Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Eric Eldred, Robert Connal
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
AUTHORISED TRANSLATION FROM THE NORWEGIAN BY
CARL CHRISTIAN HYLLESTED
In the autumn of 1888 a Danish magazine published a few chapters of an
autobiographical novel which instantly created the greatest stir in
literary circles throughout Europe. At that time Ibsen, Bjornson, Brandes,
Strindberg, and other Scandinavian writers were at the height of their
cosmopolitan fame, and it was only natural that the reading world should
keep in close touch with the literary production of the North. But even
the professional star-gazers, who maintained a vigilant watch on northern
skies, had never come across the name of Knut Hamsun. He was unknown;
whatever slight attention his earlier struggles for recognition may have
attracted was long ago forgotten. And now he blazed forth overnight, with
meteoric suddenness, with a strange, fantastic, intense brilliance which
could only emanate from a star of the first magnitude.
Sudden as was Hamsun's recognition, however, it has proved lasting. The
story of his rise from obscurity to fame is one of absorbing interest.
Behind that hour of triumph lay a long and bitter struggle, weary years of
striving, of constant and courageous battle with a destiny that strewed
his path with disappointments and defeats, overwhelming him with
adversities that would have swamped a genius of less energy and real
Knut Hamsun began life in one of the deep Norwegian valleys familiar to
English readers through Bjornson's earlier stories. He was born in August,
1860. When he was four years old his poverty-stricken parents sent him to
an uncle, a stern, unlovely man who made his home on one of the Lofoten
Islands--that "Drama in Granite" which Norway's rugged coast-line flings
far into the Arctic night. Here he grew up, a taciturn, peculiar lad,
inured to hardship and danger, in close communion with nature; dreaming
through the endless northern twilight, revelling through the brief intense
summer, surrounded by influences and by an atmosphere which later were to
give to his production its strange, mystical colouring, its
pendulum-swings from extreme to extreme.
At seventeen he was apprenticed to a cobbler, and while working at his
trade he wrote and, at the cost of no one knows what sacrifices, saved
enough money to have his first literary efforts printed and published.
They consisted of a long, fantastic poem and a novel, "Bjorger"--the
latter a grotesque conglomeration of intense self-analytical studies.
These attracted far less attention than they really deserved. However, the
cobbler's bench saw no more of Knut Hamsun.
During the next twelve years he led the life of a rover, but a rover with
a fixed purpose from which he never swerved. First he turned his face
toward Christiania, the capital and the intellectual centre of the
country; and in order to get there he worked at anything that offered
itself. He was a longshoreman on Bodo's docks, a road-labourer, a
lumberjack in the mountains; a private tutor and court messenger. Finally
he reached the metropolis and enrolled as a student at the university. But
the gaunt, raw-boned youth, unpractical and improvident, overbearing of
manner, passionately independent in thought and conduct, failed utterly in
his attempts to realise whatever ambitions he had cherished. So it was
hardly strange that this the first chapter of his Odyssey should end in
the steerage of an American-bound emigrant steamer.
In America, where he landed penniless, he turned his strong and capable
hands to whatever labour he could find. He had intended to become a
Unitarian minister. Instead of doing so he had to work as a farm-hand on
the prairie, street-car conductor in Chicago, dairyman in Dakota; and he
varied these pursuits by giving a series of lectures on French literature
in Minneapolis. By that time he probably imagined that he was equipped for
a more successful attack on the literary strongholds of his own country,
and returned to Christiania. Disappointments and privations followed more
bitter than any he had ever known. He starved and studied and dreamed;
vainly he made the most desperate attempts to gain recognition. In despair
he once more abandoned the battle-field and fled to America again, with
the avowed purpose of gaining a reputation on the lecture platform.
Once more he failed; his countrymen resident in the Northwest would have
none of him. Beaten back in every attempt, discouraged, perhaps feeling
the need of solitude and the opportunities for introspective thought which
he could not find in the larger cities, he exiled himself to that most
desolate of existences, a life on a Newfoundland fishing-smack. Three long
years he spent as one of a rude crew with whom he could have nothing in
common save the daily death-struggle with the elements. But these years
finished the preparatory stage of Hamsun's education. During the solitary
watches he matured as an artist and as a man. In his very first effort
upon his return to civilisation he proved that the days of aimless
fumblings were over: in "Hunger" he stands suddenly revealed as a master
of style and description, a bold and independent thinker, a penetrating,
keen psychologist, a realist of marked virility.
Since "Hunger" was written Hamsun has published over thirty large works--
novels, dramas, travel descriptions, essays, and poems. Every one of them
is of a high order. Each is unlike the rest; but through them all flash in
vivid gleams a dazzling witchery of style, a bewildering originality, a
passionate nature-worship, and an imagination which at times takes away
"Shallow Soil," in some respects the most contained of Hamsun's works, is
perhaps best suited as a medium for his introduction to Anglo-Saxon
readers. In a very complete analysis of Hamsun's authorship the German
literary critic, Professor Carl Morburger, thus refers to "Shallow Soil":
"Not only is this book Knut Hamsun's most significant work, but it gives
the very best description available of life in Christiania toward the
close of the century. A book of exquisite lyric beauty, of masterly
psychology, and finished artistic form, it is so rich in idea and life
that one must refrain from touching on the contents in order to keep
within the narrow limits of this essay. A most superbly delicate
delineation of the feminine soul is here given in the drawing of Hanka and
Aagot; nowhere else is woman's love in its dawn and growth described with
such mastery, with a deftness and sureness of touch which reminds one of
the very greatest passages in that Danish classic, 'Niels Lyhne.'"
Hamsun is now in his fifty-fourth year. The expectations aroused by his
first book have been more than fulfilled; the star that was born overnight
still shines with undimmed brilliance--nay, with a purer, warmer, steadier
flame. The volcanic violence of earlier days has been mellowed and
subdued; the "red eruptions of flame-tongued, primeval power" have all but
ceased. In one of his latest works Hamsun himself notes this change in
saying: "When a wanderer reaches fifty years he plays with muted strings."
But with or without the sordine Hamsun's production is equally seductive,
equally entrancing and compelling. All over the continent of Europe he is
known and his writings treasured; in Russia his popularity exceeds that of
many of its own inimitable writers. It is to be expected that the
English-speaking world will accord him that appreciation which is the
natural tribute to genius, irrespective of language or clime.
CARL CHR. HYLLESTED.
NEW YORK, December, 1913.
A faint, golden, metallic rim appears in the east where the sun is rising.
The city is beginning to stir; already can be heard an occasional distant
rumble of trucks rolling into the streets from the country, large
farm-wagons heavily loaded with supplies for the markets--with hay and
meat and cordwood. And these wagons make more noise than usual because the
pavements are still brittle from nightly frosts. It is the latter part of
Everything is quiet around the harbour. Here and there a sleepy sailor
tumbles out of a forecastle; smoke is curling from the galleys. A skipper
puts his head out of a companionway and sniffs toward the weather; the sea
stretches in undisturbed calm; all the winches are at rest.
The first wharf gate is thrown open. Through it one catches a glimpse of
sacks and cases piled high, of cans and barrels; men with ropes and
wheelbarrows are moving around, still half asleep, yawning openly with
angular, bearded jaws. And barges are warped in alongside the docks;
another army begins the hoisting and stowing of goods, the loading of
wagons, and the moving of freight.
In the streets one door after another is opened; blinds are raised,
office-boys are sweeping floors and dusting counters. In the H. Henriksen
office the son is sitting at a desk, all alone; he is sorting mail. A
young gentleman is strolling, tired and sleepy, toward the railway square;
he comes from a late party given in some comrade's den and is taking the
morning air. At Fire Headquarters he runs across an acquaintance who has
also been celebrating.
"Abroad so early, Ojen?" asks the first stroller.
"Yes--that is to say, I haven't been in bed yet!"
"Neither have I," laughs the first. "Good night!"
And he wanders on, smiling in amusement over that good night on a bright
and sunny morning. He is a young and promising man; his name had suddenly
become famous two years ago when he published a lyric drama. His name is
Irgens; everybody knows him. He wears patent-leather shoes and is
good-looking, with his curled moustache and his sleek, dark hair.
He drifts from one market square to another; it amuses him, sleepy as he
is, to watch the farmers who are invading the public squares with their
trucks. The spring sun has browned their faces; they wear heavy mufflers
around their necks, and their hands are sinewy and dirty. They are in such
a hurry to sell their wares that they even hail him, a youth of
twenty-four without a family, a lyric writer who is simply loitering at
random in order to divert himself.
The sun climbs higher. Now people begin to swarm in all directions; shrill
whistles are heard, now from the factories in the city suburbs, now from
the railway stations and docks; the traffic increases. Busy workers dart
hither and thither--some munching their breakfast from newspaper parcels.
A man pushes an enormous load of bundles on a push-cart, he is delivering
groceries; he strains like a horse and reads addresses from a note-book as
he hurries along. A child is distributing morning papers; she is a little
girl who has Saint Vitus's dance; she jerks her angular body in all
directions, twitches her shoulders, blinks, hustles from door to door,
climbs the stairs in the high-storied houses, presses bells, and hurries
on, leaving papers on every doorstep. A dog follows her and makes every
trip with her.
Traffic and noise increase and spread; beginning at the factories, the
wharves, the shipyards, and the sawmills, they mingle with wagon rumblings
and human voices; the air is rent by steam-whistles whose agonising wails
rise skyward, meeting and blending above the large squares in a booming
diapason, a deep-throated, throbbing roar that enwraps the entire city.
Telegraph messengers dart hither and yon, scattering orders and quotations
from distant markets. The powerful, vitalising chant of commerce booms
through the air; the wheat in India, the coffee in Java promise well; the
Spanish markets are crying for fish--enormous quantities of fish during
It is eight o'clock; Irgens starts for home. He passes H. Henriksen's
establishment and decides to drop in a moment. The son of the house, a
young man in a business suit of cheviot, is still busy at his desk. His
eyes are large and blue, although his complexion is rather dark otherwise;
a stray wisp of hair sags untidily over his forehead. The tall, somewhat
gaunt and taciturn fellow looks about thirty years old. His comrades value
him highly because he helps them a good deal with money and articles of
commerce from the firm's cellars.
"Good morning!" calls Irgens.
The other looks up in surprise.
"What--you? Are you abroad so early?"
"Yes. That is to say, I haven't been to bed yet."
"Oh--that's different. I have been at my desk since five; I have cabled to
three countries already."
"Good Lord--you know I am not the least interested in your trading! There
is only one thing I want to discuss with you, Ole Henriksen; have you got
a drink of brandy?"
The two men leave the office and pass through the store down into the
cellar. Ole Henriksen pulls a cork hurriedly; his father is expected any
moment, and for this reason he is in haste. The father is old, but that is
no reason why he should be ignored.
Irgens drinks and says: "Can I take the bottle along?" And Ole Henriksen
On their way back through the store he pulls out a drawer from the
counter, and Irgens, who understands the hint, takes something from the
drawer which he puts in his mouth. It is coffee, roasted coffee; good for
At two o'clock people swarm up and down the promenade. They chat and laugh
in all manner of voices, greet each other, smile, nod, turn around, shout.
Cigar smoke and ladies' veils flutter in the air; a kaleidoscopic
confusion of light gloves and handkerchiefs, of bobbing hats and swinging
canes, glides down the street along which carriages drive with ladies and
gentlemen in stylish attire.
Several young gentlemen have taken their accustomed stand at "The Corner."
They form a circle of acquaintances--a couple of artists, a couple of
authors, a business man, an undefinable--comrades all. They are dressed
variously: some have already dispensed with their overcoats, others wear
long ulsters with turned-up collars as in midwinter. Everybody knows "the
Some join it while others depart; there remain a young, corpulent artist
by the name of Milde, and an actor with a snub nose and a creamy voice;
also Irgens, and Attorney Grande of the prominent Grande family. The most
important, however, is Paulsberg, Lars Paulsberg, the author of half a
dozen novels and a scientific work on the Atonement. He is loudly referred
to as the Poet, even though both Irgens and Ojen are present.
The Actor buttons his ulster tightly and shivers.
"No--spring-time is a little too chilly to suit me," he says.
"The contrary here!" exclaims the Attorney. "I could shout all the time; I
am neighing inwardly; my blood sings a hunting chorus!" And the little
stooping youth straightens his shoulders and glances secretly at
"Listen to that!" says the Actor sarcastically. "A man is a man, as the
"What does that remark signify?"
"Nothing, God bless you! But you in your patent leathers and your silk hat
hunting wolves--the idea appealed to my sense of humour."
"Ha, ha! I note the fact that Norem has a sense of humour! Let us duly
They spoke with practised ease about everything, had perfect control over
their words, made quick sallies, and were skilled in repartee.
A number of cadets were passing.
"Did you ever see anything as flabby as these military youths!" said
Irgens. "Look at them; they do not walk past like other mortals, they
Both Irgens and the Artist laughed at this, but the Attorney glanced
quickly at Paulsberg, whose face remained immovable. Paulsberg made a few
remarks about the Art Exhibition and was silent.
The conversation drifted to yesterday's performance in Tivoli, and from
there to political subjects. Of course, they could refuse to pass all
financial bills, but--And perhaps there was not even a sufficient
majority to defeat the government budget. It certainly looked dubious--
rotten--They cited quotations from leading parliamentarians, they proposed
to put the torch to the Castle and proclaim the republic without delay.
The Artist threatened a general revolt of the labouring classes. "Do you
know what the Speaker told me in confidence? That he never, _never_
would agree to a compromise--rather let the Union sink or swim! 'Sink or
swim,' these were his very words. And when one knows the Speaker--"
Still Paulsberg did not say anything, and as the comrades were eager to
hear his opinion, the Attorney finally ventured to address him:
"And you, Paulsberg, you don't say a word?"
Paulsberg very seldom spoke; he had kept to himself and to his studies and
his literary tasks, and lacked the verbal facility of his comrades. He
smiled good-naturedly and answered:
"'Let your communication be Yea, yea, and Nay, nay,' you know!" At this
they all laughed loudly. "But otherwise," he added, "apart from that I am
seriously considering going home to my wife."
And Paulsberg went. It was his wont to go when he said he would.
But after Paulsberg's departure it seemed as if they might as well all go;
there was no reason to remain now. The Actor saluted and disappeared; he
hurried off in order to catch up with Paulsberg. The Painter threw his
ulster around himself without buttoning it, drew up his shoulders, and
"I feel rotten! If a fellow could only afford a little dinner!"
"You must try and strike a huckster," said Irgens. "I struck one for a
brandy this morning."
"I am wondering what Paulsberg really meant by that remark," said the
Attorney. "'Your communication shall be Yea, yea, and Nay, nay'; it is
evident it had a deeper meaning."
"Yes, very evident," said Milde. "Did you notice, he laughed when he said
it; something must have amused him."
A crowd of promenaders were sauntering continually up and down the street,
back and forth, laughing and talking.
"I have often wished that we had just one more head like Paulsberg's here
"And why, pray?" asked Irgens stiffly.
Milde stared at him, stared at the Attorney, and burst into a surprised
"Listen to that, Grande! He asks why we need another head like Paulsberg's
in this country!"
"I do," said Irgens.
But Grande did not laugh either, and Milde was unable to understand why
his words failed to provoke mirth. He decided to pass it off; he began to
speak about other things.
"You said you struck a huckster for brandy; you have got brandy, then?"
"As for me, I place Paulsberg so high that I consider him _alone_
able to do what is needed," said Irgens with thinly veiled sarcasm.
This took Milde by surprise; he was not prepared to contradict Irgens; he
nodded and said:
"Certainly--exactly. I only thought it might accelerate matters to have a
little assistance, so to speak--a brother in arms. But of course I agree
Outside the Grand Hotel they were fortunate enough to run across Tidemand,
a huckster also, a wholesaler, a big business man, head of a large and
well-known business house.
"Have you dined?" called the Artist to him.
"Lots of times!" countered Tidemand.
"Now, no nonsense! Are you going to take me to dinner?"
"May I be permitted to shake hands first?"
It was finally arranged that they should take a run up to Irgens's rooms
to sample the brandy, after which they were to return to the Grand for
dinner. Tidemand and the Attorney walked ahead.
"It is a good thing that we have these peddlers to fall back on," said
Milde to Irgens. "They are useful after all."
Irgens replied with a shrug of the shoulders which might mean anything.
"And they never consider that they are being imposed upon," continued
Milde. "On the contrary, they think they are highly favoured; it flatters
them. Treat them familiarly, drink their health, that is sufficient. Ha,
ha, ha! Isn't it true?"
The Attorney had stopped; he was waiting.
"While we remember it, we have got to make definite arrangements about
that farewell celebration for Ojen," he said.
Of course, they had almost forgotten about that. Certainly, Ojen was going
away; something had to be done.
The situation was this: Ojen had written two novels which had been
translated into German; now his nerves were bothering him; he could not be
allowed to kill himself with work--something had to be done to procure him
a highly needed rest. He had applied for a government subsidy and had
every expectation of receiving it; Paulsberg himself had recommended him,
even if a little tepidly. The comrades had therefore united in an effort
to get him to Torahus, to a little mountain resort where the air was
splendid for neurasthenics. Ojen was to go in about a week; the money had
been raised; both Ole Henriksen and Tidemand had been exceedingly
generous. It now only remained to arrange a little celebration to speed
the parting comrade.
"But where shall we find a battle-ground?" asked Milde. "At your house,
Grande? You have plenty of room?"
Grande was not unwilling; it might be arranged; he would speak to his wife
about it. For Grande was married to Mrs. Liberia, and Mrs. Liberia simply
had to be consulted. It was agreed to invite Paulsberg and his wife; as
contributors Mr. and Mrs. Tidemand and Ole Henriksen were coming as a
matter of course. That was settled.
"Ask whom you like, but I refuse to open my doors to that fellow Norem,"
said the Attorney. "He always gets drunk and sentimental; he is an awful
bore. My wife wouldn't stand for him."
Then the affair could not be held at Grande's house. It would never do to
slight Norem. In the perplexity Milde offered his studio.
The friends considered. It was not a bad idea; a better place would be
hard to find. The studio was big and roomy as a barn, with two cosy
adjoining rooms. Milde's studio, then--settled.
The affair was coming off in a few days.
The four gentlemen stopped at Irgens's place, drank his brandy, and went
out again. The Attorney was going home; this decision about the studio did
not suit him; he felt slighted. He might decide to stay away altogether.
At any rate, he said good-bye now and went his own way.
"What about you, Irgens--I hope you will join us?"
Irgens did not say no; he did not at all refuse this invitation. To tell
the truth, he was not unduly eager to return to the Grand; this fat artist
vexed him considerably with his familiar manners. However, he might be
able to get away immediately after the dinner was over.
In this desire Tidemand himself unconsciously assisted him; he left as
soon as he had paid the check. He was going somewhere.
Tidemand made his way to H. Henriksen's large warehouse on the wharf where
he knew that Ole could be found at this time.
Tidemand had passed thirty and was already getting a little grey around
the temples. He, too, was dark of hair and beard, but his eyes were brown
and had a listless expression. When he was sitting still and silent,
blinking slowly, these heavy lids of his would rise and sink almost as if
they were exhausted by much watching. He was beginning to get a little bit
stout. He was considered an exceedingly able business man.
He was married and had two children; he had been married four years. His
marriage had begun auspiciously and was still in force, although people
were at a loss to understand how it could possibly last. Tidemand himself
did not conceal his astonishment over the fact that his wife had managed
to tolerate him so long. He had been a bachelor too long, had travelled
too much, lived too much in hotels; he admitted it himself. He liked to
ring whenever he wanted anything; he preferred his meals served at all
hours, whenever he took a notion, no matter if it happened to be meal-time
or not. And Tidemand went into details: he could not bear to have his wife
serve him his soup, for instance--was it possible for a woman, even with
the best intention in the world, to divine how much soup he might want?
And, on the other side, there was Mrs. Hanka, an artistic nature, two and
twenty, fond of life and audacious as a boy. Mrs. Hanka was greatly gifted
and warmly interested in many things; she was a welcome guest wherever the
youthful assembled, whether in homes or bachelor dens; nobody could resist
her. No, she did not greatly care for home life or house drudgery. She
could not help that; unfortunately she had not inherited these tastes. And
this unbearable blessing, of a child every year two years running, drove
her almost to distraction. Good Lord! she was only a child herself, full
of life and frivolity; her youth was ahead of her. But pursuant to the
arrangement the couple had made last year, Mrs. Hanka now found it
unnecessary to place any restraint upon herself....
Tidemand entered the warehouse. A cool and tart smell of tropical
products, of coffee and oils and wines, filled the atmosphere. Tall piles
of tea-boxes, bundles of cinnamon sewn in bast, fruits, rice, spices,
mountains of flour-sacks--everything had its designated place, from floor
to roof. In one of the corners a stairway led to the cellar, where
venerable hogsheads of wine with copper bands could be glimpsed in the
half-light and where enormous metal tanks rested in massive repose.
Tidemand nodded to the busy warehousemen, walked across the floor, and
peeped through the pane into the little office. Ole was there. He was
revising an account on a slate.
Ole put the slate down immediately and rose to meet his friend.
These two men had known each other since childhood, had gone through the
business college together, and shared with each other their happiest
moments. Even now, when they were competitors, they continued to visit
each other as often as their work would permit. They did not envy each
other; the business spirit had made them broad-minded and generous; they
toyed with ship-loads, dealt in large amounts, had daily before their eyes
enormous successes or imposing ruin.
Once Tidemand had expressed admiration for a little yacht which Ole
Henriksen owned. It was two years ago, when it was known that the Tidemand
firm had suffered heavy losses in a fish exportation. The yacht lay
anchored just outside the Henriksen warehouse and attracted much attention
because of its beautiful lines. The masthead was gilded.
"This is the most beautiful little dream I have ever seen, upon my word!"
Ole Henriksen answered modestly:
"I do not suppose I could get a thousand for her if I were to sell her."
"I'll give you a thousand," offered Tidemand.
Pause. Ole smiled.
"Cash?" he asked.
"Yes; I happen to have it with me."
And Tidemand took out his pocketbook and paid over the money.
This occurred in the warehouse. The clerks laughed, whispered, and
A few days later Ole went over to Tidemand's office and said:
"I don't suppose you would take two thousand for the yacht?"
"Have you got the money with you?"
"Yes; it just happens that I have."
"All right," said Tidemand.
And the yacht was Ole's once more....
Tidemand had called on Ole now in order to pass away an hour or so. The
two friends were no longer children; they treated each other with the
greatest courtesy and were sincerely fond of each other.
Ole got hold of Tidemand's hat and cane, which he put away, at the same
time pointing his friend to a seat on the little sofa.
"What may I offer you?" he asked.
"Thanks--nothing," said Tidemand. "I have just had my dinner at the
Ole placed the flat box with Havanas before him and asked again:
"A little glass? An 1812?"
"Well, thank you, yes. But never mind; it is too much trouble; you have to
go down-stairs for it."
"Nonsense; no trouble at all!"
Ole brought the bottle from the cellar; it was impossible to tell what it
was; the bottle appeared to be made of some coarse cloth, so deeply
covered with dust was it. The wine was chilled and sparkling, it beaded in
the glass, and Ole said:
"Here you are; drink hearty, Andreas!"
They drank. A pause ensued.
"I have really come to congratulate you," said Tidemand. "I have never yet
made a stroke like that last one of yours!"
It was true that Ole had turned a trick lately. But he insisted that there
really was nothing in it that entitled him to any credit; it was just a
bit of luck. And if there was any credit to bestow, then it belonged to
the firm, not to him. The operations in London had succeeded because of
the cleverness of his agent.
The affair was as follows:
An English freight-steamer, the _Concordia_, had left Rio with half a
cargo of coffee; she touched at Bathurst for a deck-load of hides, ran
into the December gales on the north coast of Normandy, and sprung a leak;
then she was towed into Plymouth. The cargo was water-soaked; half of it
This cargo of damaged coffee was washed out and brought to London; it was
put on the market, but could not be sold; the combination of sea-water and
hides had spoiled it. The owner tried all sorts of doctorings: he used
colouring matter--indigo, kurkuma, chrome, copper vitriol--he had it
rolled in hogsheads with leaden bullets. Nothing availed; he had to sell
it at auction. Henriksen's agent bid it in for a song.
Ole went to London; he made tests with this coffee, washed out the
colouring matter, flushed it thoroughly, and dried it again. Finally he
had the entire cargo roasted and packed in hermetically sealed zinc boxes.
These boxes were brought to Norway after a month of storing; they were
unloaded, taken to the warehouse, opened, and sold. The coffee was as good
as ever. The firm made a barrel of money out of this enterprise.
"I only learned the particulars a couple of days ago; I must confess that
I was proud of you!"
"My part of the business was simply the idea of roasting the coffee--
making it sweat out the damage, so to speak. But otherwise, really--"
"I suppose you were a little anxious until you knew the result?"
"Yes; I must admit I was a little anxious."
"But what did your father say?"
"Oh, he did not know anything until it was all over. I was afraid to tell
him; he might have disinherited me, cast me off, you know. Ha, ha!"
Tidemand looked at him.
"Hm. This is all very well, Ole. But if you want to give your father, the
firm, half the credit, then you should not at the same time tell me that
your father knew nothing until it was all over. I have you there!"
A clerk entered with another account on a slate; he bowed, placed the
slate on the desk, and retired. The telephone rang.
"One moment, Andreas; it is probably only an order. Hello!"
Ole took down the order, rang for a clerk, and gave it to him..
"I am detaining you," said Tidemand. "Let me take one of the slates; there
is one for each now!"
"Not much!" said Ole; "do you think I will let you work when you come to
But Tidemand was already busy. He was thoroughly familiar with these
strange marks and figures in the many columns, and made out the account on
a sheet of paper. They stood at the desk opposite each other and worked,
with an occasional bantering remark.
"Don't let us forget the glasses altogether!"
"No; you are right!"
"This is the most enjoyable day I have had in a long time," said Ole.
"Do you think so? I was just going to say the same. I have just left the
Grand--By the way, I have an invitation for you; we are both going to the
farewell celebration for Ojen--quite a number will be there."
"Is that so? Where is it going to be?"
"In Milde's studio. You are going, I hope?"
"Yes; I will be there."
They went back to their accounts.
"Lord! do you remember the old times when we sat on the school bench
together?" said Tidemand. "None of us sported a beard then. It seems as if
it were only a couple of months ago, I remember it so distinctly."
Ole put down his pen. The accounts were finished.
"I should like to speak to you about something--you mustn't be offended,
Andreas--No; take another glass, old fellow, do! I'll get another bottle;
this wine is really not fit for company."
And he hurried out; he looked quite confused.
"What is the matter with him?" thought Tidemand.
Ole returned with another bottle, downy as velvet, with trailing cobwebs;
he pulled the cork.
"I don't know how you'll like this," he said, and sniffed the glass. "Try
it, anyhow; it is really--I am sure you'll like it; I have forgotten the
vintage, but it is ancient."
Tidemand sniffed, sipped, put down his glass, and looked at Ole.
"It isn't half bad, is it?"
"No," said Tidemand, "it is not. You should not have done this, Ole."
"Ho! don't be silly--a bottle of wine!"
"I thought you wanted to speak to me about something," asked Tidemand.
"Yes, well--I don't know that I do, exactly." Ole went over and locked the
door. "I thought that, as you cannot possibly know anything about it, I
had perhaps better tell you that people are talking about you,
calumniating you, blackening your reputation, so to speak. And you hear
nothing, of course."
"Are they blackening me? What are they saying?"
"Oh, you can feel above anything they say. Never mind what they say. The
gossip is that you neglect your wife; that you frequent restaurants
although you have a home of your own; that you leave her to herself while
you enjoy life single-handed. You are above such insinuations, of course.
But, anyway, why do you eat away from home and live so much in
restaurants? Not that I have any business to--Say, this wine is not half
bad, believe me! Take another glass; do me the favour--"
Tidemand's eyes had suddenly become clear and sharp. He got up, made a few
turns across the floor, and went back to the sofa.
"I am not at all surprised that people are talking," he said. "I myself
have done what I could to start the gossip; I know that only too well. But
I have ceased to care about anything any more." Tidemand shrugged his
shoulders and got up again. Drifting back and forth across the floor,
staring fixedly straight ahead, he murmured again that he had ceased to
care about anything.
"But listen, old friend, I told you you need not pay the slightest
attention to such contemptible gossip," objected Ole.
"It is not true that I neglect Hanka, as people think," said Tidemand;
"the fact is that I don't want to bother her. You understand, she must be
allowed to do as she pleases; it is an agreement, otherwise she will leave
me." During the following sentences Tidemand got up and sat down again; he
was in a state of deep emotion. "I want to tell you this, Ole; it is the
first time I have ever mentioned it to anybody, and no one will ever hear
me repeat it. But I want you to know that I do not go to restaurants
because I like to. Where else can I go? Hanka is never at home; there is
no dinner, not a soul in the whole house. We have had a friendly
understanding; we have ceased to keep house. Do you understand now why I
am often seen in restaurants? I am not wanted; I keep to my office and go
to the Grand, I meet friends of whom she is one, we sit at a table and
have a good time. What should I do at home? Hanka is more likely to be at
the Grand; we sit at the same table, perhaps opposite each other; we hand
each other a glass, a carafe. 'Andreas,' she says, 'please order a glass
for Milde, too.' And, of course, I order a glass for Milde. I like to do
it; don't believe anything else! 'I have hardly seen you to-day,' she
sometimes says; 'you left very early this morning. Oh, he is a fine
husband!' she tells the others and laughs. I am delighted that she is in
good spirits; I help her along and say: 'Who in the world could wait until
you have finished your toilet; I have business to attend to!' But the
truth is that perhaps I haven't seen her for a couple of days. Do you
understand why I go to restaurants? I go in order to meet her after not
having seen her for a couple of days; I go to spend a few moments with her
and with my friends, who all are exceedingly nice to me. But, of course,
everything has been arranged in the friendliest manner possible; don't
think otherwise. I am sure it is all for the best; I think the arrangement
excellent. It is all a matter of habit."
Ole Henriksen sat with open mouth. He said in surprise:
"Is that how matters stand? I had no idea it was that way with you two--
that it was that bad."
"Why not? Do you find it strange that she prefers the clique? All of them
are famous men, artists and poets, people who count for something. When
you come to look at it they are not like you and me, Ole; we like to be
with them ourselves. Bad, you say? No, understand me rightly, it is not at
all bad. It is a good arrangement. I couldn't always get home on time from
the office, and so I went to a restaurant, naturally. Hanka could not make
herself ridiculous and preside at table in solitary state, and so she went
to a restaurant. We do not go to the same place always; sometimes we miss
each other. But that is all right."
There was a pause. Tidemand leaned his head in his hands. Ole asked:
"But who started this? Who proposed it?"
"Ha, do you think for a moment it was I? Would I be likely to say to my
wife: 'You will have to go to a restaurant, Hanka, so I can find the house
empty when I get home to dinner!' Hardly. But all the same, things are not
so bad as you might think--What would you say if I were to tell you
that she does not even regard herself as being married? Of course, you
cannot realise that. I reasoned with her, said this and that, a married
woman, house and home, and she answered: 'Married, did you say? That is
rather an exaggeration, don't you think?' How does _that_ strike you?
For this reason I am careful not to say anything to her; she isn't
married; that is her affair. She lives occasionally where I live, we visit
the children, go in and out, and part again. It is all right as long as
she is satisfied."
"But this is ridiculous!" exclaimed Ole suddenly. "I can't imagine--Does
she think you are an old glove she can throw away when she is through with
it? Why haven't you put your foot down?"
"Of course, I have said something like that. Then she wanted a divorce.
Twice. What could I do then? I am not made so that I can tear everything
up all at once; I need a little time; it will come later. She is right
about the divorce; it is I who am against it; she is justified in blaming
me for that. Why haven't I played the part of a man, showed her her place,
made her behave? But, my dear man, she would have left me! She said so
plainly; there was no misunderstanding possible; it has happened twice.
What could I do?"
The two men sat awhile in silence. Ole asked quietly:
"But has your wife, then--I mean, do you think she is in love with
"Of course," answered Tidemand. "Such things are bound to happen; not
intentionally, of course, but--"
"And you do not know who it is?"
"Don't you think I know? That is, I don't know really; how could I know
for sure? I am almost certain she is not really in love with anybody; it
is hard to say. Do you think that I am jealous, perhaps? Don't for a
moment imagine anything, Ole; I am glad to say that I have a little sense
left; not much, perhaps, but a little. In short, she is not in love with
anybody else, as people suspect; it is simply a whim, a fancy. In a little
while she will probably come and propose that we shall begin housekeeping
again and live together; it is not at all impossible, I tell you, for I
know her thoroughly. She is, at any rate, very fond of the children; I
have never seen anybody so fond of children as she has been lately. You
ought to come and see us some time--Do you remember when we were married?"
"I certainly do."
"She was a somewhat passable bride, what? Not at all one to be ashamed of,
don't you think? Ha, ha, ha, not at all, Ole! But you ought to see her
now, I mean at home, now that she is so very fond of the children again. I
cannot describe her. She wears a black velvet gown--Be sure and come over
some time. Sometimes she is in red, a dark red velvet--This reminds me--
perhaps she is at home now; I am going to drop in; I might be able to do
something for her."
The two friends emptied their glasses and stood facing each other.
"I hope everything will come out all right," said Ole.
"Oh, yes, it will," said Tidemand. "I am grateful to you, Ole; you have
been a good friend to me. I haven't had such a pleasant hour as long as I
"Listen!" Tidemand turned in the doorway and said: "What we have discussed
here remains between us, eh? Not a hint on Thursday; everything is as it
should be as far as we are concerned, what? We are no mopes, I hope!"
And Tidemand departed.
Evening falls over the town. Business rests, stores are closed, and lights
are lowered. But old, grey-haired business men shut themselves in their
offices, light their lamps, take out papers, open heavy ledgers, note some
figures, a sum, and think. They hear the noise from the docks where
steamers load and unload all night long.
It gets to be ten, eleven; the cafes are crowded and the traffic is great.
All sorts of people roam the streets in their best attire; they follow
each other, whistle after girls, and dart in and out from gateways and
basement stairs. Cabbies stand at attention on the squares, on the lookout
for the least sign from the passers-by; they gossip between themselves
about their horses and smoke idly their vile pipes.
A woman hurries past--a child of night whom everybody knows; after her a
sailor and a gentleman in silk hat, both eagerly stepping out to reach her
first. Then two youths with cigars at an impertinent angle, hands in
pockets, speaking loudly. Behind them another woman; finally, a couple of
men hurrying to catch up with her.
But now one tower-clock after another booms forth the twelve solemn
strokes all over the city; the cafes empty themselves, and from the
music-halls crowds of people swarm into the streets. The winches are still
groaning along the docks; cabs roll through the streets. But inside the
hidden offices one old business chief after another has finished his
accounts and his planning; the grey-headed gentlemen close their ledgers,
take their hats from the rack, put out the lights, and go home.
And the last guests depart from the Grand, a crowd that has stuck to the
end, young fellows, joyful souls. They saunter down the street with coats
wide open, canes held jauntily under the arms, and hats slightly askew.
They talk loudly, hum the latest popular air, call jestingly to a lonely,
forgotten girl in a boa and white veil.
The company wanders toward the university. The conversation is about
literature and politics, and, although nobody contradicts them, they are
loud and eager: Was Norway a sovereign state or not? Was Norway perhaps
not entitled to the rights and privileges of a sovereign state? Just wait
a moment, the Speaker had promised to attend to things; besides, there
were the elections.... All were agreed, the elections would decide.
Three of the gentlemen part from the group when the university is reached;
the remaining two take another turn down the street, stop outside the
Grand, and exchange opinions. It is Milde and Ojen. Milde is highly
"I repeat: If Parliament yields this time, it is me for Australia. In that
case it will be unbearable here."
Ojen is young and nervous; his little, round, girlish face is pale and
void of expression; he squints as if he were near-sighted, although his
eyes are good, and his voice is soft and babyish.
"I am unable to understand that all this can interest you so greatly. It
is all one to me." And Ojen shrugs his shoulders; he is tired of politics.
His shoulders slope effeminately.
"Oh well, I won't detain you," says Milde. "By the way, have you written
"A couple of prose poems," replies Ojen, brightening at once. "I am
waiting to get off to Torahus so I can start in in earnest. You are right
--this town is unbearable!"
"Well--I had the whole country in mind, though--Say, don't forget next
Thursday evening in my studio. By the way, old fellow, have you got a
crown or so you could spare?"
Ojen unbuttons his coat and finds the crown.
"Thanks, old man. Thursday evening, then. Come early so that you can help
me a little with the arrangements--Good Lord, silk lining! And I who asked
you for a miserable crown! I hope I did not offend you."
Ojen smiles and pooh-poohs the joke.
"As if one sees anything nowadays but silk-lined clothes!"
"By Jove! What do they soak you for a coat like that?" And Milde feels the
"Oh, I don't remember; I never can remember figures; that is out of my
line. I put all my tailor bills away; I come across them whenever I move."
"Ha, ha, ha! that is certainly a rational system, most practical. For I do
not suppose you ever pay them!"
"In God's own time, as the Bible says--Of course, if I ever get rich,
then--But I want you to go now. I must be alone."
"All right, good night. But listen, seriously speaking: if you have
another crown to spare--"
And once more Ojen unbuttons his coat.
"A thousand thanks! Oh, you poets, you poets! Where, for instance, may you
be going now?"
"I think I'll walk here awhile, and look at houses. I can't sleep, so I
count the windows; it is not such a bad occupation at times. I take an
exquisite pleasure in satiating my vision with squares and rectangles,
with pure lines. Of course, you cannot understand such things."
"I should say I did understand--no one better! But I prefer human beings.
Don't you at times--flesh and blood, humans, eh--they have their
attraction, don't you think?"
"I am ashamed to say it, but people weary me. No; take for instance the
sweep of a solitary, deserted street--have you never noticed the charm of
such a view?"
"Haven't I? I am not blind, not entirely. A desolate street, of course,
has its own beauty, its own charm, in its kind the highest charm
imaginable. But everything in its place--Well, I must not detain you!
Milde saluted with his cane, turned, and strolled up the street. Ojen
continued alone. He proved a few moments afterward that he had not lost
all his interest in human beings; he had calumniated himself. To the very
first hussy who hailed him he gave, absent-mindedly, every penny he had
left, and continued his way in silence. He had not spoken a word; his
slender, nervous figure disappeared in the darkness before the girl could
even manage to thank him--
And at last everything is still; the winches fall to rest along the
wharves; the town has turned in. From afar, nobody knows from where, comes
the sound of a single footfall; the gas flames flicker in the street
lamps; two policemen talk to each other, occasionally stamping their feet
to keep warm.
Thus the night passes. Human footsteps here and there; now and then a
policeman who stamps his feet to keep warm.
A barnlike room with blue walls and sliding windows, a sort of drying-loft
with a stove in the middle, and with stovepipes hanging in wires along the
ceiling. The walls are decorated with a number of sketches, painted fans,
and palettes; several framed pictures lean against the wainscoting. Smell
of paints and tobacco smoke; brushes, tubes, overcoats which the guests
had thrown aside; an old rubber shoe filled with nails and junk; on the
easel in the corner a large, half-finished portrait of Paulsberg.
This was Milde's studio.
When Ole Henriksen entered about nine o'clock all the guests were
assembled, also Tidemand and his wife. There were altogether ten or twelve
people. The three lamps were covered with opaque shades, and the heavy
tobacco smoke did not make the room any lighter. This obscurity was
evidently Mrs. Hanka's idea. A couple of very young gentlemen, beardless
students with bachelor degrees, were of the party; they were poets who had
put aside their studies last year. Their heads were so closely cropped as
to be almost entirely naked. One of them carried a small compass on his
watch-chain. They were Ojen's comrades, his admirers and pupils; both
Besides these, one noticed a man from the _Gazette_, Journalist
Gregersen, the literary member of the staff. He was a man who did his
friends many a favour and published in his paper many an item concerning
them. Paulsberg showed him the greatest deference, and conversed with him
about his series, "New Literature," which he found admirable; and the
Journalist was happy and proud because of this approbation. He had a
peculiar habit of twisting words so that they sounded odd and absurd, and
nobody could turn this trick as smartly as he.
"It is rather difficult to write such a series within reasonable limits,"
he says. "There are so many authors that have to be included--a veritable
He makes Paulsberg smile over this "choas," and they talk on in the best
Attorney Grande and his wife were absent.
"So the Attorney is not coming," says Mrs. Hanka Tidemand, without
referring to his wife. Mrs. Liberia never came, anyway.
"He sulks," said Milde, and drank with Norem, the Actor. "He did not want
to come because Norem was invited."
Nobody felt the least constraint; they chatted about everything, drank,
and made plenty of noise. It was a splendid place, Milde's studio; as soon
as one got inside the door one felt free to do or say anything one's
Mrs. Hanka is seated on the sofa; Ojen sits beside her. On the other side
of the table sits Irgens; the light falls across his narrow chest. Mrs.
Hanka hardly glances at him.
She is in her red velvet gown; her eyes have a greenish sheen. Her upper
lip is slightly raised. One glimpses her teeth and marvels at their
whiteness. The face is fresh and the complexion clear. Her beautiful
forehead is not hidden beneath her hair; she carries it sweetly and
candidly, like a nun. A couple of rings flash on her fingers. She breathes
deeply and says to Irgens, across the table:
"How hot it is here, Irgens!"
Irgens gets up and goes over to open a window, but a voice is raised in
protest; it is Mrs. Paulsberg's. "For Heaven's sake, no open windows. Come
away from the sofa; it is cooler further back!"
And Mrs. Hanka gets up. Her movements are undulating. When she stands up
she is like a young girl, with bold shoulders. She does not glance into
the large, cracked mirror as she passes; she exhales no odours of
perfumes; she takes, accidentally, her husband's arm and walks up and down
with him while the conversation and the refreshments keep the other guests
at the table.
Tidemand is talking, with somewhat forced liveliness, about a cargo of
grain, a certain Furst in Riga, a raise in customs duties somewhere.
Suddenly he says, bending toward her:
"Yes; I am very happy to-day. But, pardon me, you are hardly interested in
these things--Did you see Ida before you left? Wasn't she sweet in her
white dress? We'll get her a carriage when spring comes!"
"Yes; in the country! I am beginning to long for it already!" Mrs. Hanka
herself is animated. "You must get the garden and the grove fixed up. It
will be fine."
And Tidemand, who already has arranged to have the country-house put in
order, although it is not April yet, is delighted because of his wife's
sudden interest. His sombre eyes brighten and he presses her arm.
"I want you to know, Hanka, I am very happy to-day," he exclaims.
"Everything will be all right soon, I am sure."
"Are you--What will be all right, by the way?"
"Oh, nothing," he says quickly. He turns the subject, looks down, and
continues: "Business is booming; I have given Furst orders to buy!"
Fool that he was! There he had once more made a mistake and bothered his
wife with his shop talk. But Mrs. Hanka was good enough to overlook it;
nobody could have answered more patiently and sweetly than did she:
"I am very glad to hear it!"
These gentle words embolden him; he is grateful and wants to show it as
best he can; he smiles with dewy eyes and says in a low voice:
"I should like to give you a little present if you care--a sort of
souvenir of this occasion. If there is anything you would like--"
Mrs. Hanka glances at him.
"No, my dear. What are you thinking of? Though, perhaps--you might let me
have a couple of hundred crowns. Thanks, very much!" Suddenly she spies
the old rubber shoe with nails and junk, and she cries, full of curiosity:
"Whatever is this?" She lets go her husband's arm and brings the rubber
over to the table. "Whatever have you got here, Milde?" She rummages in
the rubbish with her white fingers, calls Irgens over, finds one strange
thing after another, and asks questions concerning them. "Will somebody
please tell me what this is good for?"
She has fished out an umbrella-handle which she throws aside at once; then
a lock of hair enclosed in paper. "Look--a lock of somebody's hair! Come
Milde joined her.
"Leave that alone!" he said and took his cigar out of his mouth. "However
did that get in there? Did you ever--hair from my last love, so to speak!"
This was sufficient to make everybody laugh. The Journalist shouted:
"But have you seen Milde's collection of corsets? Out with the corsets,
And Milde did not refuse; he went into one of the side rooms and brought
forth his package. There were both white and brown ones; the white ones
were a little grey, and Mrs. Paulsberg asked in surprise:
"But--have they been used?"
"Of course; why do you think Milde collects them? Where would be their
sentimental value otherwise?" And the Journalist laughed heartily, happy
to be able to twist even this word around.
But the corpulent Milde wrapped his corsets together and said:
"This is a little specialty of mine, a talent--But what the dickens are
you all gaping at? It is my own corsets; I have used them myself--don't
you understand? I used them when I began to grow stout; I laced and
thought it would help. But it helped like fun!"
Paulsberg shook his head and said to Norem:
"Your health, Norem! What nonsense is this I hear, that Grande objects to
"God only knows," says Norem, already half drunk. "Can you imagine why? I
have never offended him in my life!"
"No; he is beginning to get a little chesty lately."
Norem shouted happily:
"You hear that? Paulsberg himself says that Grande is getting chesty
They all agreed. Paulsberg very seldom said that much; usually he sat,
distant and unfathomable, and listened without speaking; he was respected
by all. Only Irgens thought he could defy him; he was always ready with
"I cannot see that this is something Paulsberg can decide," he said.
They looked at him in surprise. Was that so? So Paulsberg could not decide
that? He! he! so that was beyond him? But who, then, could decide it?
"Irgens," answered Paulsberg caustically.
Irgens looked at him; they gazed fixedly at each other. Mrs. Hanka stepped
between them, sat down on a chair, and began to speak to Ojen.
"Listen a moment!" she called after a while. "Ojen wants to read his
latest--a prose poem."
And they settled down to listen.
Ojen brought forth his prose poem from an inside pocket; his hands
"I must ask your indulgence," said he.
But at this the two young students, the close-cropped poets, laughed
loudly, and the one with the compass in his fob said admiringly:
"And _you_ ask for _our_ indulgence? What about us, then?"
"The title of this is 'Sentenced to Death,'" said Ojen, and began:
For a long time I have wondered: What if my secret guilt were
For then I should be sentenced to death.
And I would sit in my prison and know that I should be calm and
indifferent when the supreme moment should arrive.
I would ascend the steps of the scaffold, I would smile and humbly beg
permission to say a word.
And then I would speak. I would implore everybody to learn something
good from my death. A speech from my inmost heart, and my last
farewell should be like a breath of flame....
Now my secret guilt is known.
And I am sentenced to death. And I have languished in prison so long
that my spirit is broken.
I ascend the steps to the scaffold; but to-day the sun is shining and
my eyes fill with tears.
For I have languished so long in prison that I am weak. And then the
sun is shining so--I haven't seen it for nine months, and I haven't
heard the birds sing for nine months--until to-day.
I smile in order to hide my tears and I ask humbly if my guards will
permit me to speak a word.
But they will not permit me.
Still I want to speak--not to show my courage, but really I want to
say a few words from my heart so as not to die mutely--innocent words
that will harm nobody, a couple of hurried sentences before they clap
their hands across my lips: Friends, see how God's sun is shining....
And I open my lips, but I cannot speak.
Am I afraid? Does my courage fail? Alas, no, I am not afraid. But I am
weak, that I am, and I cannot speak because I look upon God's sun and
the trees for the last time....
What now? A horseman with a white flag?
Peace, my heart, do not tremble so!
No, it is a woman with a white veil, a handsome woman of my own age.
Her neck is bare like my own.
And I do not understand it, but I weep because of this white veil,
too, because I am weak and the white veil flutters beautifully against
the green background of the forest. But in a little while I shall see
it no more....
Perhaps, though, after my head has fallen I may still be able to see
the blessed sky for a few moments with my eyes. It is not impossible,
if I only open my eyes widely when the axe falls. Then the sky will be
the last I see.
But don't they tie a bandage across my eyes? Or won't they blindfold
me because I am so weak and tearful? But then everything will be dark,
and I shall lie blindly, unable even to count the threads in the cloth
before my eyes.
How stupidly mistaken I was when I hoped to be able to turn my eyes
upward and behold the blessed vault of heaven. They will turn me over,
on my stomach, with my neck in a clamp. And I shall be able to see
nothing because of my bandaged eyes.
Probably there will be a small box suspended below me; and I cannot
even see the little box which I know will catch my severed head.
Only night--a seething darkness around me. I blink my eyes and believe
myself still alive--I have life in my fingers, even--I cling
stubbornly to life. If they would only take off the bandage so I could
see something--I might enjoy looking at the dust grains in the bottom
of the box and see how tiny they were....
Silence and Darkness. Mute exhalations from the crowds....
Merciful God! Grant me one supplication--take off the bandage!
Merciful God! I am _Thy_ creature--take off the bandage!
Everybody was silent when he was through. Ojen drank; Milde was busy with
a spot on his vest, and did not understand a word of what he had heard; he
lifted his glass to the Journalist and whispered:
Mrs. Hanka spoke first; she smiled to Ojen and said, out of the goodness
of her heart:
"Oh, you Ojen, you Ojen! How everything you write seems evanescent,
ethereal! 'Mute exhalations from the crowds'--I can hear it; I can feel
it! It is thrilling!"
Everybody thought so, too, and Ojen was happy. Happiness was very becoming
to his girlish face.
"Oh, it is only a little thing, a mood," he said. He would have liked to
hear Paulsberg's opinion, but Paulsberg remained sphinxlike and silent.
"How _do_ you think of such things? These prose poems are really
"It is my temperament, I suppose. I have no taste for fiction. In me
everything turns to poetry, with or without rhymes; but verses always. I
have entirely ceased to use rhymes lately."
"But tell me--in what manner does your nervousness really affect you?"
asked Mrs. Hanka in her gentle voice. "It is so very sad; you must really
try to get well again."
"Yes, I'll try. It is hard to explain; at times I will suddenly become
excited without the slightest reason. I shudder; I simply tear myself to
pieces. Then I cannot bear to walk on carpets; if I should lose anything I
should never find it again. I should not hear it drop, and consequently I
should never think of looking for it. Can you imagine anything more
distracting than to have something you have lost lying there without your
knowing it? It tortures me, therefore, to walk on carpets; I am in
constant fear and I keep my hands over my pockets; I look at my vest
buttons to be sure of them. I turn around again and again to make sure
that I haven't by chance lost something or other--And there are other
annoyances: I have the strangest ideas, the most peculiar hallucinations.
I place a glass on the very edge of the table and imagine I have made a
bet with some one--a bet involving enormous amounts. Then I blow on the
glass; if it falls I lose--lose an amount large enough to ruin me for
life; if it remains I have won and can build myself a castle on the
Mediterranean. It is the same whenever I go up a strange stairway: should
there be sixteen steps I win, but if there are eighteen I lose. Into this,
though, there enter other intricate possibilities: Suppose there should be
twenty steps, have I lost or won? I do not yield; I insist on my rights in
the matter; I go to law and lose my case--Well, you mustn't laugh; it is
really annoying. Of course these are only minor matters. I can give other
examples: Let somebody sit in a room next to yours and sing a single verse
of a certain song, sing it endlessly, without ceasing, sing it through and
begin again; tell me--would this not drive you crazy? Where I live there
is such a person, a tailor; he sits and sings and sews, and his singing is
unceasing. You cannot stand it; you get up in a fury and go out. Then you
run into another torture. You meet a man, an acquaintance, with whom you
enter into a conversation. But during this conversation you suddenly
happen to think of something pleasant, something good that is in store for
you, perhaps--something you wish to return to later and thoroughly enjoy.
But while you stand there talking you forget that pleasant thought, forget
it cleanly and cannot recall it at any cost! Then comes the pain, the
suffering; you are racked on the wheel because you have lost this
exquisite, secret enjoyment to which you could have treated yourself at no
cost or trouble."
"It _must_ be strange! But you are going to the country, to the pine
woods now; you will get well again," says Mrs. Hanka, and feels like a
Milde chimes in:
"Of course you will. And think of us when you are in your kingdom."
Ole Henriksen had remained quietly in his chair; he said little and smoked
his cigar. He knew Torahus; he gave Ojen a hint about visiting the house
of the county judge, which was a mile away. He had only to row across a
lake; pine woods all around--the house looked like a little white marble
palace in the green surroundings.
"How do you know all this?" asked Irgens, quite surprised to hear Ole
"I went through there on a walking trip," answered Ole, embarrassed. "We
were a couple of boys from the college. We stopped at the house and had a
glass of milk."
"Your health, Mr. College Man!" called the Journalist sarcastically.
"Be sure and row over," said Ole. "County Judge Lynum's family is
charming. There is even a young girl in the house if you care to fall in
love," he added smilingly.
"He, he! No; whatever else one can accuse Ojen of, the ladies he leaves
severely alone!" said Norem, good-natured and tipsy.
"Your health, Mr. College Man!" shouted Gregersen again.
Ole Henriksen looked at him.
"Do you mean me?" he asked.
"Of course, I mean you, certainly I do! Haven't you attended college?
Well, aren't you a college man, then?"
The Journalist, too, was a little tipsy.
"It was only a business college," said Ole quietly.
"Of course, you are a peddler, yes. But there is no reason why you should
be ashamed of that. Is there, Tidemand? I say there is no reason whatever!
Does anybody feel called upon to object?"
Tidemand did not answer. The Journalist kept obstinately to the question;
he frowned and thought of nothing else, afraid to forget what he had asked
about. He began to lose his temper; he demanded a reply in a loud voice.
Mrs. Hanka said suddenly:
"Silence, now. Ojen is going to read another poem."
Both Paulsberg and Irgens made secretly a wry face, but they said nothing;
on the contrary, Paulsberg nodded encouragingly. When the noise had
subsided a little Ojen got up, stepped back, and said:
"I know this by heart. It is called 'The Power of Love.'"
We rode in a railway carriage through a strange landscape--strange to
me, strange to her. We were also strangers to each other; we had never
met before. Why is she sitting so quietly? I wondered. And I bent
toward her and said, while my heart hammered:
"Are you grieving for somebody, madam? Have you left a friend where
you come from--a very dear friend?"
"Yes," she answered, "a very dear friend."
"And now you sit here unable to forget this friend?" I asked.
And she answered and shook her head sadly:
"No, no--I can never forget him."
She was silent. She had not looked at me while she spoke.
"May I lift your braid?" I asked her. "What a lovely braid--how very
beautiful it is!"
"My friend has kissed it," she said, and pushed back my hand.
"Forgive me," I said then, and my heart pounded more and more. "May I
not look at your ring--it shines so golden and is also so very
beautiful. I should like to look at it and admire it for your sake."
But to this she also said no and added:
"My friend has given it to me."
Then she moved still further away from me.
"Please forgive me," I said....
Time passes, the train rolls on, the journey is so long, so long and
wearisome, there is nothing we can do except listen to the rumbling of
the wheels. An engine flares past, it sounds like iron striking iron,
and I start, but she does not; she is probably entirely absorbed in
thoughts about her friend. And the train rolls on.
Then, for the first time, she glances at me, and her eyes are
"It grows darker?" she says.
"We are approaching a tunnel," I answer.
And we rode through the tunnel.
Some time passes. She glances at me, a trifle impatiently, and says:
"It seems to me it grows dark again?"
"We are drawing near the second tunnel, there are three altogether," I
answer. "Here is a map--do you want to see?"
"It frightens me," she says and moves closer to me. I say nothing. She
asks me smilingly:
"Did you say three tunnels? Is there one more besides this one?"
We enter the tunnel; I feel that she is very close to me, her hand
touches mine. Then it grows light again and we are once more in the
We ride for a quarter of an hour. She is now so close to me that I
feel the warmth from her.
"You are welcome to lift my braid if you wish to," she says, "and if
you care to look at my ring--why, here it is!"
I held her braid and did not take her ring because her friend had
given it to her. She smiled and did not offer it to me again.
"Your eyes are so bright, and how white your teeth!" she said and grew
confused. "I am afraid of that last tunnel--please hold my hand when
we get to it. No--don't hold my hand; I didn't mean that, I was
jesting; but talk to me."
I promised to do what she asked me to.
A few moments later she laughed and said:
"I was not afraid of the other tunnels; only this one frightens me."
She glanced at my face to see how I might answer, and I said:
"This is the longest, too; it is exceedingly long."
Her confusion was now at its highest.
"But we are not near any tunnel," she cried. "You are deceiving me;
there is no tunnel!"
"Yes, there is, the last one--look!"
And I pointed to my map. But she would see nothing and listen to
"No, no,--there is no tunnel, I tell you there is none! But speak to
me if there be one!" she added.
She leaned back against the cushions, and smiled through half-closed
The engine whistled; I looked out; we were approaching the black
opening. I remembered that I had promised to speak to her; I bent
towards her, and in the darkness I felt her arms around my neck.
"Speak to me, please do! I am so frightened!" she whispered with
beating heart. "Why don't you speak to me?"
I felt plainly how her heart was beating, and I placed my lips close
to her ears and whispered:
"But now you are forgetting your friend!"
She heard me, she trembled and let me go quickly; she pushed me away
with both hands, and threw herself down in the seat. I sat there
alone. I heard her sobs through the darkness.
"This was The Power of Love," Ojen said.
Everybody listened attentively; Milde sat with open mouth.
"Well--what more?" he asked, evidently thinking there must be a climax yet
to come. "Is that all? But Heaven preserve us, man, what is it all about?
No; the so-called poetry you young writers are dishing out nowadays--I
call it arrant rot!"
They all laughed loudly. The effect was spoiled; the poet with the compass
in his fob arose, pointed straight at Milde, and said furiously:
"This gentleman evidently lacks all understanding of modern poetry."
"Modern poetry! This sniffing at the moon and the sun, these filigree
phrases and unintelligible fancies--There must, at least, be a point, a
climax, to everything!"
Ojen was pale and furious.
"You have then not the slightest understanding of my new intentions," said
the poor fellow, trembling with excitement. "But, then, you are a brute,
Milde; one could not expect intelligent appreciation from you."
Only now did the fat painter realise how much he had offended; he had
hardly expected this when he spoke.
"A brute?" he answered good-naturedly. "It seems we are beginning to
express ourselves very plainly. I did not mean to insult you, anyway.
Don't you think I enjoyed the poem? I did, I tell you; enjoyed it
immensely. I only thought it a little disembodied, so to speak, somewhat
ethereal. Understand me correctly: it is very beautiful, exceedingly
artistic, one of the best things you have produced yet. Can't you take a
joke any more?"
But it was of no avail that Milde tried to smooth things over; the
seriousness of the moment had gone, they laughed and shouted more than
ever, and cut loose in earnest. Norem opened one of the windows and sang
to the street below.
To mend matters a little and make Ojen feel better, Mrs. Hanka placed her
hand on his shoulder and promised to come and see him off when he started
on his trip. Not she alone--they would all come. When was he going?
She turned to Ole Henriksen: "You'll come, won't you, and see Ojen off
when he goes?"
Ole Henriksen then gave an unexpected reply which surprised even Mrs.
Hanka: He would not only go with Ojen to the station, he would go with him
all the way to Torahus. Yes, he had suddenly made up his mind, he would
make this little trip; he had, in fact, a sort of reason for going--And
he was so much in earnest that he buttonholed Ojen at once and arranged
the day for the departure.
The Journalist drank with Mrs. Paulsberg, who held her glass in a peculiar
masculine fashion. They moved over to the sofa on account of the draught,
and told each other amusing anecdotes. Mrs. Paulsberg knew a story
concerning Grande and one of Pastor B.'s daughters. She had reached the
climax when she paused.
"Well--go on!" the Journalist exclaimed eagerly.
"Wait a moment!" answered Mrs. Paulsberg smilingly, "you must at least
give me time to blush a little!"
And she recounted merrily the climax.
Norem had retired to a corner and was fast asleep.
"Does anybody know the time?" asked Mrs. Paulsberg.
"Don't ask me," said Gregersen, and fumbled at his vest pocket. "It is
many a day since I carried a watch!"
It turned out that it was one o'clock.
About half-past one Mrs. Hanka and Irgens had disappeared. Irgens had
asked Milde for roasted coffee, and since then had not been seen. Nobody
seemed to think it strange that the two had sneaked away, and no questions
were asked; Tidemand was talking to Ole Henriksen about his trip to
"But have you time to run off like this?" he asked.
"I'll take time," answered Ole. "By the way, I want to tell you something
by and by."
Around Paulsberg's table the political situation was being discussed.
Milde once more threatened to banish himself to Australia. But, thank
Heaven, it now looked as if Parliament would do something before it was
dissolved, would refuse to yield.
"It is a matter of indifference to me what it does," said Gregersen of the
_Gazette_. "As things have been going, Norway has assumed the
character of a beaten country. We are decidedly poverty-stricken, in every
respect; we lack power, both in politics and in our civic life. How sad to
contemplate the general decline! What miserable remnants are left of the
intellectual life that once flamed up so brightly, that called loudly to
Heaven in the seventies! The aged go the way of the flesh; who is there to
take their places? I am sick of this decadence; I cannot thrive in low
Everybody looked at the Journalist; what was the matter with the
ever-merry chap? He was not so very drunk now; he spoke passably clearly,
and did not twist any words. What did he mean? But when the witty dog
reached the declaration that he could only thrive in a high spiritual
altitude, then the guests broke into peals of merriment and understood
that it was a capital hoax. The merry blade--hadn't he almost fooled them
all! "Poor remnants of the intellectual life of the seventies!" Didn't we
have Paulsberg and Irgens, and Ojen and Milde, and the two close-cropped
poets, and an entire army of first-class, sprouting talents besides!
The Journalist himself laughed and wiped his forehead and laughed again.
It was generally believed that this fellow was possessed of a literary
talent which had not entirely stagnated in his newspaper. A book might be
expected from him some day, a remarkable work.
Paulsberg forced a smile. In reality he was offended because nobody had
alluded to his novels or to his work on the Atonement during the entire
evening. When therefore the Journalist asked him his opinion concerning
the intellectual life of the nation, his reply was brief:
"It seems to me I have had occasion to express an opinion somewhere in my
Of course, of course; when they came to think of it they certainly
remembered it. It was true; a speech somewhere or other. Mrs. Paulsberg
quoted from book and page.
But Paulsberg made up his mind to leave now.
"I'll come and sit for you to-morrow," he said to Milde, with a glance at
the easel. He got up, emptied his glass, and found his overcoat. His wife
pressed everybody's hand vigorously. They met Mrs. Hanka and Irgens in the
From now on the merriment knew no bounds; they drank like sponges; even
the two young poets kept up as well as they could, and talked with
bloodshot eyes about Baudelaire. Milde demanded to know why Irgens had
asked him for coffee. Why did he need coffee? He hoped he had not been
making preparations to kiss Mrs. Hanka? Damn him, he would hate to trust
him.... Tidemand hears this and he laughs with the others, louder than the
others, and he says: "You are right, he is not to be trusted, the sly
dog!" Tidemand was sober as always.
They did not restrain themselves; the conversation was free and they swore
liberally. When all was said and done, it was prudery that was Norway's
curse and Norway's bane; people preferred to let their young girls go to
the dogs in ignorance rather than enlighten them while there was time.
Prudery was the nourishing vice of the moment. So help me, there ought to
be public men appointed for the sole purpose of shouting obscenity on the
streets just to make young girls acquainted with certain things while
there was still time. What, do you object, Tidemand?
No, Tidemand did not object, and Ole Henriksen did not object. The idea
was original, to say the least. Ha, ha!
Milde got Tidemand over in a corner.
"It is like this," he said, "I wonder if you have got a couple of crowns?"
Yes; Tidemand was not entirely stripped. How much? A ten-spot?
"Thanks, old man, I'll give it back to you shortly," said Milde in all
seriousness. "Very soon, now. You are a brick! It is not more than a
couple of days since I said that you hucksters were great fellows. That is
exactly what I said. Here is my hand!"
Mrs. Hanka got up at last; she wanted to leave. It was beginning to grow
Her husband kept close by her.
"Yes, Hanka, that is right--let us be going," he said. He was on the point
of offering her his arm.
"Thank you, my friend, but I have an escort," she said with an indifferent
It took him a moment to recover himself.
"Oh, I see," he said with a forced smile. "It is all right; I only
He walked over to the window and remained standing there.
Mrs. Hanka said good night to everybody. When she came to Irgens she
whispered eagerly, breathlessly: "To-morrow, then, at three." She kept
Ojen's hand in hers and asked him when he was going. Had he remembered to
make reservations at Torahus? No; she might have known it; these poets
were always forgetting the most essential. He would have to telegraph at
once. Good-bye! And get well soon.... She was maternal to the last.
The Journalist accompanied her.
"You said there was something you wanted to tell me," said Tidemand.
"Yes; so there is--You were surprised that I wanted to go along to
Torahus. Of course, I said that I had business there. That is not so; I
just said that. I know nobody there except Lynums; that is all there is to
it. I did really visit their house once. You never heard anything so
ridiculous; we came there, two thirsty tourists, and they gave us milk;
since then I have met the family when they came to town last fall and this
winter. It is quite a family--seven altogether, including the tutor. The
oldest daughter's name is Aagot. I'll tell you more about them later.
Aagot was eighteen the 7th of December; ha, ha! she is in her nineteenth
year; I happen to remember that she told me. In short, we are not exactly
engaged; I don't mean to say that; we have only written to each other once
in a while. But there is no telling what may happen--What do you say to
Tidemand was more than surprised; he stopped.
"But I had not the slightest idea; you haven't said a word to me about
"No; I was hardly in a position to say anything yet. There is nothing
definite; she is very young, you know. Suppose she had changed her mind?
She may tell me she has other intentions when I get there. In that case
nothing can be said against her; the execution will take place without
witnesses; her reputation will have suffered nothing--I want you to see
her, Andreas; I have a picture of her. I won't say that she gave it to me;
I almost took it forcibly; but--"
They stopped a moment and looked at the photograph.
"Charming!" said Tidemand.
"Isn't she? I am glad you think so. I am sure you will like her."
They walked on.
"I want to congratulate you!" said Tidemand and stopped again.
"Thanks!" Ole added a moment afterward: "Yes, I thank you. I may as well
tell you that it _is_ really decided, practically, that is. I am
going up to bring her to town with me."
They had almost reached the Railway Square when Tidemand suddenly stared
straight ahead and whispered:
"But isn't that my wife there ahead of us?"
"Yes; so it is," whispered Ole. "I have noticed this lady ahead of us a
long while; it is only now I see who it is."
Mrs. Hanka walked home alone; the Journalist had not accompanied her at
"Thank God!" exclaimed Tidemand involuntarily. "She told me she had an
escort, and now she goes home all alone. Isn't she a darling? She is going
straight home. But tell me--why did she say she had an escort?"
"Oh, you mustn't take such things too literally," answered Ole. "She
probably did not want anybody to go with her, neither you nor I nor
anybody else. Couldn't she feel that way inclined, perhaps? Young ladies
have their moods, just like you or me."
"Of course, that is perfectly true." Tidemand accepted this explanation.
He was happy because his wife was alone and was making straight for home.
He said, nervously glad: "Do you know, to judge by a few words I had with
her this evening it seems as if things were coming around more and more.
She even asked about the business, about the Russian customs duty; honest,
she wanted to know everything about Furst. You should have seen how
delighted she was because business is looking up again. We spoke about our
summer vacation, our country house. Yes, it is getting a little better
"There you are--didn't I tell you? It certainly would be a pity
"There is something I am at a loss to explain, though," continued
Tidemand, worried again. "Here lately she has been talking about what a
woman like herself should do with her life. She must have a career,
something to do and accomplish. I must confess it astonished me a little,
a woman with two children and a large household--She has also begun to use
her former name again, Hanka Lange Tidemand, just as if her name still
Mrs. Hanka had stopped outside her own entrance; she was evidently waiting
for her husband. She called to him jestingly that he had better hurry--she
was almost freezing to death. And she lifted her finger banteringly and
"What plots and conspiracies are you two wholesalers now hatching? Where
is the price of wheat now, and what are you going to put it up to? God
have mercy on you on the day of judgment!"
Tidemand answered in kind: What in the world had she done with the
Journalist? So she had not wanted company, not even her own husband's; she
had been in a sentimental mood? But how could she be so cruel as to let
this poor fellow Gregersen ramble home all alone, drunk as he was? It was
* * * * *
In about a week Ole Henriksen had returned from Torahus. Ojen had
remained, but Ole had brought back a young lady, his fiancee, Aagot Lynum.
With them had come a third person, a somewhat peculiar fellow.
Ole returned from Torahus the 5th of April. He introduced his fiancee at
once to the clique, presented her to his friends, and spent all day in her
company. He had not as yet introduced her to Irgens and Attorney Grande
because he had failed to run across them.
She was young and fair, with high bosom and a straight carriage. Her blond
hair and her frequent laughter gave an impression of extreme youthfulness.
She had a dimple in her left cheek and none in her right, and this
solitary dimple made her peculiar, characteristic. Wasn't it strange to
have one side of the face different from the other? She was of average
She had been so carried away with everything she had seen in the city that
she wandered around in a state of joyful excitement all day. The clique
had capitulated to her charm and shown her much amiability; Mrs. Hanka had
simply embraced her and kissed her the moment she saw her.
She followed Ole around in the establishment, peeped into all the
wonderful drawers and boxes in the store, tasted old, strong wines in the
cellars, and opened in fun the heavy ledgers in the office. But she was
especially fond of the warehouse, the little stall of an office down there
that was filled with tart and peculiar odours from all kinds of tropical
products. From the window she could see the docks, the harbour, the tugs
that brought cargoes in and out and puffed stertorously, shaking the very
air with their efforts. Just outside floated the little yacht with the
golden masthead; it was hers; it had been conveyed to her and belonged to
her legally. Ole had even been in _Veritas_ [Footnote: The Maritime
Insurance and Registry Office in Christiania.] and had its name changed to
_Aagot_. She had all the documents.
And slate after slate is brought into the office; the accounts grow a
little every day, they fill many columns, swell into larger and larger
amounts; the spring season has commenced, the active period just before
summer; all the pulses of trade the world over leap and quiver with
While Ole counts and makes notes, Aagot busies herself with something or
other on the other side of the desk. She was often unable to understand
how Ole managed to keep all these accounts straight without getting the
amounts mixed; she had tried it herself, but in vain. The only thing she
can be trusted with is the entering of endless orders in the books, and
this she does carefully and conscientiously.
Ole looks at her and says suddenly:
"Lord, what tiny hands you have, Aagot! He, he! they are next to nothing.
I can't understand how you can get along with them."
That is enough. Aagot throws down her pen and runs over to him. And they
are happy and silly until the next slate arrives.
"Little Mistress!" he says smilingly, and looks down into her eyes,
Time passes. At last the work is done, the accounts finished, and Ole
says, while he slams the ledger shut:
"Well, I have got to go and send some wires. Are you coming along?"
"Yes, dear, if you'll let me!" she answers. And she trips along, greatly
On the way Ole remembers that he has not as yet presented his sweetheart
to Irgens. "You ought to meet this fellow Irgens," he says; "he is a great
man, one of the deep talents; everybody says so." Suppose they went as far
as the Grand; he might be there.
They entered the Grand, passed by the tables where people sat drinking
and smoking, and found Irgens far back in the room. Milde and Norem were
"So here you are!" called Ole.
Irgens gave him his left hand and did not get up. He glanced through
half-closed lids at Aagot.
"This, Aagot, is the poet Irgens." Ole presented him, somewhat proud of
his intimate acquaintance with the great man. "My fiancee, Miss Lynum."
Irgens got up and bowed deeply. Once more he looked at Aagot, looked
persistently, even, and she looked back at him; she was evidently