he said, as he rose and bowed politely to me,
"Show this gentleman up to the reserved section. Good-night!"
I felt ice run down my back at my own boldness, and I clenched my hands to
steady myself a bit. If I only hadn't dragged in the _Morgenbladet_.
I knew Friele could show his teeth when he liked, and I was reminded of
that by the grinding of the key turning in the lock.
"The gas will burn for ten minutes," remarked the policeman at the door.
"And then does it go out?"
"Then it goes out!"
I sat on the bed and listened to the turning of the key. The bright cell
had a friendly air; I felt comfortably and well sheltered; and listened
with pleasure to the rain outside--I couldn't wish myself anything better
than such a cosy cell. My contentment increased. Sitting on the bed, hat
in hand, and with eyes fastened on the gas jet over in the wall, I gave
myself up to thinking over the minutes of my first interview with the
police. This was the first time, and how hadn't I fooled them?
"Journalist!--Tangen! if you please! and then _Morgenbladet_!" Didn't
I appeal straight to his heart with _Morgenbladet_? "We won't mention
that! Eh? Sat in state in the Stiftsgaarden till two o'clock; forgot
door-key and a pocket-book with a thousand kroner at home. Show this
gentleman up to the reserved section!"...
All at once out goes the gas with a strange suddenness, without
diminishing or flickering.
I sit in the deepest darkness; I cannot see my hand, nor the white
walls--nothing. There was nothing for it but to go to bed, and I
But I was not tired from want of sleep, and it would not come to me. I lay
a while gazing into the darkness, this dense mass of gloom that had no
bottom--my thoughts could not fathom it.
It seemed beyond all measure dense to me, and I felt its presence oppress
me. I closed my eyes, commenced to sing under my breath, and tossed to and
fro, in order to distract myself, but to no purpose. The darkness had
taken possession of my thoughts and left me not a moment in peace.
Supposing I were myself to be absorbed in darkness; made one with it?
I raise myself up in bed and fling out my arms. My nervous condition has
got the upper hand of me, and nothing availed, no matter how much I tried
to work against it. There I sat, a prey to the most singular fantasies,
listening to myself crooning lullabies, sweating with the exertion of
striving to hush myself to rest. I peered into the gloom, and I never in
all the days of my life felt such darkness. There was no doubt that I
found myself here, in face of a peculiar kind of darkness; a desperate
element to which no one had hitherto paid attention. The most ludicrous
thoughts busied me, and everything made me afraid.
A little hole in the wall at the head of my bed occupies me greatly--a
nail hole. I find the marks in the wall--I feel it, blow into it, and try
to guess its depth. That was no innocent hole--not at all. It was a
downright intricate and mysterious hole, which I must guard against!
Possessed by the thought of this hole, entirely beside myself with
curiosity and fear, I get out of bed and seize hold of my penknife in
order to gauge its depth, and convince myself that it does not reach right
into the next wall.
I lay down once more to try and fall asleep, but in reality to wrestle
again with the darkness. The rain had ceased outside, and I could not hear
a sound. I continued for a long time to listen for footsteps in the
street, and got no peace until I heard a pedestrian go by--to judge from
the sound, a constable. Suddenly I snap my fingers many times and laugh:
"That was the very deuce! Ha--ha!" I imagined I had discovered a new word.
I rise up in bed and say, "It is not in the language; I have discovered
it. 'Kuboa.' It has letters as a word has. By the benign God, man, you
have discovered a word!... 'Kuboa' ... a word of profound import."
I sit with open eyes, amazed at my own find, and laugh for joy. Then I
begin to whisper; some one might spy on me, and I intended to keep my
discovery a secret. I entered into the joyous frenzy of hunger. I was
empty and free from pain, and I gave free rein to my thoughts.
In all calmness I revolve things in my mind. With the most singular jerks
in my chain of ideas I seek to explain the meaning of my new word. There
was no occasion for it to mean either God or the Tivoli; [Footnote:
Theatre of Varieties, etc., and Garden in Christiania.] and who said that
it was to signify cattle show? I clench my hands fiercely, and repeat once
again, "Who said that it was to signify cattle show?" No; on second
thoughts, it was not absolutely necessary that it should mean padlock, or
sunrise. It was not difficult to find a meaning for such a word as this. I
would wait and see. In the meantime I could sleep on it.
I lie there on the stretcher-bed and laugh slily, but say nothing; give
vent to no opinion one way or the other. Some minutes pass over, and I wax
nervous; this new word torments me unceasingly, returns again and again,
takes up my thoughts, and makes me serious. I had fully formed an opinion
as to what it should not signify, but had come to no conclusion as to what
it should signify. "That is quite a matter of detail," I said aloud to
myself, and I clutched my arm and reiterated: "That is quite a matter of
detail." The word was found, God be praised! and that was the principal
thing. But ideas worry me without end and hinder me from falling asleep.
Nothing seemed good enough to me for this unusually rare word. At length I
sit up in bed again, grasp my head in both hands, and say, "No! it is just
this, it is impossible to let it signify emigration or tobacco factory. If
it could have meant anything like that I would have decided upon it long
since and taken the consequences." No; in reality the word is fitted to
signify something psychical, a feeling, a state. Could I not apprehend it?
and I reflect profoundly in order to find something psychical. Then it
seems to me that some one is interposing, interrupting my confab. I answer
angrily, "Beg pardon! Your match in idiocy is not to be found; no, sir!
Knitting cotton? Ah! go to hell!" Well, really I had to laugh. Might I ask
why should I be forced to let it signify knitting cotton, when I had a
special dislike to its signifying knitting cotton? I had discovered the
word myself, so, for that matter, I was perfectly within my right in
letting it signify whatsoever I pleased. As far as I was aware, I had not
yet expressed an opinion as to....
But my brain got more and more confused. At last I sprang out of bed to
look for the water-tap. I was not thirsty, but my head was in a fever, and
I felt an instinctive longing for water. When I had drunk some I got into
bed again, and determined with all my might to settle to sleep. I closed
my eyes and forced myself to keep quiet. I lay thus for some minutes
without making a movement, sweated and felt my blood jerk violently
through my veins. No, it was really too delicious the way he thought to
find money in the paper cornet! He only coughed once, too! I wonder if he
is pacing up and down there yet! Sitting on my bench? the pearly blue
sea ... the ships....
I opened my eyes; how could I keep them shut when I could not sleep? The
same darkness brooded over me; the same unfathomable black eternity which
my thoughts strove against and could not understand. I made the most
despairing efforts to find a word black enough to characterize this
darkness; a word so horribly black that it would darken my lips if I named
it. Lord! how dark it was! and I am carried back in thought to the sea and
the dark monsters that lay in wait for me. They would draw me to them, and
clutch me tightly and bear me away by land and sea, through dark realms
that no soul has seen. I feel myself on board, drawn through waters,
hovering in clouds, sinking--sinking.
I give a hoarse cry of terror, clutch the bed tightly--I had made such a
perilous journey, whizzing down through space like a bolt. Oh, did I not
feel that I was saved as I struck my hands against the wooden frame! "This
is the way one dies!" said I to myself. "Now you will die!" and I lay for
a while and thought over that I was to die.
Then I start up in bed and ask severely, "If I found the word, am I not
absolutely within my right to decide myself what it is to signify?"... I
could hear myself that I was raving. I could hear it now whilst I was
talking. My madness was a delirium of weakness and prostration, but I was
not out of my senses. All at once the thought darted through my brain that
I was insane. Seized with terror, I spring out of bed again, I stagger to
the door, which I try to open, fling myself against it a couple of times
to burst it, strike my head against the wall, bewail loudly, bite my
fingers, cry and curse....
All was quiet; only my own voice echoed from the walls. I had fallen to
the floor, incapable of stumbling about the cell any longer.
Lying there I catch a glimpse, high up, straight before my eyes, of a
greyish square in the wall, a suggestion of white, a presage--it must be
of daylight. I felt it must be daylight, felt it through every pore in my
body. Oh, did I not draw a breath of delighted relief! I flung myself flat
on the floor and cried for very joy over this blessed glimpse of light,
sobbed for very gratitude, blew a kiss to the window, and conducted myself
like a maniac. And at this moment I was perfectly conscious of what I was
doing. All my dejection had vanished; all despair and pain had ceased, and
I had at this moment, at least as far as my thought reached, not a wish
unfilled. I sat up on the floor, folded my hands, and waited patiently for
What a night this had been!
That they had not heard any noise! I thought with astonishment. But then I
was in the reserved section, high above all the prisoners. A homeless
Cabinet Minister, if I might say so.
Still in the best of humours, with eyes turned towards the lighter, ever
lighter square in the wall, I amused myself acting Cabinet Minister;
called myself Von Tangen, and clothed my speech in a dress of red-tape. My
fancies had not ceased, but I was far less nervous. If I only had not been
thoughtless enough to leave my pocket-book at home! Might I not have the
honour of assisting his Right Honourable the Prime Minister to bed? And in
all seriousness, and with much ceremony I went over to the stretcher and
By this it was so light that I could distinguish in some degree the
outlines of the cell and, little by little, the heavy handle of the door.
This diverted me; the monotonous darkness so irritating in its
impenetrability that it prevented me from seeing myself was broken; my
blood flowed more quietly; I soon felt my eyes close.
I was aroused by a couple of knocks on my door. I jumped up in all haste,
and clad myself hurriedly; my clothes were still wet through from last
"You'll report yourself downstairs to the officer on duty," said the
Were there more formalities to be gone through, then? I thought with fear.
Below I entered a large room, where thirty or forty people sat, all
homeless. They were called up one by one by the registering clerk, and one
by one they received a ticket for breakfast. The officer on duty repeated
constantly to the policeman at his side, "Did he get a ticket? Don't
forget to give them tickets; they look as if they wanted a meal!"
And I stood and looked at these tickets, and wished I had one.
I advanced and bowed.
"But, my dear fellow, how did you come here?"
I explained the whole state of the case, repeated the same story as last
night, lied without winking, lied with frankness--had been out rather
late, worse luck ... cafe ... lost door-key....
"Yes," he said, and he smiled; "that's the way! Did you sleep well then?"
I answered, "Like a Cabinet Minister--like a Cabinet Minister!"
"I am glad to hear it," he said, and he stood up. "Good-morning."
And I went!
A ticket! a ticket for me too! I have not eaten for more than three long
days and nights. A loaf! But no one offered me a ticket, and I dared not
demand one. It would have roused suspicion at once. They would begin to
poke their noses into my private affairs, and discover who I really was;
they might arrest me for false pretences; and so, with elevated head, the
carriage of a millionaire, and hands thrust under my coat-tails, I stride
out of the guard-house.
The sun shone warmly, early as it was. It was ten o'clock, and the traffic
in Young's Market was in full swing. Which way should I take? I slapped my
pockets and felt for my manuscript. At eleven I would try and see the
editor. I stand a while on the balustrade, and watch the bustle under me.
Meanwhile, my clothes commenced to steam. Hunger put in its appearance
afresh, gnawed at my breast, clutched me, and gave small, sharp stabs that
caused me pain.
Had I not a friend--an acquaintance whom I could apply to? I ransack my
memory to find a man good for a penny piece, and fail to find him.
Well, it was a lovely day, anyway! Sunlight bright and warm surrounded me.
The sky stretched away like a beautiful sea over the Lier mountains.
Without knowing it, I was on my way home. I hungered sorely. I found a
chip of wood in the street to chew--that helped a bit. To think that I
hadn't thought of that sooner! The door was open; the stable-boy bade me
good-morning as usual.
"Fine weather," said he.
"Yes," I replied. That was all I found to say. Could I ask for the loan of
a shilling? He would be sure to lend it willingly if he could; besides
that, I had written a letter for him once.
He stood and turned something over in his mind before he ventured on
"Fine weather! Ahem! I ought to pay my landlady today; you wouldn't be so
kind as to lend me five shillings, would you? Only for a few days, sir.
You did me a service once before, so you did."
"No; I really can't do it, Jens Olaj," I answered. "Not now--perhaps later
on, maybe in the afternoon," and I staggered up the stairs to my room.
I flung myself on my bed, and laughed. How confoundedly lucky it was that
he had forestalled me; my self-respect was saved. Five shillings! God
bless you, man, you might just as well have asked me for five shares in
the Dampkoekken, or an estate out in Aker.
And the thought of these five shillings made me
laugh louder and louder. Wasn't I a devil of a
fellow, eh? Five shillings! My mirth increased,
and I gave way to it. Ugh! what a shocking smell
of cooking there was here--a downright disgustingly
strong smell of chops for dinner, phew! and
I flung open the window to let out this beastly smell.
"Waiter, a plate of beef!" Turning to the table
--this miserable table that I was forced to support
with my knees when I wrote--I bowed profoundly,
"May I ask will you take a glass of wine? No? I am Tangen--Tangen, the
Cabinet Minister. I--more's the pity--I was out a little late ... the
door-key." Once more my thoughts ran without rein in intricate paths. I
was continually conscious that I talked at random, and yet I gave
utterance to no word without hearing and understanding it. I said to
myself, "Now you are talking at random again," and yet I could not help
myself. It was as if one were lying awake, and yet talking in one's sleep.
My head was light, without pain and without pressure, and my mood was
unshadowed. It sailed away with me, and I made no effort.
"Come in! Yes, only come right in! As you see everything is of
ruby--Ylajali, Ylajali! that swelling crimson silken divan! Ah, how
passionately she breathes. Kiss me--loved one--more--more! Your arms are
like pale amber, your mouth blushes.... Waiter I asked for a plate of
The sun gleamed in through the window, and I could hear the horses below
chewing oats. I sat and mumbled over my chip gaily, glad at heart as a
I kept all the time feeling for my manuscript. It wasn't really in my
thoughts, but instinct told me it was there--'twas in my blood to remember
it, and I took it out.
It had got wet, and I spread it out in the sun to dry; then I took to
wandering up and down the room. How depressing everything looked! Small
scraps of tin shavings were trodden into the floor; there was not a chair
to sit upon, not even a nail in the bare walls. Everything had been
brought to my "Uncle's," and consumed. A few sheets of paper lying on the
table, covered with thick dust, were my sole possession; the old green
blanket on the bed was lent to me by Hans Pauli some months ago.... Hans
Pauli! I snap my fingers. Hans Pauli Pettersen shall help me! He would
certainly be very angry that I had not appealed to him at once. I put on
my hat in haste, gather up the manuscript, thrust it into my pocket, and
"Listen, Jens Olaj!" I called into the stable, "I am nearly certain I can
help you in the afternoon."
Arrived at the Town Hall I saw that it was past eleven, and I determined
on going to the editor at once. I stopped outside the office door to see
if my sheets were paged rightly, smoothed them carefully out, put them
back in my pocket, and knocked. My heart beat audibly as I entered.
"Scissors" is there as usual. I inquire timorously for the editor. No
answer. The man sits and probes for minor items of news amongst the
I repeat my question, and advance a little farther.
"The editor has not come yet!" said "Scissors" at length, without looking
How soon would he come?
"Couldn't say--couldn't say at all!"
How long would the office be open?
To this I received no answer, so I was forced to leave. "Scissors" had not
once looked up at me during all this scene; he had heard my voice, and
recognized me by it. You are in such bad odour here, thought I, that he
doesn't even take the trouble to answer you. I wonder if that is an order
of the editor's. I had, 'tis true enough, right from the day my celebrated
story was accepted for ten shillings, overwhelmed him with work, rushed to
his door nearly every day with unsuitable things that he was obliged to
peruse only to return them to me. Perhaps he wished to put an end to
this--take stringent measures.... I took the road to Homandsbyen.
Hans Paul! Pettersen was a peasant-farmer's son, a student, living in the
attic of a five-storeyed house; therefore, Hans Pauli Pettersen was a poor
man. But if he had a shilling he wouldn't stint it. I would get it just as
sure as if I already held it in my hand. And I rejoiced the whole time, as
I went, over the shilling, and felt confident I would get it.
When I got to the street door it was closed and I had to ring.
"I want to see Student Pettersen," I said, and was about to step inside.
"I know his room."
"Student Pettersen," repeats the girl. "Was it he who had the attic?" He
Well, she didn't know the address; but he had asked his letters to be sent
to Hermansen in Tolbod-gaden, and she mentioned the number.
I go, full of trust and hope, all the way to Tolbod-gaden to ask Hans
Pauli's address; being my last chance, I must turn it to account. On the
way I came to a newly-built house, where a couple of joiners stood planing
outside. I picked up a few satiny shavings from the heap, stuck one in my
mouth, and the other in my pocket for by-and-by, and continued my journey.
I groaned with hunger. I had seen a marvellously large penny loaf at a
baker's--the largest I could possibly get for the price.
"I come to find out Student Pettersen's address!"
"Bernt Akers Street, No. 10, in the attic." Was I going out there? Well,
would I perhaps be kind enough to take out a couple of letters that had
come for him?
I trudge up town again, along the same road, pass by the joiners--who are
sitting with their cans between their knees, eating their good warm dinner
from the Dampkoekken--pass the bakers, where the loaf is still in its
place, and at length reach Bernt Akers Street, half dead with fatigue. The
door is open, and I mount all the weary stairs to the attic. I take the
letters out of my pocket in order to put Hans Pauli into a good humour on
the moment of my entrance.
He would be certain not to refuse to give me a helping hand when I
explained how things were with me; no, certainly not; Hans Pauli had such
a big heart--I had always said that of him.... I discovered his card
fastened to the door--"H. P. Pettersen, Theological Student, 'gone home.'"
I sat down without more ado--sat down on the bare floor, dulled with
fatigue, fairly beaten with exhaustion. I mechanically mutter, a couple of
times, "Gone home--gone home!" then I keep perfectly quiet. There was not
a tear in my eyes; I had not a thought, not a feeling of any kind. I sat
and stared, with wide-open eyes, at the letters, without coming to any
conclusion. Ten minutes went over--perhaps twenty or more. I sat stolidly
on the one spot, and did not move a finger. This numb feeling of
drowsiness was almost like a brief slumber. I hear some one come up the
"It was Student Pettersen, I ... I have two letters for him."
"He has gone home," replies the woman; "but he will return after the
holidays. I could take the letters if you like!"
"Yes, thanks! that was all right," said I. "He could get them then when he
came back; they might contain matters of importance. Good-morning."
When I got outside, I came to a standstill and said loudly in the open
street, as I clenched my hands: "I will tell you one thing, my good Lord
God, you are a bungler!" and I nod furiously, with set teeth, up to the
clouds; "I will be hanged if you are not a bungler."
Then I took a few strides, and stopped again. Suddenly, changing my
attitude, I fold my hands, hold my head to one side, and ask, with an
unctuous, sanctimonious tone of voice: "Hast thou appealed also to him, my
child?" It did not sound right!
With a large H, I say, with an H as big as a cathedral! once again, "Hast
thou invoked Him, my child?" and I incline my head, and I make my voice
whine, and answer, No!
That didn't sound right either.
You can't play the hypocrite, you idiot! Yes, you should say, I have
invoked God my Father! and you must set your words to the most piteous
tune you have ever heard in your life. So--o! Once again! Come, that was
better! But you must sigh like a horse down with the colic. So--o! that's
right. Thus I go, drilling myself in hypocrisy; stamp impatiently in the
street when I fail to succeed; rail at myself for being such a blockhead,
whilst the astonished passers-by turn round and stare at me.
I chewed uninterruptedly at my shaving, and proceeded, as steadily as I
could, along the street. Before I realized it, I was at the railway
square. The dock on Our Saviour's pointed to half-past one. I stood for a
bit and considered. A faint sweat forced itself out on my face, and
trickled down my eyelids. Accompany me down to the bridge, said I to
myself--that is to say, if you have spare time!--and I made a bow to
myself, and turned towards the railway bridge near the wharf.
The ships lay there, and the sea rocked in the sunshine. There was bustle
and movement everywhere, shrieking steam-whistles, quay porters with cases
on their shoulders, lively "shanties" coming from the prams. An old woman,
a vendor of cakes, sits near me, and bends her brown nose down over her
wares. The little table before her is sinfully full of nice things, and I
turn away with distaste. She is filling the whole quay with her smell of
cakes--phew! up with the windows!
I accosted a gentleman sitting at my side, and represented forcibly to him
the nuisance of having cake-sellers here, cake-sellers there.... Eh? Yes;
but he must really admit that.... But the good man smelt a rat, and did
not give me time to finish speaking, for he got up and left. I rose, too,
and followed him, firmly determined to convince him of his mistake.
"If it was only out of consideration for sanitary conditions," said I; and
I slapped him on the shoulders.
"Excuse me, I am a stranger here, and know nothing of the sanitary
conditions," he replied, and stared at me with positive fear.
Oh, that alters the case! if he was a stranger.... Could I not render him
a service in any way? show him about? Really not? because it would be a
pleasure to me, and it would cost him nothing....
But the man wanted absolutely to get rid of me, and he sheered off, in all
haste, to the other side of the street.
I returned to the bench and sat down. I was fearfully disturbed, and the
big street organ that had begun to grind a tune a little farther away made
me still worse--a regular metallic music, a fragment of Weber, to which a
little girl is singing a mournful strain. The flute-like sorrowfulness of
the organ thrills through my blood; my nerves vibrate in responsive echo.
A moment later, and I fall back on the seat, whimpering and crooning in
time to it.
Oh, what strange freaks one's thoughts are guilty of when one is starving.
I feel myself lifted up by these notes, dissolved in tones, and I float
out, I feel so clearly. How I float out, soaring high above the mountains,
dancing through zones of light!...
"A halfpenny," whines the little organ-girl, reaching forth her little tin
plate; "only a halfpenny."
"Yes," I said, unthinkingly, and I sprang to my feet and ransacked all my
pockets. But the child thinks I only want to make fun of her, and she goes
away at once without saying a word.
This dumb forbearance was too much for me. If she had abused me, it would
have been more endurable. I was stung with pain, and recalled her.
"I don't possess a farthing; but I will remember you later on, maybe
tomorrow. What is your name? Yes, that is a pretty name; I won't forget
it. Till tomorrow, then...."
But I understood quite well that she did not believe me, although she
never said one word; and I cried with despair because this little street
wench would not believe in me.
Once again I called her back, tore open my coat, and was about to give her
my waistcoat. "I will make up to you for it," said I; "wait only a
moment" ... and lo! I had no waistcoat.
What in the world made me look for it? Weeks had gone by since it was in
my possession. What was the matter with me, anyway? The astonished child
waited no longer, but withdrew fearsomely, and I was compelled to let her
go. People throng round me, laugh aloud; a policeman thrusts his way
through to me, and wants to know what is the row.
"Nothing!" I reply, "nothing at all; I only wanted to give the little girl
over there my waistcoat ... for her father ... you needn't stand there and
laugh at that ... I have only to go home and put on another."
"No disturbance in the street," says the constable; "so, march," and he
gives me a shove on.
"Is them your papers?" he calls after me.
"Yes, by Jove! my newspaper leader; many important papers! However could I
be so careless?" I snatch up my manuscript, convince myself that it is
lying in order and go, without stopping a second or looking about me,
towards the editor's office.
It was now four by the clock of Our Saviour's Church. The office is shut.
I stead noiselessly down the stairs, frightened as a thief, and stand
irresolutely outside the door. What should I do now? I lean up against the
wall, stare down at the stones, and consider. A pin is lying glistening at
my feet; I stoop and pick it up. Supposing I were to cut the buttons off
my coat, how much could I get for them? Perhaps it would be no use, though
buttons are buttons; but yet, I look and examine them, and find them as
good as new--that was a lucky idea all the same; I could cut them off
with my penknife and take them to the pawn-office. The hope of being able
to sell these five buttons cheered me immediately, and I cried, "See, see;
it will all come right!" My delight got the upper hand of me, and I at
once set to cut off the buttons one by one. Whilst thus occupied, I
held the following hushed soliloquy:
Yes, you see one has become a little impoverished; a momentary
embarrassment ... worn out, do you say? You must not make slips when you
speak? I would like to see the person who wears out less buttons than I
do, I can tell you! I always go with my coat open; it is a habit of mine,
an idiosyncrasy.... No, no; of course, if you _won't_, well! But I
must have a penny for them, at least.... No indeed! who said you were
obliged to do it? You can hold your tongue, and leave me in peace.... Yes,
well, you can fetch a policeman, can't you? I'll wait here whilst you are
out looking for him, and I won't steal anything from you. Well, good-day!
Good-day! My name, by the way, is Tangen; have been out a little late.
Some one comes up the stairs. I am recalled at once to reality. I
recognize "Scissors," and put the buttons carefully into my pocket. He
attempts to pass; doesn't even acknowledge my nod; is suddenly intently
busied with his nails. I stop him, and inquire for the editor.
"Not in, do you hear."
"You lie," I said, and, with a cheek that fairly amazed myself, I
continued, "I must have a word with him; it is a necessary
errand--communications from the Stiftsgaarden. [Footnote: Dwelling of the
civil governor of a Stift or diocese.]
"Well, can't you tell me what it is, then?"
"Tell you?" and I looked "Scissors" up and down. This had the desired
effect. He accompanied me at once, and opened the door. My heart was in my
mouth now; I set my teeth, to try and revive my courage, knocked, and
entered the editor's private office.
"Good-day! Is it you?" he asked kindly; "sit down."
If he had shown me the door it would have been almost as acceptable. I
felt as if I were on the point of crying and said:
"I beg you will excuse...."
"Pray, sit down," he repeated. And I sat down, and explained that I again
had an article which I was extremely anxious to get into his paper. I had
taken such pains with it; it had cost me much effort.
"I will read it," said he, and he took it. "Everything you write is
certain to cost you effort, but you are far too impetuous; if you could
only be a little more sober. There's too much fever. In the meantime, I
will read it," and he turned to the table again.
There I sat. Dared I ask for a shilling? explain to him why there was
always fever? He would be sure to aid me; it was not the first time.
I stood up. Hum! But the last time I was with him he had complained about
money, and had sent a messenger out to scrape some together for me. Maybe
it might be the same case now. No; it should not occur! Could I not see
then that he was sitting at work?
Was there otherwise anything? he inquired.
"No," I answered, and I compelled my voice to sound steady. "About how
soon shall I call in again?"
"Oh, any time you are passing--in a couple of days or so."
I could not get my request over my lips. This man's friendliness seemed to
me beyond bounds, and I ought to know how to appreciate it. Rather die of
hunger! I went. Not even when I was outside the door, and felt once more
the pangs of hunger, did I repent having left the office without having
asked for that shilling. I took the other shaving out of my pocket and
stuck it into my mouth. It helped. Why hadn't I done so before? "You ought
to be ashamed of yourself," I said aloud. "Could it really have entered
your head to ask the man for a shilling and put him to inconvenience
again?" and I got downright angry with myself for the effrontery of which
I had almost been guilty. "That is, by God! the shabbiest thing I ever
heard," said I, "to rush at a man and nearly tear the eyes out of his head
just because you happen to need a shilling, you miserable dog! So--o,
march! quicker! quicker! you big thumping lout; I'll teach you." I
commenced to run to punish myself, left one street after the other behind
me at a bound, goaded myself on with suppressed cries, and shrieked dumbly
and furiously at myself whenever I was about to halt. Thus I arrived a
long way up Pyle Street, when at last I stood still, almost ready to cry
with vexation at not being able to run any farther. I was trembling over
my whole body, and I flung myself down on a step. "No; stop!" I said, and,
in order to torture myself rightly, I arose again, and forced myself to
keep standing. I jeered at myself and hugged myself with pleasure at the
spectacle of my own exhaustion. At length, after the lapse of a few
moments, I gave myself, with a nod, permission to be seated, though, even
then, I chose the most uncomfortable place on the steps.
Lord! how delicious it was to rest! I dried the sweat off my face, and
drew great refreshing breaths. How had I not run! But I was not sorry; I
had richly deserved it. Why did I want to ask for that shilling? Now I
could see the consequences, and I began to talk mildly to myself, dealing
out admonitions as a mother might have done. I grew more and more moved,
and tired and weak as I was, I fell a-crying. A quiet, heart-felt cry; an
inner sobbing without a tear.
I sat for the space of a quarter of an hour, or more, in the same place.
People came and went, and no one molested me. Little children played about
around me, and a little bird sang on a tree on the other side of the
A policeman came towards me. "Why do you sit here?" said he.
"Why do I sit here?" I replied; "for pleasure."
"I have been watching you for the last half-hour. You've sat here now
"About that," I replied; "anything more?"
I got up in a temper and walked on. Arrived at the market-place, I stopped
and gazed down the street. For pleasure. Now, was that an answer to give?
For weariness, you should have replied, and made your voice whining. You
are a booby; you will never learn to dissemble. From exhaustion, and you
should have gasped like a horse.
When I got to the fire look-out, I halted afresh, seized by a new idea. I
snapped my fingers, burst into a loud laugh that confounded the
passers-by, and said: "Now you shall just go to Levion the parson. You
shall, as sure as death--ay, just for a try. What have you got to lose by
it? and it is such glorious weather!"
I entered Pascha's book-shop, found Pastor Levion's address in the
directory, and started for it.
Now for it! said I. Play no pranks. Conscience, did you say? No rubbish,
if you please. You are too poor to support a conscience. You are hungry;
you have come on important business--the first thing needful. But you
shall hold your head askew, and set your words to a sing-song. You won't!
What? Well then, I won't go a step farther. Do you hear that? Indeed, you
are in a sorely tempted condition, fighting with the powers of darkness
and great voiceless monsters at night, so that it is a horror to think of;
you hunger and thirst for wine and milk, and don't get them. It has gone
so far with you. Here you stand and haven't as much as a halfpenny to
bless yourself with. But you believe in grace, the Lord be praised; you
haven't yet lost your faith; and then you must clasp your hands together,
and look a very Satan of a fellow for believing in grace. As far as Mammon
was concerned, why, you hated Mammon with all its pomps in any form. Now
it's quite another thing with a psalm-book--a souvenir to the extent of a
few shillings.... I stopped at the pastor's door, and read, "Office hours,
12 to 4."
Mind, no fudge, I said; now we'll go ahead in earnest! So hang your head a
little more, and I rang at the private entrance.
"I want to see the pastor," said I to the maid; but it was not possible
for me to get in God's name yet awhile.
"He has gone out."
Gone out, gone out! That destroyed my whole plan; scattered all I intended
to say to the four winds. What had I gained then by the long walk? There I
"Was it anything particular?" questioned the maid.
"Not at all," I replied, "not at all." It was only just that it was such
glorious God's weather that I thought I would come out and make a call.
There I stood, and there she stood. I purposely thrust out my chest to
attract her attention to the pin that held my coat together. I implored
her with a look to see what I had come for, but the poor creature didn't
understand it at all.
Lovely God's weather. Was not the mistress at home either?
Yes; but she had gout, and lay on a sofa without being able to move
herself.... Perhaps I would leave a message or something?
No, not at all; I only just took walks like this now and again, just for
exercise; it was so wholesome after dinner.... I set out on the road
back--what would gossiping longer lead to? Besides, I commenced to feel
dizzy. There was no mistake about it; I was about to break down in
earnest. Office hours from 12 to 4. I had knocked at the door an hour too
late. The time of grace was over. I sat down on one of the benches near
the church in the market. Lord! how black things began to look for me now!
I did not cry; I was too utterly tired, worn to the last degree. I sat
there without trying to arrive at any conclusion, sad, motionless, and
starving. My chest was much inflamed; it smarted most strangely and
sorely--nor would chewing shavings help me much longer. My jaws were tired
of that barren work, and I let them rest. I simply gave up. A brown
orange-peel, too, I had found in the street, and which I had at once
commenced to chew, had given me nausea. I was ill--the veins swelled up
bluely on my wrists. What was it I had really sought after? Run about the
whole live-long day for a shilling, that would but keep life in me for a
few hours longer. Considering all, was it not a matter of indifference if
the inevitable took place one day earlier or one day later? If I had
conducted myself like an ordinary being I should have gone home long ago,
and laid myself down to rest, and given in. My mind was clear for a
moment. Now I was to die. It was in the time of the fall, and all things
were hushed to sleep. I had tried every means, exhausted every resource of
which I knew. I fondled this thought sentimentally, and each time I still
hoped for a possible succour I whispered repudiatingly: "You fool, you
have already begun to die."
I ought to write a couple of letters, make all ready--prepare myself. I
would wash myself carefully and tidy my bed nicely. I would lay my head
upon the sheets of white paper, the cleanest things I had left, and the
green blanket. I ... The green blanket! Like a shot I was wide awake. The
blood mounted to my head, and I got violent palpitation of the heart. I
arise from the seat, and start to walk. Life stirs again in all my fibres,
and time after time I repeat disconnectedly, "The green blanket--the green
blanket." I go faster and faster, as if it is a case of fetching
something, and stand after a little time in my tinker's workshop. Without
pausing a moment, or wavering in my resolution, I go over to the bed, and
roll up Hans Pauli's blanket. It was a strange thing if this bright idea
of mine couldn't save me. I rose infinitely superior to the stupid
scruples which sprang up in me--half inward cries about a certain stain on
my honour. I bade good-bye to the whole of them. I was no hero--no
virtuous idiot. I had my senses left.
So I took the blanket under my arm and went to No. 5 Stener's Street. I
knocked, and entered the big, strange room for the first time. The bell on
the door above my head gave a lot of violent jerks. A man enters from a
side room, chewing, his mouth is full of food, and stands behind the
"Eh, lend me sixpence on my eye-glasses?" said I. "I shall release them in
a couple of days, without fail--eh?"
"No! they're steel, aren't they?"
"No; can't do it."
"Ah, no, I suppose you can't. Well, it was really at best only a joke.
Well, I have a blanket with me for which, properly speaking, I have no
longer any use, and it struck me that you might take it off my hands."
"I have--more's the pity--a whole store full of bed-clothes," he replied;
and when I had opened it he just cast one glance over it and said, "No,
excuse me, but I haven't any use for that either."
"I wanted to show you the worse side first," said I; "it's much better on
the other side."
"Ay, ay; it's no good. I won't own it; and you wouldn't raise a penny on
"No, it's clear it isn't worth anything," I said; "but I thought it might
go with another old blanket at an auction."
"Well, no; it's no use."
"Three pence?" said I.
"No; I won't have it at all, man! I wouldn't have it in the house!" I took
it under my arm and went home.
I acted as if nothing had passed, spread it over the bed again, smoothed
it well out, as was my custom, and tried to wipe away every trace of my
late action. I could not possibly have been in my right mind at the moment
when I came to the conclusion to commit this rascally trick. The more I
thought over it the more unreasonable it seemed to me. It must have been
an attack of weakness; some relaxation in my inner self that had surprised
me when off my guard. Neither had I fallen straight into the trap. I had
half felt that I was going the wrong road, and I expressly offered my
glasses first, and I rejoiced greatly that I had not had the opportunity
of carrying into effect this fault which would have sullied the last hours
I had to live.
I wandered out into the city again. I let myself sink upon one of the
seats by Our Saviour's Church; dozed with my head on my breast, apathetic
after my last excitement, sick and famished with hunger. And time went by.
I should have to sit out this hour, too. It was a little lighter outside
than in the house, and it seemed to me that my chest did not pain quite so
badly out in the open air. I should get home, too, soon enough--and I
dozed, and thought, and suffered fearfully.
I had found a little pebble; I wiped it clean on my coat sleeve and put it
into my mouth so that I might have something to mumble. Otherwise I did
not stir, and didn't even wink an eyelid. People came and went; the noise
of cars, the tramp of hoofs, and chatter of tongues filled the air. I
might try with the buttons. Of course there would be no use in trying; and
besides, I was now in a rather bad way; but when I came to consider the
matter closely, I would be obliged, as it were, to pass in the direction
of my "Uncle's" as I went home. At last I got up, dragging myself slowly
to my feet, and reeled down the streets. It began to burn over my
eyebrows--fever was setting in, and I hurried as fast as I could. Once
more I passed the baker's shop where the little loaf lay. "Well, we must
stop here!" I said, with affected decision. But supposing I were to go in
and beg for a bit of bread? Surely that was a fleeting thought, a flash;
it could never really have occurred to me seriously. "Fie!" I whispered to
myself, and shook my head, and held on my way. In Rebslager a pair of
lovers stood in a doorway and talked together softly; a little farther up
a girl popped her head out of a window. I walked so slowly and
thoughtfully, that I looked as if I might be deep in meditation on nothing
in particular, and the wench came out into the street. "How is the world
treating you, old fellow? Eh, what, are you ill? Nay, the Lord preserve
us, what a face!" and she drew away frightened. I pulled up at once:
What's amiss with my face? Had I really begun to die? I felt over my
cheeks with my hand; thin--naturally, I was thin--my cheeks were like two
hollowed bowls; but Lord ... I reeled along again, but again came to a
standstill; I must be quite inconceivably thin. Who knows but that my eyes
were sinking right into my head? How did I look in reality? It was the
very deuce that one must let oneself turn into a living deformity for
sheer hunger's sake. Once more I was seized by fury, a last flaring up, a
final spasm. "Preserve me, what a face. Eh?" Here I was, with a head that
couldn't be matched in the whole country, with a pair of fists that, by
the Lord, could grind a navvy into finest dust, and yet I went and
hungered myself into a deformity, right in the town of Christiania. Was
there any rhyme or reason in that? I had sat in saddle, toiled day and
night like a carrier's horse.
I had read my eyes out of their sockets, had starved the brains out of my
head, and what the devil had I gained by it? Even a street hussy prayed
God to deliver her from the sight of me. Well, now, there should be a stop
to it. Do you understand that? Stop it shall, or the devil take a worse
hold of me.
With steadily increasing fury, grinding my teeth under the consciousness
of my impotence, with tears and oaths I raged on, without looking at the
people who passed me by. I commenced once more to martyr myself, ran my
forehead against lamp-posts on purpose, dug my nails deep into my palms,
bit my tongue with frenzy when it didn't articulate clearly, and laughed
insanely each time it hurt much.
Yes; but what shall I do? I asked myself at last, and I stamped many times
on the pavement and repeated, What shall I do? A gentleman just going by
remarks, with a smile, "You ought to go and ask to be locked up." I looked
after him. One of our well-known lady's doctors, nicknamed "The Duke." Not
even he understood my real condition--a man I knew; whose hand I had
shaken. I grew quiet. Locked up? Yes, I was mad; he was right. I felt
madness in my blood; felt its darting pain through my brain. So that was
to be the end of me! Yes, yes; and I resume my wearisome, painful walk.
There was the haven in which I was to find rest.
Suddenly I stop again. But not locked up! I say, not that; and I grew
almost hoarse with fear. I implored grace for myself; begged to the wind
and weather not to be locked up. I should have to be brought to the
guard-house again, imprisoned in a dark cell which had not a spark of
light in it. Not that! There must be other channels yet open that I had
not tried, and I would try them. I would be so earnestly painstaking;
would take good time for it, and go indefatigably round from house to
house. For example, there was Cisler the music-seller; I hadn't been to
him at all. Some remedy would turn up!.... Thus I stumbled on, and talked
until I brought myself to weep with emotion. Cisler! Was that perchance a
hint from on high? His name had struck me for no reason, and he lived so
far away; but I would look him up all the same, go slowly, and rest
between times. I knew the place well; I had been there often, when times
were good had bought much music from him. Should I ask him for sixpence?
Perhaps that might make him feel uncomfortable. I would ask him for a
shilling. I went into the shop, and asked for the chief. They showed me
into his office; there he sat--handsome, well-dressed in the latest
style--running down some accounts. I stammered through an excuse, and set
forth my errand. Compelled by need to apply to him ... it should not be
very long till I could pay it back ... when I got paid for my newspaper
article.... He would confer such a great benefit on me.... Even as I was
speaking he turned about to his desk, and resumed his work. When I had
finished, he glanced sideways at me, shook his handsome head, and said,
"No"; simply "no"--no explanation--not another word.
My knees trembled fearfully, and I supported myself against the little
polished barrier. I must try once more. Why should just his name have
occurred to me as I stood far away from there in "It won't be I that will
do that," he observed; adding, "and let me tell you, at the same time,
I've had about enough of this."
I tore myself out, sick with hunger, and boiling with shame. I had turned
myself into a dog for the sake of a miserable bone, and I had not got it.
Nay, now there must be an end of this! It had really gone all too far with
me. I had held myself up for many years, stood erect through so many hard
hours, and now, all at once, I had sunk to the lowest form of begging.
This one day had coarsened my whole mind, bespattered my soul with
shamelessness. I had not been too abashed to stand and whine in the
pettiest huckster's shop, and what had it availed me?
But was I not then without the veriest atom of bread to put inside my
mouth? I had succeeded in rendering myself a thing loathsome to myself.
Yes, yes; but it must come to an end. Presently they would lock the outer
door at home? I must hurry unless I wished to lie in the guard-house
This gave me strength. Lie in that cell again I would not. With body bent
forward, and my hands pressed hard against my left ribs to deaden the
stings a little, I struggled on, keeping my eyes fastened upon the
paving-stones that I might not be forced to bow to possible acquaintances,
and hastened to the fire look-out. God be praised! it was only seven
o'clock by the dial on Our Saviour's; I had three hours yet before the
door would be locked. What a fright I had been in!
Well, there was not a stone left unturned. I had done all I could. To
think that I really could not succeed once in a whole day! If I told it no
one could believe it; if I were to write it down they would say I had
invented it. Not in a single place! Well, well, there is no help for it.
Before all, don't go and get pathetic again. Bah! how disgusting! I can
assure you, it makes me have a loathing for you. If all hope is over, why
there is an end of it. Couldn't I, for that matter, steal a handful of
oats in the stable? A streak of light--a ray--yet I knew the stable was
I took my ease, and crept home at a slow snail's pace. I felt thirsty,
luckily for the first time through the whole day, and I went and sought
about for a place where I could get a drink. I was a long distance away
from the bazaar, and I would not ask at a private house. Perhaps, though,
I could wait till I got home; it would take a quarter of an hour. It was
not at all so certain that I could keep down a draught of water, either;
my stomach no longer suffered in any way--I even felt nausea at the
spittle I swallowed. But the buttons! I had not tried the buttons at all
yet. There I stood, stock-still, and commenced to smile. Maybe there was a
remedy, in spite of all! I wasn't totally doomed. I should certainly get a
penny for them; tomorrow I might raise another some place or other, and
Thursday I might be paid for my newspaper article. I should just see it
would come out all right. To think that I could really go and forget the
buttons. I took them out of my pocket, and inspected them as I walked on
again. My eyes grew dazed with joy. I did not see the street; I simply
went on. Didn't I know exactly the big pawn-shop--my refuge in the dark
evenings, with my blood-sucking friend? One by one my possessions had
vanished there--my little things from home--my last book. I liked to go
there on auction days, to look on, and rejoice each time my books seemed
likely to fall into good hands. Magelsen, the actor, had my watch; I was
almost proud of that. A diary, in which I had written my first small
poetical attempt, had been bought by an acquaintance, and my topcoat had
found a haven with a photographer, to be used in the studio. So there was
no cause to grumble about any of them. I held my buttons ready in my hand;
"Uncle" is sitting at his desk, writing. "I am not in a hurry," I say,
afraid of disturbing him, and making him impatient at my application. My
voice sounded so curiously hollow I hardly recognized it again, and my
heart beat like a sledge-hammer.
He came smilingly over to me, as was his wont, laid both his hands flat on
the counter, and looked at my face without saying anything. Yes, I had
brought something of which I would ask him if he could make any use;
something which is only in my way at home, assure you of it--are quite an
annoyance--some buttons. Well, what then? what was there about the
buttons? and he thrusts his eyes down close to my hand. Couldn't he give
me a couple of halfpence for them?--whatever he thought himself--quite
according to his own judgment. "For the buttons?"--and "Uncle" stares
astonishedly at me--"for these buttons?" Only for a cigar or whatever he
liked himself; I was just passing, and thought I would look in.
Upon this, the old pawnbroker burst out laughing, and returned to his desk
without saying a word. There I stood; I had not hoped for much, yet, all
the same, I had thought of a possibility of being helped. This laughter
was my death-warrant. It couldn't, I suppose, be of any use trying with my
eyeglasses either? Of course, I would let my glasses go in with them; that
was a matter of course, said I, and I took them off. Only a penny, or if
he wished, a halfpenny.
"You know quite well I can't lend you anything on your glasses," said
"Uncle"; I told you that once before."
"But I want a stamp," I said, dully. "I can't even send off the letters I
have written; a penny or a halfpenny stamp, just as you will."
"Oh, God help you, go your way!" he replied, and motioned me off with his
Yes, yes; well, it must be so, I said to myself. Mechanically, I put on my
glasses again, took the buttons in my hand, and, turning away, bade him
good-night, and closed the door after me as usual. Well, now, there was
nothing more to be done! To think he would not take them at any price, I
muttered. They are almost new buttons; I can't understand it.
Whilst I stood, lost in thought, a man passed by and entered the office.
He had given me a little shove in his hurry. We both made excuses, and I
turned round and looked after him.
"What! is that you?" he said, suddenly, when half-way up the steps. He
came back, and I recognized him. "God bless me, man, what on earth do you
look like? What were you doing in there?"
"Oh, I had business. You are going in too, I see."
"Yes; what were you in with?"
My knees trembled; I supported myself against the wall, and stretched out
my hand with the buttons in it.
"What the deuce!" he cried. "No; this is really going too far."
"Good-night!" said I, and was about to go; I felt the tears choking my
"No; wait a minute," he said.
What was I to wait for? Was he not himself on the road to my "Uncle,"
bringing, perhaps, his engagement ring--had been hungry, perhaps, for
several days--owed his landlady?
"Yes," I replied; "if you will be out soon...."
"Of course," he broke in, seizing hold of my arm; "but I may as well tell
you I don't believe you. You are such an idiot, that it's better you come
in along with me."
I understood what he meant, suddenly felt a little spark of pride, and
"I can't; I promised to be in Bernt Akers Street at half-past seven,
"Half-past seven, quite so; but it's eight now. Here I am, standing with
the watch in my hand that I'm going to pawn. So, in with you, you hungry
sinner! I'll get you five shillings anyhow," and he pushed me in.
A week passed in glory and gladness.
I had got over the worst this time, too. I had had food every day, and my
courage rose, and I thrust one iron after the other into the fire.
I was working at three or four articles, that plundered my poor brain of
every spark, every thought that rose in it; and yet I fancied that I wrote
with more facility than before.
The last article with which I had raced about so much, and upon which I
had built such hopes, had already been returned to me by the editor; and,
angry and wounded as I was, I had destroyed it immediately, without even
re-reading it again. In future, I would try another paper in order to open
up more fields for my work.
Supposing that writing were to fail, and the worst were to come to the
worst, I still had the ships to take to. The _Nun_ lay alongside the
wharf, ready to sail, and I might, perhaps, work my way out to Archangel,
or wherever else she might be bound; there was no lack of openings on many
sides. The last crisis had dealt rather roughly with me. My hair fell out
in masses, and I was much troubled with headaches, particularly in the
morning, and my nervousness died a hard death. I sat and wrote during the
day with my hands bound up in rags, simply because I could not endure the
touch of my own breath upon them. If Jens Olaj banged the stable door
underneath me, or if a dog came into the yard and commenced to bark, it
thrilled through my very marrow like icy stabs piercing me from every
side. I was pretty well played out.
Day after day I strove at my work, begrudging myself the short time it
took to swallow my food before I sat down again to write. At this time
both the bed and the little rickety table were strewn over with notes and
written pages, upon which I worked turn about, added any new ideas which
might have occurred to me during the day, erased, or quickened here and
there the dull points by a word of colour--fagged and toiled at sentence
after sentence, with the greatest of pains. One afternoon, one of my
articles being at length finished, I thrust it, contented and happy, into
my pocket, and betook myself to the "commandor." It was high time I made
some arrangement towards getting a little money again; I had only a few
The "commandor" requested me to sit down for a moment; he would be
disengaged immediately, and he continued writing.
I looked about the little office--busts, prints, cuttings, and an enormous
paper-basket, that looked as if it might swallow a man, bones and all. I
felt sad at heart at the sight of this monstrous chasm, this dragon's
mouth, that always stood open, always ready to receive rejected work,
newly crushed hopes.
"What day of the month is it?" queried the "commandor" from the table.
"The 28th," I reply, pleased that I can be of service to him, "the 28th,"
and he continues writing. At last he encloses a couple of letters in their
envelopes, tosses some papers into the basket, and lays down his pen. Then
he swings round on his chair, and looks at me. Observing that I am still
standing near the door, he makes a half-serious, half-playful motion with
his hand, and points to a chair.
I turn aside, so that he may not see that I have no waistcoat on, when I
open my coat to take the manuscript out of my pocket.
"It is only a little character sketch of Correggio," I say; "but perhaps
it is, worse luck, not written in such a way that...."
He takes the papers out of my hand, and commences to go through them. His
face is turned towards me.
And so it is thus he looks at close quarters, this man, whose name I had
already heard in my earliest youth, and whose paper had exercised the
greatest influence upon me as the years advanced? His hair is curly, and
his beautiful brown eyes are a little restless. He has a habit of tweaking
his nose now and then. No Scotch minister could look milder than this
truculent writer, whose pen always left bleeding scars wherever it
attacked. A peculiar feeling of awe and admiration comes over me in the
presence of this man. The tears are on the point of coming to my eyes, and
I advanced a step to tell him how heartily I appreciated him, for all he
had taught me, and to beg him not to hurt me; I was only a poor bungling
wretch, who had had a sorry enough time of it as it was....
He looked up, and placed my manuscript slowly together, whilst he sat and
considered. To make it easier for him to give me a refusal, I stretch out
my hand a little, and say:
"Ah, well, of course, it is not of any use to you," and I smile to give
him the impression that I take it easily.
"Everything has to be of such a popular nature to be of any use to us," he
replies; "you know the kind of public we have. But can't you try and write
something a little more commonplace, or hit upon something that people
His forbearance astonishes me. I understand that my article is rejected,
and yet I could not have received a prettier refusal. Not to take up his
time any longer, I reply:
"Oh yes, I daresay I can."
I go towards the door. Hem--he must pray forgive me for having taken up
his time with this ... I bow, and turn the door handle.
"If you need it," he says, "you are welcome to draw a little in advance;
you can write for it, you know."
Now, as he had just seen that I was not capable of writing, this offer
humiliated me somewhat, and I answered:
"No, thanks; I can pull through yet a while, thanking you very much, all
the same. Good-day!"
"Good-day!" replies the "commandor," turning at the same time to his desk
He had none the less treated me with undeserved kindness, and I was
grateful to him for it--and I would know how to appreciate it too. I made
a resolution not to return to him until I could take something with me,
that satisfied me perfectly; something that would astonish the "commandor"
a bit, and make him order me to be paid half-a-sovereign without a
moment's hesitation. I went home, and tackled my writing once more.
During the following evenings, as soon as it got near eight o'clock and
the gas was lit, the following thing happened regularly to me.
As I come out of my room to take a walk in the streets after the labour
and troubles of the day, a lady, dressed in black, stands under the
lamp-post exactly opposite my door.
She turns her face towards me and follows me with her eyes when I pass her
by--I remark that she always has the same dress on, always the same thick
veil that conceals her face and falls over her breast, and that she
carries in her hand a small umbrella with an ivory ring in the handle.
This was already the third evening I had seen her there, always in the
same place. As soon as I have passed her by she turns slowly and goes down
the street away from me. My nervous brain vibrated with curiosity, and I
became at once possessed by the unreasonable feeling that I was the object
of her visit. At last I was almost on the point of addressing her, of
asking her if she was looking for any one, if she needed my assistance in
any way, or if I might accompany her home. Badly dressed, as I
unfortunately was, I might protect her through the dark streets; but I had
an undefined fear that it perhaps might cost me something; a glass of
wine, or a drive, and I had no money left at all. My distressingly empty
pockets acted in a far too depressing way upon me, and I had not even the
courage to scrutinize her sharply as I passed her by. Hunger had once more
taken up its abode in my breast, and I had not tasted food since yesterday
evening. This, 'tis true, was not a long period; I had often been able to
hold out for a couple of days at a time, but latterly I had commenced to
fall off seriously; I could not go hungry one quarter as well as I used to
do. A single day made me feel dazed, and I suffered from perpetual
retching the moment I tasted water. Added to this was the fact that I lay
and shivered all night, lay fully dressed as I stood and walked in the
daytime, lay blue with cold, lay and froze every night with fits of icy
shivering, and grew stiff during my sleep. The old blanket could not keep
out the draughts, and I woke in the mornings with my nose stopped by the
sharp outside frosty air which forced its way into the dilapidated room.
I go down the street and think over what I am to do to keep myself alive
until I get my next article finished. If I only had a candle I would try
to fag on through the night; it would only take a couple of hours if I
once warmed to my work, and then tomorrow I could call on the "commandor."
I go without further ado into the Opland Cafe and look for my young
acquaintance in the bank, in order to procure a penny for a candle. I
passed unhindered through all the rooms; I passed a dozen tables at which
men sat chatting, eating, and drinking; I passed into the back of the
cafe, ay, even into the red alcove, without succeeding in finding my man.
Crestfallen and annoyed I dragged myself out again into the street and
took the direction to the Palace.
Wasn't it now the very hottest eternal devil existing to think that my
hardships never would come to an end! Taking long, furious strides, with
the collar of my coat hunched savagely up round my ears, and my hands
thrust in my breeches pockets, I strode along, cursing my unlucky stars
the whole way. Not one real untroubled hour in seven or eight months, not
the common food necessary to hold body and soul together for the space of
one short week, before want stared me in the face again. Here I had, into
the bargain, gone and kept straight and honourable all through my
misery--Ha! ha! straight and honourable to the heart's core. God preserve
me, what a fool I had been! And I commenced to tell myself how I had even
gone about conscience-stricken because I had once brought Hans Pauli's
blanket to the pawn-broker's. I laughed sarcastically at my delicate
rectitude, spat contemptuously in the street, and could not find words
half strong enough to mock myself for my stupidity. Let it only happen
now! Were I to find at this moment a schoolgirl's savings or a poor
widow's only penny, I would snatch it up and pocket it; steal it
deliberately, and sleep the whole night through like a top. I had not
suffered so unspeakably much for nothing--my patience was gone--I was
prepared to do anything.
I walked round the palace three, perhaps four, times, then came to the
conclusion that I would go home, took yet one little turn in the park and
went back down Carl Johann. It was now about eleven. The streets were
fairly dark, and the people roamed about in all directions, quiet pairs
and noisy groups mixed with one another. The great hour had commenced, the
pairing time when the mystic traffic is in full swing--and the hour of
merry adventures sets in. Rustling petticoats, one or two still short,
sensual laughter, heaving bosoms, passionate, panting breaths, and far
down near the Grand Hotel, a voice calling "Emma!" The whole street was a
swamp, from which hot vapours exuded.
I feel involuntarily in my pockets for a few shillings. The passion that
thrills through the movements of every one of the passers-by, the dim
light of the gas lamps, the quiet pregnant night, all commence to affect
me--this air, that is laden with whispers, embraces, trembling admissions,
concessions, half-uttered words and suppressed cries. A number of cats are
declaring their love with loud yells in Blomquist's doorway. And I did not
possess even a florin! It was a misery, a wretchedness without parallel to
be so impoverished. What humiliation, too; what disgrace! I began again to
think about the poor widow's last mite, that I would have stolen a
schoolboy's cap or handkerchief, or a beggar's wallet, that I would have
brought to a rag-dealer without more ado, and caroused with the proceeds.
In order to console myself--to indemnify myself in some measure--I take to
picking all possible faults in the people who glide by. I shrug my
shoulders contemptuously, and look slightingly at them according as they
pass. These easily-pleased, confectionery-eating students, who fancy they
are sowing their wild oats in truly Continental style if they tickle a
sempstress under the ribs! These young bucks, bank clerks, merchants,
flaneurs--who would not disdain a sailor's wife; blowsy Molls, ready to
fall down in the first doorway for a glass of beer! What sirens! The place
at their side still warm from the last night's embrace of a watch-man or a
stable-boy! The throne always vacant, always open to newcomers! Pray,
I spat out over the pavement, without troubling if it hit any one. I felt
enraged; filled with contempt for these people who scraped
acquaintanceship with one another, and paired off right before my eyes. I
lifted my head, and felt in myself the blessing of being able to keep my
own sty clean. At Stortingsplads (Parliament Place) I met a girl who
looked fixedly at me as I came close to her.
"Good-night!" said I.
"Good-night!" She stopped.
Hum! was she out walking so late? Did not a young lady run rather a risk
in being in Carl Johann at this time of night? Really not? Yes; but was
she never spoken to, molested, I meant; to speak plainly, asked to go
along home with any one?
She stared at me with astonishment, scanned my face closely, to see what I
really meant by this, then thrust her hand suddenly under my arm, and
"Yes, and we went too!"
I walked on with her. But when we had gone a few paces past the car-stand
I came to a standstill, freed my arm, and said:
"Listen, my dear, I don't own a farthing!" and with that I went on.
At first she would not believe me; but after she had searched all my
pockets, and found nothing, she got vexed, tossed her head, and called me
a dry cod.
"Good-night!" said I.
"Wait a minute," she called; "are those eyeglasses that you've got gold?"
"Then go to blazes with you!" and I went.
A few seconds after she came running behind me, and called out to me:
"You can come with me all the same!"
I felt humiliated by this offer from an unfortunate street wench, and I
said "No." Besides, it was growing late at night, and I was due at a
place. Neither could she afford to make sacrifices of that kind.
"Yes; but now I will have you come with me."
"But I won't go with you in this way."
"Oh, naturally; you are going with some one else."
"No," I answered.
But I was conscious that I stood in a sorry plight in face of this unique
street jade, and I made up my mind to save appearances at least.
"What is your name?" I inquired. "Mary, eh? Well, listen to me now, Mary!"
and I set about explaining my behaviour. The girl grew more and more
astonished in measure as I proceeded. Had she then believed that I, too,
was one of those who went about the street at night and ran after little
girls? Did she really think so badly of me? Had I perhaps said anything
rude to her from the beginning? Did one behave as I had done when one was
actuated by any bad motive? Briefly, in so many words, I had accosted her,
and accompanied her those few paces, to see how far she would go on with
it. For the rest, my name was So-and-so--Pastor So-and-so. "Good-night;
depart, and sin no more!" With these words I left her.
I rubbed my hands with delight over my happy notion, and soliloquized
aloud, "What a joy there is in going about doing good actions." Perhaps I
had given this fallen creature an upward impulse for her whole life; save
her, once for all, from destruction, and she would appreciate it when she
came to think over it; remember me yet in her hour of death with thankful
heart. Ah! in truth, it paid to be honourable, upright, and righteous!
My spirits were effervescing. I felt fresh and courageous enough to face
anything that might turn up. If I only had a candle, I might perhaps
complete my article. I walked on, jingling my new door-key in my hand;
hummed, and whistled, and speculated as to means of procuring a candle.
There was no other way out of it. I would have to take my writing
materials with me into the street, under a lamp-post. I opened the door,
and went up to get my papers. When I descended once more I locked the door
from the outside, and planted myself under the light. All around was
quiet; I heard the heavy clanking footstep of a constable down in
Taergade, and far away in the direction of St. Han's Hill a dog barked.
There was nothing to disturb me. I pulled my coat collar up round my ears,
and commenced to think with all my might.
It would be such an extraordinary help to me if I were lucky enough to
find a suitable winding up for this little essay. I had stuck just at a
rather difficult point in it, where there ought to be a quite
imperceptible transition to something fresh, then a subdued gliding
finale, a prolonged murmur, ending at last in a climax as bold and as
startling as a shot, or the sound of a mountain avalanche--full stop. But
the words would not come to me. I read over the whole piece from the
commencement; read every sentence aloud, and yet failed absolutely to
crystallize my thoughts, in order to produce this scintillating climax.
And into the bargain, whilst I was standing labouring away at this, the
constable came and, planting himself a little distance away from me,
spoilt my whole mood. Now, what concern was it of his if I stood and
strove for a striking climax to an article for the _Commandor_? Lord,
how utterly impossible it was for me to keep my head above water, no
matter how much I tried! I stayed there for the space of an hour. The
constable went his way. The cold began to get too intense for me to keep
still. Disheartened and despondent over this abortive effort, I opened the
door again, and went up to my room.
It was cold up there, and I could barely see my window for the intense
darkness. I felt my towards the bed, pulled off my shoes, and set about
warming my feet between my hands. Then I lay down, as I had done for a
long time now, with all my clothes on.
The following morning I sat up in bed as soon as it got light, and set to
work at the essay once more. I sat thus till noon; I had succeeded by then
in getting ten, perhaps twenty lines down, and still I had not found an
I rose, put on my shoes, and began to walk up and down the floor to try
and warm myself. I looked out; there was rime on the window; it was
snowing. Down in the yard a thick layer of snow covered the paving-stones
and the top of the pump. I bustled about the room, took aimless turns to
and fro, scratched the wall with my nail, leant my head carefully against
the door for a while, tapped with my forefinger on the floor, and then
listened attentively, all without any object, but quietly and pensively as
if it were some matter of importance in which I was engaged; and all the
while I murmured aloud, time upon time, so that I could hear my own voice.
But, great God, surely this is madness! and yet I kept on just as before.
After a long time, perhaps a couple of hours, I pulled myself sharply
together, bit my lips, and manned myself as well as I could. There must be
an end to this! I found a splinter to chew, and set myself resolutely to
A couple of short sentences formed themselves with much trouble, a score
of poor words which I tortured forth with might and main to try and
advance a little. Then I stopped, my head was barren; I was incapable of
more. And, as I could positively not go on, I set myself to gaze with wide
open eyes at these last words, this unfinished sheet of paper; I stared at
these strange, shaky letters that bristled up from the paper like small
hairy creeping things, till at last I could neither make head nor tail of
any of it. I thought on nothing.
Time went; I heard the traffic in the street, the rattle of cars and tramp
of hoofs. Jens Olaj's voice ascended towards me from the stables as he
chid the horses. I was perfectly stunned. I sat and moistened my lips a
little, but otherwise made no effort to do anything; my chest was in a
pitiful state. The dusk closed in; I sank more and more together, grew
weary, and lay down on the bed again. In order to warm my fingers a little
I stroked them through my hair backwards and forwards and crosswise. Small
loose tufts came away, flakes that got between my fingers, and scattered
over the pillow. I did not think anything about it just then; it was as if
it did not concern me. I had hair enough left, anyway. I tried afresh to
shake myself out of this strange daze that enveloped my whole being like a
mist. I sat up, struck my knees with my flat hands, laughed as hard as my
sore chest permitted me--only to collapse again. Naught availed; I was
dying helplessly, with my eyes wide open--staring straight up at the roof.
At length I stuck my forefinger in my mouth, and took to sucking it.
Something stirred in my brain, a thought that bored its way in there--a
Supposing I were to take a bite? And without a moment's reflection, I shut
my eyes, and clenched my teeth on it.
I sprang up. At last I was thoroughly awake. A little blood trickled from
it, and I licked it as it came. It didn't hurt very much, neither was the
wound large, but I was brought at one bound to my senses. I shook my head,
went to the window, where I found a rag, and wound it round the sore
place. As I stood and busied myself with this, my eyes filled with tears;
I cried softly to myself. This poor thin finger looked so utterly
pitiable. God in Heaven! what a pass it had come to now with me! The gloom
grew closer. It was, maybe, not impossible that I might work up my finale
through the course of the evening, if I only had a candle. My head was
clear once more. Thoughts came and went as usual, and I did not suffer
particularly; I did not even feel hunger so badly as some hours
previously. I could hold out well till the next day. Perhaps I might be
able to get a candle on credit, if I applied to the provision shop and
explained my situation--I was so well known in there; in the good old
days, when I had the means to do it, I used to buy many a loaf there.
There was no doubt I could raise a candle on the strength of my honest
name; and for the first time for ages I took to brushing my clothes a
little, got rid as well as the darkness allowed me of the loose hairs on
my collar, and felt my way down the stairs.
When I got outside in the street it occurred to me that I might perhaps
rather ask for a loaf. I grew irresolute, and stopped to consider. "On no
account," I replied to myself at last; I was unfortunately not in a
condition to bear food. It would only be a repetition of the same old
story--visions, and presentiments, and mad notions. My article would never
get finished, and it was a question of going to the "Commandor" before he
had time to forget me. On no account whatever! and I decided upon the
candle. With that I entered the shop.
A woman is standing at the counter making purchases; several small parcels
in different sorts of paper are lying in front of her. The shopman, who
knows me, and knows what I usually buy, leaves the woman, and packs
without much ado a loaf in a piece of paper and shoves it over to me.
"No, thank you, it was really a candle I wanted this evening," I say. I
say it very quietly and humbly, in order not to vex him and spoil my
chance of getting what I want.
My answer confuses him; he turns quite cross at my unexpected words; it
was the first time I had ever demanded anything but a loaf from him.
"Well then, you must wait a while," he says at last, and busies himself
with the woman's parcels again.
She receives her wares and pays for them---gives him a florin, out of
which she gets the change, and goes out. Now the shop-boy and I are alone.
"So it was a candle you wanted, eh?" He tears open a package, and takes
one out for me. He looks at me, and I look at him; I can't get my request
over my lips.
"Oh yes, that's true; you paid, though!" he says suddenly. He simply
asserts that I had paid. I heard every word, and he begins to count some
silver out of the till, coin after coin, shining stout pieces. He gives me
back change for a crown.
"Much obliged," he says.
Now I stand and look at these pieces of money for a second. I am conscious
something is wrong somewhere. I do not reflect; do not think about
anything at all--I am simply struck of a heap by all this wealth which is
lying glittering before my eyes--and I gather up the money mechanically.
I stand outside the counter, stupid with amazement, dumb, paralyzed. I
take a stride towards the door, and stop again. I turn my eyes upon a
certain spot in the wall, where a little bell is suspended to a leather
collar, and underneath this a bundle of string, and I stand and stare at
The shop-boy is struck by the idea that I want to have a chat as I take my
time so leisurely, and says, as he tidies a lot of wrapping-papers strewn
over the counter:
"It looks as if we were going to have winter snow!"
"Humph! Yes," I reply; "it looks as if we were going to have winter in
earnest now; it looks like it," and a while after, I add: "Ah, well, it is
none too soon."
I could hear myself speak, but each word I uttered struck my ear as if it
were coming from another person. I spoke absolutely unwittingly,
involuntarily, without being conscious of myself.
"Oh, do you think so?" says the boy.
I thrust the hand with the money into my pocket, turned the door-handle,
and left. I could hear that I said good-night, and that the shop-boy
replied to me.
I had gone a few paces away from the shop when the shop-door was torn
open, and the boy called after me. I turned round without any
astonishment, without a trace of fear; I only collected the money into my
hand, and prepared to give it back.
"Beg pardon, you've forgotten your candle," says the boy.
"Ah, thanks," I answered quietly. "Thanks, thanks"; and I strolled on,
down the street, bearing it in my hand.
My first sensible thought referred to the money. I went over to a
lamp-post, counted it, weighed it in my hand, and smiled. So, in spite of
all, I was helped--extraordinarily, grandly, incredibly helped--helped for
a long, long time; and I thrust my hand with the money into my pocket, and
Outside an eating-house in Grand Street I stopped, and turned over in my
mind, calmly and quietly, if I should venture so soon to take a little
refreshment. I could hear the rattle of knives and plates inside, and the
sound of meat being pounded. The temptation was too strong for me--I
"A helping of beef," I say.
"One beef!" calls the waitress down through the door to the lift.
I sat down by myself at a little table next to the door, and prepared to
wait. It was somewhat dark where I was sitting, and I felt tolerably well
concealed, and set myself to have a serious think. Every now and then the
waitress glanced over at me inquiringly. My first downright dishonesty was
accomplished--my first theft. Compared to this, all my earlier escapades
were as nothing--my first great fall.... Well and good! There was no help
for it. For that matter, it was open to me to settle it with the
shopkeeper later on, on a more opportune occasion. It need not go any
farther with me. Besides that, I had not taken upon myself to live more
honourably than all the other folk; there was no contract that....
"Do you think that beef will soon be here?"
"Yes; immediately"; the waitress opens the trapdoor, and looks down into
But suppose the affair did crop up some day? If the shop-boy were to get
suspicious and begin to think over the transaction about the bread, and
the florin of which the woman got the change? It was not impossible that
he would discover it some day, perhaps the next time I went there. Well,
then, Lord!... I shrugged my shoulders unobserved.
"If you please," says the waitress, kindly placing the beef on the table,
"wouldn't you rather go to another compartment, it's so dark here?"
"No, thanks; just let me be here," I reply; her kindliness touches me at
once. I pay for the beef on the spot, put whatever change remains into her
hand, close her fingers over it. She smiles, and I say in fun, with the
tears near my ears, "There, you're to have the balance to buy yourself a
farm.... Ah, you're very welcome to it."
I commenced to eat, got more and more greedy I as I did so, swallowed
whole pieces without chewing them, enjoyed myself in an animal-like way at
every mouthful, and tore at the meat like a cannibal.
The waitress came over to me again.
"Will you have anything to drink?" she asks, bending down a little towards
me. I looked at her. She spoke very low, almost shyly, and dropped her
eyes. "I mean a glass of ale, or whatever you like best ... from me ...
without ... that is, if you will...."
"No; many thanks," I answer. "Not now; I shall come back another time."
She drew back, and sat down at the desk. I could only see her head. What a
When finished, I made at once for the door. I felt nausea already. The
waitress got up. I was afraid to go near the light--afraid to show myself
too plainly to the young girl, who never for a moment suspected the depth
of my misery; so I wished her a hasty good-night, bowed to her, and left.
The food commenced to take effect. I suffered much from it, and could not
keep it down for any length of time. I had to empty my mouth a little at
every dark corner I came to. I struggled to master this nausea which
threatened to hollow me out anew, clenched my hands, and tried to fight it
down; stamped on the pavement, and gulped down furiously whatever sought
to come up. All in vain. I sprang at last into a doorway, doubled up, head
foremost, blinded with the water which gushed from my eyes, and vomited
once more. I was seized with bitterness, and wept as I went along the
street.... I cursed the cruel powers, whoever they might be, that
persecuted me so, consigned them to hell's damnation and eternal torments
for their petty persecution. There was but little chivalry in fate, really
little enough chivalry; one was forced to admit that.
I went over to a man staring into a shop-window, and asked him in great
haste what, according to his opinion, should one give a man who had been
starving for a long time. It was a matter of life and death, I said; he
couldn't even keep beef down.
"I have heard say that milk is a good thing--hot milk," answered the man,
astonished. "Who is it, by the way, you are asking for?"
"Thanks, thanks," I say; "that idea of hot milk might not be half a bad
notion;" and I go.
I entered the first cafe I came to going along, and asked for some boiled
milk. I got the milk, drank it down, hot as it was, swallowed it greedily,
every drop, paid for it, and went out again. I took the road home.
Now something singular happened. Outside my door, leaning against the
lamp-post, and right under the glare of it, stands a person of whom I get
a glimpse from a long distance--it is the lady dressed in black again. The
same black-clad lady of the other evenings. There could be no mistake
about it; she had turned up at the same spot for the fourth time. She is
standing perfectly motionless. I find this so peculiar that I
involuntarily slacken my pace. At this moment my thoughts are in good
working order, but I am much excited; my nerves are irritated by my last
meal. I pass her by as usual; am almost at the door and on the point of
entering. There I stop. All of a sudden an inspiration seizes me. Without
rendering myself any account of it, I turn round and go straight up to the
lady, look her in the face, and bow.
"Good-evening," she answers.
Excuse me, was she looking for anything? I had noticed her before; could I
be of assistance to her in any way? begged pardon, by-the-way, so
earnestly for inquiring.
Yes; she didn't quite know....
No one lived inside that door besides three or four horses and myself; it