A difficult time just now for Davidsen to begin his period of training in the bank. The druggist kept wandering into his shop and taking up his time with discussions of a certain evening entertainment he was promoting.
The Segelfoss News had appeared with a decidedly appealing notice about the coming performance, a whole little article which no one could overlook. The headline read: “Entertainment to Raise Money.”
But the most important detail was yet to be taken care of: the programme. Originally this had been simple enough, but after repeated conferences with Vendt of the hotel, Holm kept running back to Davidsen with alterations in the manuscript. When at length the programme had been printed, it appeared so outlandish to Davidsen that he remarked: “If you can get this thing to go, I’ll say you’re a lucky dog, Herr Druggist!”
“It’s Vendt who has all the ideas,” said Holm, shifting the blame upon his friend.
Hotelkeeper Vendt was a man with a good bit of woman in his make-up. Somewhat round and flabby, a negligible growth of beard on his face, he was, furthermore, left-handed. When he spoke, it sounded as though his voice were just changing — sometimes it would be deep and manly, but more often it would break and slide up the scale to an effeminate squeal. He could wash and cook and sew; he was good-natured and easily moved to tears. Several generations back there had been an influx of Jewish blood in his family — the blood of Jews from Holland, of which there had been so many in Bergen. He was now forty-five and still a bachelor.
Vendt was a blithely ignorant man, for he had read nothing whatever in his life, though he was something of an artist in his own way, with a decided gift for story-telling. He was likewise afflicted with a strenuous desire to sing; however, as he was tone-deaf, his notes were distressingly false. Thus he was no prodigy, despite his native talent. His one claim to distinction lay in the tales he told. Suddenly he would burst forth with one, thought up on the spur of the moment and delivered quite impromptu. There was little in the tales themselves, it was all in his manner of telling them. Not that he indulged in histrionics — the cheap tricks of the actor were entirely unknown to him — he would deliver his remarks without moving so much as a finger. Nor were his fingers in any way mobile members; they were short and stubby and utterly expressionless. No, he would merely sit down with an innocent look on his face and start in telling a story.
No doubt it had been this talent of his which had first attracted Druggist Holm to the man. They were both from Bergen and their tastes were similar. At the moment they were busy with the programme for the coming entertainment.
The original thought had been to schedule the individual performers for two appearances each, with the exception of Gina i Roten who was to appear three times — she would close the programme with that famous cow-call of hers. Fru Hagen, the postmaster’s wife, was to play two groups of numbers, the first a series of folk melodies, the second two Mozart sonatas. This was legitimate music and the two gentlemen dared not tamper with this portion of the programme. Nor could any change be made in Gina i Roten’s scheduled appearances, as both her main groups were to consist of hymns. But the accordion player’s and their own numbers were altered and shifted about no end.
Hotelkeeper Vendt was originally listed for a single appearance as a monologist — later he desired to be billed as a “reader” and finally as a “lecturer.”
“Now let me hear what you intend to do yourself?” he asked of Holm.
Holm was to accompany Gina’s hymns on the guitar and later he would fill in a number by playing two records on the gramophone; thus one could see how busy he would be. However he must have felt that he had placed himself too much in the background, for he suddenly announced that he was contemplating a couple of solo numbers.
“Songs?” asked Vendt.
“Rather more in the way of recitations,” replied Holm.
“That is to say, I shall repeat a few verses whilst my pharmacist plays a tune on a comb.”
Vendt had managed hotels in many lands and it was now his desire that a foreign touch be added to the programme. Just as with menu cards, he said; they always fell flat in Norwegian.
“Well, what do you suggest?” asked Holm.
“Oh — there must be a great many dainty things to choose from,” said Vendt.
They discussed the matter seriously, now and then reached for a glass, and Holm, in particular, made a great point of throwing in technical musical terms, and made mention of certain operas and symphonies. He had given some thought to the idea of a string quintette with cembalo, he said.
“Who is going to play that thing?” asked Vendt.
“I shall,” said Holm.
“Do you know how to do that?”
“Yes and no — but I shall endeavour to do my best.”
“All right, then I’ll give a little foreign ballad I heard in my early youth and which I’ve never forgotten —’Je suis à vous, Madame,’ it’s called.”
“Can you sing it in French?”
“Naturally,” said Vendt. “Now put down an intermission.”
“Intermission? What for?”
“It will help to fill up the programme — it will make another line. That’s the way we often do to make a menu card look longer — you know, add some little thing, like table water.”
They refilled their glasses and drank.
Holm: “I’ve been thinking of Bismarck’s March.”
No, this did not appeal to Vendt.
“Not the one over the Alps,” said Holm. “Bismarck’s March is a rather odd thing — it appears in the Iliad.”
“In the what?”
“You know, that thing by Homer — the Iliad.”
Vendt thought this over. “Well, if that’s the case,” he said. “But who’s to play it?”
“It can be played on the concertina and Karel i Roten can yodel. What do you say, shall I set that down?”
“All right,” said Vendt, yielding. “But I can’t help it if I’m pro-French. Don’t use the name ‘Bismarck’— just put down the name ‘Iliad.’”
Holm wrote down “The Iliad.”
“And now I imagine that will be all?” he asked.
“Put down another intermission,” said Vendt. . . .
Holm was obliged to make two or three trips to the print shop before he found Davidsen in. The latter was terrifically busy with his new job at the bank and could spare but little time to talk.
“Is this the programme in its final form?” he asked.
“For the present,” answered Holm, cautiously. “We were just trying to decide whether or not we ought to include the Songs of the Sulamite.”
“No, I don’t believe we ought to think of any more changes,” said Davidsen. “It does not seem to my mind that the programme is improving greatly.”
Hohn again laid the blame upon Vendt. He had so many ideas. For the past twenty-four hours he had been talking nothing but French.
Davidsen hastily scanned the manuscript. “There seems to be a frightful number of intermissions,” he said. “Three intermissions.”
Holm: “That too, was Vendt’s idea. That’s after the manner they make out menus, he tells me.”
“Well, if only you can get away with it!” said Davidsen. “How many shall I print?”
“Three hundred,” said Holm, no niggard.
Before leaving the shop he paid for the printing. He paid so handsomely that Davidsen threw in an extra job: he printed a whole stack of handbills which his daughter was to pass out on Sunday afternoon. A splendid idea on Davidsen’s part; people would pause on the street to read those scraps of paper.
The signs were promising indeed — the weather was fine and many people were abroad.
The druggist’s apprentice had been out the entire morning on business; he had picked up three hundred of the tickets used by the motion picture theatre and had gone from house to house and sold them for one krone apiece. When he returned at noon, he had between seventy and eighty kroner in his pocket. He ate his luncheon and immediately went forth again. A clever chap, that apprentice — he was good for other things than playing patience!
When he returned home at the coffee hour, he had over a hundred kroner. Even so, he had all of the best houses yet to visit, he said — the homes of the quality set and of those who were on the fringe. He had desired to wait until these people had had their noonday naps and their coffee upon waking up. In the case of these better class families he was hoping to sell a ticket to each member of the household. This time he rode forth on his bicycle.
By half-past seven, when people had already begun to arrive at the theatre, the druggist’s apprentice had sold his entire three hundred tickets. He had gone through Segelfoss Town from waterfront to Manor with a finetooth comb, and had succeeded in getting old and young alike to support this charitable undertaking. He now took his station in the ticket booth ready to sell many more tickets at the door to the swarms of folk he was expecting in from the country districts round about. Ay, an alert little chap, that druggist’s apprentice. . . .
Eight-fifteen inside the theatre:
The house with its brand-new cement floor was practically full; it was splendid to see how nobly Segelfoss had responded on behalf of the late Solmund’s family. The Anabaptist in South Parish and Nilsen in North Parish had left the scenes of their fervent endeavours, the spirit of religious revival had subsided throughout the parish and the inhabitants of Segelfoss had turned out in unexpected numbers to attend this “Entertainment to Raise Money.” Even Aase was there, even Tobias from South Parish was there, along with his wife and his daughter Cornelia — ay, three kroner had come from Tobias alone!
And who was not there! That bright little girl of Davidsen’s had, of course, not passed out her handbills in town, already so carefully combed by the druggist’s apprentice; instead, she had gone out into the rural district, waited for church to let out and passed out her handbills there. A crafty idea on her part.
Naturally, all the officials and their families were present and the ladies would glance at the programme and ask each other questions concerning details they themselves seemed to find obscure. Cembalo? they said. Iliad? they said. “Yes, that must be a musical expression,” one of them answered. The pastor’s wife, Fru Landsen, sat there with her dove-like face and was dainty and petite, and she didn’t speak at all, and all she did was blush. And Gammelmoderen was there in her new dress from the store, as were all the rest of the Consul’s people. Each ticket had been paid for with a krone, but when Lawyer Pettersen arrived with his wife, he immediately announced his intention of entering free of charge, as head of the company which owned the theatre. There was some discussion; the druggist’s apprentice came dashing out of his booth and stood on his toes and was furious, and, when the lawyer and his wife, without further ado, went stalking into the theatre, the lad cried out through the open door to the assembled multitude: “Here come the only people who got in without paying!” No, that little apprentice, he was not to be trifled with. And even when the widow Solmund arrived with all her little ones and asked to go in free, he was forced to deny them permission. “It’s the principle of the thing,” said the druggist’s apprentice.
The performers had chosen for themselves a little room backstage and there they were now assembled. Each held a glass, and, over in one corner, Vendt was pouring from a number of bottles he had been thoughtful enough to provide. Vendt himself was talking, for the most part, in French.
Fru Hagen, the postmaster’s wife, glanced at the programme and looked up, startled. “Why, what in the world is this!” she exclaimed. “What do you mean, a string quintette?” she asked.
“String quintette and cembalo,” answered Holm.
Fru Hagen laughed desperately and asked: “But who — yes, I mean who will —?”
“I shall,” said Holm.
“Oh dear, I shall faint! Hahaha! See, Vendt? He is mad as I’ve told you!”
A quarter of an hour dragged by and, out in the theatre, the gentlemen in the audience were already glancing at their watches and muttering behind their hands that it was time for the show to begin. Doctor Lund was holding hands with his wife beneath the latter’s shawl.
In due time the accordion player arrived, a country boy in his early twenties, quiet and matter-of-fact, accustomed to playing for dances. Down front stood a table and two chairs and the lad, realizing at a glance that this was to be his station, strolled leisurely down the aisle, seated himself atop the table and immediately began to play.
A song which all in his parish could hum, not such a bad tune, either — grew better and better as it went along, two good bass notes, it had. His fellow-parishioners were loyal supporters of this music-man of theirs, and at the conclusion of his number a few of the younger element made strenuous attempts to get up a little applause; however, as no one took it up, they were embarrassed and slumped down in their seats.
The lad sat idle on the table for a brief while, swung his legs and coolly looked into the faces of the audience. Then, without further ado, he struck up again, this time something he had heard on a phonograph record — a winsome melody, Weber, a tune which was gentle to the ears. Fru Lund — little Esther from Polden — sat there trying to conceal the fact that she was moved.
And this constituted the first number on the programme.
The next was Hotelkeeper Vendt — a lecture which simply missed fire. No, he ought to have sat down by the table and merely told one of his stories. He made a great mistake by standing up. He was grandly attired in full-dress, but he ought to have recognized his own limitations. His act fell flat. Vendt well up in affairs? The class struggle, prohibition, the art of the theatre, the shipping industry? What, Vendt a politician, or a mere intellectual? To be sure, he lectured on none of these subjects, but he approached to within perilously close range of them all and he even took a few potshots at them. Not that he was downright terrible, for Vendt could never be that, and now and then, when he attempted to be funny, he was able to draw a chuckle from both the pastor and the magistrate. But anyone could have delivered just such a lecture and, at length, Vendt was sufficiently the artist to realize this himself. After a quarter of an hour, he broke off abruptly and disappeared. When a patter of applause ran through the audience, he turned and backed out of sight. Some there were who were with the man at this point — he had made his exit so charmingly!
The third number on the programme consisted of two gramophone records and this was because Fru Hagen had suddenly become nervous and had pitifully begged for a delay. Singular indeed that she, the only one equipped with genuine talent, should have been the only one afflicted with nervousness. And when her emotion had not subsided at the conclusion of the second gramophone record, confusion reigned backstage.
“Let’s take the first intermission!” said Vendt. He and the druggist were busy in the corner with certain bottles.
“No, let me sing now,” said Gina i Roten.
“Yes, God bless you, Gina dear, please do!” begged the postmaster’s wife.
But this required the presence of Druggist Holm as guitar accompanist, and, at the moment, he was truly in no fit condition to appear in public. He had unfortunately injured his finger, he said, look there, it was swollen. “Say, Karel, can’t you go in and play for Gina?” he asked.
“Ay,” said Karel, “if as you think me good enough.”
The audience was growing restless and the hum of voices was growing louder. Ah, but there came Gina i Roten and her husband! The house fell silent as the pair sat down by the table.
Renowned for her singing in church and at prayer meetings, she was. And tonight she was dressed a bit finer than usual in a green waist with large buttons up the front and a handsome home-made skirt in which she had once carried hay and which she had again borrowed for the present occasion. Her costume could not have been improved upon; it created the proper impression, for she was appearing as no more than a farmer’s wife from South Parish — God bless her, this was what she was, and this was good enough. Furthermore, she had had a glass of something which Vendt had handed her and a glow was in her blood.
Druggist Holm had been out to Roten a few times and had tried to teach her a few things. But she had probably not understood a word of his instruction, had said “Ay,” to all he had said and had hustled into her clothes as though the devil were after her. She had refused to learn a love song or a ballade because of the piety induced by her recent baptism — no, they would have to be satisfied with those hymns of hers. She could not sing, but she had a deep breast and a throat.
Karel began to strum “Den gamle kristelige Dagvise“; he could hardly be said to play, but he could harmonize, he could wheedle a good bit of music out of a mere guitar. Then Gina’s voice came in and Heavens, it was as though she had simply taken a chance and come in anywhere, regardless of the accompaniment!
One verse, two verses, three — ay, but the hymn had nine verses in all. Gina was generous and was going to sing them all. At the end of the fifth verse, the pastor rose from his seat in the first row, leaned far forward and begged her to pause for a breath. “Spare yourself a bit for the next hymn! You sing more beautifully than any other living creature, Gina!” he said.
“Yes! Yes!” cried people here and there in the audience.
Gina smiled back at him and, in conclusion, sang two watchman’s songs. Then she and her husband retired, according to instructions.
It was now time for Fru Hagen to make her appearance. Naturally her numbers went splendidly and everyone applauded. She returned to the “green room” as happy as a child. “I didn’t think I could do it!” she said, half-laughing, half-sobbing.
Vendt had, by this time, become so occupied with his bottles that he began to hum aloud.
“Shut up!” said Holm.
“I’m practicing,” replied Vendt. “Don’t you know that I have a French number to do?”
“So do all of us have numbers to do,” said Holm, insulted. “You’re forgetting my string quintette with cembalo.”
Fru Hagen clapped her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing.
They spent so much time talking, the audience became restless again. The programme now called for “The Iliad,” an accordion number with the singular title, “The Iliad.”
“What’s that?” asked the country lad who was scheduled to perform it.
“The most rousing march you can play,” said Holm. “Bismarck’s March. Karel will go out with you and yodel the melody.”
Karel apologized, and said that as a newly baptised man he could indulge in no such frivolity at this time.
Yes, but this was no frivolous number — it wasn’t a dance piece, it was a march, the next thing to a hymn! They succeeded in talking him over, gave him another glass, sent him out to face the audience.
This number was received with tumultuous applause; the younger element recognized their march, their musician and their yodeler — they stood on the seats and yelled their appreciation.
“Now I’m going on!” said Vendt, pulling himself together.
“It isn’t a moment too soon for my own number,” said Holm. “Après moi,” said Vendt, literally bubbling over with happy emotion.
“Good Lord!” whispered Fru Hagen, after he had gone on. “He’ll drive the audience away!”
They heard him sing “Je suis à vous, Madame.”
Dashed if he hadn’t made good his threat! Well, but there was at least one member of the audience who understood the words — Consul Gordon Tidemand — but not even he was familiar with the melody. . . . A voice which was forever failing to register the correct pitch. . . . Occasionally it had the quality of a properly vibrant string, but each time it would suddenly burst its bonds and end up in a high squeal. One would require a special talent to produce such ludicrous effects. Vendt himself noticed nothing unusual in his manner of singing; he sang, as it were, so innocently, and when he had finished, the audience applauded. And the applause, he likewise accepted in good faith. The audience must have clapped their hands to create the impression that they understood the French, though the language of the song was that used by the serving class in France.
Vendt bowed his thanks and beamingly returned to the others. From then on his superciliousness knew no bounds.
“What now?” asked the others.
“Intermission,” said Vendt.
After the intermission Fru Hagen made her second appearance. She was no longer nervous; she walked in, played her Mozart charmingly and received tumultuous applause. When she returned, she said: “I could have kept on all night!”
They looked at their watches. An hour and a half had elapsed since the opening number.
Vendt and the druggist were busy with their bottles; they poured each other drinks, swallowed them down, filled the others’ glasses and when they were empty offered to fill them again. “No thanks!” said Gina with a laugh. But she had become mellow and co-operative and, when the druggist urged her to sing love songs in place of the hymns listed for her second group, she turned to her husband and asked him what he thought of the idea. And yes, Karel had himself just finished another glass and was quite of the same opinion.
She began humming: “Venlige Aftenvind, flyv med min Klage hen til min Ven — Dear winds of eventide, bear to my lover my heart’s fond lament.”
Holm: “Splendid, Gina! And you, Karel, no doubt you can strum the accompaniment?”
“Ay, and that I can.”
“Oh, that will be delightful!” exclaimed Fru Hagen. “I’m going out front to listen. Adieu!”
As there were fourteen stanzas in the Sjømandsbrudens Klage, it was too much to expect that Gina should sing any more that evening. Holm said: “At the end of that song, they’ll clap like mad, you may be sure. You will turn to come back, but still they will go on applauding. When you get to the door here, just turn around and raise your hand a little — they’ll all fall silent at that. And then, Gina, just at that point, you will sing out that cow-call of yours. Do you understand?”
Gina smiled. “Will that go?” she asked.
“Will it go! Why, that will be a magnificent encore after all you have sung this evening, a splendid closing number for our programme. You must stand there just as you do on the knoll, calling in your cows in the evening.”
“Ay,” said Gina.
“What shall I do?” asked Karel.
“You’ll come back in here to us. Now go on out, both of you!”
They heard how gratefully the audience received this pair. Dead silence for a moment, then Gina lifted her voice. The miracle repeated itself. This time it was only the lament of a sailor’s bride, but it was vibrant with sweetness and sorrow. No one begged her to pause for a long breath this time; some sat there bravely with a smile on their faces, others made no effort to conceal their tears. Fourteen stanzas of love, the emotion which everyone recognized — the young people in the audience were probably at the time experiencing the divine madness themselves, whilst their elders sat there remembering the day — the day —
Holm was right, the house went wild with applause. Gina moved toward the door, followed by a continuing roar of applause. She turned and raised her hand and immediately the audience was silent. Expectantly they waited for something unusual to happen, and happen it did at once — an even-song of the moorland, from a knoll a voice which swept the moor, a song without words, but a perfect deluge of melody — Gina, calling home her creatures.
The audience realized that this was the final number. They applauded and rose from their chairs, continued to clap their hands as they stood moving toward the aisles. After the performance, a few remained standing about the entrance to discuss the entertainment.
Meanwhile Vendt and the druggist were settling a bit of an account backstage and, in truth, their affair might have degenerated into almost anything, but for the fact that the two were friends. They were furthermore fellow-Bergensers and were soon able to reconcile their differences.
Vendt, to begin with, spoke in friendly wise to the druggist: “Look here — it’s not to boast about myself — that’s certainly not my intention — but after the pleasure I’ve given, I’d like to remind you that — I mean, when Gina has finished singing, I don’t see why you —”
Holm, deeply wounded, yes, downright annoyed by the other’s exuberance: “I understand very well what you’re driving at, Vendt — you’re trying to discredit my act!”
“No, my dear fellow, don’t take it like that!”
“Shut up, I’ve known it the whole time. There was that little number of mine — string quintette with cembalo — but you were envious of me, you begrudged me my success — you were afraid that your own would —”
“Hey?” exploded Vendt.
“Yes, I’ll say it straight out. You begrudged me the roar of applause and all those cries of ‘Bravo!’ which you yourself didn’t get!”
Vendt, speechless with amazement: “— Did you ever hear anything to equal that, Fru Hagen!”
“Fru Hagen has gone,” said the druggist.
“Hm. But the accordion player is still with us. And he knows how warmly I was received. There were many who stood up to applaud.”
“Yes, but when I went on!” exclaimed Holm. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and they refused to let me go. But you, you never have a thought for anyone but yourself!”
Vendt, bored with the whole business: “That may all be, but I’m willing to let the audience decide between us. It was my hope to spare you, but now you can go right on and meet your fate!”
“Now?” sputtered Holm. “Now? Gina is singing now and after she is finished the show is over.”
“Over?” asked Vendt. “How so?” He drew a little song-book from his side pocket. “I have more to put on!” he said.
“I don’t doubt it. I had something myself, but —”
Vendt: “Very well, then, let’s see who’ll be next!”
But no, the performance was over and Holm was crushed — he had given up all thought of his number.
This touched Vendt. “All in all, nothing is ever over,” he said. “And I’m now of a mind to see that you get your chance. You and I will go on as a male chorus.”
“As a chorus?”
“And hold a singing contest.”
It was at this point that the audience had burst forth with a tumult of applause for Gina’s singing of the Sjømandsbrudens Klage. Karel came into the room and Vendt immediately offered him a drink. “You deserve it, Karel!” he said. “Where is Fru Hagen? We all deserve a little something,” he said and tossed off his own glass.
Gina was beginning her cow-call. An upward avalanche of tone. In a few minutes she had finished and herself returned to the “green room.”
Vendt said: “Come here, Gina. You deserve this! . . . Now we’ll go on, Holm!” He was highly emotional, ready to go through fire and water for his friend. “Come on!”
“Wouldn’t you rather be alone with it?” asked Holm.
“No, we’re a male chorus,” said Vendt.
He did not notice that the house was empty, that only a few stragglers had halted at the door; he was absorbed in his own thoughts and was madly pawing through his song-book as he made his way out to the table. He pawed through the book from cover to cover, then began again back at the beginning. “Sit down!” he said to Holm.
They took their seats, one at either side of the table.
“I can’t seem to find anything,” said Vendt. “We’ll have to take the alphabet for our text!”
“The devil!” said Holm. “The alphabet?”
Vendt began singing at once; he was uncontrollable and would stop at nothing. A hair-raising hymn to life it proved to be, and quite unlike any other song in this world, including even itself. Holm followed as best he could and got in many a splendid howl, though as a minnesinger he held no brief for his own powers. Possibly he had too good an ear for music. . . .
One of those who had paused at the door was Pastor Ole Landsen. “They’re drunk,” he said. But he did not flee because of it. On the contrary, Pastor Landsen found a seat and sat down.
Of course they were drunk. As though neither of them knew the alphabet by heart, they primly sang from the book which they held between them across the table.
Their little informal audience at the door began to laugh and their laughter increased as the song went on. Oh those two monkeys! And the pastor laughed as loudly as any of the others. What else could he do? The text of this song differed radically from every known form of lyric and the resulting melody was imbued with all the frightful wantonness of modern jazz. But in this instance, at least, the art was quite unpremeditated, there was no attempt to endow it with significance; the song was uttered impromptu and the jazz effect was considerably enhanced by Vendt’s miraculously breaking voice. . . . This was no game, it was as serious as nature itself. The two men were drunk and were becoming more and more forgetful of where they were.
Coming to the letter Q, Vendt began to show signs of emotion; his mood was contagious and even the druggist was soon deeply touched. At the back of the house their audience was moaning with laughter. The singers were giving of their best; each waved his free hand gently to and fro during tender and plaintive passages. They sang the concluding letters of the alphabet in a manner which was downright voluptuous and with tears streaming down their cheeks.
The pastor, too, had tears trickling down the countless wrinkles of his face — tears of laughter.
When their last notes died away, Vendt returned the book to his pocket, rose and staggered “off stage.” The druggist followed him with his eyes; he had probably gained the faint impression that there were people at the back of the theatre and it was his thought to save what still could be saved. He carefully took his bearings and, without staggering, made a dash for the door.
The place seemed empty after the departure of the pair. Down front now stood simply a table and two chairs. At the back of the hall a small group of people still stood and laughed, held their sides and explained to each other the particular things they were laughing at. —“Those mad fellows!” they said.
“Yes,” answered Pastor Ole Landsen. “But there are worse things we can do to each other than to make each other laugh.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09