Part 4 out of 6
His speculations were interrupted by his eldest daughter who asked him
for a leaf of the lime-tree, which she wanted for a sunshade for her
doll. He stepped on the seat and raised his hand to break off a little
twig, when a constable appeared and rudely ordered him not to touch
the trees. A fresh humiliation. At the same time the constable
requested him not to allow his children to play on the graves, which
was against the regulations.
"We'd better go home," said the distressed father. "How carefully they
guard the interests of the dead, and how indifferent they are to the
interests of the living."
And they returned home.
He sat down and began to work. He had to copy the manuscript of an
academical treatise on over-population.
The subject interested him and he read the contents of the whole book.
The young author who belonged to what was called the ethical school,
was preaching against vice.
"What vice?" mused the copyist. "That which is responsible for our
existence? Which the priest orders us to indulge in at every wedding
when he says: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth?"
The manuscript ran on: Propagation, without holy matrimony, is a
destructive vice, because the fate of the children, who do not receive
proper care and nursing, is a sad one. In the case of married couples,
on the other hand, it becomes a sacred duty to indulge one's desires.
This is proved, among other things, by the fact that the law protects
even the female ovum, and it is right that it should be so.
"Consequently," thought the copyist, "there is a providence for
legitimate children, but not for illegitimate ones Oh! this young
philosopher! And the law which protects the female ovum! What
business, then, have those microscopic things to detach themselves at
every change of the moon? Those sacred objects ought to be most
carefully guarded by the police!"
All these futilities he had to copy in his best handwriting.
They overflowed with morality, but contained not a single word of
The moral or rather the immoral gist of the whole argument was: There
is a God who feeds and clothes all children born in wedlock; a God in
His heaven, probably, but what about the earth? Certainly, it was said
that He came to earth once and allowed himself to be crucified, after
vainly trying to establish something like order in the confused
affairs of mankind; He did not succeed.
The philosopher wound up by screaming himself hoarse in trying to
convince his audience that the abundant supply of wheat was an
irrefutable proof that the problem of over-population did not exist;
that the doctrine of Malthus was not only false, but criminal,
socially as well as morally.
And the poor father of a family who had not tasted wheaten bread for
years, laid down the manuscript and urged his little ones to fill
themselves with gruel made of rye flour and bluish milk, a dish which
satisfied their craving, but contained no nourishment.
He was wretched, not because he considered water gruel objectionable,
but because he had lost his precious sense of humour, that magician
who can transform the dark rye into golden wheat; almighty love,
emptying his horn of plenty over his poor home, had vanished. The
children had become burdens, and the once beloved wife a secret enemy
despised and despising him.
And the cause of all this unhappiness? The want of bread! And yet the
large store houses of the new world were breaking down under the weight
of the over-abundant supply of wheat. What a world of contradictions!
The manner in which bread was distributed must be at fault.
Science, which has replaced religion, has no answer to give; it merely
states facts and allows the children to die of hunger and the parents
They had been married for ten years. Happily? Well, as happily as
circumstances permitted. They had been running in double harness, like
two young oxen of equal strength, each of which is conscientiously
doing his own share.
During the first year of their marriage they buried many illusions and
realised that marriage was not perfect bliss. In the second year the
babies began to arrive, and the daily toil left them no time for
He was very domesticated, perhaps too much so; his family was his
world, the centre and pivot of which he was. The children were the
radii. His wife attempted to be a centre, too, but never in the middle
of the circle, for that was exclusively occupied by him, and therefore
the radii fell now on the top of one another, now far apart, and their
life lacked harmony.
In the tenth year of their marriage he obtained the post of secretary
to the Board of Prisons, and in that capacity he was obliged to travel
about the country. This interfered seriously with his daily routine;
the thought of leaving his world for a whole month upset him. He
wondered whom he would miss more, his wife or his children, and he was
sure he would miss them both.
On the eve of his departure he sat in the corner of the sofa and
watched his portmanteau being packed. His wife was kneeling on the
She brushed his black suit and folded it carefully, so that it should
take up as little space as possible. He had no idea how to do these
She had never looked upon herself as his housekeeper, hardly as his
wife, she was above all things mother: a mother to the children, a
mother to him. She darned his socks without the slightest feeling of
degradation, and asked for no thanks. She never even considered him
indebted to her for it, for did he not give her and the children new
stockings whenever they wanted them, and a great many other things
into the bargain? But for him, she would have to go out and earn her
own living, and the children would be left alone all day.
He sat in the sofa corner and looked at her. Now that the parting was
imminent, he began to feel premature little twinges of longing. He
gazed at her figure. Her shoulders were a little rounded; much bending
over the cradle, ironing board and kitchen range had robbed her back
of its straightness. He, too, stooped a little, the result of his toil
at the writing-table, and he was obliged to wear spectacles. But at
the moment he really was not thinking of himself. He noticed that her
plaits were thinner than they had been and that a faint suggestion of
silver lay on her hair. Had she sacrificed her beauty to him, to him
alone? No, surely not to him, but to the little community which they
formed; for, after all, she had also worked for herself. His hair,
too, had grown thin in the struggle to provide for all of them. He
might have retained his youth a little longer, if there hadn't been so
many mouths to fill, if he had remained a bachelor; but he didn't
regret his marriage for one second.
"It will be a good thing for you to get away for a bit," said his
wife; "you have been too much at home."
"I suppose you are glad to get rid of me," he replied, not without
bitterness; "but I--I shall miss you very much."
"You are like a cat, you'll miss your cosy fireside, but not me; you
know you won't."
"And the kiddies?"
"Oh, yes! I daresay you'll miss them when you are away, for all your
scolding when you are with them. No, no, I don't mean that you are
unkind to them, but you do grumble a lot! All the same I won't be
unjust, and I know that you love them."
At supper he was very tired and depressed. He didn't read the evening
paper, he wanted to talk to his wife. But she was too busy to pay much
attention to him; she had no time to waste; moreover, her ten years'
campaign in kitchen and nursery had taught her self-control.
He felt more sentimental than he cared to show, and the topsy-turvydom
of the room made him fidgety. Scraps of his daily life lay scattered
all over chairs and chests of drawers; his black portmanteau yawned
wide-open like a coffin; his white linen was carefully laid on the top
of his black suit, which showed slight traces of wear and tear at the
knees and elbows. It seemed to him that he himself was lying there,
wearing a white shirt with a starched front. Presently they would
close the coffin and carry it away.
On the following morning--it was in August--he rose early and dressed
hurriedly. His nerves were unstrung. He went into the nursery and
kissed the children who stared at him with sleepy eyes. Then he kissed
his wife, got into a cab, and told the driver to drive him to the
The journey, which he made in the company of his Board, did him good;
it really was a good thing for him to get out of his groove;
domesticity lay behind him like a stuffy bedroom, and on the arrival
of the train at Linkoping he was in high spirits.
An excellent dinner had been ordered at the best hotel and the
remainder of the day was spent in eating it. They drank the health of
the Lord Lieutenant; no one thought of the prisoners on whose behalf
the journey had been undertaken.
Dinner over, he had to face a lonely evening in his solitary room. A
bed, two chairs, a table, a washing-stand and a wax candle, which
threw its dim light on bare walls. He couldn't suppress a feeling of
nervousness. He missed all his little comforts,--slippers,
dressing-gown, pipe rack and writing table; all the little details
which played an important part in his daily life. And the kiddies? And
his wife? What were they doing? Were they all right? He became
restless and depressed. When he wanted to wind up his watch, he found
that he had left his watch-key at home. It was hanging on the
watch-stand which his wife had given him before they were married. He
went to bed and lit a cigar. Then he wanted a book out of his
portmanteau and he had to get up again. Everything was packed so
beautifully, it was a pity to disturb it. In looking for the book, he
came across his slippers. She had forgotten nothing. Then he found the
book. But he couldn't read. He lay in bed and thought of the past, of
his wife, as she had been ten years ago. He saw her as she had been
then; the picture of her, as she now was, disappeared in the blue-grey
clouds of smoke which rose in rings and wreaths to the rain-stained
ceiling. An infinite yearning came over him. Every harsh word he had
ever spoken to her now grated on his ears; he thought remorsefully of
every hour of anguish he had caused her. At last he fell asleep.
The following day brought much work and another banquet with a toast
to the Prison-Governor--the prisoners were still unremembered. In the
evening solitude, emptiness, coldness. He felt a pressing need to talk
to her. He fetched some notepaper and sat down to write. But at the
very outset he was confronted by a difficulty. How was he to address
her? Whenever he had sent her a few lines to say that he would not be
home for dinner, he had always called her "Dear Mother." But now he
was not going to write to the mother, but to his fiancee, to his
beloved one. At last he made up his mind and commenced his letter with
"My Darling Lily," as he had done in the old days. At first he wrote
slowly and with difficulty, for so many beautiful words and phrases
seemed to have disappeared from the clumsy, dry language of every-day
life; but as he warmed to his work, they awakened in his memory like
forgotten melodies, valse tunes, fragments of poems, elder-blossoms,
and swallows, sunsets on a mirror-like sea. All his memories of the
springtime of life came dancing along in clouds of gossamer and
enveloped her. He drew a cross at the bottom of the page, as lovers
do, and by the side of it he wrote the words: "Kiss here."
When the letter was finished and he read it through, his cheeks burnt
and he became self-conscious. He couldn't account for the reason.
But somehow he felt that he had shown his naked soul to a stranger.
In spite of this feeling he posted the letter.
A few days elapsed before he received a reply. While he was waiting
for it, he was a prey to an almost childish bashfulness and
At last the answer came. He had struck the right note, and from the
din and clamour of the nursery, and the fumes and smell of the
kitchen, a song arose, clear and beautiful, tender and pure, like
Now an exchange of love-letters began. He wrote to her every night,
and sometimes he sent her a postcard as well during the day. His
colleagues didn't know what to think of him. He was so fastidious
about his dress and personal appearance, that they suspected him of a
love affair. And he was in love--in love again. He sent her his
photograph, without the spectacles, and she sent him a lock of her
Their language was simple like a child's, and he wrote on coloured
paper ornamented with little doves. Why shouldn't they? They were a
long way off forty yet, even though the struggle for an existence had
made them feel that they were getting old. He had neglected her during
the last twelvemonth, not so much from indifference as from respect--he
always saw in her the mother of his children.
The tour of inspection was approaching its end. He was conscious of a
certain feeling of apprehension when he thought of their meeting. He
had corresponded with his sweetheart; should he find her in the mother
and housewife? He dreaded a disappointment. He shrank at the thought
of finding her with a kitchen towel in her hand, or the children
clinging to her skirts. Their first meeting must be somewhere else,
and they must meet alone. Should he ask her to join him at Waxholm, in
the Stockholm Archipelago, at the hotel where they had spent so many
happy hours during the period of their engagement? Splendid idea!
There they could, for two whole days, re-live in memory the first
beautiful spring days of their lives, which had flown, never to return
He sat down and made the suggestion in an impassioned love-letter. She
answered by return agreeing to his proposal, happy that the same idea
had occurred to both of them.
* * * * *
Two days later he arrived at Waxholm and engaged rooms at the hotel.
It was a beautiful September day. He dined alone, in the great
dining-room, drank a glass of wine and felt young again. Everything
was so bright and beautiful. There was the blue sea outside; only the
birch trees on the shore had changed their tints. In the garden the
dahlias were still in full splendour, and the perfume of the mignonette
rose from the borders of the flower beds. A few bees still visited the
dying calyces but returned disappointed to their hives. The fishing
boats sailed up the Sound before a faint breeze, and in tacking the
sails fluttered and the sheets shook; the startled seagulls rose into
the air screaming, and circled round the fishermen who were fishing
from their boats for small herring.
He drank his coffee on the verandah, and began to look out for the
steamer which was due at six o'clock.
Restlessly, apprehensively, he paced the verandah, anxiously watching
fiord and Sound on the side where Stockholm lay, so as to sight the
steamer as soon as she came into view.
At last a little cloud of smoke showed like a dark patch on the horizon.
His heart thumped against his ribs and he drank a liqueur. Then he went
down to the shore.
Now he could see the funnel right in the centre of the Sound, and soon
after he noticed the flag on the fore-topmast.... Was she really on the
steamer, or had she been prevented from keeping the tryst? It was
only necessary for one of the children to be ill, and she wouldn't be
there, and he would have to spend a solitary night at the hotel. The
children, who during the last few weeks had receded into the background,
now stepped between her and him. They had hardly mentioned them in their
last letters, just as if they had been anxious to be rid of all
eyewitnesses and spoil-sports.
He stamped on the creaking landing-stage and then remained standing
motionless near a bollard staring straight at the steamer which
increased in size as she approached, followed in her wake by a river
of molten gold that spread over the blue, faintly rippled expanse. Now
he could distinguish people on the upper deck, a moving crowd, and
sailors busy with the ropes, now a fluttering speck of white near the
wheel-house. There was no one besides him on the landing-stage, the
moving white speck could only be meant for him, and no one would wave
to him but her. He pulled out his handkerchief and answered her
greeting, and in doing so he noticed that his handkerchief was not a
white one; he had been using coloured ones for years for the sake of
The steamer whistled, signalled, the engines stopped, she came
alongside, and now he recognised her. Their eyes met in greeting; the
distance was still too great for words. Now he could see her being
pushed slowly by the crowd across the little bridge. It was she, and
yet it wasn't.
Ten years stretched between her and the picture of her which he had
had in his mind. Fashion had changed, the cut of the clothes was
different. Ten years ago her delicate face with its olive complexion
was framed by the cap which was then worn, and which left the forehead
free; now her forehead was hidden by a wicked imitation of a bowler
hat. Ten years ago the beautiful lines of her figure were clearly
definable under the artistic draperies of her cloak which playfully
now hid, now emphasised the curve of her shoulders and the movement of
her arms; now her figure was completely disguised by a long driving
coat which followed the lines of her dress but completely concealed
her figure. As she stepped off the landing-bridge, he caught sight of
her little foot with which he had fallen in love, when it was encased
in a buttoned boot, shaped on natural lines; the shoe which she was
now wearing resembled a pointed Chinese slipper, and did not allow her
foot to move in those dancing rhythms which had bewitched him.
It was she and yet it was not she! He embraced and kissed her. She
enquired after his health and he asked after the children. Then they
walked up the strand.
Words came slowly and sounded dry and forced. How strange! They were
almost shy in each other's presence, and neither of them mentioned the
In the end he took heart of grace and asked:
"Would you like to go for a walk before sunset?"
"I should love to," she replied, taking his arm.
They went along the high-road in the direction of the little town. The
shutters of all the summer residences were closed; the gardens plundered.
Here and there an apple, hidden among the foliage, might still be found
hanging on the trees, but there wasn't a single flower in the flower
beds. The verandahs, stripped of their sunblinds, looked like skeletons;
where there had been bright eyes and gay laughter, silence reigned.
"How autumnal!" she said.
"Yes, the forsaken villas look horrible."
They walked on.
"Let us go and look at the house where we used to live."
"Oh, yes! It will be fun."
They passed the bathing vans.
Over there, squeezed in between the pilot's and the gardener's cottages,
stood the little house with its red fence, its verandah and its little
Memories of past days awoke. There was the bedroom where their first
baby had been born. What rejoicing! What laughter! Oh! youth and gaiety!
The rose-tree which they had planted was still there. And the
strawberry-bed which they had made--no, it existed no longer, grass
had grown over it. In the little plantation traces of the swing which
they had put up were still visible, but the swing itself had
"Thank you so much for your beautiful letters," she said, gently
pressing his arm.
He blushed and made no reply.
Then they returned to the hotel, and he told her anecdotes, in
connection with his tour.
He had ordered dinner to be served in the large dining-room at the
table where they used to sit. They sat down without saying grace.
It was a tete-a-tete dinner. He took the bread-basket and offered her
the bread. She smiled. It was a long time since he had been so
attentive. But dinner at a seaside hotel was a pleasant change and
soon they were engaged in a lively conversation. It was a duet in
which one of them extolled the days that had gone, and the other
revived memories of "once upon a time." They were re-living the past.
Their eyes shone and the little lines in their faces disappeared. Oh!
golden days! Oh! time of roses which comes but once, if it comes at
all, and which is denied to so many of us--so many of us.
At dessert he whispered a few words into the ear of the waitress; she
disappeared and returned a few seconds later with a bottle of champagne.
"My dear Axel, what are you thinking of?"
"I am thinking of the spring that has past, but will return again."
But he wasn't thinking of it exclusively, for at his wife's reproachful
words there glided through the room, catlike, a dim vision of the nursery
and the porridge bowl.
However--the atmosphere cleared again; the golden wine stirred their
memories, and again they lost themselves in the intoxicating rapture
of the past.
He leaned his elbow on the table and shaded his eyes with his hand, as
if he were determined to shut out the present--this very present which,
--after all, had been of his own seeking.
The hours passed. They left the dining-room and went into the
drawing-room which boasted a piano, ordering their coffee to be
"I wonder how the kiddies are?" said she, awakening to the hard facts
of real life.
"Sit down and sing to me," he answered, opening the instrument.
"What would you like me to sing? You know I haven't sung a note for
He was well aware of it, but he _did_ want a song.
She sat down before the piano and began to play. It was a squeaking
instrument that reminded one of the rattling of loose teeth.
"What shall I sing?" she asked, turning round on the music-stool.
"You know, darling," he replied, not daring to meet her eyes.
"Your song! Very well, if I can remember it." And she sang: "Where is
the blessed country where my beloved dwells?"
But alas! Her voice was thin and shrill and emotion made her sing out
of tune. At times it sounded like a cry from the bottom of a soul
which feels that noon is past and evening approaching. The fingers
which had done hard work strayed on the wrong keys. The instrument,
too, had seen its best days; the cloth on the hammers had worn away;
it sounded as if the springs touched the bare wood.
When she had finished her song, she sat for a while without turning
round, as if she expected him to come and speak to her. But he didn't
move; not a sound broke the deep silence. When she turned round at
last, she saw him sitting on the sofa, his cheeks wet with tears. She
felt a strong impulse to jump up, take his head between her hands and
kiss him as she had done in days gone by, but she remained where she
was, immovable, with downcast eyes.
He held a cigar between his thumb and first finger. When the song was
finished, he bit off the end and struck a match.
"Thank you, Lily," he said, puffing at his cigar, "will you have your
They drank their coffee, talked of summer holidays in general and
suggested two or three places where they might go next summer. But
their conversation languished and they repeated themselves.
At last he yawned openly and said: "I'm off to bed."
"I'm going, too," she said, getting up. "But I'll get a breath of
fresh air first, on the balcony."
He went into the bed-room. She lingered for a few moments in the
dining-room, and then talked to the landlady for about half an hour of
spring-onions and woollen underwear.
When the landlady had left her she went into the bedroom and stood for
a few minutes at the door, listening. No sound came from within. His
boots stood in the corridor. She opened the door gently and went in.
He was asleep.
He was asleep!
* * * * *
At breakfast on the following morning he had a headache, and she
"What horrible coffee," he said, with a grimace.
"Brazilian," she said, shortly.
"What shall we do to-day?" he asked, looking at his watch.
"Hadn't you better eat some bread and butter, instead of grumbling at
the coffee?" she said.
"Perhaps you're right," he answered, "and I'll have a liqueur at the
same time. That champagne last night, ugh!"
He asked for bread and butter and a liqueur and his temper improved.
"Let's go to the Pilot's Hill and look at the view."
They rose from the breakfast table and went out.
The weather was splendid and the walk did them good. But they walked
slowly; she panted, and his knees were stiff; they drew no more
parallels with the past.
They walked across the fields. The grass had been cut long ago, there
wasn't a single flower anywhere. They sat down on some large stones.
He talked of the Board of Prisons and his office. She talked of the
Then they walked on in silence. He looked at his watch.
"Three hours yet till dinner time," he said. And he wondered how they
could kill time on the next day.
They returned to the hotel. He asked for the papers. She sat down by
the side of him with a smile on her lips.
They talked little during dinner. After dinner she mentioned the
"For heaven's sake, leave the servants alone!" he exclaimed.
"Surely we haven't come here to quarrel!"
"Am I quarrelling?"
"Well, I'm not!"
An awkward pause followed. He wished somebody would come. The children!
Yes! This tete-a-tete embarrassed him, but he felt a pain in his heart
when he thought of the bright hours of yesterday.
"Let's go to Oak Hill," she said, "and gather wild strawberries."
"There are no wild strawberries at this time of the year, it's autumn."
"Let's go all the same."
And they went. But conversation was difficult. His eyes searched for
some object on the roadside which would serve for a peg on which to
hang a remark, but there was nothing. There was no subject which they
hadn't discussed. She knew all his views on everything and disagreed
with most of them. She longed to go home, to the children, to her own
fireside. She found it absurd to make a spectacle of herself in this
place and be on the verge of a quarrel with her husband all the time.
After a while they stopped, for they were tired. He sat down and began
to write in the sand with his walking stick. He hoped she would
provoke a scene.
"What are you thinking of?" she asked at last.
"I?" he replied, feeling as if a burden were falling off his shoulders,
"I am thinking that we are getting old, mother: our innings are over,
and we have to be content with what has been. If you are of the same
mind, we'll go home by the night boat."
"I have thought so all along, old man, but I wanted to please you."
"Then come along, we'll go home. It's no longer summer, autumn is here."
They returned to the hotel, much relieved.
He was a little embarrassed on account of the prosaic ending of the
adventure, and felt an irresistible longing to justify it from a
"You see, mother," he said, "my lo--h'm" (the word was too strong) "my
affection for you has undergone a change in the course of time. It has
developed, broadened; at first it was centred on the individual, but
later on, on the family as a whole. It is not now you, personally,
that I love, nor is it the children, but it is the whole....
"Yes, as my uncle used to say, children are lightning conductors!"
After his philosophical explanation he became his old self again. It
was pleasant to take off his frock coat; he felt, as if he were
getting into his dressing-gown.
When they entered the hotel, she began at once to pack, and there she
was in her element.
They went downstairs into the saloon as soon as they got on board. For
appearance sake, however, he asked her whether she would like to watch
the sunset; but she declined.
At supper he helped himself first, and she asked the waitress the
price of black bread.
When he had finished his supper, he remained sitting at the table,
lingering over a glass of porter. A thought which had amused him for
some time, would no longer be suppressed.
"Old fool, what?" he said, lifting his glass and smiling at his wife
who happened to look at him at the moment.
She did not return his smile but her eyes, which had flashed for a
second, assumed so withering an expression of dignity that he felt
The spell was broken, the last trace of his old love had vanished; he
was sitting opposite the mother of his children; he felt small.
"No need to look down upon me because I have made a fool of myself for
a moment," she said gravely. "But in a man's love there is always a
good deal of contempt; it is strange."
"And in the love of a woman?"
"Even more, it is true! But then, she has every cause."
"It's the same thing--with a difference. Probably both of them are
wrong. That which one values too highly, because it is difficult of
attainment, is easily underrated when one has obtained it."
"Why does one value it too highly?"
"Why is it so difficult of attainment?"
The steam whistle above their heads interrupted their conversation.
When they had arrived home, and he saw her again among her children,
he realised that his affection for her had undergone a change, and
that her affection for him had been transferred to and divided amongst
all these little screamers. Perhaps her love for him had only been a
means to an end. His part had been a short one, and he felt deposed.
If he had not been required to earn bread and butter, he would
probably have been cast off long ago.
He went into his study, put on his dressing-gown and slippers, lighted
his pipe and felt at home.
Outside the wind lashed the rain against the window panes, and whistled
in the chimney.
When the children had been put to bed, his wife came and sat by him.
"No weather to gather wild strawberries," she said.
"No, my dear, the summer is over and autumn is here."
"Yes, it is autumn," she replied, "but it is not yet winter, there is
comfort in that."
"Very poor comfort if we consider that we live but once."
"Twice when one has children; three times if one lives to see one's
"And after that, the end."
"Unless there is a life after death."
"We cannot be sure of that! Who knows? I believe it, but my faith is
"But it is good to believe it. Let us have faith! Let us believe that
spring will come again! Let us believe it!"
"Yes, let us believe it," he said, gathering her to his breast.
His father died early and from that time forth he was in the hands of
a mother, two sisters and several aunts. He had no brother. They lived
on an estate in the Swedish province, Soedermanland, and had no
neighbours with whom they _could be_ on friendly terms. When he was
seven years old, a governess was engaged to teach him and his sisters,
and about the same time a girl cousin came to live with them.
He shared his sisters' bedroom, played their games and went bathing
with them; nobody looked upon him as a member of the other sex. Before
long his sisters took him in hand and became his schoolmasters and
He was a strong boy to start with, but left to the mercy of so many
doting women, he gradually became a helpless molly-coddle.
Once he made an attempt to emancipate himself and went to play with
the boys of the cottagers. They spent the day in the woods, climbed
the trees, robbed the birds' nests and threw stones at the squirrels.
Frithiof was as happy as a released prisoner, and did not come home to
dinner. The boys gathered whortle-berries, and bathed in the lake. It
was the first really enjoyable day of his life.
When he came home in the evening, he found the whole house in great
commotion. His mother though anxious and upset, did not conceal her
joy at his return; Aunt Agatha, however, a spinster, and his mother's
eldest sister, who ruled the house, was furious. She maintained that
it would be a positive crime not to punish him. Frithiof could not
understand why it should be a crime, but his aunt told him that
disobedience was a sin. He protested that he had never been forbidden
to play with the children of the cottagers. She admitted it but said
that, of course, there could never have been two questions about it.
And she remained firm, and regardless of his mother's pleading eyes,
took him away to give him a whipping in her own room. He was eight
years old and fairly big for his age.
When the aunt touched his waist-belt to unbutton his knickers, a cold
shiver ran down his back; he gasped and his heart thumped against his
ribs. He made no sound, but stared, horror-struck, at the old woman
who asked him, almost caressingly, to be obedient and not to offer any
resistance. But when she laid hands on his shirt, he grew hot with
shame and fury. He sprang from the sofa on which she had pushed him,
hitting out right and left. Something unclean, something dark and
repulsive, seemed to emanate from this woman, and the shame of his sex
rose up in him as against an assailant.
But the aunt, mad with passion, seized him, threw him on a chair and
beat him. He screamed with rage, pain he did not feel, and with
convulsive kicks tried to release himself; but all of a sudden he lay
still and was silent.
When the old woman let him go, he remained where he was, motionless.
"Get up!" she said, in a broken voice.
He stood up and looked at her. One of her cheeks was pale, the other
crimson. Her eyes glowed strangely and she trembled all over. He looked
at her curiously, as one might examine a wild beast, and all of a
sudden a supercilious smile raised his upper lip; it seemed to him
as if his contempt gave him an advantage over her. "She-devil!" He
flung the word, newly acquired from the children of the cottagers,
into her face, defiantly and scornfully, seized his clothes and flew
downstairs to his mother, who was sitting in the dining-room, weeping.
He wanted to open his heart to her and complain of his aunt's treatment,
but she had not the courage to comfort him. So he went into the kitchen
where the maids consoled him with a handful of currants.
From this day on he was no longer allowed to sleep in the nursery with
his sisters, but his mother had his bed removed to her own bedroom. He
found his mother's room stuffy and the new arrangement dull; she
frequently disturbed his sleep by getting up and coming to his bed in
the night to see whether he was covered up; then he flew into a rage
and answered her questions peevishly.
He was never allowed to go out without being carefully wrapped up by
someone, and he had so many mufflers that he never knew which one to
put on. Whenever he tried to steal out of the house, someone was sure
to see him from the window and call him back to put on an overcoat.
By and by his sisters' games began to bore him. His strong arms no
longer wanted to play battledore and shuttlecock, they longed to throw
stones. The squabbles over a petty game of croquet, which demanded
neither muscle nor brain, irritated him.
The governess was another one of his trials. She always spoke to him
in French and he invariably answered her in Swedish. A vague disgust
with his whole life and surroundings began to stir in him.
The free and easy manner in which everybody behaved in his presence
offended him, and he retaliated by heartily loathing all with whom he
came in contact. His mother was the only one who considered his feelings
to a certain extent: she had a big screen put round his bed.
Ultimately the kitchen and the servants' hall became his refuge; there
everything he did was approved of. Occasionally, of course, matters
were discussed there which might have aroused a boy's curiosity, but
for him there were no secrets. On one occasion, for instance, he had
accidentally come to the maids' bathing-place. The governess, who was
with him, screamed, he could not understand why, but he stopped and
talked to the girls who were standing or lying about in the water.
Their nudity made no impression upon him.
He grew up into a youth. An inspector was engaged to teach him farming
for he was, of course, to take over the management of the estate in
due time. They chose an old man who held the orthodox faith. The old
man's society was not exactly calculated to stimulate a young man's
brain, but it was an improvement on the old conditions. It opened
new points of view to him and roused him to activity. But the
inspector received daily and hourly so many instructions from the
ladies, that he ended by being nothing but their mouth-piece.
At the age of fifteen Frithiof was confirmed, received a present of a
gold watch and was allowed to go out on horseback; he was not
permitted, however, to realise his greatest ambition, namely to go
shooting. True, there was no longer any fear of a whipping from his
arch-enemy, but he dreaded his mother's tears. He always remained a
child, and never managed to throw off the habit of giving way to the
judgment of other people.
The years passed; he had attained his twentieth year. One day he was
standing in the kitchen watching the cook, who was busy scaling a
perch. She was a pretty young woman with a delicate complexion. He was
teasing her and finally put his hand down her back.
"Do behave yourself, now, Mr. Frithiof," said the girl.
"But I am behaving myself," he replied, becoming more and more
"If mistress should see you!"
"Well supposing she did?"
At this moment his mother passed the open kitchen door; she instantly
turned away and walked across the yard.
Frithiof found the situation awkward and slunk away to his bed-room.
A new gardener entered their service. In their wisdom, anxious to
avoid trouble with the maids, the ladies had chosen a married man.
But, as misfortune would have it, the gardener had been married long
enough to be the father of an exceedingly pretty young daughter.
Frithiof quickly discovered the sweet blossom among the other roses in
the garden, and poured out all the good-will which lay stored up in
his heart for _that_ half of humanity to which he did not belong, on
this young girl, who was rather well developed and not without
He spent a good deal of his time in the garden and stopped to talk to
her whenever he found her working at one of the flower-beds or cutting
flowers. She did not respond to his advances, but this only had the
effect of stimulating his passion.
One day he was riding through the wood, haunted, as usual, by visions
of her loveliness which, in his opinion, reached the very pinnacle of
perfection. He was sick with longing to meet her alone, freed from all
fear of incurring some watcher's displeasure. In his heated
imagination the desire of being near her had assumed such enormous
proportions, that he felt that life without her would be impossible.
He held the reins loosely in his hand, and the horse picked his way
leisurely while its rider sat on its back wrapped in deep thought. All
of a sudden something light appeared between the trees and the
gardener's daughter emerged from the underwood and stepped out on the
Frithiof dismounted and took off his hat. They walked on, side by
side, talking, while he dragged his horse behind him. He spoke in
vague words of his love for her; but she rejected all his advances.
"Why should we talk of the impossible?" she asked.
"What is impossible?" he exclaimed.
"That a wealthy gentleman like you should marry a poor girl like me."
There was no denying the aptitude of her remark, and Frithiof felt
that he was worsted. His love for her was boundless, but he could see
no possibility of bringing his doe safely through the pack which
guarded house and home; they would tear her to pieces.
After this conversation he gave himself up to mute despair.
In the autumn the gardener gave notice and left the estate without
giving a reason. For six weeks Frithiof was inconsolable, for he had
lost his first and only love; he would never love again.
In this way the autumn slowly passed and winter stood before the door.
At Christmas a new officer of health came into the neighbourhood. He
had grown-up children, and as the aunts were always ill, friendly
relations were soon established between the two families. Among the
doctor's children was a young girl and before long Frithiof was head
over ears in love with her. He was at first ashamed of his infidelity
to his first love, but he soon came to the conclusion that love was
something impersonal, because it was possible to change the object of
one's tenderness; it was almost like a power of attorney made out on
As soon as his guardians got wind of this new attachment, the mother
asked her son for a private interview.
"You have now arrived at that age," she began, "when a man begins to
look out for a wife."
"I have already done that, my dear mother," he replied.
"I'm afraid you've been too hasty," she said. "The girl of whom, I
suppose, you are thinking, doesn't possess the moral principles which
an educated man should demand."
"What? Amy's moral principles! Who has anything to say against them?"
"I won't say a word against the girl herself, but her father, as you
know, is a freethinker."
"I shall be proud to be related to a man who can think freely, without
considering his material interests."
"Well, let's leave him out of the question; you are forgetting, my dear
Frithiof, that you are already bound elsewhere."
"What? Do you mean...."
"Yes; you have played with Louisa's heart."
"Are you talking of cousin Louisa?"
"I am. Haven't you looked upon yourselves as fiances since your earliest
childhood? Don't you realise that she has put all her faith and trust in
"It's you who have played with us, driven us together, not I!" answered
"Think of your old mother, think of your sisters, Frithiof. Do you want
to bring a stranger into this house which has always been our home, a
stranger who will have the right to order us about?"
"Oh! I see; Louisa is the chosen mistress!"
"There's no chosen mistress, but a mother always has a right to choose
the future wife of her son; nobody is so well fitted to undertake such
a task. Do you doubt my good faith? Can you possibly suspect me, your
mother, of a wish to injure you?" "No, no! but I--I don't love Louisa;
I like her as a sister, but...."
"Love? Nothing in all the world is so inconstant as love! It's folly
to rely on it, it passes away like a breath; but friendship, conformity
of views and habits, similar interests and a long acquaintanceship,
these are the surest guarantees of a happy marriage. Louisa is a capable
girl, domesticated and methodical, she will make your home as happy as
you could wish."
Frithiof's only way of escape was to beg his mother for time to
consider the matter.
Meanwhile all the ladies of the household had recovered their health,
so that the doctor was no longer required. Still he called one day,
but he was treated like a burglar who had come to spy out the land. He
was a sharp man and saw at once how matters stood. Frithiof returned
his call but was received coldly. This was the end of their friendly
Frithiof came of age.
Frantic attempts were now made to carry the fortress by storm. The
aunts cringed before the new master and tried to prove to him that
they could not be dispensed with, by treating him as if he were a
child. His sisters mothered him more than ever, and Louisa began to
devote a great deal of attention to her dress. She laced herself
tightly and curled her hair. She was by no means a plain girl, but she
had cold eyes and a sharp tongue.
Frithiof remained indifferent; as far as he was concerned she was
sexless; he had never looked at her with the eyes of a man. But now,
after the conversation with his mother, he could not help a certain
feeling of embarrassment in her presence, especially as she seemed to
seek his society. He met her everywhere; on the stairs, in the garden,
in the stables even. One morning, when he was still in bed, she came
into his room to ask him for a pin; she was wearing a dressing-jacket
and pretended to be very shy.
He took a dislike to her, but nevertheless she was always in his mind.
In the meantime the mother had one conversation after another with her
son, and aunt and sisters never ceased hinting at the anticipated
Life was made a burden to him. He saw no way of escape from the net in
which he had been caught. Louisa was no longer his sister and friend,
though he did not like her any the better for it; his constant dwelling
on the thought of marrying her had had the result of making him realise
that she was a woman, an unsympathetic woman, it was true, but still a
woman. His marriage would mean a change in his position, and, perhaps,
delivery from bondage. There were no other girls in the neighbourhood,
and, after all, she was probably as good as any other young woman.
And so he went one day to his mother and told her that he had made up
his mind. He would marry Louisa on condition that he should have an
establishment of his own in one of the wings of the house, and his own
table. He also insisted that his mother should propose for him, for he
could not bring himself to do it.
The compromise was accepted and Louisa was called in to receive
Frithiof's embrace and timid kiss. They both wept for reasons which
neither of them understood. They felt ashamed of themselves for the
rest of the day. Afterwards everything went on as before, but the
motherliness of aunts and sisters knew no bounds. They furnished the
wing, arranged the rooms, settled everything; Frithiof was never
consulted in the matter.
The preparations for the wedding were completed. Old friends, buried
in the provinces, were hunted up and invited to be present at the
The wedding took place.
On the morning after his wedding day Frithiof was up early. He left
his bed-room as quickly as possible, pretending that his presence was
necessary in the fields.
Louisa, who was still sleepy, made no objection. But as he was going
out she called after him:
"You won't forget breakfast at eleven!"
It sounded like a command.
He went to his den, put on a shooting coat and waterproof boots and
took his gun, which he kept concealed in his wardrobe. Then he went
out into the wood.
It was a beautiful October morning. Everything was covered with hoar
frost. He walked quickly as if he were afraid of being called back, or
as if he were trying to escape from something. The fresh air had the
effect of a bath. He felt a free man, at last, and he used his freedom
to go out for a morning stroll with his gun. But this exhilarating
feeling of bodily freedom soon passed. Up to now he had at least had a
bedroom of his own. He had been master of his thoughts during the day
and his dreams at night. That was over. The thought of that common
bedroom tormented him; there was something unclean about it. Shame was
cast aside like a mask, all delicacy of feeling was dispensed with,
every illusion of the "high origin" of man destroyed; to come into
such close contact with nothing but the beast in man had been too much
for him, for he had been brought up by idealists. He was staggered by
the enormity of the hypocrisy displayed in the intercourse between men
and women; it was a revelation to him to find that the inmost substance
of that indescribable womanliness was nothing but the fear of
consequences. But supposing he had married the doctor's daughter,
or the gardener's little girl? Then to be alone with her would be
bliss, while to be alone with his wife was depressing and unlovely;
then the coarse desire to satisfy a curiosity and a want would be
transformed into an ecstasy more spiritual than carnal.
He wandered through the wood without a purpose, without an idea of
what he wanted to shoot; be only felt a vague desire to hear a shot
and to kill something; but nothing came before his gun. The birds had
already migrated. Only a squirrel was climbing about the branches of a
pine-tree, staring at him with brilliant eyes. He raised the gun and
pulled the trigger; but the nimble little beast was already on the
other side of the trunk when the shot hit the tree. But the sound
impressed his nerves pleasantly.
He left the footpath and went through the undergrowth. He stamped on
every fungus that grew on his way. He was in a destructive mood. He
looked for a snake so as to trample on it or kill it with a shot.
Suddenly he remembered that he ought to go home and that it was the
morning after his wedding day. The mere thought of the curious glances
to which he would be exposed had the effect of making him feel like a
criminal, about to be unmasked and shown up for having committed a
crime against good manners and, what was worse, against nature. Oh!
that he could have left this world behind him! But how was he to do
His thoughts grew tired at last of revolving round and round the same
problem and he felt a craving for food.
He decided to return home and have some breakfast.
On entering the gate which led to the court yard, he saw the whole
house-party standing before the entrance hall. As soon as they caught
sight of him they began to cheer. He crossed the yard with uncertain
footsteps and listened with ill-concealed irritation to the sly
questions after his health. Then he turned away and went into the house,
never noticing his wife, who was standing amongst the group waiting for
him to go up to her and kiss her.
At the breakfast table he suffered tortures; tortures which he knew
would be burnt into his memory for all times. The insinuations of his
guests offended him and his wife's caresses stung him. His day of
rejoicing was the most miserable day of his life.
In the course of a few months the young wife, with the assistance of
aunts and sisters, had established her over-rule in the house. Frithiof
remained, what he had always been, the youngest and dullest member of
the household. His advice was sometimes asked for, but never acted
upon; he was looked after as if he were still a child. His wife soon
found it unbearable to dine with him alone, for he kept an obstinate
silence during the meal. Louisa could not stand it; she must have a
lightning conductor; one of the sisters removed into the wing.
Frithiof made more than one attempt to emancipate himself, but his
attempts were always frustrated by the enemy; they were too many for
him, and they talked and preached until he fled into the wood.
The evenings held terror for him. He hated the bedroom, and went to it
as to a place of execution. He became morose and avoided everybody.
They had been married for a year now, and still there was no promise
of a child; his mother took him aside one day to have a talk to him.
"Wouldn't you like to have a son?" she asked.
"Of course, I would," he replied.
"You aren't treating your wife very kindly," said the mother as gently
He lost his temper.
"What? What do you say? Are you finding fault with me? Do you want me
to toil all day long? H'm! You don't know Louisa! But whose business
is it but mine? Bring your charge against me in such a way that I can
But the mother was not disposed to do that.
Lonely and miserable, he made friends with the inspector, a young man,
addicted to wine and cards. He sought his company and spent the evenings
in his room; he went to bed late, as late as possible.
On coming home one night, he found his wife still awake and waiting
"Where have you been?" she asked sharply.
"That's my business," he replied.
"To be married and have no husband is anything but pleasant," she
rejoined. "If we had a child, at least!"
"It isn't my fault that we haven't!"
"It isn't mine!"
A quarrel arose as to whose fault it was, and the quarrel lasted for
As both of them were too obstinate to take medical advice, the usual
thing happened. The husband cut a ridiculous figure, and the wife a
tragic one. He was told that a childless woman was sacred because, for
some reason or other, "God's" curse rested on her. That "God" could
also stoop to curse a man was beyond the women's comprehension.
But Frithiof had no doubt that a curse rested on him for his life was
dreary and unhealthy. Nature has created two sexes, which are now
friends, now enemies. He had met the enemy, an overwhelming enemy.
"What is a capon?" he was asked by one of his sisters one day. She was
busy with her needlework and asked the question a propos of nothing.
He looked at her suspiciously. No, she did not know the meaning of the
word; she had probably listened to a conversation and her curiosity
But the iron had entered his soul. He was being laughed at. He grew
suspicious. Everything he heard and saw he connected with that charge.
Beside himself with rage, he seduced one of the maids.
His act had the desired result. In due time he was a father.
Now Louisa was looked upon as a martyr and he as a blackguard. The
abuse left him indifferent, for he had vindicated his honour--if it
was an honour and not merely a lucky chance to be born without
But the incident roused Louisa's jealousy and--it was a strange
thing--awakened in her a sort of love for her husband. It was a love
which irritated him, for it showed itself in unremitting watchfulness
and nervous obtrusiveness; sometimes even in maternal tenderness and
solicitude which knew no bounds. She wanted to look after his gun, see
whether it was charged; she begged him on her knees to wear his overcoat
when he went out.... She kept his home with scrupulous care, tidied
and dusted all day long; every Saturday the rooms were turned inside
out, the carpets beaten and his clothes aired. He had no peace and
never knew when he would be turned out of his room so that it could
There was not sufficient to do to occupy him during the day, for the
women looked after everything. He studied agriculture and attempted to
make improvements, but all his efforts were frustrated. He was not
master in his own house.
Finally he lost heart. He had grown taciturn because he was always
contradicted. The want of congenial company and fellows-in-misfortune
gradually dulled his brain; his nerves went to pieces; he neglected
his appearance and took to drink.
He was hardly ever at home now. Frequently he could be found,
intoxicated, at the public house or in the cottages of the farm
labourers. He drank with everybody and all day long. He stimulated his
brain with alcohol for the sake of the relief he found in talking. It
was difficult to decide whether he drank in order to be able to talk
to somebody who did not contradict him, or whether he drank merely in
order to get drunk.
He sold privileges and farm produce to the cottagers to provide
himself with money, for the women held the cash. Finally he burgled
his own safe and stole the contents.
There was an orthodox, church-going inspector on the premises now; the
previous one had been dismissed on account of his intemperate habits.
When at last, through the clergyman's influence, the proprietor of the
inn lost his license Frithiof took to drinking with his own farm
labourers. Scandal followed on scandal.
He developed into a heavy drinker who had epileptic fits whenever he
was deprived of alcohol.
He was ultimately committed to an institution where he remained as an
At lucid intervals, when he was capable of surveying his life, his
heart was filled with compassion for all women who are compelled to
marry without love; his compassion was all the deeper because he had
suffered in his own flesh the curse which lies on every violation of
nature; and yet he was only a man.
He saw the cause of his unhappiness in the family--the family as a
social institution, which does not permit the child to become an
independent individual at the proper time.
He brought no charge against his wife, for was she not equally
unhappy, a victim of the same unfortunate conditions which are
honoured by the sacred name of Law?
Her father was a general, her mother died when she was still a baby.
After her mother's death few ladies visited the house; the callers
were mostly men. And her father took her education into his own hands.
She went out riding with him, was present at the manoeuvres, took an
interest in gymnastics and attended the musters of the reserves.
Since her father occupied the highest rank in their circle of friends,
everybody treated him with an amount of respect which is rarely shown
to equals, and as she was the general's daughter, she was treated in
the same way. She held the rank of a general and she knew it.
There was always an orderly sitting in the hall who rose with much
clanking and clashing of steel and stood at attention whenever she
went in or out. At the balls none but the majors dared to ask her for
a dance; she looked upon a captain as a representative of an inferior
race, and a lieutenant as a naughty boy.
She fell into the habit of appreciating people entirely according to
their rank. She called all civilians "fishes," poorly-clad people
"rascals," and the very poor "the mob."
The ladies, however, were altogether outside this scale. Her father,
who occupied a position above all men, and who was saluted respectfully
wherever he went, always stood up before a lady, regardless of her age,
kissed the hands of those he knew, and was at the beck and call of every
pretty woman. The result of this was that very early in life she became
very firmly convinced of the superiority of her own sex, and accustomed
herself to look upon a man as a lower being.
Whenever she went out on horseback, a groom invariably rode behind
her. When she stopped to admire the landscape, he stopped too. He was
her shadow. But she had no idea what he looked like, or whether he was
young or old. If she had been asked about his sex, she would not have
known how to reply; it had never occurred to her that the shadow could
have a sex; when, in mounting, she placed her little riding-boot in
his hand, she remained quite indifferent, and even occasionally raised
her habit a little as if nobody were present.
These inbred conceptions of the surpassing importance of rank
influenced her whole life. She found it impossible to make friends
with the daughters of a major or a captain, because their fathers were
her father's social inferiors. Once a lieutenant asked her for a dance.
To punish him for his impudence, she refused to talk to him in the
intervals. But when she heard later on that her partner had been one
of the royal princes, she was inconsolable. She who knew every order
and title, and the rank of every officer, had failed to recognise a
prince! It was too terrible!
She was beautiful, but pride gave her features a certain rigidity
which scared her admirers away. The thought of marriage had never
occurred to her. The young men were not fully qualified, and those to
whose social position there was no objection, were too old. If she,
the daughter of a general, had married a captain, then a major's wife
would have taken precedence of her. Such a degradation would have
killed her. Moreover, she had no wish to be a man's chattel, or an
ornament for his drawing-room. She was accustomed to command,
accustomed to be obeyed; she could obey no man. The freedom and
independence of a man's life appealed to her; it had fostered in her a
loathing for all womanly occupations.
Her sexual instinct awoke late. As she belonged to an old family which
on her father's side, had squandered its strength in a soulless
militarism, drink and dissipation, and on her mother's had suppressed
fertility to prevent the splitting up of property, Nature seemed to
have hesitated about her sex at the eleventh hour; or perhaps had
lacked strength to determine on the continuation of the race. Her
figure possessed none of those essentially feminine characteristics,
which Nature requires for her purposes, and she scorned to hide her
defects by artificial means.
The few women friends she had, found her cold and indifferent towards
everything connected with the sex problem. She treated it with
contempt, considered the relationship between the sexes disgusting,
and could not understand how a woman could give herself to a man. In
her opinion Nature was unclean; to wear clean underlinen, starched
petticoats and stockings without holes was to be virtuous; poor was
merely another term for dirt and vice.
Every summer she spent with her father on their estate in the country.
She was no great lover of the country. Nature made her feel small; she
found the woods uncanny, the lake made her shudder, there was danger
hidden in the tall meadow-grass. She regarded the peasants as cunning
and rather filthy beasts. They had so many children, and she had no
doubt that both boys and girls were full of vice. Nevertheless they
were always invited to the manor house on Midsummer day and on the
general's birthday, to play the part of the chorus of grand opera,
that is to say, to cheer and dance, and look like the figures in a
It was springtime. Helena, on her thoroughbred mare, had penetrated
into the depths of the country. She felt tired and dismounted; she
fastened her mare to a birchtree which grew near an enclosure. Then
she strolled along by the side of a ditch and began to gather wild
orchids. The air was soft and balmy, steam was rising from the ground.
She could hear the frogs jumping into the ditch which was half-full of
All at once the mare neighed and, stretching her slender neck over the
fence, drew in the air with wide-open nostrils.
"Alice!" she called out, "be quiet, old girl!"
And she continued to gather the modest flowers which so cleverly hide
their secrets behind the prettiest and neatest curtains that for all
the world look like printed calico.
But the mare neighed again. From behind the hazel bushes on the other
side of the enclosure came an answer, a second neighing, deeper and
fuller. The swampy ground of the enclosure shook, powerful hoofs
scattered the stones, to right and left and a black stallion appeared
at full gallop. The tense neck carried a magnificent head, the muscles
lay like ropes under the glossy skin. As he caught sight of the mare,
his eyes began to flash. He stopped and stretched out his neck as if
he were going to yawn, raised his upper lip and showed his teeth. Then
he galloped across the grass and approached the railings.
Helena picked up her skirt and ran to her mare; she raised her hand to
seize the bridle, but the mare broke away and took the fence. Then the
She stood at the fence and called, but the excited mare paid no heed.
Inside the enclosure the horses chased one another; the situation was
a critical one. The breath of the stallion came like smoke from his
nostrils and white foam flecked his shoulders.
Helena longed to escape, for the scene filled her with horror. She had
never witnessed the raging of a natural instinct in a living body.
This uncontrolled outbreak terrified her.
She wanted to run after her mare and drag her away by force, but she
was afraid of the savage stallion. She wanted to call for help, but
she was loath to attract other eyewitnesses. She turned her back to
the scene and decided to wait.
The sound of horses' hoofs came from the direction of the highroad; a
carriage appeared in sight.
There was no escape; although she was ashamed to stay where she was,
it was too late now to run away, for the horses were slowing down and
the carriage stopped a few yards in front of her.
"How beautiful!" exclaimed one of the occupants of the carriage, a
lady, and raised her golden lorgnette so as to get a better view of
"But why are we stopping?" retorted the other, irritably. "Drive on!"
"Don't you think it beautiful?" asked the elder lady.
The coachman's smile was lost in his great beard, as he urged the
"You are such a prude, my dear Milly," said the first voice. "To me
this kind of thing is like a thunderstorm, or a heavy sea...."
Helena could hear no more. She felt crushed with vexation, shame and
A farm labourer came shuffling along the highroad. Helena ran to meet
him, so as to prevent him from witnessing the scene, and at the same
time ask his help. But he was already too near.
"I believe it's the miller's black stallion," he said gravely. "In
that case it will be better to wait until it's all over, for he won't
brook interference. If the lady will leave it to me, I will bring her
mare home later on."
Glad to have done with the matter, Helena hurried away.
When she arrived home, she was ill.
She refused to ride her mare again, for in her eyes the beast had
This pretty adventure had a greater influence on Helena's psychic
development than might have been expected. The brutal outbreak of a
natural instinct, the undisguised exhibition of which in the community
of men is punished with a term of imprisonment, haunted her as if she
had been present at an execution. It distressed her during the day and
disturbed her dreams at night. It increased her fear of nature and
made her give up her former amazon's life. She remained at home and
gave herself up to study.
The house boasted a library. But as misfortune would have it, no
additions had been made since her grandfather's death. All books were
therefore a generation too old, and Helena found antiquated ideals.
The first book which fell into her hands was Madame de Stael's _Corinna_
The way in which the volume lay on the shelf indicated that it had
served a special purpose. Bound in green and gold, a little shabby at
the edges, full of marginal notes and underlined passages, the work of
her late mother, it became a bridge, as it were, between mother and
daughter, which enabled the now grown-up daughter to make the
acquaintance of the dead mother. These pencil notes were the story
of a soul. Displeasure with the prose of life and the brutality of
nature, had inflamed the writer's imagination and inspired it to
construct a dreamworld in which the souls dwelled, disincarnate. It
was essentially an aristocratic world, this dreamworld, for it
required financial independence from its denizens, so that the soul
might be fed with thoughts. This brain-fever, called romance, was
therefore the gospel of the wealthy, and became absurd and pitiful as
soon as it penetrated to the lower classes.
Corinna became Helena's ideal: the divinely inspired poetess who like
the nun of the middle-ages, had vowed a vow of chastity, so that she
might lead a life of purity, who was, of course, admired by a brilliant
throng, rose to immeasurable heights above the heads of the petty
every-day mortals. It was the old ideal all over again, transposed:
salutes, standing at attention, rolling of drums, the first place
everywhere. Helena was quite ignorant of the fact that Madame de Stael
outlived the Corinna ideal, and did not become a real influence until
she came out of her dreamworld into the world of facts.
She ceased to take an interest in everyday affairs, she communed with
herself and brooded over her ego. The inheritance which her mother had
left her in posthumous notes began to germinate. She identified herself
with both Corinna and her mother, and spent much time in meditating on
her mission in life. That nature had intended her to become a mother
and do her share in the propagation of the human race, she refused to
admit her mission was to explain to humanity what Madame de Stael's
Corinna had thought fifty years ago; but she imagined the thoughts were
her own, striving to find expression.
She began to write. One day she attempted verse. She succeeded. The
lines were of equal length and the last words rhymed. A great light
dawned on her: she was a poetess. One thing more remained: she wanted
ideas; well she could take them from _Corinna_.
In this way quite a number of poems originated.
But they had also to be bestowed on the world, and this could not be
done unless they were printed. One day she sent a poem entitled
_Sappho_ and signed _Corinna_ to the _Illustrated Newspaper_. With a
beating heart she went out to post the letter herself, and as it
dropped into the pillarbox, she prayed softly to "God."
A trying fortnight ensued. She ate nothing, hardly closed her eyes,
and spent her days in solitude.
When Saturday came and the paper was delivered, she trembled as if she
were fever-stricken, and when she found that her verses were neither
printed nor mentioned in "Letters to Correspondents," she almost broke
On the following Saturday, when she could count on an answer with some
certainty, she slipped the paper into her pocket without unfolding it,
and went into the woods. When she had arrived at a secluded spot and
made sure that no one was watching her, she unfolded the paper and
hastily glanced at the contents. One poem only was printed, entitled
_Bellman's-day_. She turned to "Letters to Correspondents." Her first
glance at the small print made her start violently. Her fingers
clutched the paper, rolled it into a ball and flung it into the
underwood. Then she stared, fascinated, at the ball of white,
glimmering through the green undergrowth. For the first time in her
life she had received an insult. She was completely unnerved. This
unknown journalist had dared what nobody had dared before: he had been
rude to her. She had come out from behind her trenches into the arena
where high birth counts for nothing, but where victory belongs to that
wonderful natural endowment which we call talent, and before which all
powers bow when it can no longer be denied. But the unknown had also
offended the woman in her, for he had said:
"The Corinna of 1807 would have cooked dinners and rocked cradles if
she had lived after 1870. But you are no Corinna."
For the first time she had heard the voice of the enemy, the
arch-enemy, man. Cook dinners and rock cradles! They should see!
She went home. She felt so crushed that her muscles hardly obeyed her
When she had gone a little way, she suddenly turned round and retraced
her footsteps. Supposing anybody found that paper! It would give her
She returned to the spot, and breaking off a hazel switch, dragged the
paper out from where it lay and carefully smoothed it. Then she raised
a piece of turf, hid the paper underneath and rolled a stone on the
top. It was a hope that lay buried there, and also a proof--of what?
That she had committed a crime? She felt that she had. She had done a
wrong, she had shown herself naked before the other sex.
From this day on a struggle went on in her heart. Ambition and fear of
publicity strove within her, and she was unable to come to a decision.
In the following autumn her father died. As he had been addicted to
gambling, and more often lost than won, he left debts behind him. But
in smart society these things are of no account. There was no
necessity for Helena to earn her living in a shop, for a hitherto
unknown aunt came forward and offered her a home.
But her father's death wrought a complete change in her position. No
more salutes; the officers of the regiment nodded to her in a friendly
fashion, the lieutenants asked her to dance. She saw plainly that the
respect shown to her had not been shown to her personally, but merely
to her rank. She felt degraded and a lively sympathy for all subalterns
was born in her; she even felt a sort of hatred for all those who
enjoyed her former privileges. Side by side with this feeling grew up
a yearning for personal appreciation, a desire to win a position
surpassing all others, although it might not figure in the Army list.
She longed to distinguish herself, to win fame, and, (why not?) to
rule. She possessed one talent which she had cultivated to some
extent, although she had never risen above the average; she played the
piano. She began to study harmony and talked of the sonata in G minor
and the symphony in F major as if she had written them herself. And
forthwith she began to patronise musicians.
Six months after her father's death, the post of a lady-in-waiting was
offered to her. She accepted it. The rolling of drums and military
salutes recommenced, and Helena gradually lost her sympathy with
subalterns. But the mind is as inconstant as fortune, and fresh
experiences again brought about a change of her views.
She discovered one day, and the day was not long in coming, that she
was nothing but a servant. She was sitting in the Park with the
Duchess. The Duchess was crocheting.
"I consider those blue stockings perfectly idiotic," said the Duchess.
Helena turned pale; she stared at her mistress.
"I don't," she replied.
"I didn't ask your opinion," replied the Duchess, letting her ball of
wool roll into the dust.
Helena's knees trembled; her future, her position passed away before
her eyes like a flash of lightning. She went to pick up the wool. It
seemed to her that her back was breaking as she stooped, and her
cheeks flamed when the Duchess took the ball without a word of thanks.
"You are not angry?" asked the Duchess, staring impertinently at her
"Oh, no, Your Royal Highness," was Helena's untruthful reply.
"They say that you are a blue-stocking yourself," continued the
Duchess. "Is it true?"
Helena had a feeling as if she were standing nude before her tormentor
and made no reply.
For the second time the ball rolled into the dust. Helena pretended
not to notice it, and bit her lips to hold back the angry tears which
were welling up in her eyes. "Pick up my wool, please," said the
Helena drew herself up, looked the autocrat full in the face and said:
And with these words she turned and fled. The sand gritted under her
feet, and little clouds of dust followed in the wake of her train. She
almost ran down the stone steps and disappeared.
Her career at court was ended; but a sting remained. Helena was made
to feel what it means to be in disgrace, and above all things what it
means to throw up one's post. Society does not approve of changes and
nobody would believe that she had voluntarily renounced the sunshine
of the court. No doubt she had been sent away. Yes, it must be so, she
had been sent away. Never before had she felt so humiliated, so
insulted. It seemed to her that she had lost caste; her relations
treated her with coldness, as if they were afraid that her disgrace
might be infectious; her former friends gave her the cold shoulder
when they met her, and limited their conversation to a minimum.
On the other hand, as she stooped from her former height, the
middle-classes received her with open arms. It was true, at first
their friendliness offended her more than the coldness of her own
class, but in the end she preferred being first down below to being
last up above. She joined a group of Government officials and
professors who hailed her with acclamations. Animated by the
superstitious awe with which the middle classes regard everybody
connected with the court, they at once began to pay her homage. She
became their chosen leader and hastened to form a regiment. A number
of young professors enlisted at once and she arranged lectures for
women. Old academic rubbish was brought out from the lumber-room,
dusted and sold for new wares. In a dining-room, denuded of its
furniture, lectures on Plato and Aristotle were given to an audience
which unfortunately held no key to this shrine of wisdom.
Helena, in conquering these pseudo-mysteries felt the intellectual
superior of the ignorant aristocracy. This feeling gave her an
assurance which impressed people. The men worshipped her beauty and
aloofness; but she never felt in the least moved in their company. She
accepted their homage as a tribute due to women and found it
impossible to respect these lackeys who jumped up and stood at
attention whenever she passed.
But in the long run her position as an unmarried woman failed to
satisfy her, and she noted with envious eyes the freedom enjoyed by
her married sisters. They were at liberty to go wherever they liked,
talk to whom they liked, and always had a footman in their husband to
meet them and accompany them on their way home. In addition, married
women had a better social position, and a great deal more influence.
With what condescension for instance, they treated the spinsters! But
whenever she thought of getting married, the incident with her mare
flashed into her mind and terror made her ill.
In the second year the wife of a professor from Upsala, who combined
with her official position great personal charm, appeared on the
scene. Helena's star paled; all her worshippers left her to worship
the new sun. As she no longer possessed her former social position,
and the savour of the court had vanished like the scent on a
handkerchief, she was beaten in the fight. One single vassal remained
faithful to her, a lecturer on ethics, who had hitherto not dared to
push himself forward. His attentions were well received, for the
severity of his ethics filled her with unlimited confidence. He wooed
her so assiduously that people began to gossip; Helena, however, took
no notice, she was above that.
One evening, after a lecture on "The Ethical Moment in Conjugal Love"
or "Marriage as a Manifestation of Absolute Identity," for which the
lecturer received nothing but his expenses and a grateful pressure of
hands, they were sitting in the denuded dining-room on their
uncomfortable cane chairs, discussing the subject.
"You mean to say then," said Helena, "that marriage is a relationship
of co-existence between two identical Egos?"
"I mean what I said already in my lecture, that only if there exists
such a relationship between two congruous identities, _being_ can
conflow into _becoming_ of higher potentiality."
"What do you mean by _becoming?_" asked Helena, blushing.
"The post-existence of two egos in a new ego."
"What? You mean that the continuity of the ego, which through the
cohabitation of two analogous beings will necessarily incorporate
itself into a becoming...."
"No, my dear lady, I only meant to say that marriage, in profane
parlance, can only produce a new spiritual ego, which cannot be
differentiated as to sex, when there is compatibility of souls. I mean
to say that the new being born under those conditions will be a
conglomerate of male and female; a new creature to whom both will have
yielded their personality, a unity in multiplicity, to use a
well-known term, an _'hommefemme.'_ The man will cease to be man, the
woman will cease to be woman."
"That is the union of souls!" exclaimed Helena, glad to have
successfullly navigated the dangerous cliffs.
"It is the harmony of souls of which Plato speaks. It is true marriage
as I have sometimes visualised it in my dreams, but which,
unfortunately, I shall hardly be able to realise in actuality."
Helena stared at the ceiling and whispered:
"Why shouldn't you, one of the elect, realise this dream?"
"Because she to whom my soul is drawn with irresistible longing does
not believe in--h'm--love."
"You cannot be sure of that."
"Even if she did, she would always be tormented by the suspicion that
the feeling was not sincere. Moreover, there is no woman in the world
who would fall in love with me, no, not one."
"Yes, there is," said Helena, gazing into his glass eye. (He had a
glass eye, but it was so well made, it was impossible to detect it.)
"Are you sure?"
"Quite sure," replied Helena. "For you are different to other men. You
realise what spiritual love means, the love of the souls!"
"Even if the woman did exist, I could never marry her."
"Share a room with her!"
"That needn't be the case. Madame de Stael merely lived in the same
house as her husband."
"What interesting topic are you two discussing?" asked the professor's
wife, coming out of the drawing-room.
"We were talking of _Laocoon_," answered Helena, rising, from her
chair. She was offended by the note of condescension in the lady's
voice. And she made up her mind.
A week later her engagement to the lecturer was publicly announced.
They decided to be married in the autumn and take up their abode at
A brilliant banquet, in celebration of the close of his bachelor life,
was given to the lecturer on ethics. A great deal of wine had been
consumed and the only artist the town boasted, the professor of
drawing at the Cathedral School, had depicted in bold outlines the
victim's career up to date. It was the great feature of the whole
entertainment. Ethics was a subject of teaching and a milch cow, like
many others, and need not necessarily influence either the life of the
community, or the life of the individual. The lecturer had not been a
saint, but had had his adventures like everybody else; these were
public property, for he had had no reason to keep them dark. With a
careless smile he watched his career, pictured in chalk and colours,
accompanied by witty verses, unfolding itself before his eyes, but
when at last his approaching bliss was portrayed in simple but
powerful sketches, he became deeply embarrassed, and the thought "If
Helena were to see that!" flashed like lightning through his brain.
After the banquet, at which according to an old, time-honoured custom,
he had drunk eight glasses of brandy, he was so intoxicated that he
could no longer suppress his fears and apprehensions. Among his hosts
was a married man and to him the victim turned for counsel and advice.
Since neither of them was sober, they chose, as the most secluded spot
in the whole room, two chairs right in the centre, immediately under
the chandelier. Consequently they were soon surrounded by an eagerly
"Look here! You are a married man," said the lecturer at the top of
his voice, so as not to be heard by the assembly, as he fondly
imagined. "You must give me a word of advice, just one, only one
little word of advice, for I am extremely sensitive to-night,
especially in regard to this particular point."
"I will, brother," shouted his friend, "just one word, as you say,"
and he put his arm round his shoulders that he might whisper to him;
then he continued, screaming loudly: "Every act consists of three
parts, my brother: _Progresses, culmen, regressus_. I will speak to
you of the first, the second is never mentioned. Well, the initiative,
so to speak, that is the man's privilege--your part! You must take the
initiative, you must attack, do you understand?"
"But supposing the other party does not approve of the initiative?"
The friend stared at the novice, taken aback; then he rose and
contemptuously turned his back on him.
"Fool!" he muttered.
"Thank you!" was all the grateful pupil could reply.
Now he understood.
On the following day he was on fire with all the strong drink he had
consumed; he went and took a hot bath, for on the third day was to be
The wedding guests had departed; the servant had cleared the table;
they were alone.
Helena was comparatively calm, but he felt exceedingly nervous. The
period of their engagement had been enhanced by conversations on
serious subjects. They had never behaved liked ordinary, every-day
fiances, had never embraced or kissed. Whenever he had attempted the
smallest familiarity, her cold looks had chilled his ardour. But he
loved her as a man loves a woman, with body and soul.
They fidgeted about the drawing-room and tried to make conversation.
But an obstinate silence again and again reasserted itself. The
candles in the chandelier had burnt low and the wax fell in greasy
drops on the carpet. The atmosphere was heavy with the smell of food
and the fumes of the wines which mingled with the voluptuous perfume
of carnations and heliotrope, exhaled by Helena's bridal bouquet that
lay on a side-table.
At last he went up to her, held out his arms, and said in a voice
which he hoped sounded natural:
"And now you are my wife!"
"What do you mean?" was Helena's brusque reply.
Completely taken aback, he allowed his arms to drop to his sides. But
he pulled himself together again, almost immediately, and said with a
"I mean to say that we are husband and wife."
Helena looked at him as if she thought that he had taken leave of his
"Explain your words!" she said.
That was just what he couldn't do. Philosophy and ethics failed him;
he was faced by a cold and exceedingly unpleasant reality.
"It's modesty," he thought. "She's quite right, but I must attack and
do my duty."
"Have you misunderstood me?" asked Helena and her voice trembled.
"No, of course not, but, my dear child, h'm--we--h'm...."
"What language is that? Dear child? What do you take me for? What do
you mean? Albert, Albert!"--she rushed on without waiting for a reply,
which she didn't want--"Be great, be noble, and learn to see in women
something more than sex. Do that, and you will be happy and great!"
Albert was beaten. Crushed with shame and furious with his false
friend who had counselled him wrongly, he threw himself on his knees
before her and stammered:
"Forgive me, Helena, you are nobler, purer, better than I; you are
made of finer fibre and you will lift me up when I threaten to perish
in coarse matter."
"Arise and be strong, Albert," said Helena, with the manner of a
prophetess. "Go in peace and show to the world that love and base
animal passion are two very different things. Good-night!"
Albert rose from his knees and stared irresolutely after his wife who
went into her room and shut the door behind her.
Full of the noblest and purest sentiments he also went into his room.
He took off his coat and lighted a cigar. His room was furnished like
a bachelor's room: a bed-sofa, a writing table, some book shelves, a
When he had undressed, he dipped a towel into his ewer and rubbed
himself all over. Then he lay down on his sofa and opened the evening
paper. He wanted to read while he smoked his cigar. He read an article
on Protection. His thoughts began to flow in a more normal channel,
and he considered his position.
Was he married or was he still a bachelor? He was a bachelor as
before, but there was a difference--he now had a female boarder who
paid nothing for her board. The thought was anything but pleasant, but
it was the truth. The cook kept house, the housemaid attended to the
rooms. Where did Helena come in? She was to develop her individuality!
Oh, rubbish! he thought, I am a fool! Supposing his friend had been
right? Supposing women always behaved in this silly way under these
circumstances? She could not very well come to him--he must go to her.
If he didn't go, she would probably laugh at him to-morrow, or, worse
still, be offended. Women were indeed incomprehensible. He must make
He jumped up, put on his dressing-gown and went into the drawing-room.
With trembling knees he listened outside Helena's door.
Not a sound. He took heart of grace, and approached a step or two.
Blue flashes of lightning darted before his eyes as he knocked.
No answer. He trembled violently and beads of perspiration stood on
He knocked again. And in a falsetto voice, proceeding from a parched
throat, he said:
"It's only I."
No answer. Overwhelmed with shame, he returned to his room, puzzled
She was in earnest, then.
He crept between the sheets and again took up the paper.
He hadn't been reading long when he heard footsteps in the street which
gradually approached and then stopped. Soft music fell on his ear, deep,
strong voices set in:
"Integer vitae sclerisque purus...."
He was touched. How beautiful it was!
Purus! He felt lifted above matter. It was in accordance with the spirit
of the age then, this higher conception of marriage. The current of
ethics which penetrated the epoch was flowing through the youth of the
Supposing Helena had opened her door!
He gently beat time and felt himself as great and noble as Helena
desired him to be.
Should he open the window and thank the undergraduates in the name of
He got out of bed.
A fourfold peal of laughter crashed against the windowpanes at the very
moment he lifted his hand to draw up the blind.
There could be no doubt, they were making fun of him!
Beside himself with anger he staggered back from the window and
knocked against the writing-table. He was a laughing-stock. A faint
hatred against the woman whom he had to thank for this humiliating
scene, began to stir within him, but his love acquitted her. He was
incensed against the jesters down below, and swore to bring them
before the authorities.
But again and again he reverted to his unpleasant position, furious
that he had allowed himself to be led by the nose. He paced his room
until dawn broke in the East. Then he threw himself on his bed and
fell asleep, in bitter grief over the dismal ending of his
wedding-day, which ought to have been the happiest day of his life.
On the following morning he met Helena at the breakfast table. She was
cold and self-possessed as usual. Albert, of course, did not mention
the serenade. Helena made great plans for the future and talked
volumes about the abolition of prostitution. Albert met her half-way
and promised to do all in his power to assist her. Humanity must
become chaste, for only the beasts were unchaste.
Breakfast over, he went to his lecture. The serenade had roused his
suspicions, and as he watched his audience, he fancied that they were
making signs to each other; his colleagues, too, seemed to congratulate
him in a way which offended him.
A big, stout colleague, who radiated vigour and _joie de vivre_, stopped
him in the corridor which led to the library, seized him by the collar
and said with a colossal grin on his broad face,
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," was the indignant reply with
which he tore himself away and rushed down stairs.
When he arrived home, his flat was crowded with his wife's friends.
Women's skirts brushed against his legs, and when he sat down in an
armchair, he seemed to sink out of sight into piles and piles of
"I've heard rumours of a serenade last night," said the professor's
Albert grew pale, but Helena took up the gauntlet.
"It was well meant, but they really might have been sober. This
excessive drinking among students is terrible."
"What did they sing?" asked the professor's wife.
"Oh! the usual songs: 'My life a sea,' and so on," replied Helena.
Albert stared at her in amazement, but he couldn't help admiring her.
The day went with gossip and discussions. Albert felt tired. Been
joyed spending a few hours, after the daily toil was over, in
pleasant conversation with women, but this was really too much. And
moreover, he had to agree to everything they said, for whenever he
attempted to express a contradictory opinion, they were down on him in
Night fell; it was bedtime. Husband and wife wished one another good
night and retired to their separate rooms.
Again he was attacked by doubt and restlessness. He fancied that he
had seen a tender look on Helena's face, and he wasn't quite sure
whether she hadn't squeezed his hand. He lit a cigar and unfolded his
paper. As soon as he began to read of every-day matters, he seemed to
"It's sheer madness," he said aloud, throwing the paper aside.
He slipped on his dressing-gown and went into the drawing-room.
Somebody was moving in Helena's room.