Part 3 out of 5
go to church, and had been visited by Bjornson himself. It was
good to have him on your side; to have him against you was fatal--
you might just as well clear out of the town altogether. He had a
finger in everything that went on; it was as if he owned the whole
town. He had been known to meet a youth he had never spoken to
before in the street and accost him with a peremptory "Understand
me, young man; you will marry that girl." Yet for all this,
Lorentz Uthoug was not altogether content. True, he was head and
shoulders above all the Ringeby folks, but what he really wanted
was to be the biggest man in a place a hundred times as large.
And now that he had found a son-in-law, he seemed as it were to be
walking quietly round this stranger from the great world, taking
his measure, and asking in his thoughts: "Who are you at bottom?
What have you seen? What have you read? Are you progressive or
reactionary? Have you any proper respect for what I have
accomplished here, or are you going about laughing in your sleeve
and calling me a whale among the minnows?"
Every morning when Peer woke in his room at the hotel he rubbed his
eyes. On the table beside his bed stood a photograph of a young
girl. What? Is it really you, Peer, that have found someone to
stand close to you at last? Someone in the world who cares about
you. When you have a cold, there'll be people to come round and be
anxious about you, and ask how you are getting on. And this to
happen to you!
He dined at the Uthougs' every day, and there were always flowers
beside his plate. Often there would be some little surprise--a
silver spoon or fork, or a napkin-ring with his initials on. It
was like gathering the first straws to make his new nest. And the
pale woman with the spectacles looked kindly at him, as if to say:
"You are taking her from me, but I forgive you."
One day he was sitting in the hotel, reading, when Merle came in.
"Will you come for a walk?" she asked.
"Good idea. Where shall we go to-day?"
"Well, we haven't been to see Aunt Marit at Bruseth yet. We really
ought to go, you know. I'll take you there to-day."
Peer found these ceremonial visits to his new relatives quite
amusing; he went round, as it were, collecting uncles and aunts.
And to-day there was a new one. Well, why not?
"But--my dear girl, have you been crying?" he asked suddenly,
taking her head in his hands.
"Oh, it's nothing. Come--let's go now." And she thrust him gently
away as he tried to kiss her. But the next moment she dropped into
a chair, and sat looking thoughtfully at him through half-closed
eyes, nodding her head very slightly. She seemed to be asking
herself: "Who is this man? What is this I am taking on me? A
fortnight ago he was an utter stranger--"
She passed her hand across her brow. "It's mother--you know," she
"Is anything special wrong to-day?"
"She's so afraid you're going to carry me off into the wide world
at a moment's notice."
"But I've told her we're going to live here for the present."
The girl drew up one side of her mouth in a smile, and her eyelids
almost closed. "And what about me, then? After living here all
these years crazy to get out into the world?"
"And I, who am crazy to stay at home!" said Peer with a laugh.
"How delicious it will be to have a house and a family at last--and
peace and quiet!"
"But what about me?"
"You'll be there, too. I'll let you live with me."
"Oh! how stupid you are to-day. If you only knew what it means, to
throw away the best years of one's youth in a hole like this! And
besides--I could have done something worth while in music--"
"Why, then, let's go abroad, by all means," said Peer, wrinkling up
his forehead as if to laugh.
"Oh, nonsense! you know it's quite impossible to go off and leave
mother now. But you certainly came at a very critical time. For
anyway I was longing and longing just then for someone to come and
carry me off."
"Aha! so I was only a sort of ticket for the tour." He stepped
over and pinched her nose.
"Oh! you'd better be careful. I haven't really promised yet to
have you, you know."
"Haven't promised? When you practically asked me yourself."
She clapped her hands together. "Why, what shameless impudence!
After my saying No, No, No, for days together. I won't, I won't, I
won't--I said it ever so many times. And you said it didn't
matter--for YOU WOULD. Yes, you took me most unfairly off my
guard; but now look out for yourself."
The next moment she flung her arms round his neck. But when he
tried to kiss her, she pushed him away again. "No," she said, "you
mustn't think I did it for that!"
Soon they were walking arm-in-arm along the country road, on their
way to Aunt Marit at Bruseth. It was September, and all about the
wooded hills stood yellow, and the cornfields were golden and the
rowan berries blood-red. But there was still summer in the air.
"Ugh! how impossibly fast you walk," exclaimed Merle, stopping out
And when they came to a gate they sat down in the grass by the
wayside. Below them was the town, with its many roofs and chimneys
standing out against the shining lake, that lay framed in broad
stretches of farm and field.
"Do you know how it came about that mother is--as she is?" asked
"No. I didn't like to ask you about it."
She drew a stalk of grass between her lips.
"Well, you see--mother's father was a clergyman. And when--when
father forbade her to go to church, she obeyed him. But she
couldn't sleep after that. She felt--as if she had sold her soul."
"And what did your father say to that?"
"Said it was hysteria. But, hysteria or not, mother couldn't
sleep. And at last they had to take her away to a home."
"Poor soul!" said Peer, taking the girl's hand.
"And when she came back from there she was so changed, one would
hardly have known her. And father gave way a little--more than he
ever used to do--and said: 'Well, well, I suppose you must go to
church if you wish, but you mustn't mind if I don't go with you.'
And so one Sunday she took my hand and we went together, but as we
reached the church door, and heard the organ playing inside, she
turned back. 'No--it's too late now,' she said. 'It's too late,
Merle.' And she has never been since."
"And she has always been--strange--since then?"
Merle sighed. "The worst of it is she sees so many evil things
compassing her about. She says the only thing to do is to laugh
them away. But she can't laugh herself. And so I have to. But
when I go away from her--oh! I can't bear to think of it."
She hid her face against his shoulder, and he began stroking her
"Tell me, Peer"--she looked up with her one-sided smile--"who is
right--mother or father?"
"Have you been trying to puzzle that out?"
"Yes. But it's so hopeless--so impossible to come to any sort of
certainty. What do you think? Tell me what you think, Peer."
They sat there alone in the golden autumn day, her head pressed
against his shoulder. Why should he play the superior person and
try to put her off with vague phrases?
"Dear Merle, I know, of course, no more than you do. There was a
time when I saw God standing with a rod in one hand and a sugar-
cake in the other--just punishment and rewards to all eternity.
Then I thrust Him from me, because He seemed to me so unjust--and
at last He vanished, melting into the solar systems on high, and
all the infinitesimal growths here on the earth below. What was my
life, what were my dreams, my joy or sorrow, to these? Where was I
making for? Ever and always there was something in me saying: He
IS! But where? Somewhere beyond and behind the things you know--
it is there He is. And so I determined to know more things, more
and more and more--and what wiser was I? A steam-hammer crushes my
skull one day--and what has become of my part in progress and
culture and science? Am I as much of an accident as a fly on an
ant? Do I mean no more? Do I vanish and leave as little trace?
Answer me that, little Merle--what do YOU think?"
The girl sat motionless, breathing softly, with closed eyes. Then
she began to smile--and her lips were full and red, and at last
they shaped themselves to a kiss.
Bruseth was a large farm lying high above the town, with its garden
and avenues and long verandahs round the white dwelling-house. And
what a view out over the lake and the country far around! The two
stood for a moment at the gate, looking back.
Merle's aunt--her father's sister--was a widow, rich and a notable
manager, but capricious to a degree, capable of being generous one
day and grasping the next. It was the sorrow of her life that she
had no children of her own, but she had not yet decided who was to
be her heir.
She came sailing into the room where the two young people were
waiting, and Peer saw her coming towards them, a tall, full-bosomed
woman with grey hair and florid colour. Oho! here's an aunt for
you with a vengeance, he thought. She pulled off a blue apron she
was wearing and appeared dressed in a black woollen gown, with a
gold chain about her neck and long gold earrings.
"So you thought you'd come over at last," she said. "Actually
remembered my existence, after all, did you, Merle?" She turned
towards Peer, and stood examining him, with her hands on her hips.
"So that's what you look like, is it, Peer? And you're the man
that was to catch Merle? Well, you see I call you Peer at once,
even though you HAVE come all the way from--Arabia, is it? Sit
down, sit down."
Wine was brought in, and Aunt Marit of Bruseth lifted a
congratulatory glass toward the pair with the following words:
"You'll fight, of course. But don't overdo it, that's all. And
mark my words, Peer Holm, if you aren't good to her, I'll come
round one fine day and warm your ears for you. Your healths,
The two went homewards arm-in-arm, dancing down the hillsides, and
singing gaily as they went. But suddenly, when they were still
some way from the town, Merle stopped and pointed. "There," she
A solitary woman was walking slowly in the twilight over a wide
field of stubble, looking around her. It was as if she were
lingering here to search out the meaning of something--of many
things. From time to time she would glance up at the sky, or at
the town below, or at people passing on the road, and then she
would nod her head. How infinitely far off she seemed, how utterly
a stranger to all the noisy doings of men! What was she seeing
now? What were her thoughts?
"Let us go on," whispered Merle, drawing him with her. And the
young girl suddenly began to sing, loudly, as if in an overflow of
spirits; and Peer guessed that it was for her mother's sake.
Perhaps the lonely woman stood there now in the twilight smiling
One Sunday morning Merle drove up to the hotel in a light cart with
a big brown horse; Peer came out and climbed in, leaving the reins
to her. They were going out along the fjord to look at her
father's big estate which in olden days had been the County
Governors' official residence.
It is the end of September. The sun is still warm, but the waters
of the lake are grey and all the fields are reaped. Here and there
a strip of yellowing potato-stalks lies waiting to be dug up. Up
on the hillsides horses tethered for grazing stand nodding their
heads slowly, as if they knew that it was Sunday. And a faint mist
left by the damps of the night floats about here and there over the
They passed through a wood, and came on the other side to an avenue
of old ash trees, that turned up from the road and ran uphill to a
big house where a flag was flying. The great white dwelling-house
stood high, as if to look out far over the world; the red farm-
buildings enclosed the wide courtyard on three sides, and below
were gardens and broad lands, sloping down towards the lake.
Something like an estate!
"What's the name of that place?" cried Peer, gazing at it.
"And who owns it?"
"Don't know," answered the girl, cracking her whip.
Next moment the horse turned in to the avenue, and Peer caught
involuntarily at the reins. "Hei! Brownie--where are you going?"
"Why not go up and have a look?" said Merle.
"But we were going out to look at your father's place."
"Well, that is father's place."
Peer stared at her face and let go the reins. "What? What? You
don't mean to say your father owns that place there?"
A few minutes later they were strolling through the great, low-
ceiled rooms. The whole house was empty now, the farm-bailiff
living in the servants' quarters. Peer grew more and more
enthusiastic. Here, in these great rooms, there had been festive
gatherings enough in the days of the old Governors, where cavaliers
in uniform or with elegant shirt-frills and golden spurs had kissed
the hands of ladies in sweeping silk robes. Old mahogany, pot-
pourri, convivial song, wit, grace--Peer saw it all in his mind's
eye, and again and again he had to give vent to his feelings by
seizing Merle and embracing her.
"Oh, but look here, Merle--you know, this is a fairy-tale."
They passed out into the old neglected garden with its grass-grown
paths and well-filled carp-ponds and tumble-down pavilions. Peer
rushed about it in all directions. Here, too, there had been
fetes, with coloured lamps festooned around, and couples whispering
in the shade of every bush. "Merle, did you say your father was
going to sell all this to the State?"
"Yes, that's what it will come to, I expect," she answered. "The
place doesn't pay, he says, when he can't live here himself to look
"But what use can the State make of it?"
"Oh, a Home for Imbeciles, I believe."
"Good Lord! I might have guessed it! An idiot asylum--to be
sure." He tramped about, fairly jumping with excitement. "Merle,
look here--will you come and live here?"
She threw back her head and looked at him. "I ask you, Merle.
Will you come and live here?"
"Do you want me to answer this moment, on the spot?"
"Yes. For I want to buy it this moment, on the spot."
"Well, aren't you--"
"Look, Merle, just look at it all. That long balcony there, with
the doric columns--nothing shoddy about that--it's the real thing.
Empire. I know something about it."
"But it'll cost a great deal, Peer." There was some reluctance in
her voice. Was she thinking of her violin? Was she loth to take
root too firmly?
"A great deal?" he said. "What did your father give for it?"
"The place was sold by auction, and he got it cheap. Fifty
thousand crowns, I think it was."
Peer strode off towards the house again. "We'll buy it. It's the
very place to make into a home. . . . Horses, cattle, sheep,
goats, cottars--ah! it'll be grand."
Merle followed him more slowly. "But, Peer, remember you've just
taken over father's machine-shops in town."
"Pooh!" said Peer scornfully. "Do you think I can't manage to run
that village smithy and live here too! Come along, Merle." And he
took her hand and drew her into the house again.
It was useless to try to resist. He dragged her from room to room,
furnishing as he went along. "This room here is the dining-room--
and that's the big reception-room; this will be the study--that's a
boudoir for you. . . . Come now; to-morrow we'll go into
Christiania and buy the furniture."
Merle gasped for breath. He had got so far by this time that the
furnishing was complete and they were installed. They had a
governess already, and he was giving parties too. Here was the
ballroom. He slipped an arm round her waist and danced round the
room with her, till she was carried away by his enthusiasm, and
stood flushed and beaming, while all she had dreamed of finding
some day out in the wide world seemed suddenly to unfold around her
here in these empty rooms. Was this really to be her home? She
stopped to take breath and to look around her.
Late that evening Peer sat at the hotel with a note-book, working
the thing out. He had bought Loreng; his father-in-law had been
reasonable, and had let him have the place, lands and woods and
all, for the ridiculous price he had paid himself. There was a
mortgage of thirty thousand crowns on the estate. Well, that might
stand as it was, for the bulk of Peer's money was tied up in
Ferdinand Holm's company.
A few days after he carried Merle off to the capital, leaving the
carpenters and painters hard at work at Loreng.
One day he was sitting alone at the hotel in Christiania--Merle was
out shopping--when there was a very discreet knock at the door.
"Come in," called Peer. And in walked a middle-sized man, of
thirty or more, dressed in a black frock-coat with a large-
patterned vest, and his dark hair carefully combed over a bald
patch on the crown. He had a red, cheery face; his eyes were of
the brightest blue, and the whole man breathed and shone with good
"I am Uthoug junior," said the new-comer, with a bow and a laugh.
"Just come across from Manchester--beastly voyage. Thanks, thanks--
I'll find a seat." He sat down, and flung one striped trouser-leg
over the other.
Peer sent for some wine, and in half an hour the two were firm
allies. Uthoug junior's life-story to date was quickly told. He
had run away from home because his father had refused to let him go
on the stage--had found on trial that in these days there weren't
enough theatres to go round--then had set up in business for
himself, and now had a general agency for the sale of English
tweeds. "Freedom, freedom," was his idea; "lots of elbow-room--
room to turn about in--without with your leave or by your leave to
father or anyone! Your health!"
A week later the street outside Lorentz D. Uthoug's house in
Ringeby was densely crowded with people, all gazing up at the long
rows of lighted windows. There was feasting to-night in the great
man's house. About midnight a carriage drove up to the door.
"That's the bridegroom's," whispered a bystander. "He got those
horses from Denmark!"
The street door opened, and a white figure, thickly cloaked,
appeared on the steps. "The bride!" whispered the crowd. Then a
slender man in a dark overcoat and silk hat. "The bridegroom!"
And as the pair passed out, "Hip-hip-hip--" went the voice of the
general agent for English tweeds, and the hurrahs came with a will.
The carriage moved off, and Peer sat, with his arm round his bride,
driving his horses at a sharp trot out along the fjord. Out
towards his home, towards his palace, towards a new and untried
A little shaggy, grey-bearded old man stood chopping and sawing in
the wood-shed at Loreng. He had been there longer than anyone
could remember. One master left, another took his place--what was
that to the little man? Didn't the one need firewood--and didn't
the other need firewood just the same? In the evening he crept up
to his den in the loft of the servants' wing; at meal-times he sat
himself down in the last seat at the kitchen-table, and it seemed
to him that there was always food to be had. Nowadays the master's
name was Holm--an engineer he was--and the little man blinked at
him with his eyes, and went on chopping in the shed. If they came
and told him he was not wanted and must go--why, thank heaven, he
was stone deaf, as everyone knew. Thud, thud, went his axe in the
shed; and the others about the place were so used to it that they
heeded it no more than the ticking of a clock upon the wall.
In the kitchen of the big house two girls stood by the window
peeping out into the garden and giggling.
"There he is again," said Laura. "Sh! don't laugh so loud. There!
now he's stopping again!"
"He's whistling to a bird," said Oliana. "Or talking to himself
perhaps. Do you think he's quite right in his head?"
"Sh! The mistress'll hear."
It was no less a person than the master of Loreng himself whose
proceedings struck them as so comic.
Peer it was, wandering about in the great neglected garden, with
his hands in the pockets of his knickerbockers and his cap on the
back of his head, stopping here and there, and moving on again as
the fancy took him. Sometimes he would hum a snatch of a song, and
again fall to whistling; here he would pick up a twig and look at
it, or again it might be a bird, or perhaps an old neglected apple-
tree that seemed worth stopping to talk to. The best of it was
that these were his own lands and his own woods that lay there in
the rusty October sunshine. Was all that nothing? And the hill
over on the farther shore, standing on its head in the dark lake-
mirror, clothed in a whole world of colour--yellow leaves and green
leaves, and light red and dark red, and golden and blood-red
patches, with the dark green of the pines between. His eyes had
all this to rest on. Did he really live here? What abundant
fruitfulness all around him! What a sky, so wide, so golden that
it seemed to ring again. The potato-stalks lay uprooted, scattered
on the fields; the corn was safely housed. And here he stood. He
seemed again to be drawing in nourishment from all he saw, drinking
it greedily. The empty places in his mind were filled; the sight
of the rich soft landscape worked on his being, giving it something
of its own abundant fruitfulness, its own wide repose.
"What next?" he mimicked in his thoughts, and started again
tramping up and down the garden paths. What next--what next?
Could he not afford now to take his time--to rest a little? Every
man must have an end in view--must strive to reach this goal or
that. And what was his object now? What was it he had so toiled
for, from those hard years in the loft above the stable even until
now? What was it? Often it seemed as if everything were going
smoothly, going of itself; as if one day, surely, he would find his
part in a great, happy world-harmony. But had he not already found
it? What more would he have? Of course he had found it.
But is this all, then? What is there behind and beyond? Hush!
have done with questioning. Look at the beauty around you. Here
is peace, peace and rest.
He hurried up to the house, and in--it might help matters if he
could take his wife in his arms; perhaps get her to come out with
him a while.
Merle was in the pantry, with a big apron on, ranging jars of
preserves on the shelves.
"Here, dearest little wife," cried Peer, throwing his arms about
her, "what do you say to a little run?"
"Now? Do you suppose a housewife has nothing better to do than gad
about? Uf! my hair! you'll make it come down."
Peer took her arm and led her over to a window looking out on the
lake. "There, dearest! Isn't it lovely here?"
"Peer, you've asked me that twenty times a day ever since we came."
"Yes, and you never answer. And you've never once yet run and
thrown your arms round my neck and said how happy you were. And
it's never yet come to pass that you've given me a single kiss of
your own accord."
"I should think not, when you steal such a lot." And she pushed
him aside, and slipped under his arm, and ran out of the room. "I
must go in and see mother again to-day," she said as she went.
"Huit! Of course!" He paced up and down the room, his step
growing more and more impatient. "In to mother--in to mother!
Always and everlastingly mother and mother and nothing else.
Huit!" and he began to whistle.
Merle put her head in at the door. "Peer--have you such a terrible
lot of spare time?"
"Well, yes and no. I'm busy enough looking about in every corner
here for something or another. But I can't find it, and I don't
even know exactly what it is. Oh well, yes--I have plenty of time
"But what about the farm?"
"Well, there's the dairy-woman in the cow-house, and the groom in
the stables, and the bailiff to worry the tenants and workpeople.
What am I to do--poke around making improvements?"
"But what about the machine-shop?"
"Don't I go in twice a day--cycle over to see how things are going?
But with Rode for manager--that excellent and high-principled
"Surely you could help him in some way?"
"He's got to go on running along the line of rails he's used to--
nothing else for it, my darling. And four or five thousand crowns
a year, net profit--why, it's magnificent!"
"But couldn't you extend the business?"
He raised his eyebrows, and his mouth pursed itself up.
"Extend--did you say extend? Extend a--a doll's house!"
"Oh, Peer, you shouldn't laugh at it--a thing that father took so
much pains to set going!"
"And YOU shouldn't go worrying me to get to work again in earnest,
Merle. You shouldn't really. One of these days I might discover
that there's no way to be happy in the world but to drag a plough
and look straight ahead and forget that there's anything else in
existence. It may come to that one day--but give me a little
breathing-space first, and you love me. Well, good-bye for a
Merle, busying herself again in her pantry, glanced out of the
window and saw him disappear into the stables. At first she had
gone with him when he wandered about like this, touching and
feeling all his possessions. In the cattle-stalls, it might be,
stroking and patting, getting himself covered with hairs, and
chattering away in childish glee. "Look, Merle--this cow is mine,
child! Dagros her name is--and she's mine. We have forty of them--
and they're all mine. And that nag there--what a sight he is! We
have eight of them. They're mine. Yours too, of course. But you
don't care a bit about it. You haven't even hugged any of them
yet. But when a man's been as poor as I've been--and suddenly
wakened up one day and found he owned all this-- No, wait a
minute, Merle--come and kiss old Brownie." She knew the ritual
now--he could go over it all again and again, and each time with
the same happy wonder. Was it odious of her that she was beginning
to find it a little comic? And how did it come about that often,
when she might be filled with the deepest longing for him, and he
burst in upon her boisterously, hungry for her caresses, she would
grow suddenly cold, and put him aside? What was the matter? Why
did she behave like this?
Perhaps it was because he was so much the stronger, so overwhelming
in his effect on her that she had to keep a tight hold on herself
to avoid being swept clean away and losing her identity. At one
moment they might be sitting in the lamplight, chatting easily
together, and so near in heart and mind; and the next it would be
over--he would suddenly have started up and be pacing up and down
the room, delivering a sort of lecture. Merle--isn't it marvellous,
the spiritual life of plants? And then would come a torrent of talk
about strange plant-growths in the north and in the south, plants
whose names she had never even heard--their struggle for existence,
their loves and longings, their heroism in disease, the divine
marvel of their death. Their inventions, their wisdom, aye, their
religious sense--is it not marvellous, Merle? From this it was only
a step to the earth's strata, fossils, crystals--a fresh lecture.
And finally he would sum up the whole into one great harmony of
development, from the primary cell-life to the laws of gravitation
that rule the courses of the stars. Was it not marvellous? One
common rhythm beating through the universe--a symphony of worlds!--
And then he must have a kiss!
But she could only draw back and put him gently aside. It was as
if he came with all his stored-up knowledge--his lore of plants and
fossils, crystals and stars--and poured it all out in a caress.
She could almost have cried out for help. And after hurrying her
through the wonders of the universe in this fashion, he would
suddenly catch her up in his arms, and whirl her off in a
passionate intoxication of the senses till she woke at last like a
castaway on an island, hardly knowing where or what she was. She
laughed, but she could have found it in her heart to weep. Could
this be love? In this strong man, whose life till now had been all
study and work, the stored-up feeling burst vehemently forth, now
that it had found an outlet. But why did it leave her so cold?
When Peer came in from the stables, humming a tune, he found her in
the sitting-room, dressed in a dark woollen dress with a red ribbon
round her throat.
He stopped short: "By Jove--how that suits you, Merle!"
She let her eyes linger on him for a moment, and then came up and
threw her arms round his neck.
"Did he have to go to the stables all alone today?"
"Yes; I've been having a chat with the young colt."
"Am I unkind to you, Peer?"
"Not even if I ask you to drive me in to see mother?"
"Why, that's the very thing. The new horse I bought yesterday from
Captain Myhre should be here any minute--I'm just waiting for it."
"A new horse--to ride?"
"Yes. Hang it--I must get some riding. I had to handle Arab
horses for years. But we'll try this one in the gig first."
Merle was still standing with her arms round his neck, and now she
pressed her warm rich lips to his, close and closer. It was at
such moments that she loved him--when he stood trembling with a joy
unexpected, that took him unawares. She too trembled, with a
blissful thrill through soul and body; for once and at last it was
she who gave.
"Ah!" he breathed at last, pale with emotion. "I--I'd be glad to
die like that."
A little later they stood on the balcony looking over the courtyard,
when a bearded farm-hand came up with a big light-maned chestnut
horse prancing in a halter. The beast stood still in the middle of
the yard, flung up its head, and neighed, and the horses in the
stable neighed in answer.
"Oh, what a beauty!" exclaimed Merle, clapping her hands.
"Put him into the gig," called Peer to the stable-boy who had come
out to take the horse.
The man touched his cap. "Horse has never been driven before, sir,
I was to say."
"Everything must have a beginning," said Peer.
Merle glanced at him. But they were both dressed to go out when
the chestnut came dancing up before the door with the gig. The
white hoofs pawed impatiently, the head was high in the air, and
the eyes flashed fire--he wasn't used to having shafts pressing on
his sides and wheels rumbling just behind him. Peer lit a cigar.
"You're not going to smoke?" Merle burst out.
"Just to show him I'm not excited," said Peer. No sooner had they
taken their seats in the gig than the beast began to snort and
rear, but the long lash flicked out over its neck, and a minute
later they were tearing off in a cloud of dust towards the town.
Winter came--and a real winter it was. Peer moved about from one
window to another, calling all the time to Merle to come and look.
He had been away so long--the winter of Eastern Norway was all
new to him. Look--look! A world of white--a frozen white
tranquillity--woods, plains, lakes all in white, a fairy-tale in
sunlight, a dreamland at night under the great bright moon. There
was a ringing of sleigh-bells out on the lake, and up in the snow-
powdered forest; the frost stood thick on the horses' manes and the
men's beards were hung with icicles. And in the middle of the
night loud reports of splitting ice would come from the lake--
sounds to make one sit up in bed with a start.
Driving's worth while in weather like this--come, Merle. The new
stallion from Gudbrandsdal wants breaking in--we'll take him.
Hallo! and away they go in their furs, swinging out over the frozen
lake, whirling on to the bare glassy ice, where they skid and come
near capsizing, and Merle screams--but they get on to snow, and
hoofs and runners grip again. None of your galloping--trot now,
trot! And Peer cracks his whip. The black, long-maned
Gudbrandsdaler lifts his head and trots out. And the evening
comes, and under the wide and starry sky they dash up again to
Loreng--Loreng that lies there lighting them home with its long
rows of glowing windows. A glorious day, wife!
Or they would go out on ski over the hills to the woodmen's huts in
the forest, and make a blazing fire in the big chimney and drink
steaming coffee. Then home again through one of those pale winter
evenings with a violet twilight over woods and fields and lake,
over white snow and blue. Far away on the brown hillside in the
west stands a farmhouse, with all its windows flaming with the
reflection from a golden cloud. Here they come rushing, the wind
of their passing shaking the snow from the pines; on, on, over
deep-rutted woodcutters' roads, over stumps and stones--falling,
bruising themselves, burying their faces deep in the snow, but
dragging themselves up again, smiling to each other and rushing on
again. Then, reaching home red and dripping, they lean the ski up
against the wall, and stamp the snow off their boots.
"Merle," said Peer, picking the ice from his beard, "we must have a
bottle of Burgundy at dinner to-night."
"Yes--and shall we ring up and ask someone to come over?"
"Someone--from outside? Can't we two have a little jollification
all to ourselves?"
"Yes, yes, of course, if you like."
A shower-bath--a change of underclothes--how delicious! And--an
idea! He'll appear at dinner in evening dress, just for a
surprise. But as he entered the room he stopped short. For there
stood Merle herself in evening dress--a dress of dark red velvet,
with his locket round her neck and the big plaits of hair rolled
into a generous knot low on her neck. Flowers on the table--the
wine set to warm--the finest glass, the best silver--ptarmigan--how
splendid! They lift their glasses filled with the red wine and
drink to each other.
The frozen winter landscape still lingered in their thoughts, but
the sun had warmed their souls; they laughed and jested, held each
other's hands long, and sat smiling at each other in long silences.
"A glorious day to-day, Merle. And to-morrow we die."
"What do you say!--to-morrow!"
"Or fifty years hence. It comes to the same thing." He pressed
her hand and his eyes half closed.
"But this evening we're together--and what could we want more?"
Then he fell to talking of his Egyptian experiences. He had once
spent a month's holiday in visiting ruined cities with Maspero, the
great Maspero himself, going with him to Luxor, to Karnak, with its
great avenues of sphinxes, to El Amarna and Shubra. They had
looked on ancient cities of temples and king's mausoleums, where
men thousands of years dead lay as if lost in thought, with eyes
wide open, ready at any moment to rise and call out: Slave, is the
bath ready? There in the middle of a cornfield rises an obelisk.
You ask what it is--it is all that is left of a royal city. There,
too, a hundred thousand years ago maybe, young couples have sat
together, drinking to each other in wine, revelling in all the
delights of love--and where are they now? Aye, where are they, can
you tell me?
"When that journey was over, Merle, I began to think that it was
not mere slime of the Nile that fertilised the fields; it was the
mouldered bodies of the dead. I rode over dust that had been human
fingers, lips that had clung in kisses. Millions and millions of
men and women have lived on those river-banks, and what has become
of them now? Geology. And I thought of the millions of prayers
wailed out there to the sun and stars, to stone idols in the
temples, to crocodiles and snakes and the river itself, the sacred
river. And the air, Merle--the air received them, and vibrated for
a second--and that was all. And even so our prayers go up, to this
very day. We press our warm lips to a cold stone, and think to
leave an impression. Skaal!"
But Merle did not touch her glass; she sat still, with her eyes on
the yellow lampshade. She had not yet given up all her dreams of
going forth and conquering the world with her music--and he sat
there rolling out eternity itself before her, while he and she
herself, her parents, all, all became as chaff blown before the
wind and vanished.
"What, won't you drink with me? Well, well--then I must pledge you
by myself. Skaal!"
And being well started on his travellers' tales he went on with
them, but now in a more cheerful vein, so that she found it
possible to smile. He told of the great lake-swamps, with their
legions of birds, ibis, pelicans, swans, flamingos, herons, and
storks--a world of long beaks and curved breasts and stilt-like
legs and shrieking and beating of wings. Most wonderful of all it
was to stand and watch and be left behind when the birds of passage
flew northward in their thousands in the spring. My love to
Norway, he would say, as they passed. And in the autumn to see
them return, grey goose, starling, wagtail, and all the rest. "How
goes it now at home?" he would think--and "Next time I'll go with
you," he would promise himself year after year.
"And here I am at last! Skaal!"
"Welcome home," said Merle, lifting her glass with a smile.
He rang the bell. "What do you want?" her eyes asked.
"Champagne," said Peer to the maid, who appeared and vanished
"Are you crazy, Peer?"
He leaned back, flushed and in happy mood, lit a cigarette and told
of his greatest triumph out there; it was after he had finished his
work at the cataracts, and had started again with a branch of the
English firm in Alexandria. One morning in walked the Chief and
said: "Now, gentlemen, here's a chance for a man that has the
stuff in him to win his spurs--who's ready?" And half a score of
voices answered "I." "Well, here's the King of Abyssinia suddenly
finds he must be in the fashion and have a railway--couple of
hundred miles of it--what do you say to that?" "Splendid," we
cried in chorus. "Well, but we've got to compete with Germans, and
Swiss, and Americans--and we've got to win." "Of course"--a louder
chorus still. "Now, I'm going to take two men and give them a free
hand. They'll go up there and survey and lay out lines, and work
out the whole project thoroughly, both from the technical and the
financial side--and a project that's better and cheaper than the
opposition ones. Eight months' work for a good man, but I must
have it done in four. Take along assistants and equipment--all you
need--and a thousand pounds premium to the man who puts it through
so that we get the job."
"Peer--were you sent?" Merle half rose from her seat in her
"I--and one other."
"Who was that?"
"His name was Ferdinand Holm."
Merle smiled her one-sided smile, and looked at him through her
long lashes. She knew it had been the dream of his life to beat
that half-brother of his in fair fight. And now!
"And what came of it?" she asked, with a seeming careless glance at
Peer flung away his cigarette. "First an expedition up the Nile,
then a caravan journey, camels and mules and assistants and
provisions and instruments and tents and quinine--heaps of quinine.
Have you any idea, I wonder, what a job like that means? The line
was to run through forests and tunnels, over swamps and torrents
and chasms, and everything had to be planned and estimated at top
speed--material, labour, time, cost and all. It was all very well
to provide for the proper spans and girders for a viaduct, and
estimate for thoroughly sound work in casting and erecting--but
even then it would be no good if the Germans could come along and
say their bridge looked handsomer than ours. It was a job that
would take a good man eight months, and I had to get it done in
four. There are just twelve hours in a day, it's true--but then
there are twelve more hours in the night. Fever? Well, yes. And
sunstroke--yes, both men and beasts went down with that. Maps got
washed out by the rain. I lost my best assistant by snakebite.
But such things didn't count as hindrances, they couldn't be
allowed to delay the work. If I lost a man, it simply meant so
much more work for me. After a couple of months a blacksmith's
hammer started thumping in the back of my head, and when I closed
my eyes for a couple of hours at night, little fiery snakes went
wriggling about in my brain. Tired out? When I looked in the
glass, my eyes were just two red balls in my head. But when the
four months were up, I was back in the Chief's office."
"And--and Ferdinand Holm?"
"Had got in the day before."
Merle shifted a little in her seat. "And so--he won?"
Peer lit another cigarette. "No," he said--the cigarette seemed to
draw rather badly--"I won. And that's how I came to be building
railways in Abyssinia."
"Here's the champagne," said Merle. And as the wine foamed in the
glasses, she rose and drank to him. She said nothing, only looked
at him with eyes half veiled, and smiled. But a wave of fire went
through him from head to foot.
"I feel like playing to-night," she said.
It was rarely that she played, though he had often begged her to.
Since they had been married she had seemed loth to touch her
violin, feeling perhaps some vague fear that it would disturb her
peace and awaken old longings.
Peer sat on the sofa, leaning forward with his head in his hands,
listening. And there she stood, at the music-stand, in her red
dress, flushed and warm, and shining in the yellow lamplight,
Then suddenly the thought of her mother came to her, and she went
to the telephone. "Mother--are you there, mother? Oh, we've had
such a glorious day." And the girl ran on, as if trying to light
up her mother's heart with some rays of the happiness her own happy
day had brought her.
A little later Peer lay in bed, while Merle flitted about the room,
lingering over her toilet.
He watched her as she stood in her long white gown before the
toilet-table with the little green-shaded lamps, doing her hair for
the night in a long plait. Neither of them spoke. He could see
her face in the glass, and saw that her eyes were watching him,
with a soft, mysterious glance--the scent of her hair seemed to
fill the place with youth.
She turned round towards him and smiled. And he lay still,
beckoning her towards him with shining eyes. All that had passed
that evening--their outing, and the homeward journey in the violet
dusk, their little feast, and his story, the wine--all had turned
to love in their hearts, and shone out now in their smile.
It may be that some touch of the cold breath of the eternities was
still in their minds, the remembrance of the millions on millions
that die, the flight of the aeons towards endless darkness; yet in
spite of all, the minutes now to come, their warm embrace, held a
whole world of bliss, that out-weighed all, and made Peer, as he
lay there, long to send out a hymn of praise into the universe,
because it was so wonderful to live.
He began to understand why she lingered and took so long. It was a
sign that she wanted to surprise him, that her heart was kind. And
her light breathing seemed even now to fill the room with love.
Outside in the night the lake-ice, splitting into new crevices,
sent up loud reports; and the winter sky above the roof that
sheltered them was lit with all its stars.
For the next few years Peer managed his estate and his workshop,
without giving too much of his time to either. He had his bailiff
and his works-manager, and the work went on well enough in its
accustomed grooves. If anyone had asked him what he actually did
himself all the time, he would have found it hard to answer. He
seemed to be going round gathering up something not clearly
defined. There was something wanting--something missed that now
had to be made good. It was not knowledge now, but life--life in
his native land, the life of youth, that he reached out to grasp.
The youth in him, that had never had free play in the years of
early manhood, lay still dammed up, and had to find an outlet.
There were festive gatherings at Loreng. Long rows of sleighs
drove in the winter evenings up from the town and back again.
Tables were spread and decked with glass and flowers, the rooms
were brightly lit, and the wine was good. And sometimes in the
long moonlit nights respectable citizens would be awakened by noisy
mirth in the streets of the little town, and, going to the window
in their night-shirts, would see sleighs come galloping down, with
a jangle of bells, full of laughing, singing young people,
returning from some excursion far up in the hills, where there had
been feasting and dancing. Here a young lawyer--newly married and
something of a privileged buffoon--was sitting on the lap of
somebody else's wife, playing a concertina, and singing at the top
of his voice. "Some of that Loreng man's doings again," people
would say. "The place has never been the same since he came here."
And they would get back to bed again, shaking their heads and
wondering what things were coming to.
Peer drove out, too, on occasion, to parties at the big country
houses round, where they would play cards all night and have
champagne sent up to their rooms next morning, the hosts being men
who knew how to do things in style. This was glorious. Not
mathematics or religion any more--what he needed now was to
assimilate something of the country life of his native land. He
was not going to be a stranger in his own country. He wanted to
take firm root and be able to feel, like others, that he had a spot
in the world where he was at home.
Then came the sunny day in June when he stood by Merle's bed, and
she lay there smiling faintly her one-sided smile, with a newborn
girl on her arm.
"What are we to call her, Peer?"
"Why, we settled that long ago. After your mother, of course."
"Of course her name's to be Louise," said Merle, turning the tiny
red face towards her breast.
This came as a fresh surprise. She had been planning it for weeks
perhaps, and now it took him unawares like one of her spontaneous
caresses, but this time a caress to his inmost soul.
He made a faint attempt at a joke. "Oh well, I never have any say
in my own house. I suppose you must have it your own way." He
stroked her forehead; and when she saw how deeply moved he was, she
smiled up at him with her most radiant smile.
On one of the first days of the hay-harvest, Peer lay out on a
sunny hillside with his head resting on a haycock, watching his
people at work. The mowing machine was buzzing down by the lake,
the spreader at work on the hill-slopes, the horses straining in
front, the men sitting behind driving. The whole landscape lay
around him breathing summer and fruitfulness. And he himself lay
there sunk in his own restful quiet.
A woman in a light dress and a yellow straw hat came down the field
road, pushing a child's cart before her. It was Merle, and Merle
was looking round her, and humming as she came. Since the birth of
her child her mind was at peace; it was clear that she was scarcely
dreaming now of conquering the world with her music--there was a
tiny being in the little cart that claimed all her dreams. Never
before had her skin been so dazzling, her smile so red; it was as
if her youth now first blossomed out in all its fullness; her eyes
seemed opened wide in a dear surprise.
After a while Peer went down and drove the mowing machine himself.
He felt as if he must get to work somehow or other to provide for
his wife and child.
But suddenly he stopped, got down, and began to walk round the
machine and examine it closely. His face was all alert now, his
eyes keen and piercing. He stared at the mechanism of the blades,
and stood awhile thinking.
What was this? A happy idea was beginning to work in his mind.
Vague only as yet--there was still time to thrust it aside.
Warm mild days and luminous nights. Sometimes he could not sleep
for thinking how delicious it was to lie awake and see the sun come
On one such night he got up and dressed. A few minutes later there
was a trampling of hoofs in the stable-yard and the chestnut
stallion appeared, with Peer leading him. He swung himself into
the saddle, and trotted off down the road, a white figure in his
drill suit and cork helmet.
Where was he going? Nowhere. It was a change, to be up at an
unusual hour and see the day break on a July morning.
He trotted along at an easy pace, rising lightly in the stirrups,
and enjoying the pleasant warmth the rider feels. All was quiet
around him, the homesteads still asleep. The sky was a pearly
white, with here and there a few golden clouds, reflected in the
lake below. And the broad meadows still spread their many-coloured
flower-carpet abroad; there was a scent in the air of leaf and
meadow-grass and pine, he drew in deep breaths of it and could have
He turned into the by-road up the hill, dismounting now and again
to open a gate; past farms and little cottages, ever higher and
higher, till at last he reached the topmost ridge, and halted in a
clearing. The chestnut threw up his head and sniffed the air;
horse and rider were wet with the dew-drip from the trees, that
were now just flushing in the first glow of the coming sun. Far
below was the lake, reflecting sky and hills and farmsteads, all
asleep. And there in the east were the red flames--the sun--the
The horse pawed impatiently at the ground, eager to go on, but Peer
held him back. He sat there gazing under the brim of his helmet at
the sunrise, and felt a wave of strange feeling passing through his
It seemed to him impossible that he should ever reach a higher
pitch of sheer delight in life. He was still young and strong; all
the organs of his body worked together in happy harmony. No cares
to weigh upon his mind, no crushing responsibilities; the future
lying calm and clear in the light of day, free from dizzy dreams.
His hunger after knowledge was appeased; he felt that what he had
learned and seen and gathered was beginning to take living organic
form in his mind.
But then--what then?
The great human type of which you dreamed--have you succeeded in
giving it life in yourself?
You know what is common knowledge about the progress of humanity;
its struggle towards higher forms, its gropings up by many ways
toward the infinite which it calls God.
You know something of the life of plants; the nest of a bird is a
mystery before which you could kneel in worship. A rock shows you
the marks of a glacier that scraped over it thousands of years ago,
and looking on it you have a glimpse of the gigantic workings of
the solar system. And on autumn evenings you look up at the stars,
and the light and the death and the dizzy abysses of space above
you send a solemn thrill through your soul.
And this has become a part of yourself. The joy of life for you is
to grasp all you can compass of the universe, and let it permeate
your thought and sense on every side.
But what then? Is this enough? Is it enough to rest thus in
Have you as yet raised one stepping-stone upon which other men can
climb and say: Now we can see farther than before?
What is your inner being worth, unless it be mirrored in action?
If the world one day came to be peopled with none but supermen--
what profit in that, as long as they must die?
What is your faith?
Ah, this sense of exile, of religious homelessness! How many times
have you and Merle lain clasping each other's hands, your thoughts
wandering together hand in hand, seeking over earth or among the
stars for some being to whom you might send up a prayer; no slavish
begging cry for grace and favour, but a jubilant thanksgiving for
the gift of life.
But where was He?
He is not. And yet--He is.
But the ascetic on the cross is a God for the sick and aged. What
of us others? When shall the modern man, strong, scientifically
schooled, find a temple for the sacred music, the anthem of
eternity in his soul?
The sun rose up from behind a distant hill-crest, scattering gold
over the million spires of the pine-forest. Peer bent forward,
with red-gleaming dewdrops on his hand and his white sleeve, and
patted the neck of his restless beast.
It was two o'clock. The fires of morning were lit in the clouds
and in all the waters over the earth. The dew in the meadows and
the pearls on the wings of butterflies began to glisten.
"Now then, Bijou!--now for home!"
And he dashed off down the grass-grown forest paths, the chestnut
snorting as he galloped.
"Hei, Merle; We're going to have distinguished visitors--where in
the world have you got to!" Peer hurried through the rooms with an
open telegram in his hand, and at last came upon his wife in the
nursery. "Oh, is it here you are?"
"Yes--but you shout so, I could hear you all through the house.
Who is it that's coming?"
"Ferdinand Holm and Klaus Brock. Coming to the christening after
all. Great Caesar!--what do you say to that, Merle?"
Merle was pale, and her cheeks a little sunken. Two years more had
passed, and she had her second child now on her knee--a little boy
with big wondering eyes.
"How fine for you, Peer!" she said, and went on undressing the
"Yes; but isn't it splendid of them to set off and come all that
way, just because I asked them? By Jove, we must look sharp and
get the place smartened up a bit."
And sure enough the whole place was soon turned upside-down--
cartloads of sand coming in for the garden walks and the courtyard,
and painters hard at work repainting the houses. And poor Merle
knew very well that there would be serious trouble if anything
should be amiss with the entertainment indoors.
At last came the hot August day when the flags were hoisted in
honour of the expected guests. Once more the hum of mowing
machines and hay-rakes came from the hill-slopes, and the air was
so still that the columns of smoke from the chimneys of the town
rose straight into the air. Peer had risen early, to have a last
look round, inspecting everything critically, from the summer dress
Merle was to wear down to the horses in the stable, groomed till
their coats shone again. Merle understood. He had been a fisher-
boy beside the well-dressed son of the doctor, and something meaner
yet in relation to the distinguished Holm family. And there was
still so much of the boy in him that he wanted to show now at his
A crowd of inquisitive idlers had gathered down on the steamboat
landing when the boat swung in and lay by the pier. The pair of
bays in the Loreng carriage stood tossing their heads and twitching
and stamping as the flies tormented them; but at last they got
their passengers and were given their heads, setting off with a
wild bound or two that scattered those who had pressed too near.
But in the carriage they could see the two strangers and the
engineer, all three laughing and gesticulating, and talking all at
once. And in a few moments they vanished in a cloud of dust,
whirling away beside the calm waters of the fjord.
Some way behind them a cart followed, driven by one of the stable-
boys from Loreng, and loaded with big brass-bound leather trunks
and a huge chest, apparently of wood, but evidently containing
something frightfully heavy.
Merle had finished dressing, and stood looking at herself in the
glass. The light summer dress was pretty, she thought, and the red
bows at neck and waist sat to her satisfaction. Then came the roll
of wheels outside, and she went out to receive her guests.
"Here they are," cried Peer, jumping down. "This is Ferdinand
Pasha, Governor-General of the new Kingdom of Sahara--and this is
His Highness the Khedive's chief pipe-cleaner and body-eunuch."
A tall, stooping man with white hair and a clean-shaven, dried-up
face advanced towards Merle. It was Ferdinand Holm. "How do you
do, Madam?" he said, giving her a dry, bony hand.
"Why, this is quite a baronial seat you have here," he added,
looking round and settling his pince-nez.
His companion was a round, plump gentleman, with a little black
goatee beard and dark eyes that blinked continually. But his smile
was full of mirth, and the grip of his hand felt true. So this was
Peer led his two friends in through the rooms, showing them the
view from the various windows. Klaus broke into a laugh at last,
and turned to Merle: "He's just the same as ever," he said--"a
little stouter, to be sure--it's clear you've been treating him
well, madam." And he bowed and kissed her hand.
There was hock and seltzer ready for them--this was Merle's idea,
as suitable for a hot day--and when the two visitors had each drunk
off a couple of glasses, with an: "Ah! delicious!", Peer came
behind her, stroked her hand lightly and whispered, "Thanks, Merle--
first-rate idea of yours."
"By the way," exclaimed Ferdinand Holm suddenly, "I must send off a
telegram. May I use the telephone a moment?"
"There he goes--can't contain himself any longer!" burst out Klaus
Brock with a laugh. "He's had the telegraph wires going hard all
the way across Europe--but you might let us get inside and sit down
before you begin again here."
"Come along," said Peer. "Here's the telephone."
When the two had left the room, Klaus turned to Merle with a smile.
"Well, well--so I'm really in the presence of Peer's wife--his wife
in flesh and blood. And this is what she looks like! That fellow
always had all the luck." And he took her hand again and kissed
it. Merle drew it away and blushed.
"You are not married, then, Mr. Brock?"
"I? Well, yes and no. I did marry a Greek girl once, but she ran
away. Just my luck." And he blinked his eyes and sighed with an
expression so comically sad that Merle burst out laughing.
"And your friend, Ferdinand Holm?" she asked.
"He, dear lady--he--why, saving your presence, I have an idea
there's a select little harem attached to that palace of his."
Merle turned towards the window and shook her head with a smile.
An hour later the visitors came down from their rooms after a wash
and a change of clothes, and after a light luncheon Peer carried
them off to show them round the place. He had added a number of
new buildings, and had broken new land. The farm had forty cows
when he came, now he had over sixty. "Of course, all this is a
mere nothing for fellows like you, who bring your harvest home in
railway trains," he said. "But, you see, I have my home here."
And he waved his hand towards the house and the farmstead round.
Later they drove over in the light trap to look at the workshop,
and here he made no excuses for its being small. He showed off the
little foundry as if it had been a world-famous seat of industry,
and maintained his serious air while his companions glanced
sideways at him, trying hard not to smile.
The workmen touched their caps respectfully, and sent curious
glances at the strangers.
"Quite a treat to see things on the Norwegian scale again,"
Ferdinand Holm couldn't resist saying at last.
"Yes, isn't it charming!" cried Peer, putting on an air of
ingenuous delight. "This is just the size a foundry should be, if
its owner is to have a good time and possess his soul in peace."
Ferdinand Holm and Brock exchanged glances. But next moment Peer
led them through into a side-room, with tools and machinery
evidently having no connection with the rest.
"Now look out," said Klaus. "This is the holy of holies, you'll
see. He's hard at it working out some new devilry here, or I'm a
Peer drew aside a couple of tarpaulins, and showed them a mowing
machine of the ordinary type, and beside it another, the model of a
new type he had himself devised.
"It's not quite finished yet," he said. "But I've solved the main
problem. The old single knife-blade principle was clumsy; dragged,
you know. But with two blades--a pair of shears, so to speak--
it'll work much quicker." And he gave them a little lecture,
showing how much simpler his mechanism was, and how much lighter
the machine would be.
"And there you are," said Klaus. "It's Columbus's egg over again."
"The patent ought to be worth a million," said Ferdinand Holm,
slowly, looking out of the window.
"Of course the main thing is, to make the work easier and cheaper
for the farmers," said Peer, with a rather sly glance at Ferdinand.
Dinner that evening was a festive meal. When the liqueur brandy
went round, Klaus greeted it with enthusiasm. "Why, here's an old
friend, as I live! Real Lysholmer!--well, well; and so you're
still in the land of the living? You remember the days when we
were boys together?" He lifted the little glass and watched the
light play in the pale spirit. And the three old friends drank
together, singing "The first full glass," and then "The second
little nip," with the proper ceremonial observances, just as they
had done in the old days, at their student wine-parties.
The talk went merrily, one good story calling up another. But
Merle could not help noticing the steely gleam of Ferdinand Holm's
eyes, even when he laughed.
The talk fell on new doings in Egypt, and as Peer heard more and
more of these, it seemed to her that his look changed. His glance,
too, seemed to have that glint of steel, there was something
strange and absent in his face; was he feeling, perhaps, that wife
and children were but a drag on a man, after all? He seemed like
an old war-horse waking suddenly at the sound of trumpets.
"There's a nice little job waiting for you, by the way," said
Ferdinand Holm, lifting his glass to Peer.
"Very kind of you, I'm sure. A sub-directorship under you?"
"You're no good under any one. You belong on top." Ferdinand
illustrated his words with a downward and an upward pointing of the
finger. "The harnessing of the Tigris and Euphrates will have to
be taken in hand. It's only a question of time."
"Thanks very much!" said Peer, his eyes wide open now.
"The plan's simply lying waiting for the right man. It will be
carried out, it may be next year, it may be in ten years--whenever
the man comes along. I would think about it, if I were you."
All looked at Peer; Merle fastened her eyes on him, too. But he
laughed. "Now, what on earth would be the satisfaction to me of
binding in bands those two ancient and honourable rivers?"
"Well, in the first place, it would mean an increase of many
millions of bushels in the corn production of the world. Wouldn't
you have any satisfaction in that?"
"No," said Peer, with a touch of scorn.
"Or regular lines of communication over hundreds of thousands of
square miles of the most fertile country on the globe?"
"Don't interest me," said Peer.
"Ah!" Ferdinand Holm lifted his glass to Merle. "Tell me, dear
lady, how does it feel to be married to an anachronism?"
"To--to what?" stammered Merle.
"Yes, your husband's an anachronism. He might, if he chose, be one
of the kings, the prophets, who lead the van in the fight for
civilisation. But he will not; he despises his own powers, and one
day he will start a revolution against himself. Mark my words.
Your health, dear lady!"
Merle laughed, and lifted her glass, but hesitatingly, and with a
side-glance towards Peer.
"Yes, your husband is no better now than an egoist, a collector of
"Well, and is that so very wicked?"
"He sits ravelling out his life into a multitude of golden
threads," went on Ferdinand with a bow, his steely eyes trying to
"But what is wrong in that?" said the young wife stoutly.
"It is wrong. It is wasting his immortal soul. A man has no right
to ravel out his life, even though the threads are of gold. A
man's days of personal happiness are forgotten--his work endures.
And your husband in particular--why the deuce should HE be so
happy? The world-evolution uses us inexorably, either for light or
for fuel. And Peer--your husband, dear lady--is too good for
Merle glanced again at her husband. Peer laughed, but then
suddenly compressed his lips and looked down at his plate.
Then the nurse came in with little Louise, to say good-night, and
the child was handed round from one to the other. But when the
little fair-haired girl came to Ferdinand Holm, he seemed loth to
touch her, and Merle read his glance at Peer as meaning: "Here is
another of the bonds you've tied yourself up with."
"Excuse me," he said suddenly, looking at his watch, "I'm afraid I
must ask for the use of the telephone again. Pardon me, Fru Holm."
And he rose and left the room. Klaus looked at the others and
shook his head. "That man would simply expire if he couldn't send
a telegram once an hour," he said with a laugh.
Coffee was served out on the balcony, and the men sat and smoked.
It was a dusky twilight of early autumn; the hills were dark blue
now and distant; there was a scent of hay and garden flowers.
After a while Merle rose and said good-night. And in her thoughts,
when she found herself alone in her bedroom, she hardly knew
whether to be displeased or not. These strange men were drawing
Peer far away from all that had been his chief delight since she
had known him. But it was interesting to see how different his
manner was towards the two friends. Klaus Brock he could jest and
laugh with, but with Ferdinand Holm he seemed always on his guard,
ready to assert himself, and whenever he contradicted him it was
always with a certain deference.
The great yellow disc of the moon came up over the hills in the
east, drawing a broad pillar of gold across the dark water. And
the three comrades on the balcony sat watching it for a while in
"So you're really going to go on idling here?" asked Ferdinand at
last, sipping his liqueur.
"Is it me you mean?" asked Peer, bending slightly forward.
"Well, I gather you're going round here simply being happy from
morning to night. I call that idling."
"Of course, you're very unhappy in reality. Everyone is, as long
as he's neglecting his powers and aptitudes."
"Very many thanks," said Peer, with a laugh. Klaus sat up in his
chair, a little anxious as to what was coming.
Ferdinand was still looking out over the lake. "You seem to
despise your own trade--as engineer?"
"Yes," said Peer.
"Why, I feel the lack of some touch of beauty in our ceaseless
craving to create something new, something new, always something
new. More gold, more speed, more food--are these things not all we
are driving at?"
"My dear fellow, gold means freedom. And food means life. And
speed carries us over the dead moments. Double the possibilities
of life for men, and you double their numbers."
"And what good will it do to double their numbers? Two thousand
million machine-made souls--is that what you want?"
"But hang it all, man," put in Klaus Brock eagerly, "think of our
dear Norway at least. Surely you don't think it would be a
misfortune if our population increased so far that the world could
recognise our existence."
"I do," said Peer, looking away over the lake.
"Ah, you're a fanatic for the small in size and in numbers."
"I am loth to see all Norway polluted with factories and
proletariat armies. Why the devil can't we be left in peace?"
"The steel will not have it," said Ferdinand Holm, as if speaking
to the pillar of moonlight on the water.
"What? Who did you say?" Peer looked at him with wide eyes.
Ferdinand went on undisturbed: "The steel will not have peace.
And the fire will not. And Prometheus will not. The human spirit
has still too many steps to climb before it reaches the top.
Peace? No, my friend--there are powers outside you and me that
determine these things."
Peer smiled, and lit a new cigar. Ferdinand Holm leaned back in
his chair and went on, addressing himself apparently to the moon.
"Tigris and Euphrates--Indus and Ganges--and all the rest of this
planet--regulate and cultivate the whole, and what is it after all?
It's only a question of a few years. It is only a humble
beginning. In a couple of centuries or so there will be nothing
left to occupy us any more on this little globe of ours. And then
we'll have to set about colonising other worlds."
There was silence for a moment. Then Peer spoke.
"And what do we gain by it all?" he asked.
"Gain? Do you imagine there will ever be any 'thus far and no
farther' for the spirit of man? Half a million years hence, all
the solar systems we know of now will be regulated and ordered by
the human spirit. There will be difficulties, of course.
Interplanetary wars will arise, planetary patriotism, groups of
planetary powers in alliances and coalitions against other groups.
Little worlds will be subjugated by the bigger ones, and so on. Is
there anything in all this to grow dizzy over? Great heavens--can
anyone doubt that man must go on conquering and to conquer for
millions of years to come? The world-will goes its way. We cannot
resist. Nobody asks whether we are happy. The will that works
towards the infinite asks only whom it can use for its ends, and
who is useless. Viola tout."
"And when I die," asked Peer--"what then?"
"You! Are you still going about feeling your own pulse and wanting
to live for ever? My dear fellow, YOU don't exist. There is just
one person on our side--the world-will. And that includes us all.
That's what I mean by 'we.' And we are working towards the day
when we can make God respect us in good earnest. The spirit of man
will hold a Day of Judgment, and settle accounts with Olympus--
with the riddle, the almighty power beyond. It will be a great
reckoning. And mark my words--that is the one single religious
idea that lives and works in each and every one of us--the thing
that makes us hold up our heads and walk upright, forgetting that
we are slaves and things that die."
Suddenly he looked at his watch. "Excuse me a moment. If the
telegraph office is open . . ." and he rose and went in.
When he returned, Klaus and Peer were talking of the home of their
boyhood and their early days together.
"Remember that time we went shark-fishing?" asked Klaus.
"Oh yes--that shark. Let me see--you were a hero, weren't you, and
beat it to death with your bare fists--wasn't that it?" And then
"Cut the line, cut the line, and row for your lives," he mimicked,
and burst out laughing.
"Oh, shut up now and don't be so witty," said Klaus. "But tell me,
have you ever been back there since you came home?"
Peer told him that he had been to the village last year. His old
foster-parents were dead, and Peter Ronningen too; but Martin
Bruvold was there still, living in a tiny cottage with eight
"Poor devil!" said Klaus.
Ferdinand Holm had sat down again, and now he nodded towards the
moon. "An old chum of yours? Well, why don't we send him a
There was a little pause. "I hope you'll let me join you," went on
Ferdinand, taking a note for five hundred crowns from his waistcoat
pocket. "You don't mind, do you?"
Peer glanced at him and took the note. "I'm delighted for poor old
Martin's sake," he said, putting the note in his waistcoat pocket.
"That'll make fifteen hundred for him."
Klaus Brock looked from one to the other and smiled a little. The
talk turned on other things for a while, and then he asked:
"By the way, Peer, have you seen that advertisement of the British
"No, what about?"
"They want tenders for the damming and harnessing of the Besna
River, with its lake system and falls. That should be something in
"No," said Ferdinand sharply. "I told you before--that job's too
small for him. Peer's going to the Euphrates."
"What would it amount to, roughly?" said Peer, addressing no one in
"As far as I could make out, it should be a matter of a couple of
million crowns or thereabout," said Klaus.
"That's not a thing for Peer," said Ferdinand, rising and lifting
his hand to hide a yawn. "Leave trifles like that to the trifling
souls. Good-night, gentlemen."
A couple of hours later, when all was silent throughout the house,
Peer was still up, wandering to and fro in soft felt slippers in
the great hall. Now and again he would stop, and look out of the
window. Why could he not sleep? The moon was paling, the day
beginning to dawn.
The next morning Merle was alone in the pantry when she heard steps
behind her, and turned her head. It was Klaus Brock.
"Good-morning, madam--ah! so this is what you look like in morning
dress. Why, morning neglige might have been invented for you, if I
may say so. You might be a Ghirlandajo. Or no, better still,
"You are up early," said Merle drily.
"Am I? What about Ferdinand Holm then? He has been up since
sunrise, sitting over his letters and accounts. Anything I can
help you with? May I move that cheese for you?--Well, well! you
are strong. But there, I'm always de trop where women are
"Always de trop?" repeated Merle, watching him through her long
"Yes--my first and only love--do you know who she was?"
"No, indeed. How should I?"
"Well, it was Louise--Peer's little sister. I wish you could have
"And since then?" Merle let her eyes rest on this flourishing
gentleman, who looked as if he could never have had a trouble in
"Since then, dear lady?--since then? Let me see. Why, at this
moment I really can't remember ever having met any other woman
except . . ."
"Except . . . ?"
"Except yourself, madam." And he bowed.
"You are TOO kind!"
"And, that being so, don't you think it's your plain duty, as a
hospitable hostess, to grant me . . ."
"Grant you--what? A piece of cheese?"
"Why, no, thanks. Something better. Something much better than
"A kiss. I might as well have it now." As he took a step nearer,
she looked laughingly round for a way of escape, but he was between
her and the door.
"Well," said Merle, "but you must do something to make yourself
useful first. Suppose you ran up that step-ladder for me."
"Delighted. Why, this is great fun!" The slight wooden ladder
creaked under the weight of his solid form as he climbed. "How
high am I to go?"
"To reach the top shelf--that's it. Now, you see that big brown
jar? Careful--it's cranberries."
"Splendid--I do believe we're to have cranberry preserve at
dinner." By standing on tiptoe he managed to reach and lift the
heavy jar, and stood holding it, his face flushed with his
"And now, little lady?"
"Just stay there a moment and hold it carefully; I have to fetch
something." And she hurried out.
Klaus stood at the top of the ladder, holding the heavy jar. He
looked round. What was he to do with it? He waited for Merle to
return--but she did not appear. Someone was playing the piano in
the next room. Should he call for help? He waited on, getting
redder and redder in the face. And still no Merle came.
With another mighty effort he set the jar back in its place, and
then climbed down the ladder and walked into the drawing-room, very
red and out of breath. In the doorway he stopped short and stared.
"What--well, I'll-- And she's sitting here playing the piano!"
"Yes. Aren't you fond of music, Herr Brock?"
"I'll pay you out for this," he said, shaking a finger at her.
"Just you wait and see, little lady, if I don't pay you out, with
interest!" And he turned and went upstairs, chuckling as he went.
Peer was sitting at the writing-table in his study when Klaus came
in. "I'm just sealing up the letter with the money for Martin
Bruvold," he said, setting the taper to a stick of sealing wax.
"I've signed it: 'From the shark fishers.'"
"Yes, it was a capital idea of Ferdinand's. What d'you think the
poor old fellow'll say when he opens it and the big notes tumble
"I'd like to see his face," said Peer, as he wrote the address on
Klaus dropped into a leather armchair and leaned back comfortably.
"I've been downstairs flirting a little with your wife," he said.
"Your wife's a wonder, Peer."
Peer looked at him, and thought of the old days when the heavy-
built, clumsy doctor's son had run about after the servant-girls in
the town. He had still something of his old lurching walk, but
intercourse with the ladies of many lands had polished him and
given lightness and ease to his manner.
"What was I going to say?" Klaus went on. "Oh yes--our friend
Ferdinand's a fine fellow, isn't he?"
"I felt yesterday exactly as I used to feel when we three were
together in the old days. When I listen to his talk I can't help
agreeing with him--and then you begin to speak, and what you say,
too, seems to be just what I've been thinking in my inmost soul.
Do you think I've become shallow, Peer?"
"Well, your steam ploughs look after themselves, I suppose, and the
ladies of your harem don't trouble you overmuch. Do you read at
"Best not say too much about that," said Klaus with a sigh, and it
suddenly struck Peer that his friend's face had grown older and
"No," said Klaus again. "Better not say much about that. But tell
me, old fellow--you mustn't mind my asking--has Ferdinand ever
spoken to you as his brother . . . or . . ."
Peer flushed hotly. "No," he said after a pause.
"I owe more to him than to anybody in the world. But whether he
regards me as a kinsman or simply as an object for his kindness to
wreak itself on is a matter he's always left quite vague."
"It's just like him. He's a queer fellow. But there's another
thing. . . ."
"Well?" said Peer, looking up.
"It's--er--again it's rather a delicate matter to touch on. I
know, of course, that you're in the enviable position of having
your fortune invested in the best joint-stock company in the
"Yes; and so are you."
"Oh, mine's a trifle compared with yours. Have you still the whole
of your money in Ferdinand's company?"
"Yes. I've been thinking of selling a few shares, by the way. As
you may suppose, I've been spending a good deal just lately--more
than my income."
"You mustn't sell just now, Peer. They're--I daresay you've seen
that they're down--below par, in fact."
"What--below par! No, I had no idea of that."
"Oh, only for the time being, of course. Just a temporary drop.
There's sure to be another run on them soon, and they'll go up
again. But the Khedive has the controlling interest, you know, and
he's rather a ticklish customer. Ferdinand is all for extension--
wants to keep on buying up new land--new desert, that is.
Irrigation there's just a question of power--that's how he looks at
it. And of course the bigger the scale of the work the cheaper the
power will work out. But the Khedive's holding back. It may be
just a temporary whim--may be all right again to-morrow. But you
never know. And if you think Ferdinand's the man to give in to a
cranky Khedive, you're much mistaken. His idea now is to raise all
the capital he can lay hands on, and buy him out! What do you say
to that? Buy the Khedive clean out of the company. It's a large
order. And if I were you, old man, as soon as the shares go up
again a bit, I'd sell out some of my holding, and put the money
into something at home here. After all, there must be plenty of
quite useful things to be had here."
Peer frowned, and sat for a while looking straight before him.
"No," he said at last. "As things stand between Ferdinand Holm and
me--well, if either of us goes back on the other, it's not going to
"Ah, in that case--I beg your pardon," said Klaus, and he rose and
The christening was a great occasion, with a houseful of guests,
and a great deal of speechmaking. The host was the youngest and
gayest of the party. The birth of his son should be celebrated in
true Ethiopian fashion, he declared--with bonfires and boating
The moon was hidden that evening behind thick dark clouds, but the
boats full of guests glided over the black water to the accompaniment
of music and laughter. The young madcap of a lawyer was there,
again sitting on the lap of someone else's wife, and playing a
concertina, till people in the farms on shore opened their windows
and put their heads out to listen.
Later on the bonfires blazed up all along the lake shore and shone
like great flaming suns in the water below. The guests lay on the
grass in little groups round picnic suppers, and here and there a
couple wandered by themselves, talking in whispers.
Merle and Peer stood together for a moment beside one of the
bonfires. Their faces and figures were lit by the red glow; they
looked at each other and exchanged a smile. He took her hand and
led her outside the circle of light from the fire, and pointed over
to their home, with all its windows glowing against the dark.
"Suppose this should be the last party we give, Merle."
"Peer, what makes you say that?"
"Oh, nothing--only I have a sort of feeling, as if something had
just ended and something new was to begin. I feel like it,
somehow. But I wanted to thank you, too, for all the happy times
"But Peer--what--" She got no farther, for Peer had already left
her and joined a group of guests, where he was soon as gay as the
Then came the day when the two visitors were to leave. Their
birthday gift to the young gentleman so lately christened Lorentz
Uthoug stood in the drawing-room; it was a bust in red granite, the
height of a man, of the Sun-god Re Hormachis, brought with them by
the godfathers from Alexandria. And now it sat in the drawing-room
between palms in pots, pressing its elbows against its sides and
gazing with great dead eyes out into endless space.
Peer stood on the quay waving farewell to his old comrades as the
steamer ploughed through the water, drawing after it a fan-shaped
trail of little waves.
And when he came home, he walked about the place, looking at farms
and woods, at Merle and the children, with eyes that seemed to her
strange and new.
Next night he stayed up once more alone, pacing to and fro in the
great hall, and looking out of the windows into the dark.
Was he ravelling out his life into golden threads that vanished and
Was he content to be fuel instead of light?
What was he seeking? Happiness? And beyond it? As a boy he had
called it the anthem, the universal hymn. What was it now? God?
But he would hardly find Him in idleness.
You have drawn such nourishment as you could from joy in your home,
from your marriage, your fatherhood, nature, and the fellowmen
around you here. There are unused faculties in you that hunger for
exercise; that long to be set free to work, to strive, to act.
You should take up the barrage on the Besna, Peer. But could you
get the contract? If you once buckle-to in earnest, no one is
likely to beat you--you'll get it, sure enough. But do you really
Are you not working away at a mowing-machine as it is? Better own
up that you can't get on without your old craft, after all--that
you must for ever be messing and meddling with steel and fire. You
can't help yourself.
All the things your eyes have been fixed on in these last years
have been only golden visions in a mist. The steel has its own
will. The steel is beginning to wake in you--singing--singing--
bent on pressing onward. You have no choice.
The world-will goes on its way. Go with it or be cast overboard as
And still Peer walked up and down, up and down.
Next morning he set off for the capital. Merle watched the
carriage as it drove away, and thought to herself: "He was right.
Something new is beginning."
There came a card from Peer, with a brief message: "Off to inspect
the ground." A fortnight later he came home, loaded with maps and
plans. "Of course I'm late for the fair, as usual," he said. "But
wait a bit."
He locked himself into his room. At last Merle knew what it was
like to have him at work. She could hear him in the mornings,
walking up and down and whistling. Then silence--he would be
standing over his table, busy with notes and figures. Then steps
again. Now he was singing--and this was a novelty to himself. It
was as if he carried in him a store of happiness, a treasure laid
by of love, and the beauty of nature, and happy hours, and now it
found its way out in song. Why should he not sing over the plans
for a great barrage? Mathematics are dry work enough, but at times
they can be as living visions, soaring up into the light. Peer
sang louder. Then silence again. Merle never knew now when he
stopped work and came to bed. She would fall asleep to the sound
of his singing in his own room, and when she woke he would already
be tramping up and down again in there; and to her his steps seemed
like the imperious tread of a great commander. He was alight with
new visions, new themes, and his voice had a lordly ring. Merle
looked at him through half-closed eyes with a lingering glance.
Once more he was new to her: she had never seen him like this.
At last the work was finished, and he sent in his tender. And now
he was more restless than ever. For a week he waited for an
answer, tramping in and out of the place, going off for rides on
Bijou, and coming back with his horse dripping with sweat. An
impatient man cannot possibly ride at any pace but a gallop. The
days passed; Peer was sleepless, and ate nothing. More days
passed. At last he came bursting into the nursery one morning:
"Trunk call, Merle; summons to a meeting of the Company Directors.
Quick's the word. Come and help me pack--sharp." And in no time
he was off again to the city.
Now it was Merle's turn to walk up and down in suspense. It
mattered little to her in itself whether he got the work or not,
but she was keenly anxious that he should win.
A couple of days later a telegram came: "Hurrah, wife!" And Merle
danced round the room, waving the telegram above her head.
The next day he was back home again and tramping up and down the
room. "What do you think your father will say to it, Merle--ha!"
"Father? Say to what?"
"When I ask him to be my surety for a couple of hundred thousand
"Is father to be in it, too?" Merle looked at him open-eyed.
"Oh, if he doesn't want to, we'll let him off. But at any rate
I'll ask him first. Goodbye." And Peer drove off into town.
In Lorentz Uthoug's big house you had to pass through the hardware
shop to get to his office, which lay behind. Peer knocked at the
door, with a portfolio under his arm. Herr Uthoug had just lit the
gas, and was on the point of sitting down at his American roll-top
desk, when Peer entered. The grey-bearded head with the close
thick hair turned towards him, darkened by the shadow from the
green shade of the burner.
"You, is it?" said he. "Sit down. You've been to Christiania, I
hear. And what are you busy with now?"
They sat down opposite each other. Peer explained, calmly and with
"And what does the thing amount to?" asked Uthoug, his face coming
out of the shadow and looking at Peer in the full light.
"Two million four hundred thousand."
The old man laid his hairy hands on the desk and rose to his feet,
staring at the other and breathing deeply. The sum half-stunned
him. Beside it he himself and his work seemed like dust in the
balance. Where were all his plans and achievements now, his
greatness, his position, his authority in the town? Compared with
amounts like this, what were the paltry sums he had been used to