Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Look Back on Happiness by Knut Hamsun

Part 3 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

skip this, so for the sake of brevity, I call it not entering. This
morning I wrote something playful about Madame, the mouse I left here last
spring; but tonight I am taking it out again because I am no longer in the
mood, and because there is no point in it. Perhaps it would have amused
you to read it, my friend; but there is no point in amusing you now. I
must deject you now and make you listen to me; there is not much more to

Am I moralizing? I am explaining. No, I am not moralizing; I am
explaining. If it is moralizing to see the truth and tell it to you, then
I am moralizing. Can I help that? Intuitively I see into what is distant;
you do not, for this is something you cannot learn from your little
schoolbooks. Do not let this rouse your hatred for me. I shall be merry
again with you later, when my strings are tuned to merriment. I have no
power over them. Now they are tuned to a chorale....

* * * * *

At dawn, in the bright moonlight, I leave the hut and push on quickly in
order to reach the village as soon as possible. But I must have started
too early or walked too fast, for at this rate I shall reach the village
at high noon. What am I chasing after? Perhaps it is feeling the nearness
of the sea that drives me forward. And as I stand on the last high ridge,
with the glitter and roar of the sea far beneath, a sweetness darts
through me like a greeting from another world. "_Thalatta!_" I cry;
and I wipe my eyeglasses tremblingly. The roar from below is sleepless and
fierce, a tone of jungle passion, a savage litany. I descend the ridge as
though in a trance and reach the first house.

There was no one about, and a few children's faces at a window suddenly
disappeared. Everything here was small and poor, though only the barn was
of peat; the house was a timbered fisherman's home. As I entered the
house, I saw that though it was as poor within as without, the floor was
clean and covered with pine twigs. There were many children here. The
mother was busy cooking something over the fire.

I was offered a chair, and sitting down, began to chat with a couple of
small boys. As I was in no hurry and asked for nothing, the woman said:

"I expect you want a boat?"

"A boat?" I said in my turn, for I had not come by boat on my last visit;
I had walked instead over fjelds and valleys many miles from the sea.
"Yes, why not?" I said. "But where does it go?"

"I thought you wanted a boat to go to the trading center," she replied,
"because that's where the steamer stops. We've rowed over lots of people
this year."

Great changes here; the motor traffic in Stordalen must have completely
altered all the other traffic since my last visit ten months ago.

"Where can I stop for a few days?" I asked.

"At the trading center, the other side of the islands. Or there's Eilert
and Olaus; they're both on this side. You could go there; they've got big

She showed me the two places on this side of the water, close to the
shore, and I proceeded thither.


A large house, with and upper story of planks built on later, displayed a
new signboard on the wall: Room and Board. The barn, as usual, was a peat

As I did not know which was Eilert and which Olaus, and had stopped to
consider which road to take, a man came hurrying toward me. Ah, well, the
world is a small place; we meet friends and acquaintances everywhere. Here
am I, meeting an old acquaintance, the thief of last winter, the pork
thief. What luck, what a satisfaction!

This was Eilert. He took in paying guests now.

At first he pretended not to recognize me, but he soon gave that up. Once
he had done so, however, he carried the thing off in style:

"Well, well," he said, "what a nice surprise! You are most welcome under
my humble roof, and such it is!"

My own response was rather less jaunty, and I stood still collecting my
thoughts. When I had asked a few questions, he explained that since the
motor traffic had started in Stordalen, many visitors came through this
way, and sometimes they wanted to stop over at his house before being
rowed across to the steamer. They always came down in the evenings, and it
might be fine, or it might not, and at night the fjord was often wild. He
had therefore had to arrange to house them, because after all, you can't
expect people to spend the night outdoors.

"So you've turned into a hotelkeeper," I said.

"Well, you can joke about it," he returned, "but all I do is to give
shelter to the people who come here. That's all the hotel there is to it.
My neighbor Olaus can't do any more either, even if he builds a place
that's ten times as big. Look over there--now he's building another
house--a shed, I'd call it--and he's got three grown men working on it so
he can get it done by next summer. But it won't be much bigger than my
place at that, and anyhow, the gentry don't want to be bothered walking
all that distance to his place when here's my house right at the car stop.
And besides it was me that started it, and if I was Olaus I wouldn't have
wanted to imitate me like a regular monkey and started keeping boarders
which I didn't know the first thing about. But he can't make himself any
different from what he is, so he puts up a few old bits of canvas and rugs
and cardboard inside his barn and gets people to sleep there. But I'd
never ask the gentry to sleep in a barn, a storehouse for fodder and hay
for dumb beasts, if you'll excuse my mentioning it! But of course if
you've no shame in you and don't know how to behave in company--"

"Lucky I've met you," I said. "Why, I might have gone on down the road to
his place!"

We walked on together, with Eilert talking and explaining all the way, and
assuring me over and over again that Olaus was a good-for-nothing for
copying him as he did.

If I had known what was awaiting me, I should certainly have passed by
Eilert's house. But I did not know. I was innocent, though I may not have
appeared so. It cannot be helped.

"It's too bad I've got somebody in the best room," said Eilert. "They're
gentlefolk from the city. They came down here through Stordalen, and they
had to walk because the cars have stopped for the season. They've been in
my house for quite some days, and I think they'll be staying on a while
yet. I think they're out now, but of course it means I can't let you have
my best room."

I looked up, and saw a face in the window. A shiver ran through me--no, of
course not a shiver, far from it, but certainly this was a fresh surprise.
What a coincidence! As we were about to enter the door, there was the
actor, too--standing there looking at me: the actor from the Tore Peak
resort. It was his knees, his coat, and his stick. So I was right--I
_had_ recognized her face at an upper window. Yes, indeed, the world
is small.

The actor and I greeted each other and began to talk. How nice to see me
again! And how was Paul, the good fellow--still soaking himself in liquor,
he supposed? Funny effect it has sometimes; Paul seemed to think the whole
inn was an aquarium and we visitors the goldfish! "Ha, ha, ha, goldfish; I
wish we were, I must say!--Well, Eilert, are we getting some fresh haddock
for supper? Good!--Really, we like it here very much; we've already been
here several days; we want to stay and get a good rest."

As we stood there, a rather stout girl came down from the loft and
addressed the actor:

"The missis wants you to come right upstairs."

"Oh? Very well, at once.... Well, see you later. You'll be stopping here,
too, I expect?"

He hurried up the stairs.

Eilert and I followed to my room.

* * * * *

As a matter of fact, I went out again with Eilert at once. He had a great
deal to tell me and explain to me, and I was not unwilling to listen to
him then. Really, Eilert was not too bad, a fine fellow with four ragged,
magnificent youngsters by his first wife, who had died two years before,
and another child by his second wife. He must have forgotten, as he told
me this, the yarn about the sick wife and the ailing children that he had
spun for me last winter. The girl who had come down the stairs with the
message from the "missis" was no servant, but Eilert's young wife. And
she, too, was all right--strong and good, handy about the stables, and
pregnant again.

It all looks good to me, Eilert: your wife and everything you tell me
about your family.

No one will understand my strange contentment, then; I had been full of an
obscure happiness from the moment I came to this house. Probably a mere
coincidence, but that did not detract from my satisfactory state of mind;
I was pleased with everything, and all things added to my cheerful frame
of mind. There were some pigs by the barn, very affectionate pigs, because
they were used to the children playing with them and kissing them and
riding on their backs. And there was one of the goats, up on the roof of
course, standing so far out along the edge that it was a wonder he didn't
grow dizzy. Seagulls flew criss-cross over the fields, screaming their
own language to one another, and being friends or enemies to the best of
their ability. Down by the mouth of the river, just beneath the sunset,
began the great road that winds up through the woods and the valley. There
is something of the friendliness of a living being about such a forest

Eilert was going out in his boat to fish haddock, and I went with him.
Actually he should have been getting some meat for us; but he had promised
the gentry from the city some fish, and fish was one of the gifts of God.
Besides, if he lacked meat, he could always slaughter one of the pigs.

There was a slight wind; but then we wanted some wind, Eilert said, as
long as there was not too much of it.

"Not reliable tonight though," he said, looking up into the sky; "the
bigger the wind, the stronger the current."

At first I was very brave, and sat on the thwart thinking of Eilert's
French words: _travali, prekevary, sutinary, mankemang_, and many
others. They've had a long way to travel, coming here by ancient routes
via Bergen, and now they're common property.

And then suddenly I lost all interest in French words, and felt extremely
ill. It was much too windy, and we got no haddock.

"Pity she's come up so quick," said Eilert; "let's try inshore for a

But we got nothing there either, and as the wind increased and the sea
rose, "We'd better go home," said Eilert.

The sea had been just right before, remarkably so, but now there was
entirely too much of it. Why on earth did I feel so bad? An inner
exhaustion, some emotional excitement, would have explained it. But I had
experienced no emotional excitement.

We rowed in the foam and feathery jets of spray. "She's rising fast!"
cried Eilert, rowing with all his might.

I felt so wretched that Eilert told me to ship my oars; he would manage by
himself. But for all my wretchedness, I remembered that they could see me
from the shore, and I would not put down my oars. Eilert's wife might see
me and laugh at me.

What a revolting business, this seasickness that forced me to put my head
over the gunwale and make a pig of myself! I had a moment's relief, and
then it began all over again. Charming! I felt as though I were in labor;
the wrong way up, of course, through my throat, but it was a delivery
nonetheless. It moved up, then stopped, came on again and stopped, came on
and stopped once more. It was a lump of iron--iron, did I say? No, steel;
I had never felt anything like it before; it was not something I was born
with. All my internal mechanism was stopped by it. Then I took a running
start far down inside me and began, strangely, to howl with all my
strength; but a howl, however successful, cannot break down a lump of
steel. The pains continued. My mouth filled with bile. Soon, thank heaven,
my chest would burst. O--oh--oh.... Then we rowed inside the islands that
served as a breakwater, and I was saved.

Quite suddenly I was well again, and began to play the clown, imitating my
own behavior in order to deceive the people ashore. And I assured Eilert,
too, that this was the first time I had ever been seasick, so that he
should understand it was nothing to gossip about. After all, he had not
heard about the great seas I had sailed without the slightest discomfort;
once I had been four-and-twenty days on the ocean, with most of the
passengers in bed, and even the captain sick in cascades; but not me!

"Yes, I get seasick sometimes, too," says Eilert.

That evening I sat eating alone in the dining room. Since we had not
brought back any haddock, the visitors upstairs had no desire to come
down. All they wanted, Eilert's wife said, was some bread and butter and
milk to be sent up.


Next morning they had gone.

Yes, indeed, they left at four in the morning, at dawn; I heard them
perfectly well, for my room was near the stairs. The knight of the plump
thighs came first, clumping heavily down the stairs. She hushed him, and
her voice sounded angry.

Eilert had just risen too, and they stood outside for some minutes,
negotiating with him for the boat--yes, at once; they had changed their
minds and wanted to leave, immediately. Then they went down to the boat,
Eilert with them. I could see them through the window, chilled by the cold
of early morning and short-tempered with each other. There had been a
frost during the night; ice lay on the water in the buckets, and the
ground was harsh to walk on. Poor things--no food, no coffee; a windy
morning, with the sea still running rather high. There they go with their
knapsacks on their backs; she is still wearing her red hat.

Well, it was no concern of mine, and I lay down again, intending to sleep
till about noon. Nothing was any concern of mine, except myself. I could
not see the boat from my bed, so I got up again--just to while the time
away--to see how far they had gone. Not very far, though both men were
rowing. A little later I got up and looked again--oh, yes, they were
getting on. I took up my post by the window. It was really quite
interesting to watch the boat getting smaller and smaller; finally I
opened the window, even looked through my field-glasses. As it was not yet
quite light, I could not see them very clearly, but the red hat was still
discernible. Then the boat disappeared behind an island. I dressed and
went down. The children were all still in bed, but the wife, Regine, was
up. How calmly and naturally she took everything!

"Do you know where your husband is?" I asked her.

"Yes--funny, aren't they?" she replied. "I never saw them till after
they'd left--gone down to the fjord. Where do you suppose they're going?
Haddock fishing?"

"Maybe," was all I said. But I thought to myself: "They're leaving, all
right. They had their knapsacks on their backs."

"Funny couple," Regine resumed. "Nothing to eat, no coffee, not a thing!
And the missis not wanting anything to eat last night, neither!"

I merely shook my head and went out. Regine called to me that coffee was
nearly ready, so if I'd like a cup--

Of course the only thing I could do in the face of such foolishness was to
shake my head and go away. One must take the sensible view. How was it
possible to understand such behavior? Nevertheless I, the undersigned,
should have gone on to Olaus yesterday, instead of going fishing. That
would have been still more sensible. What business had I at this house?
Very likely she found it embarrassing to be called the "missis," and this
was why she could neither eat last night nor stay here today. So she had
beaten a retreat, with her friend and her knapsack.

Well, it was not much to go away with, but perhaps that doesn't matter. As
long as one has a reason to go away.

* * * * *

Later in the forenoon Eilert returned home. He was alone, but he came up
the path carrying one of the knapsacks--the larger one. He was in a
furious temper, and kept saying they'd better not try it on him--no,
they'd just better not.

Of course it was the bill again.

"She'll probably have a good deal of this sort of trouble," I thought to
myself, "but no doubt she'll get used to it, and take it as nonchalantly
as it should be taken. There are worse things."

But the fact remains that it was I that upset them, I that had driven them
away without their clothes; perhaps they had really expected some money to
be sent here--who knows?

I got hold of Eilert. How big was the bill? What, was that all? "Good
heavens! Here you are, here's your money; now row across to them at once
with their clothes!"

But it all proved in vain, for the strangers had gone; they had arrived
just in time for the boat, and were aboard it at that very moment.

Well, there was no help for it.

"Here's their address," says Eilert. "We can send the clothes next
Thursday; that's the next trip the boat goes south again."

I took down the address, but I was most ungracious to Eilert. Why couldn't
he have kept the other knapsack--why this particular one?

Eilert replied that it was true the gentleman had offered him the other
one, but he could see from the outside that it was not so good as this
one. And I should remember that the money the missis had paid him hadn't
covered more than the bill for one of them. So it was only reasonable that
he should take the fullest knapsack. As a matter of fact, he had behaved
very well, and that was the truth. Because when she gave him the larger
knapsack, and wrote the address, she had scolded, but he had kept quiet,
and said not another word. And anyway, nobody had better try it on him--
they'd better not, or he'd know the reason why!

Eilert shook a long-armed fist at the sky.

When he had eaten, drunk his coffee, and rested for a while, he was not so
lively and talkative as on the previous day. He had been brooding and
speculating ever since last summer, when the motor traffic started, and
did I think it would be a good idea for him to hire three grown men, too,
and build a much bigger house than Olaus's?

So he had caught it, too--the great, modern Norwegian disease!

The knapsack was back in her room again; yes, these were her clothes; I
recognized her blouses, her skirts and her shoes. I hardly looked at them,
of course; just unpacked them, folded them neatly, and put them back in
the bag again; because no doubt Eilert had had them all out in a heap.
This was really my only reason for unpacking them.


Once more I was run into a party of English, the last for this year.

They arrived by steamer in the morning and stopped at the trading station
for a few hours, meanwhile sending up a detachment through the valley to
order a car to meet them. Stordalen, Stordalen, they said. So they had
apparently not yet seen Stordalen--an omission they must repair at once.

And what a sensation they made!

They came across by rowboat from the trading station; we could hear them a
long way off, an old man's voice drowning out all the others. Eilert
dropped everything he had in hand, and ran down to the landing place in
order to be the first on the spot. From Olaus's house, too, a man and a
few half-grown boys went down, and from all the houses round swarmed
curious and helpful crowds. There were so many spectators at the landing
place that the old man with the loud voice drew himself up to his full
height in the boat and majestically shouted his English at us, as though
his language must of course be ours as well:

"Where's the car? Bring the car down!"

Olaus, who was sharp, guessed what he meant and at once sent his two boys
up the valley to meet the car and hurry it on, for the Englishmen had

They disembarked, they were in a great hurry, they could not understand
why the car had not come to meet them: "What was the meaning of this?"
There were four of them. "Stordalen!" they said. As they came up past
Eilert's house, they looked at their watches and swore because so many
minutes were being wasted. Where the devil was the car? The populace
followed at some distance, gazing with reverence on these dressed-up

I remember a couple of them: an old man--the one with the loud voice--who
wore a pleated kilt on each thigh and a jacket of green canvas with braid
and buckles and straps and innumerable pockets all over it. What a man,
what a power! His beard, streaming out from under his nose like the
northern lights, was greenish-white, and he swore like a madman. Another
of the party was tall and bent, a flagpole of sorts, astonishing,
stupendous, with sloping shoulders, a tiny cap perched above extravagantly
arched eyebrows; he was an upended Roman battering ram, a man on stilts. I
measured him with my eyes, and still there was something left over. Yet he
was bent and broken, old before his time, quite bald; but his mouth was
tight as a tiger's, and he had a madness in his head that kept him on the

"Stordalen!" he cried.

England will soon have to open old people's homes for her sons. She
desexes her people with sport and obsessive ideas: were not other
countries keeping her in perpetual unrest, she would in a couple of
generations be converted to pederasty....

Then the horn of the car was heard tooting in the woods, and everyone
raced to meet it.

Of course Olaus's two boys had done an honest day's work in meeting the
car so far up the road, and urging the driver to hurry; were they not to
get any reward? True, they were allowed to sit in the back seat for their
return journey and thus enjoyed the drive of a lifetime; but money! They
had acquired enough brazenness in the course of the summer not to
hesitate, and approached the loud-voiced old man, holding out their palms
and clamoring: "Money!" But that did not suit the old man, who entered the
car forthwith, urging his companions to hurry. The driver, no doubt
thinking of his own tips, felt he would serve his passengers best by
driving off with them at once. So off he went. A toot of the horn, and a
rapid fanfare--tara-ra-boom-de-ay!

The spectators turned homeward, talking about the illustrious visitors.
Foreign lands--ah, no, this country will not bear comparison with them!
"Did you see how tall the younger lord was?" "And did you see the other
one, the one with the skirts and the northern lights?"

But some of the homeward-turning bumpkins, such as the Olaus family, had
more serious matters on their minds. Olaus for the first time understood
what he had read in the paper so many times, that the Norwegian elementary
school is a worthless institution because it does not teach English to the
children of the lower orders. Here were his boys, losing a handsome tip
merely because they could not swear back intelligibly at the gentleman
with the northern lights. The boys themselves had also something to think
about: "That driver, that scoundrel, that southerner! But just wait!" They
had heard that bits of broken bottle were very good for tires....

* * * * *

I return to her knapsack and her clothes, and the reason why I do so is
that Eilert is so little to be trusted. I want to count her clothes to
make sure none of them disappear; it was a mistake not to have done so at

It may seem as though I kept returning to these clothes and thinking about
them; but why should I do that? At any rate it is now evident that I was
right in suspecting Eilert, for I heard him going upstairs, and when I
came in, he was turning out the bag and going through the clothes.

"What are you doing?" I said.

At first he tried to brazen it out.

"Never you mind," he replied. But my knowing something about him was so
much to my advantage that he soon drew in his horns. How I wronged him, he
complained, and exploited him:

"You haven't bought these clothes," he said. "I could have got more for
them if I'd sold them." He had been paid, but he still wanted more, like
the stomach, which goes on digesting after death. That was Eilert. Yet he
was not too bad; he had never been any better, and he certainly had grown
no worse with his new livelihood.

May no one ever grow worse with a new livelihood!

So I moved the knapsack and the clothes into my own room in order to take
better care of them. It was a slow job to tidy everything up for the
second time, but it had to be done. Later that evening I would resume my
journey, taking the knapsack with me. I had done with the place, and the
nights were moonlit again.

Enough of these clothes!


Once again I am at an age when I walk in the moonlight. Thirty years ago I
walked in the moonlight, too, walked on crackling, snowy roads, on bare,
frozen ground, round unlocked barns, on the hunt for love. How well I
remember it! But it is no longer the same moonlight. I could even read by
it the letter she gave me. But there are no such letters any more.

Everything is changed. The tale is told, and tonight I walk abroad on an
errand of the head, not of the heart: I shall go across to the trading
center and dispatch a knapsack by the steamer; after that I shall wander
on. And that requires nothing but a little ordinary training in walking,
and the light of the moon to see by. But in those old days, those young
days, we studied the almanac in the autumn to find out if there would be a
moon on Twelfth Night, for we could use it then.

Everything is changed; I am changed. The tale lies within the teller.

They say that old age has other pleasures which youth has not: deeper
pleasures, more lasting pleasures. That is a lie. Yes, you have read
right: that is a lie. Only old age itself says this, in a self-interest
that flaunts its very rags. The old man has forgotten when he stood on the
summit, forgotten his own self, his own _alias_, red and white,
blowing a golden horn. Now he stands no longer--no, he sits--it is less of
a strain to sit. But now there comes to him, slow and halting, fat and
stupid, the honor of old age. What can a sitting man do with honor? A man
on his feet can use it; to a sitting man it is only a possession. But
honor is meant to be used, not to be sat with.

Let sitting men wear warm stockings.

* * * * *

What a coincidence: another barn on my road, just as in the days of the
golden horn! It offers me plenty of straw and shelter for the night; but
where is the girl who gave me the letter? How warm her breath was, coming
between lips a little parted! She will come again, of course; let us wait,
we have plenty of time, another twenty years--oh, yes, she will come....

I must be on my guard against such traps. I have entered upon the
honorable years; I am weak and quite capable of believing that a barn is a
gift from above: thou well-deserving old man, here is a barn for thee!

No, thank you, I'm only just in my seventies.

And so in my errand of the head I pass by the barn.

Toward morning I find shelter under a projecting crag. It is fitting that
I should live under crags hereafter, and I lie down in a huddle, small and
invisible. Anything else you please, as long as you don't flaunt your
selfishness and your rags!

I am comfortable now, lying with my head on another person's knapsack full
of used clothes; I am doing this solely because it is just the right size.
But sleep will not come; there are only thoughts and dreams and lines of
poetry and sentimentality. The sack smells human, and I fling it away,
laying my head on my arm. My arm smells of wood--not even wood.

But the slip of paper with the address--have I got the address? And I
scratch a match to read it through and know it by heart tomorrow. Just a
line in pencil, nothing; but perhaps there is a softness in the letters, a
womanliness--I don't know.

It doesn't matter.

I manage to reach the trading center at midday, when everyone is up and
about, and the post office open. They give me a large sheet of wrapping
paper and string and sealing wax; I wrap the parcel and seal it and write
on the outside. There!

Oh--I forgot the slip of paper with the address--to put it inside, I mean.
Stupid! But otherwise I have done what I should. As I continue on my way,
I feel strangely void and deserted; no doubt because the knapsack was
quite heavy after all, and now I am well rid of it. "The last pleasure!" I
think suddenly. And as I walk on I think irrelevantly: "The last country,
the last island, the last pleasure...."


What now?

I didn't know at first. The winter stood before me, my summer behind me--
no task, no yearning, no ambition. As it made no difference where I
stayed, I remembered a town I knew, and thought I might as well go there--
why not? A man cannot forever sit by the sea, and it is not necessary to
misunderstand him if he decides to leave it. So he leaves his solitude--
others have done so before him--and a mild curiosity drives him to see the
ships and the horses and the tiny frostbitten gardens of a certain town.
When he arrives there, he begins to wonder in his idleness if he does not
know someone in this town, in this terrifyingly large town. The moonlight
is bright now, and it amuses him to give himself a certain address to
visit evening after evening, and to take up his post there as though
something depended on it. He is not expected anywhere else, so he has the
time. Then one evening someone finds him reading under a lamppost, stops
suddenly and stares, takes a few steps toward him, and bends forward

"Isn't it--? Oh, no, excuse me, I thought--"

"Yes, it is. Good evening, Miss Torsen."

"Why, good evening. I thought it looked like you. Good evening. Yes, thank
you, very well. And thanks for the knapsack; I understood all at once--I
quite understand--"

"Do you live here? What a strange coincidence!"

"Yes, I live here; those are my windows. You wouldn't like to come up,
would you? No, perhaps you wouldn't."

"But I know where there are some benches down by the shore. Unless you're
cold?" I suggested.

"No, I'm not cold. Yes, thank you, I'd like to."

We went down to a bench, looking like a father and daughter out walking.
There was nothing striking about us, and we sat the whole evening
undisturbed. Later we sat undisturbed on other evenings all through a cold
autumn month.

Then she told me first the short chapter of her journey home, some of it
only hinted, suggested, and some of it in full; sometimes with her head
deeply bowed, sometimes, when I asked a question, replying by a brief word
or a shake of the head. I write it down from memory; it was important to
her, and it became important for others as well.

Besides--in a hundred years it will all be forgotten. Why do we struggle?
In a hundred years someone will read about it in memoirs and letters and
think: "How she wriggled, how she fussed--dear me!" There are others about
whom nothing at all will be written or read; life will close over them
like a grave. Either way....

What sorrows she had--dear, dear, what sorrows! The day she had been
unable to pay the bill, she thought herself the center of the universe;
everybody stared at her, and she was at her wits' end. Then she heard a
man's voice outside saying: "Haven't you watered Blakka yet?" That was
_his_ preoccupation. So she was not the center of the universe after

Then she and her companion had left the house, and set out on their tour.
The center? Not at all. Day after day they walked across fields, and
through valleys, had meals in houses by the way, and water from the
brooks. If they met other travelers, they greeted them, or they did not
greet them; no one was less a center of attention than they, and no one
more. Her companion walked in vacant thoughtlessness, whistling as he

At one place they stopped for food.

"Will you pay for mine for the time being?" he said.

She hesitated and then said briefly that she could not pay "for the time
being" all the way.

"Of course not, by no means," said he. "Just for the moment. Perhaps we
can get a loan further down the valley."

"I don't borrow."

"Ingeborg!" said he, pretending playfully to whimper.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. Can't I say 'Ingeborg' to my own wife?"

"I'm not your own wife," she said, getting up.

"Pish! We were man and wife last night. It says so in the visitors' book."

She was silent at this. Yes, last night they had been man and wife; that
was to save getting two rooms, and travel economically. But she had been
very foolish to agree to it.

"'Miss Torsen,' then?" he whimpered.

And to put an end to the game, she paid for both of them and took her
knapsack on her back.

They walked again. At the next stop she paid for them both without
discussion--for the evening meal, for bed and breakfast. It grew to be a
habit. They walked on once more. They reached the end of the valley by the
sea, and here she revolted again.

"Go away--go on by yourself; I don't want you in my room any more!"

The old argument no longer held good. When he repeated that they saved
money by it, she replied that she for her part required no more than one
room, and was quite able to pay for it. He joked again, whimpered,
"Ingeborg!" and left her. He was beaten, and his back was bent.

She ate alone that evening.

"Isn't your husband coming in?" asked the woman of the house.

"Perhaps he doesn't want anything," she replied.

There he stood, away by the tiny barn pretending to be interested in the
roof, in the style of building, and walked round looking at it, pursing
his lips and whistling. But she could see perfectly well from the window
that his face was blue and dejected. When she had eaten, she walked down
to the shore, calling as she passed him:

"Go in and eat!"

But he had not sunk quite so low; he would not go in to eat, and slept
under no roof that night.

It ended as such things usually end: when she found him at last next
morning, regretting her action and shaken by his appearance, everything
slipped back again to where it had been.

They stopped at this place a few days, waiting for the mail boat, when one
evening an elderly man came to the house. She knew him, and he knew them
both; she was thrown into a state of the greatest excitement, made ready
to leave at once, wept and beat her breast, and wanted to go home,
immediately, at once. It ended as such things usually end: when she had
calmed down, she went to bed for the night. She was not the center of the
universe, and the old acquaintance who had happened to pass that way did
not appear to be looking only at her. Nevertheless, she staged a sort of
flight early next morning, in the gray dawn, before other people were up.
This much she did.

Aboard the mail boat she met no more acquaintances, and had leisure to
think things over calmly. She now broke with her companion in earnest. She
had a minor disagreement with him again, for he had no ticket, and one
word gave rise to the next. It was all very well for her, he said; she had
her return ticket in her pocket. Besides, had he not got himself involved
in all these trials and tribulations because of her letter last summer,
and was she not ashamed of herself? He would not have moved a foot outside
the town had it not been for that letter of hers. Then she gave him her
purse and all her money and asked him to leave her. There was probably
enough to buy him a ticket, and now she would be rid of him.

"Of course I shouldn't accept this, but there's no other way," he said,
and left her.

She stood gazing across the water, and wondering what to do. She was in a
bad way now, so very different from what she had once thought; what shame,
what utter futility she had wandered into! She brooded till she was worn
out; then she began to listen to what people about her were saying. Two
men were huddled on benches trying to shelter from the wind; she heard one
of them say he was a schoolmaster, and the other that he was an artisan.
The schoolmaster did not remain seated long, but got up and swaggered
toward her. She passed him in silence and took his place on the bench.

It was a raw autumn day, and it did her good to get out of the wind. The
artisan probably thought this tall, well-dressed lady had a berth, but
when she sat down, he moved over on his own bench. He was on the point of
lighting his pipe, but stopped.

"Go on, don't mind me," she said.

So he lit it, but he was careful not to blow the smoke into her face.

He was only a youngster, a little over twenty, with thick reddish hair
under his cap, and whitish eyebrows high up on his forehead. His chest was
broad and flat, but his back was round and his hands massive. A great

Then a tray was brought him, sandwiches and coffee, which he had evidently
been waiting for; he paid, but went on smoking and let the food stand.

"Please eat," she said. "You don't mind my sitting here?"

"Not at all," he replied. He knocked out his pipe slowly, taking plenty of
time over it; then sat still again.

"I don't really need anything to eat yet, either," he said.

"Oh--haven't you come far?"

"No, only last night. Where do you come from, lady?"

"From the town. I've been on holiday."

"That's what I thought," he said, nodding his head.

"I've been up at the Tore Peak farm," she added.

"The Tore Peak? So."

"Do you know it?"

"No, but I know some of the people there."

A pause.

"Josephine's there," he resumed.

"Yes. Do you know her?"

"Oh, no."

They talked a little more. The boat sailed on, and they sat there talking;
it was all they had to do. She asked where he came from and what his trade
was, and it seemed he was nothing important, only a paltry carpenter, and
his mother had a small farm. Would the lady like a simple cup of coffee?

"Why, yes, thank you." Could she have a little of his, "just a little in
the saucer?"

She poured some of the coffee into the saucer and asked for a bite of food
as well. Never had food tasted so good, and when she had finished, she
thanked him for that, too.

"Haven't you a berth?" he asked.

"Yes, but I'd rather stay here," she said. "If I go below, I'll be sick."

"That's what I thought. Well, now I wonder--"

With that he got up and walked slowly and heavily away. She watched his
back disappearing down the companion to the lower deck.

She waited for him a long time, fearing that someone else might come and
take his place. Coffee from the saucer, a good-sized sandwich with the
carpenter: nothing wily or unnatural about that; this sheltered corner
seemed to her like a tiny foothold in life.

There he was, coming back with more food and coffee, a whole tray in his
big hands. He laughed good-naturedly at himself for walking so carefully.

She threw up her hands and overdid things a little:

"Great heavens! Really, you're much, much too kind!"

"Well, I thought since you were sitting here anyhow--"

They both ate; she grew warm and sleepy, and leaned back half-dozing.
Every time she opened her eyes, she saw the carpenter lighting his pipe;
he struck two or three matches at once, but he was in no hurry; they were
always half burned before he put his pipe in his mouth and began to suck
at it. The schoolmaster called something to him, drew his attention to
something far inland, but the carpenter merely nodded and said nothing.

"I wonder if he's afraid he'll wake me," she thought.

At one stop, her former traveling companion turned up again; he had been
below in the cabin.

"Aren't you coming down, Ingeborg?" he asked.

She did not reply.

The carpenter looked from one to the other.

"Miss Torsen, then!" whimpered the traveling companion playfully. He stood
waiting a moment, and finally went away.

"Ingeborg," the carpenter was probably thinking. "Miss Torsen," he was

"How long will you be in the town?" she asked, getting up.

"Oh, I'll be there some time."

"What are you doing there?"

He was a little embarrassed, and since his skin was so fair, she could see
at once that he reddened. He bent forward, planting his elbows on his
knees before he replied.

"I want to learn a little more in my trade, be an apprentice, maybe. It
all depends."

"Oh, I see."

"What do you think of it?" he asked.

"I think it's a good idea."

"Do you?"

They were on deck nearly the whole of the day, but toward evening it
turned bitter cold and windy. When she had grown stiff with sitting, she
got up and stamped her feet, and when she had stamped till she was tired,
she sat down again. Once when she was standing a little distance away, she
saw the carpenter place a parcel on the bench as though to keep her seat
for her.

Her quondam traveling companion stuck his head out of a doorway, the wind
blowing his hair forward over his forehead, and cried:

"Ingeborg, go below, will you!"

"Oh," she groaned. Suddenly she was seized with fury. The ship heeled over
on its side as she walked toward him, and she had to take a few skips to
keep her balance.

"I don't want you to talk to me again," she hissed at him. "Do you hear? I
mean it, by all that's holy!"

"Good gracious!" he exclaimed and disappeared.

At about three o'clock, the carpenter turned up with coffee and sandwiches

"Really you mustn't be doing this all the time," she said.

He merely laughed good-naturedly again, and told her to eat if she thought
it was good enough.

"We'll soon be there now," she said as she ate. "Have you someone to go

"Oh, yes, I have a sister."

Slowly and thoughtfully he took another sandwich and turned it over,
looking at it absently before he took a bite out of it. When he had
finished one mouthful, he took another. And when he had finished that one,
too, he said:

"I thought that as I'm going to stay in town over the winter, I'd better
learn something. And what with the farm as well--"

"Yes, indeed."

"You think so too?"

"Oh, yes. I think so."

Why did he tell her about his private affairs? She had private affairs of
her own. She thanked him for the sandwiches and got up.

As the boat drew alongside the pier, he offered her his hand and said:

"My name is Nikolai."

"Oh, yes?"

"I thought in case we meet again--Nikolai Palm--but I expect the town's
too big--"

"Yes, I expect it is. Well, thanks ever so much for all your kindness.


I ask Miss Torsen:

"Have you met the carpenter since?"

"What carpenter? Oh--no, I haven't. I only told you about him because he's
a sort of mutual acquaintance."


"Yes, of yours and mine. Only indirectly, of course. He happens to be the
brother of that schoolmistress Miss Palm that was at the Tore Peak farm
last summer."

"Well, the world's a small place. We all belong to the same family."

"And that's why I've told you all this about him."

"But you didn't find out about this relationship on the boat, did you? So
you must have met him since."

"Yes,--well, no, that is to say I've seen him a few times, but not to
speak to. We just said good morning and how are you and so on. Then he
said he was her brother."

"Ha, ha, ha!"

"It was just in passing, quite by accident."

This gave me a good opportunity for saying: "What a lot of things are
accidental! It was an accident that I should have stopped under a
particular lamppost to look up something, to read a few lines. And then
you happened to live there."

"That's right."

"I expect you and the carpenter will be getting married," I said.

"Ha, ha! No, indeed, I shan't marry anyone."


"You have to be pretty naive to marry."

"Well, I don't know that being naive does any harm--being not quite so
clever. Where does your cleverness lead you? Only to being cheated.
Because there isn't anybody who's quite clever enough."

"I should have thought being clever is just the thing to protect you
against being cheated. What else would it do?"

"Exactly. What else? But the trouble is we trust our cleverness so much
that we get cheated that way. Or else we let things go from bad to worse,
because why should we worry? After all we've got our cleverness to help
get us out of the mess!"

"Well, in that case it's pretty hopeless!"

"Relying on your cleverness--yes. That was your own opinion last summer,
you know."

"Yes, I remember that. I thought--oh, I don't know. But when I came back
to town again it was as though--"

A pause.

"I don't know what to think," she said.

"And I do because I'm old and wise. You see, Miss Torsen, in the old days
people didn't think so much about cleverness and secondary schools and the
right to vote; they lived their lives on a different plane, they were
naive. I wonder if that wasn't a pretty good way to live. Of course people
were cheated in those days, too, but they didn't smart under it so; they
bore it with greater natural strength. We have lost our healthy powers of

"It's getting cold," she said. "Shall we go home?--Yes, of course that's
all quite true, but we're living in modern times. We can't change the
times; I can't, at any rate; I've got to keep up with the times."

"Yes, that's what it says in the Oslo morning paper. Because it used to
say so in the _Neue Freie Presse_. But a person with character goes
his own way up to a point, even if the majority go a different way."

"Yes--well, I'm really going to tell you something now," she said,
stopping. "I go to a really sensible school during the day."

"Do you?" I said.

"Only this time I'm learning housekeeping; isn't that a good thing?"

"You mean you're learning to cut sandwiches for yourself?"

"Ha, ha!"

"Well, you said you weren't going to marry!"

"Oh, I don't know."

"Very well. You marry; you settle down in his valley. But first you have
to learn housekeeping so that you can make an omelette or possibly a
pudding for tourists or Englishmen that pass through."

"His valley? Whose valley?"

"You'd much better go to his mother's and learn all the housekeeping
you're going to need from her."

"Really, really," she said smiling as she walked on again, "you're quite
on the wrong track. It isn't he--it isn't anybody."

"So much the worse for you. There ought to be somebody."

"Yes, but suppose it's not the one I want."

"Oh, yes, it will be the one you want. You're big enough and handsome
enough and capable enough."

"Thank you very much, but--well. Thanks so much. Good night."

Why did she break off so suddenly and leave me so hurriedly, almost at a
run? Was she crying? I should have liked to have said more, to have been
wise and circumstantial and made useful suggestions, but I was left
standing in a kind of stupid surprise.

Then something happened.

"We haven't seen each other for such a long time," she said, the next time
we met. "I'm so glad to see you again. Shall we take a short walk? I was

"Going to post a letter, I see."

"Yes, I was going to post a letter. It's only--it's not--"

We went to a newspaper office with the letter. It was evidently an
advertisement; perhaps she was trying to find a situation.

As she came out of the office a gentleman greeted her. She turned a deep
red, and stopped for a moment at the top of the two stone steps leading
from the entrance. Her head was bent almost to her chest, as though she
were looking very carefully at the steps before venturing to come down
them. They greeted each other again; the stranger shook her hand, and they
began to talk.

He was a man of her own age, good-looking, with a soft, fair beard, and
dark eyebrows that looked as though he had blacked them. He wore a top
hat, and his overcoat, which was open, was lined with silk.

I heard them mention an evening of the previous week on which they had
enjoyed themselves; it had been a relaxation. There had been quite a
party, first out driving, then at supper together. It was a memory they
had in common. Miss Torsen didn't say much. She seemed a little
embarrassed, but smiling and beautiful. I began to look at the illustrated
papers displayed in the window, when suddenly the thought struck me: "Good
God, she's in love!"

"Look, I have a suggestion," he said. Then they discussed something,
agreed about something, and she nodded. After that he left her.

She came toward me slowly and in silence. I spoke to her about some of the
pictures in the window. "Yes," she said, "just think!" But she gazed at
them without seeing anything. Silently we walked on, and for several
minutes, at least, she said nothing.

"Hans Flaten never changes," she said finally.

"Is that who it was?" I asked.

"His name's Flaten."

"Yes, I remember you mentioned the name last summer. Who is he?"

"His father's a merchant."

"But he himself?"

"His father owns the big shop in Almes Street, you know."

"Yes, but what about _him_; what does he do?"

"I don't know if he does anything special; he just studies. His father's
so rich, you know."

I recalled old Flaten's shop in Almes Street, a good, solid countryman's
shop; in the mornings the yard was always full of horses, while the owners
were busy making purchases in the shop.

"He's such a man of the world," she went on. "He simply throws money
about--banknotes. When he goes anywhere, the people all whisper, 'That's

"He dresses as though he were a baron," I said.

"Yes," she replied, rather offended. "Yes, he dresses well--always has."

"Is that the man you want?" I asked lightly.

She was silent a moment, and then said with a resolute nod:


"What--that dandy?"

"Why not? We're old friends, we've gone to school together, spent a lot of
time together. It's really based on a firm foundation. He's the only man
I've ever been in love with in all my life, and it's lasted many years.
Sometimes, I'll admit, I forget him, but the moment I see him again, I'm
as much in love as ever. I've told him so, and we both laugh about it, but
that doesn't change it. It's queer."

"Then I suppose he's too rich to marry her," I thought, and asked nothing

When we parted, I said:

"Where does Carpenter Nikolai work?"

"I don't know," she replied. "Oh, yes, I do know. We're near there, and I
can show you if you like. What do you want to see him for?"

"Nothing. I just wondered if he's at a good place, with a competent

* * * * *

Why did I, indeed, want to see Carpenter Nikolai, the artisan? Yet I have
visited him and made his acquaintance. He is a bull in stature, strong and
plain-featured, a man of few words. Last Saturday we saw the town
together; why, I don't know, but I suggested it myself.

I made friends with the carpenter for my own sake, because of my
loneliness. I no longer went to the benches by the shore, as the weather
was a little too cold, and Miss Torsen interested me very little now; she
had changed so much since returning to the town. She had become more the
ordinary type of girl, not in any one thing, but in general. She thought
of nothing but vanities and nonsense, and seemed quite to have forgotten
her last summer's wholesome, bitter view of life. Now she was back at
school again, in her leisure hours meeting the gentleman named Flaten, and
this occupied all of her time. Either she had no depths, or she had been
vitiated in the vital years of adolescence.

"What do you expect me to do?" she asked. "Of course I'm going to school
again; I've been going to school ever since I was a child. I'm no good at
anything else. I can only learn--that's what I'm used to. There isn't much
I can think or do on my own, and I don't enjoy it either. So what do you

No, what could I expect?

Carpenter Nikolai went to the circus. He was not much surprised at
anything he saw there, or he pretended not to be. The acrobatics on
horseback--"Well, not bad, but after all--!" The tiger--"I thought tigers
were much bigger!" Besides, his big, heavy head seemed preoccupied with
other thoughts, and he paid little attention to the women riders who were
doing their tricks.

On the way home he said:

"I ought not to ask you, I expect, but would you go to the _Krone_
with me tomorrow evening?"

"The _Krone_--what's that?"

"It's a place where they dance."

"A dance hall, in other words. Where is it? Do you feel so much like

"No, not much."

"You want to see what goes on there?"


"All right, I'll go."

* * * * *

It was on a Sunday evening, the girls' and boys' own evening, that the
carpenter and I went to the dance.

He had decked himself out in a starched collar and a heavy watch chain.
But he was very young, and when you are young, you look well in anything.
He had such remarkable strength that it was never necessary for him to
give way; this had lent him assurance and authority. If you spoke to him,
he was slow to reply, and if you slapped him on the shoulder, he was slow
in turning round to see who had greeted him. He was a pleasant,
good-humored companion.

We went to the booking office; there was no one there, and the window was
closed. Moreover a notice on the wall announced that the hall was let to a
private club for the first two hours of the evening.

A few young people came along as we were standing there, read the notice,
and went away again. The carpenter was unwilling to go, looked round, and
went in through the gate as though looking for someone.

"We can't do anything about it," I called after him.

"No," he said. "But I wonder--?"

He crossed the yard and began to look up at all the windows.

A man came down the stairs.

"What is it?" he asked.

"My friend wanted to buy a ticket," I replied. The carpenter still showed
no inclination to return from the yard.

The man approached me, and proved to be the landlord. He explained, like
the notice, that a club had rented the hall for the first two hours.

"Come along, we can't get in!" I called to my companion.

But he was in no hurry, so I chatted with the landlord while waiting for

"Yes, it's rather an exclusive club. Only eight couples, but just the same
they've hired a full orchestra--rich people, you see."

They had refreshments and plenty of champagne, and then they danced as
though their lives depended on it. Why they did it? Oh, well, young
people, rich and fashionable, bored by Sunday evening at home; they wanted
to work off the week's idleness in two hours, so they danced. Not unusual,

"And of course," said the landlord, "I earn more in those two hours than
in the whole of the evening otherwise. Liberal people--they don't count
the pennies. And yet there's no wear and tear, because of course people
like that don't dance on their heels."

The carpenter, who had come halfway back, stood listening to us.

"What sort of people are they, generally speaking?" I inquired.
"Businessmen, officers, or what?"

"Excuse me, but I can't tell you that," replied the landlord. "It's a
private party; that's all I can say. To-night, for instance, I don't even
know who they are. The money just came by special messenger."

"It's Flaten," said the carpenter.

"Flaten--is it?" said the landlord, as though he did not know it. "Mr.
Flaten has been here before; he's a fine gentleman, always in fashionable
company. So it's Mr. Flaten, is it? Well, excuse me, I must have another
look round the hall--"

The landlord left us.

But the carpenter followed him.

"Couldn't we look on?" he asked.

"What, at the dancing? Oh, no."

"In a corner somewhere?"

"No, I couldn't allow that. I don't even let my own wife and daughter in--
nobody, not a soul. They wouldn't like it."

"Are you coming or--?" I called, as though for the last time.

"Yes, I'm coming," said the carpenter, turning back.

"So you knew about this party?" I said.

"Yes," he replied. "She talked about it last Friday."

"Who talked about it? Miss Torsen?"

"Yes. She said I might sit in the gallery."

We walked on down the street, each busy with his own thoughts--or perhaps
with the same thought. I, at least, was furious.

"Really, my good Nikolai, I have no desire to buy
tickets in order to look at Mr. Flaten and his ladies!"


Curious idea of hers, inviting this man to watch her dance. It was
preposterous, but like her. Last summer, too--did she not like a third
party within hearing whenever she sailed close to the wind? A thought
struck me, and I asked the carpenter as calmly as I could:

"Did Miss Torsen want me to sit in the gallery, too--did she say anything
about that?"

"No," he replied.

"Didn't she say anything about me?"


"You're lying," I thought, "and I daresay she's told you to lie!" I was
highly incensed, but I could not squeeze the truth out of the carpenter.

Cars rolled up behind us and stopped at the _Krone_. Nikolai turned
and wanted to go back, but when he saw that I kept straight on, he
hesitated a moment and then followed me. I heard him once sighing heavily.

We strolled the streets for an hour, while I cooled off and made myself
agreeable to my companion again. We had a glass of beer together, then
went to a cinema, and afterward to a shooting gallery. Finally we went to
a skittle ground, where we stayed for some time. Nikolai was the first to
want to leave; he looked at his watch, and was suddenly in a tearing
hurry. He was hardly even willing to finish the game.

We had to pass the _Krone_ again. The cars had gone.

"Just as I thought," said the carpenter, looking very disappointed. I
believe he would have liked to be present when the party came out to enter
their cars. He looked up and down the empty street and repeated, "Just as
I thought!" He was suddenly anxious to go home.

"No, let's go inside," I said.

* * * * *

It was a big, handsome hall with a platform for the orchestra, and a
throng of people on the great floor. We sat in the gallery looking on.

There was a very mixed crowd: seamen, artisans, hotel staff, shop
assistants, casual workers; the ladies were apparently seamstresses,
servant girls, and shopgirls, with a sprinkling of light-footed damsels
who had no daytime occupation. The floor was crowded with dancers. In
addition to a constable whose duty it was to intervene if necessity arose,
the establishment had its own commissionaire, who walked about the hall
with a stick, keeping an eye on the assembled company. As soon as a dance
was finished, the gentlemen all crowded to the platform and paid ten
_oere_. If anyone seemed to be trying to cheat, the commissionaire
would tap him politely on the arm with his stick. Gentlemen who had to be
tapped many times were regarded as suspicious characters, and might, as a
last resource, even be expelled. Order was admirably maintained.

Waltz, mazurka, schottische, square dance, waltz. I soon noticed a man who
was dancing with great assiduity, never stopping once--tall, swarthy,
lively--a heartbreaker. The ladies clustered round him.

"Can that be Solem down there dominating the crowd?" I thought.

"Wouldn't you like to dance?" I asked Carpenter Nikolai.

"Oh, no," he replied with a smile.

"Then we can leave any time you like."

"All right," he said and remained seated.

"Your thoughts seem to be far away."

A long pause.

"I was thinking that I haven't a horse on my farm. I have to carry all the
manure and the wood myself."

"So that's why you're so strong."

"I'll have to go home in a few days and chop wood for the winter."

"Yes, of course you will."

"I was going to say--," he persisted, and then fell silent.


"No, it's no use suggesting it. I'd have liked you to come with me this
winter, though--I've got a small spare room."

"Why should I go there?" Still--it wasn't a bad idea.

"It would be nice if you could," said the carpenter.

Just then I heard the name of Solem mentioned in the hall. Yes, there he
was, swaggering as usual, the self-same Solem from Tore Peak. He was
standing alone, in high spirits, announcing that he was Solem--"Solem, my
lad." He appeared not to be in the company of any one lady, for I saw him
choosing partners indiscriminately. Then he chose the wrong lady, and her
partner shook his head and said no. Solem remembered that. He allowed the
couple to dance the next dance, and when it was finished, approached again
and bowed to the lady. Once more he was refused.

The lady's appearance was striking--sophisticated or innocent, who could
tell? Ash-blonde, tall, Grecian, in a black frock without trimming. How
quiet and retiring she was! Of course she was a tart, but what a gentle
one--a nun of vice, with a face as pure as that of a repentant sinner.

This was a woman for Solem.

It was after he had received his second "No" from the gentleman that he
began to talk, to tell everyone that he was "Solem, my lad." But his
boasts were dull: Something was going to happen; he would show them an
image of sin! There was no sting in it; just old, familiar rubbish these
people had heard before. The commissionaire crossed over to him and asked
him to be quiet, pointing at the same time to the constable by the door.
This pouring of oil on the waters was successful, for Solem himself said:
"Hush, we mustn't make trouble." But he did not lose sight of the Grecian
and her partner.

He allowed a few dances to pass again, himself engaging other partners to
dance with. There was now a huge crowd, all the late-comers having by this
time arrived. Many were crowded off the floor and had to wait, rushing to
get first place in the next dance instead.

Then something happened.

A couple slipped and fell. It was Solem and his partner. As he was getting
up again, he tripped up another couple--the Grecian and her partner, both
of whom fell down. And Solem was so strangely clumsy as he rose that his
long arms and legs brought down a third couple. In a few minutes there was
a squirming heap on the floor; screams and oaths were heard, people grew
angry and kicked one another, while Solem skillfully directed the disaster
with sincere and wholehearted malevolence. Couple after couple met their
Waterloo over those already fallen. The commissionaire poked them with his
stick, exhorting them to get up; the constable himself assisted him, and
the music stopped. In the meantime, Solem, acting with the better part of
valor, slipped out of the room and did not return.

Gradually the fallen couples got to their feet again, rubbing their shins,
dusting off their clothes, some laughing, others swearing. The Grecian
lady's partner had a bleeding wound on his temple, and put his hands to
his head in a daze. Questions were being asked about that--what was his
name?--that tall fellow who had started all the trouble. "Solem," said
some of the ladies. Threats were uttered against Solem: he was the one.
"Go and find him, somebody--we'll show him!"--"Why, he couldn't help it,"
said the ladies.

Ah, Solem, Solem--how the ladies loved him!

But the Grecian rose from the dust as from a bath. The sand from the floor
clung to her black dress, making it look as though spangled with stardust.
Submissively she accepted the lot of lying under all the others, entwined
in their legs, and smiled when someone pointed out to her that the comb in
her Grecian knot was crushed.


Today, the first of October forty years ago, we drove the snowplow at
home. Yes, I regret to say that I remember forty years ago.

Nothing escapes my attention yet, but everything moves past me. I sit in
the gallery looking on. If Nikolai the carpenter had been observant, he
would have seen my fingers closing and opening again, my absurdity
augmented by affectation and grimacing. Fortunately he was a child. In the
end I left it all behind me, and took my proper seat. My address is the
chimney corner.

Now it is winter again, with snow over the north, and Anglo-Saxon claptrap
in the town. This is my desolate period; my wheels stop, my hair stops
growing, my nails stop growing, everything stops growing but the days of
my life. And it is well that my days increase--from now on it is well.

Not much happens during the winter. Well, of course, Nikolai has got an
overcoat for the first time in his life. He didn't really need it, he
says, but he bought it because of the advertisement; and it was dear,
twenty _kroner_, but he got it for eighteen! I am sure Nikolai is
much happier about his overcoat than Flaten is about his.

But let me not forget Flaten, for something has happened to him. His
friends have given him a farewell party and drunk him out of bachelordom,
for he is going to marry. It is Miss Torsen who told me this; I met her by
accident again under her own lamppost, and she told me then.

"And you're not wearing mourning?" I said.

"Oh, no," she said, smiling. "No, it's something I've known a long time.
Besides, perhaps I'm not very faithful; I don't know."

"I think you've hit the truth there."

She looked startled.

"What do you mean?"

"I think you've changed very much since last summer. You were straight and
competent then, you saw clearly, you knew what you wanted. What's happened
to your tinge of bitterness? Or have you no longer reason to be bitter?"

This was all too gravely spoken, but I was like a father and meant well.

She began to walk on, her head bent in thought. Then she said something
very sensible:

"Last summer I had just lost my livelihood. I'm telling you things exactly
as they were. I lost my post, which was a very serious matter. This made
me reflect for a time; that's true. But then--I don't know--I'm quite
adult, but not adult enough. I have two sisters who are really steady;
they're married and quite settled, though they're younger than I. I don't
know what's wrong with me."

"Would you like to go to a concert with me?" I asked.

"Now? No, thank you, I'm not dressed for it."

A pause.

"But it's kind of you to ask me!" she said with sudden pleasure. "It might
have been very nice, but--well, you must let me tell you about the dinner
party, the banquet; what a lot of pranks they thought of!"

She was right about that; these jolly young people had played a great many
pranks, some of them childish and stupid, others not too bad. First they
had drunk wine of the vintage of 1812. No, first of all, Flaten was sent
an invitation, of course, and it consisted of a painting, a very
emancipated painting in a frame, the only written words being the date and
the place, and the legend: _Ballads, Bachiads, Offenbachiads,
Bacchanales_. Then there were speeches for him who was about to leave
them, and generally speaking a most deafening shouting over the
wineglasses. And there was music, with someone of the company playing all
the time.

But as the evening wore on, this sort of thing was not enough, and girls
with their faces masked were brought in to dance. As there had been a
great deal of champagne, however, this part of the program tended to
deteriorate into something different, and the girls had to be sent away.
Then the gentlemen went down to the hotel lobby and stood at the door
watching for "opportunities."

There--a young woman approached carrying a baby and a bundle of clothes.
Great, wet flakes of snow were drifting down, and she bent forward over
the child to shelter it as she walked.

"Whoa!" said the gentleman and caught hold of her. "Is that your child!"

"Yes, he's mine."

"What, a boy?"


They talked more with her; she was thin and young, evidently a servant
girl. They also looked at the child, and Helgesen and Lind, who were both
short-sighted, polished their glasses and inspected it carefully.

"Are you going off to drown the child?" somebody says.

"No," says the girl in confusion.

That was a nasty question, all the others agreed, and the first one
admitted it. He went off to fetch his raincoat, and hung it over the
girl's shoulders. Then he tickled the child under the chin and made it
smile--a marvel of a child, human bones and rags and dirt all in one
little bundle.

"Poor bastard," he said. "Born of a maiden!"

"That's better!" the others remarked. "Now let's do something," they said.
"Where do you live?" to the girl.

"I've lived at such and such places," she replied.
"_Have_ lived; very well, this is what we'll do," one of them said,
taking out his pocketbook. The others followed suit, and a great deal of
money was pushed into the girl's hand.

"Wait a minute--wait--I haven't given her enough; I asked her such a nasty
question," said the first of them.

"Neither have I," said another, "because we all thought the same thing,
but now we're going to settle some money on this son of a maiden!"

A collection was taken up, with Helgesen as the cashier. Then Bengt hailed
a cab, invited the girl to enter, and got in after her.

"Go ahead--I want to go to Langes Street!" he called to the driver.

Bengt was taking the child home to his mother, the others said. The group
were rather silent after this.

"Your eyes are so ridiculously wet, Bolt; are you crying about the money?"

"What about you?" Bolt replied. "You're as sentimental as an old woman!"

They grew cheerful again, and there were further "opportunities." A
peasant came down the street with a cow he was taking to the butcher's.

"What will you charge for letting our guest of honor ride your cow?" young
Rolandsen asked him. The peasant smiled and shook his head. So they bought
the cow from him, paying cash for it. "Wait a minute," they said to the
peasant. Then they put a label on the cow, addressed to a lady they knew.

"Take it to this address," they said to the peasant.

By the time they had finished with this, Bengt had returned.

"Where have _you_ been?" they asked in surprise.

"The old lady said yes," was all he replied.

"Hurrah!" they all shouted. "Let's drink to the baby! Here, let's go to
the bar. Did she really say yes? Hurrah for the old lady, too! What are we
standing here for? Let's walk into the bar!"

_"Walk!"_ someone mocks. "No, indeed, we'll drive-waiter, cars!"

The waiter rushed inside to telephone. It took some time, as it was
getting late, but the gentlemen waited. It was already closing time and
people were streaming out of the bar. At length the cars arrived, ten of
them, one for each man. The gentlemen entered them.

"Where to?" asked the drivers.

"Next door," they said.

So the cars drove up to the next door of the same house, that being the
bar, and there the gentlemen gravely got out and paid the drivers.

The bar was closed.

"Shall we break in?" they said.

"Of course," they said.

So they all ran against the door together, till it said _ump!_ and
flew open. The night watchman rushed at them, shouting, and they caught
hold of him, slapped him on the back, and embraced him. Then they went
behind the counter and got out bottles for him and for themselves,
drinking and shouting hurrah for the baby, for Bengt's mother, for the
baby's mother, for the night watchman, for love and for life. When they
had done, they put some banknotes over the night watchman's mouth and tied
a handkerchief over them. Then they went back to the dining room.

The supper was served. Flaten's plate was a red silk bedroom slipper lined
with glass. They ate and drank and rollicked as long as they had the
strength; the hours passed, and dawn approached. Then Flaten began to
distribute souvenirs among them. One got his watch, another his pocketbook
(which was empty), a third his tie pin. After this he went on to his
shoes, giving one to each of two friends, his trousers to another, and his
shirt to still another, till at length he sat there in the nude. Next they
collected quilts from the hotel bedrooms to wrap him up in--red silk
eiderdown quilts. Flaten fell asleep and the other nine watched over him.
He slept for an hour; it was morning then, and they woke him up. He
started up from the quilts, found he was naked, and sent home for some
more clothes. And then the party began all over again....

Later we were discussing Miss Torsen's story; she had forgotten one or two
details which she filled in afterwards.

"Anyhow, it was lucky for the girl with the baby," she said.

"And for the baby itself," I said.

"Yes. But what an idea! Poor old lady, to be told such a tale!"

"Some day perhaps you'll change your mind about that."

"You think so? But it would have been nicer still if I'd got the money
they settled on the child."

"You'll change your mind about that, too."

"Shall I? Why? When?"

"When you yourself have a baby that smiles at you."

"Ugh, how can you say such things!"

She must have misunderstood my meaning, for she was childishly offended.
To restore her to good humor I asked at random:

"What sort of food did you get at the party?"

"Don't know," she replied.

"Don't you know?"

"Good lord, no--I wasn't there," she returned in the greatest amazement.

"Well, no, of course not, I only thought--"

"Oh, so that's it. That's what you thought!" she said, still more
offended. And she clasped her hands as she had done in the summer, and
tore them apart again.

"Really and truly, I do assure you--look here, honestly--I only thought
you were taking a culinary interest. After all, you do learn cooking and
such in the daytime."

"Oh, so you just make conversation with me; you adapt your speech to suit
my narrow outlook!"

A pause.

"Anyhow, perhaps you're right up to a point; I might have asked about the
food, only I forgot."

She seemed very irritable that evening. Would it interest her to talk
about Flaten? A little apprehensively, I ventured:

"But you haven't told me whom Flaten is going to marry."

"She's not pretty at all," she replied suddenly. "What do you want to know
for? You don't know her."

"I suppose Flaten will be entering his father's firm now?" I persisted.

"Oh, damn Flaten! You seem to care about him a lot more than I do! Flaten,
Flaten, Flaten--how should I know if he's going to enter his father's

"I only thought once he's married--"

"But she's got money, too. No, I don't think he's going into his father's
firm. He said once he wanted to edit a paper. Well, what's so funny about

"I'm not laughing."

"Yes, you were. Anyhow, Flaten wants to edit a paper. And since Lind
publishes a kennel journal, Flaten wants to publish a human journal, he

"A human journal?"

"Yes. And you ought to subscribe to it," she added suddenly, almost
throwing the words into my face.

She was now in a state of excitement the cause of which I did not
understand, so I remained silent, merely replying, "Ought I? Yes, perhaps
I ought." Then she began to cry.

"Dear child, don't cry. I shan't torment you any more."

"You're not tormenting me."

"Yes, by talking nonsense; I don't seem to strike the right note."

"Yes, go on talking--that isn't it--I don't know--"

What could I say to her? But since there is, after all, nothing so
interesting as a question about oneself, I said:

"You're nervous about something, but it will pass. Perhaps--well, not at
once, of course--but perhaps it has hurt you that--well, that he's going
his own way now. But remember--"

"You're wrong," she said, shaking her head. "That doesn't really mean
anything to me; I was just slightly attracted to him."

"But you said he was the only one!"

"Oh--you know, you think that sort of thing sometimes. Of course I've been
in love with other people, too; I can't deny that. Flaten was very nice,
and took me out driving sometimes, or to a dance or something like that.
And of course I was proud of his paying attention to me in spite of my
having lost my post. I think I could have got a job in his father's shop
but--anyhow, I'm looking for a job now."

"Are you? I hope you'll find a good one."

"That's just the point. But I'm not getting any job at all. That is, I
shall in the end, of course, but--well, for instance, in old Flaten's
shop--I shouldn't fit in there."

"Not very good pay either, I expect?"

"I'm sure it's not. And then--I don't know; I feel I know too much for it.
That wretched academic training of mine does nothing but harm. Oh, well,
let's not talk any more about me. It must be late; I'd better go."

I saw her to her door, said good night, and went home. I thought about her
ceaselessly. It was wintry weather, with raw streets and an invisible sky.
No, really, she's not suited for marriage. No man is served with a wife
who is nothing but a student. Why has no one in the country noticed what
the young women are coming to! Miss Torsen's tale of the wild party proved
how accustomed she was to sitting and listening, and then herself
disgorging endless tales. She had done it very well and not omitted much,
but she paid attention only to the fun. A grown-up, eternal schoolgirl,
one who had studied her life away.

When I reached my own door, Miss Torsen arrived there at the same time;
she had been close at my heels all the way. I guessed this from the fact
that she was not in the least breathless as she spoke.

"I forgot to ask you to forgive me," she said.

"My dear girl--?"

"Oh, for saying what I did. You mustn't subscribe. I'm so sorry about
that. Please be kind and forgive me."

She took my hand and shook it.

In my amazement I stammered:

"It was really a very witty remark: a human journal--ha, ha! Now don't
stand there and get cold; put your gloves on again. Are you walking back?"

"Yes. Good night. Forgive me for the whole evening."

"Let me take you home; why not stay a few minutes--"

"No, thank you."

She pressed my hand firmly and left me.

I suppose she wanted to spare my aging legs, damn them! Nevertheless I
stole after her to see that she got home safely.

* * * * *

It happened that Josephine came to the town--Josephine, that spirit of
labor from the Tore Peak farm. I saw her, too, for she came to pay me a
visit. She had looked up my address, and I joked with her again and called
her Josefriendly.

How was everybody at Tore Peak? Josephine had good news about all of them,
but she shook her head over Paul. Not that he drank much now; but he did
little of anything else either, and had definitely lost interest in his
work. He wanted to sell the farm. He wanted to try carting and delivery by
horse cart in Stordalen. I asked if he had any prospective purchaser. Yes;
Einar, one of the cotters, had had rather an eye on the farm. It all
depended on Manufacturer Brede, who had put so much money into it.

I remembered her father, the old man from another world, the man with
mittens, who had to be spoon-fed on porridge because he was ninety, who
smelled like an unburied corpse. I remembered him and asked Josephine:

"Well, I expect your old father is dead by now?"

"No, praise be," she replied. "Father is better than we dared hope. We
must be thankful he's still on his feet."

I took Josephine to the cinema and the circus, and she thought it all
quite delightful. But she was shocked at the behavior of the ladies who
rode with so little clothing on. She wanted to go to one of the great
churches, too, and found her way there alone. For several days she was in
the town and did a good deal of shopping. I never once saw her dejected or
brooding about anything, and at length she said good-bye, because she was
going back next day.

Oh, so she was going home?

Yes, she had done what she had come to do. She had also been to see Miss
Torsen and got the money for the actor, because of course he had never
sent it.

"Poor Miss Torsen! She was furious with him for not sending it, and turned
quite red and ashamed, too. She didn't seem to find it very easy either,
because she asked me to wait till next day, but she gave it to me then."

So Josephine had nothing more to do in the town.
She had just visited Miss Palm, but she had not, on this occasion, met
Miss Palm's brother, Nikolai, who was apprenticed to a master carpenter.
Not that it mattered, Josephine said, because the last time she had seen
him, nothing came of it, anyhow. So that was that. Because she was not a
one to beg--she had some money of her own and livestock as well. As far as
that was concerned, she had some woolen blankets, and two beds complete
with bedding, too, nor did she lack clothes: she had many changes, both
underthings and top ones. Yet in spite of that she had started some more

I asked in some surprise whether they had been engaged. I had had no

No, but--. Well, not exactly engaged with a ring, and plighting the troth
and all. But that had been their intention. Because otherwise why should
that schoolmistress, that sister of his, Sophie Palm, have come up and
stayed for nothing at the Tore Peak farm for two whole summers, and
behaved as though she were a lady? No, thank you, that was the end of
that. Anyhow, that was what she, Josephine, had thought once, but it was a
Providence that it wasn't going to happen, because there would never have
been anything but trouble. So it was just as well.

Suddenly Josephine caught herself up:

"Good gracious--I nearly forgot to buy the indigo. It's for my weaving.
Lucky I remembered it! Well--thanks for your hospitality."


It was between Christmas and the New Year, and I had accompanied Nikolai
to his home. Since the town workshop was closed in any case, he had
decided to go home and fell timber in the woods.

It was a big farmhouse, enlarged from the old cottage by Nikolai's father,
while Nikolai himself had moved up the roof and built on a second story.
He has plenty of room for me; I have a small room to myself.

His mother is hard-working and honest; she has a few animals to see to,
and usually she is washing something or other, even if it is nothing more
than some empty potato sacks. She cooks on the kitchen stove, and keeps
her pots and pans shining. She is cleanly, and strains her milk through a
muslin cloth, which she afterward washes and rinses twice. But she picks
food remnants from between the prongs of forks with a hairpin!

A mirror, pictures of the German Kaiser's family, and a crucifix hang on
the walls of the living room; in one corner are two shelves with oddments,
including a hymnbook and a book of sermons. They are still simple and
orthodox in these parts. The rest of the furniture in the house, the
chairs and tables and cupboards and a cleverly constructed chest, have all
been made by Nikolai himself.

Nikolai is just as slow and speechless here as in the town; the day after
we arrived he went out to the woods without telling his mother. When I
asked for him, she said:

"I saw him take the sleigh, so I expect he's gone to the woods."

His mother's name is Petra, and judging from her appearance she cannot be
much over forty; like her son, she is ruddy and big-muscled, with a fair
complexion and thick, graying hair, a veritable lion's mane. Her eyes are
good companions to her hair--dark, and a little worn now, but still good
enough to see far and sharply across the fjord. She, too, is taciturn,
like all the peasants here, and usually keeps her large mouth shut.

I ask her how long she has been a widow, and she says, "For nearly a
generation--no, don't let me tell a lie," she corrects herself. "Sophie is
four and twenty now, and it was the year after her birth that he died."

They had only been married a couple of years. Nikolai is six and twenty.

I ponder over this arithmetic, but as I am old and incapable, I cannot
make it tally.

Petra was very proud of her children, especially Sophie, who had gone to
school and passed an examination, and now held such an important post. Of
course her inheritance was used up, but she had her learning instead.
Nobody could ever take that from her. A big, handsome girl, Sophie--look,
here is her portrait.

I said I had met her at Tore Peak.

At Tore Peak? Oh, yes, she spent her summers there so as to be among her
equals; you couldn't blame her for that. But she came home every year,
too, as sure as the year came round itself. So I had met her at Tore Peak?

Sometimes I went with Nikolai to the forest for timber, and made myself
slightly useful. He is as strong as an ox, and has endurance almost to the
point of insensibility--a cut, black eye--nothing. And now it becomes
evident that his brain works well, too. He should have had a horse, yes,
but he cannot keep a horse till he can provide more fodder. But he cannot
buy more pasture land till he has more money. But he was learning more
about his trade in the town, and when he had finished his course of

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest