Part 3 out of 6
no lock to keep him out when he knocked at her door; but the
accommodation was small and the morning found them in their own
quarters. Then he knocked at the wall:
"Good morning, little girlie, how are you to-day?"
"Very well, darling, and you?"
Their meeting at breakfast was always like a new experience which never
They often went out together in the evening and frequently met their
countrymen. She had no objection to the smell of tobacco, and was never
in the way. Everybody said that it was an ideal marriage; no one
had ever known a happier couple.
But the young wife's parents, who lived a long way off, were always
writing and asking all sorts of indelicate questions; they were longing
to have a grandchild. Louisa ought to remember that the institution of
marriage existed for the benefit of the children, not the parents.
Louisa held that this view was an old-fashioned one. Mama asked her
whether she did not think that the result of the new ideas would be the
complete extirpation of mankind? Louisa had never looked at it in that
light, and moreover the question did not interest her. Both she and her
husband were happy; at last the spectacle of a happy married couple was
presented to the world, and the world was envious.
Life was very pleasant. Neither of them was master and they shared
expenses. Now he earned more, now she did, but in the end their
contributions to the common fund amounted to the same figure.
Then she had a birthday! She was awakened in the morning by the entrance
of the charwoman with a bunch of flowers and a letter painted all over
with flowers, and containing the following words:
"To the lady flower-bud from her dauber, who wishes her many happy
returns of the day and begs her to honour him with her company at an
excellent little breakfast--at once."
She knocked at his door--come in!
And they breakfasted, sitting on the bed--his bed; and the charwoman
was kept the whole day to do all the work. It was a lovely birthday!
Their happiness never palled. It lasted two years. All the prophets
had prophesied falsely.
It was a model marriage!
But when two years had passed, the young wife fell ill. She put it
down to some poison contained in the wall-paper; he suggested germs of
some sort. Yes, certainly, germs. But something was wrong. Something
was not as it should be. She must have caught cold. Then she grew
stout. Was she suffering from tumour? Yes, they were afraid she was.
She consulted a doctor--and came home crying. It was indeed a growth,
but one which would one day see daylight, grow into a flower and bear
The husband did anything but cry. He found style in it, and then the
wretch went to his club and boasted about it to his friends. But the
wife still wept. What would her position be now? She would soon not be
able to earn money with her work and then she would have to live on
him. And they would have to have a servant! Ugh! those servants!
All their care, their caution, their wariness had been wrecked on the
rock of the inevitable.
But the mother-in-law wrote enthusiastic letters and repeated over and
over again that marriage was instituted by God for the protection of
the children; the parents' pleasure counted for very little.
Hugo implored her to forget the fact that she would not be able to
earn anything in future. Didn't she do her full share of the work by
mothering the baby? Wasn't that as good as money? Money was, rightly
understood, nothing but work. Therefore she paid her share in full.
It took her a long time to get over the fact that he had to keep her.
But when the baby came, she forgot all about it. She remained his wife
and companion as before in addition to being the mother of his child,
and he found that this was worth more than anything else.
A NATURAL OBSTACLE
Her father had insisted on her learning book-keeping, so that she might
escape the common lot of young womanhood; to sit there and wait for a
She was now employed as book-keeper in the goods department of the
Railways, and was universally looked upon as a very capable young
woman. She had a way of getting on with people, and her prospects were
Then she met the green forester from the School of Forestry and
married him. They had made up their minds not to have any children;
theirs was to be a true, spiritual marriage, and the world was to be
made to realise that a woman, too, has a soul, and is not merely sex.
Husband and wife met at dinner in the evening. It really was a true
marriage, the union of two souls; it was, of course, also the union of
two bodies, but this is a point one does not discuss.
One day the wife came home and told her husband that her office hours
had been changed. The directors had decided to run a new night train
to Malmo, and in future she would have to be at her office from six to
nine in the evening. It was a nuisance, for he could not come home
before six. That was quite impossible.
Henceforth they had to dine separately and meet only at night. He was
dissatisfied. He hated the long evenings.
He fell into the habit of calling for her. But he found it dull to sit
on a chair in the goods department and have the porters knocking against
him. He was always in the way. And when he tried to talk to her as she
sat at her desk with the penholder behind her ear, she interrupted him
with a curt:
"Oh! do be quiet until I've done!"
Then the porters turned away their faces and he could see by their
backs that they were laughing.
Sometimes one or the other of her colleagues announced him with a:
"Your husband is waiting for you, Mrs. X."
"Your husband!" There was something scornful in the very way in which
they pronounced the word.
But what irritated him more than anything else was the fact that the
desk nearest to her was occupied by a "young ass" who was always
gazing into her eyes and everlastingly consulting the ledger, bending
over her shoulders so that he almost touched her with his chin.
And they talked of invoices and certificates, of things which might
have meant anything for all he knew. And they compared papers and
figures and seemed to be on more familiar terms with one another than
husband and wife were. And that was quite natural, for she saw more of
the young ass than of her husband. It struck him that their marriage
was not a true spiritual marriage after all; in order to be that he,
too, would have had to be employed in the goods department. But as it
happened he was at the School of Forestry.
One day, or rather one night, she told him that on the following
Saturday a meeting of railway employes, which was to conclude with a
dinner, would be held, and that she would have to be present. Her
husband received the communication with a little air of constraint.
"Do you want to go?" he asked naively.
"Of course, I do!"
"But you will be the only woman amongst so many men, and when men have
had too much to drink, they are apt to become coarse."
"Don't you attend the meetings of the School of Forestry without me?"
"Certainly, but I am not the only man amongst a lot of women."
"Men and women were equals, she was amazed that he, who had always
preached the emancipation of women could have any objection to her
attending the meeting."
"He admitted that it was nothing but prejudice on his part. He admitted
that she was right and that he was wrong, but all the same he begged her
not to go; he hated the idea. He couldn't get over the fact."
"He was inconsequent."
"He admitted that he was inconsequent, but it would take ten generations
to get used to the new conditions."
"Then he must not go to meetings either?"
"That was quite a different matter, for his meetings were attended by
men only. He didn't mind her going out without him; what he didn't like
was that she went out alone with so many men."
"She wouldn't be alone, for the cashier's wife would be present as--"
"As the cashier's wife."
"Then couldn't he be present as her husband?"
"Why did he want to make himself so cheap by being in the way?"
"He didn't mind making himself cheap."
"Was he jealous?"
"Yes! Why not? He was afraid that something might come between them."
"What a shame to be jealous! What an insult! What distrust! What did
he think of her?"
"That she was perfect. He would prove it. She could go alone!"
"Could she really? How condescending of him!"
She went. She did not come home until the early hours of the morning.
She awakened her husband and told him how well it had all gone off. He
was delighted to hear it. Somebody had made a speech about her; they
had sung quartets and ended with a dance.
"And how had she come home?"
"The young ass had accompanied her to the front door."
"Supposing anybody who knew them had seen her at three o'clock in the
morning in the company of the young ass?"
"Well, and what then? She was a respectable woman."
"Yes, but she might easily lose her reputation."
"Ah! He was jealous, and what was even worse, he was envious. He
grudged her every little bit of fun. That was what being married
meant! To be scolded if one dared to go out and enjoy oneself a
little. What a stupid institution marriage was! But was their union a
true marriage? They met one another at night, just as other married
couples did. Men were all alike. Civil enough until they were married,
but afterwards, oh! Afterwards.... Her husband was no better than
other men: he looked upon her as his property, he thought he had a
right to order her about."
"It was true. There was a time when he had believed that they belonged
to one another, but he had made a mistake. He belonged to her as a dog
belonged to its master. What was he but her footman, who called for
her at night to see her home? He was 'her husband.' But did she want
to be 'his wife'? Were they equals?"
"She hadn't come home to quarrel with him. She wanted to be nothing
but his wife, and she did not want him to be anything but her
The effect of the champagne, he thought, and turned to the wall.
She cried and begged him not to be unjust, but to--forgive her.
He pulled the blankets over his ears.
She asked him again if he--if he didn't want her to be his wife any
"Yes, of course, he wanted her! But he had been so dreadfully bored
all the evening, he could never live through another evening like it."
"Let them forget all about it then!"
And they forgot all about it and continued loving one another.
On the following evening, when the green forester came for his wife,
he was told that she had gone to the store rooms. He was alone in the
counting-house and sat down on a chair. Presently a glass door was
opened and the young ass put in his head: "Are you here, Annie?"
No, it was only her husband!
He rose and went away. The young ass called his wife Annie, and was
evidently on very familiar terms with her. It was more than he could
When she came home they had a scene. She reproached him with the fact
that he did not take his views on the emancipation of women seriously,
otherwise he could not be annoyed at her being on familiar terms with
her fellow-clerks. He made matters worse by admitting that his views
were not to be taken seriously.
"Surely he didn't mean what he was saying! Had he changed his mind?
How could he!"
"Yes, he had changed his mind. One could not help modifying one's
views almost daily, because one had to adapt them to the conditions of
life which were always changing. And if he had believed in spiritual
marriages in the days gone by, he had now come to lose faith in
marriages of any sort whatever. That was progress in the direction of
radicalism. And as to the spiritual, she was spiritually married to
the young ass rather than to him, for they exchanged views on the
management of the goods department daily and hourly, while she took no
interest at all in the cultivation of forests. Was there anything
spiritual in their marriage? Was there?"
"No, not any longer! Her love was dead! He had killed it when he
renounced his splendid faith in--the emancipation of women."
Matters became more and more unbearable. The green forester began to
look to his fellow-foresters for companionship and gave up thinking of
the goods department and its way of conducting business, matters which
he never understood.
"You don't understand me," she kept on saying over and over again.
"No, I don't understand the goods department," he said.
One night, or rather one morning, he told her that he was going
botanising with a girls' class. He was teaching botany in a girls'
"Oh! indeed! Why had he never mentioned it before? Big girls?"
"Oh! very big ones. From sixteen to twenty."
"H'm! In the morning?"
"No! In the afternoon! And they would have supper in one of the
outlying little villages."
"Would they? The head-mistress would be there of course?"
"Oh! no, she had every confidence in him, since he was a married man.
It was an advantage, sometimes, to be married."
On the next day she was ill.
"Surely he hadn't the heart to leave her!"
"He must consider his work before anything else. Was she very ill?"
"Oh! terribly ill!"
In spite of her objections he sent for a doctor. The doctor declared
that there was nothing much the matter; it was quite unnecessary for
the husband to stay at home. The green forester returned towards morning.
He was in high spirits. He had enjoyed himself immensely! He had not had
such a day for a long, long time.
The storm burst. Huhuhu! This struggle was too much for her! He must
swear a solemn oath never to love any woman but her. Never!
She had convulsions; he ran for the smelling salts.
He was too generous to give her details of the supper with the
schoolgirls, but he could not forego the pleasure of mentioning his
former simile anent dogs and possession, and he took the occasion to
draw her attention to the fact that love without the conception of a
right to possession--on both sides--was not thinkable. What was
making her cry? The same thing which had made him swear, when she went
out with twenty men. The fear of losing him! But one can lose only
that which one possesses! Possesses!
Thus the rent was repaired. But goods department and girls' school
were ready with their scissors to undo the laborious mending.
The harmony was disturbed.
The wife fell ill.
She was sure that she had hurt herself in lifting a case which was too
heavy for her. She was so keen on her work that she could not bear to
wait while the porters stood about and did nothing. She was compelled
to lend a hand. Now she must have ruptured herself.
Yes, indeed, there was something the matter!
How angry she was! Angry with her husband who alone was to blame. What
were they going to do with the baby? It would have to be boarded out!
Rousseau had done that. It was true, he was a fool, but on this
particular point he was right.
She was full of fads and fancies. The forester had to resign his lessons
at the girls' school at once.
She chafed and fretted because she was no longer able to go into the
store rooms, but compelled to stay in the counting-house all day long
and make entries. But the worst blow which befell her was the arrival
of an assistant whose secret mission it was to take her place when she
would be laid up.
The manner of her colleagues had changed, too. The porters grinned.
She felt ashamed and longed to hide herself. It would be better to
stay at home and cook her husband's dinner than sit here and be stared
at. Oh! What black chasms of prejudice lay concealed in the deceitful
hearts of men!
She stayed at home for the last month, for the walk to and from her
office four times a day was too much for her. And she was always so
hungry! She had to send out for sandwiches in the morning. And every
now and then she felt faint and had to take a rest. What a life! A
woman's lot was indeed a miserable one.
The baby was born.
"Shall we board it out?" asked the father.
"Had he no heart?"
"Oh! yes, of course he had!"
And the baby remained at home.
Then a very polite letter arrived from the head office, enquiring after
the young mother's health.
"She was very well and would be back at the office on the day after
She was still a little weak and had to take a cab; but she soon picked
up her strength. However, a new difficulty now presented itself. She
must be kept informed of the baby's condition; a messenger boy was
despatched to her home, at first twice a day, then every two hours.
And when she was told that the baby had been crying, she put on her
hat and rushed home at once. But the assistant was there, ready to
take her place. The head clerk was very civil and made no comment.
One day the young mother discovered accidentally that the nurse was
unable to feed the baby, but had concealed the fact for fear of losing
her place. She had to take a day off in order to find a new foster mother.
But they were all alike; brutal egoists every one of them, who took no
interest in the children of strangers. No one could ever depend on them.
"No," agreed the husband, "in a case of this sort one can only depend on
"Do you mean to insinuate that I ought to give up my work?"
"Oh! You must do as you like about that!"
"And become your slave!"
"No, I don't mean that at all!"
The little one was not at all well; all children are ill occasionally.
He was teething! One day's leave after another! The poor baby suffered
from toothache. She had to soothe him at night, work at the office
during the day, sleepy, tired, anxious, and again take a day off.
The green forester did his best and carried the baby about in his arms
half the night, but he never said a word about his wife's work at the
Nevertheless she knew what was in his mind. He was waiting for her to
give in; but he was deceitful and so he said nothing! How treacherous
men were! She hated him; she would sooner kill herself than throw up
her work and "be his slave."
The forester saw quite clearly now that it was impossible for any
woman to emancipate herself from the laws of nature; _under present
circumstances_, he was shrewd enough to add.
When the baby was five months old, it was plainly evident that the
whole thing would before very long repeat itself.
What a catastrophe!
But when that sort of thing once begins....
The forester was obliged to resume his lessons at the girls' school to
augment their income, and now--she laid down her arms.
"I am your slave, now," she groaned, when she came home with her
Nevertheless she is the head of the house, and he gives her every
penny he earns. When he wants to buy a cigar he makes a long speech
before he ventures to ask for the money. She never refuses it to him,
but all the same he finds the asking for it unpleasant. He is allowed
to attend meetings, but no dinners, and all botanising with girls is
strictly forbidden. He does not miss it much, for he prefers playing
with his children.
His colleagues call him henpecked; but he smiles, and tells them that
he is happy in spite of it, because he has in his wife a very sweet
and sensible companion.
She, on her part, obstinately maintains that she is nothing but his
slave, whatever he might say to the contrary. It is her one comfort,
poor, little woman!
A DOLL'S HOUSE
They had been married for six years, but they were still more like
lovers than husband and wife. He was a captain in the navy, and every
summer he was obliged to leave her for a few months; twice he had been
away on a long voyage. But his short absences were a blessing in
disguise, for if their relations had grown a little stale during the
winter, the summer trip invariably restored them to their former
freshness and delightfulness.
During the first summer he wrote veritable love-letters to her and
never passed a sailing ship without signalling: "Will you take
letters?" And when he came in sight of the landmarks of the Stockholm
Archipelago, he did not know how to get to her quickly enough. But she
found a way. She wired him to Landsort that she would meet him at
Dalaro. When he anchored, he saw a little blue scarf fluttering on the
verandah of the hotel: then he knew that it was she. But there was so
much to do aboard that it was evening before he could go ashore. He
saw her from his gig on the landing-stage as the bow held out his oar
to fend off; she was every bit as young, as pretty and as strong as
she had been when he left her; it was exactly as if they were
re-living the first spring days of their love. A delicious little
supper waited for him in the two little rooms she had engaged. What a
lot they had to talk about! The voyage, the children, the future! The
wine sparkled in the glasses and his kisses brought the blood to her
Tattoo went on the ship, but he took no notice of it, for he did not
intend to leave her before one o'clock.
"What? He was going?"
"Yes; he must get back aboard, but it would do if he was there for the
"When did the morning watch begin?"
"At five o'clock."
"Oh!... As early as that!"
"But where was she going to stay the night?"
"That was her business!"
He guessed it and wanted to have a look at her room; but she planted
herself firmly on the threshold. He covered her face with kisses, took
her in his arms as if she were a baby and opened the door.
"What an enormous bed! It was like the long boat. Where did the people
get it from?"
She blushed crimson.
"Of course, she had understood from his letter that they would stay at
the hotel together."
Well, and so they would, in spite of his having to be back aboard for
the morning watch. What did he care for the stupid morning prayers!"
"How could he say such a thing!"
"Hadn't they better have some coffee and a fire? The sheets felt damp!
What a sensible little rogue she was to provide for his staying, too!
Who would have thought that she had so much sense? Where did she get
"She didn't get it from anywhere!"
"No? Well, he might have known! He might have known everything!"
"Oh! But he was so stupid!"
"Indeed, he was stupid, was he?"
And he slipped his arm round her waist.
"But he ought to behave himself!"
"Behave himself? It was easy to talk!"
"The girl was coming with the wood!"
When it struck two, and sea and Skerries were flaming in the east,
they were sitting at the open window.
"They were lovers still, weren't they? And now he must go. But he
would be back at ten, for breakfast, and after that they would go for
He made some coffee on her spirit lamp, and they drank it while the
sun was rising and the seagulls screamed. The gunboat was lying far
out at sea and every now and then he saw the cutlasses of the watch
glinting in the sunlight. It was hard to part, but the certainty of
meeting again in a few hours' time helped them to bear it. He kissed
her for the last time, buckled on his sword and left her.
When he arrived at the bridge and shouted: "boat ahoy!" she hid
herself behind the window curtains as if she were ashamed to be seen.
He blew kisses to her until the sailors came with the gig. Then a last:
"Sleep well and dream of me" and the gig put off. He watched her
through his glasses, and for a long time he could distinguish a little
figure with black hair. The sunbeams fell on her nightdress and bare
throat and made her look like a mermaid.
The reveille went. The longdrawn bugle notes rolled out between the
green islands over the shining water and returned from behind the pine
woods. The whole crew assembled on deck and the Lord's Prayer and
"Jesus, at the day's beginning" were read. The little church tower of
Dalaro answered with a faint ringing of bells, for it was Sunday.
Cutters came up in the morning breeze: flags were flying, shots
resounded, light summer dresses gleamed on the bridge, the steamer,
leaving a crimson track behind her, steamed up, the fishers hauled in
their nets, and the sun shone on the blue, billowy water and the green
At ten o'clock six pairs rowed the gig ashore from the gunboat. They
were together again. And as they sat at breakfast in the large
dining-room, the hotel guests watched and whispered: "Is she his
wife?" He talked to her in an undertone like a lover, and she cast
down her eyes and smiled; or hit his fingers with her dinner napkin.
The boat lay alongside the bridge; she sat at the helm, he looked
after the foresail. But he could not take his eyes off her finely
shaped figure in the light summer dress, her determined little face
and proud eyes, as she sat looking to windward, while her little hand
in its strong leather glove held the mainsheet. He wanted to talk to
her and was purposely clumsy in tacking; then she scolded him as if he
were a cabin boy, which amused him immensely.
"Why didn't you bring the baby with you?" he asked her teasingly.
"Where should I have put it to sleep?"
"In the long boat, of course?"
She smiled at him in a way which filled his heart with happiness.
"Well, and what did the proprietress say this morning?"
"What should she say?"
"Did she sleep well last night?"
"Why shouldn't she sleep well?"
"I don't know; she might have been kept awake by rats, or perhaps by
the rattling of a window; who can tell what might not disturb the gentle
sleep of an old maid!"
"If you don't stop talking nonsense, I shall make the sheet fast and
sail you to the bottom of the sea."
They landed at a small island and ate their luncheon which they had
brought with them in a little basket. After lunch they shot at a
target with a revolver. Then they pretended to fish with rods, but
they caught nothing and sailed out again into the open sea where the
eidergeese were, through a strait where they watched the carp playing
about the rushes. He never tired of looking at her, talking to her,
In this manner they met for six summers, and always they were just as
young, just as mad and just as happy as before. They spent the winter
in Stockholm in their little cabins. He amused himself by rigging boats
for his little boys or telling them stories of his adventures in China
and the South Sea Islands, while his wife sat by him, listening and
laughing at his funny tales. It was a charming room, that could not be
equalled in the whole world. It was crammed full of Japanese sunshades
and armour, miniature pagodas from India, bows and lances from Australia,
nigger drums and dried flying fish, sugar cane and opium pipes. Papa,
whose hair was growing thin at the top, did not feel very happy outside
his own four walls. Occasionally he played at draughts with his friend,
the auditor, and sometimes they had a game at Boston and drank a glass
of grog. At first his wife had joined in the game, but now that she had
four children, she was too busy; nevertheless, she liked to sit with the
players for a little and look at their cards, and whenever she passed
Papa's chair he caught her round the waist and asked her whether she
thought he ought to be pleased with his hand.
This time the corvette was to be away for six months. The captain did
not feel easy about it, for the children were growing up and the
responsibility of the big establishment was too much for Mama. The
captain himself was not quite so young and vigorous as he had been,
but--it could not be helped and so he left.
Directly he arrived at Kronborg he posted a letter to her.
"My darling Topmast," it began.
"Wind moderate, S.S.E. by E. + 10 C. 6 bells, watch below. I cannot
express in words what I feel on this voyage during which I shall not
see you. When we kedged out (at 6 p.m. while a strong gale blew from
N.E. by N.) I felt as if a belaying pin were suddenly being driven
into my chest and I actually had a sensation as if a chain had been
drawn through the hawsepipes of my ears. They say that sailors can
feel the approach of misfortune. I don't know whether this is true,
but I shall not feel easy until I have had a letter from you. Nothing
has happened on board, simply because nothing must happen. How are you
all at home? Has Bob had his new boots, and do they fit? I am a
wretched correspondent as you know, so 111 stop now. With a big kiss
right on this x.
"Your old Pal.
"P.S. You ought to find a friend (female, of course) and don't forget
to ask the proprietress at Dalaro to take care of the long boat until
my return. The wind is getting up; it will blow from the North to-night."
Off Portsmouth the captain received the following letter from his
"Dear old Pal,
"It's horrible here without you, believe me. I have had a lot of
worry, too, for little Alice has got a new tooth. The doctor said it
was unusually early, which was a sign of (but I'm not going to tell
you that). Bob's boots fit him very well and he is very proud of them.
"You say in your letter that I ought to find a friend of my own sex.
Well, I have found one, or, rather, she has found me. Her name is
Ottilia Sandegren, and she was educated at the seminary. She is rather
grave and takes life very seriously, therefore you need not be afraid,
Pal, that your Topmast will be led astray. Moreover, she is religious.
We really ought to take religion a little more seriously, both of us.
She is a splendid woman. She has just arrived and sends you her kind
The captain was not overpleased with this letter. It was too short and
not half as bright as her letters generally were. Seminary, religion,
grave, Ottilia: Ottilia twice! And then Gurli! Why not Gulla as
A week later he received a second letter from Bordeaux, a letter which
was accompanied by a book, sent under separate cover.
"Dear William!"--"H'm! William! No longer Pal!"--"Life is a struggle"
--"What the deuce does she mean? What has that to do with us?"--"from
beginning to end. Gently as a river in Kedron"--"Kedron! she's quoting
the Bible!"--"our life has glided along. Like sleepwalkers we have been
walking on the edge of precipices without being aware of them"--"The
seminary, oh! the seminary!"--"Suddenly we find ourselves face to face
with the ethical"--"The ethical? Ablative!"--"asserting itself in its
higher potencies!"--"Potencies?"--"Now that I am awake from my long sleep
and ask myself: has our marriage been a marriage in the true sense of the
word? I must admit with shame and remorse that this has not been the case.
For love is of divine origin. (St. Matthew xi. 22, 24.)"
The captain had to mix himself a glass of rum and water before he felt
able to continue his reading.--"How earthly, how material our love has
been! Have our souls lived in that harmony of which Plato speaks?
(Phaidon, Book vi. Chap. ii. Par. 9). Our answer is bound to be in the
negative. What have I been to you? A housekeeper and, oh! The disgrace!
your mistress! Have our souls understood one another? Again we are bound
to answer 'No.'"--"To Hell with all Ottilias and seminaries!
Has she been my housekeeper? She has been my wife and the mother of my
children!"--"Read the book I have sent you! It will answer all your
questions. It voices that which for centuries has lain hidden in the
hearts of all women! Read it, and then tell me if you think that our
union has been a true marriage. Your Gurli."
His presentiment of evil had not deceived him. The captain was beside
himself; he could not understand what had happened to his wife. It was
worse than religious hypocrisy.
He tore off the wrapper and read on the title page of a book in a
paper cover: _Et Dukkehjem af Henrik Ibsen_. A Doll's House? Well,
and--? His home had been a charming doll's house; his wife had been
his little doll and he had been her big doll. They had danced along
the stony path of life and had been happy. What more did they want?
What was wrong? He must read the book at once and find out.
He finished it in three hours. His brain reeled. How did it concern
him and his wife? Had they forged bills? No! Hadn't they loved one
another? Of course they had!
He locked himself into his cabin and read the book a second time; he
underlined passages in red and blue, and when the dawn broke, he took
"A well-meant little ablative on the play _A Doll's House_, written by
the old Pal on board the Vanadis in the Atlantic off Bordeaux. (Lat. 45
Long. 16 .)
"1. She married him because he was in love with her and that was a
deuced clever thing to do. For if she had waited until she had fallen
in love with someone, it might have happened that _he_ would not have
fallen in love with her, and then there would have been the devil to
pay. For it happens very rarely that both parties are equally in love."
"2. She forges a bill. That was foolish, but it is not true that it
was done for the husband's sake only, for she has never loved him; it
would have been the truth if she had said that she had done it for him,
herself and the children. Is that clear?"
"3. That he wants to embrace her after the ball is only a proof of his
love for her, and there is no wrong in that; but it should not be done
on the stage. "_Il y a des choses qui se font mais que ne se disent
point_,' as the French say, Moreover, if the poet had been fair, he
would also save shown an opposite case. '_La petite chienne veut, mais
le grand chien ne veut pas_,' says Ollendorf. (Vide the long boat at
"4. That she, when she discovers that her husband is a fool (and that
he is when he offers to condone her offence because it has not leaked
out) decides to leave her children 'not considering herself worthy of
bringing them up,' is a not very clever trick of coquetry. If they have
both been fools (and surely they don't teach at the seminary that it
is right to forge bills) they should pull well together in future in
"Least of all is she justified in leaving her children's education in
the hands of the father whom she despises."
"5. Nora has consequently every reason for staying with her children
when she discovers what an imbecile her husband is."
"6. The husband cannot be blamed for not sufficiently appreciating
her, for she doesn't reveal her true character until after the row."
"7. Nora has undoubtedly been a fool; she herself does not deny it."
"8. There is every guarantee of their pulling together more happily
in future; he has repented and promised to turn over a new leaf. So
has she. Very well! Here's my hand, let's begin again at the beginning.
Birds of a feather flock together. There's nothing lost, we've both
been fools! You, little Nora, were badly brought up. I, old rascal,
didn't know any better. We are both to be pitied. Pelt our teachers
with rotten eggs, but don't hit me alone on the head. I, though a man,
am every bit as innocent as you are! Perhaps even a little more so,
for I married for love, you for a home. Let us be friends, therefore,
and together teach our children the valuable lesson we have learnt
in the school of life."
Is that clear? All right then!
This was written by Captain Pal with his stiff fingers and slow brain!
And now, my darling dolly, I have read your book and given you my
opinion. But what have we to do with it? Didn't we love one another?
Haven't we educated one another and helped one another to rub off our
sharp corners? Surely you'll remember that we had many a little
encounter in the beginning! What fads of yours are those? To hell with
all Ottilias and seminaries!
The book you sent me is a queer book. It is like a watercourse with
an insufficient number of buoys, so that one might run aground at any
moment. But I pricked the chart and found calm waters. Only, I
couldn't do it again. The devil may crack these nuts which are rotten
inside when one has managed to break the shell. I wish you peace and
happiness and the recovery of your sound common sense.
"How are the little ones? You forgot to mention them. Probably you
were thinking too much of Nora's unfortunate kiddies, (which exist
only in a play of that sort). Is my little boy crying? My nightingale
singing, my dolly dancing? She must always do that if she wants to
make her old pal happy. And now may God bless you and prevent evil
thoughts from rising between us. My heart is sadder than I can tell.
And I am expected to sit down and write a critique on a play. God
bless you and the babies; kiss their rosy cheeks for your faithful
When the captain had sent off his letter, he went into the officers'
mess and drank a glass of punch. The doctor was there, too.
"Have you noticed a smell of old black breeches?" he asked. "I should
like to hoist myself up to the cat block and let a good old N.W. by N.
blow right through me."
But the doctor did not understand what he was driving at.
"Ottilia, Ottilia!... What she wants is a taste of the handspike. Send
the witch to the quarterdeck and let the second mess loose on her behind
closed hatches. One knows what is good for an old maid."
"What's the matter with you, old chap?" asked the doctor.
"Plato! Plato! To the devil with Plato! To be six months at sea makes
one sick of Plato. That teaches one ethics! Ethics? I bet a marlinspike
to a large rifle: if Ottilia were married she would cease talking of
"What on earth _is_ the matter?"
"Nothing. Do you hear? You're a doctor. What's the matter with those
women? Isn't it bad for them to remain unmarried? Doesn't it make
The doctor gave him his candid opinion and added that he was sorry
that there were not enough men to go round.
"In a state of nature the male is mostly polygamous; in most cases
there is no obstacle to this, as there is plenty of food for the young
ones (beasts of prey excepted): abnormalities like unmated females do
not exist in nature. But in civilised countries, where a man is lucky
if he earns enough bread, it is a common occurrence, especially as the
females are in preponderance. One ought to treat unmarried women with
kindness, for their lot is a melancholy one."
"With kindness! That's all very well; but supposing they are anything
but kind themselves!"
And he told the doctor the whole story, even confessing that he had
written a critique on a play.
"Oh! well, no end of nonsense is written," said the doctor, putting
his hand on the lid of the jug which contained the punch. "In the end
science decides all great questions! Science, and nothing else."
When the six months were over and the captain, who had been in
constant, but not very pleasant, correspondence with his wife, (she
had sharply criticised his critique), at last landed at Dalaro, he was
received by his wife, all the children, two servants and Ottilia. His
wife was affectionate, but not cordial. She held up her brow to be
kissed. Ottilia was as tall as a stay, and wore her hair short; seen
from the back she looked like a swab. The supper was dull and they
drank only tea. The long boat took in a cargo of children and the
captain was lodged in one of the attics.
What a change! Poor old Pal looked old and felt puzzled.
"To be married and yet not have a wife," he thought, "it's
On the following morning he wanted to take his wife for a sail. But
the sea did not agree with Ottilia. She had been ill on the steamer.
And, moreover, it was Sunday. Sunday? That was it! Well, they would go
for a walk. They had a lot to talk about. Of course, they had a lot to
say to each other. But Ottilia was not to come with them!
They went out together, arm in arm. But they did not talk much; and
what they said were words uttered for the sake of concealing their
thoughts more than for the sake of exchanging ideas.
They passed the little cholera cemetery and took the road leading to
the Swiss Valley. A faint breeze rustled through the pine trees and
glimpses of the blue sea flashed through the dark branches.
They sat down on a stone. He threw himself on the turf at her feet.
Now the storm is going to burst, he thought, and it did.
"Have you thought at all about our marriage?" she began.
"No," he replied, with every appearance of having fully considered the
matter, "I have merely felt about it. In my opinion love is a matter
of sentiment; one steers by landmarks and makes port; take compass and
chart and you are sure to founder."
"Yes, but our home has been nothing but a doll's house."
"Excuse me, but this is not quite true. You have never forged a bill;
you have never shown your ankles to a syphilitic doctor of whom you
wanted to borrow money against security _in natura_; you have never
been so romantically silly as to expect your husband to give himself
up for a crime which his wife had committed from ignorance, and which
was not a crime because there was no plaintiff; and you have never
lied to me. I have treated you every bit as honestly as Helmer treated
his wife when he took her into his full confidence and allowed her to
have a voice in the banking business; tolerated her interference with
the appointment of an employee. We have therefore been husband and
wife according to all conceptions, old and new-fashioned."
"Yes, but I have been your housekeeper!"
"Pardon me, you are wrong. You have never had a meal in the kitchen,
you have never received wages, you have never had to account for money
spent. I have never scolded you because one thing or the other was not
to my liking. And do you consider my work: to reckon and to brace, to
ease off and call out 'Present arms,' count herrings and measure rum,
weigh peas and examine flour, more honourable than yours: to look
after the servants, cater for the house and bring up the children?"
"No, but you are paid for your work! You are your own master! You are
"My dear child, do you want me to give you wages? Do you want to be my
housekeeper in real earnest? That I was born a man is an accident. I
might almost say a pity, for it's very nearly a crime to be a man
now-a-days, but it isn't my fault. The devil take him who has stirred
up the two halves of humanity, one against the other! He has much to
answer for. Am I the master? Don't we both rule? Have I ever decided
any important matter without asking for your advice? What? But you--you
bring up the children exactly as you like! Don't you remember that I
wanted you to stop rocking them to sleep because I said it produced a
sort of intoxication? But you had your own way! Another time I had mine,
and then it was your turn again. There was no compromise possible,
because there was no middle course to steer between rocking and not
rocking. We got on very well until now. But you have thrown me over for
"Ottilia! always Ottilia! Didn't you yourself send her to me?"
"No, not her personally! But there can be no doubt that it is she who
"You want to separate me from all I care for!"
"Is Ottilia all you care for? It almost looks like it!"
"But I can't send her away now that I have engaged her to teach the
girls pedagogics and Latin."
"Latin! Great Scott! Are the girls to be ruined?"
"They are to know everything a man knows, so that when the time comes,
their marriage will be a true marriage."
"But, my love, all husbands don't know Latin! I don't know more than
one single word, and that is 'ablative.' And we have been happy in
spite of it. Moreover, there is a movement to strike off Latin from
the plan of instruction for boys, as a superfluous accomplishment.
Doesn't this teach you a lot? Isn't it enough that the men are ruined,
are the women to be ruined, too? Ottilia, Ottilia, what have I done to
you, that you should treat me like this!"
"Supposing we dropped that matter.--Our love, William, has not been
what it should be. It has been sensual!"
"But, my darling, how could we have had children, if it hadn't? And it
has not been sensual only."
"Can a thing be both black and white? Tell me that!"
"Of course, it can. There's your sunshade for instance, it is black
outside and white inside."
"Listen to me, sweetheart, tell me in your own way the thoughts which
are in your heart; don't talk like Ottilia's books. Don't let your head
run away with you; be yourself again, my sweet, darling little wife."
"Yours, your property, bought with your labour."
"Just as I am your property, your husband, at whom no other woman is
allowed to look if she wants to keep her eyes in her head; your husband,
who made a present of himself to you, or rather, gave himself to you in
exchange. Are we not quits?"
"But we have trifled away our lives! Have we ever had any higher
"Yes, the very highest, Gurli; we have not always been playing, we
have had grave hours, too. Have we not called into being generations
to come? Have we not both bravely worked and striven for the little
ones, who are to grow up into men and women? Have you not faced death
four times for their sakes? Have you not robbed yourself of your
nights' rest in order to rock their cradle, and of your days'
pleasures, in order to attend to them? Couldn't we now have a large
six-roomed flat in the main street, and a footman to open the door, if
it were not for the children? Wouldn't you be able to wear silk
dresses and pearls? And I, your old Pal, wouldn't have _crows' nests_
in my knees, if it hadn't been for the kiddies. Are we really no
better than dolls? Are we as selfish as old maids say? Old maids,
rejected by men as no good. Why are so many girls unmarried? They all
boast of proposals and yet they pose as martyrs! Higher interests!
Latin! To dress in low neck dresses for charitable purposes and leave
the children at home, neglected! I believe that my interests are
higher than Ottilia's, when I want strong and healthy children, who
will succeed where we have failed. But Latin won't help them! Goodbye,
Gurli! I have to go back on board. Are you coming?"
But she remained sitting on the stone and made no answer. He went with
heavy footsteps, very heavy footsteps. And the blue sea grew dark and
the sun ceased shining.
"Pal, Pal, where is this to lead to?" he sighed, as he stepped over
the fence of the cemetery. "I wish I lay there, with a wooden cross to
mark my place, among the roots of the trees. But I am sure I couldn't
rest, if I were there without her! Oh! Gurli! Gurli!
"Everything has gone wrong, now, mother," said the captain on a chilly
autumn day to his mother-in-law, to whom he was paying a visit.
"What's the matter, Willy, dear?"
"Yesterday they met at our house. On the day before yesterday at the
Princess's. Little Alice was suddenly taken ill. It was unfortunate,
of course, but I didn't dare to send for Gurli, for fear she might
think that it was done on purpose to annoy her! Oh! when once one has
lost faith.... I asked a friend at the Admiralty yesterday whether it
was legal in Sweden to kill one's wife's friends with tobacco smoke. I
was told it wasn't, and that even if it were it was better not to do
it, for fear of doing more harm than good. If only it happened to be
an admirer! I should take him by the neck and throw him out of the
window. What am I to do?"
"It's a difficult matter, Willy, dear, but we shall be able to think
of a way out of it. You can't go on living like a bachelor."
"No, of course, I can't."
"I spoke very plainly to her, a day or two ago. I told her that she
would lose you if she didn't mend her ways."
"And what did she say?"
"She said you had a right to do as you liked with your body."
"Indeed! And she, too? A fine theory! My hair is fast turning grey,
"It's a good old scheme to make a wife jealous. It's generally kill or
cure, for if there is any love left, it brings it out."
"There is, I know, there is!"
"Of course, there is. Love doesn't die suddenly; it gets used up in
the course of the years, perhaps. Have a flirtation with Ottilia, and
we shall see!"
"Flirt with Ottilia? With Ottilia?"
"Try it. Aren't you up in any of the subjects which interest her?"
"Well, yes! They are deep in statistics, now. Fallen women, infectious
diseases. If I could lead the conversation to mathematics! I am well
up in that!"
"There you are! Begin with mathematics--by and by put her shawl round
her shoulders and button her overshoes. Take her home in the evening.
Drink her health and kiss her when Gurli is sure to see it. If necessary,
be a little officious. She won't be angry, believe me. And give her a
big dose of mathematics, so big that Gurli has no option but to sit and
listen to it quietly. Come again in a week's time and tell me the
The captain went home, read the latest pamphlets on immorality and at
once started to carry out his scheme.
A week later he called on his mother-in-law, serene and smiling, and
greatly enjoying a glass of good sherry. He was in high spirits.
"Now tell me all about it," said the old woman, pushing her spectacles
up on her forehead.
"It was difficult work at first," he began, "for she distrusted me.
She thought I was making fun of her. Then I mentioned the effect which
the computation of probabilities had had on the statistics of morality
in America. I told her that it had simply been epoch-making. She knew
nothing about it, but the subject attracted her. I gave her examples
and proved in figures that it was possible to calculate with a certain
amount of probability the percentage of women who are bound to fall.
She was amazed. I saw that her curiosity was aroused and that she was
eager to provide herself with a trump-card for the next meeting. Gurli
was pleased to see that Ottilia and I were making friends, and did
everything to further my scheme. She pushed her into my room and
closed the door; and there we sat all afternoon, making calculations.
The old witch was happy, for she felt that she was making use of me,
and after three hours' work we were fast friends. At supper my wife
found that such old friends as Ottilia and I ought to call one another
by their Christian names. I brought out my good old sherry to
celebrate the occasion. And then I kissed her on the lips, may God
forgive me for my sins! Gurli looked a little startled, but did not
seem to mind. She was radiant with happiness. The sherry was strong
and Ottilia was weak. I wrapped her in her cloak and took her home. I
gently squeezed her arm and told her the names of the stars. She
became enthusiastic! She had always loved the stars, but had never
been able to remember their names. The poor women were not allowed to
acquire any knowledge. Her enthusiasm grew and we parted as the very
best of friends who had been kept apart through misunderstanding each
other for such a long, long time.
"On the next day more mathematics. We worked until supper time. Gurli
came in once or twice and gave us an encouraging nod. At supper we
talked of nothing but stars and mathematics, and Gurli sat there,
silently, listening to us. Again I took her home. On my way back I met
a friend. We went to the Grand Hotel and drank a glass of punch. It
was one o'clock when I came home. Gurli was still up waiting for me.
"'Where have you been all this time, William?' she asked.
"Then the devil entered into my soul and I replied:
"'We had such a lot to talk about that I forgot all about the time.'
"_That_ blow struck home.
"'I don't think it's nice to run about half the night with a young
woman,' she said.
"I pretended to be embarrassed and stammered:
"'If one has so much to say to one another, one forgets sometimes what
is nice and what is not.'
"'What on earth did you talk about?' asked Gurli, pouting. "'I really
"You managed very well, my boy," said the old woman. "Go on!"
"On the third day," continued the captain, "Gurli came in with her
needlework and remained in the room until the lesson in mathematics
was over. Supper was not quite as merry as usual, but on the other
hand, very astronomical. I assisted the old witch with her overshoes,
a fact which made a great impression on Gurli. When Ottilia said
good-night, she only offered her cheek to be kissed. On the way home I
pressed her arm and talked of the sympathy of souls and of the stars
as the home of the souls. I went to the Grand Hotel, had some punch
and arrived home at two o'clock. Gurli was still up; I saw it, but I
went straight to my room, like the bachelor I was, and Gurli did not
like to follow me and ply me with questions.
"On the following day I gave Ottilia a lesson in astronomy. Gurli
declared that she was much interested and would like to be present;
but Ottilia said we were already too far advanced and she would
instruct her in the rudiments later on. This annoyed Gurli and she
went away. We had a great deal of sherry for supper. When Ottilia
thanked me for a jolly evening, I put my arm round her waist and
kissed her. Gurli grew pale. When I buttoned her overshoes, I ...
"Never mind me," said the old lady, "I am an old woman."
He laughed. "All the same, mother, she's not so bad, really she isn't.
But when I was going to put on my overcoat, I found to my astonishment
the maid waiting in the hall, ready to accompany Ottilia home. Gurli
made excuses for me; she said I had caught a cold on the previous
evening, and that she was afraid the night air might do me harm.
Ottilia looked self-conscious and left without kissing Gurli.
"I had promised to show Ottilia some astronomical instruments at the
College at twelve o'clock on the following day. She kept her
appointment, but she was much depressed. She had been to see Gurli,
who had treated her very unkindly, so she said. She could not imagine
why. When I came home to dinner I found a great change in Gurli. She
was cold and mute as a fish. I could see that she was suffering. Now
was the time to apply the knife.
"'What did you say to Ottilia?' I commenced. 'She was so unhappy.'
'What did I say to her? Well, I said to her that she was a flirt.
That's what I said.'
'How could you say such a thing?' I replied. 'Surely, you're not
'I! Jealous of her!' she burst out.
'Yes, that's what puzzles me, for I am sure an intelligent and sensible
person like Ottilia could never have designs on another woman's husband!'
'No,' (she was coming to the point) 'but another woman's husband might
have designs on her.'
'Huhuhu!' she went for me tooth and nail. I took Ottilia's part; Gurli
called her an old maid; I continued to champion her. On this afternoon
Ottilia did not turn up. She wrote a chilly letter, making excuses and
winding up by saying she could see that she was not wanted. I protested
and suggested that I should go and fetch her. That made Gurli wild! She
was sure that I was in love with Ottilia and cared no more for herself.
She knew that she was only a silly girl, who didn't know anything, was
no good at anything, and--huhuhu!--could never understand mathematics.
I sent for a sleigh and we went for a ride. In a hotel, overlooking the
sea, we drank mulled wine and had an excellent little supper. It was just
as if we were having our wedding day over again, and then we drove home."
"And then--?" asked the old woman, looking at him over her spectacles.
"And then? H'm! May God forgive me for my sins! I seduced my own little
wife. What do you say now, granny?"
"I say that you did very well, my boy! And then?"
"And then? Since then everything has been all right, and now we discuss
the education of the children and the emancipation of women from
superstition and old-maidishness, from sentimentality and the devil
and his ablative, but we talk when we are alone together and that is
the best way of avoiding misunderstandings. Don't you think so, old
"Yes, Willy, dear, and now I shall come and pay you a call."
"Do come! And you will see the dolls dance and the larks and the
woodpeckers sing and chirrup; you will see a home filled with
happiness up to the roof, for there is no one there waiting for
miracles which only happen in fairy tales. You will see a real doll's
The wild strawberries were getting ripe when he met her for the first
time at the vicarage. He had met many girls before, but when he saw
_her_ he knew; this was she! But he did not dare to tell her so, and
she only teased him for he was still at school.
He was an undergraduate when he met her for the second time. And as he
put his arms round her and kissed her, he saw showers of rockets, heard
the ringing of bells and bugle calls, and felt the earth trembling under
She was a woman at the age of fourteen. Her young bosom seemed to be
waiting for hungry little mouths and eager baby fists. With her firm
and elastic step, her round and swelling hips, she looked fit to bear
at any moment a baby under her heart. Her hair was of a pale gold,
like clarified honey, and surrounded her face like an aureole; her
eyes were two flames and her skin was as soft as a glove.
They were engaged to be married and billed and cooed in the wood like
the birds in the garden under the lime trees; life lay before them
like a sunny meadow which the scythe had not yet touched. But he had
to pass his examinations in mining first, and that would take
him,--including the journey abroad--ten years. Ten years!
He returned to the University. In the summer he came back to the
vicarage and found her every bit as beautiful. Three summers he
came--and the fourth time she was pale. There were tiny red lines in
the corners of her nose and her shoulders drooped a little. When the
summer returned for the sixth time, she was taking iron. In the
seventh she went to a watering-place. In the eighth she suffered from
tooth-ache and her nerves were out of order. Her hair had lost its
gloss, her voice had grown shrill, her nose was covered with little
black specks; she had lost her figure, dragged her feet, and her
cheeks were hollow. In the winter she had an attack of nervous fever,
and her hair had to be cut off. When it grew again, it was a dull
brown. He had fallen in love with a golden-haired girl of fourteen
--brunettes did not attract him--and he married a woman of twenty-four,
with dull brown hair, who refused to wear her dresses open at the
But in spite of all this he loved her. His love was less passionate
than it had been; it had become calm and steadfast. And there was
nothing in the little mining-town which could disturb their happiness.
She bore him two boys, but he was always wishing for a girl. And at
last a fair-haired baby girl arrived.
She was the apple of his eye, and as she grew up she resembled her
mother more and more. When she was eight years old, she was just what
her mother had been. And the father devoted all his spare time to his
The housework had coarsened the mother's hands. Her nose had lost its
shape and her temples had fallen in. Constant stooping over the kitchen
range had made her a little round-shouldered. Father and mother met only
at meals and at night. They did not complain, but things had changed.
But the daughter was the father's delight. It was almost as if he were
in love with her. He saw in her the re-incarnation of her mother, his
first impression of her, as beautiful as it had been fleeting. He was
almost self-conscious in her company and never went into her room when
she was dressing. He worshipped her.
But one morning the child remained in bed and refused to get up. Mama
put it down to laziness, but papa sent for the doctor. The shadow of
the angel of death lay over the house: the child was suffering from
diphtheria. Either father or mother must take the other children away.
He refused. The mother took them to a little house in one of the suburbs
and the father remained at home to nurse the invalid. There she lay!
The house was disinfected with sulphur which turned the gilded picture
frames black and tarnished the silver on the dressing-table. He walked
through the empty rooms in silent anguish, and at night, alone in his
big bed, he felt like a widower. He bought toys for the little girl,
and she smiled at him as he sat on the edge of the bed trying to amuse
her with a Punch and Judy show, and asked after mama and her little
brothers. And the father had to go and stand in the street before the
house in the suburbs, and nod to his wife who was looking at him from
the window, and blow kisses to the children. And his wife signalled to
him with sheets of blue and red paper.
But a day came when the little girl took no more pleasure in Punch and
Judy, and ceased smiling; and ceased talking too, for Death had
stretched out his long bony arm and suffocated her. It had been a hard
Then the mother returned, full of remorse because she had deserted her
little daughter. There was great misery in the home, and great
wretchedness. When the doctor wanted to make a post mortem examination,
the father objected. No knife should touch her, for she was not dead to
him; but his resistance was overborne. Then he flew into a passion and
tried to kick and bite the doctor.
When they had bedded her into the earth, he built a monument over her
grave, and for a whole year he visited it every day. In the second
year he did not go quite so often. His work was heavy and he had little
spare time. He began to feel the burden of the years; his step was less
elastic; his wound was healing. Sometimes he felt ashamed when he
realised that he was mourning less and less for his child as time went
by; and finally he forgot all about it.
Two more girls were born to him, but it was not the same thing; the
void left by the one who had passed away could never be filled.
Life was a hard struggle. The young wife who had once been like--like
no other woman on earth, had gradually lost her glamour; the gilding
had worn off the home which had once been so bright and beautiful. The
children had bruised and dented their mother's wedding presents, spoiled
the beds and kicked the legs of the furniture. The stuffing of the sofa
was plainly visible here and there, and the piano had not been opened
for years. The noise made by the children had drowned the music and the
voices had become harsh. The words of endearment had been cast off with
the baby clothes, caresses had deteriorated into a sort of massage. They
were growing old and weary. Papa was no longer on his knees before mama,
he sat in his shabby armchair and asked her for a match when he wanted
to light his pipe. Yes, they were growing old.
When papa had reached his fiftieth year, mama died. Then the past
awoke and knocked at his heart. When her broken body, which the last
agony had robbed of its few remaining charms, had been laid in its
grave, the picture of his fourteen-year-old sweetheart arose in his
memory. It was for her, whom he had lost so long ago that he mourned
now, and with his yearning for her came remorse. But he had never been
unkind to the old mama; he had been faithful to the fourteen-year-old
vicar's daughter whom he had worshipped on his knees but had never led
to the altar, for he had married an anaemic young woman of twenty-four.
If he were to be quite candid, he would have to confess that it was she
for whom he mourned; it was true, he also missed the good cooking and
unremitting care of the old mama, but that was a different thing.
He was on more intimate terms with his children, now; some of them had
left the old nest, but others were still at home.
When he had bored his friends for a whole year with anecdotes of the
deceased, an extraordinary coincidence happened. He met a young girl
of eighteen, with fair hair, and a striking resemblance to his late
wife, as she had been at fourteen. He saw in this coincidence the
finger of a bountiful providence, willing to bestow on him at last the
first one, the well-beloved. He fell in love with her because she
resembled the first one. And he married her. He had got her at last.
But his children, especially the girls, resented his second marriage.
They found the relationship between their father and step-mother
improper; in their opinion he had been unfaithful to their mother. And
they left his house and went out into the world.
He was happy! And his pride in his young wife exceeded even his
"Only the aftermath!" said his old friends.
When a year had gone by, the young wife presented him with a baby.
Papa, of course, was no longer used to a baby's crying, and wanted his
night's rest. He insisted on a separate bed-room for himself, heedless
of his wife's tears; really, women were a nuisance sometimes. And,
moreover, she was jealous of his first wife. He had been fool enough
to tell her of the extraordinary likeness which existed between the
two and had let her read his first wife's love-letters. She brooded
over these facts now that he neglected her. She realised that she had
inherited all the first one's pet names, that she was only her
understudy, as it were. It irritated her and the attempt to win him
for herself led her into all sorts of mischief. But she only succeeded
in boring him, and in silently comparing the two women, his verdict
was entirely in favour of the first one. She had been so much more
gentle than the second who exasperated him. The longing for his
children, whom he had driven from their home increased his regret, and
his sleep was disturbed by bad dreams for he was haunted by the idea
that he had been unfaithful to his first wife.
His home was no longer a happy one. He had done a deed, which he would
much better have left undone.
He began to spend a good deal of time at his club. But now his wife
was furious. He had deceived her. He was an old man and he had better
look out! An old man who left his young wife so much alone ran a certain
risk. He might regret it some day!
"Old? She called him old? He would show her that he was not old!"
They shared the same room again. But now matters were seven times
worse. He did not want to be bothered with the baby at night. The
proper place for babies was the nursery. No! he hadn't thought so in
the case of the first wife.
He had to submit to the torture.
Twice he had believed in the miracle of Phoenix rising from the ashes
of his fourteen year old love, first in his daughter, then in his
second wife. But in his memory lived the first one only, the little
one from the vicarage, whom he had met when the wild strawberries were
ripe, and kissed under the lime trees in the wood, but whom he had
But now, as his sun was setting and his days grew short, he saw in his
dark hours only the picture of the old mama, who had been kind to him
and his children, who had never scolded, who was plain, who cooked the
meals and patched the little boys' knickers and the skirts of the little
girls. His flush of victory being over, he was able to see facts clearly.
He wondered whether it was not, after all, the old mama who had been the
real true Phoenix, rising, calm and beautiful, from the ashes of the
fourteen year old bird of paradise, laying its eggs, plucking the
feathers from its breast to line the nest for the young ones, and
nourishing them with its life-blood until it died.
He wondered ... but when at last he laid his weary head on the pillow,
never again to lift it up, he was convinced that it was so.
ROMEO AND JULIA
One evening the husband came home with a roll of music under his arm
and said to his wife:
"Let us play duets after supper!"
"What have you got there?" asked his wife.
"Romeo and Julia, arranged for the piano. Do you know it?"
"Yes, of course I do," she replied, "but I don't remember ever having
seen it on the stage."
"Oh! It's splendid! To me it is like a dream of my youth, but I've
only heard it once, and that was about twenty years ago."
After supper, when the children had been put to bed and the house lay
silent, the husband lighted the candles on the piano. He looked at the
lithographed title-page and read the title: Romeo and Julia.
"This is Gounod's most beautiful composition," he said, "and I don't
believe that it will be too difficult for us."
As usual his wife undertook to play the treble and they began. D major,
common time, _allegro giusto_.
"It is beautiful, isn't it?" asked the husband, when they had finished
"Y--es," admitted the wife, reluctantly.
"Now the martial music," said the husband; "it is exceptionally fine.
I can remember the splendid choruses at the Royal Theatre."
They played a march.
"Well, wasn't I right?" asked the husband, triumphantly, as if he had
composed "Romeo and Julia" himself.
"I don't know; it rather sounds like a brass band," answered the wife.
The husband's honour and good taste were involved; he looked for the
Moonshine Aria in the fourth act. After a little searching he came
across an aria for soprano. That must be it.
And he began again.
Tram-tramtram, tram-tramtram, went the bass; it was very easy to play.
"Do you know," said his wife, when it was over, "I don't think very
much of it."
The husband, quite depressed, admitted that it reminded him of a barrel
"I thought so all along," confessed the wife.
"And I find it antiquated, too. I am surprised that Gounod should be
out of date, already," he added dejectedly. "Would you like to go on
playing? Let's try the Cavatina and the Trio; I particularly remember
the soprano; she was divine."
When they stopped playing, the husband looked crestfallen and put the
music away, as if he wanted to shut the door on the past.
"Let's have a glass of beer," he said. They sat down at the table and
had a glass of beer.
"It's extraordinary," he began, after a little while, "I never
realised before that we've grown old, for we really must have vied
with Romeo and Julia as to who should age faster. It's twenty years
ago since I heard the opera for the first time. I was a newly fledged
undergraduate then, I had many friends and the future smiled at me. I
was immensely proud of the first down on my upper lip and my little
college cap, and I remember as if it were to-day, the evening when
Fritz, Phil and myself went to hear this opera. We had heard 'Faust'
some years before and were great admirers of Gounod's genius. But
Romeo beat all our expectations. The music roused our wildest
enthusiasm. Now both my friends are dead. Fritz, who was ambitious,
was a private secretary when he died, Phil a medical student; I who
aspired to the position of a minister of state have to content myself
with that of a regimental judge. The years have passed by quickly and
imperceptibly. Of course I have noticed that the lines under my eyes
have grown deeper and that my hair has turned grey at the temples, but
I should never have thought that we had travelled so far on the road
to the grave."
"Yes, my dear, we've grown old; our children could teach us that. And
you must see it in me too, although you don't say anything."
"How can you say that!"
"Oh! I know only too well, my dear," continued the wife, sadly; "I
know that I am beginning to lose my good looks, that my hair is
growing thin, that I shall soon lose my front teeth...."
"Just consider how quickly everything passes away"--interrupted her
husband. "It seems to me that one grows old much more rapidly now-a-days,
than one used to do. In my father's house Haydn and Mozart were played
a great deal, although they were dead long before he was born. And now
--now Gounod has grown old-fashioned already! How distressing it is to
meet again the ideals of one's youth under these altered circumstances!
And how horrible it is to feel old age approaching!"
He got up and sat down again at the piano; he took the music and turned
over the pages as if he were looking for keepsakes, locks of hair,
dried flowers and ends of ribbon in the drawer of a writing-table.
His eyes were riveted on the black notes which looked like little birds
climbing up and down a wire fencing; but where were the spring songs,
the passionate protestations, the jubilant avowals of the rosy days of
first love? The notes stared back at him like strangers; as if the
memory of life's spring-time were grown over with weeds.
Yes, that was it; the strings were covered with dust, the sounding board
was dried up, the felt worn away.
A heavy sigh echoed through the room, heavy as if it came from a hollow
chest, and then silence fell.
"But all the same, it is strange," the husband said suddenly, "that
the glorious prologue is missing in this arrangement. I remember
distinctly that there was a prologue with an accompaniment of harps
and a chorus which went like this."
He softly hummed the tune, which bubbled up like a stream in a
mountain glen; note succeeded note, his face cleared, his lips smiled,
the lines disappeared, his fingers touched the keys, and drew from
them melodies, powerful, caressing and full of eternal youth, while
with a strong and ringing voice he sang the part of the bass.
His wife started from her melancholy reverie and listened with tears
in her eyes.
"What are you singing?" she asked, full of amazement.
"Romeo and Julia! Our Romeo and our Julia!"
He jumped up from the music stool and pushed the music towards his
"Look! This was the Romeo of our uncles and aunts, this was--read
it--Bellini! Oh! We are not old, after all!"
The wife looked at the thick, glossy hair of her husband, his smooth
brow and flashing eyes, with joy.
"And you? You look like a young girl. We have allowed old Bellini to
make fools of us. I felt that something was wrong."
"No, darling, I thought so first."
"Probably you did; that is because you are younger than I am."
And husband and wife, like a couple of children, laughingly quarrel
over the question of which of them is the elder of the two, and cannot
understand how they could have discovered lines and grey hairs where
there are none.
He was a supernumerary at the Board of Trade and drew a salary of
twelve hundred crowns. He had married a young girl without a penny;
for love, as he himself said, to be no longer compelled to go to
dances and run about the streets, as his friends maintained. But be
that as it may, the life of the newly-wedded couple was happy enough
to begin with.
"How cheaply married people can live," he said one day, after the
wedding was a thing of the past. The same sum which had been barely
enough to cover the wants of the bachelor now sufficed for husband and
wife. Really, marriage was an excellent institution. One had all one's
requirements within one's four walls: club, cafe, everything; no more
bills of fare, no tips, no inquisitive porter watching one as one went
out with one's wife in the morning.
Life smiled at him, his strength increased and he worked for two.
Never in all his life had he felt so full of overflowing energy; he
jumped out of bed as soon as he woke up in the morning, buoyantly, and
in the highest spirits, he was rejuvenated.
When two months had elapsed, long before his new circumstances had
begun to pall, his wife whispered a certain piece of information into
his ear. New joys! New cares! But cares so pleasant to bear! It was
necessary, however, to increase their income at once, so as to receive
the unknown world-citizen in a manner befitting his dignity. He managed
to obtain an order for a translation.
Baby-clothes lay scattered about all over the furniture, a cradle
stood waiting in the hall, and at last a splendid boy arrived in this
world of sorrows.
The father was delighted. And yet he could not help a vague feeling of
uneasiness whenever he thought of the future. Income and expenditure
did not balance. Nothing remained but to reduce his dress allowance.
His frock coat began to look threadbare at the seams; his shirt front
was hidden underneath a large tie, his trousers were frayed. It was an
undeniable fact that the porters at the office looked down on him on
account of his shabbiness.
In addition to this he was compelled to lengthen his working day.
"It must be the first and last," he said. But how was it to be done?
He was at a loss to know.
Three months later his wife prepared him in carefully chosen words
that his paternal joys would soon be doubled. It would not be true to
say that he rejoiced greatly at the news. But there was no alternative
now; he must travel along the road he had chosen, even if married life
should prove to be anything but cheap.
"It's true," he thought, his face brightening, "the younger one will
inherit the baby-clothes of his elder brother. This will save a good
deal of expense, and there will be food enough for them--I shall be
able to feed them just as well as others."
And the second baby was born.
"You are going it," said a friend of his, who was a married man himself,
but father of one child only.
"What is a man to do?"
"Use his common-sense."
"Use his common-sense? But, my dear fellow, a man gets married in
order to ... I mean to say, not only in order to ... but yet in order
to.... Well, anyhow, we are married and that settles the matter."
"Not at all. Let me tell you something, my dear boy; if you are at all
hoping for promotion it is absolutely necessary that you should wear
clean linen, trousers which are not frayed at the bottom, and a hat
which is not of a rusty brown."
And the sensible man whispered sensible words into his ear. As the
result, the poor husband was put on short commons in the midst of
But now his troubles began.
To start with his nerves went to pieces, he suffered from insomnia and
did his work badly. He consulted a doctor. The prescription cost him
three crowns; and such a prescription! He was to stop working; he had
worked too hard, his brain was overtaxed. To stop work would mean
starvation for all of them, and to work spelt death, too!
He went on working.
One day, as he was sitting at his desk, stooping over endless rows of
figures, he had an attack of faintness, slipped off his chair and fell
to the ground.
A visit to a specialist--eighteen crowns. A new prescription; he must
ask for sick leave at once, take riding exercise every morning and
have steak and a glass of port for breakfast.
Riding exercise and port!
But the worst feature of the whole business was a feeling of alienation
from his wife which had sprung up in his heart--he did not know whence
it came. He was afraid to go near her and at the same time he longed for
her presence. He loved her, loved her still, but a certain bitterness
was mingled with his love.
"You are growing thin," said a friend.
"Yes, I believe I've grown thinner," said the poor husband.
"You are playing a dangerous game, old boy!"
"I don't know what you mean!"
"A married man in half mourning! Take care, my friend!"
"I really don't know what you're driving at.".
"It's impossible to go against the wind for any length of time. Set
all sails and run, old chap, and you will see that everything will
come right. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about. You understand
He took no notice of the advice for a time, fully aware of the fact
that a man's income does not increase in proportion to his family; at
the same time he had no longer any doubt about the cause of his
It was summer again. The family had gone into the country. On a
beautiful evening husband and wife were strolling along the steep
shore, in the shade of the alder trees, resplendent in their young
green. They sat down on the turf, silent and depressed. He was morose
and disheartened; gloomy thoughts revolved behind his aching brow.
Life seemed a great chasm which had opened to engulf all he loved.
They talked of the probable loss of his appointment; his chief had
been annoyed at his second application for sick leave. He complained
of the conduct of his colleagues, he felt himself deserted by everyone;
but the fact which hurt him more than anything else was the knowledge
that she, too, had grown tired of him.
"Oh! but she hadn't! She loved him every bit as much as she did in
those happy days when they were first engaged. How could he doubt it?"
"No, he didn't doubt it; but he had suffered so much, he wasn't master
of his own thoughts."
He pressed his burning cheek against hers, put his arm round her and
covered her eyes with passionate kisses.
The gnats danced their nuptial dance above the birch tree without a
thought of the thousands of young ones which their ecstasy would call
into being; the carp laid their eggs in the reed grass, careless of
the millions of their kind to which they gave birth; the swallow made
love in broad daylight, not in the least afraid of the consequences of
their irregular liaisons.
All of a sudden he sprang to his feet and stretched himself like a
sleeper awakening from a long sleep, which had been haunted by evil
dreams, he drank in the balmy air in deep draughts.
"What's the matter?" whispered his wife, while a crimson blush spread
over her face.
"I don't know. All I know is that I live, that I breathe again."
And radiant, with laughing face and shining eyes, he held out his arms
to her, picked her up as if she were a baby and pressed his lips to
her forehead. The muscles of his legs swelled until they looked like
the muscles of the leg of an antique god, he held his body erect like
a young tree and intoxicated with strength and happiness, he carried
his beloved burden as far as the footpath where he put her down.
"You will strain yourself, sweetheart," she said, making a vain
attempt to free herself from his encircling arms.
"Never, you darling! I could carry you to the end of the earth, and I
shall carry you, all of you, no matter how many you are now, or how
many you may yet become."
And they returned home, arm in arm, their hearts singing with
"If the worst comes to the worst, sweet love, one must admit that it
is very easy to jump that abyss which separates body and soul!"
"What a thing to say!"
"If I had only realised it before, I should have been less unhappy.
Oh! those idealists!"
And they entered their cottage.
The good old times had returned and had, apparently, come to stay. The
husband went to work to his office as before. They lived again through
love's spring time. No doctor was required and the high spirits never
After the third christening, however, he came to the conclusion that
matters were serious and started playing his old game with the
inevitable results: doctor, sick-leave, riding-exercise, port! But
there must be an end of it, at all costs. Every time the balance-sheet
showed a deficit.
But when, finally, his whole nervous system went out of joint, he let
nature have her own way. Immediately expenses went up and he was beset
He was not a poor man, it is true, but on the other hand he was not
blest with too many of this world's riches.
"To tell you the truth, old girl," he said to his wife, "it will be
the same old story over again."
"I am afraid it will, my dear," replied the poor woman, who, in
addition to her duties as a mother, had to do the whole work of the
After the birth of her fourth child, the work grew too hard for her
and a nursemaid had to be engaged.
"Now it must stop," avowed the disconsolate husband. "This must be the
Poverty looked in at the door. The foundations on which the house was
built were tottering.
And thus, at the age of thirty, in the very prime of their life, the
young husband and wife found themselves condemned to celibacy. He grew
moody, his complexion became grey and his eyes lost their lustre. Her
rich beauty faded, her fine figure wasted away, and she suffered all
the sorrows of a mother who sees her children growing up in poverty
One day, as she was standing in the kitchen, frying herrings, a
neighbour called in for a friendly chat.
"How are you?" she began.
"Thank you, I'm not up to very much. How are you?"
"Oh! I'm not at all well. Married life is a misery if one has to be
constantly on one's guard."
"Do you think you are the only one?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you know what my husband said to me the other day? One ought to
spare the draught cattle! And I suffer under it all, I can tell you.
No, there's no happiness in marriage. Either husband or wife is bound
to suffer. It's one or the other!"
"But what about the men of science who grow fat at the expense of the
"They have to think of so many things, and moreover, it is improper to
write about such problems; they must not be discussed openly."
"But that would be the first necessity!" And the two women fell to
discussing their bitter experiences.
In the following summer they were compelled to remain in town; they
were living in a basement with a view of the gutter, the smell of
which was so objectionable that it was impossible to keep the windows
The wife did needlework in the same room in which the children were
playing; the husband, who had lost his appointment on account of his
extreme shabbiness, was copying a manuscript in the adjoining room,
and grumbling at the children's noise. Hard words were bandied through
the open door.
It was Whitsuntide. In the afternoon the husband was lying on the
ragged leather sofa, gazing at a window on the other side of the
street. He was watching a woman of evil reputation who was dressing
for her evening stroll. A spray of lilac and two oranges were lying by
the side of her looking-glass.
She was fastening her dress without taking the least notice of his
"She's not having a bad time," mused the celibate, suddenly kindled
into passion. "One lives but once in this world, and one must live
one's life, happen what will!"
His wife entered the room and caught sight of the object of his
scrutiny. Her eyes blazed; the last feeble sparks of her dead love
glowed under the ashes and revealed themselves in a temporary flash
"Hadn't we better take the children to the Zoo?" she asked.
"To make a public show of our misery? No, thank you!"
"But it's so hot in here. I shall have to pull down the blinds."
"You had better open a window!"
He divined his wife's thoughts and rose to do it himself. Out there,
on the edge of the pavement, his four little ones were sitting, in
close proximity of the waste pipes. Their feet were in the dry gutter,
and they were playing with orange peels which they had found in the
sweepings of the road. The sight stabbed his heart, and he felt a lump
rising in his throat. But poverty had so blunted his feelings that he
remained standing at the window with his arms crossed.
All at once two filthy streams gushed from the waste pipes, inundated
the gutter and saturated the feet of the children who screamed, half
suffocated by the stench.
"Get the children ready as quickly as you can," he called, giving way
at the heart-rending scene.
The father pushed the perambulator with the baby, the other children
clung to the hands and skirts of the mother.
They arrived at the cemetery with its dark-stemmed lime-trees, their
usual place of refuge; here the trees grew luxuriantly, as if the soil
were enriched by the bodies which lay buried underneath it.
The bells were ringing for evening prayers. The inmates of the
poorhouse flocked to the church and sat down in the pews left vacant
by their wealthy owners, who had attended to their souls at the
principal service of the day, and were now driving in their carriages
to the Royal Deer Park.
The children climbed about the shallow graves, most of which were
decorated with armorial bearings and inscriptions.
Husband and wife sat down on a seat and placed the perambulator, in
which the baby lay sucking at its bottle, by their side. Two puppies
were disporting themselves on a grave close by, half hidden by the
A young and well dressed couple, leading by the hand a little girl
clothed in silk and velvet, passed the seat on which they sat. The
poor copyist raised his eyes to the young dandy and recognised a
former colleague from the Board of Trade who, however, did not seem to
see him. A feeling of bitter envy seized him with such intensity that
he felt more humiliated by this "ignoble sentiment" than by his
deplorable condition. Was he angry with the other man because he
filled a position which he himself had coveted? Surely not. But
of a sense of justice, and his suffering was all the deeper because
it was shared by the whole class of the disinherited. He was convinced
that the inmates of the poorhouse, bowed down under the yoke of public
charity, envied his wife; and he was quite sure that many of the
aristocrats who slept all around him in their graves, under their coats
of arms, would have envied him his children if it had been their lot to
die without leaving an heir to their estates. Certainly, nobody under
the sun enjoyed complete happiness, but why did the plums always fall
to the lot of those who were already sitting in the lap of luxury? And
how was it that the prizes always fell to the organisers of the great
lottery? The disinherited had to be content with the mass said at
evening prayers; to their share fell morality and those virtues which
the others despised and of which they had no need because the gates of
heaven opened readily enough to their wealth. But what about the good
and just God who had distributed His gifts so unevenly? It would be
better, indeed, to live one's life without this unjust God, who had,
moreover, candidly admitted that the "wind blew where it listed"; had
He not himself confessed, in these words, that He did not interfere in
the concerns of man? But failing the church, where should we look for
comfort? And yet, why ask for comfort? Wouldn't it be far better to
strive to make such arrangements that no comfort was needed? Wouldn't