Shallow Soil, by Knut Hamsun

Germination

I

Ole returned from Torahus the 5th of April. He introduced his fiancée 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 height.

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† and had its name changed to Aagot. She had all the documents.

[† The Maritime Insurance and Registry Office in Christiania.]

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 passionate energy.

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, “Little Mistress!”

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 pleased.

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 with him.

“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 fiancée, 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 surprised to find the poet different from what she had thought. It was over two years since she had read his book, the lyric drama which had brought him so much fame. She had thought the master to be an elderly man.

“May I congratulate?” said Irgens finally, and gave Ole his hand.

They all sat down; each got a seidel and began a conversation. The spirits around the little table rose; even Irgens grew communicative and joined in. He addressed Aagot across the table, asked if she had been in the city before, in the theatre, in Tivoli, read this book or that, visited the Exhibition of paintings? “But, Miss Lynum, you must really see the Exhibition! I should be delighted to show it to you if you cannot find a better guide —” They conversed for about ten minutes across the table, and Aagot replied rapidly to every question, sometimes laughing, now and then forgetting herself and asking questions with her head tilted sideways; her eyes were wide open and sparkling; she was not the least bit embarrassed.

Ole called the waiter. He had to leave; he was going to the telegraph office. Aagot, too, got up.

“But there is no reason why you should go, Miss Lynum,” said Milde. “You can come back for Miss Lynum when you have telegraphed, Ole.”

“Yes, I am going,” said Aagot.

“But if you want to stay I’ll call for you in a few moments,” said Ole and took his hat.

She looked at him and answered almost in a whisper:

“Won’t you let me come with you?”

“Certainly, if you want to.”

Ole paid his check.

“Say,” said Milde, “be good enough to settle this check, too. None of us is very flush to-day.” And he smiled and glanced at Aagot.

Ole settled, said good-bye, and walked out with Aagot on his arm.

The three gentlemen looked after her.

“The devil!” murmured Irgens in sincere admiration. “Did you notice her.”

“Did we! How the dickens did that groceryman get hold of such a beauty?”

Milde agreed with the Actor; it was simply incomprehensible. What in the world could she be thinking of!

“Don’t talk so loud; they have stopped over by the entrance,” said Irgens.

They had run across the Attorney. The same introduction followed; a little talk could not be avoided. They did not remove their hats and gloves and were ready to go at a moment’s notice. At last they left.

That very moment a man got up from one of the farthest tables and approached the entrance. . . . He was a man in the forties, with greyish beard and dark eyes; his clothes were a little shabby; he was partly bald.

He walked straight over to the Attorney, bowed, and said:

“Do you mind if I sit down here? I noticed that Mr. Henriksen spoke to you; you must know him, then. As for me, I am acquainted with Miss Lynum, who was introduced to you. I am the tutor in her home; my name is Coldevin.”

Something about the stranger appealed to the little Attorney’s curiosity; he made room for him at once and even offered him a cigar. The waiter brought his glass over.

“I visit the city only very seldom,” said Coldevin. “I live in the country. During the last ten years I have hardly been anywhere with the exception of a trip to Copenhagen during the Exhibition. So I run around all day and look things over. There are many changes; the city grows bigger and bigger.”

“It is a pleasure to walk around down by the docks and watch the traffic.”

His voice was well modulated; he spoke simply and quietly, although his eyes at times glowed with a smouldering fire.

The Attorney listened and answered cordially. Yes, one had to admit that the city was making progress; an electric car line was being built; several more streets were going to be asphalted; the last census showed an enormous increase. . . . Wasn’t it strange to live in the country always? No? But in the winter — in the darkness and the snow?

No; it was glorious! Dazzling snow everywhere; silent, wild woods, ptarmigan, hares, and foxes. White, glittering white snow! But summer, of course, was more beautiful. It would be high summer when he returned; his intention was to stay a couple of months, perhaps even longer. That ought to suffice to see and hear most of what went on. What was happening, anyway? What was the situation?

“Well,” answered the Attorney, “the situation is serious. But we place our faith in Parliament. Several of the leaders have given their ultimatum; if all signs do not fail, they surely will make short shrift this time.”

“Yes, if the signs do not fail —”

“You appear to have your doubts?” asked the Attorney smilingly.

“No; only there seems to be too much confidence placed in the leaders and in their promises. I come from the country; we have our suspicions; it is hard to get rid of them. The leaders might fail us now as heretofore. Indeed, they might.”

Coldevin drank from his glass.

“I cannot say that I remember their failing us heretofore,” said the Attorney. “Do you refer to any particular occasion when the leaders have betrayed us?”

“Well, yes. Promises have been broken, promises have been interpreted, promises have been openly and dispassionately denied. We should not forget these things. One should not rely too much on the leaders; the country’s youth should be our hope. No; a leader is apt to prove a broken reed. It is an old law that whenever a leader reaches a certain age he pauses — yes, he even turns right about face and pushes the other way. Then it is up to the young to march on, to drive him ahead or trample him down.”

The door opened and Lars Paulsberg entered. He nodded to the Attorney, who returned his greeting. The Attorney pointed to a chair at his table, but Paulsberg shook his head and said:

“No, I am looking for Milde. He has not done a stroke on my picture to-day.”

“Milde is over in the corner,” said the Attorney. And he turned to Coldevin and whispered: “This is one of the most prominent of our young men — their leader, so to speak, Lars Paulsberg. Do you know him? If only the rest were like him.”

Yes, Coldevin knew his name. So this was Paulsberg? He could plainly see that he was an important personality; people craned their necks, looked after him and whispered. Yes, indeed, we had quite a number of writers, it could not be denied —“There came to Torahus, for instance, one of them before I left; his name was Stefan Ojen. I have read two of his books. He was nervous, he told me; he spoke a good deal about a new school, a new intention within the realm of literature. His clothes were silk lined, but he did not put himself forward much. Of course, people were curious and wanted to see him, but he appeared very modest. I met him one evening; his entire shirt-front was covered with writing, with verses — long and short lines, a poem in prose. He said that he had waked up in the morning and found himself in the throes of an inspiration, and, as he had no paper handy, he simply wrote on his shirt-front. He asked us not to mind it; he had two more shirts with him, but as they were unlaundered he had to use that one for his verses. He read something for us, things full of sentiment. He gave us the impression that he was very clever.”

The Attorney did not know if this were irony or not, for Coldevin smiled one of his rare smiles. But he was probably serious.

“Yes, Ojen is one of our most significant ones,” he said. “He is beginning to create a school in Germany. There can be no doubt that his poetry is unique.”

“Exactly. I, too, got that impression. A little childish, perhaps; a little immature, but — He, he! as we were sitting there that evening he suddenly exclaimed: ‘Do you know, gentlemen, why I use a capital R in God?’ ‘A capital R in God!’ we wondered and looked at each other blankly; no; we did not know why. But Ojen burst into a peal of laughter and left — It was a good joke; it wasn’t at all bad, he, he!”

And Coldevin smiled.

The Attorney laughed with him. “Oh, that fellow Ojen could surprise you with far better inventions; that was nothing for him. But his writing was euphonious, his diction pure — Do you know Irgens?”

Yes, Coldevin knew his name. He hadn’t written very much?

“He does not write for the masses, no,” answered the Attorney. “He writes for the chosen few. But his friends know that he has many beautiful things unpublished. Good God, what a master! It is impossible to place one’s finger on a single thing he has done and say that it is below par. He is sitting in the corner now. Do you wish to meet him? I can arrange it for you. I know him well; no preliminaries are necessary.”

But Coldevin asked to be excused. Some other time; then he could meet Paulsberg and the others also —“So that is Paulsberg!” he repeated. “One could tell it when he passed by; people were whispering about him. Nobody whispered when Ole Henriksen passed by. By the way, I suppose Mr. Henriksen is going to get married now?”

“I suppose so — Tell me — is it at all interesting to be a tutor? Isn’t it a somewhat tedious occupation at times?”

“Oh, no,” answered Coldevin smilingly. “Of course, it depends a good deal on both parents and children. It is all right if one happens to get among good people. It is, of course, only a poor and modest situation, but — I would not change even if I could.”

“Are you a college man?”

“Theology, yes. Unfortunately, a rather antiquated student now.” And Coldevin smiled once more.

They continued the conversation for some time, told a couple of anecdotes about a university professor, and drifted back to the situation. Finally they discussed the grain prices. It looked bad; there was some talk of crop failures in Russia.

Coldevin was absolutely normal in his talk; he evidently was well informed and spoke quietly and thoughtfully. When he got up to leave he asked casually:

“By the way, do you happen to know where Mr. Henriksen went?”

“To the telegraph office. He told me he had some wires to send.”

“Thank you. I trust you will pardon me for descending upon you so informally. It is kind of you to allow me to make your acquaintance.”

“If you are going to stay awhile I trust we shall meet again,” said the Attorney amiably. Coldevin took his leave.

He walked straight to the telegraph office. He remained outside awhile; then he ascended the stairs and peeped through the glass doors. Then he turned, went back to the street, and made for the harbour. He sauntered back and forth outside the Henriksen warehouse and glanced furtively toward the little office window. He did not take his eyes from the window for a long time. One would have thought he was anxious to find Ole Henriksen but did not know whether he was in the warehouse or not.

II

Irgens was sitting in his room, Thranes Road, No. 5. He was in fine spirits. The elegant man whom nobody suspected of doing anything sat there in all secret and corrected proofs and slaved like a farmer. Who would have believed it? He was the one in the clique who talked least about his work; nobody could understand how he managed to live. It was more than two years since his drama had been published, and he had apparently not done a stroke of work since. Of course, he might be working quietly, but nobody knew anything about it, nothing definitely. He owed a lot of money.

Irgens had locked his door so as not to be disturbed; he was very secretive. When he had finished his proof-reading he got up and looked out of the window. The weather was bright and sunny, a glorious day. He was going to take Miss Lynum to the Art Exhibition at three. He looked forward to this pleasure; it was really enjoyable to listen to this unsophisticated girl’s chatter. She had burst upon him like a revelation; she reminded him of the first bird notes in spring.

There was a knock at the door. His first thought was to throw the proofs beneath the table-cloth, but he refrained. He opened. He knew this knock; it was Mrs. Hanka’s finger which knocked twice so resolutely. She entered, closed the door, and glided over to him. She smiled, bent toward him, and looked into his eyes.

“It isn’t me at all!” she said, and laughed quietly. “I want you to know that!” She could not hide her embarrassment entirely and flushed deeply.

She wore a grey woollen gown, and looked very young with her low lace collar and her bare neck.

He said:

“So it isn’t you? Well, it doesn’t matter who you are — you are equally lovely! And what glorious weather you are bringing!”

They sat down. He placed before her the proof-sheet, and she clapped her hands and cried: “Didn’t I tell you? I knew it! No; but you are wonderful!” And she did not get tired of marvelling at him — that he was that far already! Oh, but wouldn’t it come like a thunderclap; not a soul suspected anything! They all went around thinking that he did not work any more. Oh, Heavens! but nobody in the wide world was half as happy as she. She smuggled an envelope with something in it under the proof-sheet and pulled him away from the table. She talked all the time.

They sat down on the sofa. Her happiness, her violent joy, communicated itself to him, carried him away, and made him tender with gratitude. How she loved him, how she sacrificed herself for him and did for him what she could! He embraced her passionately, kissed her time and again, and held her close to his breast.

“I am so happy,” she whispered. “I knew something was going to make me glad; as I walked upstairs it seemed as if I were going into an embrace! Dearest boy, no — the door —!”

The sun rose higher, the thrushes twittered passionately outside. The first bird notes of spring, he thought again, how unsophisticated these little creatures were in their chatter!

“How bright it is here!” she said; “it is much brighter here than elsewhere.”

“Do you think so?” he answered smilingly. He walked over to the window and began to pluck from his clothes the fine, grey woolly fuzz her dress had left there. She sat still on the sofa, her eyes on the floor, blushing, arranging her hair a little. A ring flashed on each of her hands.

He could not remain there at the window so indifferently. She was beginning to notice it; she looked up; and besides, she was remarkably beautiful as she sat there fixing her hair. He stepped over to her and kissed her as warmly as he could.

“Don’t kiss me, darling,” she said; “be careful! Look here — it is the spring air.”

She showed him a little red spot on her under lip. He asked her if it hurt, and she answered that it was not that, but she was afraid he might catch it from her. Suddenly she asked:

“Listen, can you come to Tivoli to-night? There is an operatic performance. Couldn’t we meet there? Otherwise I’ll die of loneliness.”

He remembered that he was going to the Art Exhibition. What might happen afterward was hard to tell; he had better not promise anything. No, he said, he was afraid it would be impossible; he had made certain arrangements with Ole Henriksen.

“Oh, please — do come! I would be so proud and grateful!”

“But why in the world do you want to go to Tivoli?”

“But there is opera to-night!”

“Well, what of it? That means nothing to me. Well, if you like —”

“No, not if I like,” she said sadly. “You seem so indifferent, Irgens! Yes, I admit I should like to go to the opera, but — Where are you going this evening? I am just like a compass-needle now: I oscillate, I may even swing all the way round, but I hark constantly back to one point — I point continually in one direction. It is you I am thinking of always.”

Her little bewildered heart trembled. He looked at her. He knew it only too well — there was nothing he could reproach her with; she had been more than good to him. However, all he could promise was that he would come if at all possible.


Mrs. Hanka had left. Irgens was ready to go out; he put his proof-sheets in his pocket and took his hat. Had he forgotten anything? He had the proofs; that was the most important thing at present — the beginning of a book which was to startle the community with the suddenness of an explosion. He was going to see if his quiet industry would be denied appreciation. He, too, was going to send in an application for the government subsidy; he would delay until the very last day in order to avoid having his name paraded in the daily press alongside all those nonentities who already were licking their chops in anticipation of this modest emolument. His application should be brief and to the point, without recommendations, simply accompanied by his book. He would tell nobody, not even Mrs. Hanka. They should not be able to say that he had moved heaven and earth in order to secure this well-earned encouragement. But he was curious to see if they would ignore him. He knew all his fellow applicants, from Milde to Ojen; he did not fear any of them. He would have preferred to stand back and yield his right to this charity, but he could not afford it; he was obliged to accept it.

He brushed his clothes carefully all the way down the street; a little of the grey wool still clung to him — what a provoking dress! He dropped into a printing-office with his proofs. The foreman called his attention to a letter, an envelope with something enclosed, which he found between the sheets. Irgens turned in the door. A letter? Oh, yes; he had forgotten it. He knew this envelope and he opened it at once. When he had seen what was in it he lifted his brows, greatly pleased. The envelope he put in his pocket without further ado.

Ole and Aagot were in the warehouse. She was sewing on some red plush cushions for the cabin of the Aagot — doll cushions, one would almost think, they were so small. Irgens put his cheek to one of them, closed his eyes, and said, “Good night, good night.”

“So you are going to the Art Exhibition!” said Ole smilingly. “Aagot has hardly spoken about anything else all day.”

“Couldn’t you come, too?” she asked.

But Ole had no time; just now he was very busy. “Be off — don’t disturb me any more; out with you! Have a good time!”

It was the promenade-hour. Irgens proposed that they take the way through the park; they could then hear a little music at the same time. Did she like music?

Aagot was in a dark suit and wore a cape with red silk lining. The snug-fitting garment clung to her body without a wrinkle; around her neck she simply wore a bit of lace. The cape fluttered at times with scarlet silken flashes. She was sorry to say that she was not very musical. She liked to hear music, of course, but she lacked a thorough understanding of it.

“Exactly like myself,” answered Irgens. “That is funny; are you like that, too? To tell the truth, I understand music unpardonably poorly, but I show up in the park every day; it would never do to stay away.” Much depended upon that; if one did not show oneself and keep abreast of the procession, one would soon be lost, submerged, forgotten.

“Can one be forgotten so easily?” she asked. “But that does not apply to you, surely.”

“Oh, yes, to me as well as to the rest,” he replied. “Why shouldn’t I be forgotten?”

She answered quite simply:

“I thought you were too well known.”

“Known? Oh, as to that, Lord help us! I may not be so entirely unknown, of course, but — You must not think it is an easy matter to keep one’s head above water here; one friend is envious, another hateful and malicious, a third simply despicable. No; as far as that is concerned —”

“It seems to me, however, that you are known, and well known, too,” she said. “We cannot walk two steps that somebody isn’t whispering about you; I have noticed it all along.” She stopped.

“No, it is unbearable; I just heard another remark! Rather let us go up to the Exhibition at once!”

He laughed heartily, greatly flattered. How charming she was in her naive and unspoiled way! He said: Never mind; keep on! Pay no attention whatever. One got used to this whispering; if it amused people, what of it? He himself never noticed it any more; honestly, it did not affect him in the least. Besides, he wanted to let her know that to-day he was not the only subject of conversation — what about her? She could believe him or not; she was being thoroughly discussed. One could not come to a city like this one and look as she did without attracting attention; she could be very sure of that.

It was not his intention to flatter her; he was sincere in what he said. Still she did not seem to believe him.

They walked toward the park, where the band thundered Cherubini’s “Overture to the Water-Carrier” across the place.

“It seems to me this is an altogether unnecessary noise,” he said smilingly.

She laughed; she laughed often and heartily over his remarks. This laughter from her fresh lips, the dimple in her left cheek, her many cute and childlike ways, drove his spirits still higher; even her nose, which was somewhat irregular in profile and a little too large, made him almost feel as if he were in love. Greek or Roman noses were not always the most beautiful — not at all; it depended on the rest of the face. There was no such a thing as an authorised standard for noses.

He chatted about one thing after another and made time fly; he proved himself the poet who could interest those he addressed himself to, the highly cultured man, the genius of scintillating words. Aagot listened attentively; he tried to amuse her and came back to the subject of music again, to operatic music, which he simply abominated. He had, for instance, never been to the opera that he didn’t happen to get a seat right behind a lady with a sharply bulging corset line, and he was condemned to stare at this ghastly back during three, four long intermissions. Then there was the performance itself, the brass instruments close to the ear, and then the singers who tried with all their might to drown their blatant blare in a roar of noise. At first one would appear who made strange contortions and meanwhile produced song; then another would stalk forth who did not want to take a back seat either, and who likewise did his utmost; then a third, a fourth, men and women, long processions, an army; and all sang their questions and sang their answers and beat their arms in the air and rolled their eyes, exercising their vocal chords without a moment’s pause. Wasn’t it true? They wept to music, sobbed to music, gritted teeth, sneezed, and fainted to music, and the conductor urged them on frantically with an ivory hammer-handle. She might laugh, but it was just that way. Then all of a sudden the conductor appears to become terror-stricken because of that infernal noise he has inspired; he swings his hammer-handle as a sign that there must be a change. Now the chorus starts in. This is not so bad; the chorus can pass muster; at least, it does not use such heartrending gestures. But in the midst of the singing another person strides forth, and he spoils the whole thing again; ah! it is the Prince; he has a solo — and when a prince has a solo of course everybody else has to keep still. But imagine this more or less corpulent masculine person standing there, bellowing, with legs wide apart! One gets furious; one experiences a well-nigh irrepressible desire to yell to this fellow to get out, to stop spoiling the evening for those who wanted to hear some music — hear the chorus sing!

Irgens was not displeased with himself — he attained his object. Aagot laughed incessantly and was hugely amused. How he did make things interesting and give life and colour to the most commonplace!

They finally got to the Exhibition, looked at what there was to see, and talked about the pictures as they went along. Aagot’s questions were fully answered; Irgens knew everything and even told her anecdotes about the exhibiting painters. Here, too, they met curious people, who put their heads together and looked after them when they passed; but Irgens hardly glanced to the left or right; he seemed entirely indifferent to the attention accorded him. He only bowed a couple of times.

When, after an hour or so, they started to leave, they did not notice in an obscure corner a greyish-bearded, somewhat bald person, nor did they perceive two fathomless, burning eyes that followed them as they departed.

On the street Irgens said:

“I wonder — You are not going home at once, I hope?”

“Yes,” she said, “I am going right back.”

He asked her several times to stay a little longer, but Aagot thanked him and said that she wanted to get home. There was nothing to be done; she could not be persuaded, and he had to let her have her way. But they could make up for it some other time? There were both museums and galleries she ought to see; he would gladly act as her guide. She smiled and thanked him.

“I am admiring your walk,” he said. “It is the most perfect walk I have ever seen.”

She flushed and looked at him quickly.

“You cannot mean that,” she said. “I who have lived in the backwoods all my life.”

“Well, you may believe me or not, just as you please — You are altogether unusual, Miss Lynum, gloriously uncommon; in vain I seek words that would describe you. Do you know what you remind me of? I have carried this impression around all day. You remind me of the first bird note, the earliest warm spring tones — you know what I mean — that surge through the heart when the snow is gone and the sun and the birds of passage are here! But that isn’t all about you. God help me, I cannot find the words I want, poet though I am supposed to be!”

“But I have never heard anything like it!” she cried, and laughed vivaciously. “I am supposed to be like all that? I should like to be, that much is certain. If only it were true!”

“You have come in here from the blue mountains; you are full of smiles,” he said. “For this reason the description should call to mind the wild things — should have a flavour of venison, so to speak. I am not sure, though.”

They were at the warehouse. They stopped and shook hands.

“I am ever so much obliged,” she said. “Aren’t you coming up? Ole must be in the office now.”

“No, thanks — But listen, Miss Lynum, I would like to come soon and drag you with me to some museum; may I?”

“Yes,” she answered hesitatingly. “That is very kind of you. I’ll see — But I thank you for your company to-day.”

She went in.

III

Irgens walked up the street. Where should he go now? He might go to Tivoli; there was plenty of time; in fact, it was much too early; he would have to kill an hour or so first. He felt in his pocket for the envelope; he had money; he might as well go to the Grand.

As he entered the door he was hailed by Journalist Gregersen, the literary member of the Gazette staff. Irgens did not like this fellow; he did not care to cultivate his friendship in order to get an item published in the paper now and then. Paulsberg had now two days running had a paragraph concerning his excursion to Honefos: the first day about his going, the second about his return; Gregersen had in his usual accommodating manner concocted two very excellent little items about this excursion. That such a man could descend to such coarse work! It was said that the fellow was capable of greater things; he would surely blossom forth some day; all right, time enough then. Irgens did not care for him very much nowadays.

Unwillingly, he walked over to the Journalist’s table. Milde was there, also the Attorney and Coldevin, the grey tutor from the country. They were waiting for Paulsberg. They had been discussing the situation again; it commenced to look a little dubious now when several of the leading parliamentarians had shown symptoms of vacillation. “Just as I have told you,” said Milde, “it is beginning to be unbearable here!”

Mrs. Grande was not present. Mrs. Liberia stayed at home.

The Journalist reported that the talk about crop failures in Russia evidently had something in it. It could not be concealed much longer in spite of the fact that the correspondent of the London Times had been sharply contradicted by the Russian press.

“I had a letter from Ojen,” said Milde. “It looks as if he were coming back soon; he does not appear to enjoy himself out in the woods.”

All these matters did not interest Irgens in the least. He made up his mind to get away as soon as he could. Coldevin said nothing, but glanced from one to another with his sombre eyes. When he had been presented to Irgens he had murmured a few words, sat down again and remained silent. Irgens looked at him languidly and was silent too. When he had finished his seidel he got up to go.

“Are you leaving us so soon?”

“Yes; I have got to go home and dress. I am going to Tivoli. See you later.”

Irgens left.

“There you see the famous Irgens,” said the Attorney to Coldevin.

“Yes, indeed,” answered Coldevin with a smile. “I see so much greatness here that I am getting altogether bewildered. I saw the Art Exhibition to-day — It seems to me that our poets are beginning to pay considerable attention to their personal appearance; I have seen a couple of them; they are so groomed and patent-leathered — one can hardly say they come thundering along with foam-flecked bridles.”

“Why should they? The fashions have changed, you know.”

“I suppose so.”

Coldevin was again silent.

“The fire-and-sword period has passed by, my good man,” said the Journalist patronisingly, yawning across the table. “What the devil can be keeping Paulsberg?”

When Paulsberg at last showed up they made room for him with alacrity; the Journalist sat close by him and wanted to hear his opinion concerning the situation. What did these events portend — what could be done now?

Paulsberg, reserved and taciturn as always, gave a half reply, a fragmentary opinion: What could be done? Oh, one had to try to live even if a couple of parliamentarians were to fail the cause. All the same, he was going to publish an article soon; it would be worth while observing what effect that would have. He was going to give it to the traitors good and proper.

Goodness! Was he going to publish an article? That certainly would put matters right. “Not too gentle, now, Paulsberg; don’t show them any consideration.”

“I imagine Paulsberg knows exactly how gentle he is going to be,” said Milde reprovingly. “You can safely leave that to him.”

“Of course,” answered the Journalist, “that goes without saying. I had no idea of offering any suggestions.”

He was a little offended, but Paulsberg smoothed matters over by saying:

“I thank you for the two notices, Gregersen. It is fortunate for us that you keep an eye on us; otherwise people would entirely forget that we writers existed.”

The Attorney ordered another round.

“I am waiting for my wife,” said Paulsberg.

“She stopped in to borrow a hundred from Ole Henriksen. I see there is talk about famine in Russia — Well, I can’t say that I have starved as yet.”

Milde turned to Coldevin and remarked pompously:

“That is something it wouldn’t hurt you to know out in the country: so shabbily does Norway treat her great men!”

Coldevin glanced from one to another.

“Indeed,” he said, “it is sad.” A moment later he added: “Well, one cannot say things are much better out in the country. The struggle to live is bitter there, too.”

“But, so help me, there is a difference between poets and peasants, I should think!”

“In the country people adjust themselves to the law that the weak must perish,” said Coldevin quietly. “For instance, people who cannot support a wife do not marry. If they do, and if they later on have to rely on others to discharge their obligations, then they are disgraced, branded with shame.”

Everybody looked at the bald fellow; even Paulsberg snatched his glasses that were hanging on a cord across his breast, looked at him a moment, and asked in a stage whisper:

“What in the world — what kind of a phenomenon is that?”

This happy word made the friends smile; Paulsberg was asking what kind of a phenomenon this was, a phenomenon — he, he! It was not often Paulsberg said that much. Coldevin looked unconcerned; he did not smile. A pause ensued.

Paulsberg looked out of the window, shivered a little, and murmured:

“Drat it, I cannot get anything accomplished these days; this eternal sunshine has played me the scurvy trick of paralysing my imagination. I am in the middle of a descriptive passage about a rainy season, a raw and chilly milieu, and I cannot get anywhere with it.” He mumbled maledictions about the weather.

The Attorney was incautious enough to remark:

“Why don’t you write about the sunshine, then?”

It was not many days since Paulsberg himself, in Milde’s studio, had bluntly expressed an opinion to the effect that Attorney Grande had showed symptoms of a certain arrogance lately. He was right, the Attorney was becoming a little impertinent; it might be well to put him in his place once and for all.

“You talk according to your lights!” said the Journalist oracularly.

This reproach was received in silence; but shortly afterward Grande got up and buttoned his coat.

“I don’t suppose any of you are going my way?” he asked in order not to show any ill feeling. And as nobody answered he paid his check, said goodbye and left.

More drinks were ordered. Mrs. Paulsberg arrived in the company of Ole and his fiancée. Coldevin moved as far back as he could until he found himself almost at another table.

“We had to accompany Mrs. Paulsberg,” said Ole good-naturedly; “we couldn’t let her go alone.” And he slapped Paulsberg on the shoulder.

Miss Aagot had let a joyous exclamation escape her and had walked straight over to Coldevin, to whom she gave her hand. But what in the world had become of him? Hadn’t she kept a continuous lookout for him on the streets and asked Ole about him every day? She was at a loss to understand why she saw him so rarely. She had had another letter from home, and everybody sent him their kindest regards. Why did he keep so entirely to himself?

Coldevin stuttered many brief replies: there was no end of things to see and do, exhibitions and museums, Tivoli and Parliament; there were newspapers to read, lectures to attend; he also had to look up a few old friends. Furthermore, it was best not to disturb a newly engaged couple too much.

Coldevin smiled archly; his lips trembled a little and he spoke with bowed head.

Ole came over, overwhelmed him with the same reproaches, and received the same excuses. Coldevin was going to call on them to-morrow, though, they could rely on it; he had made up his mind before he met them. Provided he would not disturb them, of course.

Disturb? He? What was he thinking of?

Beer was served and everybody talked. Mrs. Paulsberg crossed her legs and gripped the glass in her masculine fashion. The Journalist monopolised her immediately. Ole continued his conversation with Coldevin.

“I hope you are enjoying yourself here? Interesting people, these! There is Lars Paulsberg; have you met him?”

“Yes, I have met him. He is the third one of our authors I have met. No doubt it is my fault; but, to tell the truth, none of them have made an overwhelming impression on me.”

“No? That is because you do not know them well enough.”

“But I know what they have written. It seems to me they do not exactly soar to the solitary heights. It is probably my own fault, though — Lars Paulsberg uses perfumes.”

“Does he? A little peculiarity. One must pardon such men a few oddities.”

“But I notice that they treat each other with the greatest respect,” Coldevin continued. “They talk about everything; they make excellent speeches on every subject imaginable.”

“Don’t they, though? It is wonderful to listen to them, I must say.”

“But how are you getting on — in the business, I mean?”

“Oh, we take one day at a time. We have just turned a little trick in Brazil which I hope will prove satisfactory. I remember, you are interested in business matters. When you come down tomorrow I will take you around and show you how we do it. We will all go — you and Aagot and myself — we three old friends.”

“I thought I heard my name?” said Aagot merrily and joined them. “Yes, I did; don’t try to fool me, Ole. It seems to me it is my turn to speak a little with Coldevin; you have had him to yourself long enough, Ole.”

And she took Ole’s chair and sat down.

“The letters from home are full of questions about you. Mamma asked me to see that you were comfortable at your hotel.”

Coldevin’s lips quivered again, and he said, with his eyes on the floor:

“How can you bother with such things now? Don’t worry about me; I am very comfortable. I hope you are enjoying yourself? Though I hardly need to ask you that.”

“But, do you know, there are times when I am longing for home, too. Can you understand that?”

“That is only the first few days — It will be a little hard never to see you again, Miss Aagot — I mean a little — that is —”

“You talk so strangely to-night,” she said. “You almost make me want to cry; honestly you do.”

“But, dear Miss Aagot —”

“To get married isn’t the same as to die, I’m sure.”

Coldevin’s manner instantly changed; he became jocular.

“Die! Well, I like that! But you are right in saying that I have been sitting here and depressing you with my talk. It was mostly your mother I was thinking of. It was nobody else — Tell me, have you finished the cushions for the yacht?”

“Yes,” answered Aagot absently.

“But you have not been in Parliament yet? I imagine you have hardly had time for that as yet. I have been there every day; but then I haven’t anything else to do.”

“Listen,” she said suddenly; “I may not have an opportunity to bid you good night later, so I will do it now.” She gave him her hand. “And remember, you have promised to call to-morrow! I— You will make me very happy if you come.”

She dropped his hand and got up.

He sat there a moment as in a trance. He heard somebody say: “What can Miss Aagot and Coldevin be so deeply absorbed in?” He heard that Aagot was on the point of answering, and he exclaimed hurriedly:

“I shake hands with Miss Aagot on a promise to call on her to-morrow.”

“Be sure and keep your promise, now,” he heard Ole say. “Well, Aagot, I suppose we ought to be getting home.”

Ole put his hand in his pocket to pay the waiter; the Journalist did the same, but Milde seized his arm and said:

“Leave that to Ole Henriksen. Kindly pay for us, too, Ole.”

“With pleasure.”

At the door Lars Paulsberg caught up with him and said:

“Don’t go away without giving me the opportunity of shaking hands with you. I hear you could lend me these rotten crowns.”

Ole and Aagot went. A little later Coldevin got up, too; he bowed to each of the clique and departed. He heard laughter behind his back and the word “phenomenon” several times. He hurried into the first gateway he passed and took out from his pocketbook a little silken bow, in the Norwegian colours, carefully wrapped in paper. He kissed the bow, looked at it a long time, and kissed it again, trembling in the grip of a silent, deep emotion.

IV

It was Ole Henriksen’s habit to make his rounds through the business establishment immediately after his early morning coffee. He was an early riser and had usually accomplished a great deal before breakfast, inspected store and cellars, read and answered mail, telegraphed, given instructions to his clerks; everything devolved upon him. Aagot kept him company nowadays; she insisted on getting up as early as he, and her little hands lightened many a task for him. Ole Henriksen worked more enthusiastically than ever. The old man did nothing nowadays but make out an occasional bill and balance up the cash-book; he kept to himself up-stairs most of the time, and spent many an hour in the company of some old crony, some visiting ship’s captain or business acquaintance. But before retiring old Henriksen always lit a lamp, shambled down-stairs to the office, and took a last survey of the books. He took his time; and when he came up about midnight he retired immediately.

Ole did the work for both of them; it was like play to him to direct all these threads which he knew from the days of childhood. Aagot did not disturb him much; it was only down in the little warehouse office that she was apt to delay him at times. Her youth and gaiety filled the little room, glorified everything, and brightened the world.

She was so cheerful that she carried away even the phlegmatic Ole. He was lost in her; he played little tricks on her and trembled with the tenderest affection for this hoydenish girl who wasn’t even full grown. When in the company of others he appeared vastly superior — she was his little sweetheart; she was so young, much younger than he, it was up to him to display his knowledge and experience. But when they were alone, alas! then he could not keep up this pretence; he lost his seriousness and was a child with her. He stole many a glance from his books and papers, gazed at her secretly, lost in contemplation of her radiant figure and worshipping to distraction her dimpling smile. How she could make his heart pound when she would glance archly at him and then come over to him and whisper: “So you are my boy, are you?” She had so many adorable ways. At times she could sit and gaze at the floor, gaze fixedly at something which made her eyes dewy — memories, perhaps — some old memory —

Ole asked her at last when she thought they ought to get married, and when he saw her blush deeply, even to her neck, he regretted that he had been too abrupt. There was no hurry; she must decide that herself; no need to answer now, not at all.

But she answered:

“I am ready when you are.”

There was a knock at the door and Irgens entered. He came in order to propose a visit to the sculpture-gallery. Ole said jestingly:

“I see! You have chosen this hour because you knew I couldn’t come along!”

“What nonsense! We have to go when the galleries are open, naturally.”

Ole laughed loudly.

“Look, he is getting mad, furious, ha, ha, ha! I fooled you that time, Irgens!”

Aagot got her hat and coat and went with Irgens. Ole called after her:

“Don’t stay too late, Aagot! Remember, we have promised to go with Tidemand to Tivoli.”

On the street Irgens glanced at his watch and said:

“I see it is a little too early yet. If you have no objections we might take a walk up toward the Castle.”

And they walked toward the Castle. The band played; people strolled up and down. Irgens talked again interestingly and facetiously about different matters, and Aagot replied and laughed, listening curiously to his words; at times she would make some admiring little exclamation when he made a specially striking remark. She could not refrain from looking at his face — a handsome face, rich, curly moustache, a somewhat broad, voluptuous mouth. He was in an entirely new suit to-day; she noticed it was bluish like her own. He wore a silk shirt and grey gloves.

As they passed Our Saviour’s Church he asked her if she liked to go to church. She said yes — didn’t he?

“Oh, no, not very often.”

That was not nice of him.

He bowed smilingly. If she said so, of course. The fact of the matter was that he had received a rude shock once; it sounded silly, it was only a bagatelle, but it proved of far-reaching effect. He was sitting in this very church on an occasion; a high mass was being celebrated. The minister was all right; he was doing splendidly. He was even eloquent; he spoke convincingly, with feeling and pathos. But in the middle of a most stirring peroration in which he, carried away in an outburst of spiritual fervour, had meant to shout: “Jews and Gentiles!” his tongue had tripped and he had said: “Gents and Jewtiles! Gents and Jewtiles! — Imagine these silly words hurled over the heads of the congregation in a loud, sonorous voice! And the poor fellow stood there in full daylight and could not get away from his miserable blunder. I assure you, it shocked me like a cold shower!”

It sounded genuine as he spoke, not at all like an episode invented for the occasion. Was it not possible that a particularly sensitive soul could be seriously shaken by such a grotesque and silly mishap? Aagot could very well understand it; and at the same time she had to laugh over that miserable “Gents and Jewtiles,” which she repeated over and over.

When they passed the Parliament buildings, Irgens pointed to the greystone colossus and said:

“There we have Parliament; have you been there yet?”

“No, not yet.”

Well, it wasn’t a very cheerful place just now — wavering and treason all along the line! The doughty parliamentarians lolled in their chairs and chewed tobacco and grew fat and lazy; they used sonorous phrases and challenged Sweden to a fight with bare knuckles, but when time for action came — where were they then? She had no idea how he and others were boiling with indignation over this display of loathsome cowardice. And what was the mighty adversary like? Sweden! That invincible world power full of doddering senility! He must compare Sweden to an octogenarian who sat, dead drunk and feeble, and boasted of his warlike temper: “I’ll never yield — never!” And when Parliament heard that quavering voice it grew palsied with fear. No, he, Irgens, should have been in Parliament!

How manly and proudly he spoke! She looked at him and said: “How zealous you are now!”

“You must pardon me; I always grow impatient when our sovereignty is discussed,” he replied. “I trust I haven’t unwittingly offended you by trespassing on your personal opinions? I am glad to hear that.”

They reached the Castle, turned aside, and entered the park; they forgot that time was passing. He had started in to tell her a story from the day’s news, a scene from one of the courts: A man was being tried for murder and had confessed. The question of mitigating circumstances arose, and it was decided that there were mitigating circumstances. All right; penitentiary for life. “Next case!” Suddenly a voice is heard from among the spectators; it is the murderer’s sweetheart, who shouts: “His confession is untrue; he has not committed murder! How could he possibly have done it; no one who knows him will believe it! And there are mitigating circumstances; you cannot sentence him, for it wasn’t premeditated murder! No, Henry is innocent! Won’t any of you who know him say that he is innocent? Why are you all silent?” And the lady was led out of the courtroom. That was love!

Aagot, the little goose, was moved. How beautiful — sad and beautiful! And they carried her out? What a tragedy!

“Well, probably the story is a little exaggerated,” he said. “Love as strong as that does not grow on the bushes nowadays.”

“But it does exist!”

“Perhaps, somewhere — on the Isle of the Blest —” But this expression awoke the poet in him, and he rhapsodised. “And the place was called Evenrest, because it was green and silent when the two arrived. A boy and a girl; she fair, bright, shining like a white pinion against him who was dark — two souls who gazed smilingly into each other, who voicelessly implored each other, who closed rapturously around each other. And blue mountains looked at them —”

He paused abruptly.

“I am making myself ridiculous,” he said. “Let us sit down awhile.”

They sat down. The sun sank, sank deeper; a tower-clock in the city somewhere boomed forth the hour. Irgens continued to speak, impressively, dreamily, warmly. He might go into the solitudes this summer, he said; settle down in a cabin by the water and row around at night. Imagine, wonderful nights in a rowboat! . . . But he had a feeling now that Aagot was beginning to be uneasy because of the lateness of the hour, and in order to keep her mind occupied he said:

“You must not believe, Miss Lynum, that I go around and prate about blue mountains always; if I do it now it is only because of you. You impress me deeply; you enrapture me when you are near me. I know what I am saying. It is the loveliness and brightness of your face, and when you tilt your head sideways — Of course, this is meant aesthetically, impersonally!”

Aagot had given him a quick glance, and this made him add the last words. She did not understand him, perhaps; the reason for this last remark was not quite clear to her, and she was on the point of saying something when he resumed laughingly:

“I sincerely trust I haven’t bored you too much with my nonsense? If I have I’ll go right down to the harbour and drown myself. Yes, you laugh, but — I want to tell you, though, that your displeasure was charmingly becoming to you, really. I saw that you were provoked. If I may be allowed to express myself aesthetically once more, I would say that for a moment you looked as the slender, wild fawn must look when she lifts her head and snorts.”

“But now I want to tell you something,” she said and got up. “What time is it? But you must be crazy! Let us be off at once! If it is my fault that you have talked too much, it is certainly yours that I have listened to you and forgotten the time entirely. This is awful!”

And they hurried away down the park slope.

As they were going to turn toward the museum he wondered if there would be time for a visit to-day. Perhaps they had better wait until some other time? What did she think?

She stopped and reflected a moment; then she laughed merrily and exclaimed:

“But we will have to go, if only for a moment! We must be able to say that we have been there. No, this is simply terrible!”

And they hurried along.

The fact that she was conspiring with him to hide this peccadillo, that from now on they would have a sort of secret together, filled him with a warm pleasure. He wanted to keep on talking, to continue to keep her interested; but she did not listen; she hurried along in order to get to the museum before it should close. She skipped quickly up the many stairs, ran past people going out, glanced quickly right and left in order to identify the chief works of art, and asked breathlessly: “Where is the Laocoön Group? Quick! I must see that!” They ran off in a wild search for the Laocoön Group. It turned out that they had at least ten minutes before closing time, and they took things a little easier.

Suddenly she imagined seeing Coldevin’s dark eyes peering out from a corner; but as she took a step forward to look closer the eyes disappeared and she forgot all about it.

“What a pity we are in such a hurry!” she said several times.

When they had rushed through the first floor their time was up and they had to leave. She talked with Irgens on the way back and seemed as pleased as before; she gave him her hand at the door and thanked him, thanked him twice. He begged her forgiveness because he had been responsible for her failure to view the sculptures thoroughly, and she smiled amiably and said that she had had a good time.

“I shall see you later at Tivoli,” said Irgens.

“Are you going there?” she asked in surprise.

“I have been asked to come; I am going with some friends.”

Aagot did not know that Irgens had received a pressing invitation from Mrs. Hanka; she said all right, nodded, and went in.

Ole was waiting for her; she threw herself on his neck and cried eagerly:

“It was glorious — the Laocoön Group — everything! We did not have time to see everything, that is, to see everything carefully; but you will take me there some time, won’t you? Promise! For I want you to take me.”


When later on Ole and Aagot were going to Tidemand’s house on their way to Tivoli, Aagot remarked casually:

“It is a pity that you are not a poet, Ole.”

He looked at her in surprise. “Do you think so?” he asked.

Then suddenly it dawned on her what a tactless thing she had said. As a matter of fact, she had not meant it at all; it was just a thoughtless word, a thoughtless, thoughtless word. She repented it bitterly and would have given anything to have it unsaid. She stopped, threw her arms around Ole’s neck right in the middle of the street, and said in agitation:

“And you believe it? It is easy to fool you, Ole! Listen — you don’t for a moment think — I swear I didn’t mean it, Ole. It was so stupid of me to say it, but I didn’t for a moment think you would take it seriously. I want to know if you think I meant it; tell me if you do?”

“Of course I don’t,” he said and patted her cheek; “not at all, dearest. That you can make so much of a little thing like that, you foolish child! He, he!”

They continued their interrupted walk. She was so grateful to him because he had taken it so nicely. Oh, he was so good and considerate, she loved him; Heavens! how she adored him. . . .

But this little scene had its influence over her conduct all during the evening.

V

When the performance was over they all gathered in the restaurant. The entire clique was there, even Mr. and Mrs. Paulsberg; later on Attorney Grande appeared, dragging with him Coldevin, who followed unwillingly and protestingly; he wanted to be excused. The Attorney had met him outside and had thought it would be fun to bring him along.

Everything under the sun had been discussed: literature and art, man and God; they had settled the suffrage question, taken a fall out of Malthus, strayed onto the political preserves. It had unfortunately turned out that Paulsberg’s article in the Gazette failed to have the desired effect on Parliament. With sixty-five votes to forty-four it had decided to postpone matters indefinitely; five representatives had suddenly been taken ill and could not participate in the voting. Milde declared that he was going to Australia.

“But you are painting Paulsberg?” objected Norem, the Actor.

“Well, what of it? I can finish that picture in a couple of days.”

It was, however, a secret arrangement that the picture was not to be finished until after the close of the Exhibition. Paulsberg had expressly demanded it. He did not want to be exhibited in mixed company; he desired solitude, veneration, a large window all to himself on the promenade. This was just like Paulsberg.

When, therefore, Milde said that he could finish the picture in a couple of days, Paulsberg answered curtly:

“I shall be unable to sit for you at present; I am working.”

That settled it.

Mrs. Hanka had placed Aagot next to her. She had called to her: “Come here, you with the dimple, here by me!” And she had turned to Irgens and whispered: “Isn’t she sweet?”

Mrs. Hanka was again in her grey woollen dress with low lace collar; her neck was bare. Spring seemed to affect her; she looked a little played out. Her lips were cracked, and when she laughed her features were distorted into wry grimaces because of these cracked lips.

She told Aagot that they were going to the country shortly and hoped to see her there. They were going to eat currants and rake hay and loll in the grass. Suddenly she turned to her husband across the table and said:

“While I remember it, can you let me have a hundred?”

“I wish you hadn’t remembered it,” said Tidemand good-naturedly. He winked, jested happily, and was delighted. “Don’t marry, my friends; it is an expensive luxury! Another hundred!”

And he handed the bill to his wife, who thanked him.

“But what is it for?” he asked her banteringly.

“I refuse to tell you,” she said, and turned to Aagot in order to avoid further references to the matter.

Attorney Grande and Coldevin entered just then.

“Of course you are coming,” said the Attorney. “I never heard anything like it! I want you to join me in a little drink. Come and help me, you fellows; I can’t get the man inside!”

But when Coldevin saw who were present he wrenched himself free quickly and disappeared.

He had visited Ole Henriksen one morning according to his promise, but he had vanished since then and nobody had seen him until now.

The Attorney said:

“I discovered him outside; I had pity on the poor man, he seemed so altogether alone, and I—”

Aagot had jumped up quickly and hurried outside; she caught up with Coldevin on the stairs. They talked together a few moments; finally they both returned.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “Attorney Grande was kind enough to ask me to come with him, but I did not know that there were others here — that there was a party here,” he corrected himself.

The Attorney laughed.

“Sit down, drink, and be merry,” he said.

And Coldevin made himself at home. This tutor from the country, bald and grey, generally taciturn and restrained, talked now with and like the rest. He seemed somewhat changed since his arrival; he answered boldly when he was addressed, and was not backward in expressing his opinions. Journalist Gregersen spoke again about the political situation. He had not heard Paulsberg say anything about it. What was going to happen? What were they going to do?

“What can one do about an accomplished fact?” asked Paulsberg. “Simply take it like men; that is all I can say.”

The Attorney now asked Coldevin:

“I suppose you have been in Parliament to-day, also?”

“Yes.”

“You know, then, what took place. What do you think of it?”

“That is not easy to say on the spur of the moment.”

“Perhaps you haven’t followed matters very closely; you have just arrived, I understand,” said Mrs. Paulsberg amiably.

“Followed matters closely! I should say he has; don’t you worry about that!” cried the Attorney. “I have talked with him before.”

The discussion grew violent. Milde and the Journalist simultaneously demanded the dismissal of the cabinet; others expressed their opinion about the Swedish opera they had just attended; it appeared that not one among them understood music in the least, and they strayed back to politics.

“So you were not seriously shaken by what occurred to-day, Mr. Coldevin?” asked Paulsberg in order to be friendly, too. “I am ashamed to confess that I have sat at home and cursed all afternoon!”

“Indeed!” answered Coldevin.

“Don’t you hear that Paulsberg asked if you were shaken?” said the Journalist sharply across the table.

Coldevin murmured:

“Shaken? One can, of course, not avoid feeling disappointed when such things happen. But the climax to-day was hardly unexpected by me. As I see it, it was only a last rite.”

“Oh, you are a pessimist.”

“Indeed, no, you are mistaken. I am not that.”

Beer and sandwiches were served, afterward coffee. Coldevin glanced at those present; he met Aagot’s eyes looking at him very gently, and this agitated him so that he suddenly spoke out loudly what was on his mind:

“Did this decision to-day surprise you so very much, then?” And when he received a qualified affirmation he continued, in order to make himself understood: “To me it appears to be entirely in harmony with conditions otherwise prevailing. — People are saying to themselves: ‘We have our liberty; the constitution guarantees it, and now we want to enjoy it for a while!’ Behold — the sons of Norway have become freemen and the peers of anybody.”

Everybody agreed with him. Paulsberg nodded; this phenomenon from the country might not be entirely impossible, after all. But he would say no more; he preserved an obstinate silence. At last the Attorney got him started again; he asked:

“When I met you at the Grand recently you insisted that it was wrong ever to forget, ever to forgive. Is that a principle, or how —”

“Yes, you who are young should remember, should always remember, the disappointment you have suffered to-day. You have put your faith in a man, and the man has betrayed your confidence; this you should never forget. One should never forgive, never; such wrongs should be avenged. Once I saw two truck-horses maltreated; it was in a Catholic country, in France. The driver sat high in his seat and swung his enormous whip; it was of no use, the horses slipped and could not budge the heavy load, even though they, so to speak, dug their hoofs into the asphalt. The driver got down; he turned his whip around and used the handle; he beat the horses across their backs; they tried again, stumbled and fell, got up and made another effort. The driver became more and more enraged as people gathered around and witnessed his dilemma; he went forward and beat the horses across the eyes; he went back and struck them on the tender spots beneath the flanks, and the horses squirmed and stumbled, and fell to their knees again, as if they begged for mercy — Three times I tried to get at that brute, and every time I was pushed back by the railing mob who wanted no interference. I had no gun; I was helpless; I stood there with a penknife in my hands and cursed and swore to high Heaven at that barbaric beast. Then somebody next to me — a woman, a nun who carried on her breast the cross of Christ — said mildly and reproachfully: ‘You are committing an awful sin, sir; the Lord is good; he forgives everything!’ I turned to that unspeakably brutal creature and said nothing, but glared at her and happened to spit in her face —”

This delighted the clique.

“In the face? How did it turn out? The devil you say! Did you get away with it?”

“No; I was arrested — But what I wanted to say is this: Never forgive; it is brutal; it turns justice into a farce. A kind act should be repaid with a still kinder act, but a wicked wrong should be avenged. If one is struck on one cheek and turns the other in forgiveness and submission, then goodness and justice lose all value. I wish to point out that the result in Parliament to-day is not altogether an illogical consequence of the conditions that have developed among us. We forgive and forget treason in our leaders and excuse their vacillation and weakness in every crisis. Now the youthful element should step forward, the young Norway, invincible in its indignation and irresistible in its strength. But the young Norway does not step forward; indeed no, we have mollycoddled it with hymns and rot about peace eternal; we have taught it to admire gentleness and submissiveness; above all, to emulate those who have reached the highest degree of neutral toothlessness. Behold the country’s youth, strapping and full-grown, six foot tall, sucking its bottle and growing fat and harmless. If some one smites it on one cheek it turns the other accommodatingly, and keeps its fists in its pockets with admirable self-control.”

Coldevin’s speech attracted not a little attention; they all looked closely at him. He sat there as usual and spoke quietly, without excitement. But his eyes blazed, and his hands trembled as he awkwardly bent back his fingers until they cracked. He did not lift his voice above the normal. Otherwise he did not look well; he wore a loose shirt-front, and this had become disarranged and hung lopsidedly so that one could glimpse a blue cotton shirt beneath. His beard straggled down his breast.

The Journalist nodded and remarked to his neighbour:

“Not at all bad! He is almost one of us.”

Lars Paulsberg said jestingly, and still amiably:

“As I said before, I have done nothing but curse all day, so I guess I have contributed considerably to the indignation of our youth.”

Attorney Grande, who enjoyed himself immensely, was quite proud over his idea of getting Coldevin to come. He told Milde once more how it had happened: “I thought it would not be very lively here, and just then I ran across this fellow outside, standing there all by himself looking in. It kind of moved me, you know —”

Milde spoke up.

“You mentioned the conditions now prevailing. If by that you mean that we are entirely surrounded by weakness and submissiveness, let me inform you that you are much mistaken —”

“In that case I do not mean it, of course.”

“But what do you mean, then? You cannot say that youth like ours, teeming with talent and genius, is weak and of no account. Good God, man! there never was a time when our youth was as rich in talent as at present.”

“If there was, then I never heard of it,” said even Norem, who had been sitting quietly at a corner of the table emptying glass upon glass.

“Talent? Now that is an entirely different question, you know,” said Coldevin quietly. “But do you really think that the talents within our youth are so sweepingly great?”

“He — he asks if — So our talents at present do not amount to so very much, Mr. Coldevin?” Milde laughed contemptuously and turned to Irgens, who had kept aloof from the conversation. “It looks bad for us, Irgens; the phenomenon does not approve of us.”

Mrs. Hanka now spoke; she wanted to smooth matters over. It could only be a misunderstanding; Mr. Coldevin would surely explain himself satisfactorily. Couldn’t they listen to a man without losing their temper? “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Milde —”

“You are not much impressed with us who are supposed to have a little talent, then?” asked Paulsberg, still indulgent.

“Impressed? I must admit that in my humble opinion things are a little on the down grade with us,” answered Coldevin. “I confess that that is my opinion. And it is especially the country’s youth I am thinking of. We have begun a slow retrogression; in plain words, we are lowering our standards, we are tapering down to a general zero. The young do not demand much from themselves or from others any more; they accept the diminutive and call it great; there is not much, not very much, needed to create a stir nowadays. That is what I meant when I referred to the general conditions.”

“But, good Lord! what do you think of our younger writers, then?” cried Journalist Gregersen, flushed and angry. “Our poets, yes! Have you read any of them? Have you, for instance, ever come across the name of Paulsberg, the name of Irgens?”

Aagot could not refrain from observing her old tutor. She was surprised to note that this man, who invariably used to yield when he was contradicted, now sat there with a ready reply to every remark and did not look very timid either.

“You must not take offence at what I say,” he begged. “I admit that I have no business to express such opinions here; I ought to leave that to others who understand these matters better than I; but if you want to know what I think, then I must say that, according to my lights, our younger writers do not seem to improve the conditions greatly. Of course, there can be no fixed standard; everything depends on the point of view, and yours is not mine; we are bound to differ. But, anyway, our younger writers do not lift the level greatly; hardly, according to my understanding. It would seem they lack the ability. Of course, that is no fault of theirs; but then they have no right to pose as being greater than they are. It is a pity that we lose sight of the greater and make mediocrity take its place. Look at our youth; look at our authors; they are very clever, but — Yes, they are both clever and industrious; they labour and toil, but they lack the spark. Good God, how far they are from squandering their treasures! They are saving and calculating and prudent. They write a few verses and they print these few verses. They squeeze out a book now and then; they delve into their inmost recesses and conscientiously scrape the bottom until they arrive at a satisfactory result. They do not scatter values broadcast; no, they do not fling gold along the highways. In former days our poets could afford to be extravagant; there was wealth untold; they towered rich and care-free and squandered their treasures with glorious unconcern. Why not? There was plenty left. Oh, no, our present-day authors are clever and sensible; they do not show us, as did the old, a flood, a tempest, a red eruption of flame-tongued, primeval power!”

Aagot’s eyes were on him; he caught her glance of rapt attention, and she made him understand with a warm smile that she had listened to his every word. She wanted to show Ole how little she had meant her thoughtless regret that he was no poet. She nodded to Coldevin and wished the poets all they got. Coldevin was grateful for her smile; she was the only one who smiled at him, and he did not mind the violent interruptions, the shouts and rude questions: What kind of a phenomenon was he who could assume this superior pose? What world-subduing exploits had he performed? He should not remain incognito any longer; what was his real name? They wanted to acclaim him!

Irgens was least affected of them all; he twirled his moustache and looked at his watch to make everybody understand how this bored him. Glancing at Coldevin, he whispered to Mrs. Hanka with an expression of disgust:

“It seems to me that this man is a little too untidy. Look at his collar, or bib, or whatever one may call it. I noticed that he put his cigar-holder in his vest-pocket a moment ago without first putting it in a case. Who knows, there might be an old comb in the same pocket.”

But with his air of undisturbed serenity, with his eyes fixed on a point in the table, quietly indifferent, Coldevin listened to the exclamations from the gentlemen of the party. The Journalist asked him pointblank if he were not ashamed of himself.

“Leave him alone!” said Paulsberg. “I don’t see why you want to annoy him.”

“It certainly looks bad for our poor country!” sneered the Journalist. “No talents, no youth, nothing only a ‘general condition.’ He, he! God only knows how it will all end! And we who have innocently assumed that a people should honour and respect its young writers!”

Coldevin seized on this.

“Yes, but that is exactly what people are doing; nobody can justly complain on that score! People respect most highly a man who has written a book or two; he is admired far more, for instance, than the ablest business man or the most talented professional! To our people an author means a great deal; he is the essence of all that is distinguished and admirable. There are probably very few countries in which the intellectual life is dominated by authors to the degree it is here. As you probably will admit, we have no statesmen; but our authors direct our politics, and they do it well. It may have struck you that there are barren spots in our scientific attainments; however, with true intuition, our authors are not afraid to assume the burden and pose as scientists. It has surely not escaped your attention that in all our history we have never produced a thinker; never mind, our authors dabble in philosophy, and everybody thinks they do it splendidly. It seems highly unjust to complain because of a lack of appreciation of and admiration for our authors.”

Paulsberg, who in his works had repeatedly proven himself a thinker and philosopher of rank, sat and toyed with his eye-glass and smiled superciliously. But when Coldevin added a few words and ended up with saying that he had the greatest hope and faith in the country’s practical youth, in its young commercial talents, then a loud laugh greeted him, and both the Journalist and Paulsberg shouted simultaneously that this was great, by all the saints the best ever, so help me! Commercial talents — whatever could that be? Talents for trading — what? Glory be!

“In my opinion you will find really great talents within the ranks of our business youth,” Coldevin continued undisturbed. “And I would advise you to pay a little attention to them. They are building ships, opening new markets, carrying on involved business enterprises on a hitherto undreamed of scale —”

Coldevin could not be heard; they laughed and shouted, although out of respect for their good friends the business men present they endeavoured to change the subject. Ole Henriksen and Tidemand had listened in silence; they were embarrassed and did not know how to take it, but began to speak together in low voices. Suddenly Tidemand whispered:

“Can I come over and see you to-morrow about a business matter? I would like to come early, about ten, if you have time then? All right; thanks!”

At Milde’s corner of the table the discussion had swung to wines — old wines, Johannisberger, Cabinet, Musigny. Milde understood the subject thoroughly and contradicted the Attorney violently, although Grande, of the well-known Grande family, was supposed to have drunk such wines since he was a child.

“There is no end to your assertiveness lately,” said Milde.

The Attorney glanced at him and muttered:

“Such a bit of an oil-painter will also presume to understand wines!”

Conversation strayed to the government art subsidies. Irgens listened without changing a feature when Milde asserted that Ojen was the worthiest applicant. It was exceedingly generous in Milde to express such views; he himself had applied and needed the money as much as anybody. Irgens could hardly understand it.

Interest in the preposterous tutor had entirely waned. Nobody spoke to him any more; he had got hold of his hat, which he sat and twirled. Mrs. Hanka addressed a couple of questions to him in order to be polite, but after answering them he was entirely silent. It was strange that the man did not notice how his shirt-front sagged; the slightest movement would correct it. But he did not adjust it.

Paulsberg got up to take his leave. Before he went he manoeuvred the Journalist into a corner and whispered:

“You might do me the favour to mention that I have about half completed my new book. It might interest people to know I am at it.”

Milde and the Attorney got up next; they awoke Norem, who was dozing after all the many glasses he had emptied, and they got him on his legs with difficulty. He began to speak; he had not quite heard the last, the very last of the discussion; how had the poets fared? Oh, there was Mrs. Hanka; so pleased to see her. But why had she arrived so late?

He was finally led outside.

“This means a general departure, I suppose?” asked Irgens, displeased. He had tried to approach Miss Lynum once during the evening but without success. She had plainly avoided him. He had noticed later on that Coldevin’s foolish remarks about the poets and the youth of the country had amused her inordinately; what could that mean? Altogether it had been an unpleasant evening. Mrs. Hanka had sat there with her cracked lips unable to smile decently, and Mrs. Paulsberg was impossible. The evening was simply wasted. And now the company was breaking up; no prospects for livening up one’s spirits with a little intimate half-hour.

Irgens promised to take his revenge on the clique because of the indifference it seemed to show him. Perhaps next week. . . .

Outside Tivoli the company parted. Mrs. Hanka and Aagot walked together down the street.

VI

Tidemand came to H. Henriksen’s office at ten the next morning. Ole was standing at his desk.

Tidemand’s errand was, as he had said, a matter of business only; he spoke in a low voice and placed before Ole a telegram couched in mysterious words. Where it said “Rising One,” it really meant “Ten,” and where it said “Baisse U. S.,” it meant an exportation prohibition on the Black Sea and along the Danube, and a rise in America. The telegram was from Tidemand’s agent in Archangel.

Ole Henriksen immediately grasped the situation: on account of the Russian crop failure, in connection with the already low supplies, Russia was preparing to prohibit all grain exports. Hard times were coming. Norway, too, would feel the pressure, and grain would soar to incredible prices. It was necessary to get hold of as much as possible at no matter what figure. In spite of official Russian denials of the rumours in English newspapers, it seemed as if America already had scented the danger, for American wheat was rising daily. From eighty-seven and eighty-eight it had risen until it now fluctuated between one hundred and ten and one hundred and fifteen. Nobody could predict to what heights it would climb.

Tidemand’s business with Ole was a proposition that the two friends and colleagues join in a speculation in American rye while there still was time. They were to join forces and import a mass of rye that should materially assist in keeping the country fed during the coming year. But it was a matter of urgency; rye, too, was soaring; in Russia it was almost unpurchasable.

Ole left his desk and began to walk up and down. His mind was working; he had intended to offer Tidemand some refreshment, but forgot it entirely. He was greatly tempted, but he was up to his neck in other pressing engagements — that Brazilian affair had almost paralysed him for the moment, and he did not expect to be able to take his profits until early summer.

“There ought to be money in it,” said Tidemand.

No doubt; that was not why Ole hesitated. But he simply was not able to do it. He explained his circumstances and added that he was afraid to tackle anything more at present. The speculation appealed to him, notwithstanding his inability to participate; his eyes gleamed, and he inquired eagerly into all the details. He took a piece of paper, made estimates, and studied the telegram afresh with a thoughtful air. Finally he declared that he could do nothing.

“Of course I can operate alone,” said Tidemand. “I will do it on a smaller scale, that is all. But I should have liked you to be in on this; I would have felt safer. I realise that you cannot go further. However, I’ll telegraph myself; have you got a blank?”

Tidemand wrote out his telegram and handed it to Ole.

“I guess that is clear enough?”

Ole stepped back a pace.

“So much?” he exclaimed. “This is a big order, Andreas.”

“It is big. But I hope the results will justify it,” answered Tidemand quietly. And unable to control a feeling that overwhelmed him at the moment, he looked toward the wall and whispered as if to himself: “I don’t care how it turns out or about anything any more.”

Ole looked at him and asked:

“Any news?”

“No —”

“Well, we’ll see how it turns out.”

Tidemand put the telegram in his pocket.

“I should have liked us both to be in this enterprise, Ole. I must confess that I am in deep elsewhere, too, but — I have my ice to realise on. When the warm weather comes I’ll make money on that, don’t you think?”

“Decidedly! As good as ready money, ice is.”

“So I am not altogether on my knees. And may the Lord keep that sad fate from me, both for my own sake and for the sake of mine!”

“But could you not as a matter of safety — Wait a moment. Pardon me for not offering you a cigar; I know how you like to smoke while talking; I forgot. Sit down a moment; I’ll be back directly.”

Tidemand knew that Ole was on his way to the cellar for the usual bottle of wine, and tried to call him back, but Ole did not hear and returned in a moment with the old, fuzzy bottle. They sat on the sofa as usual and drank to each other.

“I simply wanted to ask,” continued Ole, “are you sure you have considered everything in connection with this American affair? I do not flatter myself that I can teach you anything, you know, but —”

“Yes, I fancy I have calculated all contingencies,” answered Tidemand. “You notice I am using the term ‘Delivery within three days.’ Success depends on quick action. I haven’t even forgotten to consider the effect of a possible presidential change in America.”

“But wouldn’t it be safer to place your limit a little closer? Perhaps you ought not to buy over twelve.”

“No; that would not be well. For you understand that if Russia closes, then fifteen, or even twenty, is not too much. On the other hand, if she does not close, then a hundred, yes, ninety, is far too much. In that case I am done for.”

They both reflected.

“I believe this enterprise is going to be lucky,” said Tidemand suddenly. “Really, I feel it. You know what it means when we traders have a premonition of this kind.”

“How are things otherwise?” asked Ole.

“Well,” Tidemand answered hurriedly, “it does not look so bad just now, not at all. Things are very much as usual at home.”

“No change, then?”

“Well, no — I must get back now.”

Tidemand got up. Ole followed him to the door and said:

“It wasn’t you who didn’t care how matters turn out, was it? Well, I am glad you came, anyway.”

The awkward fellow! This was Ole Henriksen’s way of stiffening a comrade’s backbone.

But Tidemand did not go at once; he stood there with his hand on the door-knob and shifted his eyes nervously from place to place.

“It can hardly be thought strange if I get a little downhearted once in a while,” he said. “Things do not look very bright for me; I do my best to fix everything up, but I do not make much headway, not very much, no. Well, we’ll have to wait and see how matters shape themselves. I think it is getting a little better, thank God.”

“Does your wife keep at home more now? It seems to me that —”

“Hanka has been a good mother to the children lately. I have been very happy because of that; it has brought us closer together, as it were. She is busy fitting the children out for the country. It is wonderful the things she gets together; I have never seen anything like it — blue and white and red dresses! They are lying home; I look at them whenever I am home. Perhaps I shouldn’t place too much faith in it. She does not consider herself married yet, she continues to call herself Lange. That may be only a whim. She calls herself Tidemand, too; she does not forget that. You yourself heard last night in Tivoli how she asked me for a hundred. I am glad she does that; I don’t mind, and shouldn’t have mentioned it if you hadn’t heard it yourself. But it happened to be the third hundred crowns she had got from me in two days. Don’t misunderstand me! But why does she ask me for money before people? Isn’t that as if she wanted to give out the impression that that is the only way to take me, otherwise she wouldn’t get any? She uses a good deal of money; I hardly think she uses it for herself; I am sure she doesn’t, for Hanka was never extravagant. She must be giving it away; it is her affair if she helps somebody. She gets quite a lot of money from me in a week’s time; sometimes she gets it when she goes out, and she has nothing left when she returns, although she has bought nothing. Well, that does not matter. As long as I have anything it belongs to her as well as to me; that is only right and natural. I asked her jokingly once if she wanted to ruin me — make a beggar out of me. It was only a joke, and I laughed heartily myself as I said it. But I shouldn’t have said it; she offered to leave the house whenever I wanted her to — in short, divorce. She has told me that often enough, but this time simply because of a joke. I said that I was sorry, and I asked her pardon; I had never for a moment thought of such a thing as that she might ruin me. ‘Dear Andreas,’ she asked me, ‘can we never get free from each other?’ I do not know what I answered; I guess there was not much sense to it, for she asked immediately for my key, as she had lost her own. I gave it to her, and then she smiled. ‘Smile again,’ I said, and she did it for my sake, and said smilingly that I was a big baby. Yesterday morning I didn’t see her before I got home from the office. She was still working with the children’s summer outfit and showed me everything. She took out her handkerchief, and as she pulled it out from her dress a tie fell out, a gentleman’s red tie. I made out that I did not see it; but I knew very well that the tie did not belong to me. I knew it only too well. That is — understand me correctly — I did not see it well enough to be sure whom it might belong to. It might even have been one of my own ties, some old rag I have ceased to use. It is a peculiarity of mine never to remember my own ties; I notice them so little, I imagine — So things are coming around, as I said. And if my big trade now succeeds, perhaps that will bring luck for us all. It would be fun to show her that I am not such a dunce, ha, ha!”

The two friends talked a little further, after which Tidemand went to the telegraph office. He was full of hope. His great idea was to discount the crisis, to hold enormous supplies of grain when nobody else should have any. He would succeed! He walked with a springy step, like a youth, and avoided meeting anybody who might detain him.


A telegram to the foreign office announced five days later that the Russian government, owing to the shortage of grain and the dark outlook for the coming harvests, had been obliged to prohibit all exports of rye, wheat, corn, and grist from the harbours of Russia and Finland.

Tidemand’s calculations had proven correct.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hamsun/knut/h23s/chapter2.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38