Part 4 out of 4
doffed my hat to the pair, if I really had done so. Why should I raise my
hat to such people? I did not care for her any longer, certainly not; she
was no longer in the very slightest degree lovely to me; she had fallen
off. Ah, the devil knows how soiled I found her! It might easily have been
the case that it was only me she looked at; I was not in the least
astounded at that; it might be regret that began to stir in her. But that
was no reason for me to go and lower myself and salute, like a fool,
especially when she had become so seriously besmirched of late. "The Duke"
was welcome to her; I wish him joy! The day might come when I would just
take into my head to pass her haughtily by without glancing once towards
her. Ay, it might happen that I would venture to do this, even if she were
to gaze straight into my eyes, and have a blood-red gown on into the
bargain. It might very easily happen! Ha, ha! that would be a triumph. If
I knew myself aright, I was quite capable of completing my drama during
the course of the night, and, before eight days had flown, I would have
brought this young woman to her knees--with all her charms, ha, ha! with
all her charms....
"Good-bye," I muttered, shortly; but "Missy" held me back. He queried:
"But what do you do all day now?"
"Do? I write, naturally. What else should I do? Is it not that I live by?
For the moment, I am working at a great drama, 'The Sign of the Cross.'
Theme taken from the Middle Ages."
"By Jove!" exclaimed "Missy," seriously. "Well, if you succeed with that,
"I have no great anxiety on that score," I replied. "In eight days' time
or so, I think you and all the folks will have heard a little more of me."
With that I left him.
When I got home I applied at once to my landlady, and requested a lamp. It
was of the utmost importance to me to get this lamp; I would not go to bed
tonight; my drama was raging in my brain, and I hoped so surely to be able
to write a good portion of it before morning. I put forward my request
very humbly to her, as I had noticed that she made a dissatisfied face on
my re-entering the sitting-room. I said that I had almost completed a
remarkable drama, only a couple of scenes were wanting; and I hinted that
it might be produced in some theatre or another, in no time. If she would
only just render me this great service now....
But madam had no lamp. She considered a bit, but could not call to mind
that she had a lamp in any place. If I liked to wait until twelve o'clock,
I might perhaps get the kitchen lamp. Why didn't I buy myself a candle?
I held my tongue. I hadn't a farthing to buy a candle, and knew that right
well. Of course I was foiled again! The servant-girl sat inside with
us--simply sat in the sitting-room, and was not in the kitchen at all; so
that the lamp up there was not even lit. And I stood and thought over
this, but said no more. Suddenly the girl remarked to me:
"I thought I saw you come out of the palace a while ago; were you at a
dinner party?" and she laughed loudly at this jest.
I sat down, took out my papers, and attempted to write something here, in
the meantime. I held the paper on my knees, and gazed persistently at the
floor to avoid being distracted by anything; but it helped not a whit;
nothing helped me; I got no farther. The landlady's two little girls came
in and made a row with the cat--a queer, sick cat that had scarcely a hair
on it; they blew into its eyes until water sprang out of them and trickled
down its nose. The landlord and a couple of others sat at a table and
played _cent et un_. The wife alone was busy as ever, and sat and
sewed at some garment. She saw well that I could not write anything in the
midst of all this disturbance; but she troubled herself no more about me;
she even smiled when the servant-girl asked me if I had been out to dine.
The whole household had become hostile towards me. It was as if I had only
needed disgrace of being obliged to resign my room to a stranger to be
treated as a man of no account. Even the servant, a little, brown-eyed,
street-wench, with a big fringe over her forehead, and a perfectly flat
bosom, poked fun at me in the evening when I got my ration of bread and
butter. She inquired perpetually where, then, was I in the habit of
dining, as she had never seen me picking my teeth outside the Grand? It
was clear that she was aware of my wretched circumstances, and took a
pleasure in letting me know of it.
I fall suddenly into thought over all this, and am not able to find a
solitary speech for my drama. Time upon time I seek in vain; a strange
buzzing begins inside my head, and I give it up. I thrust the papers into
my pocket, and look up. The girl is sitting straight opposite me. I look
at her--look at her narrow back and drooping shoulders, that are not yet
fully developed. What business was it of hers to fly at me? Even supposing
I did come out of the palace, what then? Did it harm her in any way? She
had laughed insolently in the past few days at me, when I was a bit
awkward and stumbled on the stairs, or caught fast on a nail and tore my
coat. It was not later than yesterday that she gathered up my rough copy,
that I had thrown aside in the ante-room--stolen these rejected fragments
of my drama, and read them aloud in the room here; made fun of them in
every one's hearing, just to amuse herself at my expense. I had never
molested her in any way, and could not recall that I had ever asked her to
do me a service. On the contrary, I made up my bed on the floor in the
ante-room myself, in order not to give her any trouble with it. She made
fun of me, too, because my hair fell out. Hair lay and floated about in
the basin I washed in the mornings, and she made merry over it. Then my
shoes, too, had grown rather shabby of late, particularly the one that had
been run over by the bread-van, and she found subject for jesting in them.
"God bless you and your shoes!" said she, looking at them; "they are as
wide as a dog's house." And she was right; they were trodden out. But then
I couldn't procure myself any others just at present.
Whilst I sit and call all this to mind, and marvel over the evident malice
of the servant, the little girls have begun to tease the old man over in
the bed; they are jumping around him, fully bent on this diversion. They
both found a straw, which they poked into his ears. I looked on at this
for a while, and refrained from interfering. The old fellow did not move a
finger to defend himself; he only looked at his tormentors with furious
eyes each time they prodded him, and jerked his head to escape when the
straws were already in his ears. I got more and more irritated at this
sight, and could not keep my eyes away from it. The father looked up from
his cards, and laughed at the youngsters; he also drew the attention of
his comrades at play to what was going on. Why didn't the old fellow move?
Why didn't he fling the children aside with his arms? I took a stride, and
approached the bed.
"Let them alone! let them alone! he is paralysed," called the landlord.
And out of fear to be shown the door for the night, simply out of fear of
rousing the man's displeasure by interfering with this scene, I stepped
back silently to my old place and kept myself quiet. Why should I risk my
lodging and my portion of bread and butter by poking my nose into the
family squabbles? No idiotic pranks for the sake of a half-dying old man,
and I stood and felt as delightfully hard as a flint.
The little urchins did not cease their plaguing; it amused them that the
old chap could not hold his head quiet, and they aimed at his eyes and
nostrils. He stared at them with a ludicrous expression; he said nothing,
and could not stir his arms. Suddenly he raised the upper part of his body
a little and spat in the face of one of the little girls, drew himself up
again and spat at the other, but did not reach her. I stood and looked on,
saw that the landlord flung the cards on the table at which he sat, and
sprang over towards the bed. His face was flushed, and he shouted:
"Will you sit and spit right into people's eyes, you old boar?"
"But, good Lord, he got no peace from them!" I cried, beside myself.
But all the time I stood in fear of being turned out, and I certainly did
not utter my protest with any particular force; I only trembled over my
whole body with irritation. He turned towards me, and said:
"Eh, listen to him, then. What the devil is it to you? You just keep your
tongue in your jaw, you--just mark what I tell you, 'twill serve you
But now the wife's voice made itself heard, and the house was filled with
scolding and railing.
"May God help me, but I think you are mad or possessed, the whole pack of
you!" she shrieked. "If you want to stay in here you'll have to be quiet,
both of you! Humph! it isn't enough that one is to keep open house and
food for vermin, but one is to have sparring and rowing and the devil's
own to-do in the sitting-room as well. But I won't have any more of it,
not if I know it. Sh--h! Hold your tongues, you brats there, and wipe your
noses, too; if you don't, I'll come and do it. I never saw the like of
such people. Here they walk in out of the street, without even a penny to
buy flea-powder, and begin to kick up rows in the middle of the night and
quarrel with the people who own the house, I don't mean to have any more
of it, do you understand that? and you can go your way, every one who
doesn't belong home here. I am going to have peace in my own quarters, I
I said nothing, I never opened my mouth once. I sat down again next the
door and listened to the noise. They all screamed together, even the
children, and the girl who wanted to explain how the whole disturbance
commenced. If I only kept quiet it would all blow over sometime; it would
surely not come to the worst if I only did not utter a word; and what word
after all could I have to say? Was it not perhaps winter outside, and far
advanced into the night, besides? Was that a time to strike a blow, and
show one could hold one's own? No folly now!... So I sat still and made no
attempt to leave the house; I never even blushed at keeping silent, never
felt ashamed, although I had almost been shown the door. I stared coolly,
case-hardened, at the wall where Christ hung in an oleograph, and held my
tongue obstinately during all the landlady's attack.
"Well, if it is me you want to get quit of, ma'am, there will be nothing
in the way as far as I am concerned," said one of the card-players as he
stood up. The other card-players rose as well.
"No, I didn't mean you--nor you either," replied the landlady to them. "If
there's any need to, I will show well enough who I mean, if there's the
least need to, if I know myself rightly. Oh, it will be shown quick enough
who it is...."
She talked with pauses, gave me these thrusts at short intervals, and spun
it out to make it clearer and clearer that it was me she meant. "Quiet,"
said I to myself; "only keep quiet!" She had not asked me to go--not
expressly, not in plain words. Just no putting on side on my part--no
untimely pride! Brave it out!... That was really most singular green hair
on that Christ in the oleograph. It was not too unlike green grass, or
expressed with exquisite exactitude thick meadow grass. Ha! a perfectly
correct remark--unusually thick meadow grass.... A train of fleeting ideas
darts at this moment through my head. From green grass to the text, Each
life is like unto grass that is kindled; from that to the Day of Judgment,
when all will be consumed; then a little detour down to the earthquake in
Lisbon, about which something floated before me in reference to a brass
Spanish spittoon and an ebony pen handle that I had seen down at
Ylajali's. Ah, yes, all was transitory, just like grass that was kindled.
It all ended in four planks and a winding-sheet. "Winding-sheets to be had
from Miss Andersen's, on the right of the door...." And all this was
tossed about in my head during the despairing moment when my landlady was
about to thrust me from her door.
"He doesn't hear," she yelled. "I tell you, you'll quit this house. Now
you know it. I believe God blast me, that the man is mad, I do! Now, out
you go, on the blessed spot, and so no more chat about it."
I looked towards the door, not in order to leave--no, certainly not in
order to leave. An audacious notion seized me--if there had been a key in
the door, I would have turned it and locked myself in along with the rest
to escape going. I had a perfectly hysterical dread of going out into the
But there was no key in the door.
Then, suddenly my landlord's voice mingled with that of his wife, and I
stood still with amazement. The same man who had threatened me a while ago
took my part, strangely enough now. He said:
"No, it won't do to turn folk out at night; do you know one can be
punished for doing that?"
"I didn't know if there was a punishment for that; I couldn't say, but
perhaps it was so," and the wife bethought herself quickly, grew quiet,
and spoke no more.
She placed two pieces of bread and butter before me for supper, but I did
not touch them, just out of gratitude to the man; so I pretended that I
had had a little food in town.
When at length I took myself off to the anteroom to go to bed, she came
out after me, stopped on the threshold, and said loudly, whilst her
unsightly figure seemed to strut out towards me:
"But this is the last night you sleep here, so now you know it."
"Yes, yes," I replied.
There would perhaps be some way of finding a shelter tomorrow, if I tried
hard for it. I would surely be able to find some hiding-place. For the
time being I would rejoice that I was not obliged to go out tonight.
I slept till between five and six in the morning--it was not yet light
when I awoke--but all the same I got up at once. I had lain in all my
clothes on account of the cold, and had no dressing to do. When I had
drunk a little cold water and opened the door quietly, I went out
directly, for I was afraid to face my landlady again.
A couple of policemen who had been on watch all night were the only living
beings I saw in the street. A while after, some men began to extinguish
the lamps. I wandered about without aim or end, reached Kirkegaden and the
road down towards the fortress. Cold and still sleepy, weak in the knees
and back after my long walk, and very hungry, I sat down on a seat and
dozed for a long time. For three weeks I had lived exclusively on the
bread and butter that my landlady had given me morning and evening. Now it
was twenty-four hours since I had had my last meal. Hunger began to gnaw
badly at me again; I must seek a help for it right quickly. With this
thought I fell asleep again upon the seat....
I was aroused by the sound of people speaking near me, and when I had
collected myself a little I saw that it was broad day, and that every one
was up and about. I got up and walked away. The sun burst over the
heights, the sky was pale and tender, and in my delight over the lovely
morning, after the many dark gloomy weeks, I forgot all cares, and it
seemed to me as if I had fared worse on other occasions. I clapped myself
on the chest and sang a little snatch for myself. My voice sounded so
wretched, downright exhausted it sounded, and I moved myself to tears with
it. This magnificent day, the white heavens swimming in light, had far too
mighty an effect upon me, and I burst into loud weeping.
"What is the matter with you?" inquired a man. I did not answer, but
hurried away, hiding my face from all men. I reached the bridge. A large
barque with the Russian flag lay and discharged coal. I read her name,
_Copegoro_, on her side. It distracted me for a time to watch what
took place on board this foreign ship. She must be almost discharged; she
lay with IX foot visible on her side, in spite of all the ballast she had
already taken in, and there was a hollow boom through the whole ship
whenever the coal-heavers stamped on the deck with their heavy boots.
The sun, the light, and the salt breath from the sea, all this busy, merry
life pulled me together a bit, and caused my blood to run lustily.
Suddenly it entered my head that I could work at a few scenes of my drama
whilst I sat here, and I took my papers out of my pocket.
I tried to place a speech into a monk's mouth--a speech that ought to
swell with pride and intolerance, but it was of no use; so I skipped over
the monk and tried to work out an oration--the Deemster's oration to the
violator of the Temple,--and I wrote half-a-page of this oration, upon
which I stopped. The right local colour would not tinge my words, the
bustle about me, the shanties, the noise of the gangways, and the
ceaseless rattle of the iron chains, fitted in so little with the
atmosphere of the musty air of the dim Middle Ages, that was to envelop my
drama as with a mist.
I bundled my papers together and got up.
All the same, I got into a happy vein--a grand vein,--and I felt convinced
that I could effect something if all went well.
If I only had a place to go to. I thought over it--stopped right there in
the street and pondered, but I could not bring to mind a single quiet spot
in the town where I could seat myself for an hour. There was no other way
open; I would have to go back to the lodging-house in Vaterland. I shrank
at the thought of it, and I told myself all the while that it would not
do. I went ahead all the same, and approached nearer and nearer to the
forbidden spot. Of course it was wretched. I admitted to myself that it
was degrading--downright degrading, but there was no help for it. I was
not in the least proud; I dared make the assertion roundly, that I was one
of the least arrogant beings up to date. I went ahead.
I pulled up at the door and weighed it over once more. Yes, no matter what
the result was, I would have to dare it. After all said and done, what a
bagatelle to make such a fuss about. For the first it was only a matter of
a couple of hours; for the second, the Lord forbid that I should ever seek
refuge in such a house again. I entered the yard. Even whilst I was
crossing the uneven stones I was irresolute, and almost turned round at
the very door. I clenched my teeth. No! no pride! At the worst I could
excuse myself by saying I had come to say good-bye, to make a proper
adieu, and come to a clear understanding about my debt to the house....
I took forth my papers once more, and determined to thrust all irrelevant
impressions aside. I had left off right in the middle of a sentence in the
inquisitor's address--"Thus dictate God and the law to me, thus dictates
also the counsel of my wise men, thus dictate I and my own conscience...."
I looked out of the window to think over what his conscience should
dictate to him. A little row reached me from the room inside. Well, it was
no affair of mine anyway; it was entirely and totally indifferent to me
what noise arose. Why the devil should I sit thinking about it? Keep quiet
now! "Thus dictate I and my own conscience...." But everything conspired
against me. Outside in the street, something was taking place that
disturbed me. A little lad sat and amused himself in the sun on the
opposite side of the pavement. He was happy and in fear of no danger--just
sat and knotted together a lot of paper streamers, and injuring no one.
Suddenly he jumps up and begins to curse; he goes backwards to the middle
of the street and catches sight of a man, a grown-up man, with a red
beard, who is leaning out of an open window in the second storey, and who
spat down on his head. The little chap cried with rage, and swore
impatiently up at the window; and the man laughed in his face. Perhaps
five minutes passed in this way. I turned aside to avoid seeing the little
"Thus dictate I and my own conscience...." I found it impossible to get
any farther. At last everything began to get confused; it seemed to me
that even that which I had already written was unfit to use, ay, that the
whole idea was contemptible rubbish. How could one possibly talk of
conscience in the Middle Ages? Conscience was first invented by
Dancing-master Shakespeare, consequently my whole address was wrong. Was
there, then, nothing of value in these pages? I ran through them anew, and
solved my doubt at once. I discovered grand pieces--downright lengthy
pieces of remarkable merit--and once again the intoxicating desire to set
to work again darted through my breast--the desire to finish my drama.
I got up and went to the door, without paying any attention to my
landlord's furious signs to go out quietly; I walked out of the room
firmly, and with my mind made up. I went upstairs to the second floor, and
entered my former room. The man was not there, and what was to hinder me
from sitting here for a moment? I would not touch one of his things. I
wouldn't even once use his table; I would just seat myself on a chair near
the door, and be happy. I spread the papers hurriedly out on my knees.
Things went splendidly for a few minutes. Retort upon retort stood ready
in my head, and I wrote uninterruptedly. I filled one page after the
other, dashed ahead over stock and stone, chuckled softly in ecstasy over
my happy vein, and was scarcely conscious of myself. The only sound I
heard in this moment was my own merry chuckle.
A singularly happy idea had just struck me about a church bell--a church
bell that was to peal out at a certain point in my drama. All was going
ahead with overwhelming rapidity. Then I heard a step on the stairs. I
tremble, and am almost beside myself; sit ready to bolt, timorous,
watchful, full of fear at everything, and excited by hunger. I listen
nervously, just hold the pencil still in my hand, and listen. I cannot
write a word more. The door opens and the pair from below enter.
Even before I had time to make an excuse for what I had done, the landlady
calls out, as if struck of a heap with amazement:
"Well, God bless and save us, if he isn't sitting here again!"
"Excuse me," I said, and I would have added more, but got no farther; the
landlady flung open the door, as far as it would go, and shrieked:
"If you don't go out, now, may God blast me, but I'll fetch the police!"
I got up.
"I only wanted to say good-bye to you," I murmured; "and I had to wait for
you. I didn't touch anything; I only just sat here on the chair...."
"Yes, yes; there was no harm in that," said the man. "What the devil does
it matter? Let the man alone; he--"
By this time I had reached the end of the stairs. All at once I got
furious with this fat, swollen woman, who followed close to my heels to
get rid of me quickly, and I stood quiet a moment with the worst abusive
epithets on my tongue ready to sling at her. But I bethought myself in
time, and held my peace, if only out of gratitude to the stranger man who
followed her, and would have to hear them. She trod close on my heels,
railing incessantly, and my anger increased with every step I took.
We reached the yard below. I walked very slowly, still debating whether I
would not have it out with her. I was at this moment completely blinded
with rage, and I searched for the worst word--an expression that would
strike her dead on the spot, like a kick in her stomach. A commissionaire
passes me at the entrance. He touches his hat; I take no notice; he
applies to her; and I hear that he inquires for me, but I do not turn
round. A couple of steps outside the door he overtakes and stops me. He
hands me an envelope. I tear it open, roughly and unwillingly. It contains
half-a-sovereign--no note, not a word. I look at the man, and ask:
"What tomfoolery is this? Who is the letter from?"
"Oh, that I can't say!" he replies; "but it was a lady who gave it to me."
I stood still. The commissionaire left.
I put the coin into the envelope again, crumple it up, coin and envelope,
wheel round and go straight towards the landlady, who is still keeping an
eye on me from the doorway, and throw it in her face. I said nothing; I
uttered no syllable--only noticed that she was examining the crumpled
paper as I left her.... Ha! that is what one might call comporting oneself
with dignity. Not to say a word, not to mention the contents, but crumple
together, with perfect calmness, a large piece of money, and fling it
straight in the face of one's persecutor! One might call that making one's
exit with dignity. That was the way to treat such beasts I....
When I got to the corner of Tomtegaden and the railway place, the street
commenced suddenly to swim around before my eyes; it buzzed vacantly in my
head, and I staggered up against the wall of a house. I could simply go no
farther, couldn't even straighten myself from the cramped position I was
in. As I fell up against it, so I remained standing, and I felt that I was
beginning to lose my senses. My insane anger had augmented this attack of
exhaustion. I lifted my foot, and stamped on the pavement. I also tried
several other things to try and regain my strength: I clenched my teeth,
wrinkled my brows, and rolled my eyes despairingly; it helped a little. My
thoughts grew more lucid. It was clear to me that I was about to succumb.
I stretched out my hands, and pushed myself back from the wall. The street
still danced wildly round me. I began to hiccough with rage, and I
wrestled from my very inmost soul with my misery; made a right gallant
effort not to sink down. It was not my intention to collapse; no, I would
die standing. A dray rolls slowly by, and I notice there are potatoes in
it; but out of sheer fury and stubbornness, I take it into my head to
assert that they are not potatoes, but cabbages, and I swore frightful
oaths that they were cabbages. I heard quite well what I was saying, and I
swore this lie wittingly; repeating time after time, just to have the
vicious satisfaction of perjuring myself. I got intoxicated with the
thought of this matchless sin of mine. I raised three fingers in the air,
and swore, with trembling lips, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost, that they were cabbages.
Time went. I let myself sink down on the steps near me, and dried the
sweat from my brow and throat, drew a couple of long breaths, and forced
myself into calmness. The sun slid down; it declined towards the
afternoon. I began once more to brood over my condition. My hunger was
really something disgraceful, and, in a few hours more, night would be
here again. The question was, to think of a remedy while there was yet
time. My thoughts flew again to the lodging-house from which I had been
hunted away. I could on no account return there; but yet one could not
help thinking about it. Properly speaking, the woman was acting quite
within her rights in turning me out. How could I expect to get lodging
with any one when I could not pay for it? Besides, she had occasionally
given me a little food; even yesterday evening, after I had annoyed her,
she offered me some bread and butter. She offered it to me out of sheer
good nature, because she knew I needed it, so I had no cause to complain.
I began, even whilst I sat there on the step, to ask her pardon in my own
mind for my behaviour. Particularly, I regretted bitterly that I had shown
myself ungrateful to her at the last, and thrown half-a-sovereign in her
Half-a-sovereign! I gave a whistle. The letter the messenger brought me,
where did it come from? It was only this instant I thought clearly over
this, and I divined at once how the whole thing hung together. I grew sick
with pain and shame. I whispered "Ylajali" a few times, with hoarse voice,
and flung back my head. Was it not I who, no later than yesterday, had
decided to pass her proudly by if I met her, to treat her with the
greatest indifference? Instead of that, I had only aroused her compassion,
and coaxed an alms from her. No, no, no; there would never be an end to my
degradation! Not even in her presence could I maintain a decent position.
I sank, simply sank, on all sides--every way I turned; sank to my knees,
sank to my waist, dived under in ignominy, never to rise again--never!
This was the climax! To accept half-a-sovereign in alms without being able
to fling it back to the secret donor; scramble for half-pence whenever the
chance offered, and keep them, use them for lodging money, in spite of
one's intense inner aversion....
Could I not regain the half-sovereign in some way or another? To go back
to the landlady and try to get it from her would be of no use. There must
be some way, if I were to consider--if I were only to exert myself right
well, and consider it over. It was not, in this case, great God,
sufficient to consider in just an ordinary way! I must consider so that it
penetrated my whole sentient being; consider and find some way to procure
this half-sovereign. And I set to, to consider the answer to this problem.
It might be about four o'clock; in a few hours' time I could perhaps meet
the manager of the theatre; if only I had my drama completed.
I take out my MSS. there where I am sitting, and resolve, with might and
main, to finish the last few scenes. I think until I sweat, and re-read
from the beginning, but make no progress. No bosh! I say--no obstinacy,
now! and I write away at my drama--write down everything that strikes me,
just to get finished quickly and be able to go away. I tried to persuade
myself that a new supreme moment had seized me; I lied right royally to
myself, deceived myself knowingly, and wrote on, as if I had no need to
seek for words.
That is capital! That is really a find! whispered I, interpolatingly; only
just write it down! Halt! they sound questionable; they contrast rather
strongly with the speeches in the first scenes; not a trace of the Middle
Ages shone through the monk's words. I break my pencil between my teeth,
jump to my feet, tear my manuscript in two, tear each page in two, fling
my hat down in the street and trample upon it. I am lost! I whisper to
myself. Ladies and gentlemen, I am lost! I utter no more than these few
words as long as I stand there, and tramp upon my hat.
A policeman is standing a few steps away, watching me. He is standing in
the middle of the street, and he only pays attention to me. As I lift my
head, our eyes meet. Maybe he has been standing there for a long time
watching me. I pick up my hat, put it on, and go over to him.
"Do you know what time it is?" I ask. He pauses a bit as he hauls out his
watch, and never takes his eyes off me the whole time.
"About four," he replies.
"Accurately," I say, "about four, perfectly accurate. You know your
business, and I'll bear you in mind." Thereupon I left him. He looked
utterly amazed at me, stood and looked at me, with gaping mouth, still
holding his watch in his hand.
When I got in front of the Royal Hotel I turned and looked back. He was
still standing in the same position, following me with his eyes.
Ha, ha! That is the way to treat brutes! With the most refined effrontery!
That impresses the brutes--puts the fear of God into them.... I was
peculiarly satisfied with myself, and began to sing a little strain. Every
nerve was tense with excitement. Without feeling any more pain, without
even being conscious of discomfort of any kind, I walked, light as a
feather, across the whole market, turned round at the stalls, and came to
a halt--sat down on a bench near Our Saviour's Church. Might it not just
as well be a matter of indifference whether I returned the half-sovereign
or not? When once I received it, it was mine; and there was evidently no
want where it came from. Besides, I was obliged to take it when it was
sent expressly to me; there could be no object in letting the messenger
keep it. It wouldn't do, either, to send it back--a whole half-sovereign
that had been sent to me. So there was positively no help for it.
I tried to watch the bustle about me in the market, and distract myself
with indifferent things, but I did not succeed; the half-sovereign still
busied my thoughts. At last I clenched my fists and got angry. It would
hurt her if I were to send it back. Why, then, should I do so? Always
ready to consider myself too good for everything--to toss my head and say,
No, thanks! I saw now what it led to. I was out in the street again. Even
when I had the opportunity I couldn't keep my good warm lodging. No; I
must needs be proud, jump up at the first word, and show I wasn't the man
to stand trifling, chuck half-sovereigns right and left, and go my way....
I took myself sharply to task for having left my lodging and brought
myself into the most distressful circumstances.
As for the rest, I consigned the whole affair to the keeping of the
yellowest of devils. I hadn't begged for the half-sovereign, and I had
barely had it in my hand, but gave it away at once--paid it away to
utterly strange people whom I would never see again. That was the sort of
man I was; I always paid out to the last doit whatever I owed. If I knew
Ylajali aright, neither did she regret that she had sent me the money,
therefore why did I sit there working myself into a rage? To put it
plainly, the least she could do was to send me half-a-sovereign now and
then. The poor girl was indeed in love with me--ha! perhaps even fatally
in love with me; ... and I sat and puffed myself up with this notion.
There was no doubt that she was in love with me, the poor girl.
It struck five o'clock! Again I sank under the weight of my prolonged
nervous excitement. The hollow whirring in my head made itself felt anew.
I stared straight ahead, kept my eyes fixed, and gazed at the chemist's
under the sign of the elephant. Hunger was waging a fierce battle in me at
this moment, and I was suffering greatly. Whilst I sit thus and look out
into space, a figure becomes little by little clear to my fixed stare. At
last I can distinguish it perfectly plainly, and I recognize it. It is
that of the cake-vendor who sits habitually near the chemist's under the
sign of the elephant. I give a start, sit half-upright on the seat, and
begin to consider. Yes, it was quite correct--the same woman before the
same table on the same spot! I whistle a few times and snap my fingers,
rise from my seat, and make for the chemist's. No nonsense at all! What
the devil was it to me if it was the wages of sin, or well-earned
Norwegian huckster pieces of silver from Kongsberg? I wasn't going to be
abused; one might die of too much pride....
I go on to the corner, take stock of the woman, and come to a standstill
before her. I smile, nod as to an acquaintance, and shape my words as if
it were a foregone conclusion that I would return sometime.
"Good-day," say I; "perhaps you don't recognize me again."
"No," she replied slowly, and looks at me.
I smile still more, as if this were only an excellent joke of hers, this
pretending not to know me again, and say:
"Don't you recollect that I gave you a lot of silver once? I did not say
anything on the occasion in question; as far as I can call to mind, I did
not; it is not my way to do so. When one has honest folk to deal with, it
is unnecessary to make an agreement, so to say, draw up a contract for
every trifle. Ha, ha! Yes, it was I who gave you the money!"
"No, then, now; was it you? Yes, I remember you, now that I come to think
I wanted to prevent her from thanking me for the money, so I say,
therefore, hastily, whilst I cast my eye over the table in search of
something to eat:
"Yes; I've come now to get the cakes."
She did not seem to take this in.
"The cakes," I reiterate; "I've come now to get them--at any rate, the
first instalment; I don't need all of them today."
"You've come to get them?"
"Yes; of course I've come to get them," I reply, and I laugh boisterously,
as if it ought to have been self-evident to her from the outset that I
came for that purpose. I take, too, a cake up from the table, a sort of
white roll that I commenced to eat.
When the woman sees this, she stirs uneasily inside her bundle of clothes,
makes an involuntary movement as if to protect her wares, and gives me to
understand that she had not expected me to return to rob her of them.
"Really not?" I say, "indeed, really not?" She certainly was an
extraordinary woman. Had she, then, at any time, had the experience that
some one came and gave her a heap of shillings to take care of, without
that person returning and demanding them again? No; just look at that now!
Did she perhaps run away with the idea that it was stolen money, since I
slung it at her in that manner? No; she didn't think that either. Well,
that at least was a good thing--really a good thing. It was, if I might so
say, kind of her, in spite of all, to consider me an honest man. Ha, ha!
yes indeed, she really was good!
But why did I give her the money, then? The woman was exasperated, and
called out loudly about it. I explained why I had given her the money,
explained it temperately and with emphasis. It was my custom to act in
this manner, because I had such a belief in every one's goodness. Always
when any one offered me an agreement, a receipt, I only shook my head and
said: No, thank you! God knows I did.
But still the woman failed to comprehend it. I had recourse to other
expedients--spoke sharply, and bade a truce to all nonsense. Had it never
happened to her before that any one had paid her in advance in this
manner? I inquired--I meant, of course, people who could afford it--for
example, any of the consuls? Never? Well, I could not be expected to
suffer because it happened to be a strange mode of procedure to her. It
was a common practice abroad. She had perhaps never been outside the
boundaries of her own country? No? Just look at that now! In that case,
she could of course have no opinion on the subject; ... and I took several
more cakes from the table.
She grumbled angrily, refused obstinately to give up any more of her
stores from off the table, even snatched a piece of cake out of my hand
and put it back into its place. I got enraged, banked the table, and
threatened to call the police. I wished to be lenient with her, I said.
Were I to take all that was lawfully mine, I would clear her whole stand,
because it was a big sum of money that I had given to her. But I had no
intention of taking so much, I wanted in reality only half the value of
the money, and I would, into the bargain, never come back to trouble her
again. Might God preserve me from it, seeing that that was the sort of
creature she was.... At length she shoved some cakes towards me, four or
five, at an exorbitant price, the highest possible price she could think
of, and bade me take them and begone. I wrangled still with her, persisted
that she had at least cheated me to the extent of a shilling, besides
robbing me with her exorbitant prices. "Do you know there is a penalty for
such rascally trickery," said I; "God help you, you might get penal
servitude for life, you old fool!" She flung another cake to me, and, with
almost gnashing teeth, begged me to go.
And I left her.
Ha! a match for this dishonest cake-vendor was not to be found. The whole
time, whilst I walked to and fro in the market-place and ate my cakes, I
talked loudly about this creature and her shamelessness, repeated to
myself what we both had said to one another, and it seemed to me that I
had come out of this affair with flying colours, leaving her nowhere. I
ate my cakes in face of everybody and talked this over to myself.
The cakes disappeared one by one; they seemed to go no way; no matter how
I ate I was still greedily hungry. Lord, to think they were of no help! I
was so ravenous that I was even about to devour the last little cake that
I had decided to spare, right from the beginning, to put it aside, in
fact, for the little chap down in Vognmandsgade--the little lad who played
with the paper streamers. I thought of him continually--couldn't forget
his face as he jumped and swore. He had turned round towards the window
when the man spat down on him, and he had just looked up to see if I was
laughing at him. God knows if I should meet him now, even if I went down
I exerted myself greatly to try and reach Vognmandsgade, passed quickly by
the spot where I had torn my drama into tatters, and where some scraps of
papers still lay about; avoided the policeman whom I had amazed by my
behaviour, and reached the steps upon which the laddie had been sitting.
He was not there. The street was almost deserted--dusk was gathering in,
and I could not see him anywhere. Perhaps he had gone in. I laid the cake
down, stood it upright against the door, knocked hard, and hurried away
directly. He is sure to find it, I said to myself; the first thing he will
do when he comes out will be to find it. And my eyes grew moist with
pleasure at the thought of the little chap finding the cake.
I reached the terminus again.
Now I no longer felt hungry, only the sweet stuff I had eaten began to
cause me discomfort. The wildest thoughts, too surged up anew in my head.
Supposing I were in all secretness to cut the hawser mooring one of those
ships? Supposing I were to suddenly yell out "Fire"? I walk farther down
the wharf, find a packing-case and sit upon it, fold my hands, and am
conscious that my head is growing more and more confused. I do not stir; I
simply make no effort whatever to keep up any longer. I just sit there and
stare at the _Copegoro_, the barque flying the Russian flag.
I catch a glimpse of a man at the rail; the red lantern slung at the port
shines down upon his head, and I get up and talk over to him. I had no
object in talking, as I did not expect to get a reply, either.
"Do you sail tonight, Captain?"
"Yes; in a short time," answered the man. He spoke Swedish.
"Hem, I suppose you wouldn't happen to need a man?"
I was at this instant utterly indifferent as to whether I was met by a
refusal or not; it was all the same to me what reply the man gave me, so I
stood and waited for it.
"Well, no," he replied; "unless it chanced to be a young fellow."
"A young fellow!" I pulled myself together, took off my glasses furtively
and thrust them into my pocket, stepped up the gangway, and strode on
"I have no experience," said I; "but I can do anything I am put to. Where
are you bound for?"
"We are in ballast for Leith, to fetch coal for Cadiz."
"All right," said I, forcing myself upon the man; "it's all the same to me
where I go; I am prepared to do my work."
"Have you never sailed before?" he asked.
"No; but as I tell you, put me to a task, and I'll do it. I am used to a
little of all sorts."
He bethought himself again.
I had already taken keenly into my head that I was to sail this voyage,
and I began to dread being hounded on shore again.
"What do you think about it, Captain?" I asked at last. "I can really do
anything that turns up. What am I saying? I would be a poor sort of chap
if I couldn't do a little more than just what I was put to. I can take two
watches at a stretch, if it comes to that. It would only do me good, and I
could hold out all the same."
"All right, have a try at it. If it doesn't work, well, we can part in
"Of course," I reply in my delight, and I repeated over again that we
could part in England if it didn't work.
And he set me to work....
Out in the fjord I dragged myself up once, wet with fever and exhaustion,
and gazed landwards, and bade farewell for the present to the town--to
Christiania, where the windows gleamed so brightly in all the homes.