A week passed in glory and gladness.
I had got over the worst this time, too. I had had food every day, and my courage rose, and I thrust one iron after the other into the fire.
I was working at three or four articles, that plundered my poor brain of every spark, every thought that rose in it; and yet I fancied that I wrote with more facility than before.
The last article with which I had raced about so much, and upon which I had built such hopes, had already been returned to me by the editor; and, angry and wounded as I was, I had destroyed it immediately, without even re-reading it again. In future, I would try another paper in order to open up more fields for my work.
Supposing that writing were to fail, and the worst were to come to the worst, I still had the ships to take to. The Nun lay alongside the wharf, ready to sail, and I might, perhaps, work my way out to Archangel, or wherever else she might be bound; there was no lack of openings on many sides. The last crisis had dealt rather roughly with me. My hair fell out in masses, and I was much troubled with headaches, particularly in the morning, and my nervousness died a hard death. I sat and wrote during the day with my hands bound up in rags, simply because I could not endure the touch of my own breath upon them. If Jens Olaj banged the stable door underneath me, or if a dog came into the yard and commenced to bark, it thrilled through my very marrow like icy stabs piercing me from every side. I was pretty well played out.
Day after day I strove at my work, begrudging myself the short time it took to swallow my food before I sat down again to write. At this time both the bed and the little rickety table were strewn over with notes and written pages, upon which I worked turn about, added any new ideas which might have occurred to me during the day, erased, or quickened here and there the dull points by a word of colour — fagged and toiled at sentence after sentence, with the greatest of pains. One afternoon, one of my articles being at length finished, I thrust it, contented and happy, into my pocket, and betook myself to the “commandor.” It was high time I made some arrangement towards getting a little money again; I had only a few pence left.
The “commandor” requested me to sit down for a moment; he would be disengaged immediately, and he continued writing.
I looked about the little office — busts, prints, cuttings, and an enormous paper-basket, that looked as if it might swallow a man, bones and all. I felt sad at heart at the sight of this monstrous chasm, this dragon’s mouth, that always stood open, always ready to receive rejected work, newly crushed hopes.
“What day of the month is it?” queried the “commandor” from the table.
“The 28th,” I reply, pleased that I can be of service to him, “the 28th,” and he continues writing. At last he encloses a couple of letters in their envelopes, tosses some papers into the basket, and lays down his pen. Then he swings round on his chair, and looks at me. Observing that I am still standing near the door, he makes a half-serious, half-playful motion with his hand, and points to a chair.
I turn aside, so that he may not see that I have no waistcoat on, when I open my coat to take the manuscript out of my pocket.
“It is only a little character sketch of Correggio,” I say; “but perhaps it is, worse luck, not written in such a way that. . . . ”
He takes the papers out of my hand, and commences to go through them. His face is turned towards me.
And so it is thus he looks at close quarters, this man, whose name I had already heard in my earliest youth, and whose paper had exercised the greatest influence upon me as the years advanced? His hair is curly, and his beautiful brown eyes are a little restless. He has a habit of tweaking his nose now and then. No Scotch minister could look milder than this truculent writer, whose pen always left bleeding scars wherever it attacked. A peculiar feeling of awe and admiration comes over me in the presence of this man. The tears are on the point of coming to my eyes, and I advanced a step to tell him how heartily I appreciated him, for all he had taught me, and to beg him not to hurt me; I was only a poor bungling wretch, who had had a sorry enough time of it as it was. . . .
He looked up, and placed my manuscript slowly together, whilst he sat and considered. To make it easier for him to give me a refusal, I stretch out my hand a little, and say:
“Ah, well, of course, it is not of any use to you,” and I smile to give him the impression that I take it easily.
“Everything has to be of such a popular nature to be of any use to us,” he replies; “you know the kind of public we have. But can’t you try and write something a little more commonplace, or hit upon something that people understand better?”
His forbearance astonishes me. I understand that my article is rejected, and yet I could not have received a prettier refusal. Not to take up his time any longer, I reply:
“Oh yes, I daresay I can.”
I go towards the door. Hem — he must pray forgive me for having taken up his time with this . . . I bow, and turn the door handle.
“If you need it,” he says, “you are welcome to draw a little in advance; you can write for it, you know.”
Now, as he had just seen that I was not capable of writing, this offer humiliated me somewhat, and I answered:
“No, thanks; I can pull through yet a while, thanking you very much, all the same. Good-day!”
“Good-day!” replies the “commandor,” turning at the same time to his desk again.
He had none the less treated me with undeserved kindness, and I was grateful to him for it — and I would know how to appreciate it too. I made a resolution not to return to him until I could take something with me, that satisfied me perfectly; something that would astonish the “commandor” a bit, and make him order me to be paid half-a-sovereign without a moment’s hesitation. I went home, and tackled my writing once more.
During the following evenings, as soon as it got near eight o’clock and the gas was lit, the following thing happened regularly to me.
As I come out of my room to take a walk in the streets after the labour and troubles of the day, a lady, dressed in black, stands under the lamp-post exactly opposite my door.
She turns her face towards me and follows me with her eyes when I pass her by — I remark that she always has the same dress on, always the same thick veil that conceals her face and falls over her breast, and that she carries in her hand a small umbrella with an ivory ring in the handle. This was already the third evening I had seen her there, always in the same place. As soon as I have passed her by she turns slowly and goes down the street away from me. My nervous brain vibrated with curiosity, and I became at once possessed by the unreasonable feeling that I was the object of her visit. At last I was almost on the point of addressing her, of asking her if she was looking for any one, if she needed my assistance in any way, or if I might accompany her home. Badly dressed, as I unfortunately was, I might protect her through the dark streets; but I had an undefined fear that it perhaps might cost me something; a glass of wine, or a drive, and I had no money left at all. My distressingly empty pockets acted in a far too depressing way upon me, and I had not even the courage to scrutinize her sharply as I passed her by. Hunger had once more taken up its abode in my breast, and I had not tasted food since yesterday evening. This, ’tis true, was not a long period; I had often been able to hold out for a couple of days at a time, but latterly I had commenced to fall off seriously; I could not go hungry one quarter as well as I used to do. A single day made me feel dazed, and I suffered from perpetual retching the moment I tasted water. Added to this was the fact that I lay and shivered all night, lay fully dressed as I stood and walked in the daytime, lay blue with cold, lay and froze every night with fits of icy shivering, and grew stiff during my sleep. The old blanket could not keep out the draughts, and I woke in the mornings with my nose stopped by the sharp outside frosty air which forced its way into the dilapidated room.
I go down the street and think over what I am to do to keep myself alive until I get my next article finished. If I only had a candle I would try to fag on through the night; it would only take a couple of hours if I once warmed to my work, and then tomorrow I could call on the “commandor.”
I go without further ado into the Opland Cafe and look for my young acquaintance in the bank, in order to procure a penny for a candle. I passed unhindered through all the rooms; I passed a dozen tables at which men sat chatting, eating, and drinking; I passed into the back of the cafe, ay, even into the red alcove, without succeeding in finding my man.
Crestfallen and annoyed I dragged myself out again into the street and took the direction to the Palace.
Wasn’t it now the very hottest eternal devil existing to think that my hardships never would come to an end! Taking long, furious strides, with the collar of my coat hunched savagely up round my ears, and my hands thrust in my breeches pockets, I strode along, cursing my unlucky stars the whole way. Not one real untroubled hour in seven or eight months, not the common food necessary to hold body and soul together for the space of one short week, before want stared me in the face again. Here I had, into the bargain, gone and kept straight and honourable all through my misery — Ha! ha! straight and honourable to the heart’s core. God preserve me, what a fool I had been! And I commenced to tell myself how I had even gone about conscience-stricken because I had once brought Hans Pauli’s blanket to the pawn-broker’s. I laughed sarcastically at my delicate rectitude, spat contemptuously in the street, and could not find words half strong enough to mock myself for my stupidity. Let it only happen now! Were I to find at this moment a schoolgirl’s savings or a poor widow’s only penny, I would snatch it up and pocket it; steal it deliberately, and sleep the whole night through like a top. I had not suffered so unspeakably much for nothing — my patience was gone — I was prepared to do anything.
I walked round the palace three, perhaps four, times, then came to the conclusion that I would go home, took yet one little turn in the park and went back down Carl Johann. It was now about eleven. The streets were fairly dark, and the people roamed about in all directions, quiet pairs and noisy groups mixed with one another. The great hour had commenced, the pairing time when the mystic traffic is in full swing — and the hour of merry adventures sets in. Rustling petticoats, one or two still short, sensual laughter, heaving bosoms, passionate, panting breaths, and far down near the Grand Hotel, a voice calling “Emma!” The whole street was a swamp, from which hot vapours exuded.
I feel involuntarily in my pockets for a few shillings. The passion that thrills through the movements of every one of the passers-by, the dim light of the gas lamps, the quiet pregnant night, all commence to affect me — this air, that is laden with whispers, embraces, trembling admissions, concessions, half-uttered words and suppressed cries. A number of cats are declaring their love with loud yells in Blomquist’s doorway. And I did not possess even a florin! It was a misery, a wretchedness without parallel to be so impoverished. What humiliation, too; what disgrace! I began again to think about the poor widow’s last mite, that I would have stolen a schoolboy’s cap or handkerchief, or a beggar’s wallet, that I would have brought to a rag-dealer without more ado, and caroused with the proceeds.
In order to console myself — to indemnify myself in some measure — I take to picking all possible faults in the people who glide by. I shrug my shoulders contemptuously, and look slightingly at them according as they pass. These easily-pleased, confectionery-eating students, who fancy they are sowing their wild oats in truly Continental style if they tickle a sempstress under the ribs! These young bucks, bank clerks, merchants, flâneurs — who would not disdain a sailor’s wife; blowsy Molls, ready to fall down in the first doorway for a glass of beer! What sirens! The place at their side still warm from the last night’s embrace of a watch-man or a stable-boy! The throne always vacant, always open to newcomers! Pray, mount!
I spat out over the pavement, without troubling if it hit any one. I felt enraged; filled with contempt for these people who scraped acquaintanceship with one another, and paired off right before my eyes. I lifted my head, and felt in myself the blessing of being able to keep my own sty clean. At Stortingsplads (Parliament Place) I met a girl who looked fixedly at me as I came close to her.
“Good-night!” said I.
“Good-night!” She stopped.
Hum! was she out walking so late? Did not a young lady run rather a risk in being in Carl Johann at this time of night? Really not? Yes; but was she never spoken to, molested, I meant; to speak plainly, asked to go along home with any one?
She stared at me with astonishment, scanned my face closely, to see what I really meant by this, then thrust her hand suddenly under my arm, and said:
“Yes, and we went too!”
I walked on with her. But when we had gone a few paces past the car-stand I came to a standstill, freed my arm, and said:
“Listen, my dear, I don’t own a farthing!” and with that I went on.
At first she would not believe me; but after she had searched all my pockets, and found nothing, she got vexed, tossed her head, and called me a dry cod.
“Good-night!” said I.
“Wait a minute,” she called; “are those eyeglasses that you’ve got gold?”
“Then go to blazes with you!” and I went.
A few seconds after she came running behind me, and called out to me:
“You can come with me all the same!”
I felt humiliated by this offer from an unfortunate street wench, and I said “No.” Besides, it was growing late at night, and I was due at a place. Neither could she afford to make sacrifices of that kind.
“Yes; but now I will have you come with me.”
“But I won’t go with you in this way.”
“Oh, naturally; you are going with some one else.”
“No,” I answered.
But I was conscious that I stood in a sorry plight in face of this unique street jade, and I made up my mind to save appearances at least.
“What is your name?” I inquired. “Mary, eh? Well, listen to me now, Mary!” and I set about explaining my behaviour. The girl grew more and more astonished in measure as I proceeded. Had she then believed that I, too, was one of those who went about the street at night and ran after little girls? Did she really think so badly of me? Had I perhaps said anything rude to her from the beginning? Did one behave as I had done when one was actuated by any bad motive? Briefly, in so many words, I had accosted her, and accompanied her those few paces, to see how far she would go on with it. For the rest, my name was So-and-so — Pastor So-and-so. “Good-night; depart, and sin no more!” With these words I left her.
I rubbed my hands with delight over my happy notion, and soliloquized aloud, “What a joy there is in going about doing good actions.” Perhaps I had given this fallen creature an upward impulse for her whole life; save her, once for all, from destruction, and she would appreciate it when she came to think over it; remember me yet in her hour of death with thankful heart. Ah! in truth, it paid to be honourable, upright, and righteous!
My spirits were effervescing. I felt fresh and courageous enough to face anything that might turn up. If I only had a candle, I might perhaps complete my article. I walked on, jingling my new door-key in my hand; hummed, and whistled, and speculated as to means of procuring a candle. There was no other way out of it. I would have to take my writing materials with me into the street, under a lamp-post. I opened the door, and went up to get my papers. When I descended once more I locked the door from the outside, and planted myself under the light. All around was quiet; I heard the heavy clanking footstep of a constable down in Taergade, and far away in the direction of St. Han’s Hill a dog barked. There was nothing to disturb me. I pulled my coat collar up round my ears, and commenced to think with all my might.
It would be such an extraordinary help to me if I were lucky enough to find a suitable winding up for this little essay. I had stuck just at a rather difficult point in it, where there ought to be a quite imperceptible transition to something fresh, then a subdued gliding finale, a prolonged murmur, ending at last in a climax as bold and as startling as a shot, or the sound of a mountain avalanche — full stop. But the words would not come to me. I read over the whole piece from the commencement; read every sentence aloud, and yet failed absolutely to crystallize my thoughts, in order to produce this scintillating climax. And into the bargain, whilst I was standing labouring away at this, the constable came and, planting himself a little distance away from me, spoilt my whole mood. Now, what concern was it of his if I stood and strove for a striking climax to an article for the Commandor? Lord, how utterly impossible it was for me to keep my head above water, no matter how much I tried! I stayed there for the space of an hour. The constable went his way. The cold began to get too intense for me to keep still. Disheartened and despondent over this abortive effort, I opened the door again, and went up to my room.
It was cold up there, and I could barely see my window for the intense darkness. I felt my towards the bed, pulled off my shoes, and set about warming my feet between my hands. Then I lay down, as I had done for a long time now, with all my clothes on.
The following morning I sat up in bed as soon as it got light, and set to work at the essay once more. I sat thus till noon; I had succeeded by then in getting ten, perhaps twenty lines down, and still I had not found an ending.
I rose, put on my shoes, and began to walk up and down the floor to try and warm myself. I looked out; there was rime on the window; it was snowing. Down in the yard a thick layer of snow covered the paving-stones and the top of the pump. I bustled about the room, took aimless turns to and fro, scratched the wall with my nail, leant my head carefully against the door for a while, tapped with my forefinger on the floor, and then listened attentively, all without any object, but quietly and pensively as if it were some matter of importance in which I was engaged; and all the while I murmured aloud, time upon time, so that I could hear my own voice.
But, great God, surely this is madness! and yet I kept on just as before. After a long time, perhaps a couple of hours, I pulled myself sharply together, bit my lips, and manned myself as well as I could. There must be an end to this! I found a splinter to chew, and set myself resolutely to again.
A couple of short sentences formed themselves with much trouble, a score of poor words which I tortured forth with might and main to try and advance a little. Then I stopped, my head was barren; I was incapable of more. And, as I could positively not go on, I set myself to gaze with wide open eyes at these last words, this unfinished sheet of paper; I stared at these strange, shaky letters that bristled up from the paper like small hairy creeping things, till at last I could neither make head nor tail of any of it. I thought on nothing.
Time went; I heard the traffic in the street, the rattle of cars and tramp of hoofs. Jens Olaj’s voice ascended towards me from the stables as he chid the horses. I was perfectly stunned. I sat and moistened my lips a little, but otherwise made no effort to do anything; my chest was in a pitiful state. The dusk closed in; I sank more and more together, grew weary, and lay down on the bed again. In order to warm my fingers a little I stroked them through my hair backwards and forwards and crosswise. Small loose tufts came away, flakes that got between my fingers, and scattered over the pillow. I did not think anything about it just then; it was as if it did not concern me. I had hair enough left, anyway. I tried afresh to shake myself out of this strange daze that enveloped my whole being like a mist. I sat up, struck my knees with my flat hands, laughed as hard as my sore chest permitted me — only to collapse again. Naught availed; I was dying helplessly, with my eyes wide open — staring straight up at the roof. At length I stuck my forefinger in my mouth, and took to sucking it. Something stirred in my brain, a thought that bored its way in there — a stark-mad notion.
Supposing I were to take a bite? And without a moment’s reflection, I shut my eyes, and clenched my teeth on it.
I sprang up. At last I was thoroughly awake. A little blood trickled from it, and I licked it as it came. It didn’t hurt very much, neither was the wound large, but I was brought at one bound to my senses. I shook my head, went to the window, where I found a rag, and wound it round the sore place. As I stood and busied myself with this, my eyes filled with tears; I cried softly to myself. This poor thin finger looked so utterly pitiable. God in Heaven! what a pass it had come to now with me! The gloom grew closer. It was, maybe, not impossible that I might work up my finale through the course of the evening, if I only had a candle. My head was clear once more. Thoughts came and went as usual, and I did not suffer particularly; I did not even feel hunger so badly as some hours previously. I could hold out well till the next day. Perhaps I might be able to get a candle on credit, if I applied to the provision shop and explained my situation — I was so well known in there; in the good old days, when I had the means to do it, I used to buy many a loaf there. There was no doubt I could raise a candle on the strength of my honest name; and for the first time for ages I took to brushing my clothes a little, got rid as well as the darkness allowed me of the loose hairs on my collar, and felt my way down the stairs.
When I got outside in the street it occurred to me that I might perhaps rather ask for a loaf. I grew irresolute, and stopped to consider. “On no account,” I replied to myself at last; I was unfortunately not in a condition to bear food. It would only be a repetition of the same old story — visions, and presentiments, and mad notions. My article would never get finished, and it was a question of going to the “Commandor” before he had time to forget me. On no account whatever! and I decided upon the candle. With that I entered the shop.
A woman is standing at the counter making purchases; several small parcels in different sorts of paper are lying in front of her. The shopman, who knows me, and knows what I usually buy, leaves the woman, and packs without much ado a loaf in a piece of paper and shoves it over to me.
“No, thank you, it was really a candle I wanted this evening,” I say. I say it very quietly and humbly, in order not to vex him and spoil my chance of getting what I want.
My answer confuses him; he turns quite cross at my unexpected words; it was the first time I had ever demanded anything but a loaf from him.
“Well then, you must wait a while,” he says at last, and busies himself with the woman’s parcels again.
She receives her wares and pays for them —-gives him a florin, out of which she gets the change, and goes out. Now the shop-boy and I are alone. He says:
“So it was a candle you wanted, eh?” He tears open a package, and takes one out for me. He looks at me, and I look at him; I can’t get my request over my lips.
“Oh yes, that’s true; you paid, though!” he says suddenly. He simply asserts that I had paid. I heard every word, and he begins to count some silver out of the till, coin after coin, shining stout pieces. He gives me back change for a crown.
“Much obliged,” he says.
Now I stand and look at these pieces of money for a second. I am conscious something is wrong somewhere. I do not reflect; do not think about anything at all — I am simply struck of a heap by all this wealth which is lying glittering before my eyes — and I gather up the money mechanically.
I stand outside the counter, stupid with amazement, dumb, paralyzed. I take a stride towards the door, and stop again. I turn my eyes upon a certain spot in the wall, where a little bell is suspended to a leather collar, and underneath this a bundle of string, and I stand and stare at these things.
The shop-boy is struck by the idea that I want to have a chat as I take my time so leisurely, and says, as he tidies a lot of wrapping-papers strewn over the counter:
“It looks as if we were going to have winter snow!”
“Humph! Yes,” I reply; “it looks as if we were going to have winter in earnest now; it looks like it,” and a while after, I add: “Ah, well, it is none too soon.”
I could hear myself speak, but each word I uttered struck my ear as if it were coming from another person. I spoke absolutely unwittingly, involuntarily, without being conscious of myself.
“Oh, do you think so?” says the boy.
I thrust the hand with the money into my pocket, turned the door-handle, and left. I could hear that I said good-night, and that the shop-boy replied to me.
I had gone a few paces away from the shop when the shop-door was torn open, and the boy called after me. I turned round without any astonishment, without a trace of fear; I only collected the money into my hand, and prepared to give it back.
“Beg pardon, you’ve forgotten your candle,” says the boy.
“Ah, thanks,” I answered quietly. “Thanks, thanks”; and I strolled on, down the street, bearing it in my hand.
My first sensible thought referred to the money. I went over to a lamp-post, counted it, weighed it in my hand, and smiled. So, in spite of all, I was helped — extraordinarily, grandly, incredibly helped — helped for a long, long time; and I thrust my hand with the money into my pocket, and walked on.
Outside an eating-house in Grand Street I stopped, and turned over in my mind, calmly and quietly, if I should venture so soon to take a little refreshment. I could hear the rattle of knives and plates inside, and the sound of meat being pounded. The temptation was too strong for me — I entered.
“A helping of beef,” I say.
“One beef!” calls the waitress down through the door to the lift.
I sat down by myself at a little table next to the door, and prepared to wait. It was somewhat dark where I was sitting, and I felt tolerably well concealed, and set myself to have a serious think. Every now and then the waitress glanced over at me inquiringly. My first downright dishonesty was accomplished — my first theft. Compared to this, all my earlier escapades were as nothing — my first great fall. . . . Well and good! There was no help for it. For that matter, it was open to me to settle it with the shopkeeper later on, on a more opportune occasion. It need not go any farther with me. Besides that, I had not taken upon myself to live more honourably than all the other folk; there was no contract that. . . .
“Do you think that beef will soon be here?”
“Yes; immediately”; the waitress opens the trapdoor, and looks down into the kitchen.
But suppose the affair did crop up some day? If the shop-boy were to get suspicious and begin to think over the transaction about the bread, and the florin of which the woman got the change? It was not impossible that he would discover it some day, perhaps the next time I went there. Well, then, Lord! . . . I shrugged my shoulders unobserved.
“If you please,” says the waitress, kindly placing the beef on the table, “wouldn’t you rather go to another compartment, it’s so dark here?”
“No, thanks; just let me be here,” I reply; her kindliness touches me at once. I pay for the beef on the spot, put whatever change remains into her hand, close her fingers over it. She smiles, and I say in fun, with the tears near my ears, “There, you’re to have the balance to buy yourself a farm. . . . Ah, you’re very welcome to it.”
I commenced to eat, got more and more greedy I as I did so, swallowed whole pieces without chewing them, enjoyed myself in an animal-like way at every mouthful, and tore at the meat like a cannibal.
The waitress came over to me again.
“Will you have anything to drink?” she asks, bending down a little towards me. I looked at her. She spoke very low, almost shyly, and dropped her eyes. “I mean a glass of ale, or whatever you like best . . . from me . . . without . . . that is, if you will. . . . ”
“No; many thanks,” I answer. “Not now; I shall come back another time.”
She drew back, and sat down at the desk. I could only see her head. What a singular creature!
When finished, I made at once for the door. I felt nausea already. The waitress got up. I was afraid to go near the light — afraid to show myself too plainly to the young girl, who never for a moment suspected the depth of my misery; so I wished her a hasty good-night, bowed to her, and left.
The food commenced to take effect. I suffered much from it, and could not keep it down for any length of time. I had to empty my mouth a little at every dark corner I came to. I struggled to master this nausea which threatened to hollow me out anew, clenched my hands, and tried to fight it down; stamped on the pavement, and gulped down furiously whatever sought to come up. All in vain. I sprang at last into a doorway, doubled up, head foremost, blinded with the water which gushed from my eyes, and vomited once more. I was seized with bitterness, and wept as I went along the street. . . . I cursed the cruel powers, whoever they might be, that persecuted me so, consigned them to hell’s damnation and eternal torments for their petty persecution. There was but little chivalry in fate, really little enough chivalry; one was forced to admit that.
I went over to a man staring into a shop-window, and asked him in great haste what, according to his opinion, should one give a man who had been starving for a long time. It was a matter of life and death, I said; he couldn’t even keep beef down.
“I have heard say that milk is a good thing — hot milk,” answered the man, astonished. “Who is it, by the way, you are asking for?”
“Thanks, thanks,” I say; “that idea of hot milk might not be half a bad notion;” and I go.
I entered the first café I came to going along, and asked for some boiled milk. I got the milk, drank it down, hot as it was, swallowed it greedily, every drop, paid for it, and went out again. I took the road home.
Now something singular happened. Outside my door, leaning against the lamp-post, and right under the glare of it, stands a person of whom I get a glimpse from a long distance — it is the lady dressed in black again. The same black-clad lady of the other evenings. There could be no mistake about it; she had turned up at the same spot for the fourth time. She is standing perfectly motionless. I find this so peculiar that I involuntarily slacken my pace. At this moment my thoughts are in good working order, but I am much excited; my nerves are irritated by my last meal. I pass her by as usual; am almost at the door and on the point of entering. There I stop. All of a sudden an inspiration seizes me. Without rendering myself any account of it, I turn round and go straight up to the lady, look her in the face, and bow.
“Good-evening,” she answers.
Excuse me, was she looking for anything? I had noticed her before; could I be of assistance to her in any way? begged pardon, by-the-way, so earnestly for inquiring.
Yes; she didn’t quite know. . . .
No one lived inside that door besides three or four horses and myself; it was, for that matter, only a stable and a tinker’s workshop. . . . She was certainly on a wrong track if she was seeking any one there.
At this she turns her head away, and says: “I am not seeking for anybody. I am only standing here; it was really only a whim. I” . . . she stops.
Indeed, really, she only stood there, just stood there, evening after evening, just for a whim’s sake!
That was a little odd. I stood and pondered over it, and it perplexed me more and more. I made up my mind to be daring; I jingled my money in my pocket, and asked her, without further ado, to come and have a glass of wine some place or another . . . in consideration that winter had come, ha, ha! . . . it needn’t take very long . . . but perhaps she would scarcely. . . .
Ah, no, thanks; she couldn’t well do that. No! she couldn’t do that; but would I be so kind as to accompany her a little way? She . . . it was rather dark to go home now, and she was rather nervous about going up Carl Johann after it got so late.
We moved on; she walked at my right side. A strange, beautiful feeling empowered me; the certainty of being near a young girl. I looked at her the whole way along. The scent of her hair; the warmth that irradiated from her body; the perfume of woman that accompanied her; the sweet breath every time she turned her face towards me — everything penetrated in an ungovernable way through all my senses. So far, I just caught a glimpse of a full, rather pale, face behind the veil, and a high bosom that curved out against her cape. The thought of all the hidden beauty which I surmised lay sheltered under the cloak and veil bewildered me, making me idiotically happy without any reasonable grounds. I could not endure it any longer; I touched her with my hand, passed my fingers over her shoulder, and smiled imbecilely.
“How queer you are,” said I.
“Am I, really; in what way?”
Well, in the first place, simply, she had a habit of standing outside a stable door, evening after evening, without any object whatever, just for a whim’s sake. . . .
Oh, well, she might have her reason for doing so; besides, she liked staying up late at night; it was a thing she had always had a great fancy for. Did I care about going to bed before twelve?
I? If there was anything in the world I hated it was to go to bed before twelve o’clock at night.
Ah, there, you see! She, too, was just the same; she took this little tour in the evenings when she had nothing to lose by doing so. She lived up in St. Olav’s Place.
“Ylajali,” I cried.
“I beg pardon?”
“I only said ‘Ylajali’ . . . it’s all right. Continue. . . . ”
She lived up in St. Olav’s Place, lonely enough, together with her mother, to whom one couldn’t talk because she was so deaf. Was there anything odd in her liking to get out for a little?
“No, not at all,” I replied.
“No? well, what then?”
I could hear by her voice that she was smiling.
Hadn’t she a sister?
Yes; an older sister. But, by-the-way, how did I know that? She had gone to Hamburg.
“Yes; five weeks ago.” From where did I learn that she had a sister?
I didn’t learn it at all; I only asked.
We kept silence. A man passes us, with a pair of shoes under his arm; otherwise, the street is empty as far as we can see. Over at the Tivoli a long row of coloured lamps are burning. It no longer snows; the sky is clear.
“Gracious! don’t you freeze without an overcoat?” inquires the lady, suddenly looking at me.
Should I tell her why I had no overcoat; make my sorry condition known at once, and frighten her away? As well first as last. Still, it was delightful to walk here at her side and keep her in ignorance yet a while longer. So I lied. I answered:
“No, not at all”; and, in order to change the subject, I asked, “Have you seen the menagerie in the Tivoli?”
“No,” she answered; “is there really anything to see?”
Suppose she were to take it into her head to wish to go there? Into that blaze of light, with the crowd of people. Why, she would be filled with shame; I would drive her out again, with my shabby clothes, and lean face; perhaps she might even notice that I had no waistcoat on. . . .
“Ah, no; there is sure to be nothing worth seeing!”
And a lot of happy ideas occurred to me, of which I at once made use; a few sparse words, fragments left in my dessicated brain. What would one expect from such a small menagerie? On the whole, it did not interest me in the least to see animals in cases. These animals know that one is standing staring at them; they feel hundreds of inquisitive looks upon them; are conscious of them. No; I would prefer to see animals that didn’t know one observed them; shy creatures that nestle in their lair, and lie with sluggish green eyes, and lick their claws, and muse, eh?
Yes; I was certainly right in that.
It was only animals in all their peculiar fearfulness and peculiar savagery that possessed a charm. The soundless, stealthy tread in the total darkness of night; the hidden monsters of the woods; the shrieks of a bird flying past; the wind, the smell of blood, the rumbling in space; in short, the reigning spirit of the kingdom of savage creatures hovering over savagery . . . the unconscious poetry! . . . But I was afraid this bored her. The consciousness of my great poverty seized me anew, and crushed me. If I had only been in any way well-enough dressed to have given her the pleasure of this little tour in the Tivoli! I could not make out this creature, who could find pleasure in letting herself be accompanied up the whole of Carl Johann Street by a half-naked beggar. What, in the name of God, was she thinking of? And why was I walking there, giving myself airs, and smiling idiotically at nothing? Had I any reasonable cause, either, for letting myself be worried into a long walk by this dainty, silken-clad bird? Mayhap it did not cost me an effort? Did I not feel the ice of death go right into my heart at even the gentlest puff of wind that blew against us? Was not madness running riot in my brain, just for lack of food for many months at a stretch? Yet she hindered me from going home to get even a little milk into my parched mouth; a spoonful of sweet milk, that I might perhaps be able to keep down. Why didn’t she turn her back on me, and let me go to the deuce? . . .
I became distracted; my despair reduced me to the last extremity. I said:
“Considering all things, you ought not to walk with me. I disgrace you right under every one’s eyes, if only with my clothes. Yes, it is positively true; I mean it.”
She starts, looks up quickly at me, and is silent; then she exclaims suddenly:
“Indeed, though!” More she doesn’t say.
“What do you mean by that?” I queried.
“Ugh, no; you make me feel ashamed. . . . We have not got very far now”; and she walked on a little faster.
We turned up University Street, and could already see the lights in St. Olav’s Place. Then she commenced to walk slowly again.
“I have no wish to be indiscreet,” I say; “but won’t you tell me your name before we part? and won’t you, just for one second, lift up your veil so that I can see you? I would be really so grateful.”
A pause. I walked on in expectation.
“You have seen me before,” she replies.
“Ylajali,” I say again.
“Beg pardon. You followed me once for half-a-day, almost right home. Were you tipsy that time?”
I could hear again that she smiled.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, worse luck, I was tipsy that time.”
“That was horrid of you!”
And I admitted contritely that it was horrid of me.
We reached the fountains; we stop and look up at the many lighted windows of No. 2.
“Now, you mustn’t come any farther with me,” she says. “Thank you for coming so far.”
I bowed; I daren’t say anything; I took off my hat and stood bareheaded. I wonder if she will give me her hand.
“Why don’t you ask me to go back a little way with you?” she asks, in a low voice, looking down at the toe of her shoe.
“Great Heavens!” I reply, beside myself, “Great Heavens, if you only would!”
“Yes; but only a little way.”
And we turned round.
I was fearfully confused. I absolutely did not know if I were on my head or my heels. This creature upset all my chain of reasoning; turned it topsy-turvy. I was bewitched and extraordinarily happy. It seemed to me as if I were being dragged enchantingly to destruction. She had expressly willed to go back; it wasn’t my notion, it was her own desire. I walk on and look at her, and get more and more bold. She encourages me, draws me to her by each word she speaks. I forget for a moment my poverty, my humble position, my whole miserable condition. I feel my blood course madly through my whole body, as in the days before I caved in, and resolved to feel my way by a little ruse.
“By-the-way, it wasn’t you I followed that time,” said I. “It was your sister.”
“Was it my sister?” she questions, in the highest degree amazed. She stands still, looks up at me, and positively waits for an answer. She puts the question in all sober earnest.
“Yes,” I replied. “Hum — m, that is to say, it was the younger of the two ladies who went on in front of me.”
“The youngest, eh? eh? a-a-ha!” she laughed out all at once, loudly, heartily, like a child. “Oh, how sly you are; you only said that just to get me to raise my veil, didn’t you? Ah, I thought so; but you may just wait till you are blue first . . . just for punishment.”
We began to laugh and jest; we talked incessantly all the time. I do not know what I said, I was so happy. She told me that she had seen me once before, a long time ago, in the theatre. I had then comrades with me, and I behaved like a madman; I must certainly have been tipsy that time too, more’s the shame.
Why did she think that?
Oh, I had laughed so.
“Really, a-ah yes; I used to laugh a lot in those days.”
“But now not any more?”
“Oh yes; now too. It is a splendid thing to exist sometimes.”
We reached Carl Johann. She said: “Now we won’t go any farther,” and we returned through University Street. When we arrived at the fountain once more I slackened my pace a little; I knew that I could not go any farther with her.
“Well, now you must turn back here,” she said, and stopped.
“Yes, I suppose I must.”
But a second after she thought I might as well go as far as the door with her. Gracious me, there couldn’t be anything wrong in that, could there?
“No,” I replied.
But when we were standing at the door all my misery confronted me clearly. How was one to keep up one’s courage when one was so broken down? Here I stood before a young lady, dirty, ragged, torn, disfigured by hunger, unwashed, and only half-clad; it was enough to make one sink into the earth. I shrank into myself, bent my head involuntarily, and said:
“May I not meet you any more then?”
I had no hope of being permitted to see her again. I almost wished for a sharp No, that would pull me together a bit and render me callous.
“Yes,” she whispered softly, almost inaudibly.
“I don’t know.”
A pause. . . .
“Won’t you be so kind as to lift your veil, only just for a minute,” I asked. “So that I can see whom I have been talking to. Just for one moment, for indeed I must see whom I have been talking to.”
Another pause. . . .
“You can meet me outside here on Tuesday evening,” she said. “Will you?”
“Yes, dear lady, if I have permission to.”
“At eight o’clock.”
I stroked down her cloak with my hand, merely to have an excuse for touching her. It was a delight to me to be so near her.
“And you mustn’t think all too badly of me,” she added; she was smiling again.
Suddenly she made a resolute movement and drew her veil up over her forehead; we stood and gazed at one another for a second.
“Ylajali!” I cried. She stretched herself up, flung her arms round my neck and kissed me right on the mouth — only once, swiftly, bewilderingly swiftly, right on the mouth. I could feel how her bosom heaved; she was breathing violently. She wrenched herself suddenly out of my clasp, called a good-night, breathlessly, whispering, and turned and ran up the stairs without a word more. . . .
The hall door shut.
It snowed still more the next day, a heavy snow mingled with rain; great wet flakes that fell to earth and were turned to mud. The air was raw and icy. I woke somewhat late, with my head in a strange state of confusion, my heart intoxicated from the foregone evening by the agitation of that delightful meeting. In my rapture (I had lain a while awake and fancied Ylajali at my side) I spread out my arms and embraced myself and kissed the air. At length I dragged myself out of bed and procured a fresh cup of milk, and straight on top of that a plate of beef. I was no longer hungry, but my nerves were in a highly-strung condition.
I went off to the clothes-shop in the bazaar. It occurred to me that I might pick up a second-hand waistcoat cheaply, something to put on under my coat; it didn’t matter what.
I went up the steps to the bazaar and took hold of one and began to examine it.
While I was thus engaged an acquaintance came by; he nodded and called up to me. I let the waistcoat hang and went down to him. He was a designer, and was on the way to his office.
“Come with me and have a glass of beer,” he said. “But hurry up, I haven’t much time. . . . What lady was that you were walking with yesterday evening?”
“Listen here now,” said I, jealous of his bare thought. “Supposing it was my fiancée.”
“By Jove!” he exclaimed.
“Yes; it was all settled yesterday evening.”
This nonplussed him completely. He believed me implicitly. I lied in the most accomplished manner to get rid of him. We ordered the beer, drank it, and left.
“Well, good-bye! O listen,” he said suddenly. “I owe you a few shillings. It is a shame, too, that I haven’t paid you long ago, but now you shall have them during the next few days.”
“Yes, thanks,” I replied; but I knew that he would never pay me back the few shillings. The beer, I am sorry to say, went almost immediately to my head. The thought of the previous evening’s adventure overwhelmed me — made me delirious. Supposing she were not to meet me on Tuesday! Supposing she were to begin to think things over, to get suspicious . . . get suspicious of what? . . . My thoughts gave a jerk and dwelt upon the money. I grew afraid; deadly afraid of myself. The theft rushed in upon me in all its details. I saw the little shop, the counter, my lean hands as I seized the money, and I pictured to myself the line of action the police would adopt when they would come to arrest me. Irons on my hands and feet; no, only on my hands; perhaps only on one hand. The dock, the clerk taking down the evidence, the scratch of his pen — perhaps he might take a new one for the occasion — his look, his threatening look. There, Herr Tangen, to the cell, the eternally dark. . . .
Humph! I clenched my hands tightly to try and summon courage, walked faster and faster, and came to the market-place. There I sat down.
Now, no child’s play. How in the wide world could any one prove that I had stolen? Besides, the huckster’s boy dare not give an alarm, even if it should occur to him some day how it had all happened. He valued his situation far too dearly for that. No noise, no scenes, may I beg!
But all the same, this money weighed in my pocket sinfully, and gave me no peace. I began to question myself, and I became clearly convinced that I had been happier before, during the period in which I had suffered in all honour. And Ylajali? Had I, too, not polluted her with the touch of my sinful hands? Lord, O Lord my God, Ylajali! I felt as drunk as a bat, jumped up suddenly, and went straight over to the cake woman who was sitting near the chemist’s under the sign of the elephant. I might even yet lift myself above dishonour; it was far from being too late; I would show the whole world that I was capable of doing so.
On the way over I got the money in readiness, held every farthing of it in my hand, bent down over the old woman’s table as if I wanted something, clapped the money without further ado into her hands. I spoke not a word, turned on my heel, and went my way.
What a wonderful savour there was in feeling oneself an honest man once more! My empty pockets troubled me no longer; it was simply a delightful feeling to me to be cleaned out. When I weighed the whole matter thoroughly, this money had in reality cost me much secret anguish; I had really thought about it with dread and shuddering time upon time. I was no hardened soul; my honourable nature rebelled against such a low action. God be praised, I had raised myself in my own estimation again! “Do as I have done!” I said to myself, looking across the thronged market-place — “only just do as I have done!” I had gladdened a poor old cake vendor to such good purpose that she was perfectly dumbfounded. Tonight her children wouldn’t go hungry to bed. . . . I buoyed myself up with these reflections and considered that I had behaved in a most exemplary manner. God be praised! The money was out of my hands now!
Tipsy and nervous, I wandered down the street, and swelled with satisfaction. The joy of being able to meet Ylajali cleanly and honourably, and of feeling I could look her in the face, ran away with me. I was not conscious of any pain. My head was clear and buoyant; it was as if it were a head of mere light that rested and gleamed on my shoulders. I felt inclined to play the wildest pranks, to do something astounding, to set the whole town in a ferment. All up through Graendsen I conducted myself like a madman. There was a buzzing in my ears, and intoxication ran riot in my brains. The whim seized me to go and tell my age to a commissionaire, who, by-the-way, had not addressed a word to me; to take hold of his hands, and gaze impressively in his face, and leave him again without any explanation. I distinguished every nuance in the voice and laughter of the passers-by, observed some little birds that hopped before me in the street, took to studying the expression of the paving-stones, and discovered all sorts of tokens and signs in them. Thus occupied, I arrive at length at Parliament Place. I stand all at once stock-still, and look at the droskes; the drivers are wandering about, chatting and laughing. The horses hang their heads and cower in the bitter weather. “Go ahead!” I say, giving myself a dig with my elbow. I went hurriedly over to the first vehicle, and got in. “Ullevoldsveien, No. 37,” I called out, and we rolled off.
On the way the driver looked round, stooped and peeped several times into the trap, where I sat, sheltered underneath the hood. Had he, too, grown suspicious? There was no doubt of it; my miserable attire had attracted his attention.
“I want to meet a man,” I called to him, in order to be beforehand with him, and I explained gravely that I must really meet this man. We stop outside 37, and I jump out, spring up the stairs right to the third storey, seize a bell, and pull it. It gives six or seven fearful peals inside.
A maid comes out and opens the door. I notice that she has round, gold drops in her ears, and black stuff buttons on her grey bodice. She looks at me with a frightened air.
I inquire for Kierulf — Joachim Kierulf, if I might add further — a wool-dealer; in short, not a man one could make a mistake about. . . .
The girl shook her head. “No Kierulf lives here,” said she.
She stared at me, and held the door ready to close it. She made no effort to find the man for me. She really looked as if she knew the person I inquired for, if she would only take the trouble to reflect a bit. The lazy jade! I got vexed, turned my back on her, and ran downstairs again.
“He wasn’t there,” I called to the driver.
“Wasn’t he there?”
“No. Drive to Tomtegaden, No. 11.” I was in a state of the most violent excitement, and imparted something of the same feeling to the driver. He evidently thought it was a matter of life and death, and he drove on, without further ado. He whipped up the horse sharply.
“What’s the man’s name?” he inquired, turning round on the box.
“Kierulf, a dealer in wool — Kierulf.”
And the driver, too, thought this was a man one would not be likely to make any mistake about.
“Didn’t he generally wear a light morning, coat?”
“What!” I cried; “a light morning-coat? Are you mad? Do you think it is a tea-cup I am inquiring about?” This light morning-coat came most inopportunely; it spoilt the whole man for me such as I had fancied him.
“What was it you said he was called? — Kierulf?”
“Of course,” I replied. “Is there anything wonderful in that? The name doesn’t disgrace any one.”
“Hasn’t he red hair?”
Well, it was quite possible that he had red hair, and now that the driver mentioned the matter, I was suddenly convinced that he was right. I felt grateful to the poor driver, and hastened to inform him that he had hit the man off to a T— he really was just as he described him — and I remarked, in addition, that it would be a phenomenon to see such a man without red hair.
“It must be him I drove a couple of times,” said the driver; “he had a knobbed stick.”
This brought the man vividly before me, and I said, “Ha, ha! I suppose no one has ever yet seen the man without a knobbed stick in his hand, of that you can be certain, quite certain.”
Yes, it was clear that it was the same man he had driven. He recognized him — and he drove so that the horse’s shoes struck sparks as they touched the stones.
All through this phase of excitement I had not for one second lost my presence of mind. We pass a policeman, and I notice his number is 69. This number struck me with such vivid clearness that it penetrated like a splint into my brain — 69 — accurately 69. I wouldn’t forget it.
I leant back in the vehicle, a prey to the wildest fancies; crouched under the hood so that no one could see me. I moved my lips and commenced to I talk idiotically to myself. Madness rages through my brain, and I let it rage. I am fully conscious that I am succumbing to influences over which I have no control. I begin to laugh, silently, passionately, without a trace of cause, still merry and intoxicated from the couple of glasses of ale I have drunk. Little by little my excitement abates, my calm returns more and more to me. I feel the cold in my sore finger, and I stick it down inside my collar to warm it a little. At length we reach Tomtegaden. The driver pulls up.
I alight, without any haste, absently, listlessly, with my head heavy. I go through a gateway and come into a yard across which I pass. I come to a door which I open and pass through; I find myself in a lobby, a sort of anteroom, with two windows. There are two boxes in it, one on top of the other, in one corner, and against the wall an old, painted sofa-bed over which a rug is spread. To the right, in the next room, I hear voices and the cry of a child, and above me, on the second floor, the sound of an iron plate being hammered. All this I notice the moment as I enter.
I step quietly across the room to the opposite door without any haste, without any thought of flight; open it, too, and come out in Vognmansgaden. I look up at the house through which I have passed. “Refreshment and lodgings for travellers.”
It is not my intention to escape, to steal away from the driver who is waiting for me. I go very coolly down Vognmansgaden, without fear of being conscious of doing any wrong. Kierulf, this dealer in wool, who has spooked in my brain so long — this creature in whose existence I believe, and whom it was of vital importance that I should meet — had vanished from my memory; was wiped out with many other mad whims which came and went in turns. I recalled him no longer, except as a reminiscence — a phantom.
In measure, as I walked on, I become more and more sober; felt languid and weary, and dragged my legs after me. The snow still fell in great moist flakes. At last I reached Gronland; far out, near the church, I sat down to rest on a seat. All the passers-by looked at me with much astonishment. I fell a-thinking.
Thou good God, what a miserable plight I have come to! I was so heartily tired and weary of all my miserable life that I did not find it worth the trouble of fighting any longer to preserve it. Adversity had gained the upper hand; it had been too strong for me. I had become so strangely poverty-stricken and broken, a mere shadow of what I once had been; my shoulders were sunken right down on one side, and I had contracted a habit of stooping forward fearfully as I walked, in order to spare my chest what little I could. I had examined my body a few days ago, one noon up in my room, and I had stood and cried over it the whole time. I had worn the same shirt for many weeks, and it was quite stiff with stale sweat, and had chafed my skin. A little blood and water ran out of the sore place; it did not hurt much, but it was very tiresome to have this tender place in the middle of my stomach. I had no remedy for it, and it wouldn’t heal of its own accord. I washed it, dried it carefully, and put on the same shirt. There was no help for it, it. . . .
I sit there on the bench and ponder over all this, and am sad enough. I loathe myself. My very hands seem distasteful to me; the loose, almost coarse, expression of the backs of them pains me, disgusts me. I feel myself rudely affected by the sight of my lean fingers. I hate the whole of my gaunt, shrunken body, and shrink from bearing it, from feeling it envelop me. Lord, if the whole thing would come to an end now, I would heartily, gladly die!
Completely worsted, soiled, defiled, and debased in my own estimation, I rose mechanically and commenced to turn my steps homewards. On the way I passed a door, upon which the following was to be read on a plate —“Winding-sheets to be had at Miss Andersen’s, door to the right.” Old memories! I muttered, as my thoughts flew back to my former room in Hammersborg. The little rocking-chair, the newspapers near the door, the lighthouse director’s announcement, and Fabian Olsen, the baker’s new-baked bread. Ah yes; times were better with me then than now; one night I had written a tale for ten shillings, now I couldn’t write anything. My head grew light as soon as ever I attempted it. Yes, I would put an end to it now; and I went on and on.
As I got nearer and nearer to the provision shop, I had the half-conscious feeling of approaching a danger, but I determined to stick to my purpose; I would give myself up. I ran quickly up the steps. At the door I met a little girl who was carrying a cup in her hands, and I slipped past her and opened the door. The shop boy and I stand face to face alone for the second time.
“Well!” he exclaims; “fearfully bad weather now, isn’t it?” What did this going round the bush signify? Why didn’t he seize me at once? I got furious, and cried:
“Oh, I haven’t come to prate about the weather.”
This violent preliminary takes him aback; his little huckster brain fails him. It has never even occurred to him that I have cheated him of five shillings.
“Don’t you know, then, that I have swindled you?” I query impatiently, and I breathe quickly with the excitement; I tremble and am ready to use force if he doesn’t come to the point.
But the poor man has no misgivings.
Well, bless my soul, what stupid creatures one has to mix with in this world! I abuse him, explain to him every detail as to how it had all happened, show him where the fact was accomplished, where the money had lain; how I had gathered it up in my hand and closed my fingers over it — and he takes it all in and does nothing. He shifts uneasily from one foot to the other, listens for footsteps in the next room, make signs to hush me, to try and make me speak lower, and says at last:
“It was a mean enough thing of you to do!”
“No; hold on,” I explained in my desire to contradict him — to aggravate him. It wasn’t quite so mean as he imagined it to be, in his huckster head. Naturally, I didn’t keep the money; that could never have entered my head. I, for my part, scorned to derive any benefit from it — that was opposed to my thoroughly honest nature.
“What did you do with it, then?”
“I gave it away to a poor old woman — every farthing of it.” He must understand that that was the sort of person I was; I didn’t forget the poor so. . . .
He stands and thinks over this a while, becomes manifestly very dubious as to how far I am an honest man or not. At last he says:
“Oughtn’t you rather to have brought it back again?”
“Now, listen here,” I reply; “I didn’t want to get you into trouble in any way; but that is the thanks one gets for being generous. Here I stand and explain the whole thing to you, and you simply, instead of being ashamed as a dog, make no effort to settle the dispute with me. Therefore I wash my hands of you, and as for the rest, I say, ‘The devil take you!’ Good-day.”
I left, slamming the door behind me. But when I got home to my room, into the melancholy hole, wet through from the soft snow, trembling in my knees from the day’s wanderings, I dismounted instantly from my high horse, and sank together once more.
I regretted my attack upon the poor shop-boy, wept, clutched myself by the throat to punish myself for my miserable trick, and behaved like a lunatic. He had naturally been in the most deadly terror for the sake of his situation; he had not dared to make any fuss about the five shillings that were lost to the business, and I had taken advantage of his fear, had tortured him with my violent address, stabbed him with every loud word that I had roared out. And the master himself had perhaps been sitting inside the inner room, almost within an ace of feeling called upon to come out and inquire what was the row. No, there was no longer any limit to the low things I might be tempted to do.
Well, why hadn’t I been locked up? then it would have come to an end. I would almost have stretched out my wrists for the handcuffs. I would not have offered the slightest resistance; on the contrary, I would have assisted them. Lord of Heaven and Earth! one day of my life for one happy second again! My whole life for a mess of lentils! Hear me only this once! . . .
I lay down in the wet clothes I had on, with a vague idea that I might die during the night. And I used my last strength to tidy up my bed a little, so that it might appear a little orderly about me in the morning. I folded my hands and chose my position.
All at once I remember Ylajali. To think that I could have forgotten her the entire evening through! And light forces its way ever so faintly into my spirit again — a little ray of sunshine that makes me so blessedly warm; and gradually more sun comes, a rare, silken, balmy light that caresses me with soothing loveliness. And the sun grows stronger and stronger, burns sharply in my temples, seethes fiercely and glowingly in my emaciated brain. And at last, a maddening pyre of rays flames up before my eyes; a heaven and earth in conflagration men and beasts of fire, mountains of fire, devils of fire, an abyss, a wilderness, a hurricane, a universe in brazen ignition, a smoking, smouldering day of doom!
And I saw and heard no more. . . .
I woke in a sweat the next morning, moist all over, my whole body bathed in dampness. The fever had laid violent hands on me. At first I had no clear idea of what had happened to me; I looked about me in amazement, felt a complete transformation of my being, absolutely failed to recognize myself again. I felt along my own arms and down my legs, was struck with astonishment that the window was where it was, and not in the opposite wall; and I could hear the tramp of the horses’ feet in the yard below as if it came from above me. I felt rather sick, too — qualmish.
My hair clung wet and cold about my forehead. I raised myself on my elbow and looked at the pillow; damp hair lay on it, too, in patches. My feet had swelled up in my shoes during the night, but they caused me no pain, only I could not move my toes much, they were too stiff.
As the afternoon closed in, and it had already begun to grow a little dusk, I got up out of bed and commenced to move about the room a little. I felt my way with short, careful steps, taking care to keep my balance and spare my feet as much as possible. I did not suffer much, and I did not cry; neither was I, taking all into consideration, sad. On the contrary, I was blissfully content. It did not strike me just then that anything could be otherwise than it was.
Then I went out.
The only thing that troubled me a little, in spite of the nausea that the thought of food inspired in me, was hunger. I commenced to be sensible of a shameless appetite again; a ravenous lust of food, which grew steadily worse and worse. It gnawed unmercifully in my breast; carrying on a silent, mysterious work in there. It was as if a score of diminutive gnome-like insects set their heads on one side and gnawed for a little, then laid their heads on the other side and gnawed a little more, then lay quite still for a moment’s space, and then began afresh, boring noiselessly in, and without any haste, and left empty spaces everywhere after them as they went on. . . .
I was not ill, but faint; I broke into a sweat. I thought of going to the market-place to rest a while, but the way was long and wearisome; at last I had almost reached it. I stood at the corner of the market and Market Street; the sweat ran down into my eyes and blinded me, and I had just stopped in order to wipe it away a little. I did not notice the place I was standing in; in fact, I did not think about it; the noise around me was something frightful.
Suddenly a call rings out, a cold, sharp warning. I hear this cry — hear it quite well, and I start nervously to one side, stepping as quickly as my bad foot allows me to. A monster of a bread-van brushes past me, and the wheel grazes my coat; I might perhaps have been a little quicker if I had exerted myself. Well, there was no help for it; one foot pained me, a couple of toes were crunched. I felt that they, as it were, curled up in my shoes.
The driver reins in his horse with all his might. He turns round on the van and inquires in a fright how it fares with me. Oh! it might have been worse, far worse. . . . It was perhaps not so dangerous. . . . I didn’t think any bones were broken. Oh, pray. . . .
I rushed over as quickly as I could to a seat; all these people who stopped and stared at me abashed me. After all, it was no mortal blow; comparatively speaking, I had got off luckily enough, as misfortune was bound to come in my way. The worst thing was that my shoe was crushed to pieces; the sole was torn loose at the toe. I help up my foot, and saw blood inside the gap. Well, it wasn’t intentional on either side; it was not the man’s purpose to make things worse for me than they were; he looked much concerned about it. It was quite certain that if I had begged him for a piece of bread out of his cart he would have given it to me. He would certainly have given it to me gladly. God bless him in return, wherever he is! . . .
I was terribly hungry, and I did not know what to do with myself and my shameless appetite. I writhed from side to side on the seat, and bowed my chest right down to my knees; I was almost distracted. When it got dark I jogged along to the Town Hall — God knows how I got there — and sat on the edge of the balustrade. I tore a pocket out of my coat and took to chewing it; not with any defined object, but with dour mien and unseeing eyes, staring straight into space. I could hear a group of little children playing around near me, and perceive, in an instinctive sort of way, some pedestrians pass me by; otherwise I observed nothing.
All at once, it enters my head to go to one of the meat bazaars underneath me, and beg a piece of raw meat. I go straight along the balustrade to the other side of the bazaar buildings, and descend the steps. When I had nearly reached the stalls on the lower floor, I called up the archway leading to the stairs, and made a threatening backward gesture, as if I were talking to a dog up there, and boldly addressed the first butcher I met.
“Ah, will you be kind enough to give me a bone for my dog?” I said; “only a bone. There needn’t be anything on it; it’s just to give him something to carry in his mouth.”
I got the bone, a capital little bone, on which there still remained a morsel of meat, and hid it under my coat. I thanked the man so heartily that he looked at me in amazement.
“Oh, no need of thanks,” said he.
“Oh yes; don’t say that,” I mumbled; “it is kindly done of you,” and I ascended the steps again.
My heart was throbbing violently in my breast. I sneaked into one of the passages, where the forges are, as far in as I could go, and stopped outside a dilapidated door leading to a back-yard. There was no light to be seen anywhere, only blessed darkness all around me; and I began to gnaw at the bone.
It had no taste; a rank smell of blood oozed from it, and I was forced to vomit almost immediately. I tried anew. If I could only keep it down, it would, in spite of all, have some effect. It was simply a matter of forcing it to remain down there. But I vomited again. I grew wild, bit angrily into the meat, tore off a morsel, and gulped it down by sheer strength of will; and yet it was of no use. Just as soon as the little fragments of meat became warm in my stomach up they came again, worse luck. I clenched my hands in frenzy, burst into tears from sheer helplessness, and gnawed away as one possessed. I cried, so that the bone got wet and dirty with my tears, vomited, cursed and groaned again, cried as if my heart would break, and vomited anew. I consigned all the powers that be to the lowermost torture in the loudest voice.
Quiet — not a soul about — no light, no noise; I am in a state of the most fearful excitement; I breathe hardly and audibly, and I cry with gnashing teeth, each time that the morsel of meat, which might satisfy me a little, comes up. As I find that, in spite of all my efforts, it avails me naught, I cast the bone at the door. I am filled with the most impotent hate; shriek, and menace with my fists towards Heaven; yell God’s name hoarsely, and bend my fingers like claws, with ill-suppressed fury. . . .
I tell you, you Heaven’s Holy Baal, you don’t exist; but that, if you did, I would curse you so that your Heaven would quiver with the fire of hell! I tell you, I have offered you my service, and you repulsed me; and I turn my back on you for all eternity, because you did not know your time of visitation! I tell you that I am about to die, and yet I mock you! You Heaven God and Apis! with death staring me in the face — I tell you, I would rather be a bondsman in hell than a freedman in your mansions! I tell you, I am filled with a blissful contempt for your divine paltriness; and I choose the abyss of destruction for a perpetual resort, where the devils Judas and Pharaoh are cast down!
I tell you your Heaven is full of the kingdom of the earth’s most crass-headed idiots and poverty-stricken in spirit! I tell you, you have filled your Heaven with the grossest and most cherished harlots from here below, who have bent their knees piteously before you at their hour of death! I tell you, you have used force against me, and you know not, you omniscient nullity, that I never bend in opposition! I tell you, all my life, every cell in my body, every power of my soul, gasps to mock you — you Gracious Monster on High. I tell you, I would, if I could, breathe it into every human soul, every flower, every leaf, every dewdrop in the garden! I tell you, I would scoff you on the day of doom, and curse the teeth out of my mouth for the sake of your Deity’s boundless miserableness! I tell you from this hour I renounce all thy works and all thy pomps! I will execrate my thought if it dwell on you again, and tear out my lips if they ever utter your name! I tell you, if you exist, my last word in life or in death — I bid you farewell, for all time and eternity — I bid you farewell with heart and reins. I bid you the last irrevocable farewell, and I am silent, and turn my back on you and go my way. . . . Quiet.
I tremble with excitement and exhaustion, and stand on the same spot, still whispering oaths and abusive epithets, hiccoughing after the violent crying fit, broken down and apathetic after my frenzied outburst of rage. I stand there for maybe an hour, hiccough and whisper, and hold on to the door. Then I hear voices — a conversation between two men who are coming down the passage. I slink away from the door, drag myself along the walls of the houses, and come out again into the light streets. As I jog along Young’s Hill my brain begins to work in a most peculiar direction. It occurs to me that the wretched hovels down at the corner of the market-place, the stores for loose materials, the old booths for second-hand clothes, are really a disgrace to the place — they spoilt the whole appearance of the market, and were a blot on the town, Fie! away with the rubbish! And I turned over in my mind as I walked on what it would cost to remove the Geographical Survey down there — that handsome building which had always attracted me so much each time I passed it. It would perhaps not be possible to undertake a removal of that kind under two or three hundred pounds. A pretty sum — three hundred pounds! One must admit, a tidy enough little sum for pocket-money! Ha, ha! just to make a start with, eh? and I nodded my head, and conceded that it was a tidy enough bit of pocket-money to make a start with. I was still trembling over my whole body, and hiccoughed now and then violently after my cry. I had a feeling that there was not much life left in me — that I was really singing my last verse. It was almost a matter of indifference to me; it did not trouble me in the least. On the contrary, I wended my way down town, down to the wharf, farther and farther away from my room. I would, for that matter, have willingly laid myself down flat in the street to die. My sufferings were rendering me more and more callous. My sore foot throbbed violently; I had a sensation as if the pain was creeping up through my whole leg. But not even that caused me any particular distress. I had endured worse sensations.
In this manner, I reached the railway wharf. There was no traffic, no noise — only here and there a person to be seen, a labourer or sailor slinking round with their hands in their pockets. I took notice of a lame man, who looked sharply at me as we passed one another. I stopped him instinctively, touched my hat, and inquired if he knew if the Nun had sailed. Someway, I couldn’t help snapping my fingers right under the man’s nose, and saying, “Ay, by Jove, the Nun; yes, the Nun!” which I had totally forgotten. All the same, the thought of her had been smouldering in me. I had carried it about unconsciously.
Yes, bless me, the Nun had sailed.
He couldn’t tell me where she had sailed to?
The man reflects, stands on his long leg, keeps the other up in the air; it dangles a little.
“No,” he replies. “Do you know what cargo she was taking in here?”
“No,” I answer. But by this time I had already lost interest in the Nun, and I asked the man how far it might be to Holmestrand, reckoned in good old geographical miles.
“To Holmestrand? I should think . . . ”
“Or to Voeblungsnaess?”
“What was I going to say? I should think to Holmestrand . . . ”
“Oh, never mind; I have just remembered it,” I interrupted him again. “You wouldn’t perhaps be so kind as to give me a small bit of tobacco — only just a tiny scrap?”
I received the tobacco, thanked the man heartily, and went on. I made no use of the tobacco; I put it into my pocket. He still kept his eye on me — perhaps I had aroused his suspicions in some other way or another. Whether I stood still or walked on, I felt his suspicious look following me. I had no mind to be persecuted by this creature. I turn round, and, dragging myself back to him, say:
“Binder”— only this one word, “Binder!” no more. I looked fixedly at him as I say it, indeed I was conscious of staring fearfully at him. It was as if I saw him with my entire body instead of only with my eyes. I stare for a while after I give utterance to this word, and then I jog along again to the railway square. The man does not utter a syllable, he only keeps his gaze fixed upon me.
“Binder!” I stood suddenly still. Yes, wasn’t that just what I had a feeling of the moment I met the old chap; a feeling that I had met him before! One bright morning up in Graendsen, when I pawned my waistcoat. It seemed to me an eternity since that day.
Whilst I stand and ponder over this, I lean and support myself against a house wall at the corner of the railway square and Harbour Street. Suddenly, I start quickly and make an effort to crawl away. As I do not succeed in it, I stare case-hardened ahead of me and fling all shame to the winds. There is no help for it. I am standing face to face with the “Commandor.” I get devil-may-care — brazen. I take yet a step farther from the wall in order to make him notice me. I do not do it to awake his compassion, but to mortify myself, place myself, as it were, on the pillory. I could have flung myself down in the street and begged him to walk over me, tread on my face. I don’t even bid him good-evening.
Perhaps the “Commandor” guesses that something is amiss with me. He slackens his pace a little, and I say, in order to stop him, “I would have called upon you long ago with something, but nothing has come yet!”
“Indeed?” he replies in an interrogative tone. “You haven’t got it finished, then?”
“No, it didn’t get finished.”
My eyes by this time are filled with tears at his friendliness, and I cough with a bitter effort to regain my composure. The “Commandor” tweaks his nose and looks at me.
“Have you anything to live on in the meantime?” he questions.
“No,” I reply. “I haven’t that either; I haven’t eaten anything today, but. . . . ”
“The Lord preserve you, man, it will never do for you to go and starve yourself to death,” he exclaims, feeling in his pocket.
This causes a feeling of shame to awake in me, and I stagger over to the wall and hold on to it. I see him finger in his purse, and he hands me half-a-sovereign.
He makes no fuss about it, simply gives me half-a-sovereign, reiterating at the same time that it would never do to let me starve to death. I stammered an objection and did not take it all at once. It is shameful of me to . . . it was really too much. . . .
“Hurry up,” he says, looking at his watch. “I have been waiting for the train; I hear it coming now.”
I took the money; I was dumb with joy, and never said a word; I didn’t even thank him once.
“It isn’t worth while feeling put out about it,” said the “Commandor” at last. “I know you can write for it.”
And so off he went.
When he had gone a few steps, I remembered all at once that I had not thanked him for this great assistance. I tried to overtake him, but could not get on quickly enough; my legs failed me, and I came near tumbling on my face. He went farther and farther away from me. I gave up the attempt; thought of calling after him, but dared not; and when after all I did muster up courage enough and called once or twice, he was already at too great a distance, and my voice had become too weak.
I was left standing on the pavement, gazing after him. I wept quietly and silently. “I never saw the like!” I said to myself. “He gave me half-a- sovereign.” I walked back and placed myself where he had stood, imitated all his movements held the half-sovereign up to my moistened eyes, inspected it on both sides, and began to swear — to swear at the top of my voice, that there was no manner of doubt that what I held in my hand was half-a-sovereign. An hour after, maybe — a very long hour, for it had grown very silent all around me — I stood, singularly enough, outside No. 11 Tomtegaden. After I had stood and collected my wits for a moment and wondered thereat, I went through the door for the second time, right into the “Entertainment and lodgings for travellers.” Here I asked for shelter and was immediately supplied with a bed.
Sunshine and quiet — a strangely bright day. The snow had disappeared. There was life and joy, and glad faces, smiles, and laughter everywhere. The fountains threw up sprays of water in jets, golden-tinted from the sun-light, azure from the sky. . . .
At noon I left my lodgings in Tomtegaden, where I still lived and found fairly comfortable, and set out for town. I was in the merriest humour, and lazied about the whole afternoon through the most frequented streets and looked at the people. Even before seven o’clock I took a turn up St. Olav’s Place and took a furtive look up at the window of No. 2. In an hour I would see her. I went about the whole time in a state of tremulous, delicious dread. What would happen? What should I say when she came down the stairs? Good-evening? or only smile? I concluded to let it rest with the smile. Of course I would bow profoundly to her.
I stole away, a little ashamed to be there so early, wandered up Carl Johann for a while, and kept my eyes on University Street. When the clocks struck eight I walked once more towards St. Olav’s Place. On the way it struck me that perhaps I might arrive a few minutes too late, and I quickened my pace as much as I could. My foot was very sore, otherwise nothing ailed me.
I took up my place at the fountain and drew breath. I stood there a long while and gazed up at the window of No. 2, but she did not come. Well, I would wait; I was in no hurry. She might be delayed, and I waited on. It couldn’t well be that I had dreamt the whole thing! Had my first meeting with her only existed in imagination the night I lay in delirium? I began in perplexity to think over it, and wasn’t at all sure.
“Hem!” came from behind me. I heard this, and I also heard light steps near me, but I did not turn round, I only stared up at the wide staircase before me.
“Good-evening,” came then. I forget to smile; I don’t even take off my hat at first, I am so taken aback to see her come this way.
“Have you been waiting long?” she asks. She is breathing a little quickly after her walk.
“No, not at all; I only came a little while ago,” I reply. “And besides, would it matter if I had waited long? I expected, by-the-way, that you would come from another direction.”
“I accompanied mamma to some people. Mamma is spending the evening with them.”
“Oh, indeed,” I say.
We had begun to walk on involuntarily. A policeman is standing at the corner, looking at us.
“But, after all, where are we going to?” she asks, and stops.
“Wherever you wish; only where you wish.”
“Ugh, yes! but it’s such a bore to have to decide oneself.”
Then I say, merely for the sake of saying something:
“I see it’s dark up in your windows.”
“Yes, it is,” she replies gaily; “the servant has an evening off, too, so I am all alone at home.”
We both stand and look up at the windows of No. 2 as if neither of us had seen them before.
“Can’t we go up to your place, then?” I say; “I shall sit down at the door the whole time if you like.”
But then I trembled with emotion, and regretted greatly that I had perhaps been too forward. Supposing she were to get angry, and leave me. Suppose I were never to see her again. Ah, that miserable attire of mine! I waited despairingly for her reply.
“You shall certainly not sit down by the door,” she says. She says it right down tenderly, and says accurately these words: “You shall certainly not sit down by the door.”
We went up.
Out on the lobby, where it was dark, she took hold of my hand, and led me on. There was no necessity for my being so quiet, she said, I could very well talk. We entered. Whilst she lit the candle — it was not a lamp she lit, but a candle — whilst she lit the candle, she said, with a little laugh:
“But now you mustn’t look at me. Ugh! I am so ashamed, but I will never do it again.”
“What will you never do again?”
“I will never . . . ugh . . . no . . . good gracious . . . I will never kiss you again!”
“Won’t you?” I said, and we both laughed. I stretched out my arms to her, and she glided away; slipped round to the other side of the table. We stood a while and gazed at one another; the candle stood right between us.
“Try and catch me,” she said; and with much laughter I tried to seize hold of her. Whilst she sprang about, she loosened her veil, and took off her hat; her sparkling eyes hung on mine, and watched my movements. I made a fresh sortie, and tripped on the carpet and fell, my sore foot refusing to bear me up any longer. I rose in extreme confusion.
“Lord, how red you did get!” she said. “Well it was awfully awkward of you.”
“Yes, it was,” I agreed, and we began the chase afresh.
“It seems to me you limp.”
“Yes; perhaps I do — just a little — only just a little, for that matter.”
“Last time you had a sore finger, now you have got a sore foot; it is awful the number of afflictions you have.”
“Ah, yes. I was run over slightly, a few days ago.”
“Run over! Tipsy again? Why, good heavens! what a life you lead, young man!” and she threatened me with her forefinger, and tried to appear grave. “Well, let us sit down, then; no, not down there by the door; you are far too reserved! Come here — you there, and I here — so, that’s it . . . ugh, it’s such a bore with reticent people! One has to say and do everything oneself; one gets no help to do anything. Now, for example, you might just as well put your arm over the back of my chair; you could easily have thought of that much out of your own head, couldn’t you? But if I say anything like that, you open your eyes as wide as if you couldn’t believe what was being said. Yes, it is really true; I have noticed it several times; you are doing it now, too; but you needn’t try to persuade me that you are always so modest; it is only when you don’t dare to be otherwise than quiet. You were daring enough the day you were tipsy — when you followed me straight home and worried me with your witticisms. ‘You are losing your book, madam; you are quite certainly losing your book, madam!’ Ha, ha, ha! it was really shameless of you.”
I sat dejectedly and looked at her; my heart beat violently, my blood raced quickly through my veins, there was a singular sense of enjoyment in it!
“Why don’t you say something?”
“What a darling you are,” I cried. “I am simply sitting here getting thoroughly fascinated by you — here this very moment thoroughly fascinated. . . . There is no help for it. . . . You are the most extraordinary creature that . . . sometimes your eyes gleam so, that I never saw their match; they look like flowers . . . eh? No, well, no, perhaps, not like flowers, either, but . . . I am so desperately in love with you, and it is so preposterous . . . for, great Scott! there is naturally not an atom of a chance for me. . . . What is your name? Now, you really must tell me what you are called.”
“No; what is your name? Gracious, I was nearly forgetting that again! I thought about it all yesterday, that I meant to ask you — yes, that is to say, not all yesterday, but —”
“Do you know what I named you? I named you Ylajali. How do you like that? It has a gliding sound. . . . ”
“Is that a foreign language?”
“Humph — no, it isn’t that either!”
“Well, it isn’t ugly!”
After a long discussion we told one another our names. She seated herself close to my side on the sofa, and shoved the chair away with her foot, and we began to chatter afresh.
“You are shaved this evening, too,” she said; look on the whole a little better than the last time — that is to say, only just a scrap better. Don’t imagine . . . no; the last time you were really shabby, and you had a dirty rag round your finger into the bargain; and in that state you absolutely wanted me to go to some place, and take wine with you — thanks, not me!”
“So it was, after all, because of my miserable appearance that you would not go with me?” I said.
“No,” she replied and looked down. “No; God knows it wasn’t. I didn’t even think about it.”
“Listen,” said I; “you are evidently sitting here labouring under the delusion that I can dress and live exactly as I choose, aren’t you? And that is just what I can’t do; I am very, very poor.”
She looked at me. “Are you?” she queried.
“Yes, worse luck, I am.”
After an interval.
“Well, gracious, so am I, too,” she said, with a cheerful movement of her head.
Every one of her words intoxicated me, fell on my heart like drops of wine. She enchanted me with the trick she had of putting her head a little on one side, and listening when I said anything, and I could feel her breath brush my face.
“Do you know,” I said, “that . . . but, now, you mustn’t get angry — when I went to bed last night I settled this arm for you . . . so . . . as if you lay on it . . . and then I went to sleep.”
“Did you? That was lovely!” A pause. “But of course it could only be from a distance that you would venture to do such a thing, for otherwise. . . . ”
“Don’t you believe I could do it otherwise?”
“No, I don’t believe it.”
“Ah, from me you may expect everything,” I said, and I put my arm around her waist.
“Can I?” was all she said.
It annoyed me, almost wounded me, that she should look upon me as being so utterly inoffensive. I braced myself up, steeled my heart, and seized her hand; but she withdrew it softly, and moved a little away from me. That just put an end to my courage again; I felt ashamed, and looked out through the window. I was, in spite of all, in far too wretched a condition; I must, above all, not try to imagine myself any one in particular. It would have been another matter if I had met her during the time that I still looked like a respectable human being — in my old, well-off days when I had sufficient to make an appearance; and I felt fearfully downcast!
“There now, one can see!” she said, “now one can just see one can snub you with just the tiniest frown — make you look sheepish by just moving a little away from you” . . . she laughed, tantalizingly, roguishly, with tightly-closed eyes, as if she could not stand being looked at, either.
“Well, upon my soul!” I blurted out, “now you shall just see,” and I flung my arms violently around her shoulders. I was mortified. Was the girl out of her senses? Did she think I was totally inexperienced! Ha! Then I would, by the living. . . . No one should say of me that I was backward on that score. The creature was possessed by the devil himself! If it were only a matter of going at it, well. . . .
She sat quite quietly, and still kept her eyes closed; neither of us spoke. I crushed her fiercely to me, pressed her body greedily against my breast, and she spoke never a word. I heard her heart’s beat, both hers and mine; they sounded like hurrying hoofbeats.
I kissed her.
I no longer knew myself. I uttered some nonsense, that she laughed at, whispered pet names into her mouth, caressed her cheek, kissed her many times. . . .
She winds her arms about my neck, quite slowly, tenderly, the breath of her pink quivering nostrils fans me right in the face; she strokes down my shoulders with her left hand, and says, “What a lot of loose hair there is.”
“Yes,” I reply.
“What can be the reason that your hair falls out so?”
“Ah, of course, because you drink too much, and perhaps . . . fie, I won’t say it. You ought to be ashamed. No, I wouldn’t have believed that of you! To think that you, who are so young, already should lose your hair! Now, do please just tell me what sort of way you really spend your life — I am certain it is dreadful! But only the truth, do you hear; no evasions. Anyway, I shall see by you if you hide anything — there, tell now!”
“Yes; but let me kiss you first, then.”
“Are you mad? . . . Humph, . . . I want to hear what kind of a man you are. . . . Ah, I am sure it is dreadful.”
It hurt me that she should believe the worst of me; I was afraid of thrusting her away entirely, and I could not endure the misgivings she had as to my way of life. I would clear myself in her eyes, make myself worthy of her, show her that she was sitting at the side of a person almost angelically disposed. Why, bless me, I could count my falls up to date on my fingers. I related — related all — and I only related truth. I made out nothing any worse than it was; it was not my intention to rouse her compassion. I told her also that I had stolen five shillings one evening.
She sat and listened, with open mouth, pale, frightened, her shining eyes completely bewildered. I desired to make it good again, to disperse the sad impression I had made, and I pulled myself up.
“Well, it is all over now!” I said; “there can be no talk of such a thing happening again; I am saved now. . . . ”
But she was much dispirited. “The Lord preserve me!” was all she said, then kept silent. She repeated this at short intervals, and kept silent after each “the Lord preserve me.”
I began to jest, caught hold of her, tried to tickle her, lifted her up to my breast. I was irritated not a little — indeed, downright hurt. Was I more unworthy in her eyes now, than if I had myself been instrumental in causing the falling out of my hair? Would she have thought more of me if I had made myself out to be a roué? . . . No nonsense now; . . . it was just a matter of going at it; and if it was only just a matter of going at it, so, by the living . . .
“No; . . . what do you want?” she queried, and she added these distressing words, “I can’t be sure that you are not insane!”
I checked myself involuntarily, and I said: “You don’t mean that!”
“Indeed, God knows I do! you look so strangely. And the forenoon you followed me — after all, you weren’t tipsy that time?”
“No; but I wasn’t hungry then, either; I had just eaten. . . . ”
“Yes; but that made it so much the worse.”
“Would you rather I had been tipsy?”
“Yes . . . ugh . . . I am afraid of you! Lord, can’t you let me be now!”
I considered a moment. No, I couldn’t let her be. . . . I happened, as if inadvertently, to knock over the light, so that it went out. She made a despairing struggle — gave vent at last to a little whimper.
“No, not that! If you like, you may rather kiss me, oh, dear, kind. . . . ”
I stopped instantly. Her words sounded so terrified, so helpless, I was struck to the heart. She meant to offer me a compensation by giving me leave to kiss her! How charming, how charmingly naïve. I could have fallen down and knelt before her.
“But, dear pretty one,” I said, completely bewildered, “I don’t understand. . . . I really can’t conceive what sort of a game this is. . . . ”
She rose, lit the candle again with trembling hands. I leant back on the sofa and did nothing. What would happen now? I was in reality very ill at ease.
She cast a look over at the clock on the wall, and started.
“Ugh, the girl will soon come now!” she said; this was the first thing she said. I took the hint, and rose. She took up her jacket as if to put it on, bethought herself, and let it lie, and went over to the fireplace. So that it should not appear as if she had shown me the door, I said:
“Was your father in the army?” and at the same time I prepared to leave.
“Yes; he was an officer. How did you know?”
“I didn’t know; it just came into my head.”
“That was odd.”
“Ah, yes; there were some places I came to where I got a kind of presentiment. Ha, ha! — a part of my insanity, eh?”
She looked quickly up, but didn’t answer. I felt I worried her with my presence, and determined to make short work of it. I went towards the door. Would she not kiss me any more now? not even give me her hand? I stood and waited.
“Are you going now, then?” she said, and yet she remained quietly standing over near the fireplace.
I did not reply. I stood humbly in confusion, and looked at her without saying anything. Why hadn’t she left me in peace, when nothing was to come of it? What was the matter with her now? It didn’t seem to put her out that I stood prepared to leave. She was all at once completely lost to me, and I searched for something to say to her in farewell — a weighty, cutting word that would strike her, and perhaps impress her a little. And in the face of my first resolve, hurt as I was, instead of being proud and cold, disturbed and offended, I began right off to talk of trifles. The telling word would not come; I conducted myself in an exceedingly aimless fashion. Why couldn’t she just as well tell me plainly and straightly to go my way? I queried. Yes, indeed, why not? There was no need of feeling embarrassed about it. Instead of reminding me that the girl would soon come home, she could have simply said as follows: “Now you must run, for I must go and fetch my mother, and I won’t have your escort through the street.” So it was not that she had been thinking about? Ah, yes; it was that all the same she had thought about; I understood that at once. It did not require much to put me on the right track; only, just the way she had taken up her jacket, and left it down again, had convinced me immediately. As I said before, I had presentiments; and it was not altogether insanity that was at the root of it. . . .
“But, great heavens! do forgive me for that word! It slipped out of my mouth,” she cried; but yet she stood quite quietly, and did not come over to me.
I was inflexible, and went on. I stood there and prattled, with the painful consciousness that I bored her, that not one of my words went home, and all the same I did not cease.
At bottom one might be a fairly sensitive nature, even if one were not insane, I ventured to say. There were natures that fed on trifles, and died just for one hard word’s sake; and I implied that I had such a nature. The fact was, that my poverty had in that degree sharpened certain powers in me, so that they caused me unpleasantness. Yes, I assure you honestly, unpleasantness; worse luck! But this had also its advantages. It helped me in certain situations in life. The poor intelligent man is a far nicer observer than the rich intelligent man. The poor man looks about him at every step he takes, listens suspiciously to every word he hears from the people he meets, every step he takes affords in this way a task for his thoughts and feelings — an occupation. He is quick of hearing, and sensitive; he is an experienced man, his soul bears the sears of the fire. . . .
And I talked a long time over these sears my soul had. But the longer I talked, the more troubled she grew. At last she muttered, “My God!” a couple of times in despair, and wrung her hands. I could see well that I tormented her, and I had no wish to torment her — but did it, all the same. At last, being of the opinion that I had succeeded in telling her in rude enough terms the essentials of what I had to say, I was touched by her heart-stricken expression. I cried:
“Now I am going, now I am going. Can’t you see that I already have my hand on the handle of the door? Good-bye, good-bye,” I say. “You might answer me when I say good-bye twice, and stand on the point of going. I don’t even ask to meet you again, for it would torment you. But tell me, why didn’t you leave me in peace? What had I done to you? I didn’t get in your way, now, did I? Why did you turn away from me all at once, as if you didn’t know me any longer? You have plucked me now so thoroughly bare, made me even more wretched than I ever was at any time before; but, indeed, I am not insane. You know well, if you think it over, that nothing is the matter with me now. Come over, then, and give me your hand — or give me leave to go to you, will you? I won’t do you any harm; I will only kneel before you, only for a minute — kneel down on the floor before you, only for a minute, may I? No, no; there, I am not to do it then, I see. You are getting afraid. I will not, I will not do it; do you hear? Lord, why do you get so terrified. I am standing quite still; I am not moving. I would have knelt down on the carpet for a moment — just there, upon that patch of red, at your feet; but you got frightened — I could see it at once in your eyes that you got frightened; that was why I stood still. I didn’t move a step when I asked you might I, did I? I stood just as immovable as I stand now when I point out the place to you where I would have knelt before you, over there on the crimson rose in the carpet. I don’t even point with my finger. I don’t point at all; I let it be, not to frighten you. I only nod and look over at it, like this! and you know perfectly well which rose I mean, but you won’t let me kneel there. You are afraid of me, and dare not come near to me. I cannot conceive how you could have the heart to call me insane. It isn’t true; you don’t believe it, either, any longer? It was once in the summer, a long time ago, I was mad; I worked too hard, and forgot to go to dine at the right hour, when I had too much to think about. That happened day after day. I ought to have remembered it; but I went on forgetting it — by God in Heaven, it is true! God keep me from ever coming alive from this spot if I lie. There, you can see, you do me an injustice. It was not out of need I did it; I can get credit, much credit, at Ingebret’s or Gravesen’s. I often, too, had a good deal of money in my pocket, and did not buy food all the same, because I forgot it. Do you hear? You don’t say anything; you don’t answer; you don’t stir a bit from the fire; you just stand and wait for me to go. . . . ”
She came hurriedly over to me, and stretched out her hand. I looked at her, full of mistrust. Did she do it with any true heartiness, or did she only do it to get rid of me? She wound her arms round my neck; she had tears in her eyes; I only stood and looked at her. She offered her mouth; I couldn’t believe in her; it was quite certain she was making a sacrifice as a means of putting an end to all this.
She said something; it sounded to me like, “I am fond of you, in spite of all.” She said it very lowly and indistinctly; maybe I did not hear aright. She may not have said just those words; but she cast herself impetuously against my breast, clasped both her arms about my neck for a little while, stretched even up a bit on her toes to get a good hold, and stood so for perhaps a whole minute. I was afraid that she was forcing herself to show me this tenderness, and I only said:
“What a darling you are now!”
More I didn’t say. I crushed her in my arms, stepped back, rushed to the door, and went out backwards. She remained in there behind me.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55