A few weeks later I was out one evening. Once more I had sat out in a churchyard and worked at an article for one of the newspapers. But whilst I was struggling with it eight o’clock struck, and darkness closed in, and time for shutting the gates.
I was hungry — very hungry. The ten shillings had, worse luck, lasted all too short. It was now two, ay, nearly three days since I had eaten anything, and I felt somewhat faint; holding the pencil even had taxed me a little. I had half a penknife and a bunch of keys in my pocket, but not a farthing.
When the churchyard gate shut I meant to have gone straight home, but, from an instinctive dread of my room — a vacant tinker’s workshop, where all was dark and barren, and which, in fact, I had got permission to occupy for the present — I stumbled on, passed, not caring where I went, the Town Hall, right to the sea, and over to a scat near the railway bridge.
At this moment not a sad thought troubled me. I forgot my distress, and felt calmed by the view of the sea, which lay peaceful and lovely in the murkiness. For old habit’s sake I would please myself by reading through the bit I had just written, and which seemed to my suffering head the best thing I had ever done.
I took my manuscript out of my pocket to try and decipher it, held it close up to my eyes, and ran through it, one line after the other. At last I got tired, and put the papers back in my pocket. Everything was still. The sea stretched away in pearly blueness, and little birds flitted noiselessly by me from place to place.
A policeman patrols in the distance; otherwise there is not a soul visible, and the whole harbour is hushed in quiet.
I count my belongings once more — half a penknife, a bunch of keys, but not a farthing. Suddenly I dive into my pocket and take the papers out again. It was a mechanical movement, an unconscious nervous twitch. I selected a white unwritten page, and — God knows where I got the notion from — but I made a cornet, closed it carefully, so that it looked as if it were filled with something, and threw it far out on to the pavement. The breeze blew it onward a little, and then it lay still.
By this time hunger had begun to assail me in earnest. I sat and looked at the white paper cornet, which seemed as if it might be bursting with shining silver pieces, and incited myself to believe that it really did contain something. I sat and coaxed myself quite audibly to guess the sum; if I guessed aright, it was to be mine.
I imagined the tiny, pretty penny bits at the bottom and the thick fluted shillings on top — a whole paper cornet full of money! I sat and gazed at it with wide opened eyes, and urged myself to go and steal it.
Then I hear the constable cough. What puts it into my head to do the same? I rise up from the seat and repeat the cough three times so that he may hear it. Won’t he jump at the corner when he comes. I sat and laughed at this trick, rubbed my hands with glee, and swore with rollicking recklessness. What a disappointment he will get, the dog! Wouldn’t this piece of villainy make him inclined to sink into hell’s hottest pool of torment! I was drunk with starvation; my hunger had made me tipsy.
A few minutes later the policeman comes by, clinking his iron heels on the pavement, peering on all sides. He takes his time; he has the whole night before him; he does not notice the paper bag — not till he comes quite close to it. Then he stops and stares at it. It looks so white and so full as it lies there; perhaps a little sum — what? A little sum of silver money? . . . and he picks it up. Hum . . . it is light — very light; maybe an expensive feather; some hat trimming. . . . He opened it carefully with his big hands, and looked in. I laughed, laughed, slapped my thighs, and laughed, like a maniac. And not a sound issued from my throat; my laughter was hushed and feverish to the intensity of tears.
Clink, clink again over the paving-stones, and the policeman took a turn towards the landing-stage. I sat there, with tears in my eyes, and hiccoughed for breath, quite beside myself with feverish merriment. I commenced to talk aloud to myself all about the cornet, imitated the poor policeman’s movements, peeped into my hollow hand, and repeated over and over again to myself, “He coughed as he threw it away — he coughed as he threw it away.” I added new words to these, gave them additional point, changed the whole sentence, and made it catching and piquant. He coughed once — Kheu heu!
I exhausted myself in weaving variations on these words, and the evening was far advanced before my mirth ceased. Then a drowsy quiet overcame me; a pleasant languor which I did not attempt to resist. The darkness had intensified, and a slight breeze furrowed the pearl-blue sea. The ships, the masts of which I could see outlined against the sky, looked with their black hulls like voiceless monsters that bristled and lay in wait for me. I had no pain — my hunger had taken the edge off it. In its stead I felt pleasantly empty, untouched by everything around me, and glad not to be noticed by any one. I put my feet up on the seat and leant back. Thus I could best appreciate the well-being of perfect isolation. There was not a cloud on my mind, not a feeling of discomfort, and so far as my thought reached, I had not a whim, not a desire unsatisfied. I lay with open eyes, in a state of utter absence of mind. I felt myself charmed away. Moreover, not a sound disturbed me. Soft darkness had hidden the whole world from my sight, and buried me in ideal rest. Only the lonely, crooning voice of silence strikes in monotones on my ear, and the dark monsters out there will draw me to them when night comes, and they will bear me far across the sea, through strange lands where no man dwells, and they will bear me to Princess Ylajali’s palace, where an undreamt-of grandeur awaits me, greater than that of any other man. And she herself will be sitting in a dazzling hall where all is amethyst, on a throne of yellow roses, and will stretch out her hands to me when I alight; will smile and call as I approach and kneel: “Welcome, welcome, knight, to me and my land! I have waited twenty summers for you, and called for you on all bright nights. And when you sorrowed I have wept here, and when you slept I have breathed sweet dreams in you!” . . . And the fair one clasps my hand and, holding it, leads me through long corridors where great crowds of people cry, “Hurrah!” through bright gardens where three hundred tender maidens laugh and play; and through another hall where all is of emerald; and here the sun shines.
In the corridors and galleries choirs of musicians march by, and rills of perfume are wafted towards me.
I clasp her hand in mine; I feel the wild witchery of enchantment shiver through my blood, and I fold my arms around her, and she whispers, “Not here; come yet farther!” and we enter a crimson room, where all is of ruby, a foaming glory, in which I faint.
Then I feel her arms encircle me; her breath fans my face with a whispered “Welcome, loved one! Kiss me . . . more . . . more. . . . ”
I see from my seat stars shooting before my eyes, and my thoughts are swept away in a hurricane of light. . . .
I had fallen asleep where I lay, and was awakened by the policeman. There I sat, recalled mercilessly to life and misery. My first feeling was of stupid amazement at finding myself in the open air; but this was quickly replaced by a bitter despondency, I was near crying with sorrow at being still alive. It had rained whilst I slept, and my clothes were soaked through and through, and I felt a damp cold in my limbs.
The darkness was denser; it was with difficulty that I could distinguish the policeman’s face in front of me.
“So, that’s right,” he said; “get up now.”
I got up at once; if he had commanded me to lie down again I would have obeyed too. I was fearfully dejected, and utterly without strength; added to that, I was almost instantly aware of the pangs of hunger again.
“Hold on there!” the policeman shouted after me; “why, you’re walking off without your hat, you Juggins! So — h there; now, go on.”
“I indeed thought there was something — something I had forgotten,” I stammered, absently. “Thanks, good-night!” and I stumbled away.
If one only had a little bread to eat; one of those delicious little brown loaves that one could bite into as one walked along the street; and as I went on I thought over the particular sort of brown bread that would be so unspeakably good to munch. I was bitterly hungry; wished myself dead and buried; I got maudlin, and wept.
There never was any end to my misery. Suddenly I stopped in the street, stamped on the pavement, and cursed loudly. What was it he called me? A “Juggins”? I would just show him what calling me a “Juggins” means. I turned round and ran back. I felt red-hot with anger. Down the street I stumbled, and fell, but I paid no heed to it, jumped up again, and ran on. But by the time I reached the railway station I had become so tired that I did not feel able to proceed all the way to the landing-stage; besides, my anger had cooled down with the run. At length I pulled up and drew breath. Was it not, after all, a matter of perfect indifference to me what such a policeman said? Yes; but one couldn’t stand everything. Right enough, I interrupted myself; but he knew no better. And I found this argument satisfactory. I repeated twice to myself, “He knew no better”; and with that I returned again.
“Good Lord!” thought I, wrathfully, “what things you do take into your head: running about like a madman through the soaking wet streets on dark nights.” My hunger was now tormenting me excruciatingly, and gave me no rest. Again and again I swallowed saliva to try and satisfy myself a little; I fancied it helped.
I had been pinched, too, for food for ever so many weeks before this last period set in, and my strength had diminished considerably of late. When I had been lucky enough to raise five shillings by some manoeuvre or another they only lasted any time with difficulty; not long enough for me to be restored to health before a new hunger period set in and reduced me again. My back and shoulders caused me the worst trouble. I could stop the little gnawing I had in my chest by coughing hard, or bending well forward as I walked, but I had no remedy for back and shoulders. Whatever was the reason that things would not brighten up for me? Was I not just as much entitled to live as any one else? for example, as Bookseller Pascha or Steam Agent Hennechen? Had I not two shoulders like a giant, and two strong hands to work with? and had I not, in sooth, even applied for a place as wood-chopper in Möllergaden in order to earn my daily bread? Was I lazy? Had I not applied for situations, attended lectures, written articles, and worked day and night like a man possessed? Had I not lived like a miser, eaten bread and milk when I had plenty, bread alone when I had little, and starved when I had nothing? Did I live in an hotel? Had I a suite of rooms on the first floor? Why, I am living in a loft over a tinker’s workshop, a loft already forsaken by God and man last winter, because the snow blew in. So I could not understand the whole thing; not a bit of it.
I slouched on, and dwelt upon all this, and there was not as much as a spark of bitterness or malice or envy in my mind.
I halted at a paint-shop and gazed into the window. I tried to read the labels on a couple of the tins, but it was too dark. Vexed with myself over this new whim, and excited — almost angry at not being able to make out what these tins held — I rapped twice sharply on the window and went on.
Up the street I saw a policeman. I quickened my pace, went close up to him, and said, without the slightest provocation, “It is ten o’clock.”
“No, it’s two,” he answered, amazed.
“No, it’s ten,” I persisted; “it is ten o’clock!” and, groaning with anger, I stepped yet a pace or two nearer, clenched my fist, and said, “Listen, do you know what, it’s ten o’clock!”
He stood and considered a while, summed up my appearance, stared aghast at me, and at last said, quite gently, “In any case, it’s about time ye were getting home. Would ye like me to go with ye a bit?”
I was completely disarmed by this man’s unexpected friendliness. I felt that tears sprang to my eyes, and I hastened to reply:
“No, thank you! I have only been out a little too late in a café. Thank you very much all the same!”
He saluted with his hand to his helmet as I turned away. His friendliness had overwhelmed me, and I cried weakly, because I had not even a little coin to give him.
I halted, and looked after him as he went slowly on his way. I struck my forehead, and, in measure, as he disappeared from my sight, I cried more violently.
I railed at myself for my poverty, called myself abusive names, invented furious designations — rich, rough nuggets — in a vein of abuse with which I overwhelmed myself. I kept on at this until I was nearly home. On coming to the door I discovered I had dropped my keys.
“Oh, of course,” I muttered to myself, “why shouldn’t I lose my keys? Here I am, living in a yard where there is a stable underneath and a tinker’s workshop up above. The door is locked at night, and no one, no one can open it; therefore, why should I not lose my keys?
“I am as wet as a dog — a little hungry — ah, just ever such a little hungry, and slightly, ay, absurdly tired about my knees; therefore, why should I not lose them?
“Why, for that matter, had not the whole house flitted out to Aker by the time I came home and wished to enter it?” . . . and I laughed to myself, hardened by hunger and exhaustion.
I could hear the horses stamp in the stables, and I could see my window above, but I could not open the door, and I could not get in.
It had begun to rain again, and I felt the water soak through to my shoulders. At the Town Hall I was seized by a bright idea. I would ask the policeman to open the door. I applied at once to a constable, and earnestly begged him to accompany me and let me in, if he could.
Yes, if he could, yes! But he couldn’t; he had no key. The police keys were not there; they were kept in the Detective Department.
What was I to do then?
Well, I could go to an hotel and get a bed!
But I really couldn’t go to an hotel and get a bed; I had not money, I had been out — in a café . . . he knew. . . .
We stood a while on the Town Hall steps. He considered and examined my personal appearance. The rain fell in torrents outside.
“Well then, you must go to the guard-house and report yourself as homeless!” said he.
Homeless? I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, by Jove, that was a capital idea; and I thanked the constable on the spot for the suggestion. Could I simply go in and say I was homeless?
“Just that.” . . .
“Your name?” inquired the guard.
“Tangen — Andreas Tangen!”
I don’t know why I lied; my thoughts fluttered about disconnectedly and inspired me with many singular whims, more than I knew what to do with. I hit upon this out-of-the-way name on the spur of the moment, and blurted it out without any calculation. I lied without any occasion for doing so.
This was driving me into a corner with a vengeance. Occupation! what was my occupation? I thought first of turning myself into a tinker — but I dared not; firstly, I had given myself a name that was not common to every and any tinker — besides, I wore pince-nez. It suddenly entered my head to be foolhardy. I took a step forward and said firmly, almost solemnly:
The guard gave a start before he wrote it down, whilst I stood as important as a homeless Cabinet Minister before the barrier. It roused no suspicions. The guard understood quite well why I hesitated a little before answering. What did it look like to see a journalist in the night guard-house without a roof over his head?
“On what paper, Herr Tangen?”
“Morgenbladet!” said I. “I have been out a little too late this evening, more’s the shame!”
“Oh, we won’t mention that,” he interrupted, with a smile; “when young people are out . . . we understand!”
Turning to a policeman, he said, as he rose and bowed politely to me, “Show this gentleman up to the reserved section. Good-night!”
I felt ice run down my back at my own boldness, and I clenched my hands to steady myself a bit. If I only hadn’t dragged in the Morgenbladet. I knew Friele could show his teeth when he liked, and I was reminded of that by the grinding of the key turning in the lock.
“The gas will burn for ten minutes,” remarked the policeman at the door.
“And then does it go out?”
“Then it goes out!”
I sat on the bed and listened to the turning of the key. The bright cell had a friendly air; I felt comfortably and well sheltered; and listened with pleasure to the rain outside — I couldn’t wish myself anything better than such a cosy cell. My contentment increased. Sitting on the bed, hat in hand, and with eyes fastened on the gas jet over in the wall, I gave myself up to thinking over the minutes of my first interview with the police. This was the first time, and how hadn’t I fooled them? “Journalist! — Tangen! if you please! and then Morgenbladet!” Didn’t I appeal straight to his heart with Morgenbladet? “We won’t mention that! Eh? Sat in state in the Stiftsgaarden till two o’clock; forgot door-key and a pocket-book with a thousand kroner at home. Show this gentleman up to the reserved section!” . . .
All at once out goes the gas with a strange suddenness, without diminishing or flickering.
I sit in the deepest darkness; I cannot see my hand, nor the white walls — nothing. There was nothing for it but to go to bed, and I undressed.
But I was not tired from want of sleep, and it would not come to me. I lay a while gazing into the darkness, this dense mass of gloom that had no bottom — my thoughts could not fathom it.
It seemed beyond all measure dense to me, and I felt its presence oppress me. I closed my eyes, commenced to sing under my breath, and tossed to and fro, in order to distract myself, but to no purpose. The darkness had taken possession of my thoughts and left me not a moment in peace. Supposing I were myself to be absorbed in darkness; made one with it?
I raise myself up in bed and fling out my arms. My nervous condition has got the upper hand of me, and nothing availed, no matter how much I tried to work against it. There I sat, a prey to the most singular fantasies, listening to myself crooning lullabies, sweating with the exertion of striving to hush myself to rest. I peered into the gloom, and I never in all the days of my life felt such darkness. There was no doubt that I found myself here, in face of a peculiar kind of darkness; a desperate element to which no one had hitherto paid attention. The most ludicrous thoughts busied me, and everything made me afraid.
A little hole in the wall at the head of my bed occupies me greatly — a nail hole. I find the marks in the wall — I feel it, blow into it, and try to guess its depth. That was no innocent hole — not at all. It was a downright intricate and mysterious hole, which I must guard against! Possessed by the thought of this hole, entirely beside myself with curiosity and fear, I get out of bed and seize hold of my penknife in order to gauge its depth, and convince myself that it does not reach right into the next wall.
I lay down once more to try and fall asleep, but in reality to wrestle again with the darkness. The rain had ceased outside, and I could not hear a sound. I continued for a long time to listen for footsteps in the street, and got no peace until I heard a pedestrian go by — to judge from the sound, a constable. Suddenly I snap my fingers many times and laugh: “That was the very deuce! Ha — ha!” I imagined I had discovered a new word. I rise up in bed and say, “It is not in the language; I have discovered it. ‘Kuboa.’ It has letters as a word has. By the benign God, man, you have discovered a word! . . . ‘Kuboa’ . . . a word of profound import.”
I sit with open eyes, amazed at my own find, and laugh for joy. Then I begin to whisper; some one might spy on me, and I intended to keep my discovery a secret. I entered into the joyous frenzy of hunger. I was empty and free from pain, and I gave free rein to my thoughts.
In all calmness I revolve things in my mind. With the most singular jerks in my chain of ideas I seek to explain the meaning of my new word. There was no occasion for it to mean either God or the Tivoli; [Footnote: Theatre of Varieties, etc., and Garden in Christiania.] and who said that it was to signify cattle show? I clench my hands fiercely, and repeat once again, “Who said that it was to signify cattle show?” No; on second thoughts, it was not absolutely necessary that it should mean padlock, or sunrise. It was not difficult to find a meaning for such a word as this. I would wait and see. In the meantime I could sleep on it.
I lie there on the stretcher-bed and laugh slily, but say nothing; give vent to no opinion one way or the other. Some minutes pass over, and I wax nervous; this new word torments me unceasingly, returns again and again, takes up my thoughts, and makes me serious. I had fully formed an opinion as to what it should not signify, but had come to no conclusion as to what it should signify. “That is quite a matter of detail,” I said aloud to myself, and I clutched my arm and reiterated: “That is quite a matter of detail.” The word was found, God be praised! and that was the principal thing. But ideas worry me without end and hinder me from falling asleep. Nothing seemed good enough to me for this unusually rare word. At length I sit up in bed again, grasp my head in both hands, and say, “No! it is just this, it is impossible to let it signify emigration or tobacco factory. If it could have meant anything like that I would have decided upon it long since and taken the consequences.” No; in reality the word is fitted to signify something psychical, a feeling, a state. Could I not apprehend it? and I reflect profoundly in order to find something psychical. Then it seems to me that some one is interposing, interrupting my confab. I answer angrily, “Beg pardon! Your match in idiocy is not to be found; no, sir! Knitting cotton? Ah! go to hell!” Well, really I had to laugh. Might I ask why should I be forced to let it signify knitting cotton, when I had a special dislike to its signifying knitting cotton? I had discovered the word myself, so, for that matter, I was perfectly within my right in letting it signify whatsoever I pleased. As far as I was aware, I had not yet expressed an opinion as to. . . .
But my brain got more and more confused. At last I sprang out of bed to look for the water-tap. I was not thirsty, but my head was in a fever, and I felt an instinctive longing for water. When I had drunk some I got into bed again, and determined with all my might to settle to sleep. I closed my eyes and forced myself to keep quiet. I lay thus for some minutes without making a movement, sweated and felt my blood jerk violently through my veins. No, it was really too delicious the way he thought to find money in the paper cornet! He only coughed once, too! I wonder if he is pacing up and down there yet! Sitting on my bench? the pearly blue sea . . . the ships. . . .
I opened my eyes; how could I keep them shut when I could not sleep? The same darkness brooded over me; the same unfathomable black eternity which my thoughts strove against and could not understand. I made the most despairing efforts to find a word black enough to characterize this darkness; a word so horribly black that it would darken my lips if I named it. Lord! how dark it was! and I am carried back in thought to the sea and the dark monsters that lay in wait for me. They would draw me to them, and clutch me tightly and bear me away by land and sea, through dark realms that no soul has seen. I feel myself on board, drawn through waters, hovering in clouds, sinking — sinking.
I give a hoarse cry of terror, clutch the bed tightly — I had made such a perilous journey, whizzing down through space like a bolt. Oh, did I not feel that I was saved as I struck my hands against the wooden frame! “This is the way one dies!” said I to myself. “Now you will die!” and I lay for a while and thought over that I was to die.
Then I start up in bed and ask severely, “If I found the word, am I not absolutely within my right to decide myself what it is to signify?” . . . I could hear myself that I was raving. I could hear it now whilst I was talking. My madness was a delirium of weakness and prostration, but I was not out of my senses. All at once the thought darted through my brain that I was insane. Seized with terror, I spring out of bed again, I stagger to the door, which I try to open, fling myself against it a couple of times to burst it, strike my head against the wall, bewail loudly, bite my fingers, cry and curse. . . .
All was quiet; only my own voice echoed from the walls. I had fallen to the floor, incapable of stumbling about the cell any longer.
Lying there I catch a glimpse, high up, straight before my eyes, of a greyish square in the wall, a suggestion of white, a presage — it must be of daylight. I felt it must be daylight, felt it through every pore in my body. Oh, did I not draw a breath of delighted relief! I flung myself flat on the floor and cried for very joy over this blessed glimpse of light, sobbed for very gratitude, blew a kiss to the window, and conducted myself like a maniac. And at this moment I was perfectly conscious of what I was doing. All my dejection had vanished; all despair and pain had ceased, and I had at this moment, at least as far as my thought reached, not a wish unfilled. I sat up on the floor, folded my hands, and waited patiently for the dawn.
What a night this had been!
That they had not heard any noise! I thought with astonishment. But then I was in the reserved section, high above all the prisoners. A homeless Cabinet Minister, if I might say so.
Still in the best of humours, with eyes turned towards the lighter, ever lighter square in the wall, I amused myself acting Cabinet Minister; called myself Von Tangen, and clothed my speech in a dress of red-tape. My fancies had not ceased, but I was far less nervous. If I only had not been thoughtless enough to leave my pocket-book at home! Might I not have the honour of assisting his Right Honourable the Prime Minister to bed? And in all seriousness, and with much ceremony I went over to the stretcher and lay down.
By this it was so light that I could distinguish in some degree the outlines of the cell and, little by little, the heavy handle of the door. This diverted me; the monotonous darkness so irritating in its impenetrability that it prevented me from seeing myself was broken; my blood flowed more quietly; I soon felt my eyes close.
I was aroused by a couple of knocks on my door. I jumped up in all haste, and clad myself hurriedly; my clothes were still wet through from last night.
“You’ll report yourself downstairs to the officer on duty,” said the constable.
Were there more formalities to be gone through, then? I thought with fear.
Below I entered a large room, where thirty or forty people sat, all homeless. They were called up one by one by the registering clerk, and one by one they received a ticket for breakfast. The officer on duty repeated constantly to the policeman at his side, “Did he get a ticket? Don’t forget to give them tickets; they look as if they wanted a meal!”
And I stood and looked at these tickets, and wished I had one.
“Andreas Tangen — journalist.”
I advanced and bowed.
“But, my dear fellow, how did you come here?”
I explained the whole state of the case, repeated the same story as last night, lied without winking, lied with frankness — had been out rather late, worse luck . . . café . . . lost door-key. . . .
“Yes,” he said, and he smiled; “that’s the way! Did you sleep well then?”
I answered, “Like a Cabinet Minister — like a Cabinet Minister!”
“I am glad to hear it,” he said, and he stood up. “Good-morning.”
And I went!
A ticket! a ticket for me too! I have not eaten for more than three long days and nights. A loaf! But no one offered me a ticket, and I dared not demand one. It would have roused suspicion at once. They would begin to poke their noses into my private affairs, and discover who I really was; they might arrest me for false pretences; and so, with elevated head, the carriage of a millionaire, and hands thrust under my coat-tails, I stride out of the guard-house.
The sun shone warmly, early as it was. It was ten o’clock, and the traffic in Young’s Market was in full swing. Which way should I take? I slapped my pockets and felt for my manuscript. At eleven I would try and see the editor. I stand a while on the balustrade, and watch the bustle under me. Meanwhile, my clothes commenced to steam. Hunger put in its appearance afresh, gnawed at my breast, clutched me, and gave small, sharp stabs that caused me pain.
Had I not a friend — an acquaintance whom I could apply to? I ransack my memory to find a man good for a penny piece, and fail to find him.
Well, it was a lovely day, anyway! Sunlight bright and warm surrounded me. The sky stretched away like a beautiful sea over the Lier mountains.
Without knowing it, I was on my way home. I hungered sorely. I found a chip of wood in the street to chew — that helped a bit. To think that I hadn’t thought of that sooner! The door was open; the stable-boy bade me good-morning as usual.
“Fine weather,” said he.
“Yes,” I replied. That was all I found to say. Could I ask for the loan of a shilling? He would be sure to lend it willingly if he could; besides that, I had written a letter for him once.
He stood and turned something over in his mind before he ventured on saying it.
“Fine weather! Ahem! I ought to pay my landlady today; you wouldn’t be so kind as to lend me five shillings, would you? Only for a few days, sir. You did me a service once before, so you did.”
“No; I really can’t do it, Jens Olaj,” I answered. “Not now — perhaps later on, maybe in the afternoon,” and I staggered up the stairs to my room.
I flung myself on my bed, and laughed. How confoundedly lucky it was that he had forestalled me; my self-respect was saved. Five shillings! God bless you, man, you might just as well have asked me for five shares in the Dampkökken, or an estate out in Aker.
And the thought of these five shillings made me laugh louder and louder. Wasn’t I a devil of a fellow, eh? Five shillings! My mirth increased, and I gave way to it. Ugh! what a shocking smell of cooking there was here — a downright disgustingly strong smell of chops for dinner, phew! and I flung open the window to let out this beastly smell. “Waiter, a plate of beef!” Turning to the table — this miserable table that I was forced to support with my knees when I wrote — I bowed profoundly, and said:
“May I ask will you take a glass of wine? No? I am Tangen — Tangen, the Cabinet Minister. I— more’s the pity — I was out a little late . . . the door-key.” Once more my thoughts ran without rein in intricate paths. I was continually conscious that I talked at random, and yet I gave utterance to no word without hearing and understanding it. I said to myself, “Now you are talking at random again,” and yet I could not help myself. It was as if one were lying awake, and yet talking in one’s sleep.
My head was light, without pain and without pressure, and my mood was unshadowed. It sailed away with me, and I made no effort.
“Come in! Yes, only come right in! As you see everything is of ruby — Ylajali, Ylajali! that swelling crimson silken divan! Ah, how passionately she breathes. Kiss me — loved one — more — more! Your arms are like pale amber, your mouth blushes. . . . Waiter I asked for a plate of beef!”
The sun gleamed in through the window, and I could hear the horses below chewing oats. I sat and mumbled over my chip gaily, glad at heart as a child.
I kept all the time feeling for my manuscript. It wasn’t really in my thoughts, but instinct told me it was there —’twas in my blood to remember it, and I took it out.
It had got wet, and I spread it out in the sun to dry; then I took to wandering up and down the room. How depressing everything looked! Small scraps of tin shavings were trodden into the floor; there was not a chair to sit upon, not even a nail in the bare walls. Everything had been brought to my “Uncle’s,” and consumed. A few sheets of paper lying on the table, covered with thick dust, were my sole possession; the old green blanket on the bed was lent to me by Hans Pauli some months ago. . . . Hans Pauli! I snap my fingers. Hans Pauli Pettersen shall help me! He would certainly be very angry that I had not appealed to him at once. I put on my hat in haste, gather up the manuscript, thrust it into my pocket, and hurry downstairs.
“Listen, Jens Olaj!” I called into the stable, “I am nearly certain I can help you in the afternoon.”
Arrived at the Town Hall I saw that it was past eleven, and I determined on going to the editor at once. I stopped outside the office door to see if my sheets were paged rightly, smoothed them carefully out, put them back in my pocket, and knocked. My heart beat audibly as I entered.
“Scissors” is there as usual. I inquire timorously for the editor. No answer. The man sits and probes for minor items of news amongst the provincial papers.
I repeat my question, and advance a little farther.
“The editor has not come yet!” said “Scissors” at length, without looking up.
How soon would he come?
“Couldn’t say — couldn’t say at all!”
How long would the office be open?
To this I received no answer, so I was forced to leave. “Scissors” had not once looked up at me during all this scene; he had heard my voice, and recognized me by it. You are in such bad odour here, thought I, that he doesn’t even take the trouble to answer you. I wonder if that is an order of the editor’s. I had, ’tis true enough, right from the day my celebrated story was accepted for ten shillings, overwhelmed him with work, rushed to his door nearly every day with unsuitable things that he was obliged to peruse only to return them to me. Perhaps he wished to put an end to this — take stringent measures. . . . I took the road to Homandsbyen.
Hans Paul! Pettersen was a peasant-farmer’s son, a student, living in the attic of a five-storeyed house; therefore, Hans Pauli Pettersen was a poor man. But if he had a shilling he wouldn’t stint it. I would get it just as sure as if I already held it in my hand. And I rejoiced the whole time, as I went, over the shilling, and felt confident I would get it.
When I got to the street door it was closed and I had to ring.
“I want to see Student Pettersen,” I said, and was about to step inside. “I know his room.”
“Student Pettersen,” repeats the girl. “Was it he who had the attic?” He had moved.
Well, she didn’t know the address; but he had asked his letters to be sent to Hermansen in Tolbod-gaden, and she mentioned the number.
I go, full of trust and hope, all the way to Tolbod-gaden to ask Hans Pauli’s address; being my last chance, I must turn it to account. On the way I came to a newly-built house, where a couple of joiners stood planing outside. I picked up a few satiny shavings from the heap, stuck one in my mouth, and the other in my pocket for by-and-by, and continued my journey.
I groaned with hunger. I had seen a marvellously large penny loaf at a baker’s — the largest I could possibly get for the price.
“I come to find out Student Pettersen’s address!”
“Bernt Akers Street, No. 10, in the attic.” Was I going out there? Well, would I perhaps be kind enough to take out a couple of letters that had come for him?
I trudge up town again, along the same road, pass by the joiners — who are sitting with their cans between their knees, eating their good warm dinner from the Dampkökken — pass the bakers, where the loaf is still in its place, and at length reach Bernt Akers Street, half dead with fatigue. The door is open, and I mount all the weary stairs to the attic. I take the letters out of my pocket in order to put Hans Pauli into a good humour on the moment of my entrance.
He would be certain not to refuse to give me a helping hand when I explained how things were with me; no, certainly not; Hans Pauli had such a big heart — I had always said that of him. . . . I discovered his card fastened to the door —“H. P. Pettersen, Theological Student, ‘gone home.’”
I sat down without more ado — sat down on the bare floor, dulled with fatigue, fairly beaten with exhaustion. I mechanically mutter, a couple of times, “Gone home — gone home!” then I keep perfectly quiet. There was not a tear in my eyes; I had not a thought, not a feeling of any kind. I sat and stared, with wide-open eyes, at the letters, without coming to any conclusion. Ten minutes went over — perhaps twenty or more. I sat stolidly on the one spot, and did not move a finger. This numb feeling of drowsiness was almost like a brief slumber. I hear some one come up the stairs.
“It was Student Pettersen, I . . . I have two letters for him.”
“He has gone home,” replies the woman; “but he will return after the holidays. I could take the letters if you like!”
“Yes, thanks! that was all right,” said I. “He could get them then when he came back; they might contain matters of importance. Good-morning.”
When I got outside, I came to a standstill and said loudly in the open street, as I clenched my hands: “I will tell you one thing, my good Lord God, you are a bungler!” and I nod furiously, with set teeth, up to the clouds; “I will be hanged if you are not a bungler.”
Then I took a few strides, and stopped again. Suddenly, changing my attitude, I fold my hands, hold my head to one side, and ask, with an unctuous, sanctimonious tone of voice: “Hast thou appealed also to him, my child?” It did not sound right!
With a large H, I say, with an H as big as a cathedral! once again, “Hast thou invoked Him, my child?” and I incline my head, and I make my voice whine, and answer, No!
That didn’t sound right either.
You can’t play the hypocrite, you idiot! Yes, you should say, I have invoked God my Father! and you must set your words to the most piteous tune you have ever heard in your life. So — o! Once again! Come, that was better! But you must sigh like a horse down with the colic. So — o! that’s right. Thus I go, drilling myself in hypocrisy; stamp impatiently in the street when I fail to succeed; rail at myself for being such a blockhead, whilst the astonished passers-by turn round and stare at me.
I chewed uninterruptedly at my shaving, and proceeded, as steadily as I could, along the street. Before I realized it, I was at the railway square. The dock on Our Saviour’s pointed to half-past one. I stood for a bit and considered. A faint sweat forced itself out on my face, and trickled down my eyelids. Accompany me down to the bridge, said I to myself — that is to say, if you have spare time! — and I made a bow to myself, and turned towards the railway bridge near the wharf.
The ships lay there, and the sea rocked in the sunshine. There was bustle and movement everywhere, shrieking steam-whistles, quay porters with cases on their shoulders, lively “shanties” coming from the prams. An old woman, a vendor of cakes, sits near me, and bends her brown nose down over her wares. The little table before her is sinfully full of nice things, and I turn away with distaste. She is filling the whole quay with her smell of cakes — phew! up with the windows!
I accosted a gentleman sitting at my side, and represented forcibly to him the nuisance of having cake-sellers here, cake-sellers there. . . . Eh? Yes; but he must really admit that. . . . But the good man smelt a rat, and did not give me time to finish speaking, for he got up and left. I rose, too, and followed him, firmly determined to convince him of his mistake.
“If it was only out of consideration for sanitary conditions,” said I; and I slapped him on the shoulders.
“Excuse me, I am a stranger here, and know nothing of the sanitary conditions,” he replied, and stared at me with positive fear.
Oh, that alters the case! if he was a stranger. . . . Could I not render him a service in any way? show him about? Really not? because it would be a pleasure to me, and it would cost him nothing. . . .
But the man wanted absolutely to get rid of me, and he sheered off, in all haste, to the other side of the street.
I returned to the bench and sat down. I was fearfully disturbed, and the big street organ that had begun to grind a tune a little farther away made me still worse — a regular metallic music, a fragment of Weber, to which a little girl is singing a mournful strain. The flute-like sorrowfulness of the organ thrills through my blood; my nerves vibrate in responsive echo. A moment later, and I fall back on the seat, whimpering and crooning in time to it.
Oh, what strange freaks one’s thoughts are guilty of when one is starving. I feel myself lifted up by these notes, dissolved in tones, and I float out, I feel so clearly. How I float out, soaring high above the mountains, dancing through zones of light! . . .
“A halfpenny,” whines the little organ-girl, reaching forth her little tin plate; “only a halfpenny.”
“Yes,” I said, unthinkingly, and I sprang to my feet and ransacked all my pockets. But the child thinks I only want to make fun of her, and she goes away at once without saying a word.
This dumb forbearance was too much for me. If she had abused me, it would have been more endurable. I was stung with pain, and recalled her.
“I don’t possess a farthing; but I will remember you later on, maybe tomorrow. What is your name? Yes, that is a pretty name; I won’t forget it. Till tomorrow, then. . . . ”
But I understood quite well that she did not believe me, although she never said one word; and I cried with despair because this little street wench would not believe in me.
Once again I called her back, tore open my coat, and was about to give her my waistcoat. “I will make up to you for it,” said I; “wait only a moment” . . . and lo! I had no waistcoat.
What in the world made me look for it? Weeks had gone by since it was in my possession. What was the matter with me, anyway? The astonished child waited no longer, but withdrew fearsomely, and I was compelled to let her go. People throng round me, laugh aloud; a policeman thrusts his way through to me, and wants to know what is the row.
“Nothing!” I reply, “nothing at all; I only wanted to give the little girl over there my waistcoat . . . for her father . . . you needn’t stand there and laugh at that . . . I have only to go home and put on another.”
“No disturbance in the street,” says the constable; “so, march,” and he gives me a shove on.
“Is them your papers?” he calls after me.
“Yes, by Jove! my newspaper leader; many important papers! However could I be so careless?” I snatch up my manuscript, convince myself that it is lying in order and go, without stopping a second or looking about me, towards the editor’s office.
It was now four by the clock of Our Saviour’s Church. The office is shut. I stead noiselessly down the stairs, frightened as a thief, and stand irresolutely outside the door. What should I do now? I lean up against the wall, stare down at the stones, and consider. A pin is lying glistening at my feet; I stoop and pick it up. Supposing I were to cut the buttons off my coat, how much could I get for them? Perhaps it would be no use, though buttons are buttons; but yet, I look and examine them, and find them as good as new — that was a lucky idea all the same; I could cut them off with my penknife and take them to the pawn-office. The hope of being able to sell these five buttons cheered me immediately, and I cried, “See, see; it will all come right!” My delight got the upper hand of me, and I at once set to cut off the buttons one by one. Whilst thus occupied, I held the following hushed soliloquy:
Yes, you see one has become a little impoverished; a momentary embarrassment . . . worn out, do you say? You must not make slips when you speak? I would like to see the person who wears out less buttons than I do, I can tell you! I always go with my coat open; it is a habit of mine, an idiosyncrasy. . . . No, no; of course, if you won’t, well! But I must have a penny for them, at least. . . . No indeed! who said you were obliged to do it? You can hold your tongue, and leave me in peace. . . . Yes, well, you can fetch a policeman, can’t you? I’ll wait here whilst you are out looking for him, and I won’t steal anything from you. Well, good-day! Good-day! My name, by the way, is Tangen; have been out a little late.
Some one comes up the stairs. I am recalled at once to reality. I recognize “Scissors,” and put the buttons carefully into my pocket. He attempts to pass; doesn’t even acknowledge my nod; is suddenly intently busied with his nails. I stop him, and inquire for the editor.
“Not in, do you hear.”
“You lie,” I said, and, with a cheek that fairly amazed myself, I continued, “I must have a word with him; it is a necessary errand — communications from the Stiftsgaarden. [Footnote: Dwelling of the civil governor of a Stift or diocese.]
“Well, can’t you tell me what it is, then?”
“Tell you?” and I looked “Scissors” up and down. This had the desired effect. He accompanied me at once, and opened the door. My heart was in my mouth now; I set my teeth, to try and revive my courage, knocked, and entered the editor’s private office.
“Good-day! Is it you?” he asked kindly; “sit down.”
If he had shown me the door it would have been almost as acceptable. I felt as if I were on the point of crying and said:
“I beg you will excuse. . . . ”
“Pray, sit down,” he repeated. And I sat down, and explained that I again had an article which I was extremely anxious to get into his paper. I had taken such pains with it; it had cost me much effort.
“I will read it,” said he, and he took it. “Everything you write is certain to cost you effort, but you are far too impetuous; if you could only be a little more sober. There’s too much fever. In the meantime, I will read it,” and he turned to the table again.
There I sat. Dared I ask for a shilling? explain to him why there was always fever? He would be sure to aid me; it was not the first time.
I stood up. Hum! But the last time I was with him he had complained about money, and had sent a messenger out to scrape some together for me. Maybe it might be the same case now. No; it should not occur! Could I not see then that he was sitting at work?
Was there otherwise anything? he inquired.
“No,” I answered, and I compelled my voice to sound steady. “About how soon shall I call in again?”
“Oh, any time you are passing — in a couple of days or so.”
I could not get my request over my lips. This man’s friendliness seemed to me beyond bounds, and I ought to know how to appreciate it. Rather die of hunger! I went. Not even when I was outside the door, and felt once more the pangs of hunger, did I repent having left the office without having asked for that shilling. I took the other shaving out of my pocket and stuck it into my mouth. It helped. Why hadn’t I done so before? “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” I said aloud. “Could it really have entered your head to ask the man for a shilling and put him to inconvenience again?” and I got downright angry with myself for the effrontery of which I had almost been guilty. “That is, by God! the shabbiest thing I ever heard,” said I, “to rush at a man and nearly tear the eyes out of his head just because you happen to need a shilling, you miserable dog! So — o, march! quicker! quicker! you big thumping lout; I’ll teach you.” I commenced to run to punish myself, left one street after the other behind me at a bound, goaded myself on with suppressed cries, and shrieked dumbly and furiously at myself whenever I was about to halt. Thus I arrived a long way up Pyle Street, when at last I stood still, almost ready to cry with vexation at not being able to run any farther. I was trembling over my whole body, and I flung myself down on a step. “No; stop!” I said, and, in order to torture myself rightly, I arose again, and forced myself to keep standing. I jeered at myself and hugged myself with pleasure at the spectacle of my own exhaustion. At length, after the lapse of a few moments, I gave myself, with a nod, permission to be seated, though, even then, I chose the most uncomfortable place on the steps.
Lord! how delicious it was to rest! I dried the sweat off my face, and drew great refreshing breaths. How had I not run! But I was not sorry; I had richly deserved it. Why did I want to ask for that shilling? Now I could see the consequences, and I began to talk mildly to myself, dealing out admonitions as a mother might have done. I grew more and more moved, and tired and weak as I was, I fell a-crying. A quiet, heart-felt cry; an inner sobbing without a tear.
I sat for the space of a quarter of an hour, or more, in the same place. People came and went, and no one molested me. Little children played about around me, and a little bird sang on a tree on the other side of the street.
A policeman came towards me. “Why do you sit here?” said he.
“Why do I sit here?” I replied; “for pleasure.”
“I have been watching you for the last half-hour. You’ve sat here now half-an-hour.”
“About that,” I replied; “anything more?”
I got up in a temper and walked on. Arrived at the market-place, I stopped and gazed down the street. For pleasure. Now, was that an answer to give? For weariness, you should have replied, and made your voice whining. You are a booby; you will never learn to dissemble. From exhaustion, and you should have gasped like a horse.
When I got to the fire look-out, I halted afresh, seized by a new idea. I snapped my fingers, burst into a loud laugh that confounded the passers-by, and said: “Now you shall just go to Levion the parson. You shall, as sure as death — ay, just for a try. What have you got to lose by it? and it is such glorious weather!”
I entered Pascha’s book-shop, found Pastor Levion’s address in the directory, and started for it.
Now for it! said I. Play no pranks. Conscience, did you say? No rubbish, if you please. You are too poor to support a conscience. You are hungry; you have come on important business — the first thing needful. But you shall hold your head askew, and set your words to a sing-song. You won’t! What? Well then, I won’t go a step farther. Do you hear that? Indeed, you are in a sorely tempted condition, fighting with the powers of darkness and great voiceless monsters at night, so that it is a horror to think of; you hunger and thirst for wine and milk, and don’t get them. It has gone so far with you. Here you stand and haven’t as much as a halfpenny to bless yourself with. But you believe in grace, the Lord be praised; you haven’t yet lost your faith; and then you must clasp your hands together, and look a very Satan of a fellow for believing in grace. As far as Mammon was concerned, why, you hated Mammon with all its pomps in any form. Now it’s quite another thing with a psalm-book — a souvenir to the extent of a few shillings. . . . I stopped at the pastor’s door, and read, “Office hours, 12 to 4.”
Mind, no fudge, I said; now we’ll go ahead in earnest! So hang your head a little more, and I rang at the private entrance.
“I want to see the pastor,” said I to the maid; but it was not possible for me to get in God’s name yet awhile.
“He has gone out.”
Gone out, gone out! That destroyed my whole plan; scattered all I intended to say to the four winds. What had I gained then by the long walk? There I stood.
“Was it anything particular?” questioned the maid.
“Not at all,” I replied, “not at all.” It was only just that it was such glorious God’s weather that I thought I would come out and make a call.
There I stood, and there she stood. I purposely thrust out my chest to attract her attention to the pin that held my coat together. I implored her with a look to see what I had come for, but the poor creature didn’t understand it at all.
Lovely God’s weather. Was not the mistress at home either?
Yes; but she had gout, and lay on a sofa without being able to move herself. . . . Perhaps I would leave a message or something?
No, not at all; I only just took walks like this now and again, just for exercise; it was so wholesome after dinner. . . . I set out on the road back — what would gossiping longer lead to? Besides, I commenced to feel dizzy. There was no mistake about it; I was about to break down in earnest. Office hours from 12 to 4. I had knocked at the door an hour too late. The time of grace was over. I sat down on one of the benches near the church in the market. Lord! how black things began to look for me now! I did not cry; I was too utterly tired, worn to the last degree. I sat there without trying to arrive at any conclusion, sad, motionless, and starving. My chest was much inflamed; it smarted most strangely and sorely — nor would chewing shavings help me much longer. My jaws were tired of that barren work, and I let them rest. I simply gave up. A brown orange-peel, too, I had found in the street, and which I had at once commenced to chew, had given me nausea. I was ill — the veins swelled up bluely on my wrists. What was it I had really sought after? Run about the whole live-long day for a shilling, that would but keep life in me for a few hours longer. Considering all, was it not a matter of indifference if the inevitable took place one day earlier or one day later? If I had conducted myself like an ordinary being I should have gone home long ago, and laid myself down to rest, and given in. My mind was clear for a moment. Now I was to die. It was in the time of the fall, and all things were hushed to sleep. I had tried every means, exhausted every resource of which I knew. I fondled this thought sentimentally, and each time I still hoped for a possible succour I whispered repudiatingly: “You fool, you have already begun to die.”
I ought to write a couple of letters, make all ready — prepare myself. I would wash myself carefully and tidy my bed nicely. I would lay my head upon the sheets of white paper, the cleanest things I had left, and the green blanket. I . . . The green blanket! Like a shot I was wide awake. The blood mounted to my head, and I got violent palpitation of the heart. I arise from the seat, and start to walk. Life stirs again in all my fibres, and time after time I repeat disconnectedly, “The green blanket — the green blanket.” I go faster and faster, as if it is a case of fetching something, and stand after a little time in my tinker’s workshop. Without pausing a moment, or wavering in my resolution, I go over to the bed, and roll up Hans Pauli’s blanket. It was a strange thing if this bright idea of mine couldn’t save me. I rose infinitely superior to the stupid scruples which sprang up in me — half inward cries about a certain stain on my honour. I bade good-bye to the whole of them. I was no hero — no virtuous idiot. I had my senses left.
So I took the blanket under my arm and went to No. 5 Stener’s Street. I knocked, and entered the big, strange room for the first time. The bell on the door above my head gave a lot of violent jerks. A man enters from a side room, chewing, his mouth is full of food, and stands behind the counter.
“Eh, lend me sixpence on my eye-glasses?” said I. “I shall release them in a couple of days, without fail — eh?”
“No! they’re steel, aren’t they?”
“No; can’t do it.”
“Ah, no, I suppose you can’t. Well, it was really at best only a joke. Well, I have a blanket with me for which, properly speaking, I have no longer any use, and it struck me that you might take it off my hands.”
“I have — more’s the pity — a whole store full of bed-clothes,” he replied; and when I had opened it he just cast one glance over it and said, “No, excuse me, but I haven’t any use for that either.”
“I wanted to show you the worse side first,” said I; “it’s much better on the other side.”
“Ay, ay; it’s no good. I won’t own it; and you wouldn’t raise a penny on it anywhere.”
“No, it’s clear it isn’t worth anything,” I said; “but I thought it might go with another old blanket at an auction.”
“Well, no; it’s no use.”
“Three pence?” said I.
“No; I won’t have it at all, man! I wouldn’t have it in the house!” I took it under my arm and went home.
I acted as if nothing had passed, spread it over the bed again, smoothed it well out, as was my custom, and tried to wipe away every trace of my late action. I could not possibly have been in my right mind at the moment when I came to the conclusion to commit this rascally trick. The more I thought over it the more unreasonable it seemed to me. It must have been an attack of weakness; some relaxation in my inner self that had surprised me when off my guard. Neither had I fallen straight into the trap. I had half felt that I was going the wrong road, and I expressly offered my glasses first, and I rejoiced greatly that I had not had the opportunity of carrying into effect this fault which would have sullied the last hours I had to live.
I wandered out into the city again. I let myself sink upon one of the seats by Our Saviour’s Church; dozed with my head on my breast, apathetic after my last excitement, sick and famished with hunger. And time went by.
I should have to sit out this hour, too. It was a little lighter outside than in the house, and it seemed to me that my chest did not pain quite so badly out in the open air. I should get home, too, soon enough — and I dozed, and thought, and suffered fearfully.
I had found a little pebble; I wiped it clean on my coat sleeve and put it into my mouth so that I might have something to mumble. Otherwise I did not stir, and didn’t even wink an eyelid. People came and went; the noise of cars, the tramp of hoofs, and chatter of tongues filled the air. I might try with the buttons. Of course there would be no use in trying; and besides, I was now in a rather bad way; but when I came to consider the matter closely, I would be obliged, as it were, to pass in the direction of my “Uncle’s” as I went home. At last I got up, dragging myself slowly to my feet, and reeled down the streets. It began to burn over my eyebrows — fever was setting in, and I hurried as fast as I could. Once more I passed the baker’s shop where the little loaf lay. “Well, we must stop here!” I said, with affected decision. But supposing I were to go in and beg for a bit of bread? Surely that was a fleeting thought, a flash; it could never really have occurred to me seriously. “Fie!” I whispered to myself, and shook my head, and held on my way. In Rebslager a pair of lovers stood in a doorway and talked together softly; a little farther up a girl popped her head out of a window. I walked so slowly and thoughtfully, that I looked as if I might be deep in meditation on nothing in particular, and the wench came out into the street. “How is the world treating you, old fellow? Eh, what, are you ill? Nay, the Lord preserve us, what a face!” and she drew away frightened. I pulled up at once: What’s amiss with my face? Had I really begun to die? I felt over my cheeks with my hand; thin — naturally, I was thin — my cheeks were like two hollowed bowls; but Lord . . . I reeled along again, but again came to a standstill; I must be quite inconceivably thin. Who knows but that my eyes were sinking right into my head? How did I look in reality? It was the very deuce that one must let oneself turn into a living deformity for sheer hunger’s sake. Once more I was seized by fury, a last flaring up, a final spasm. “Preserve me, what a face. Eh?” Here I was, with a head that couldn’t be matched in the whole country, with a pair of fists that, by the Lord, could grind a navvy into finest dust, and yet I went and hungered myself into a deformity, right in the town of Christiania. Was there any rhyme or reason in that? I had sat in saddle, toiled day and night like a carrier’s horse.
I had read my eyes out of their sockets, had starved the brains out of my head, and what the devil had I gained by it? Even a street hussy prayed God to deliver her from the sight of me. Well, now, there should be a stop to it. Do you understand that? Stop it shall, or the devil take a worse hold of me.
With steadily increasing fury, grinding my teeth under the consciousness of my impotence, with tears and oaths I raged on, without looking at the people who passed me by. I commenced once more to martyr myself, ran my forehead against lamp-posts on purpose, dug my nails deep into my palms, bit my tongue with frenzy when it didn’t articulate clearly, and laughed insanely each time it hurt much.
Yes; but what shall I do? I asked myself at last, and I stamped many times on the pavement and repeated, What shall I do? A gentleman just going by remarks, with a smile, “You ought to go and ask to be locked up.” I looked after him. One of our well-known lady’s doctors, nicknamed “The Duke.” Not even he understood my real condition — a man I knew; whose hand I had shaken. I grew quiet. Locked up? Yes, I was mad; he was right. I felt madness in my blood; felt its darting pain through my brain. So that was to be the end of me! Yes, yes; and I resume my wearisome, painful walk. There was the haven in which I was to find rest.
Suddenly I stop again. But not locked up! I say, not that; and I grew almost hoarse with fear. I implored grace for myself; begged to the wind and weather not to be locked up. I should have to be brought to the guard-house again, imprisoned in a dark cell which had not a spark of light in it. Not that! There must be other channels yet open that I had not tried, and I would try them. I would be so earnestly painstaking; would take good time for it, and go indefatigably round from house to house. For example, there was Cisler the music-seller; I hadn’t been to him at all. Some remedy would turn up!. . . . Thus I stumbled on, and talked until I brought myself to weep with emotion. Cisler! Was that perchance a hint from on high? His name had struck me for no reason, and he lived so far away; but I would look him up all the same, go slowly, and rest between times. I knew the place well; I had been there often, when times were good had bought much music from him. Should I ask him for sixpence? Perhaps that might make him feel uncomfortable. I would ask him for a shilling. I went into the shop, and asked for the chief. They showed me into his office; there he sat — handsome, well-dressed in the latest style — running down some accounts. I stammered through an excuse, and set forth my errand. Compelled by need to apply to him . . . it should not be very long till I could pay it back . . . when I got paid for my newspaper article. . . . He would confer such a great benefit on me. . . . Even as I was speaking he turned about to his desk, and resumed his work. When I had finished, he glanced sideways at me, shook his handsome head, and said, “No”; simply “no”— no explanation — not another word.
My knees trembled fearfully, and I supported myself against the little polished barrier. I must try once more. Why should just his name have occurred to me as I stood far away from there in “It won’t be I that will do that,” he observed; adding, “and let me tell you, at the same time, I’ve had about enough of this.”
I tore myself out, sick with hunger, and boiling with shame. I had turned myself into a dog for the sake of a miserable bone, and I had not got it. Nay, now there must be an end of this! It had really gone all too far with me. I had held myself up for many years, stood erect through so many hard hours, and now, all at once, I had sunk to the lowest form of begging. This one day had coarsened my whole mind, bespattered my soul with shamelessness. I had not been too abashed to stand and whine in the pettiest huckster’s shop, and what had it availed me?
But was I not then without the veriest atom of bread to put inside my mouth? I had succeeded in rendering myself a thing loathsome to myself. Yes, yes; but it must come to an end. Presently they would lock the outer door at home? I must hurry unless I wished to lie in the guard-house again.
This gave me strength. Lie in that cell again I would not. With body bent forward, and my hands pressed hard against my left ribs to deaden the stings a little, I struggled on, keeping my eyes fastened upon the paving-stones that I might not be forced to bow to possible acquaintances, and hastened to the fire look-out. God be praised! it was only seven o’clock by the dial on Our Saviour’s; I had three hours yet before the door would be locked. What a fright I had been in!
Well, there was not a stone left unturned. I had done all I could. To think that I really could not succeed once in a whole day! If I told it no one could believe it; if I were to write it down they would say I had invented it. Not in a single place! Well, well, there is no help for it. Before all, don’t go and get pathetic again. Bah! how disgusting! I can assure you, it makes me have a loathing for you. If all hope is over, why there is an end of it. Couldn’t I, for that matter, steal a handful of oats in the stable? A streak of light — a ray — yet I knew the stable was shut.
I took my ease, and crept home at a slow snail’s pace. I felt thirsty, luckily for the first time through the whole day, and I went and sought about for a place where I could get a drink. I was a long distance away from the bazaar, and I would not ask at a private house. Perhaps, though, I could wait till I got home; it would take a quarter of an hour. It was not at all so certain that I could keep down a draught of water, either; my stomach no longer suffered in any way — I even felt nausea at the spittle I swallowed. But the buttons! I had not tried the buttons at all yet. There I stood, stock-still, and commenced to smile. Maybe there was a remedy, in spite of all! I wasn’t totally doomed. I should certainly get a penny for them; tomorrow I might raise another some place or other, and Thursday I might be paid for my newspaper article. I should just see it would come out all right. To think that I could really go and forget the buttons. I took them out of my pocket, and inspected them as I walked on again. My eyes grew dazed with joy. I did not see the street; I simply went on. Didn’t I know exactly the big pawn-shop — my refuge in the dark evenings, with my blood-sucking friend? One by one my possessions had vanished there — my little things from home — my last book. I liked to go there on auction days, to look on, and rejoice each time my books seemed likely to fall into good hands. Magelsen, the actor, had my watch; I was almost proud of that. A diary, in which I had written my first small poetical attempt, had been bought by an acquaintance, and my topcoat had found a haven with a photographer, to be used in the studio. So there was no cause to grumble about any of them. I held my buttons ready in my hand; “Uncle” is sitting at his desk, writing. “I am not in a hurry,” I say, afraid of disturbing him, and making him impatient at my application. My voice sounded so curiously hollow I hardly recognized it again, and my heart beat like a sledge-hammer.
He came smilingly over to me, as was his wont, laid both his hands flat on the counter, and looked at my face without saying anything. Yes, I had brought something of which I would ask him if he could make any use; something which is only in my way at home, assure you of it — are quite an annoyance — some buttons. Well, what then? what was there about the buttons? and he thrusts his eyes down close to my hand. Couldn’t he give me a couple of halfpence for them? — whatever he thought himself — quite according to his own judgment. “For the buttons?”— and “Uncle” stares astonishedly at me —“for these buttons?” Only for a cigar or whatever he liked himself; I was just passing, and thought I would look in.
Upon this, the old pawnbroker burst out laughing, and returned to his desk without saying a word. There I stood; I had not hoped for much, yet, all the same, I had thought of a possibility of being helped. This laughter was my death-warrant. It couldn’t, I suppose, be of any use trying with my eyeglasses either? Of course, I would let my glasses go in with them; that was a matter of course, said I, and I took them off. Only a penny, or if he wished, a halfpenny.
“You know quite well I can’t lend you anything on your glasses,” said “Uncle”; I told you that once before.”
“But I want a stamp,” I said, dully. “I can’t even send off the letters I have written; a penny or a halfpenny stamp, just as you will.”
“Oh, God help you, go your way!” he replied, and motioned me off with his hands.
Yes, yes; well, it must be so, I said to myself. Mechanically, I put on my glasses again, took the buttons in my hand, and, turning away, bade him good-night, and closed the door after me as usual. Well, now, there was nothing more to be done! To think he would not take them at any price, I muttered. They are almost new buttons; I can’t understand it.
Whilst I stood, lost in thought, a man passed by and entered the office. He had given me a little shove in his hurry. We both made excuses, and I turned round and looked after him.
“What! is that you?” he said, suddenly, when half-way up the steps. He came back, and I recognized him. “God bless me, man, what on earth do you look like? What were you doing in there?”
“Oh, I had business. You are going in too, I see.”
“Yes; what were you in with?”
My knees trembled; I supported myself against the wall, and stretched out my hand with the buttons in it.
“What the deuce!” he cried. “No; this is really going too far.”
“Good-night!” said I, and was about to go; I felt the tears choking my breast.
“No; wait a minute,” he said.
What was I to wait for? Was he not himself on the road to my “Uncle,” bringing, perhaps, his engagement ring — had been hungry, perhaps, for several days — owed his landlady?
“Yes,” I replied; “if you will be out soon. . . . ”
“Of course,” he broke in, seizing hold of my arm; “but I may as well tell you I don’t believe you. You are such an idiot, that it’s better you come in along with me.”
I understood what he meant, suddenly felt a little spark of pride, and answered:
“I can’t; I promised to be in Bernt Akers Street at half-past seven, and. . . . ”
“Half-past seven, quite so; but it’s eight now. Here I am, standing with the watch in my hand that I’m going to pawn. So, in with you, you hungry sinner! I’ll get you five shillings anyhow,” and he pushed me in.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55