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Title: Fair Haven and Foul Strand
Author: Strindberg, August, 1849-1912
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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FAIR HAVEN

AND

FOUL STRAND

BY

AUGUST STRINDBERG

NEW YORK

MCBRIDE, NAST & COMPANY

MCMXIV



CONTENTS

FAIR HAVEN AND FOUL STRAND
THE DOCTOR'S FIRST STORY
THE DOCTOR'S SECOND STORY
HERR BENGT'S WIFE



FAIR HAVEN AND FOUL STRAND


The quarantine doctor was a man of five-and-sixty, well-preserved,
short, slim and elastic, with a military bearing which recalled the
fact that he had served in the Army Medical Corps. From birth he
belonged to the eccentrics who feel uncomfortable in life and are never
at home in it. Born in a mining district, of well-to-do but stern
parents, he had no pleasant recollections of his childhood. His father
and mother never spoke kindly, even when there was occasion to do so,
but always harshly, with or without cause. His mother was one of those
strange characters who get angry about nothing. Her anger arose without
visible cause, so that her son sometimes thought she was not right in
her head, and sometimes that she was deaf and could not hear properly,
for occasionally her response to an act of kindness was a box on the
ears. Therefore the boy became mistrustful towards people in general,
for the only natural bond which should have united him to humanity
with tenderness, was broken, and everything in life assumed a hostile
appearance. Accordingly, though he did not show it, he was always in a
posture of defence.

At school he had friends, but since he did not know how sincerely
he wished them well, he became submissive, and made all kinds of
concessions in order to preserve his faith in real friendship. By so
doing he let his friends encroach so much that they oppressed him and
began to tyrannise over him. When matters came to this point, he went
his own way without giving any explanations. But he soon found a new
friend with whom the same story was repeated from beginning to end. The
result was that later in life he only sought for acquaintances, and
grew accustomed to rely only upon himself. When he was confirmed, and
felt mature and responsible through being declared ecclesiastically of
age, an event happened which proved a turning-point in his life. He
came home too late for a meal and his mother received him with a shower
of blows from a stick. Without thinking, the young man raised his hand,
and gave her a box on the ear. For a moment mother and son confronted
each other, he expecting the roof to fall in or that he would be struck
dead in some miraculous way. But nothing happened. His mother went
out as though nothing had occurred, and behaved afterwards as though
nothing unusual had taken place between them.

Later on in life when this affair recurred to his memory, he wondered
what must have passed through her mind. She had cast one look to the
ceiling as though she sought there for something--an invisible hand
perhaps, or had she resigned herself to it, because she had at last
seen that it was a well-deserved retribution, and therefore not called
him to account? It was strange, that in spite of desperate efforts to
produce pangs of conscience, he never felt any self-reproach on the
subject. It seemed to have happened without his will, and as though it
must happen.

Nevertheless, it marked a boundary-line in his life. The cord was cut
and he fell out in life alone, away from his mother and domesticity. He
felt as though he had been born without father and mother. Both seemed
to him strangers whom he would have found it most natural to call Mr
and Mrs So-and-so. At the University he at once noticed the difference
between his lot and that of his companions. They had parents, brothers,
and sisters; there was an order and succession in their life. They had
relations to their fellow-men and obeyed secret social laws. They felt
instinctively that he did not belong to their fold.

When as a young doctor he acted on behalf of an army medical officer
for some time, he felt at once that he was not in his proper place, and
so did the officers. The silent resistance which he offered from the
first to their imperiousness and arbitrary ways marked him out as a
dissatisfied critic, and he was left to himself.

In the hospital it was the same. Here he perceived at once the fateful
predestination of social election, those who were called and those who
were not called. It seemed as though the authorities could discern
by scent those who were congenial to them. And so it was everywhere.
He started a practice as a ladies' doctor, but had no luck, for he
demanded straightforward answers to his questions, and those he never
received. Then he became impatient, and was considered brutal. He
became a Government sanitary officer in a remote part of the country,
and since he was now independent of his patients' favour, he troubled
himself still less about pleasing them. Presently he was transferred to
the quarantine service, and was finally stationed at Skamsund.

When he had come here, now seventeen years ago, he at once began to
be at variance with the pilots, who, as the only authorities on the
island, indulged themselves in many acts of arbitrariness towards the
inhabitants. The quarantine doctor loved peace and quietness like other
men, but he had early learnt that warfare is necessary; and that it
is no use simply to be passive as regards one's rights, but that one
must defend them every day and every hour of the day. Since he was a
new-comer they tried to curtail his authority and deprive him of his
small privileges. The chief pilot had a prescriptive right to half
the land, but the quarantine doctor had in his bay a small promontory
where the pilots used to moor their private boats and store their
fishing implements. The doctor first ascertained his legal rights in
the matter, and when he found out that he had the sole right of using
the promontory and that the pilots could store their fishing-tackle
elsewhere, he went to the chief pilot and gave them a friendly
notice to quit. When he saw that mere politeness was of no avail, he
took stronger measures, had the place cleared and fenced off by his
servants, turned it into a garden, and erected a simple pavilion in
it. The pilots hailed petitions on the Government, but the matter was
decided in his favour. The result was a lifelong enmity between him and
the pilots. The quarantine doctor was shut in on his promontory and
himself placed in quarantine. There he had now remained for seventeen
years, but not in peace, for there was always strife. Either his dog
fought with the pilots' dog, or their fowls came into his garden, or
they ran their boats ashore on each other's ground. Thus he was kept in
a continual state of anger and excitement, and even if there ever was
quiet for a moment outside the house, inside there was the housekeeper.
They had quarrelled for seventeen years, and once every week she had
packed her things in order to go. She was a tyrant and insisted that
her master should have sugar in all his sauces, even with fresh cod.
During all the seventeen years she had not learnt how to boil an egg
but wished the doctor to learn to eat half-raw eggs, which he hated.
Sometimes he got tired of quarrelling, and then everything went on in
Kristin's old way. He would eat raw potatoes, stale bread, sour cream
and such-like for a whole week and admire himself as a Socrates; then
his self-respect awoke and he began to storm again. He had to storm
in order to get the salt-cellar placed on the table, to get the doors
shut, to get the lamps filled with oil. The lamp-chimneys and wicks he
had to clean himself, for that she could not learn.

"You are a cow, Kristin! You are a wretch who cannot value kindness.
Do you like me to storm? Do you know that I abominate myself when I
am obliged to get so excited. You make me bad, and you are a poisonous
worm. I wish you had never been born, and lay in the depths of the
earth. You are not a human being for you cannot learn; you are a cow,
that you are! You will go? Yes, go to the deuce, where you came from!"

But Kristin never went. Once indeed she got as far as the steamer
bridge, but turned round and entered the wood, whence the doctor had to
fetch her home.

The doctor's only acquaintance was the postmaster at Fagervik, an old
comrade of his student days, who came over every Saturday evening.
Then the two drank and gossiped till past midnight and the postmaster
remained till Sunday morning. They certainly did not look at life and
their fellow-men from the same point of view, for the postmaster was
a decided member of the Left Party, and the doctor was a sceptic, but
their talk suited each other so well, that their conversation was like
a part-song, or piece of music, for two voices, in which the voices,
although varying, yet formed a harmony. The doctor, with his wider,
mental outlook, sometimes expressed disapproval of his companion's
sentiments somewhat as follows:

"You party-men are like one-eyed cats. Some see only with the
left eye, others with the right, and therefore you can never see
stereoscopically, but always flat and one-sidedly."

They were both great newspaper readers and followed the course of all
questions with eagerness. The most burning question, however, was the
religious one, for the political ones were settled by votes in the
Reichstag and came to an end, but the religious questions never ended.
The postmaster hated pietists and temperance advocates.

"Why the deuce do you hate the pietists?" the doctor would say. "What
harm have they done you? Let them enjoy themselves; it doesn't affect
me."

"They are all hypocrites," said the postmaster dogmatically.

"No," answered the doctor, "you cannot judge, for you have never been
a pietist, but I have, and I was--deuce take me--no hypocrite. But I
don't do it again. That is to say--one never knows, for it comes over
one, or does not--it all depends on----"

"On what?"

"Hard to say. Pietism, for the rest, is a kind of European Buddhism.
Both regard the world as an unclean place of punishment for the soul.
Therefore they seek to counteract material influences, and in that
they are not so wrong. That they do not succeed is obvious, but the
struggle itself deserves respect. Their apparent hypocrisy results from
the fact that they do not reach the goal they aim at, and their life
always halts behind their teaching. That the priests of the church hate
them is clear, for our married dairy farmers, card players and good
diners do not love these apostles who show their unnecessariness and
their defects. You know our clergy out there on the islands; I need
not gossip about them, for you know. There you have the hypocrites,
especially among the unfortunates, who after going through their
examination have lost faith in all doctrines."

"Yes, but the pietists are enemies to culture."

"No, I don't find that. When I came to this island it was inhabited by
three hundred besotted beasts who led the life of devils. And now--you
see for yourself. They are not lovable nor lively, but they are, at
any rate, quiet, so that one can sleep at night; and they don't fight,
so that one can walk about the island without fear for one's life and
limbs. In a word, the simplest blessings of civilisation were the
distinct result of the erection of the prayer-house."

"The prayer-house which you never enter!"

"No, I don't belong to that fold. But have you ever been there?"

"I? No!"

"You should hear them once at any rate."

"Why?"

"You daren't!"

"Daren't! Is it dangerous?"

"So they say!"

"Not for me."

"Shall we wager a barrel of punch?"

The postmaster reflected an instant, not so much on the punch as on the
doctor's suspecting him of cowardice.

"Done! I will go there on Friday. And you can carry the punch home in a
boat, if you see anything go wrong with me."

The day came and the postmaster ate his dinner with the doctor, before
he took his way, as agreed, to the prayer-house. He had told no one of
his intention, partly because he feared that the preacher might aim at
him, partly because he did not wish to get the reputation of being a
pietist. After dinner he borrowed a box of snuff to keep himself awake,
in spite of the doctor's assurance that he would not have any chance of
sleeping. And so he went.

The doctor walked about his garden waiting for the result of the
experiment to which many a stronger man than the postmaster had
succumbed. He waited for an hour and a half; he waited two hours; he
waited three. Then at last he saw the congregation coming out--a sign
that it was over. But the postmaster did not appear. The doctor became
uneasy. Another hour passed, and at last he saw his friend coming out
of the wood. He came with a somewhat artificial liveliness and there
was something forced in the springiness of his gait. When he saw the
doctor, he made a slight wriggling movement with his legs, and shrugged
his shoulders as though his clothes were too tight for him.

"Well?" asked the doctor. "It was tedious, wasn't it?"

"Yes," was the only answer.

They went down to the pavilion and took their seats opposite each
other, although the postmaster was shy of showing his face, into which
a new expression had come.

"Give me a pinch of snuff," said the doctor slyly.

The postmaster drew out the snuff-box, which had been untouched.

"You did not sleep?" resumed the doctor.

The postmaster felt embarrassed.

"Well, old fellow, you are not cheerful! What is the matter? Stop a
minute!" The doctor indicated with his forefinger the space between
his friend's eyes and nose as though he wished to show him something,
"I believe ... you have been crying!"

"Nonsense!" answered the postmaster, and straightened himself up. "But,
at any rate, you know I am not easily befooled, but as I said that
fellow is a wizard."

"Tell us, tell us! Fancy your believing in wizards!"

"Yes, it was so strange." He paused for a while and continued:

"Can you imagine it? He preached, as was to be expected, especially
to me. And in the middle of his preaching he told me all the secrets
which, like everyone else, I have kept most jealously hidden from my
childhood's days and earlier. I felt that I reddened, and that the
whole congregation looked at me as though they knew it also, which is
quite impossible. They nodded, keeping time with his words and looking
at me simultaneously. Yes, they turned round on their seats. Even
regarded as witchcraft it was----"

"Yes, yes, I know it, and therefore I take care. What it is I don't
know, but it is something which I keep at arm's length. And it is
the same with Swedenborg. I sat once in an ante-room waiting for
admission. Behind me stood a book-case from which a book projected and
prevented me from leaning my head back. I took the book down and it was
part of Swedenborg's 'Arcana Coelestia.' I opened it at random and--can
you imagine it? in two minutes a subject which just then occupied my
thoughts was explained to me in such detail and with an almost alarming
amount of expert knowledge, that it was quite uncanny. In two minutes I
was quite clear regarding myself and my concerns."

"Well, tell us about it."

"No, I won't. You know yourself that the life we live in thought is
secret, and what we experience in secret.... Yes, we are not what we
seem."

"No." His friend broke in hastily. "No; our actions are very easy to
control, but our thoughts ... ugh!"

"And thoughts are the deeds of the mind, as I have read somewhere. With
our silent, evil thoughts we can infect others; we can transfer our
evil purposes to others who execute them. Do you remember the case of
the child murderess here ten years ago?"

"No, I was away then."

"She was a young children's nurse, innocent, fond of children, and had
always been kind, as was elicited in examination. During the summer
she was in the service of an actress up there in Fagervik. In August
she was arrested for child murder. I was present in court when she was
examined. She could not assign any reason for her action. But the judge
wished to find out the reason, since she had no personal motive for it.
The witnesses declared that she had loved the child, and she admitted
it. At her second examination she was beside herself with remorse and
horror at the terrible deed, but still behaved as though she were
not really guilty, although she assumed the responsibility for the
crime. At the third examination the judge tried to help her, and put
the question, 'How did the idea come to you of murdering an innocent
child whom you loved? Think carefully!' The girl cast a look of despair
round the court, but when her eyes rested on the mother of the child,
the actress, who was present for the first time, she answered the
judge simply and naturally. 'I believe that my mistress wished it.'
You should have seen the woman's face as these words were uttered. It
seemed to me that her clothes dropped from her and she stood there
exposed, and for the first time I thought of the abysmal depths of the
human soul, over which a judge must walk with bandaged eyes, for he has
no right to punish us in our interior life of thought; there we punish
ourselves and that is what the pietists do."

"What you say is true enough, but I know also that my inner life is
sometimes higher and purer than my outward life."

"I grant it. I have also an idea of my better ego, which is the best I
know.... But tell me, what have you been doing for a whole hour in the
wood?"

"I was thinking."

"You are not going to be a pietist, I suppose," broke in the doctor as
he filled his glass.

"No, not I."

"But you no longer think the pietists are humbugs?"

To this the postmaster made no reply. But the drinking did not go
briskly that evening, and the conversation was on higher topics than
usual. Towards ten o'clock a terrible howling like that of wild beasts
came over the Sound. It was from the garden of the hotel in Fagervik.
Both the philosophers glanced in that direction.

"They are the crews of the cutters, of course," said the postmaster.
"They are certainly fighting too. Yes, Fagervik is going down because
of the rows at night. The holiday visitors run away for they cannot
sleep, and they have thought of closing the beer-shops." "And of
opening a prayer-house, perhaps?"

This question also remained unanswered, and they parted without knowing
exactly how they stood with each other.

Meanwhile the report spread in Fagervik that the postmaster had been to
the prayer-house, and when the next afternoon he found himself in his
little circle at the hotel with the custom-house officer and the chief
pilot, they greeted him with the important news:

"So! you have become a pietist!"

The postmaster parried the thrust with a jest, swore emphatically that
it was untrue, and as a proof emptied his glass more thoroughly than
usual.

"But you have been there."

"I was curious."

"Well, what did they say?"

The postmaster's face darkened, and as they continued to jest it
occurred to him that it was cowardly and contemptible to mock at what
in his opinion did not deserve mockery. Therefore he said seriously and
decidedly: "Leave me in peace! I am not a pietist, but I think highly
of them."

That was tantamount to a confession, and like an iron curtain something
fell between him and his friends. The expression of their faces
changed, and they seemed all at once strange to him. It was the most
curious experience he had had, and it was painful at the same time.

He kept away for a few days and seemed to be in an introspective mood.
After that, by degrees, he resumed his old relations to them, came
again to the hotel, and was gradually the same as before, but not
quite. For he had "pricked up his ears" as the phrase goes.

The Saturday evening _tête-à-tête_ were resumed as before. Now that the
postmaster had become more serious, and showed interest in the deeper
things of life, the doctor considered the time had come to communicate
to him some of the stock of observations which he had made on human
life, without any reference to his own particular experience. It was
reported that he had been married and had children but no one knew
exactly the facts of the case.

After he had satisfied himself that the postmaster liked being read
to aloud, he ventured to suggest to him that they should spend the
Saturday evenings in this higher form of recreation, after they had
first exchanged opinions on the questions of the day, as suggested by
the events of the week. The subject-matter read would then provide
occasion for further explanations and expressions of thought.

Accordingly, on Saturday evening after supper, while the weather
outside was cold and wet, they sat in the best room of the doctor's
house. After searching for some time in a cupboard the doctor fished
out a manuscript; at the last moment he hesitated--perhaps because it
was autobiographical. In order to give himself courage he began with
some preliminary remarks.

"I don't think that, in your recollection, I have expressed my views
on a certain question--the most important one of our time. This
question, which touches the deepest things in life, and is treated most
superficially because it is taken up in a spirit of partisanship.... I
mean----"

"Nevermind! I know!"

"You are afraid of it, but I am not, for it is no question for me, but
a riddle or an insoluble problem. You know that there are insoluble
problems whose insolubility can be proved, but still men continue to
investigate the unsearchable."

"Come to the point! Let us argue afterwards."

"And they have tried to make laws to regulate the behaviour of married
people to each other; that is as though one should lay down rules for
forming a friendship or falling in love. Well and good! I will tell you
a story or two, and then we shall see whether the matter comes under
the head of consideration at all, or whether the usual laws of thought
apply in this case."

"Very well."

"One thing more. Don't think because quarantine is mentioned in the
story that it is my story. That is buried deeper. Now we will begin."



THE DOCTOR'S FIRST STORY



I


They had gone off, taken the almost matter-of-course flight. An outcry
rang through their social circle; people pressed their hands to the
region of their heart, shuddered, lamented, condemned, according as
each had figured to him or herself the terrible tragedy which had been
played; two hearts had been torn asunder, two families raged against
each other; there was a lonely husband and a deserted child; a desolate
home, a career destroyed, entangled affairs which could not be put
straight, and broken friendships. Two men were sitting in a restaurant
and discussing the affair.

"But why did they run away? I think it disgusting!"

"On the contrary! I consider that ordinary decency requires that they
should leave the field to the irreproachable husband; then at any rate
they need not meet in the streets. Besides, it is more honest to be
divorced than to form an illicit tie."

"But why could they not keep their faith and vows? We for our part
hold out for life through grief and joy."

"Yes, and how does it look afterwards? Like an old bird's-nest in
autumn! Other times, other manners."

"But it is terrible in any case."

"Not least for the runaways. Now it will be the turn of the man who
took all the consequences on himself. He will be paid out."

"And so will she."

       *       *       *       *       *

The story was as follows. The now divorced married pair had met three
years before in a watering-place, and passed through all the stages
of being in love in the normal way. They discovered, as usual, that
they had been born for the special purpose of meeting each other
and wandering through life hand in hand. In order to be worthy of
her he gave up all doubtful habits and refined his language and his
morals. She seemed to him an angel sent by God to open his eyes and to
point him upwards. He overcame the usual difficulties regarding the
publishing of the banns, convinced that those very difficulties were
placed in his way in order to give him an opportunity of showing his
courage and energy.

They read the scandalous anonymous letters which generally follow
engagements together, and put them in the fire. She wept, it is true,
over the wickedness of men, but he said the purpose of it was to test
their faith in each other.

The period of their betrothal was one long intoxication. He declared
that he did not need to drink any more, for her presence made him
literally drunk. Once in a way they felt the weirdness of the solitude
which surrounded them, for their friends had given them up, considering
themselves superfluous.

"Why do people avoid us?" she asked one evening as they walked outside
the town.

"Because," he answered, "men run away when they see happiness."

They did not notice that they themselves avoided intercourse with
others, as they actually did. He, especially, showed a real dread of
meeting his old bachelor friends, for they seemed to him like enemies,
and he saw their sceptical grimaces, which were only too easy to
interpret.

"See! there he is caught! To think of the old rascal letting himself be
hoodwinked!" etc. For the young bachelors were of the opinion then, as
now, that love was a piece of trickery which sooner or later must be
unmasked.

But the conversation of the betrothed pair kept them above the
banalities of everyday life, and they lived, as people say rightly,
above the earth. But they began to feel afraid of the solitude which
surrounded them and drove them together. They tried to go among other
people, partly from the need of showing their happiness, and partly to
quiet themselves. But when after the theatre they entered a restaurant,
and she arranged her hair at the glass in the hall, he felt as though
she was adorning herself for strangers. And when they sat down at the
table, he became instantaneously silent, for her face assumed a new
expression which was strange to him. Her glances seemed to parry the
looks of strangers. They both became silent, and his face wore an
anxious expression. It was a dismal supper, and they soon left.

When they came out she asked, somewhat out of humour at being
disappointed of a pleasure, "Are you vexed with me?"

"No, my dear, I cannot be vexed with you. But I bleed inwardly when I
see young fellows desecrate you with their looks." So their visits to
the restaurant ceased.

The weeks before the marriage were spent in arranging their future
dwelling. They had discussed carpets and curtains, had interviewed
workmen and shopmen, and in so doing had descended from their ideal
heights. Now they wanted to go out to get rid of these prosaic
impressions. So they went, but with that ominous silence when the heads
of a pair feel empty and someone seems to walk between them. He tried
to rally himself and put her in good spirits but unsuccessfully.

"I hang too heavily upon you," she said, and let go of his arm. He did
not answer, for he really felt some relief. That annoyed her and she
drew nearer the wall. The conversation was at an end, and they soon
found themselves before her door.

"Good night," she said curtly.

"Good night," he replied with equal curtness, and they parted obviously
to their mutual relief. This time there was no kiss in the passage and
he did not wait outside the glass door to watch her slender figure move
gracefully up the first flight of stairs.

He went down the street with an elastic gait and drawing a deep
breath of relief. He felt released from something oppressive, which
nevertheless had been charming for three months. Pulling himself
together, he mentally picked up the dropped threads of a past which now
seemed strong and sincere. He hurried on, his ego exulted, and both his
arms, as they swung, felt like wings.

That the affair was over he felt no doubt, but he saw no reason for
it, and with wide-awake consciousness confronted a fact which he
unhesitatingly accepted. When he came near his door he met an old
friend whom, without further ado, he took by the arm, and invited to
share his simple supper and to talk. His friend looked astonished, but
followed him up the stairs.

They ate and drank, smoked and chatted till midnight, discussing every
variety of topic, old reminiscences and affairs of State, the Reichstag
and political economy. There was not a word regarding his betrothal and
marriage, or even an allusion to them. It was a very enjoyable evening
and he seemed to have gone back three months in his life. He noticed
that his voice assumed a more manly tone, that he spoke his thoughts
straight out as they came, without having to take the trouble to round
off the corners of strong words to emphasise some expressions, and
soften down others in order not to give offence. He felt as though he
had found himself again, thrown off a strait-jacket, and laid aside a
mask. He accompanied his friend downstairs to open the house-door.

"Well, you will be married in eight days," said the latter with the
usual sceptical grimace. It was as though he had pressed a button and
the door slammed to in answer.

When he came to his room, he felt seized with disgust; he took the
things off the table, cleared up, swept the room, and then became
conscious of what he had lost, and how low he had sunk.

He felt he had been unfaithful to his betrothed, because he had given
his soul to another, even though that other was a man. He had lost
something better than that which he thought he had gained. What he had
found again was merely his old selfish, inconsiderate, comfortable,
everyday ego, with its coarseness and uncleanness, which his friend
liked because it suited his own.

And now it was all over, and the link broken for ever! The great
solitude would resume its sway, the ugly bachelor life begin again.
It did not occur to him to sit down and write a letter, for he felt
it would be useless. Therefore he tried to weary himself in order to
obtain sleep, soaked his whole head in cold water, and so went to
bed. The little ceremony of winding up his watch made, to-night, a
peculiar impression on him. Everything had to be renewed at night, even
time itself. Perhaps her love only needed a night's rest in order to
recommence.

When he awoke the following morning, the sun shone into the room. An
indescribable feeling of quietness had taken possession of him, and he
felt that life was good as it was, yes, better to-day than usual, for
his soul felt at home again after a long excursion. He dressed himself
and went to his office, opened his letters, read the newspaper, and
felt quite calm all the time. But this unnatural calm began at last to
make him uneasy. He felt an increasing nervousness and a feverishness
over his whole body. The vacuum began to be filled again with her soul;
the electric band had been stretched, and the stream cut off, but it
was still there; there had only been a break in the current, and now
all the recollections rushed upon him, all their beautiful and great
experiences, all the elevated feelings and great thoughts which they
had amassed together, all the dream-world in which they had lived, so
unlike the present world of prose where they now found themselves.

With a feeling of despair he betook himself to his correspondence
in order to conceal his emotions, and began to answer letters with
calmness, order, and clearness. Offers were accepted on certain
conditions, and declined on definite grounds. He went into questions of
coffee and sugar, exchange prices and accounts with unusual clearness
and decision.

A clerk brought him a letter, which he saw at once was from her.

"The messenger waits for an answer," he said.

Without looking up from his desk, the merchant had at once decided and
replied: "He needn't wait."

In that moment he had said to himself: "Explanations, reproaches,
accusations--how can I answer such things?"

And the letter lay unopened while his business correspondence went on
with stormy celerity.

       *       *       *       *       *

When his fiancée had parted from him on the previous evening her first
emotion had been anger--anger to think that he, the merchant, had
dared to despise her. She herself belonged to an official's family
and had dreamt of playing a rôle in society. His warm and faithful
affection had made her gradually forget this. Since he was never weary
of telling her what an ennobling influence she exercised on his life,
and since she herself perceived how he became refined and beautiful
under her hand, she felt herself to be a higher being. His steady
veneration kindled her self-esteem and she grew and blossomed in the
sunshine which his love spread around her. When that was suddenly
extinguished, it grew cold and dark around her; she felt herself
dwindle down to her original insignificance, shrivel and disappear.
This discovery that she had been the victim of an error and that
his love was the cause of her new life and the enlargement of her
personality, aroused her hatred against the man who had given her
such clear proof that her existence depended on him and on his love.
Now that he was no longer her lover, he became the tradesman whom she
despised.

"A fellow who sells coffee and sugar!" she said to herself, as she fell
asleep, "I could change him for a better one."

But when she awoke after a good night's sleep, she felt alarmed at the
disgrace of being given up. A broken engagement, after two offers,
would always cast a shadow over her life and make it difficult to
procure another fiancé.

In a spiteful mood she sat down to write the letter, in which in a
lofty, insulting tone she demanded an explanation, and at the same time
asked him to come and see her.

When the messenger returned with the news that there was no answer she
fell in a rage, and prepared to go out. She intended to find him in his
office, where she had never yet been, and before the eyes of his clerks
throw his ring on the ground to show how deeply she despised him. So
she went.

She stood outside the door and knocked. But since no one opened or
answered she entered and stood in the hall. Through the glass pane of
the inner door she saw her betrothed bending over the large ledger,
his face intent and serious. She had never seen him at work before.
And when at work every man, even the most insignificant, is imposing.
Sacred work, which makes a man what he is, invested his appearance with
the dignity of concentrated strength, and she was seized with a feeling
of respect for him which she could not throw off.

Just then he was inspecting in the ledger the entries of the expenses
of furnishing their house.

They had absorbed his savings during the ten years he had been in
business, and though not petty-minded, he thought with sorrow and
bitterness, how they were all thrown away. He sighed and looked up
in order not to see the tell-tale figures. Then, all of a sudden, he
noticed behind the glass pane of the door, like a crayon drawing in a
frame, a pale face and two large eyes full of an expression of pain
and sympathy. He rose and stood reverently, mute in his great, virile
grief, interrogative and trembling. Then he saw in her looks how the
lost love had returned, and with that all was said.

When after a while they were walking past Skeppsholm, bright with their
recovered happiness, he asked: "What happened to us yesterday?" (He
said "us" for he did not wish to raise the question whose fault it
was.)

"I don't know; I cannot explain it; but it was the most terrible
experience I have had. We will never do it again!"

"No! we will never do it again. And now, Ebba, it is for our whole
lives, you and I!"

She pressed his arm, fully convinced that after this fiery trial,
nothing in the world could separate them, so far as it depended on
themselves.



II


And they were married. But instead of hiding their happiness in
their beautiful clean home, they set out on a journey among strange,
indifferent, curious, and even hostile people. Then they went from
hotel to hotel, were stared at at tables d'hôte, got headaches in
museums, and in the evening were dumb with fatigue and put out of
humour by mishaps.

Tom away from his work and his surroundings, the industrious man found
it difficult to collect himself. When his thoughts went back to the
business matters which he had left in the hands of others, he was
inattentive and tiresome. They both longed for home, but were ashamed
to return and to be received with ridicule.

The first week they occupied the time by talking over the
recollections of their engagement; during the second week they
discussed the journeys of the first. They never lived in the present
but in the past. When there was an interval of dullness or silence
he had always comforted her with the thought that their intercourse
would be easier when they had amassed a store of common memories,
and had learnt to avoid each other's antipathies. Meanwhile, out of
consideration, they had borne with these and suppressed their own
peculiarities and weaknesses as well-brought-up people usually do.
This led to a feeling of restraint and being on one's guard which was
exhausting; and the time had come for making important discoveries.
Since he possessed more self-control than she did, he was careful
not to say too much, but concealed one inclination and habit after
another, while she revealed all hers. As he loved her, he wished to
be agreeable, and therefore learned to be silent. The result was that
with all her inherited habits, peculiarities, and prejudices she had
so insinuated herself into his life that he began to feel himself
attenuated and annihilated.

One evening the young wife was seized with a sudden desire to praise
her sister, a hateful coquette, whom her husband disliked because
she had tried, from selfish motives, to break their engagement. He
listened to his wife in respectful silence, now and then murmuring an
indistinct assent. At last his wife's praise of her sister mounted to
a paean, and though he thought her affection for her relatives a fine
trait in her character, he could not entirely place himself in her
skin nor see with her eyes. So he took refuge in the kind of silence
which is more eloquent than plain words. This silence was accompanied
by a gnawing of the lips and a violent perspiration. All the words and
opinions he had suppressed found mute expression in these movements
of his lips--he merely "marked time" as actors say--and the breaths
which were not used in forming words, he emitted through his nose.
Simultaneously the pores of his skin opened as so many safety-valves
for his suppressed emotions, and it became really unpleasant to have
him at the table.

The young wife did not conceal her annoyance, for she feared no
revenge. She made an ugly gesture, which always ill becomes a woman;
she held her nose with both fingers, looking around to those present as
if to ask whether she was not right!

Her husband became pale, rose, and went out. Several people were
sitting close by who witnessed the unpleasant scene. When he came out
on the streets of the foreign town, he unbuttoned his waistcoat and
breathed freely. And then his thoughts took their own course ruthlessly.

"I am becoming a hypocrite simply out of consideration for her. One
lie is piled up on another, and some day it will all come down with a
crash. What a coarse woman she is! And it was from her that I believed
I should learn and be refined into a higher being. It is all optical
delusion and deceit. All this 'love' is merely a piece of trickery on
the part of nature to dazzle one's sight."

He tried to picture to himself what was now happening in the
dining-room. She would naturally weep and appeal with her eyes to those
present as if to ask whether she was not very unfortunate with such a
husband. It was indeed her habit so to appeal with her eyes, and when
he expected an answer from her, she always turned her looks on those
around as if asking for help against her oppressor. He was always
treated as a tyrant, although out of pure kindness he had made himself
her slave. There was no help for it!

He found himself down by the harbour, and caught sight of the
swimming-baths--that was just what he wanted. Quickly he plunged into
the sea, and swam far out into the darkness. His soul, tortured by
mosquito-stings and nettle-pricks, was able to cool itself, and he felt
how he left a wake of dirt behind him. He lay on his back and gazed at
the starry sky, but at the same moment heard a whistling and splashing
behind him. It was a great steamer coming in, and he had to get out of
the way to save His life. He made for the lamp-lit shore and saw the
hotel with all its lights.

When he had dressed, he felt an unmeasured sorrow--sorrow over his lost
paradise. At the same time all bitterness had passed away.

In this mood he entered his room and found his wife seated at the
writing-table. She rose and threw herself into his arms without a word
of apology; naturally enough he did not desire it, and she had no idea
of having done wrong.

They sat down and wept together over their vanished love, for that it
had gone there was no doubt. But it had gone without their will, and
they sorrowed over it, as over some dear friend which they had not
killed but could not save. They were confronted by a fact before which
they were helpless; love the good genius who magnifies every trifle,
rejuvenates what is old, beautifies what is ugly, had abandoned them,
and life stretched before them in naked monotony.

But it did not occur to them that they would be separated or were
separated, for their grief itself was an experience they shared, which
held them together. They were also united in a common grudge against
Fate, which had so deceived them in their tenderest emotions. In their
great dejection they were not capable of such a strong feeling as hate.
They only felt resentment and indignation at Fate, which was their
scapegoat and lightning-conductor.

They had never talked so harmoniously and so intimately before, and
while their voices assumed a more affectionate tone, they formed a firm
resolve to go home and commence their domestic life. He talked himself
into a state of enthusiasm at the thought of home, where one could
exclude all evil influences, and where peace and harmony would reign.
She also dilated on the same topic with similar warmth till they had
forgotten their sorrow. And when they had forgotten it, they smiled
as before, and behold! love was again there, and not dead at all; its
death was also a delusion and so was all their grief.



III


He had realised his youthful dream of a wife and a home, and for eight
days the young wife also thought that her dream had come true. But on
the ninth day she wanted to go out.

"Where?" he asked.

"Say, yourself!"

No, she must say. He proposed the opera, but Wagner was being performed
there, and she could not bear him. The theatre? No, there they had
Maeterlinck, and that was silly. He did not wish to go to an operetta,
for they always ridiculed what he now regarded as sacred. Nor did he
like the circus, where there were only horses and queer women.

So the discussion went on and they privately discovered a great
quantity of divergences in tastes and principles. In order to please
her, he proposed an operetta, but she would not accept the sacrifice.
He suggested that they should give a party, but then they discovered
that there was no one to invite, for they had separated from their
friends, and their friends from them.

So they sat there, still in harmony, and considered their destiny
together, without having yet begun to blame each other. They stayed at
home, and felt bored.

Next day, the same scene was repeated. He now saw that his happiness
was at stake; therefore he took courage, and said in a friendly way but
decidedly, "Dress yourself and we will go to an operetta." She beamed,
put on her new dress, and was quickly ready. When he saw her so happy
and pretty, he felt a stab in his heart, and thought to himself, "Now
she brightens up, when she can dress for others and not for me."
When he then conducted her to the theatre, he felt as though he were
escorting a stranger, for her thoughts were already in the auditorium,
which was her stage, where she wished to appear, and where she could
now appear under her husband's escort without being insulted.

Since they could already divine each other's thoughts, this alienation,
while they were on the way, changed into something like hostility. They
longed to be in the theatre in order to find something to divert their
emotions, though he felt as though he were going to an execution.

When they came to the ticket-office there were no tickets left.

Then her face changed, and when she looked at him, and thought she saw
an expression of satisfaction, which possibly was latent there, she
broke out, "That pleases you?"

He wished to deny it, but could not, for it was true. On the way home
he felt as though he were dragging a corpse with him, and that a
hostile one.

The fact that she had discovered his very natural thought, which he
had self-denyingly repressed, hurt him like a rudeness for one has no
right to punish the thoughts of another. He would have borne it more
easily if there had been no tickets left, for he was already accustomed
to be a scapegoat. But now he lamented over his lost happiness, and
that he had not the power to amuse her.

When she observed that he was not angry, but only sad, she despised
him. They came home in ominous silence; she went straight to her
bedroom and shut the door. He sat down in the dining-room, where he lit
the lamps and candles, for the darkness seemed to be closing round him.

Then he heard a cry from the bedroom, the cry of a child, but of a
grown one. When he came in he saw a sight which tore his heart. She was
on her knees, her hands stretched towards him, wailing as she wept,
"Don't be angry with me, don't be hard; you put out the light round me,
you stifle me with your severity; I am a child that trusts life and
must have sunshine."

He could find no answer, for she seemed sincere. And he could not
defend himself, for that meant arraigning her thoughts, which he also
could not do.

Dumb with despair, he went into his room and felt crushed. He had
pillaged her youth, shut her up, torn out her joy by the roots. He had
not the light which this tender flower needed, and she withered under
his hand. These self-reproaches broke down all the self-confidence
he had hitherto possessed; he felt unworthy of her love, or of any
woman's, and felt himself a murderer who had killed her happiness.

After he had suffered all these pangs of conscience he began to examine
himself calmly and with sober common sense.

"What have I done?" he asked himself. "What have I done to her? All the
good that I could; I have done her will in everything. I did not wish
to go out in the evening, when I had come home after the work of the
day, and I did not wish to see an operetta. An operetta was formerly a
matter of indifference to me, but now it is distasteful, since through
my love for her I have entered another sphere of emotion which I do not
hesitate to call a higher one. How foolish of me! I had the idea that
she would draw me out of the mire, but she draws me down; she has drawn
me down the whole time. Then it is not she but my love which draws
upward, for there is a higher and a lower. Yes, the sage was right who
said, 'Men marry to have a home to come to to, women marry to have a
home to go out of.' Home is not for the woman but for the man and the
child. All women complain of being shut up at home, and so does mine,
although she goes about the whole morning paying visits, and haunting
cafés and shops."

He began to work his way out of this slough of despond, and found
himself on the side where the fault was not. But again he saw the
heart-rending spectacle of his young wife on her knees begging him,
with outstretched hands, not to kill her youth and brightness with his
severity. Since it was foreign to his nature to act a part, he felt
sure that she was not doing so, and felt again like a criminal, so that
he was tempted to commit suicide, for the mere fact of his existence
crushed her happiness.

But again his sense of justice was aroused, for he had no right to take
the blame on himself when he did not deserve it. He was not hard but he
was serious, and it was just his seriousness which had made the deepest
impression on the young girl and decided her to prefer him to other
frivolous young men. He had not wished to kill her joy; on the contrary
he had done everything in his power to procure for her the quiet joys
of domesticity; he had not even wished to deny her the ambiguous
pleasure of the operetta, but had sacrificed himself and accompanied
her thither. What she had said was therefore simply nonsense. And yet
her grief had been so deep and sincere. What was the meaning of it?

Then came the answer. It was the girl's leave-taking of youth--which
was inevitable. It was therefore as natural as it was beautiful--this
outbreak of despair at the brevity of spring. But he was not to blame
for it, and if his wife perhaps in a year was to become a mother, it
was now the right time to bid farewell to girlish joys in order to
prepare for the higher joys of maternity.

He had, therefore, nothing to reproach himself with, and yet he did
reproach himself with everything. With a quick resolve, he shook off
his depression and went to his wife, firmly determining not to say a
word in his defence, for that meant extinguishing her love, but simply
to invite her to reconciliation without a reckoning.

He found his wife on the point of being weary of solitude, and she
would have welcomed the society of anyone, even that of her husband,
rather than be quite alone.

Then they came to an agreement to give a party and to invite his
friends and hers, who would be sure to come. This evening their need
for domestic peace and comfort was so mutual that they agreed, without
any difficulty, who should be invited and who not.

They closed the day by drinking a bottle of champagne. The sparkling
drink loosened her tongue and now she took the opportunity to make him
gentle and jesting reproaches for his egotism and discourtesy towards
his wife. She looked so pretty as she raised herself on tiptoe above
him, and she seemed so much greater and nobler when she had rolled all
her faults upon him, that he thought it a pity to pull her down, and
therefore went to sleep laden with all the defects and shortcomings
which he had taken on himself.

When he awoke the next morning he lay still in order to think over the
events of the past evening. And now he despised himself for having
kept silence and refrained from defending himself. Now he perceived
how the whole of their life together was built upon his silence and
the suppression of his personality. For if he had spoken yesterday,
she would have gone--she always threatened to go to her mother when he
"ill-treated" her, and she called it "ill-treatment" every time that
he was tired of making himself out worse than he was. Here they were
building on falsity, and the building would collapse some day when he
ventured on a criticism or personal remark regarding her.

Reverence, worship, blind obedience--that was the price of her love--he
must either pay it, or go without it.

The party took place. The husband, as a good host, did all he could
to efface himself and bring his wife into prominence. His friends,
who were gentlemen, behaved to her in their turn with all the courtesy
which they felt was due to a young wife.

After supper music was proposed. There was a piano in the house,
but the wife could not play, and the husband did not want to. A
young doctor undertook the task, and since he had to choose his own
programme, he had resort to his favourite, Wagner. The mistress of
the house did not know what he was playing but did not like the deep
seriousness of it. When at last the thunder ceased, her husband sat
uneasily there, for he could surmise what was coming.

As a ladylike hostess, she had to say something. She thought a simple
"thanks" insufficient, and asked what the music was.

Then it came out--Wagner!

Her husband felt the look which he feared, which told him that he was
a traitor who perhaps had wished to entice her to praise in ignorance
"the worst music which she knew." During the time of their engagement
she had certainly listened attentively to her fiance's long speeches
in defence of Wagner, but immediately after their marriage, she had
declared openly that she could not bear him. Therefore her husband had
never played to her, and she feigned not to know that he could play.
But now she felt insidiously surprised, and her husband received the
beforementioned look which told him what he had to expect.

The guests had gone, and husband and wife sat there alone.

In his father's house he had learnt never to speak anything but good of
departed guests, but rather to be silent. She had also heard something
of the kind, but here she felt no need of restraint. So now she began
to criticise his friends; they were, to put it briefly, tedious.

He gnawed his cigar in silence, for to dispute about likings and taste
in this case would be unreasonable.

But she also considered them discourteous. She had been told that young
men should say pleasant things.

"Did they venture to say anything unpleasant?" he asked, feeling uneasy
lest anyone should have forgotten himself.

"No, not exactly."

Then came a shower of petty criticisms; someone's tie was not straight,
another had too long a nose, another drawled, and then, "the fellow who
played Wagner!"

"You are not kind," said her husband with a lame attempt to defend his
friends.

"Yes! and the friends you trust in! You should only have heard and seen
the words and looks which I heard and saw. They are false to you."

He continued to smoke and kept silence, but he thought how low he
had sunk to deny his old and tried friends; how despicable it was to
plead for forgiveness with his eyes for the performance of Wagner.
His thoughts ran parallel with her loud chatter, and he spoke them in
silence.

"You despise my friends because they do not court their friend's wife,
do not pay her little compliments on her figure and dress; and you hate
them because you feel how my strength grows in the circle of their
sympathies for me. You hate them as you hate me, and would hate anyone
else who was your husband."

She must have felt the effect of these thoughts, for her volubility
slackened, and when he cast a glance at her, she seemed to have shrunk
together. Immediately afterwards she rose, on the pretext that she felt
freezing. As a matter of fact, she was trembling and had red flames on
her cheeks.

That night he observed for the first time that he had at his side an
ugly old woman who had enamelled her face with bright cosmetics and
plaited her hair like a peasant woman.

She did not bother herself to appear at her best before him but was
already free and easy and cynical enough to make herself repugnant by
disclosing the unbeautiful secrets of the toilet.

Then for a moment he was released from his enchantment, and continued
to think of flight till sleep had pity on him.

A couple of weeks passed in dull silence. He could not get rid of the
thought that it was a pity about her, and when she was bored, it was
his fault for the moment, because he was her husband--for the moment.
To seek for others' society was now no longer possible, since his
friends had been rejected, and she had no more pleasure in her own.
They tried to go out each his own way but always returned home.

"You find it hard to be away from me, in spite of all!" she said.

"And you?" he answered.

She remained compliant and indifferent, no longer angry, so that they
could talk, i.e. he ventured to answer.

"My jailor!" she said on one occasion.

"Who is in jail, you or I?" he answered.

When they perceived that they were each other's prisoners, they smiled
at the relationship and began to examine the witchcraft of which they
were victims. They went back in memory and lived over again the
engagement period and their wedding journey. Consequently they lived
always in the past, never in the present.

Then came the great moment he had waited for as a liberation--the
announcement of her expecting to be a mother. Her longings would now
have an object, and she would look forward instead of backward. But
even here he had miscalculated.

Now she was angry with him, for her beauty would wither away, and
it was no use his trying to comfort her by saying she would get up
rejuvenated with recovered beauty, and that the crowning happiness
awaited her. She treated him like a murderer, and could not look at him
for his mere scent aroused her dislike. In order to obtain light on the
matter, he asked their doctor. The latter laughed and explained to him
that in such cases women always thought they smelt something;--this was
either pure imagination or a physical perversion of the olfactory nerve.

When at last this stage was over, a certain calm succeeded which he was
short-sighted enough to enjoy. Since he was now sure of having his wife
in the house he perhaps showed that he was happy and thankful for it.
But he should not have done so, for now she saw the matter from a new
point of view.

"Ah! now you think you have me fast, but just wait till I am up again!"

The look which accompanied the threat gave him to understand what would
happen. Now he began a battle with himself whether he should await the
arrival of the child or go away first, in order to avoid the wrench of
parting from it.

Since the married pair had entered into such a close relationship that
one could hear the thoughts of the other, he could keep no secrets from
her which she did not seize upon forthwith.

"I know well enough that you contemplate deserting us and casting us on
the street."

"That is strange," he remarked; "it is you who have threatened the
whole time to go off with the child, as soon as it came. So whatever
I do is wrong; if I stay you go, and then I am both unhappy and
ridiculous; if I go you are the martyr, and I am unhappy and a
scoundrel to boot! That comes of having to do with women!"

How they got through the nine months was to him a puzzle. The last
part of the time was the most tolerable, for she had begun to love the
unborn child, and love imparted to her a higher beauty than she had
before. But when he told her so, she did not believe him, and when she
observed that he was lulling himself to sleep with dreams of perpetual
happiness by her side she broke out again, saying: "You think you have
got me safe now."

"My dear," he answered, "when we vowed to each other to be man and
wife, I believed that I would belong to you and you to me, and I hoped
that we should hold together so that the child should be born in a
home, and be brought up by its father and mother."

And so on _ad infinitum_.

The child came, and the mother's joy was boundless. Ennui had
disappeared and the man breathed freely, but he should have done so
more imperceptibly. For two sharp eyes saw it and two keen looks said:
"You think that I am tied by the child!"

On the third day the little one had lost the charm of novelty and was
handed over to a nurse. Then dressmakers were summoned. Now he knew
what was coming. From that hour he went about like a man condemned to
death, waiting for his execution. He packed two travelling-bags which
he hid in his wardrobe, ready to fly at the given signal.

The signal was given two days after his wife got up. She had put on a
dress of an extremely showy cut and of the colour called "lamp-shade."

He took her out for a walk and suffered unspeakably when he saw that
she whom he loved, attracted a degree of attention which he found
obnoxious. Even the street urchins pointed with their fingers at the
overdressed lady.

From that day he avoided going out with her. He stayed at home with the
child, and lamented that he had a wife who made herself ridiculous.

Her next step to freedom was the riding-school. Through the stable
the doors to society were opened for her. By means of horses one made
acquaintances in the upper circles. Horses and dogs form the transition
stage to the world from which one peers down in order to be able to
discover the pedestrians on the dusty highways. The rider on horseback
is six ells high instead of three, and he always looks as though he
wished that those who walk should look up to him. The stable also was
her means of introduction to a lieutenant who was a baron. Their hearts
responded to each other, and since the baron was a clean-natured man,
he decidedly refused to go through the stages of guest and friend of
the house. Therefore they went off together, or rather, fled.

Her husband remained behind with the child.



IV


The baron jumped into the Stockholm express at Södertälje where he had
arranged to meet her. Everything had been carefully arranged for them
to be alone together at last, but Fate had other designs. When the
baron entered the railway carriage he found his beloved sitting wedged
in tightly among strangers, so tightly that there was no room for him.
A glance in the adjoining coupe showed him that it was full also, and
he had to stand in the corridor. Rage distorted his face, and when he
tried to greet her with a secret and loving smile, he only showed his
back teeth, which she had never seen before. To make matters worse, he
had, in order not to be noticed, put on mufti. She had never seen him
in this, and his spring coat looked faded, now that it was autumn. Some
soft summer showers in the former year had caused the cloth to pucker
near the seams, so that it lay in many small wave-like folds. Since it
had been cut according to the latest fashion it gave him the appearance
of having sloping shoulders which continued the neck down to the arms
with the same ignoble outlines as those of a half-pint bottle. He
perspired with rage, and a fragment of coal had settled firmly on his
nose. She would like to have jumped up and with her lace handkerchief
wiped away the black smut but dared not. He did not like to look at her
for fear of displeasing her, and therefore remained standing in the
corridor with his back towards her.

When they reached Katrineholm they had to dine if they did not wish
to remain hungry till evening. Here the man and the hero had to show
himself, and stand the ordeal or he was lost. With trembling calves
and puckered face he followed his lady out of the train and across the
railway lines. Here he fell on his knee, so that his hat slipped to the
back of his head and remained sticking there like a military cap. But
the position which made the latter look smart did not suit the unusual
hat. In a word it was not his good day, and he had no luck.

When they entered the dining-saloon, they looked as though they had
quarrelled inwardly, as though they despised each other, were ashamed
before each other, and mutually wished themselves apart.

His nerves were entirely out of order, and he could not control a
single muscle. Without knowing what he was doing, he pushed her forward
to the table saying, "Hurry up!"

The table was already surrounded by passengers, who fell on the viands
in scattered order and therefore could not open their ranks. The baron
made a sally and finally succeeded in seizing a plate, but as he wedged
in his arm to get a fork, his hand encountered another hand which
belonged to the person he least of all wished to meet just then.

It was his senior officer, a major who presided at military
examinations.

At the same moment a whisper passed through the crowd.

They were recognised! He stood there as though naked among nettles. His
neck swelled so unnaturally and grew so red that his cheeks seemed to
form part of it. He could not understand how people's looks could have
the effect of gun-bullets. He was literally fusilladed and collapsed.
His companion vanished from his mind; he could only think of the major
and the military examination which might destroy his future.

But she had seen and understood; she turned her back on everyone and
went out. She got into the wrong coupe but it was empty. He came
afterwards and they were alone at last.

"That's a nice business, isn't it?" he hissed, striking his forehead.
"To think of my letting myself be enticed into such an adventure! And
the major too! Now my career is at an end!"

That was the theme which was enlarged on with variations till
Linköping. Hunger and thirst both contributed their part to it. It was
terrible.

After Linköping they both felt that the mutual reproaches they had
hitherto held back must find a vent. But just at the right moment they
remembered her husband and attacked him. It was his fault; he was the
tyrant, the idiot of course, "a fellow who played Wagner," a devil. It
was he who had given the major a hint, no doubt.

"Yes, I believe you," said she with the firmest conviction.

"Do you? I know it," answered the baron. "They meet on the Stock
Exchange, where they speculate in shares together. And do you know what
I begin to suspect? Your husband, the 'wretch' as we call him, has
never loved you."

The wife considered a moment. Whether it was that her husband's love
was indubitable, or that it was necessary to suppose that he loved her,
if she was to have the honour of having made a fool of him--enough, he
must have loved her, since she was so lovable.

"No! now you are unjust," she ventured to say. She felt herself
somewhat elevated by being able to speak a good word of an enemy, but
the baron took it as a reproach against himself and recommenced.

"He loved you? He who shut you up and would not accompany you to the
riding-school! He----"

The safety-conductor seemed used up, and threatened to deflect the
lightning to one side in a dangerous way. So they took up a new thread
of conversation--the question of food. Since this could not be settled
before Naujö, which was still half a day distant, they soon dropped it
again. In her extremity, and carried away by a torrent of thoughts and
emotions which she could not resist, she hazarded a conjecture as to
how her child was. To this his answer was a yawn which split his face
like a red apple to the uvula where some dark molars resembled the core
of it. Gradually he let himself slide down into a reclining attitude on
the sofa, but remembering that he ought to make some apology for his
unseemly behaviour, he yawned and said: "Excuse me, but I am so sleepy."

Immediately afterwards he went to sleep, and after a time he snored.
Since she was no longer under the influence of his looks and words, she
could reflect quietly again, see who her travelling companion was, and
began, involuntarily, to institute comparisons. Her husband had never
behaved like this; he was refined compared with the baron, and was
always well-dressed.

The baron, who had drunk much punch the day before, began now
to perspire and smelt of vinegar. Besides that, he always had a
stable-like smell about him.

She went out into the corridor, opened a window, and as though released
from enchantment, she saw the whole extent of her loss and the terrible
nature of her position. As the spring landscape swept past, a little
lake with willows and a cottage, she remembered vividly how she had
dreamt of a summer holiday with the child. Then she broke into weeping,
and tried to throw herself out but was held back. She remained standing
a long time, and stamped with her feet as though she wished to stop the
train and make it go backwards. All the time she heard his snoring,
like grunts from a pigsty at feeding-time. And for this ... creature,
she had left a good home, a beautiful child, and a husband.

The snoring ceased, and the baron began to employ his recuperated
thinking faculties in considering the situation and settling his
future. He did not know how to be sad; instead of that he became angry.
When he saw her holding her handkerchief to her eyes, he got in a rage,
and took it as a personal reproach. But quarrelling was tedious and
unpleasant; therefore assuming a light tone, and caressing her as one
might a horse, he clicked with his tongue and said: "Cheer up, Maja!"

Two such opposite moods, in colliding, cut each other and each fell on
its own side of the knife. A dead silence was the result. They were
no longer one person, but two, irrevocably two, who did not belong
together.

Yet another half-day in wretchedness and boredom; a night with changes
of train in the darkness, and at last they were in Copenhagen. There
they were unknown and had no need to feel embarrassed. But when they
entered the dining-saloon, she began to pass the "searchlight" of her
looks, as he called it, over all those present, so that when the baron
looked at her he never saw her eye except in profile. At last he became
angry and kicked her shin under the table. Then she turned away and
appealed with her eyes to the company. She could not look at him--so
hateful did he seem to her. Upstairs in their room the corks were drawn
out. They reached the stage of recriminations. His spoilt career was
her fault ... she had lost her child and home through him. So it went
on till past midnight when sleep had mercy on them.

Then next morning they sat at the breakfast-table, silent and ghastly
to look at. She remembered her honeymoon journey and very much the same
situation. They had nothing to say to each other, and he was as tedious
as her husband had been. They kept silence and were ashamed of being in
each other's presence. They were conscious of their mutual hatred, and
poisoned each other with nerve-poison.

At last the deliverer came. The waiter approached with a telegram for
the baron, who opened and read it at a glance. He seemed to consider,
cast a calculating glance at his enemy, and after a pause said: "I am
recalled by the commanding officer."

"And mean to leave me here?"

He changed his resolve in a second: "No, we will travel back together."
A plan suggested itself and he told her of it. "We will sail across to
Landskrona; there no one knows you, and you can wait for me."

The idea of sailing had a smack of the adventurous and heroic about it,
and this trifle outweighed all other considerations. She was kindled,
kindled him, and they packed at once. The prospect of leaving her, for
however short a time, restored his courage.

Accordingly, some hours later, he took his seat in a hired
sailing-boat with his beloved by the foresail and put off from Lange
Linie like a sea-robber with his bride, blustering, ostentatious and
gorgeous.

In order to conceal his plan he had only spoken to the owner of the
boat of a pleasure-trip in the Sound. His intention was to telegraph
from Landskrona and send the money due for the boat and have the boat
itself towed by a steamer.

As they were putting off from shore, the boat owner stood near and
watched them. But when he saw that they were directing their course to
the Island Hven, he put his hands to his mouth and shouted: "Don't go
too near Hven," and something else which was carried away by the wind.

"Why not Hven?" asked the baron aloud. "The shore is steep, so that
there are no rocks under water."

"Yes, but if he tells us so, he must have had some reason for it," she
objected.

"Don't talk nonsense! Look after the foresail!"

The wind blew a light gale on the open sea, and since there was a
considerable distance between the foresail and the stern there was no
need for conversation, much to the baron's relief.

Their course was directed towards the south-east corner of Hven,
though at first not noticeably so. But when she at last saw whither
they were going, she called out: "Don't steer for Hven!"

"Hold your----!" answered the baron and tacked.

After an hour's good run they had come abreast of the white island
and a light pressure on the rudder turned the boat's prow towards
Landskrona, which appeared in the north.

"Saved!" cried the steersman and lit a cigar.

At the same instant a little steamer put out from Hven and made
straight for the sailing-boat.

"What is that steamer?" she asked.

"It is a custom-house boat," answered the baron who was at home on the
sea.

But now the steamer hoisted a yellow flag and whistled.

"That has nothing to do with us," said the baron, and kept on his
course.

But the steamer took a sweep round, signalled with the flag, and let
off several short, sharp whistles like cries of distress, increasing
speed at the same time. Then the baron jumped up wildly at the stern as
though he intended plunging into the sea. He remembered the outbreak of
cholera at Hamburg and cried: "It is the quarantine! Three days! We are
lost!"

The next moment he sat down again in his place, hauling taut the
main-sheet and drifting before the wind, straight towards the Sound.
The chase began, but soon the steamer stood athwart the bow of the
sailing-boat, which was captured.

The whole carefully-thought-out device of the baron to avoid the gaze
of curious eyes was defeated, and as their sailing-boat was towed into
the harbour of Hven, the unhappy pair were saluted from the bridge by
hundreds of their fellow-countrymen with derisive applause and peals of
laughter, though the latter did not know whom they were applauding. But
the chagrin of the captured pair was greater than the others guessed,
for they believed that people were ridiculing their unfortunate love
affair.

To make matters worse the baron had unpardonably insulted the
quarantine doctor by upbraiding him on board the steamer. Therefore no
special consideration was shown them, but they were treated like all
others who come from a cholera-infected port. Since their incognito was
bound to be seen through sooner or later, they went about in perpetual
fear of discovery. Full of suspicion, they believed every other hour
that they were recognised.

No one would have the patience to read the story of the torture of
those three days. So much is known, that the first day she spent in
weeping for her child, while he walked about the island. The second day
she enlarged upon the excellent qualities of her husband as contrasted
with the execrable ones of her lover. On the third day she cursed him
for having taken her away, and when she ended by calling him an idiot
for not having obeyed her own and the boat-owner's advice to avoid
Hven, he gave her a box on the ear.... On the fourth day when they were
really discovered, and newspapers arrived with the whole story, they
went into a crevice in the rocks to hide their shame.

When at last two steamers came to fetch the unfortunates, each went on
board a different one. And after that day they never saw nor knew each
other again.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was nearly midnight when the reading was ended. An interval of
silence followed, but the postmaster felt he must say something. "One
generally says 'thanks'!" he remarked. "Meanwhile, after you have
said all, there is not much to add: I will only ask myself, you, and
everyone a general question: 'What is love?'"

"What is love? Answer: 'I don't know.' Love has been called a piece
of roguery on the part of Nature. I don't believe that, for I know
that Nature has neither made itself nor can it think out pieces of
roguery. But if we accept that proposition, we descend to zoology, and
that I do not wish to do. I do not share the theoretical veneration
for woman which my contemporaries cherish; on the other hand, I
instinctively place her higher than ourselves. She seems to me to be
formed out of finer material than we men, but I may be wrong, for she
seems to be furnished with more animal functions than we are. If I were
a theosophist, I should believe she was only a kind of intermediary
chrysalis stage on the way to man, only a temporary manifestation, out
of which love, i.e. man's love, creates in, her possibilities of being
and seeming. When he finds this really lifeless form of existence and
breathes his immortal breath into it, he shares the Creator's joy on
the seventh day. The process of refining, which his coarser substance
hindered him bringing about in his own soul, he brings about in hers,
and through reaction--no! it is too difficult for me to explain; it
is like dividing an angle into three equal parts. Anyhow, the fact is
certain, and my story is an illustration of it, that when a man is
deceived in his love as he always is, his whole being revolts against
the government of the world, which seems to him to have condescended
to mock at his holiest possession, the holiest thing in all creation.
If Providence is consonant with such deceit and such coarse jesting
then he discovers a devil where he thought he had seen a good angel.
After that what shall he trust, what shall he value, at what shall he
not make a grimace? And when after marriage the veil falls, and like
Adam and Eve they are naked and ashamed, then even the most unbelieving
is conscious of something resembling the Fall. Then comes a fresh error
and they think they have deceived each other, which they have not done.
So they scourge each other for crimes which neither has committed. A
second deception follows the first."

They were again silent. Then the postmaster gave the conversation
another turn and descended to the earth. "You can guess that I, at any
rate, recognise the lady of your story. She lives in her own little
house, here on the island by the shore."

"Yes she does! I know her, and I was quarantine doctor at Hven when she
was captured. Now that she is elderly she has renewed her acquaintance
with me, and it is from her own mouth that I heard the story. She
has been in love countless times, and declares that every time she
believed she had found the right man who had been predestined for her
from the foundation of the world."

"Does not reason feel its helplessness before such riddles, riddles of
every day?"

"Yes and therefore ... yes, next Saturday you shall hear another story,
and I think we shall approach the riddle a little more closely, i.e. we
shall find its insolubility more strongly proved."

"I shall be glad to hear it. But why don't you have your stories
printed?"

"Because I have been a doctor, and a woman's doctor. I have no right to
reveal what I have heard in my official capacity. Sometimes I should
like to be a writer with a prescriptive right to find material for his
art in men's lives and destinies; but that is a calling and a task
which is denied to me."

"Very well; good night till next Saturday."

When Saturday evening came round, the two old men sat in the corner
room with their toddy and tobacco and a large pile of manuscript on the
table. The postmaster looked a little nervously at it, as a child might
at a family book of sermons.

"We can give two evenings to it," said the doctor soothingly.

"Ah no! we have the whole evening before us and to-morrow is Sunday.
Fire ahead! We will have an interval for refreshments."

The doctor began to read at six o'clock and had finished when it struck
eleven.



THE DOCTOR'S SECOND STORY


I


He had left his Christiania full of bitterness because a public
injustice had been done him. At forty years of age he had written the
best modern drama and had invented a new form of play with a new plot
which answered the expectations of the generation which was growing
up. But the older generation was still alive, and spectators, actors,
and critics felt that their ideals were leaving them in the lurch, and
that they themselves would be involved in their fall. If the public
taste took a new direction which they could not follow, they would
be regarded as superannuated, and be left behind. Accordingly his
masterpiece had been called idiotic and had been hissed off the stage,
and it had been suggested to him that he should return to America,
where he had already been and left his wife, from whom he was separated.

But, instead of going to America, he went to Copenhagen. In the centre
of the city he set up a restaurant where he foregathered with Swedes
and Finns. After some months' delay he succeeded in getting his drama
performed at a Copenhagen theatre. It was decidedly successful and his
reputation was saved. He had felt that he had done with life, but now
he began to wake up and to look about him. But when he did enter into
life again, he did so with dull resignation and an almost fatalistic
spirit which found expression in his favourite motto: "Prepared for
everything!"

His dramatic success resulted in his receiving social invitations. One
evening he went to a soiree at a distinguished author's, round whom
the younger stars in art and literature were accustomed to gather.
The supper was long and brilliant, but several unoccupied places were
waiting for guests who should arrive after the theatres had closed. At
half-past ten there was a stir in the company, for the expected guests
came--three ladies and three men all unknown to the Norwegian. But one
of the three ladies greeted him as an acquaintance and reached the
stranger her hand. Immediately afterwards he asked the hostess in a
whisper who it was.

"Who is it? Miss X---- of course! You talked with her at Doctor E----'s
supper."

"Really! It is strange that with my good memory I cannot recall her
appearance. One evening lately, in a well-lit theatre lobby, I passed
her without a greeting."

"Of course you don't see that she is pretty."

"Is she?" He leant forward to look at the young lady who had taken her
seat far down the table. "Yes she doesn't look bad."

"Fie! Fie! She is a celebrated beauty of the best Copenhagen type."

"Oh! Formerly I only admired blondes but latterly have confined my
admiration to brunettes." Then they talked of something else. After
supper the company gathered in the drawing-room and the beautiful
Dane and the Norwegian sat so close together that he put her cup down
for her. When she asked who would escort her home, he answered: "I of
course," and his escort was accepted. When at last the company broke
up, he and she found themselves in the same mysterious way so deep in
conversation that a group of ladies and gentlemen formed a circle round
them with a mischievous air to watch them. The pair, however, did not
observe this, but continued to talk. As they went down the steps they
heard a "good night!" and a ringing laugh overhead from the young and
charming hostess who was leaning over the balcony-railing. They went
along the shore, and past the bridges, continuing their conversation
without a pause. When they came to X---- Street she invited him to
supper the following evening to meet a young female artist. But she
prepared him to find her surroundings very simple, as she was staying
in a pension kept by a strict old lady. Then they parted as though they
had been old acquaintances and colleagues.

As he walked home alone through the night, and tried to recall the
events of the evening to his mind, he noticed again the curious fact
that he could not remember her appearance. Yet as a former reporter,
he had been so accustomed to photograph people and scenes, landscapes
and interiors with his eye that he could not understand it. Moreover,
he observed that she was quite a different person this evening to
what she had been the first time they met. There was now no trace
of "independence" about her, only a mild yieldingness, a certain
melancholy, which became her well and aroused sympathy. When they
talked of the unfortunate fate of a certain person, there were tears
in her voice. It was the voice which he remembered more than anything
else about her--somewhat deep and melancholy with a slight accent
which carried one far away from the great town and awoke memories of
wood and sea, the sounds of nature, shepherds' huts, and hay-rakes.
He now recollected how they had really treated her like a child the
previous evening, had teased her about her writings, and asked her
for recommendations, at which she had only smiled. She also had the
unfortunate habit of letting fall naive expressions, which were really
seriously meant, but sometimes had a repellent effect.

The only one who had taken her seriously was himself, the foreigner.
And he had seen that she was no child but a woman with whom he could
speak of men and books and all that interested him, without once having
to explain his remarks.

When he awoke the next morning, he tried to call to his mind the events
and persons of the previous day. It was his habit, when he made a new
acquaintance, to seek in his memory for the "corresponding number," as
he called it, in order to get a clear idea of his character; i.e. he
thought which of his old friends most nearly resembled the person in
question. This psychical operation was often performed involuntarily,
i.e. when he tried to call up the image of his new acquaintance, the
figure of an old one rose up in his mind and more or less obliterated
the latter. When he now recalled his yesterday's memories of Miss
X---- he saw her with an elderly married cousin, to whom he had always
felt indifferent. This suppressed any sentimental feeling, if any
were present, and he only thought of her as a kindly woman-friend.
Accordingly, in the evening, he felt perfectly calm and without a
trace of that embarrassment which one sometimes feels in attempting
to make oneself agreeable to a young lady. He was received with
perfect frankness as an old acquaintance and led into a lady's boudoir
elegantly furnished with a well-appointed writing-table, flower-plants,
family portraits, carpets, and comfortable chairs.

Since the lady painter had been prevented coming, he had to be content
with a _tête-à-tête_, and this somewhat jarred on his sense of
propriety. But his hostess's simple and unaffected manner caused him to
suppress some remarks which might have hurt her feelings.

So they sat opposite each other and talked. Her black silk dress had
blue insets and was cut in the "empire style," with dark lace trimmings
which hung from her shoulders like a sleigh-net. This gave her a
somewhat matronly appearance, and when he noticed her tone like that
of an experienced woman of the world, he thought for a moment: "She is
divorced!" Her face, which he could now examine in full light, showed
a flat forehead which looked as though it had been hammered smooth and
betokened a determined will without obstinacy. The eyes were large and
well-defined as with Southerners. The nose seemed to have altered its
mind while growing, for it took a little bend in the middle and became
Roman by degrees. This little unexpected "joy-ful surprise" lent a
cameo-like charm to her profile.

Their conversation was still more lively this evening, for they had
already amassed a small store of common experiences to discuss,
acquaintances to analyse, and ideas to test. They sat there and cut
out silhouettes of their friends, and as neither of them wished to
seem spiteful, they cut them in handsome shapes, and not with pointed
scissors.

During this innocent interchange of thought, he had glanced at a
very large flower-basket full of splendid roses. She had divined
his thoughts, and just as a servant brought in a bottle of wine and
cigarettes, she got up and went towards the roses.

("She is engaged!" he thought and felt himself superfluous.)

"I was given these by a friend on his departure," she said.

But in order to show that she was not engaged she broke off a stem
carelessly. It was fastened with wire, and she had to look for her
scissors. As these were in her work-basket on the lowest shelf of her
work-table, she knelt down and remained kneeling. She remained in that
attitude while she fastened two of the finest roses in his buttonhole,
and she only needed to stretch out an arm to reach a glass of wine and
drink to his health.

"'Roses and wine!' I have used that as a refrain for a ballad," he
said. He thought the situation somewhat strange but insignificant in
itself.

"Oh! do repeat the ballad!"

He had forgotten it.

She rose up and sat on her chair, and he persuaded her to tell him
something of her life. She had early left her parents, who lived
separated without being divorced, for they were Catholics. She had been
educated in convent-schools in London, Paris, Italy, and elsewhere.
In Paris especially, when with English ladies, she had been bothered
with religion, but had finally thrown it all overboard. She certainly
felt an emptiness without it, but expected, like everyone else, that
some new substitute was coming into the world. Meanwhile, like her
contemporaries, she devoted her energies to the deliverance of humanity
from pauperism and oppression. She had superficially studied Nietzsche
among others and laid him aside again after finding in him a slight
corrective to over-strained expectations of universal equality.

While she was talking, he noticed that light fell through a curtain
behind her back, which screened a door apparently leading into the
interior of the house. Like lightning the thought struck him that
he might be the object of a joke, and was to be surprised in the
ridiculous position of a woman-worshipper. Or perhaps it was only
for propriety's sake that communication was kept open with the main
building. This wholesome doubt kept their conversation free from all
tincture of flirtation, and when supper was served he reproached
himself for having suspected his hostess of evil purposes or a want of
trust in him.

About half-past eight he was about to go, but she only needed to
express a suspicion that he was longing for the café to make him
remain. About half-past nine o'clock he was going again but was kept
back.

"But," he remonstrated, "it is my part as the elder and more prudent to
spare you any unpleasantness."

She understood nothing, but declared that she was independent and that
the lady who kept the pension was accustomed to her suppers.

At last his instinct told him that it was a mistake to stay longer;
he rose and took his leave. On his way home, he said to himself, "No,
people are not so simple, and cannot be labelled by formulas, for I
don't comprehend an atom of this evening or of this woman."

The next time they met it was in a museum. Her outer dress made her
look like a young married woman of thirty or more. Her mouth had a
tired expression and had fine little wrinkles near it, as is the
case with those who laugh often. But she was melancholy, hinted at
having had a breach with her father, and spoke of taking her departure
shortly. She inquired regarding her friend's relations to theatres and
publishers, and offered to help him with advice and influence. To-day
she was mere motherly tenderness, and a certain carelessness in her
toilet suggested that she did not want to please as a woman.

But when she proposed that they should go to the theatre together he
declined, from a feeling that he ought not to compromise her, nor
expose himself to danger, for his precarious pecuniary position did not
permit him to think of a love affair.

He proposed to her instead that they should go for a stroll together,
and she suggested that he should escort her from her new lodging, for
she had changed her rooms.

("They have given her notice at the pension, because of me," he
thought, but said nothing.)

By this time his curiosity as an author was aroused, and he wished to
learn the riddle of this woman, for he had never seen any other change
their appearance as she did.

When in the evening he rang at her door, he was shown into a side room
and asked to wait. When she was dressed he was let out into the front
hall, where they met. This, then, was a new order of things.

They went westward by an empty street which led to the Zoological
Gardens, and entered a restaurant which she seemed to know well. In her
fur jacket and with a kerchief on her head she looked in the dark like
an old woman, and as she stooped somewhat, she seemed to have something
witchlike about her. But when they entered the well-lit restaurant,
and she laid aside kerchief and jacket she stood revealed all at once
in her youthful beauty. A moss-green, tightly fitting dress showed
the figure of a girl of eighteen, and with her hair brushed smooth,
she looked like an overgrown schoolgirl. He could not conceal his
astonishment at this witchery, and looked her all over as though he
were seeking a concealed enemy with a searchlight. ("Eros! Now I am
lost!" he thought. And from that moment he was indeed.)

She saw quite well the effect she had produced, and seemed to glisten
there in a sort of phosphorescent light, sure of victory, with a
triumphant expression round her mouth, for she saw that he was
conquered. He felt a sudden fear. She had his soul in her pocket, and
could cast it into the river or into the gutter; therefore he hated
her at the same time. He saw that his only chance of safety lay in
awakening a reciprocal flame in her, so that she might be as closely
bound to him as he was to her. With this half-conscious purpose, he
did what every man in his place would have done--insinuated himself
into her confidence, made himself as little as a child and aroused her
sympathy, the sympathy of a woman for a lacerated and damned soul which
has no more hope of happiness. She listened to him and received his
confidence as a tribute, with calm majestic motherliness, without a
trace of coquetry or pleasure at hearing of another's misfortune.

When at last, after eating a cold supper, they were about to go, he
rose to look up a train in a railway guide. When he returned to the
table and wished to pay the bill, the waiter informed him that it
had already been paid by the lady! Then he flared up, and wrongly
suspecting that she thought he had no money, demanded that at any rate
he should pay for himself.

"I don't know the customs of your country," he said, "but in mine a man
who lets a lady pay for him is dishonoured."

"You were my guest," she answered.

"No, we went out together, and we cannot come here again. Don't you
know what kind of a reputation you will give me, and by what a hateful
name this waiter may call me?"

When he recalled the waiter to make good the mistake, there was another
scene, so that he rose angrily and laid his share on the table. She was
sad, but would not acknowledge herself in the wrong. They were both out
of humour, and he noticed that she was thoughtless, just as thoughtless
as when she invited a gentleman alone to her room so late in the
evening. Or was it an expression of feminine independence demanding
to be treated exactly like a man in spite of propriety and prejudice?
Perhaps it was the latter, but he fell it to be a piece of presumption,
and was angry. There threatened to be an uncomfortable silence between
them as they walked home, but she put out her hand and said in a kind,
confidential voice: "Don't be cross."

"No I am not that, but, but ... never do it again."

They parted as friends, and he hurried to the café. He had not been
there for a long time, partly through a certain dislike to the tone
prevailing there, which no longer harmonised with his present mood,
and partly because he had promised his friend to be moderate. He found
the usual company, but felt somewhat out of place, and made a clear
resolve never to bring her there. Accordingly, he soon went home and
sank in meditations which were partly gloomy and partly bright. When
he recollected the moment of emergence of the youthful beauty from
the fur skin of the animal there seemed to him something weird and
ominous about it. It was not the youthful beauty which is clothed in
reflections from a paradise of innocence, but a dark, demoniac beauty
which becomes a man's death, the grave of his virile will, and which
leads to humiliation, ruin, and disgraceful bargaining. But it is as
inevitable and unescapable as Fate.

The next day he was invited, together with her, to dinner at an art
professor's. She then appeared in a new character, talking like a woman
of the world in a confident tone, firing off smart sayings and epigrams
and never at a loss for an answer. At intervals she seemed indifferent,
blase, and cruel.

The professor, who had just been sitting on a jury, told us that he had
joined in giving a verdict of guilty against a child murderess.

"I should have acquitted her," said Miss X----. The professor, who
belonged to the Danish Academy and had the entree to the Court, was
astonished, but did not argue with her. He construed her answer as a
burst of caprice and let the matter drop. The conversation at table was
somewhat forced. The Norwegian, who had been invited by the lady of the
house, did not feel at ease in this circle where everything revolved
round the Court. Probably his friend had arranged this invitation with
the kind intention of making him known and of investing him, who had
the reputation of being half an anarchist, with an air of gentility.
The discord was felt when the talk turned upon Art, and the professor
was in a minority of one with his opinions and academic ideals.

Therefore, when at dessert time his hostess asked the Norwegian whether
he would come to one of her receptions, where he would have the
opportunity of meeting many celebrities, she received such a sharp look
from her husband, that the Norwegian declined the invitation decidedly.
Just then the Scandinavians were in ill favour in the higher circles of
society because a Norwegian artist by his new style of painting had
caused a schism in the Academy.

Again he had let himself be enticed by his friend's thoughtlessness.
She had brought him into a circle to which he did not belong and in
which he was not welcome. On the other hand she seemed to notice
nothing of it, but was as much at home and at her ease as before.

After dinner there was music. The young beauty behaved as though her
friend was not there and never looked at him at all. When the party
broke up, she took leave of him as though of a stranger, and let
herself be escorted home by someone else.



II


It was a Sunday afternoon in February. They were walking in one of the
outer streets of the city towards the west, where they were sure to
meet no acquaintances. Finally they entered a restaurant which lay off
the road. She spoke of her approaching departure, and he said he would
miss her society.

"Come along too," she said simply and openly.

"Yes," he answered, "it is really all the same to me where I stay."

That was an idea which seemed to drive away certain clouds. She now
began to speak of Berlin, the theatrical prospects there, and so on.

"But," he objected, "it would be too far from my children."

"Your children! Yes, I have often thought of them. Have you their
portraits with you? Do let me see them!"

He really had the portraits with him, and as she repeated her wish,
he showed them. The two girls did not interest her much but she was
delighted at the eight-year-old fair boy with the upturned look. "What
a lovely child's face! Isn't it a happiness to have such a child!"

"To have it to-day, and lose to-morrow!" he replied.

She now examined the photograph more exactly and began to compare it
with the father somewhat too closely. He began to feel some of that
shyness which a man feels before a woman when she assumes this rôle.

"It is you," she said, "and not you also."

He asked for no explanation, and she requested that she might keep the
portrait by her.

They resumed the discussion of the proposed journey, but she was
absent-minded and often let her looks rest on the photograph.

He could not guess what was in her mind but he noticed that there
was a struggle of some kind and that she was on the point of forming
a resolution. He felt how a network of fine sucker-like tendrils
spread from her being and wove itself into his. Something fateful was
impending. He felt depressed, longed for the circle of male friends
whom he had abandoned, and asked her to release him from his promise
not to go any more to the café.

"Are you longing to go down _there_ again?" she said in a motherly
voice. "Think of your little son!"

They went out silent in the dark but starlit evening. He had for the
first time offered her his arm and the cape of his coat flapped loose
in the wind and struck her face. "I have already dreamt this once," she
said. But he gave no answer.

When they came to her door, she took him by both hands, looked him in
the eyes and said: "Don't go to your friends." Then she let her veil
drop, and before he divined her intention, printed a kiss through the
veil on his mouth. As he stretched out his arms to embrace her, she
was already behind the door, and closed it. He stood there completely
crestfallen without being able to understand how it had happened.
Then came the conclusion: "She loves me and has not been playing with
me." But what audacity! It is true she let her veil fall, for she was
modest, and fled, alarmed at what she had done. It was original, but
not bold-faced; other countries, other manners!

But for a man it was somewhat humiliating to receive the first sign of
love and not to bestow it. Yet he would never have dared to run the
risk of a possible box on the ears and a scornful laugh. It was well
that it had happened; now he had certainty, and that was enough.

She loved him! Since he was loved, he could say to himself: "I am not
so bad after all if someone can look up to me and believe good of me."
This awoke his self-respect, hope, and confidence. He felt himself
young again, and was ready to begin a new spring. It was true that
he had only shown her his good side, but his habit of suppressing
his worse nature for the occasion had brought his better nature into
prominence. This was the secret of the ennobling influence of real
love. He played the part of the magnanimous till it became a second
nature. The fact that he discovered her beauty, and was delighted with
her as a woman later on was a further guarantee that the stages of
their love affair had developed themselves in orderly progression, and
that he had not been merely captivated by a beautiful exterior. He had
indeed guessed her defects and overlooked them, for that is the duty of
love, and the chief proof of its genuineness, for without forbearance
with faults there is no love. He went home and wrote the inevitable
letter. It ended with the words: "Now the man lays his head in your lap
as a sign that the good in you overcomes the evil in him, but do not
misuse your power, for then you must expect the usual fate of tyrants."

The next morning he sent off the letter by a messenger. Ilmarinen his
Finnish friend stood by the head of his bed and looked mysterious.
"Well!" he said. "Are you going to try once more?"

"Yes, so it appears."

"And you dare to?"

"If it comes to the worst, I only dare to be unhappy, and one is
unhappy anyhow."

"Yes, yes."

"It is a change at any rate, and this lonely life is no life."

Instead of an answer to his letter he received a telegram with a
request to meet her that evening at the office of an editor who might
be useful to them.

In answer to this he sent a message by telegram: "I don't come till I
have received an answer to my letter."

Again came a telegram, in which she asked to be allowed to postpone her
answer till the next day.

He thought the whole affair nonsensical but went to keep the
appointment. She seemed as though nothing had happened; they ate their
supper and discussed business. The editor was a married man, and
pleasant, nor did he seem to wish his visitors to worship him.

This evening, however, the Norwegian thought her ugly. She was
carelessly dressed, had ink on her fingers, and she talked so
exclusively of business that she lost all her ideal aspect. He had
experienced much in his life, and seen many strange people, but anyone
so eccentric as this woman he had never seen. He went home with a
feeling of relief, firmly resolved not to follow her to Berlin, nor to
link his destiny any closer with hers. The next morning he received her
letter; this strengthened him still further in his resolve to withdraw.
She wrote that she was one of those women who cannot love. ("What sort
of a woman is that? A mere phrase!" he thought.) He believed that he
loved her but he was only in love with her love. ("Alexandre Dumas I
think!") She still desired, however, to remain his friend and asked him
to meet her that day.

He answered this with a farewell letter of thanks.

Then there rained on him telegrams and express messengers.

Towards evening a hotel waiter entered his room and announced that a
lady in a carriage was waiting below to see him. At first he thought of
declining to go down, but she might come to his room, and then the bond
would be made fast. Accordingly he went down, entered the carriage,
and without reflection or saying anything they gave each other a kiss,
which seemed perfectly natural. There ensued a stormy conversation
which was extremely like a quarrel. She asked that he should accompany
her that very night on her journey, but he gave a decided refusal. If
they were seen together, to-morrow the "elopement" would be in all the
newspapers. That he could not bring his conscience to agree to, both on
account of her parents and his own children. He also told her that he
was dependent on other people's help, and that as soon as he was known
as an adventurer all these resources would dry up.

"Then you don't love me!"

"What nonsense you talk, child."

He had to laugh at her. They got out of the cab and continued their
contest in a little green lane which led down to the shore.

Now and then he put his arm round her neck and silenced her mouth with
a kiss.

"I have seen that you are cracked, but I myself am half-mad, you see,
and you won't get the better of me."

"I will jump into the sea!" she shrieked.

"Very well! I will follow, and can swim."

At last he got her to laugh. Then they entered a café in order to
arrive at a final decision. Now he had the upper hand and treated her
like a naughty girl, and curiously enough, as soon as he had assigned
this rôle to her, she took it up and maintained it.

Did these two love each other now? Yes, certainly, for he knew how tied
he was, and she had already, as appeared later on, confessed her love
in a letter to her mother, adding that he was to know nothing of it,
for then she would immediately be brought under the yoke of subjection.

The final decision they arrived at was that she should travel alone,
and they made no promises to each other. They were to correspond
and see whether they would be able to meet in the summer; when his
position was more secure they would think of betrothal and marriage.

They parted, and did not see each other again for a long time.

He went immediately afterwards to look up his old friends in the café.
There in his own circle he wished to find himself again, for during
this month's exclusive living with a woman, he had become loosed from
his own environment, lost his foothold, and built up a common life
on the shaky foundation of the temperament of a young girl, whom his
passion had transformed into a mature woman. Her last outbreak of anger
had revealed a fury who believed that she could compel him to blind
obedience. During this her face had exhibited all possible changes from
the broad grin of Punch to the hissing of the cat which shows its white
claws. He breathed more lightly, experienced a sensation of relief, and
entered the café feeling as though he had left something oppressive
behind him, something happily over and done with!

The Swede sat there, and probably the gossip regarding the Norwegian's
engagement had caused him to bring his lady friend with him. She was
a tall fragile-looking Swede who seemed to be emaciated by illness;
she had a mournful, despairing sort of voice, a drawling accent and
drooping eyes. As an artist, although obscure she was "emancipated" as
the phrase is, but not free from the feminine vanity of being able to
appear with a number of male hangers-on, whom she boasted of having
made conquests of. Her thoughts had long turned upon the Norwegian.
When they met, she found him novel and full of surprises. At the same
time he brought with him the fire of his newly kindled flame. Within
half an hour she had neither eyes nor ears for her old friend. When at
last she snapped at him, he stood up and asked her to come with him.
"You can go," she answered. And he went.

In less than an hour she had broken with her friend of many years and
formed a tie with the Norwegian who an hour and a half before had
kissed his fiancée at parting. He asked himself how that was possible,
but took no time to reflect on it. She possessed the advantage of
being able to understand him completely; he was able to speak out his
thoughts after a long imprisonment; he needed only to give a hint
in order to be understood. She drank in the eloquence of his words,
seemed to follow the sudden leaps of his thought, and probably received
answers to many questions which had long occupied her mind. But she
was ugly and ill-dressed, and he sometimes felt ashamed at the thought
that he might be suspected of being her admirer. Then he felt an
unspeakable sympathy with her which she interpreted to mean that she
had made a conquest of him.

They went out into the town and wandered from café to café, continually
talking. Sometimes his conscience pricked him, sometimes he felt
a repulsion to her, because she had been faithless to her friend.
Faithlessness indeed was the link which united them, and they felt
as if Destiny had driven them to commit the same wrong on the same
evening. She had at once inquired about his engagement and he had at
first given an evasive answer; but as she had continued to ask with
comrade-like sympathy he had told her the whole story. But in doing
so he spoke of his love, he became enthusiastic; she warmed herself
at the glow and seemed to be a reflection of "the other." So the two
images coincided, and the absent maiden, who should have been a barrier
between them, was the one who brought them near each other.

The next day they met again, and she never seemed tired of discussing
his engagement. She was in a critical mood and began to express
doubts whether he would be happy. But she went carefully to work,
showed indulgence, and only attempted purely objective psychological
analysis. She also understood how to withdraw a severe expression at
the right time in order not to frighten him away.

Now as ill-luck would have it, he received at noon a letter from his
fiancée which was the answer to the stormy one he had written when they
parted. In her letter she only wrote of business matters, gave good
advice in a superior tone, in a word was pedantic and narrow-minded.
Not a trace of the pretty young girl was to be found in the letter.
This put him out of humour and aroused his disgust to such a degree
that when he met his new friend, with a ruthless joy in destruction he
proceeded to analyse his fiancée under the microscope. The Swede was
not backward with her feminine knowledge of feminine secrets to put the
worst interpretation on all the details which he narrated. He had cast
his lamb to the she-wolf, who tore the prey asunder while he looked on.

At the beginning of April, that is three weeks later, the Norwegian
sat in the café one afternoon with Lais, as she was called, after she
had become the friend of the company in general, not of anyone in
particular. He sat there with a resigned air, "prepared for everything"
as usual. It had been difficult to keep his engagement alive by means
of the post, and it had become still more uncertain after the news had
reached her father's ears and brought him to despair. He was a Minister
of State, lived at Odense, went to Court when he was in the capital,
and wore twelve orders. He would rather shoot himself than be the
father-in-law of a notorious nihilist. In order to put an end to the
affair the old man had dictated his conditions, which were of course
impossible.

The Norwegian must pay all his debts and give a guarantee that he
would have a regular and sufficient income. Since a writer of plays
has nothing guaranteed, but is dependent on popular favour, the wooer
considered his proposal withdrawn, and regarded himself as unfettered,
and indeed he was so. Moreover, thus humiliating correspondence about
pecuniary matters had cooled his devotion, for love letters which were
full of figures and motherly advice, practical items of information
about publishers and so on, were not inspiring to read for a literary
free-lance. And as the correspondence slackened, and finally ceased, he
considered himself entirely free.

With her usual vanity, Lais had ascribed to herself the honour of
having dissolved his engagement, although there was no reason for her
doing so. Moreover, in the last few days a circumstance had happened
which was fortunate for his future. Another friend of Lais had
arrived from the north, and as he was one of her admirers she had such
assiduous court paid to her that she did not notice how the Norwegian
was slackening in his attentions.

In order to celebrate the arrival of the newcomer, the last few
days had been a continual feast, and now they were in that strange
condition, when the soul is, so to speak, loosed from its bearings and
utters its thoughts without distinction and without regard.

Lais was possessed by the not unusual idea that she was irresistible,
and liked to produce the impression that all her male friends, even
those who had dropped her, were dismissed admirers. Now she wished
to show her newly arrived friend how well she was provided with them
and began to skirmish with the Norwegian. Since he had long cherished
towards her the hate which is born of imprudently bestowed confidences,
he seized the opportunity to bring about the breach without scandal,
in a word to dispose of her without disgrace to either of them. Under
some pretext, or perhaps with a foreboding that something was about to
happen, he took his leave and left the other two together. But Lais
pressed him to remain, probably to gain an opportunity of leaving him
alone, when she went out with her friend. Here, however, she had made
a miscalculation. Making a gesture of invitation to the new-comer, the
Norwegian went out after saying the last word: "Now I leave you alone!"

When he came out on the street, he had a certain uneasy suspicion
that he had left something unfinished behind him, and had something
unexpected before him. He thought he heard the hissing voice of the
woman he had left. She never opened her lips, which were sharply
defined, like those of a snake, when she spoke, but brought the words
straight out of her throat, which was always hoarse through her sitting
up at night drinking and smoking. Such a voice in women he called a
"porter voice" because it always reminded him of that black drink and
its concomitants.

Such is friendship with women--either it ends in love or in hatred just
like love!

When he came to his hotel, the waiter handed him a local telegram.
"That is what brought me home," he said to himself. His experiences had
made him believe in telepathy to such a degree that he was in the habit
of saying when in company and there was talk of sending for some absent
person: "Shall we telepath to him?"

Before he opened the telegram he believed he knew the contents, and
when he had read, he felt as though he had done so before, and was not
surprised. The telegram ran thus: "I am here; look me up at Doctor
----'s. Important news."

He stood still for two minutes in order to form a resolution. When the
waiter came he asked him to telephone to the friendly doctor, who had
a private hospital of his own and enjoyed a very good reputation. The
doctor came at once and explained the situation: "Are you thinking of
drawing back?" he asked.

"No, but I must collect myself, and sleep for twelve hours, for my
nerves are out of control. I will send a telegram to say that I am
not well. She will not believe that, but will come herself; I beg you
therefore to wait for half an hour."

The telegram went off, and in half an hour steps were heard along the
corridor. She entered, dressed in black and at first full of suspicion.
But to be able to consult with the doctor gave her an advantage which
pleased her. She said she would come next morning together, with the
doctor, and then she went, after secretly imprinting a kiss on the
patient's hand.

"You must not play with your feelings," said the doctor who remained
behind. "This woman loves you and you love her. That is as plain as a
pikestaff."

The Norwegian lay alone all the evening and sought to find some guiding
thread through all this chaos, but in vain. What a tangled thicket
was the human soul! How could one bring it into order? It passed from
hate to contempt over esteem and reverence and then back again with
one bound sideways and two forwards. Good and evil, sublime and mean,
uniting treachery with deathless love, kisses and blows, insulting
reproaches and boundless admiration. Since he knew the human soul he
had adopted it as one of his fundamental principles never to balance
accounts, never to go backwards, but always forwards. When in the
beginning of their acquaintance she had wished to refer to something
which he had said on a previous occasion he interrupted her: "Never
look back! Only go forwards! One talks a lot of nonsense on the spur of
the moment. I have no views but only speak impromptu, and life would be
very monotonous if one thought and said the same things every day. It
should be something new! Life is only a poem, and it is much jollier
to float over the marsh than to stick one's feet in it and to feel for
firm ground which is not there."

This must have suited her own ideas of life, for she was immediately
ready to adopt this rôle. Therefore they found each other always novel,
and always full of surprises. They could not take each other too
seriously, and often when one of them attacked his or her own discarded
views with the other's opinions of the day before, they were obliged to
laugh at their own foolishness. Thus they were never clear about each
other, and in really serious moments they would exclaim simultaneously:
"Who are you? What are you really?" and neither of them could answer.

As he was on the point of falling asleep, he thought, "I shall make no
resolve, for I have never seen a resolve lead to anything. The course
of events may guide my destiny as it has done hitherto."

The next morning she came without waiting for the doctor. She had put
on a wise air, as if she understood the illness thoroughly but did not
wish to descend to trifles. She took a rod out of a basket she had
brought with her.

"What is that?"

"That is 'the Easter rod'; to-day is Good Friday." She set up the rod
at his feet, and adorned the edge of the bed with willow-branches in
bloom. Like a little housewife she bustled about the room, surveying
and putting it in order. Finally she sat down in an easy chair.

"Well! What is the great news?" he asked.

"We must enter on an engagement, for the papers have announced it."

"Have they, indeed? What about the old man?"

"Father has resigned himself, because the matter cannot be altered; but
he is not happy. Now won't you congratulate me?"

"You should congratulate me first, for I am the elder."

"And the less intelligent."

"I have the honour to congratulate you. And what a man you have got!"

So they chatted, and soon came to the subject of their prospects. He
dictated and she wrote. Such and such plays of his accepted for the
stage.... That would be a thousand pounds.

"Discount thirty per cent for disappointments," she said.

"Thirty! I also reckon ninety or a hundred per cent."

"Be sober! It is serious." And then they laughed.

Divine frivolity! To look down on the ugly earnestness of life as if
all one had to do was to blow at it. The poet's light-hearted way of
treating economy like poetry.

"How could one bear the miseries of life, if one did not treat them as
unrealities? If I took it seriously, I should have to weep the whole
day, and I don't want to do that."

Dinner-time came; she laid the sofa-table, fed him, and was especially
sparing with the wine.

"You have drunk enough now, and you must promise never to go to the
café again, especially with Thais."

"Lais," he corrected her, but coloured. "You know that then?"

"A woman of twenty-three knows everything."

Glad to avoid a troublesome confession, he promised never to visit
the café again and kept his word, for that was the only penance he
could offer for his sorry behaviour. Thus they were engaged. His only
social intercourse consisted in her company, while she continued to
go to families which she knew, to visit theatres, and so on, for this
belonged to her work as a newspaper correspondent. In case of an
eventual struggle for power, she had all the advantages on her side, as
she moved in an environment from which she derived moral support and
fresh impulses, while he was thrown back on himself and his previous
observations. They lived really like playfellows, for he never read
what she wrote in the newspapers, while she had read all his writings
but never referred to them. There was no consciousness shown on either
side that he was a mature and well-known author and she a young critic
of books and plays. They met simply as man and woman, and as her future
husband he had placed himself on the same level with her, not above her.

Sometimes while they were together, he felt a prisoner, isolated and
in her power. If he were to break with her now he would stand alone
in the world, for he had got quite out of touch with his old friends
and come to dislike the life of the café. Moreover, he felt so grown
together with this woman, that he thought he would pine away if parted
from her. In spite of her love she could not hide the fact that she
thought she had him absolutely in her power, and sometimes she let him
feel it. But then he raged like a lion in a cage, went out and sought
his old friends, though he noticed he did not thrive among them and his
conscience pricked him for his faithlessness. She sulked for half a
day, then crept up to him, fell on her knees and was pardoned.

"At bottom," he said once, "we hate each other because we love each
other. We fear to lose our individualities through the assimilating
force of love, and therefore we must sometimes have a breach in order
to feel that I am not you, and you are not I."

She agreed, but it was no remedy against the spirit of revolt, the
struggle of the ego for self-justification. She loved him as a woman
loves a man, for she thought him handsome, although he was ugly. He,
for his part, demanded neither respect nor admiration but only a
measure of trust, and a friendly demeanour. She was generally sparkling
and cheerful, playful, without being teasing, yielding and gracious.

Once when he reflected over the various types of woman he had observed
in her during the beginning of their acquaintance, he could scarcely
understand how she had been able to play so many different parts.
The literary independent lady with Madame de Staël's open mouth and
loquacious tongue had entirely disappeared; the grand, pretentious
woman of the world and the _fin-de-siècle_ lady with morbid paradoxes
were also both obliterated. She saw how unpretentious he was and she
became like him.

April came and it was high spring-time. At the same time his prospects
had brightened; some of his plays had been accepted; a novel sold for a
considerable sum; and one of his dramas was acted in Paris. An untrue
report was spread that the engaged pair had gone off together. Her
parents in Odense were disturbed and urged on the marriage.

"Will you marry now?" she asked.

"Certainly I will," was his reply.

So the matter was settled! But then came difficulties. She was a
Catholic and could not marry a divorced man as long as his first wife
lived. In order to circumvent this difficulty he devised the plan of
being married in England. And so it was settled. Her sister came as
a witness to the ceremony. She was married to a famous artist, was
herself an authoress, and therefore understood how to value talent,
even when unaccompanied with earthly goods.

Thus they began their wedding journey.



III


It was a May morning on an island off the English coast. He had gone
with her to the extreme end of a promontory where the cliff descends
sheer into the sea. He wished to ask her something privately but did
not dare to; therefore they stood there silently staring into the blue
emptiness, seeking an object where there was none.

They had stayed there six days without being able to marry because
through carelessness the notice of his divorce had not been published
till some months after he had obtained a decree. Accordingly it bore
so late a date that the time allowed for challenging it had not yet
elapsed. He had exchanged telegrams with the authorities; confusion and
misunderstanding caused further delay, and his fiancée's sister became
impatient.

"Do you trust me?" he asked her.

"Yes, I believe in your honesty, but you are an unlucky creature."

"And your sister?"

"What is she to believe? She does not know you. She only knows that
your assurances that the documents were valid, were incorrect."

"She is right, but it is not my fault. What does she mean to do?"

"She returns to-morrow, and I must go with her."

"So then we shall be parted before we are married, and I return to life
in hotels, restaurants, and night cafés."

"No, not that," and after a pause she added: "Let us jump into the
sea."

He put his arm round her: "Have you ever seen a destiny like mine?
Wherever I go, I bring unhappiness and destruction with me. Think! Your
parents!"

"Don't talk so! With patience we shall also get out of this."

"Yes, in order to fall into something else."

"Come! shall I blow at it?" And she blew the cloud away. There was an
outbreak of divine frivolity again and they raced home through the
fortifications and over the mines.

In the evening the decisive telegram came, and the wedding was fixed
for the next day. It took place at first at the registry office. While
the oaths were being taken the bride fell into hysterical laughter
which nearly rendered the whole ceremony abortive, since the registrar
did not know what to make of a scene which resembled one in a lunatic
asylum.

It was not a brilliant wedding-party which assembled in the evening
in the clergyman's house. Besides the bride's sister, four strangers
--pilots--were present as witnesses when they plighted their troth
"before God."

       *       *       *       *       *

Fourteen days of May had passed. Both were sitting outside the
comfortable little house and watching how the migratory birds rested in
the garden before continuing their journey north-ward.

"So quiet?"

"How long?"

"Eight days more. But I had not thought that marriage was such a
splendid arrangement."

"Although they call me a woman-hater," he said, "I have always loved
woman, and although they call me a friend of immorality, I have always
held by marriage."

"Can you imagine yourself leading a lonely life after this?"

"No, the thought chokes me."

"Do you know I am so happy that I am afraid?"

"Yes, so am I. I feel as if someone were lying and spying on us. She is
called Nemesis, and follows not only guilty but also happy men."

"What are you most afraid of?"

"That we should part."

"But that depends on us, I suppose."

"Would that it did! But discord comes from without with the wind,
with the dew, with too long-continued sunshine, with the rain. Try to
explain which of us two was to blame for our last quarrel."

"Neither!"

"Neither of us two, then it was a third. Who is this third? In order
to give it a name people call it 'misunderstanding'; but both of our
understandings were completely clear, not disturbed at all."

"Don't frighten me."

"No, but be sure that the same event will happen again and that we
shall blame each other as on the last occasion."

"Shall we not go and write now?" she broke in.

"I cannot write."

"Nor can I; my editor is angry because he has had no article from me
for two months."

"And I have not had a single new idea for a whole year. What will be
the end of it?"

The fact was that they had neutralised each other, so that there was no
more reaction on either side. Their life together now consisted of a
comfortable silence. The need to be near each other was so great that
one could not leave the room without the other following. They tried to
shut themselves in their rooms in order to work, but after a short time
one would knock at the other's door.

"Do you know, all this is very fine, but I am becoming an idiot?" she
complained.

"You also?"

"I can neither read, think, nor write any more, and can hardly speak."

"It is too much happiness, and we must seek some society, or we shall
both become silly."

The fact was that they had both ceased to converse; they were
apparently so harmonious in all questions and predilections and
knew each other's opinions so well that there was no further need
to exchange thoughts. The same tastes, the same habits, the same
naughtinesses, the same superficial scepticism had brought them
together, and now they were welded into one like two pieces of the same
metal. Each had lost individuality and they were one. But the memory
of independence and one's own personality was still present, and a war
of liberation was impending. The sense of personal self-preservation
awoke, and when each wished to resume their own share, there was a
strife about the pieces.

"Why don't you write?" he asked.

"I have tried, but it is always you and about you."

"Whether it is I, or someone else, it all comes to the same thing."

"You mean I have no self?"

"You are too young to have a self."

He had better have left that unsaid, for by saying it, he woke her.

       *       *       *       *       *

One morning there came a paper containing a notice to the effect that a
volume of his poems had appeared with a London publisher.

"Shall we go to London?" she suggested.

"Yes, gladly, though I don't believe these notices which I have read
so often. Anyhow, as a business journey, it can be made to pay its own
expenses."

The resolve was carried out. They saw the little island[1] disappear
with the same joy with which they had before seen it rise out of the
mist.

In Dover they had to stay one day at an hotel. As he returned from a
walk, he found his wife sealing up six packets, all of the same shape
and size.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"It is the account of your American journey, which I am sending to some
papers I know in Denmark."

"But you should not cut it up into sections; you know that it forms a
complete whole. Have you read it?"

"No, I have only glanced through it; but at any rate it will bring in
some money."

"No, it will not; for no one will print it piecemeal. Only in a single
volume would it have any value."

She paid no attention. "Come now," she said commandingly; "we will go
to the post."

She meant well, but was foolish; and although experience had taught him
what a dangerous adviser she was, he let her have her way, and followed.

On the stairs, he noticed that she limped, for she had bought too tight
boots with high heels, such as were then only worn by cocottes.

When they reached the street, she hurried on to the post, and he
followed. As he noticed how the symmetry of her little figure was
impaired by the many packages which she insisted on carrying, and how
she limped on the boot heel which she had trodden down, he was seized
with a sort of repulsion.

It was the first time that he viewed her from behind, and he thought
involuntarily of the wood-nymph of legend, who in front was a charming
fairy, but behind quite hollow.

The next moment he felt a remorseful horror at himself and his
thoughts. In this cruel heat the little woman was carrying the heavy
load, and had already written six long letters to editors all for his
sake. And she limped! But her brutal way of treating his work and
cutting a manuscript to pieces without having read it; treating a
literary work as a butcher does a carcass!...

Again he felt repulsion, and again remorse, mixed with that
indescribable pain which a man feels when he sees his beloved ugly,
badly dressed, pitiful, or ridiculous. People in the street looked
after her, especially when the wind blew out her thin serge mantle,
which resembled a morning coat; it swelled out like a balloon and
spoilt her fine figure. He hurried forward to take the packets from
her; but she only waved him off, and hastened on, cheerful and
undismayed.

When she came out of the post office, she wanted to go and buy larger
boots. He followed. Since the purchase of them would occupy half an
hour, she told him to wait outside. When at last she came out, she
walked quite comfortably for a time, but then discovered that the new
boots also were too tight.

"What do you think of a shoemaker like that?" she said.

"But _he_ did not make the boots too tight for you! There were larger
ones also."

That was a dangerous commencement of the conversation, and as they
sat down at a table in a café, the silence was uncomfortable. They
sat opposite each other and had to look one another in the eyes; they
sought to avoid doing so, but could not, and when they were obliged to
look at each other, they turned away.

"You would like now to be in Copenhagen with your friends," she said.
It was a good guess. But even if he could have transported himself
thither for a second, he would have wished himself back again at once.

Her nervousness increased, and her eyes began to sparkle, but since she
was intelligent, she understood that neither of them was to blame.

"Go for a walk," she said; "we must be away from each other for a
while, and then you will see it will be better."

He quite agreed with her, and they parted without any bitterness.

As he walked along by the side of the harbour, he felt his nerves
become settled and quiet. He became once more conscious of himself as
a separate and independent being; he no longer gave out emanations but
concentrated himself; he was once more an individual in his own skin.
How well he knew these symptoms, which signified nothing, but which
in spite of all attempts to explain them, persisted as a constant
phenomenon.

Meanwhile, since he felt a positive satisfaction in her absence, the
thought stole into his mind that perpetual freedom from her would
be attended by yet greater satisfaction, and as he approached the
steam-boat pier the thought passed through his mind like a flash of
lightning: "If I go off now, I shall be in Copenhagen in two days."

He sat down, ordered a glass of beer, lighted a cigar, and considered.

"If I go to London," he thought, "she will get the upper hand, because
she can speak the language. I shall be led about by her like a deaf
and dumb man and shall have to sit like an idiot among my literary
friends whom she will get under her thumb. A pleasant prospect! Being
patronised by her in the Danish newspapers was already sufficiently
humiliating. I incurred an obligation to her...."

But in the midst of his meditations he broke off, for he knew that no
character could stand such close and critical analysis. He knew also
that no one could endure being gazed at from behind and judged in
absence. Then a feeling of loneliness came over him and a consciousness
of being faithless and ungrateful. He was drawn back to her, stood up
and went quickly to the hotel. When he entered in an elevated mood
and not without sentimental feelings he was greeted by a laugh,
long-lasting and cheerful like the song of the grasshoppers. Dressed in
silk she lay there, coiled up like an Angora cat, eating sweetmeats,
and smelling of perfume.

Then they laughed both together, as though they had seen something
comic in the street, which had nothing to do with them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now they were in Pimlico, between Westminster and Chelsea. They had
paid one visit and that was all. Everyone was away, all the theatres
were shut, and a perfectly tropical heat prevailed. One's soul felt
as if it would gladly shake off its fleshly husk in order to seek for
coolness up in the air. From morning to evening one felt only half
alive.

The pressure of need had forced him unwillingly to set to work and
write. But as he had already utilised most of his experiences, he was
obliged to make use of some material which should, properly speaking,
not have been employed. However, he did violence to himself, overcame
his scruples, and began.

"Now I am writing," he told her triumphantly, "we are saved!"

His wife came and saw how he had filled the first sheet with letters.
After an hour she came again. He was lying on the sofa lamenting: "I
can do nothing! Let us then perish!"

She left the room without saying a word, and when she had shut the
door, he bolted it. Then he took out of his portmanteau a green linen
bag containing a quantity of sheets of paper covered with dates.
These had been often spoken of by his friends and nicknamed the "Last
Judgment." It was an historical work, in which, from a new and bold
point of view, he treated the history of the world as a branch of
natural science. He had planned it carefully, but perhaps it was
destined never to be printed and would certainly never bring in any
money.

After working for some time, he felt the usual restlessness which he
experienced in the absence of his second self, and went down to seek
her.

She sat reading a book which she made a lame attempt to hide, as he
entered. By her strange manner he saw that some fateful element had
entered into their common life.

"What are you reading?" he asked.

"Your last book," she answered in a peculiar tone.

"It has appeared then! Don't read it; you will poison yourself."

It was a ruthless description of his first marriage, written in
self-defence and as a last testament, for he had intended, after
completing it, to take his life. For years the manuscript had remained
sealed up in the care of a relative, and he had never intended to print
it. But in the last spring and under the pressure of necessity, after
he had been assailed most unjustly by gossips and in the newspapers, he
had sold the book to a publisher.

And now it had appeared and fallen into the hands of the very last
person who should have seen it. His first impulse was to snatch the
book from her, but he was restrained by the thought: "It has happened;
well, let it happen!" And with perfect calm, as though he had assisted
at his own inevitable execution, he left the room. At lunch, he noticed
the strange transformation which had taken place in his wife. Her face
wore a new expression; her looks searched his whole person, as though
she were comparing him with the man described in the book. He took for
granted that his sufferings there described would not arouse her pity,
for a woman always takes sides with her own sex. But what he could
not understand was that she seemed to recognise herself in certain
of her predecessor's characteristics. Perhaps her mind was occupied
by some still unsolved problems in the question which married people
instinctively avoid--the woman question. Certain it was, however, that
she had learnt what her husband's views were on the subject of her sex,
and they were so cynically expressed that they must give her mortal
offence.

She did not say a word, but he saw in her face that now all chance
of peace was gone and that this woman would never rest till she had
destroyed his marriage and compelled him to shorten his life. Against
this he could only oppose his motto: "Be ready for everything," and
resolve to bear everything as long as possible, and finally when
nothing else remained, to go his own way. Then she would devour herself
in solitude for want of food for her hate.

The next day she had hatched her egg, which proved to contain a
basilisk.

With an air which would fain have seemed innocent, but did not, she
told him, that since he could not work, they must think of retrenching.

"Very well," he answered.

First of all they had to content themselves with one room. This meant
that all possibility of being his own master, of withdrawing himself,
and of collecting himself was precluded. For the future he would be
confined with his tormentress in the same cage, have no more power
over his own thoughts and inclinations, and above all, not be' able to
work at the "Last Judgment."

"You know you cannot work!" she remarked.

When midday came, a plate with some cold bacon and bread was set before
him.

"You don't like soup," she said; "and hot food isn't nice in this heat."

Then she sat down to watch him.

"Won't you eat?" he asked.

"No, I am not hungry," she answered, and continued to watch him.

Then he stood up, took his hat, and prepared to go out.

"Are you going out?" she asked; "then I will go too, and we will keep
each other company."

He went forward with long strides and she followed him. In order to vex
her he chose the sunny side of the street by a long white wall, where
the heat was intense, and the reflected light blinded the eyes. Then he
dragged her out to Chelsea, where there was no house that could give
shade.

She followed like an evil spirit.

When they came to the river, he thought for a moment of pushing her
into the water, but did not. He went along the bank where lime-ships
unloaded, steam-cranes puffed out coal-smoke, and chains hindered their
walking. He hoped that she would fall and hurt herself, or be pushed
down by a workman, and wished that a coal-heaver would embrace and kiss
her--so boundless was his hate and hers.

It was in vain that he mounted over barrels and wheel-barrows and
threaded his way through heaps of lime. He thought of jumping into the
river and swimming to the other side, but was withheld by the thought
that she perhaps could swim also.

At last he made a wide circuit like an ox persecuted by a gadfly,
and went down to Westminster. There the back streets swarmed with
the strangest figures, like shapes seen in a nightmare. He entered
the abbey, as if to shake off a pest, but she followed, silent and
unweariable.

Finally he had to return home, and when he got there, he sat down on
one chair, and she seated herself opposite him.

Then he understood how a man can become a murderer, and determined to
fly, as soon as he had written for money.

The night came, and he hoped now to be able to collect his thoughts,
and be master of himself.

She pretended to be asleep, but he could tell by her breathing that
she did not really sleep.

"Are you awake?" she asked.

He was still unwise enough to answer "Yes." Now they lay there watching
which should first go to sleep. At last he did so.

In the middle of the night he awoke, listened, and heard by her
breathing that she was asleep.

Then his soul stretched itself, wrapped itself up in the darkness,
and enjoyed being able to think without being watched by those cold,
threatening eyes.

She had not, however, really gone to sleep, but in the darkness he
heard her voice as before: "Are you asleep?"

He felt the vampire which had fastened on to his soul and kept watch
even over his thoughts. Why did she spy on him except that she feared
the silent workings of his mind? She felt perhaps how he lay there, and
worked himself gradually out of the meshes of her net. He only needed
a few hours' quiet, but that he was not to have. So she denied herself
sleep in order to torment him. She would not allow herself the pleasure
of going to the city, or of visiting the libraries and museums, because
she did not wish to leave him alone. The next day he asked her whether
she wished to continue to translate his worlds, or whether he should
have recourse again to his old translators.'

"Shall I translate _you_?" she said contemptuously. "There are better
writers to be done."

"Why will you not rather translate me than your rubbishy authors?"

"Take care!" she hissed. "You over-value yourself and a terrible
awakening awaits you from the dream of your imagined greatness." She
said that in a tone as if she were supported by the public opinion
of all Europe. That made a certain impression on him, for an author,
even when recognised, often seems nothing to himself but is entirely
dependent on the opinion others cherish regarding his talents. Now
he felt the bond between them snap. She hated and despised his work,
which was his only means of support, and when she sought to rob him of
courage and confidence, she was the enemy. And in dealing with an enemy
there are only two methods--either to kill him, or not to fight him but
to fly. He determined on the latter.

He had still to wait a few days till the money came, and these days
were enough to develop his aversion. He had opportunities of witnessing
more cold, calculating malice, mischievous joy at successful thrusts,
all the feminine small-mindedness, meanness, and duplicity, but on a
larger scale. Since she knew that he could not get away for want of
money, she gave him to understand that he was her prisoner; but he was
not, however.

The room looked like a pigsty, and the meals were so prepared as to be
purposely repulsive. Dirt and disorder prevailed to such a degree that
he felt himself in hell. With longing he thought of his lonely attic
which had always been tidy, however careless he had been about expenses.

Two months had passed since their marriage. All smiles and even
conversation had ceased; love was changed into unreasoning hate, and he
began to find her ugly.

On the last day before his departure, he felt obliged to speak out
in order not to explode. "You were beautiful as long as I loved you;
perhaps my love made you so, not only in my opinion. Now I find you the
ugliest and meanest character which I have met in my life."

She answered: "I know that I have never been so malicious towards
anyone as towards you, without being able to give any reasons for it."

"I can, though," he said. "You hate me because I am a man, and your
husband."

He had packed his portmanteau and she was prepared for his departure.
When now the time of separation approached and she believed it would
be for ever, her hatred vanished, and behold! love was there again!

Her tenderness and care for him knew no bounds. They spoke of the
future as though they would soon meet again. She gave him good advice
in a motherly way, but resignedly, as if in face of an unalterable
destiny which demanded their temporary separation. As they drove to
the station in an open carriage, she kissed him repeatedly in broad
daylight in the main streets. The passers-by laughed, but when the
police began to look attentively at the caressing pair, he felt the
need of caution.

"Take care," he said, "in this country we might be imprisoned for
making love openly."

"What do I care for that?" she answered. "I love you so much."

He thought her again sublime in her all-defying tenderness, and they
planned to meet again in a week. His intention was to go to his
colleague Ilmarinen in the Island of Rügen. The latter would help him
to order his affairs; then he would rent a house and they would meet
again in a fortnight at latest.

"You see now, one cannot trust in the permanence of this hatred."

"No, one must trust love."

"It looks as if that had conquered."

Their parting at the station was heart-rending, and, as he sat alone in
the railway carriage, he felt the pain of longing for her. He did not
find the sense of freedom and happiness of which he had dreamt. All the
recollections of her malice seemed to have been obliterated.


[Footnote 1: Heligoland.]



IV


He went from London to Hamburg in the hope of finding acquaintances on
his arrival who would help him on to Rügen. But he found the place as
though under a spell of enchantment; everyone had gone to the country
or somewhere else. He had to take a room in an hotel and telegraph
first to Ilmarinen in Rügen, but the latter answered that he had no
money. Then he telegraphed to Copenhagen and Christiania and received
similar answers.

He felt now as though he had been enticed into a trap and overpowered.
Since there had been an outbreak of cholera the previous year in
Hamburg, they expected another when the heat returned, and that was
the case just now. Therefore, if he did not get away soon, he had to
expect, not death, to which he felt indifferent, but the quarantine.

The days passed slowly with terrible monotony, for he had no one to
talk to, and with the threatened cholera outbreak hanging over his
head. Helpless and in a perpetual rage against some invisible foe who
seemed to have a grudge against him, he felt paralysed. He dared not
move a finger in order to alter his destiny, for he feared failure and
renewed disappointment of his hopes.

In order to pass the time he studied historical tables and wrote dates
from morning to evening. But the days were still terribly long, and
after four days he conceived a fixed idea that he would never get away
from this infernal town where nothing but buying and selling went on.
This impression became so strong that he determined to end his life in
his uncanny bedroom. He unpacked his things and put out the photographs
of his children and other relatives on the writing-table.

Loneliness and torment made the time seem double its real length. He
began to be under the illusion that he was a native of Hamburg; he
forgot for a while his past and the fact that he was married or had
lived anywhere else than here. He regarded himself as a prisoner with
the weird feeling that he did not know what crime he had committed,
who had condemned him, or who was his jailer. But the black spectre of
cholera haunted invisibly the dirty water of the canals and watched for
him. Three times a day he asked the waiter about the cholera and always
received the same answer: "They are not sure yet."

Then at last came a letter from his wife. She cried aloud from longing,
fear, and unrest, and wished to know where he was. He answered in the
same tone and felt wild with rage at the destiny which separated them.

On the morning of the fifth day he discovered in a newspaper that his
Danish friend lived only half an hour's journey by rail from Hamburg.

If he had known that before, he would not have been obliged to undergo
all these sufferings. Now, since he could not pay the hotel bill, he
resolved to depart at once and not to return. His friend would give him
money which he would send to the hotel, and he would have his things
sent after him. He took his seat in the railway carriage with the
feelings of a liberated prisoner, cast a pitying look on Hamburg and
forgave the injuries it had done him, but vowed never to honour it with
another visit, unless compelled.

His half-hour's journey put him in a good humour, and his mouth
watered at the prospect of being able to give expression to all his
vexation and perhaps to make light of his martyrdom, and give it a
comic aspect. His divine frivolity returned, and he thought that
he must be after all a lucky fellow to find one of his friends so
unexpectedly. He stopped before the comfortable little house; the
landlord stood in the doorway; he greeted him and asked if Mr ---- were
at home.

"No; he went off this morning."

"Where?"

"To Denmark."

During the three hours which he had to wait for the train he had time
to get over the blow. When he took his seat again in the train, he
thought: "There is something wrong here; it is not the natural logic of
events. It is certainly something else."

Then the spires of Hamburg reappeared and his hatred to the place awoke
again, and rose to an incredible height when he saw a coffin at the
station. "Now the cholera is here," he thought, "and I shall be in
quarantine for fourteen days!"

But it was not the cholera, which was something to be thankful for. He
did not feel so, however, for he felt sure it would break out on the
same day that he received the money. And he calculated that he would
never get away from Hamburg in this way. The money would delay so long
till the hotel bill, which grew in geometrical progression, swallowed
up the whole amount, and nothing would be left for his travelling
expenses. In this way there would be a sort of perpetual movement which
might last till the end of the world.

That his calculations were about correct was proved two days later
when the money really came. He paid the bill, left the hotel in a cab,
and drove to the station; then a hotel servant who had followed him
expected a tip, and had, besides, a little additional bill, probably
falsified, as usual. When he came to the booking-office and inquired
the price of the ticket, he was two marks short. Accordingly he
returned to the hotel.

It is not necessary to linger over details in order to give the reader
a lively idea of what he suffered. In short, his silence cure still
lasted some days; then he got away, and the cholera had not yet broken
out.

His object in going to Rügen was partly to seek masculine society in
order to get rid of the feminine atmosphere which had enveloped him,
and partly to settle matters with Ilmarinen; but his chief purpose
was probably to talk himself out. That was precisely why, he thought,
destiny or whatever it was had relegated him to absolute silence in
Hamburg, for "destiny" always sought out his secret wishes in order to
frustrate them.

When at last he reached Rügen, hoping to have a good talk for half a
night, he found Ilmarinen altered, chilly in demeanour and embarrassed.
The latter had heard that his friend had married a lady from a rich
family, as indeed was the fact, and therefore could not understand this
sudden come down. When the new-comer asked whether they could have
supper together, the Finn excused himself by saying that he had been
invited to a birthday feast.

"I live, you know," he said, "with Lais's oldest friend, the Swede, who
was in love with her, and who came last."

"Is he here?"

"Yes, he lives here, since Lais engaged herself to the Russian who left
his wife and children."

"He hates me then also?"

"Yes, to speak the truth, your presence will certainly annoy him."

So he remained alone the first evening. Alone after a long double
loneliness with his wife and with himself!

He felt as though he were under some curse, to be so treated by this
insignificant, uncultivated Ilmarinen whom he had lifted up from
nothingness, introduced to his own circle, fed and lodged, because he
executed business matters for him with the theatres and publishers.
This employment was partly an honour for the young unknown author, and
partly an advantage, for it helped him to find openings for his own
work. Now the pupil abandoned the teacher, because he thought there was
nothing more to be gained from him, and because he considered he could
now help himself.

The days which followed were now so dreadful, that again the thought
occurred to him that this could not be natural, but that a black hand
was guiding his destiny.

Since there was only one restaurant in this third-class watering-place,
he had to sit at the same table with his countryman, who attributed
to him the loss of Lais, and with Ilmarinen, who assumed a superior
tone, because he regarded him as lost. Then the food resembled hog's
flesh from which all the goodness had been cooked out. One rose hungry
from table, and was hungry the whole day. Everything was adulterated,
even the beer. As regards the meat, the restaurant keeper's family
first cooked all the goodness out of it for themselves; the customers
only got the sinews and bones, and were fed, in fact, just like dogs.
Bitter looks, which his unfortunate fellow-countryman could not quite
suppress, did not increase the imaginary pleasures of the table.

He spent a week in Rügen without hearing anything from his wife in
London. At first he had found life on the island tolerable in contrast
to that in the Hamburg hotel; but when he woke one day and reflected on
his situation, it seemed to him simply hellish. He had hired an attic
room and the sun beat fiercely on the iron plates of the roof, which
was only a foot above his head. Sixteen years previously he had, as a
young bachelor, left his garret at the top of five flights of stairs,
in order to enter a house as a married man. Since that time it had been
one of his nightmares to find himself crawling up the five flights of
stairs to his old garret, where all the wretchedness and untidiness
of a bachelor's room awaited him. Now he was again in an attic and a
bachelor, although married. That was like a punishment after receiving
warnings. But what crime he had committed he could not say.

Moreover, the whole surrounding soil consisted of light, loose
sand, which had been so heated by the suns of midsummer that it
did not become cool at night. It made one think at first of the hot
sand-girdles which peasants use to cure inflammation of the lungs.
Later on, after searching in his memory, he thought of the scene in
Dante's Inferno where the blasphemers lie stretched out on hot sand.
But as he did not think he believed in any good God, it seemed to him
that blasphemies might be left unpunished.

After walking about for a week in the deep sand, it seemed to him
really a hellish torture to have to take half a step backward for every
one forward, and to be obliged to lift the foot six inches high in
walking. Worst of all was the feeling of sinking through the earth like
the girl in the fairy story who trod on bread. Never to find a firm
foothold, nor to be able to run a race with one's thoughts, but to drag
oneself about like an old man--that was hell. Besides this, there was a
heat in the air which never abated. His attic was burning hot by day,
and when he lay in bed at night with nothing on, he was scorched by the
iron plates of the roof. The nearness of the sea would naturally have
helped to relieve the heat, but that possibility had been carefully
guarded against, like everything else. From his boyhood he had been
accustomed to cast himself head foremost into the water because he
did not like creeping into it. In connection with this also, he was
persecuted by a frequently recurring nightmare, i.e. he used to dream
that he was overheated and must plunge into the sea. The sea was there
but was so shallow that he could not plunge into it, and when he did
crawl into it, it was still so shallow that he could not duck his head.
That was precisely the case here. "Have I come here for the fulfilment
of all my bad dreams?" he asked himself.

And with reason. Ilmarinen grew more inquisitive every day; he asked
when the Norwegian's wife was coming, and when a fortnight had passed,
believed that she had quite abandoned him. This, naturally, pleased
Lais's friend, and nothing was wanting to complete the Norwegian's
hell. For there was something very humiliating in his position as a
discarded husband. His correspondence with England had assumed such an
ominous character that he did not know himself whether he was still
married or separated. In one of his wife's letters, she dwelt on her
inextinguishable love, the pain of separation, and the martyrdom of
longing. They were, she said, Hero and Leander on opposite sides of the
sea, and if she could swim, she would fly to her Leander, even at the
risk of being washed up on his island a corpse. In her next letter she
announced that she intended opening a theatre in London, and was trying
to raise sufficient capital. At the same time she could not find enough
capital to buy a steamer-ticket. A third letter contained the news that
she was ill, and was full of complaints that the husband had left his
sick wife in a foreign land. A fourth letter said that she was in a
convent kept by English ladies, where she had been educated, and where
she found again her youth and innocence; in it she also denounced the
wickedness of the world and the hell of marriage.

It was impossible to give reasonable answers to these letters, for they
poured on him like hail and crossed his own. If he wrote a gentle reply
he received a scolding letter in answer to a previous sharp one of his,
and vice versa. Their misunderstandings arrived at such a pitch that
they bordered on lunacy, and when he ceased to write, she began to send
telegrams.

This imbroglio lasted for a month, and during that time he looked back
with longing to the hours he had spent in Hamburg; they seemed to him
like memories of an indescribably happy time when compared with this.

At last he was cut down from the gallows. A letter came from his
sister-in-law inviting him to his father-in-law's villa at Odense. His
wife had also been invited; and it was arranged that they should meet
again there.



V


Prepared for everything, even the worst, he entered on this new stage
of running the gauntlet. The most curious of all his changes awaited
him. After having been a husband and father he was to become a child
again, be incorporated into a family, and find another father and
mother many years after losing his own. The situation was rendered
more confused by the fact that his father and mother-in-law had lived
separate for seven years, and now wished to come together again on the
occasion of their daughter's marriage.

He had thus become a bond of union between them, and since the daughter
had also been at variance with her father, the family meeting promised
to take the shape of a manifold reconciliation.

But his own past was not exactly associated with family
reconciliations, and since he himself had not a clean record the
prospective idyll by the Areskov Lake began to loom before him like
a cave of snakes. How was he to explain this strange parting from
his bride after only eight weeks of marriage? To allege pecuniary
embarrassment would be the worst of all excuses, because a son-in-law
with money difficulties would be regarded as an impostor or a
legacy-hunter.

As he approached the meeting-place, he became nervous, but at the last
hour he saved his courage, as usual, by reverting to the stand-point
of the author: "If I get no honour thereby, I will at any rate get
material for a chapter in my novel."

He also regarded what happened to him from another point of view--that
of the innocent martyr. "I will see how far Destiny can go in its
meanness, and how much I can bear." When the train stopped at the
pretty little branch-line station, he looked out, naturally enough, for
faces which sought his own. A young lady leading a delicate-looking
child by the hand approached, asked his name, and introduced herself as
his father-in-law's French governess. She had been sent, she said, to
meet him.

A pretty white village whose houses had high, tent-like roofs and green
shutters lay in a valley surrounded by small hills, and enclosing a
beautiful lake, on the bank of which, outside the village, stood his
father-in-law's house. On the road under the lime-trees a bare-headed,
white-haired lady met him, embraced him and bade him welcome. It
was his wife's mother. He was immediately conscious what a strange
transmission of feelings such a simple transaction as marriage had
seemed to him, might bring about. She was his mother and he was her son.

"I have known you long before you saw my daughter," said the old
lady, with the quavering voice of a religious fanatic. "And it is as
though I had expected you. There is much evil in your writings, but
your immorality is childish, your views of women are correct, and
your godlessness is not your fault for He did not wish to make your
acquaintance, but now you will soon see Him come. You have married a
child of the world, but you will not long remain with her when you see
how she pulls you down into the trivialities of life. When you find
yourself alone, you will re-discover the first vocation of your youth."

This she said in the solemn and unembarrassed manner of a sibyl, as
though someone else spoke through her and therefore she did not fear to
have said too much.

When the conversation returned to mundane things, he asked after his
father-in-law, whose absence surprised him. She answered that he was
not here, but would come to-morrow. His sister-in-law now appeared but
she was chilly, gloomy and conventional in demeanour. He had thought
her his friend and had hoped to find a support in her presence, but
perceived now that that hope was vain, especially as she was going to
leave before her father came. Nothing more was said about his own wife,
and no one knew whether she was coming or not.

Had he been enticed into a trap? he asked himself, and was a court
martial about to be held here? Had his wife written complaints
against him from England? How was he to interpret the situation? A
mother-in-law who almost advised him to be divorced, and spoke ill of
her child--that was something very original!

Meanwhile he was conducted into the villa. It was a handsome stone
building of two stories, with many large rooms filled with ancient
furniture, tapestries, and ornaments. And this house, which could
easily contain two large families, was occupied for only six weeks
in the year by the owner during his holidays; the rest of the time
it stood empty. This suggested wealth, and gave the son-in-law the
impression that here, at any rate, one need not discuss poverty--its
causes and its cure.

The day passed in conversation with his mother-in-law, who was
unwearied in showing him attention and kindness. She was inclined
on every occasion to lead the conversation to high subjects; as a
religious mystic she was disposed to see the guiding hand of Providence
everywhere. That led her to look at things in general from a tolerant
point of view, since she regards people's actions as predestined.

In order to make himself agreeable in the most usual way he placed
himself at her point of view and searched in his past for some
premonitions of coming events.

"Yes," answered the old lady, "I said already that I had expected you;
one of those wild Northmen was to come and take my daughter. But as you
can guess, my husband was not delighted at the prospect; he has a very
violent temper but is good at heart. You will have a hard tussle with
him at first, but it will soon be over, if only you do not answer him.
It is certainly fortunate that your wife has not come, for he has a
bone to pick with her also."

"Also?"

"I don't mean anything bad; don't misunderstand me. It will be all
right when his angry fit is over."

"He will be angry then, anyhow, but I don't understand why. I have
acted in good faith, but every man may sometimes fairly plead
unmerited misfortune."

"Oh, it will be all right!"

At last the evening ended and he went up to his room. It had windows on
three sides; there were no outer blinds and the curtains could not be
drawn together. He felt himself under observation, like a patient in
quarantine.

When he lay in bed he had his father-in-law's bust to contemplate; the
face did not look friendly but quite the reverse, and being lit from
below, it assumed all manner of unpleasing expressions.

"And to-morrow I am to be lectured by this stranger who I have never
seen; scolded like a schoolboy because I have had misfortunes. Well, I
must put up with it, as with everything else."

The next morning he woke up with a distinct impression that he found
himself in a pit of snakes, into which Satan had enticed him. Therefore
it was impossible to flee, so he went out to botanise and survey the
landscape. He screwed himself up into a frivolous, poetic mood and
thought what a thrilling situation it was; a dramatic scene which no
one had hitherto passed through. "It is my own," he said to himself,
"even though it should scorch my skin."

Lunch-time came; it was not exactly cheerful at table and his
father-in-law's empty place seemed to threaten him. After lunch he
went up to his room to quiet his nerves and immediately afterwards the
Councillor's arrival was announced.

The Norwegian went down smiling, while a chill ran through him at
intervals. In the veranda stood a man who looked about forty, dressed
like a young man, with laughing and youthful eyes. What the Norwegian's
own demeanour was, he himself could not see, but it must have made a
favourable impression, for his new relative greeted him respectfully,
apologised for the lateness of his arrival, said kind things about his
books, and asked him to sit down.

However, he always addressed him with "you" instead of the more
intimate "thou." Then he talked of politics; he had just come from
Fredensborg. He spoke at length of this and that person, apparently
with the object of observing his son-in-law, who sat mute and
attentive. Then he turned to his wife, asked if she had anything to
entertain their guest with, and finally came back to him, asking if
he wished for anything. Without hesitating he stood up, went near his
father-in-law and said: "I have only one wish, that my wife's father
should call me 'thou.'"[1]

There was a sudden gleam in the other's eyes, he opened his arms and
now the doubter felt the same as he had when meeting his mother-in-law.
The invisible family-tie had been knit; he was genuinely moved, and
stood there transformed into a child.

"You are a good fellow," said his father-in-law, "I have looked into
your eyes." Then he kissed him on both cheeks. "But," he continued,
"you have got Maria, and you know what you have got, as I hear. Be good
enough never to come and complain to me. If you cannot tame her, you
must let yourself be drawn along by her. You have had your way; much
good may it do you!"

Then they drank coffee and talked like relatives and old acquaintances.
Then the Councillor went to change his clothes in order to go fishing.
He returned in a summer suit of white cashmere which made him look
still younger than before. The trousers had certainly belonged to
his Court uniform, and traces of gold thread were still visible upon
them, but that made an impression on the Bohemian. Moreover, his
father-in-law offered him cigars which he had been presented with by
princes.

The Councillor had dined at Court and was now going fishing with the
anarchist. The latter felt his conscience slightly uneasy as he had
not long previously admired the cleverness of some anarchists in
forcing open money-safes. It was strange! But the Councillor spoke
sympathetically of modern movements and of Scandinavian literature in
general. He was also thoroughly acquainted with the terrible activity
of his son-in-law, so that the latter had no need to feel embarrassed.
He especially approved of his views on the woman question and expressed
his opinion thus, "You have written all that I wished to write."

He was perhaps not quite serious, but he said it at any rate.

Then they reached the stream.

"Have you ever fished for perch?" asked his father-in-law.

"No," he replied.

"Then you had better help me."

The help consisted in placing the fish in a basket and clearing the
hook without injuring the artificial fly.

Since everything requires practice, the son-in-law showed himself
somewhat clumsy and got scolded. But he had become so accustomed to his
new position that he found it quite natural, just as natural as when he
used to go fishing formerly with his children.

At sunset the sport ceased, and the son-in-law had the honour of
carrying the fishing-rods, basket, and fish home.

The evening was cheerful, and the Councillor sent a telegram to London
with travelling expenses, telling the young wife to come at once.

"That is for your sake," he said to his son-in-law. In other words she
had not been sent for before, and he had therefore been enticed, as one
captures singing-birds.

"I have got well over it," he said to his mother-in-law as he bade her
good night.

"The worst is over, but it is not finished yet."

"Do you think we shall both get a whipping?"

It was not the end yet by a long way. The next morning he received a
letter from London in which she said farewell to him for ever (Lord
Byron!) because in the choice between her and her parents, he had
preferred the latter. Since there was no choice in question, this was a
piece of nonsense which concealed something. Another letter, addressed
to her mother, was to the same effect but expressed more violently and
concluded by wishing her "good luck." Her mother explained it thus.
"She is jealous, fears that you tell tales against her and find support
here; she is so self-willed that she cannot bear even her parents over
her. If you become good friends with her father and mother, she feels
herself in a child's position with regard to you also!"

This was possible but not quite natural, for she ought to have rejoiced
that he had made a conquest of her parents, and thus brought about a
reconciliation between her and them.

Her father became angry and serious; he telegraphed an ultimatum and
demanded an answer. Now the sky was clouded and there were no more
smiles. The Norwegian feared a collision if he remained here, and
telegraphed to his wife: "I am going to Copenhagen; if you do not come,
I will seek for a divorce." But he had to wait for an answer, and
therefore he remained. That night he could not sleep, for the situation
was grotesque enough to drive one to despair. Suppose she agreed to a
divorce, how could the family-tie which had just been formed be broken
in a moment? What would he be then, who had just entered into the
family and received their confidence? What would the old people think?
Such a hasty breach could not take place without some reason.

The next morning a telegram came from his young wife who was in
Holland. Since everything was fated to go crazily this telegram was so
badly worded that it might mean "I am coming to you," or "I am going to
Copenhagen to meet you there."

This telegram became a bone of contention, and for three whole days
the old pair and their son-in-law disputed over its interpretation.
But the young wife did not come. They listened to the whistles of the
steamboats, went down to meet the trains, came back and discussed
the telegram again. They had no more quiet, and could not carry on a
conversation without turning their heads and listening.

The next day the father's patience was exhausted, for a collateral
circumstance came in view, of great importance in his eyes--the
unavoidable scandal. The whole village knew that the son-in-law was
there, but that his wife had been lost and was sought for by telegram.
Her father therefore shut himself up all day, and when he emerged began
a ruthless discussion of the economic problem.

"Have you a sure income?" he asked.

"As sure as authors generally have," was the answer.

"Very well, then you must do like others, and write for the papers."

"No paper will print my articles."

"Then write them so that they can be printed."

That was more than a sceptic and quietist ought to have borne, but he
bore it and kept silence, firmly resolved rather to take a guitar on
his arm and go about as a wretched streetsinger rather than sell his
soul.

The old man had himself been a novelist and poet in his youth, but
had been obliged to give up the struggle in order to provide for his
family. He, therefore, had the right to say: "Do as I have had to do."
But on the other side he knew by experience how hard such a sacrifice
is. He immediately felt sympathy with his son-in-law and spoke
friendly, encouraging words. The next moment, however, his justified
suspicions awoke, and the memory of the sacrifice he had once made
made him bitter; he felt he must trample on an unfortunate who had
fallen under his feet. When he saw how the other kept silent and took
everything quietly, an evil spirit probably whispered to him that this
man could only bear everything so patiently because he hoped some day
to be heir in this house. Then he spoke of King Lear and his ungrateful
daughters who left the old man alone, waited for his death, and robbed
him of honour. So the day passed, and when the son-in-law withdrew, he
was sent for to be whipped again. Since he could put himself in other's
places, and understood how to suffer with them, he made no attempt to
defend himself. He could easily imagine himself old and set aside,
despised and neglected by his children. "You are right," he said, "but
still I feel myself innocent."

On the evening of the third day after the dispatch of the London
telegram his mother-in-law came to him. "You must go early to-morrow
morning," she said, "for he cannot bear to see you any more!"

"Very well, I will go."

"And if Maria comes now, she will not be received."

"Have you ever seen a man in such a position as mine?"

"No; my husband grants that too; it makes him suffer to see such a
worthy man as you in such a position; he suffers on your account, and
he does not want to suffer. You know my thoughts about it; it is no
one's fault and not the fault of circumstances; but you are fighting
against another who pursues and pursues you till you are so weary that
you will be compelled to seek rest in the only place where rest is to
be found. In me you will always have a friend, even if you are divorced
from my daughter, and I shall follow the course of your destiny with my
good wishes and my prayers."

When alone in his room, he felt a certain relief to think that
to-morrow there would be an end of this wretchedness which was among
the worst things he had experienced. In order to think of something
else, he took up a paper which proved to be the official Court news.
His eye flew over the first page down to the feuilleton, where a
literary essay attracted his attention. He read it, thinking that his
father-in-law had written it. At the first glance the article showed
great familiarity with literature, but it contained over-confident
judgments and was written in too artificial a style. Moreover, it
surprised him by displaying hostility to all modern literature
(including Scandinavian), while German literature was pointed to with
special emphasis as that which set the tone to, and stood highest in
the civilised world. Germany always at the head!

When he reached the end of the article, he saw that it was signed
by his wife! Now he had promised her never to read her articles and
he had kept this promise in order to avoid literary discussions in
his married life. The only reason that her written sentiments were
different from those which she expressed in daily conversation must be
that she had to write so "in order to be printed." What a double life
this woman must lead, appearing in Radical circles as an anarchist,
and in the Court paper as an old-fashioned Conservative! How one could
so change about he did not understand, and he was too tired to try to
understand it. But that explained why she could not understand his
being without occupation while there were plenty of pens and paper.

This worldly wisdom, this old-fashioned style seemed to suggest a bald
head and spectacles rather than a young, beautiful, laughing girl who
could lie on a sofa and eat sweetmeats like an odalisque.

"To think that people should be so complicated!" he said to himself.
"It is interesting at any rate! I shall remember it next time!" And
he fell asleep, thinking himself considerably wiser after these
experiences.

At seven o'clock he got up, called by a man who was to take his things
to the station. As his mother-in-law had told him the train did not
start till nearly eight, he made no hurry, but dressed quietly and went
down into the garden where he met her. They were standing and talking
of what lay before him when a rough, thundering voice was heard from a
window of the first story. It was his father-in-law.

"Haven't you gone yet?"

"No; the train doesn't go till quarter to eight!"

"What idiot told you that?"

That he could not say, as it was his mother-in-law.

"Well, hurry on to the station and see when the next train goes."

As the Norwegian hesitated, there came a sharp "Now!" like the crack
of a whip over a horse. It was quite clear to him what he had to do
now; he pressed his mother-in-law's hand and went. His firm steps
must have shown that they were the opposite to those leading to the
lion's cave,[2] going out and away but never returning, for he heard
immediately the old man's voice in a caressing, lamenting tone: "Axel!"

It felt like a stab in the departer's breast, but he had begun to move,
and went on without looking round.

He went down to the station, looked ostensibly at the railway guide,
asked about the next train without listening to the answer, saw by the
position of the sun which direction was north-east, and struck into
the nearest highway. He did this all so quietly, as though he had long
considered the plan. Soon he found himself out in the country, alone
without a home, without baggage, without an overcoat, and nothing but a
walking-stick in his hand. He felt angry with no one; his father-in-law
was right, and his last call sounded like an appeal for forgiveness for
his bad temper. Yes, he only felt guilty with regard to this man, on
whom he had brought shame and sorrow. But in himself he felt innocent,
for he had only acted according to his obligations and possibilities.

Meanwhile he was free and had left the worst hell behind him; the sun
shone, the landscape lay green and open, he had the whole world before
him. He shook off the child's clothes which he had worn for eight
days, felt himself a man again, and marched on. His plan was to reach
a certain place on foot; there to take a steamer, to telegraph for his
baggage and so to travel to Copenhagen.

"The affair is really ludicrous," he said to himself; "if it were not
tragic for the old people. It looks bad, but I have survived worse
things. I am a tramp! Very good! Then all claims to honour and respect
have ceased. It is soothing at all events to have nothing more to
lose. Hurrah!"

He marched into the next village like an old soldier and ordered wine
and tobacco. He felt hilarious, and chatted with the innkeeper. Then
he went on again. But at intervals he became sentimental; thought of
his mother-in-law's words about the wild chase; had to admit that there
was something uncanny about it, for he had never yet experienced such
a misfortune; and if other people noticed it, it could not be mere
imagination. But that was nothing strange, for he had had bad luck ever
since he was a child. But fancy placing a man in such a position! He
would not even have treated an enemy with such hellish cruelty.

Meanwhile he reached Odense, came to Korsör and soon afterwards to
Copenhagen. It was evening and he sent a messenger to the family where
his wife generally stayed. Since she had not come to the Arreskov Lake,
she must be in Copenhagen. On the visiting-card which he sent he only
wrote: "A somewhat strange question: where is my wife?"

The man who has not waited for an hour and a half on a pavement does
not know how long this time can be. But this interval of waiting was
abridged by the hope that after a silence-cure of eight days in
Hamburg, five weeks of simple imprisonment at Rügen, and a week of the
nethermost hell at Fünen, he would see his wife again. After an hour
and a half the messenger returned with another visiting-card on which
was written: "She left this morning for Fünen in order to meet you."

A miss again! "I begin to find this monotonous even when regarded as a
plot," he said to himself.

If one had used it for the plan of a novel, the reader would throw the
book away and exclaim: "No! that is too thick! And as a farce it isn't
cheerful enough!"

Nevertheless, it was a fact! The next minute he thought: "My poor,
unfortunate wife is going straight into the lion's den. Now she
will get blows." For her father's anger was now unbounded, and his
mother-in-law had said during the last days of his stay: "If she comes
now, he will beat her." Therefore he telegraphed to the old lady to say
that his wife was coming, and asked indulgence for her.

It would take four days for her to return. In order not to remain in
Copenhagen where his wedding journey had been reported in the papers,
he stayed in a village outside the town where an old friend of his
lived with his family. In the boarding-house where he stayed the same
hog's-wash regime prevailed as in Rügen. In two days he lost as much
strength as though he had had an attack of typhus. One chewed till
one's jaws were weary, went hungry to table, and rose again tired and
hungry.

His friend was not the same as before. Rendered melancholy by
disappointments he seemed to find this a favourable opportunity to
display a visible satisfaction at seeing the well-known author in such
a sorry plight. His sympathy took the heartiest, and at the same time
the most insulting forms. When the Norwegian related his adventures on
the wedding journey, his hearer stared at him in such a way that he
made a hasty end of his narrative in order not to be stigmatised as a
liar.

The village was on marshy ground, and over-shadowed by very old trees;
one became melancholy there without knowing why. When he walked down
one of the streets of the village he was astonished to see people at
the windows regarding him furtively with wild, distracted looks, and
immediately afterwards shyly hiding themselves behind the curtains.
This disquieted him and he wondered whether a false report had been
spread that he was mad. When he asked his friend about it, the latter
answered: "Don't you know where you are?"

The question sounded strangely, and might mean: "Are you so confused
that you have lost consciousness?"

"I am in X----" he answered, in order not to betray his suspicion.

"And don't you know what X---- is?"

"No!"

"It is simply a lunatic asylum; the inhabitants make a living by taking
care of mad people." And he laughed.

The Norwegian inquired no further, but he asked himself: "Have they
enticed me into a trap in order to watch me?"

He had grounds for such a suspicion, for such an occurrence had already
happened in his life.

His whole existence now became a single effort to show himself so
ordinary in his way of thinking and normal in his behaviour, that
nothing "unusual" might be noticed in him. He did not dare to give
vent to an original thought or to utter a paradox, and whenever the
temptation came to narrate something of his wedding journey he pinched
his knee.

This continual fear of being watched depressed him so much that he saw
watching eyes everywhere, and thought he noticed traps laid for him
in questions where there were none. Sensitive as he was, he believed
that the whole village exhaled the contagious atmosphere of the
lunatics; he became depressed and feared to go mad himself. But he did
not attempt to go away, partly because he feared being arrested at the
station, and partly because he had told his wife to meet him at this
village.

He had received letters from Arreskov, in which his mother-in-law
informed him what disquiet and anxiety his disappearance had caused
them. His father-in-law, who well knew what he would have done in the
unfortunate man's place, had immediately foreboded his suicide and wept
aloud. They had searched for him by the banks of the lake and in the
wood.... He stopped reading the letter and felt his conscience prick
him. The good old man had wept! How terrible his lot must be, when the
sight of it had that effect on others! The letter went on to say that
Maria had arrived, and that they would soon meet again, if he only
kept quiet, for she loved him. This was a ray of light and it gave him
strength to endure this hell, where everyone looked askance at his
neighbour to see whether he were in his senses.

But the two last days brought new tortures. The Swede whom he had met
in the Copenhagen café had accepted an invitation to come to dinner.
The Norwegian went gladly to the station to meet his best friend, who
understood him better than anyone else, and who, though poor himself,
had tried to make interest for him with rich people, and to procure
the help for him which he himself could not obtain. But now he met
a stranger who looked at him coldly and treated him as a stranger.
There was no smile of recognition on his part, no inquiry after the
Norwegian's health and especially no allusion to the past.

After dinner he took the host aside and asked: "Is the Swede angry with
me?"

"Angry? No! But you understand he has now married Lais."

"Married?"

"Yes, and therefore he does not like to be reminded that she was your
friend."

"I understand that, but it is not my fault that I was her friend before
she knew that the Swede was in existence."

"No, certainly not; but you have gossiped about her."

"I only said what everyone else said, since it was no secret. She
herself so boasted of her conquests that they were bound to become
public."

"Yes, but the fact is as I say."

The Swede remained in the hotel, and therefore the Norwegian was
relegated to solitude. In order to while away the time he made use of
the flora of the neighbourhood in order to study the biology of plants.
For this purpose he carried about with him on his walks a morphia
syringe, intending to see whether the plants were sensitive to this
nerve poison. He wished to prove by experiment that they possess a
sensitive nervous system.

One afternoon he sat drinking a glass of wine at a garden restaurant on
the outskirts of the village. Over his table hung the branches of an
apple-tree, laden with small red apples. These were suitable for his
purpose. Accordingly, he stood on his chair, made an insertion with the
morphia syringe in the twig which bore the apple, but pressed too hard,
so that it fell. At that instant he heard a cry and halloo from the
wooded slope behind him, and saw an angry man, followed by his wife and
child, come rushing towards him with uplifted stick. "There! I have him
at last!" he cried.

Him! He was mistaken for an apple stealer for whom they had been
watching.

The Norwegian summoned all his Buddhistic philosophy to his aid, got
down from the chair, and sat expecting to be led off by gendarmes as he
had been caught in the act. It was impossible to explain his conduct,
for none of the authorities could approve such an eccentric act as the
inoculation of an apple-tree with morphia.

Meanwhile a minute passed while the angry man was running along by a
fence and entering the enclosure. Like one condemned to death, the
Norwegian sat there awaiting a blow from the stick as an earnest of
what was to follow. He was firmly resolved to die like a warrior, and
did not trouble to devise useless explanations, but only thought: "This
is the most devilish experience I have had in my whole terrible life."

Sixty seconds are a long time but they pass at last!

Whether it was the Norwegian's carefully groomed exterior and expensive
suit, the wine and the best kind of cigarettes, or something quite
different which had a mollifying effect, the angry man, who had
certainly not had such a stylish customer before, bared his head, and
only asked whether the gentleman had been attended to. The Norwegian,
answering politely, noticed how the restaurant keeper stared at the
morphia syringe, the powder box and the glass of water.

With the free-and-easy tone of a man of the world, the Norwegian
explained the embarrassing situation: "I am a botanist, and was just
about to make an experiment when you surprised me in a very suspicious
position."

"Pray, doctor, do as though you were in your own house, and be quite at
your ease," was the reply.

After exchanging some remarks about the weather, the restaurant keeper
went indoors; he muttered something to the waitress which the Norwegian
thought he overheard. It caused him to take his departure, but in a
leisurely way. "He thought I was one of the lunatics," he said to
himself. "That was my deliverance. I can't come here again, however."

Several hours passed, but the impression of the sixty seconds of
humiliation and the lifted stick still remained. "That is not
mischance; that is something else," was his conclusion, as usual.

The next morning he took his walk and meditated on his destiny. "Why
haven't you shot yourself?" Let him say who can. One view was that,
finally, all difficulties are disentangled and experience shows that
the end is good. This used to be called "hope," and by means of it one
warped one's ship half an ell farther, as with a kedge anchor. Others
maintained that it was curiosity which supported people. They wanted to
see the sequel, just as when one reads a novel, or sees a play.

The Norwegian, for his part, had never found an aim in life. Religion
certainly said that one should be improved here below, but he had only
seen himself forced into situations from which he emerged worse than
before. One certainly became a little more tolerant towards one's
brother-men, but this tolerance strongly resembled moral laxity.
Those who smile indulgently at others' crimes are not far from being
criminals themselves. When in conversation it was alleged that one
should love one's fellow-men, he used to deliver himself of his final
sentiment as follows: "I neither love them nor hate them; I put up with
them as they put up with me."

The fact that he was never entirely crushed by a sorrow sprang from
his having an indistinct suspicion that life had no complete reality,
but was a dream stage, and that our actions, even the worst of them,
were carried out under the influence of some strong suggestive power
other than ourselves. He therefore felt himself to a certain extent
irresponsible. He did not deny his badness, but knew also that in his
innermost being there was an upward, striving spirit which suffered
from the humiliation of being confined in a human body. It was this
inner personality which possessed the sensitive conscience, which could
sometimes, to his alarm, press forward and become sentimental, weeping
over his or her wretchedness--which of the two, it was hard to say.
Then his second self laughed at the foolishness of the first, and this
"divine frivolity," as he called it, served him better than morbid
brooding.

When he came home from his work, he found his door shut. Full of
foreboding, he knocked and uttered his own name. When the door opened,
his young, wild wife fell on his neck. It seemed to him quite natural
and simple, as though he had left her two minutes before. She spoke not
a word of reproach, inquiry, or explanation, but only this: "Have you
much money or little?"

"Why do you ask that?"

"Because I have much, and want a good dinner in Copenhagen."

In this they were agreed, and such was their reunion. And why not? Two
months of torture were forgotten and obliterated as though they had
never been; the disgrace of a separation about which people had perhaps
already gossiped, had vanished.

"If anyone asked me," he said, "about what we had quarrelled I would
not be able to remember."

"Nor I, either. But, therefore, we will never, never part again. We
must not separate for half a day, or everything goes crazy."

This was certainly the wisest plan, he thought, and so did she. And yet
one recollection came into his mind of Dover and another of London,
when they were not apart for a moment, and just for that very reason
everything went quite crazy. But they must not be too particular.

"And how is the old father?" he asked.

"Ah, he was so fond of you that I became jealous."

"I have noticed that. How did he receive you?"

"Well, I won't talk about that. But it was for your sake, so I forgave
him." Even at that she could smile, as indeed she could at everything.

Well then, we will feast to-day, and work to-morrow.


[Footnote 1: Intimate friends thus address each other in Swedish.]

[Footnote 2: _Vide_ Horace.]



VI


The autumn brought what the spring had promised, but not fulfilled.
They lived in a good boarding-house, high up certainly, but with a view
over the sea. Each of them kept up a slight intercourse with former
friends so that they were not always _tête-à-tête_. The sun shone,
money came in, and life was easy. This lasted for two unforgettable
months without a cloud. There was boundless confidence on both sides,
without a trace of jealousy. On one occasion, when she had tried
mischievously to arouse his, he had said to her: "Don't play with
madness! Be sure that with such play you only arouse my abhorrence and
my hatred at the same time, when you introduce into my mental pictures
of you the image of another man."

But she herself was jealous, even of his male friends, and drove
Ilmarinen away. There were ladies at the table d'hôte, and each time
that he addressed one of them, she became so indisposed that she had
to get up and go. There was no occasion to mistrust his faithfulness
to her, but her imperiousness was so boundless, that she could not
endure his imparting his thoughts to another, man or woman. When she
conducted some business transactions for him with publishers she
exceeded her authority and acted rather as his guardian than as his
helper. He had to warn her: "Remember what I said! If you misuse the
power I have given you, I will overthrow you like a tyrant." He did not
doubt her goodwill but her want of insight and exaggerated ideas of
his capacities caused him inconvenience, and even loss of money. When
he took away from her the authority to act for him, she behaved like a
naughty child, brought everything into confusion and threw it away as
worthless. Accordingly, the way was prepared for the inevitable result.

One Sunday morning they had a disagreement on an important subject,
and at last he had shut the door between their two rooms. Then he went
out. On his return, he found a letter from his wife saying she had
gone to a family which they knew in the country, and would be back in
the evening. In order to let her feel what solitude is like he made
an engagement for the evening with some friends. The evening came. He
went out, but about ten o'clock, thinking it cruel to remain longer, he
returned home. When he tried to open his door, he found it shut from
within.

"Aha!" he thought. "This is her plan to make me listen to a
curtain-lecture in her room." He rang for the servant. "Is my wife at
home?"

"No, she came home at nine, but went out again, in order to meet you,
sir."

"Very well, open the door of my wife's room." That was done, but the
door of his room remained locked, as he had locked it himself in the
morning. Then he made his decision, closed the outer door of the flat,
and took possession of his wife's room. After an hour she came and
knocked. Her husband answered through the closed door: "You can take my
room; I hope you can open it."

When she found she could not she began to form suspicions and thought
he had shut himself in with someone. She naturally would not endure
the scandal but sent for the police, on the pretext that a thief had
been there, and perhaps was still in the room. The police came; the
Norwegian dressed himself and admitted them, and they broke open the
door between the two rooms. At the same time the door leading to the
corridor was opened. A servantmaid said she thought she had heard steps
inside the room. Before the open window stood a chair so placed as
though someone had stood on it in order to climb on the roof. A thief
then (or a woman) had clambered on the roof. The police went on it
with lanterns, and some of the inmates of the boarding-house followed.
A shadow moved by a chimney. A cry rose: "There he is!" The police
declared that they could not climb the steep slate roof, and advised
them to send for the fire brigade. "But that costs fifty crowns,"
objected the Norwegian. His wife signed a requisition for it, but her
husband tore it in two. Meanwhile a crowd had collected in the street;
the neighbouring roofs were also full of spectators. A cry was raised:
"There he is!" They had seized a fellow who had joined the searchers
with the good intention of catching the thief. A maid recollected
that in the afternoon a traveller had arrived and was sleeping in a
neighbouring attic from which he could have easily got into the room.
The police made their way into the attic, searched through his papers
and found nothing. All the attics were ransacked without result, and at
midnight the police departed.

Then the young wife wished to begin with a whole series of
explanations, but her husband was tired of the whole nonsense and could
explain nothing. Therefore, since nothing more was to be done, he
carried his wife into her room and shut the door between them for the
second time that day!

This demoniacal adventure was never cleared up. The Norwegian did
not believe there had been a thief, for nothing was missing from the
rooms; he thought that his young wife, who had seen many plays, had
stuck something in the lock, and that then devils had continued the
performance of the comedy. He did not try to elicit what his wife
thought, for then he would have been entangled in a web of necessary
lies. He therefore made a stroke of erasure through the whole affair.
The next morning they were again good friends, but not quite so good as
before.

How disunion between a married pair arises has not yet been explained.
They love one another, only flourish in each other's society, have not
different opinions, and suffer when they are separated; their whole
united self-interest enjoins them to keep the peace, because it is they
especially who suffer when it is not kept. Nevertheless, a little cloud
arises, one knows not whence; all merits are transformed into faults,
beauty becomes ugliness and they confront each other like two hissing
snakes; they wish each other miles away, although they know that if
they are separated for a moment there begins the pain of longing, which
is greater than any other pain in life.

Here physiology and psychology are non-plussed. Swedenborg in his
"Conjugal Love" is the only one who has even approached the solution of
the problem, and he has seen that for that purpose higher factors must
be taken into consideration than come into the mental purview of most
people.

This is why a married pair who love each other are obliged again and
again to wonder why they hate one another, i.e. why they flee one
another although they seek one another. Married people who are slightly
acquainted with Ganot's "Physics" may note the resemblance of this
phenomenon to that of the electricised elder-pith balls, but this
will not make them either wiser or happier. Love indeed presents all
the symptoms of lunacy, hallucination, or seeing beauty where none
exists; profoundest melancholy, varying with extreme hilarity without
any transition stage; unreasonable hate; distortions of each other's
real opinions (so-called "misunderstandings"); persecution mania, when
one believes the other is setting spies and laying snares; sometimes
indeed attempts on each other's life, especially with poison. All
this has reasons which lie below the surface. The question arises,
whether through a married pair's living together, the evil thoughts
of one, while still unripened, are not quite clearly apprehended and
interpreted by the other, as though they had already entered into
consciousness, with the express purpose of being carried into action.
Nothing annoys a man more than to have his secret thoughts read, and
that only a married pair can do to each other. They cannot conceal
their dark secrets; one anticipates the other's intentions, and
therefore they easily form the idea that they spy on each other, as
indeed they actually do. Therefore they fear no one's look so much
as each other's, and are so defenceless against one another. Each is
accompanied by a judge who condemns the evil desire while yet in the
germ, although no one is answerable for his thoughts to the civic law.

Accordingly, in marrying, one enters into a relation which stands a
grade higher than ordinary life, makes severer demands, more exacting
claims, and operates with more finely developed spiritual resources.
Therefore the Christian Church made marriage a sacrament, and regarded
it rather as a purgatory than a pleasure. Swedenborg in his explanation
of it, also inclines this way.

A married pair are ostensibly one, but cannot be really so. As a
punishment they are condemned to feel thorns when they wish to gather
roses. According to the proverb: "Omnia vincit amor" the power of love
is so boundless, that if it were allowed uncontrolled sway, the order
of the universe would be endangered. It is a crime to be happy, and
therefore happiness must be chastised.

Our frivolous friends must have felt something of this, for when they
had had a tiff, they reconciled themselves without explanations and
without alleging reasons, as though it was not they who were to blame
for the discord but a third unknown person who had brought about all
the confusion.

They did so on this occasion also, but the peace did not last long.
Some days afterwards an indisputable fact was apparent, which in
ordinary marriages is accepted with mixed feelings, but in this one met
with decided disapproval. The wife was beside herself: "Now you have
ruined my career; I shall sink down to the level of a nurse and how
shall we support ourselves?"

There awoke in her a personal grudge against her husband which
degenerated into hatred. She was an example of the "independent" woman
who protests against the supposed injustice of Nature in assigning all
the discomfort to her. She forgets that this brief period of pain is
followed by an extreme and long-lasting joy which is quite unknown to
men.

Here reasonable considerations were naturally of no avail, and when
there were no more smiles, the situation became serious. The scenes
between them assumed a tragic character, and just at this crisis an
action was brought against him for his last-published book, which was
confiscated at the same time. Autumn passed, and one felt that the
sun had gone. The cheerful top-floor room changed into a never-tidied
sick-room--became narrow.

Her hatred increased continually; she could not go into society, nor
to theatres, and hardly on the street. What most annoyed her was the
fact that the doctor who had been summoned to declare that she had a
dangerous disease, hitherto unknown, only smiled, saying that all the
symptoms were normal, and ordered soda-water. Instead of an intelligent
friend, the Norwegian found a malicious, spoilt, unreasonable child
at his side, and longed to be out of all this wretchedness. All
conversation ceased, and they only carried on communications by
writing. But there is a kind of malice bordering on the disgraceful
and infamous, which is hard to define but easy to recognise. That is
the original sin in human nature, the positive wish to injure without
cause, and without being justified in taking vengeance or exacting
retribution. This kind of malice is hardly forgivable.

One day he received a scrap of paper on which something was written
which prevented him going to her room again. Then came her ultimatum;
she resolved to go to her relations the next day.

"I wish you a happy journey," he answered. In the dusk of the early
morning a white form stood by his bedside stretching out its arms
pleadingly for forgiveness. He did not move but let it stand there.
Then she fell to the ground, and he let her lie, like an overthrown
statue.

Whence the soft-hearted man, who was always ready to forgive, derived
this firmness, this inhuman hardness, he could not understand, but it
seemed to him to be imposed on him from without like a duty, or a fiery
ordeal which he must go through. He went to sleep again. Then he awoke
and dressed. He entered the empty room and was conscious of the void.
Everything was irrevocably at an end!

A severe agitation was needed to bring his ego uppermost, and he
resolved to drain a draught which was unsurpassed for bitterness. He
went back to his native land, from which he had been banished.

When he got on the steamer for Christiania, he wrote a farewell letter
to the captain, went on deck with his revolver, and thought of finding
his grave in the Kattegat. Why did he not carry out this intention? Let
him say who can! At last he found himself in a small provincial hotel.
But why had it to be precisely the one in which Lais's friends and
relations lived and dominated the social circle in which he must move?
He could only regard that as a mean stroke on the part of Destiny, for
on this occasion he was not to blame at all.

Meanwhile he sat as on an ant-heap in an alien and hostile environment.
For three days long he asked himself: "What have I got to do here?" And
he answered: "What indeed have you to do anywhere?" So he remained.
For three days he asked himself: "What have you to do in life?" and
questioned of the where, whence and whither. As an answer, the revolver
lay on the table.

Hamburg, London, and Rügen began to shine like pleasant memories in
comparison with this place of exile. It was so dreadful that he was
astonished at the inventiveness of Destiny in devising new tortures
which ever increased in severity. His room in the hotel was a suicide's
room, i.e. a combination of discomfort and uncanniness. He was again
haunted by the old idea he used to have: "I shall not get alive out
of this room; here I must end my days." His capacity for hoping was
exhausted. He seemed to be dropping downwards towards the empty void
which began to close round him like the last darkness.

On the fourth day he received a letter from his sister-in-law in which
she told him that his little wife was going on well. At the same time
she proposed that he and his wife should spend the winter in a little
town in Alster, so that her relations could now and then visit his
wife who, in her present condition, needed help and advice.

It was, then, not at an end! And these pains of death had been endured
in vain; he had not needed them in order to be taught to miss his wife.
It was not over yet, and he began to live again.

As a proof that he had completely come to the end of himself it may
be mentioned that the papers in those days contained a notice of his
death. He wrote to contradict this in a vein of gloomy irony. He was
tormented for three days more by having to run about to collect the
journey money.

When the train at last stopped at the little station, he saw first of
all his wife's pale face. It looked certainly somewhat exhausted by
suffering, but beamed at the same time with some of that glorifying
radiance which motherhood bestows. When her eyes discovered him, her
face lit up.

"She loves me," he said to himself. And he began to live again
literally not figuratively.

"Are you well?" he asked almost shyly.

"Yes I am," she whispered, burying like a child her face in his great
cloak and kissing the edge of it.

"What are you doing? What are you doing?"

And she hid her face in his mantle in order not to show the emotion, of
which she was always ashamed.

They had engaged two very inferior rooms; one was dark and the other
uncomfortable, looking out on a factory. His wife worked in the kitchen
and resigned herself to her fate, for her maternal feelings were
aroused, though not yet completely. He suffered when he saw her toiling
the whole day at the kitchen-range and in the scullery, and sometimes
felt a twinge of conscience.

When he wished to help her to carry something heavy, she refused to be
helped, for she insisted strongly that he should not be seen engaged
in any feminine occupation, nor would she allow him to wait on her
or to do her any small service. All storms were over now; a quiet
stillness prevailed; the days passed one after the other in unvaried
monotony. They lived alone together and had no social intercourse nor
distractions.

But poverty came. The trial about his book had frightened the
publishers and theatres. But the worst of all was that he could not
write.

And what he could write, he did not wish to, for the plot of the story
affected a family to whom he owed a debt of gratitude. Now when he
would soon have two families to provide for, he trembled before the
future with its increased duties, for a growing dislike to exercise his
calling as an author had finally culminated in disgust.

What an occupation--to flay his fellow-creatures and offer their skins
for sale. Like a hunter who, when pressed hard by hunger, cuts off
his dog's tail, eats the flesh, and gives the bone--its own bone--to
the dog. What an occupation to spy out people's secrets, expose the
birth-marks of his best friend, dissect his wife like a rabbit for
vivisection, and act like a Croat, cutting down, violating, burning,
and selling. Fie!

In despair he sat down and wrote from his notes a survey of the most
important epochs of the world's history. He hoped, or in his need
imagined that he might in this way strike out a new path for himself as
an historian, which had been the dream of his youth, before he became
an author.

His wife knew what he was writing and that it would bring in no money,
but controlled herself; perhaps his ardent conviction had persuaded
her that there was something in it. She did not complain, but on the
contrary cheered him up and offered to translate the work into English.

A month passed, quiet, peaceful but melancholy. They felt that they
were not enough for each other in this absolute loneliness. They
lamented it but sought for no society. He, with wider experience than
hers, hoped that the child on its arrival would be satisfying company
for them both.

Meanwhile poverty approached nearer. None of his plays were performed
or sold, and not one of the hopes of spring had been realised. His
children by his first marriage clamoured for money, and food began
to be scarce in the house. Then came deliverance in the form of an
invitation to spend the winter with his wife's grandparents.

One evening in December they alighted at a little station in Jutland,
and drove through woods and wild heath. Everything was new and strange.
In this house he was now to live as a grandchild, just as during the
past summer in her father's house he had been for eight days a child.

They reached the ferry in the twilight. The drifting of the ice had
begun, but the water had also sunk so low that a sand-bank lay in the
middle of the stream, and there a new boat waited for them. From thence
a large, white, three-storied house was visible; it looked unfriendly,
almost weird, with its projecting wings and high, illuminated windows.

They reached the land and found themselves immediately in the ghostly
castle. They were conducted up whitewashed stairs over which hung
dark oil-paintings in black frames. Then he found himself in a warm,
well-lighted room, among her relatives, of whom he only knew his
mother-in-law.

With his incredible pliability, he immediately adapted himself to
his position, and behaved like the young relation who under all
circumstances must show reverence to his elders.

Here in the house his right of self-determination ceased; he must
conform to other people's views, wills, and habits. In order to spare
himself unpleasantness, he had resolved beforehand to have no more
likes and dislikes of his own, but to accept all that was offered to
him, however strange or repulsive it might appear.

The old grandfather was a notary and barrister who had retired with
considerable wealth, and only managed his estate as far as was
necessary for domestic purposes and for his own amusement. Most of his
property consisted of hunting-ground and was in that state of neglect
which a townsman finds picturesque. He and his wife were both over
seventy, and seemed only to be waiting for their end with the cheerful
resignation of good-natured, orthodox Catholics who are free from care.
They had already built for themselves a mausoleum in the garden where
their bodies were to repose, and they were accustomed to show it as
other people show a summer-house. It was a little whitewashed chapel,
with flowers planted round it, which they used to tend as though they
already stood there in memory of them.

In the house there was a superfluity of good things. After having
been half-starved in Alster here they found it difficult to avoid
gluttony, without vexing their host. Pheasants, hare, venison were
regular standing dishes which at last became a weariness. "This is our
punishment," he said, "because we complained of the manna; now we are
stuffed with quails like the murmuring Israelites so that it comes out
at our throats."

A stillness like that of old age supervened; there was no need of
care or anxiety in this house where there were as many servants as
members of the family. It was easy to live with the old people, who had
outgrown special interests, views and passions, and the young pair,
who had their own rooms apart, only needed to appear at meal-times.

The young wife was now altogether a mother, talked of and with the
unborn child as though she knew it well; she was mild and womanly,
humble and even thankful towards her husband, whose affections remained
unaltered though her shape was disfigured and her beauty faded.

"How beautiful life is!" she said.

"Yes it is; but how long will it last?"

"Hush!"

"I will be silent! But you know that happiness is punished."

No one asked what he was working at; on the contrary all that he heard
was: "You should do nothing but take a thorough rest after your wild
rushing about."

Accordingly he sent for some books which had been given him some years
previously by a rich man and which he had been obliged to send back
home. Then he began a series of systematic investigations, studied
and made notes. He felt a new life and fresh interests awaken; and
when he now found his former hypothesis and calculations verified by
synthesis and analysis he became certain that he was working by a sure
method, and in the right way. This gave him such confidence that he
felt justified in pursuing his investigations, but because he could
not explain their significance to the uninitiated, his position became
somewhat insecure. People had to take him on good faith; they did that
so long as peace prevailed, but at the first sign of antipathy he would
be helplessly exposed to the ridicule or contemptuous pity of the
bystanders.

The grandfather was a cultivated man, and therefore curious to know
what was going on in the young pair's rooms. When he inquired, he
received evasive answers, but since he had been a magistrate and
barrister, he required definiteness. When he heard what the Norwegian's
investigations were concerned with, he confuted them with the authority
of the text books. In order to put an end to fruitless strife, his
young relative let him believe he was right. But the old man tried
to provoke him into contradiction, assumed a superior air and became
intrusive. He was allowed to be so for the present.

"Nothing for nothing!" thought the Norwegian. His wife thanked him for
his yieldingness and admired his self-control. But discord was fated to
come, and it came.

The lawsuit in Copenhagen about his book extended its operations here
also, and one day a court officer came to summon him to appear as
defendant in the court of the nearest town. Since he had from the
beginning challenged the jurisdiction of the Copenhagen court, because
as a Norwegian writer he was not responsible to a Danish court, on
account of a translation; and since he regarded the whole proceedings
as illegal, which indeed they were, he refused to appear. The old man
on the other hand insisted that he should do so, especially, perhaps,
because he did not like to see gendarmes coming to his house.

To put an end to the matter, the Norwegian really resolved one morning
to go and present his challenge personally in court.

He therefore went at eight o'clock and followed the beautiful walk
along the river. But about half-way he met the postman and received,
by paying cash on its delivery, a long-expected book. This book was
extremely expensive, and since he had no money, he had been obliged
to devise a plan in order to secure it. After thinking about it for
a month, he remembered that he had some valuables stowed away in a
box in an attic in Norway. He therefore wrote to a friend and asked
him to sell the things for a price equivalent to the purchase of the
expensive book, to change the money into notes and to send them in
an unregistered letter so that no one might know of it. He did this
because he felt he was stealing from his wife and family, but it had to
be done, as he wished to solve an important problem. As he now held the
long-desired means for doing so in his hand, he felt a lightning flash
in his soul, and turned home without thinking.

"Now, I will finish the business," he said to himself; "the gendarmes
can come afterwards."

As he entered the courtyard the old man stood there, cutting up a deer
which he had shot. The Norwegian sought to slip past him unperceived,
but did not succeed.

"Have you already been to the judge?" asked the old man sceptically.

"No," answered the Norwegian curtly, and hurried through the
house-door. He ran up the stairs to his room and bolted the door. Then
he sat down to study. After half an hour he said to himself: "Is the
greatest problem of modern times solved?" There was a knock at the
door, and then another hard and decided. He was obliged to open it in
order to get quiet.

"Why don't you go to the judge?" asked the old man.

"That's nothing to do with you," he answered and slammed the door to
with a sound like a shot.

But now there was no more peace for him! He felt that a crisis had come
in his destiny, and he heard voices below. His hand trembled, he felt
as though paralysed and closed the book which contained what he sought.
At the same moment he lost confidence and dared not face what seemed a
contradictory proof of his theory.

After some minutes his mother-in-law came. She was not angry, but found
it unpleasant to have to tell him that he and his wife must leave the
house at once, before dinner. They could have her little one-storied
cottage at the bottom of the garden and have their meals sent from the
house. His little wife appeared and danced with joy at the thought that
they would have a little house of their own, especially with a garden
and park round it.

The change took place, and now in this cottage began the two happiest
months in the life of the married pair. Their cottage of grey stone,
with little iron-barred windows framed in sandstone, was quite idyllic.
It was built in convent style and covered with vine-creepers. The walls
of the rooms were painted white, without any hangings, and the low
ceilings were supported by thick beams black with age.

He had a little room constructed like a real monk's cell, narrow and
long with a single small window at the end. The walls were so thick
that flower-pots could stand outside in front of the window, as well as
inside on the window-ledge. The furniture was old-fashioned and suited
its surroundings. Here he arranged his library, and never had he felt
so comfortable before.

But now they had to prepare for the coming of the child. Husband and
wife painted the window-sills and doors. Roses and clematis were
planted before the cottage. The garden was dug up and sown. In order to
fill up the blank spaces of the great white walls, he painted pictures
on them. When all was ready they sat down and admired the work of their
hands. "It is splendid," they said; "and now we can receive the child.
Think how pleased it will be, to see so many pictures the first day!"

They waited and hoped; during the long spring evenings they only
talked of him or her, guessed which it would be, discussed what name
it should have, and speculated on its future. His wife's thoughts for
the most part were occupied in wondering whether it would be fair and
resemble his boy, whom she loved. She and her family were especially
fond of fair people, whether because they resembled light, while the
dusky-complexioned reminded one of darkness, would be difficult to
say. They believed everything good of fair people and spoke ill of the
Jews, although the little wife's grandmother on the paternal side was a
Jewess; among her maternal relations who sprang from Schleswig-Holstein
peasantry the word "Jew" was used as a term of reproach. The
Norwegian's father-in-law was an anti-Semite but when he joked at the
paradox involved in this, his wife said: "You must not joke at it; we
will do that ourselves."

At last one day in May as the sun rose, the coming of the unknown
traveller was heralded, and after twelve terrible hours it proved to be
a girl who at any rate was not dark-haired.

This ought to have completed the idyll, but it seemed, on the contrary,
to put an end to it. The little one did not seem to thrive in this vale
of tears, but cried day and night. Nurses were engaged and nurses were
dismissed. Five women filled the house and each had different views as
to the rearing of the child. The father went about like a criminal and
was always in the way. His wife thought that he did not love the child
and this vexed her so much as to make her suffer. At the same time she
herself was completely transformed into a mother to the exclusion of
everything else. She had the child in her own bed, and could spend the
greater part of the night sitting on a chair absorbed in contemplation
of its beauty as it slept. Her husband had also to come sometimes and
join in her admiration, but he thought the mother most beautiful in
those moments when she forgot herself and gazed ecstatically at her
child with a happy smile.

But a storm approached from without. The people of the neighbourhood
were superstitious, and the child's continual crying had given rise to
gossip. They began to ask whether it had been baptised.

According to law the child should be baptised in the father's religion,
but since both he and the mother were indifferent in the matter, the
baptism was postponed as something of no importance, especially as
there was no Catholic priest in the neighbourhood.

The child's crying was really not normal, and as the popular opinion of
the neighbourhood began to find expression, the grandmother came and
asked them to have it baptised. "People are murmuring," she said; "and
they have already threatened to stone your cottage."

The young unbelievers did not credit this, but smiled. The murmurings,
however, increased; it was alleged that a peasant woman had seen the
devil in the garden, and that the foreign gentleman was an atheist.
There was some foundation for this report, for people who met the two
heretics on the roads turned away. At last there came an ultimatum
from the old man. "The child must receive Catholic baptism within
twenty-four hours or the family will be deported across the Belt."

The Norwegian answered: "We Protestants are very tolerant in our
belief, but if it is made a financial matter, we can be as fanatical as
some Catholics." The position was serious, for the young pair had not
a penny for travelling expenses. His letter was answered with a simple
"Then go!"

The Norwegian replied: "To be a martyr for a faith which one does not
possess is somewhat fantastic, and I did not expect that we should play
the Thirty Years War over again down here. But look out! The Norwegian
will come and take his daughter off with his baggage, for he is a
Norwegian subject."

The grandees in the large house began to take a milder tone, but
consulted and devised a stratagem. The child was announced to be ill
and became worse every day. At last the grandmother came with her
retinue and told the father that the child could live no longer, but
he did not believe it. On his return from a long walk in the woods
the same day he was met by his wife with the news that the child had
received discretionary baptism at the hands of the midwife in the
presence of the doctor.

"Into which faith has the child been baptised?" asked the father.

"The Protestant, of course."

"But I don't see how a Catholic midwife can give Protestant baptism."
But as he saw that his wife was privy to the plot, he said no more. The
next day the child was well, and there was no more talk of expelling
the family. The grandees had conquered. Jesuits!

The child, which had been expected to unite the pair more closely to
each other, seemed to have come to separate them. The mother thought
the father cold towards the little one. "You don't love your child,"
she said.

"Yes I do, but as a father," he replied. "You should love her as a
mother. That is the difference."

The fact was that he feared to attach himself too closely to the newly
born, for he felt that a separation from the mother was in the air, and
to be tied to her by means of the child he felt to be a fetter.

She on her side did not know exactly how she wished to have it. If he
loved the child, it might happen that he would take it from her when he
went away; if he did not love it, he would simply go by himself. For
that he would go she felt sure. He had had a dramatic success at Paris
in the spring, and another play of his was announced for the autumn. He
therefore wished to go there, and so did she, but the child hindered
her movements, and if he went alone to Paris, she felt she would
never see him again. Many letters with French postmarks came for him
now, and these roused her curiosity, for he burnt them at once. This
last circumstance, which was quite contrary to his habit, aroused her
suspicion and hatred.

"You are preparing for a journey?" she said one evening.

"Yes, naturally," he answered. "I cannot live in this uncertainty; I
might be put out on the high road at any time."

"You think of deserting us?"

"I must leave you in order to do my business in Paris. A business
journey is not desertion."

"Yes, then you can go," she said, betraying herself.

"I shall go as soon as I get the money for which I am waiting."

Now the Fury in her reappeared. First of all he had to move up into an
attic, and although she and the child had the use of two rooms, she
deliberately spoilt the remaining third room which was the dining-room
and contained specially good furniture. She tore down the curtains,
took away the pictures, choked up the room with child's clothes and
milk bottles with the sole purpose of showing him who was master in
the house. The rooms looked now as though demons had dwelt in them;
crockery, kitchen utensils, and children's clothes were strewn on the
beds and sofas.

She dished up bad meals and the food was often burnt. One day she set
before him a plate of bones which the dogs seemed to have gnawed, and
a water bottle. This last was an expression of the greatest contempt,
for the cellars were full of beer, and no servant ever engaged himself
without stipulating that he should have beer at meals. Accordingly he
was reckoned beneath the men and maidservants. But he kept patient and
silent, for he knew that the journey money would arrive. This, however,
did not prevent his disgust rising to an equal height with her hatred.

He lived now in dirt, destitution, and wretchedness; heard nothing
but scolding and shrieking between his wife and the nurse, his wife
and the maidservant, his wife and her mother, while the child cried
continually. He had an attack of fever and inflammation of the throat,
and lay on his bed in the attic. She did not believe that he was ill
and let him lie there. On the third day he sent for the doctor, for
he could not even drink water. Then his Fury appeared in the doorway.
"Have you sent for the doctor?" she asked. "Do you know what that
costs?"

"Anyhow it will be cheaper than a funeral, and it may be diphtheria,
which is dangerous for the child."

"Do you think of the child?"

"Yes, a little."

If she could now have dropped him into the sea, she would have done it.
But she treated him as though he had the plague. The child, her child,
was in danger!

"I have experienced much," he said in a whisper, "but never have I seen
such intense malice in anyone." And he wept, perhaps for the first time
in twenty years; wept over her unworthiness, and perhaps also over his
fate and his humiliation. When he regarded his position objectively
it seemed monstrous that he, a distinguished man in his own line,
should, without fault of his own, lead such a wretched life that even
the maidservant pitied him. Since he had entered his relative's house,
his behaviour; had been unimpeachable. He did not even drink, if only
for the reason that there was nothing to drink. Since his arrival, his
plays had met with success, but instead of making him more respected,
as success generally does in the case of ordinary mortals, it only
tended to deepen hatred and studied contempt. The fact that he had
accepted hospitality from very rich relatives was not bound to weigh
heavily on his mind, for he was now legal heir to half the property.
But as hate now raged, he was told what his expenses were, and mention
was made of payment.

Again the idea he had formerly had recurred to him, that there was
something more than natural in all this, and that an unseen hand was
controlling his destiny. The inexplicable non-arrival of the journey
money seemed especially designed to prolong his sufferings. When other
letters, which he looked for, did not come, he began to suspect that
his wife had a finger in the matter. He began to watch the mail-bag
which the postman brought, and to write to the post office; naturally,
the only result was further ignominy.

Without having any definite belief, he found himself in a kind of
religious crisis. He felt how he sank in this environment where
everything hinged on the material and only the animal side of things
was prominent--food and excrement, nurses regarded as milch cows, cooks
and decaying vegetables; then endless discussions and the display of
physical necessities which are usually concealed. At the same time
excessively heavy rain had flooded a corridor and two rooms; the water
could not be drained off but stagnated and stank. The garden went to
ruin as no one looked after it.

Then he longed that he could get far away, somewhere where there was
light and purity, peace, love, and reconciliation. He dreamed again
his old dream of a convent within whose walls he might be sheltered
from the world's temptations and filth, where he might forget and be
forgotten. But he lacked faith and the capacity for obedience.

Literature at that period had been long haunted by this idea of a
convent. In Berlin the suggestion had been made to found a convent
without a creed for the "intellectuals." These at a time when
industrial and economical questions took the first place, were
uncomfortable in the dense atmosphere of a materialism which they
themselves had been seduced into preaching. He now wrote to a rich
friend of his in Paris regarding the founding of such a convent; drew
up a plan for the building, laid down rules, and went into details
regarding the coenobitic life and tasks of the convent brothers. This
was in August, 1894. The object proposed was the education of man to
superman through asceticism, meditation, and the practice of science,
literature, and art. Religion was not mentioned, for one did not know
what the religion of the future would be, or whether it would possess
one at all.

His wife noticed that he was becoming separated from her, but
she believed that he was thinking of Paris with its vanities and
distractions, its theatres and cafés, gallant adventures and thirst
for gold. His possible plans excited her fear and envy. As regards
his historical studies, her supercilious smiling had ceased after he
had received words of encouragement from a great German and a famous
French authority, and naturally had been obliged to show their letters
in order to protect himself. Since she could no longer criticise his
ideas she carried the strife on to another ground and began to plague
him with insidious questions as to how much he earned by his historical
studies.

When his wife was angry she went to the old people and narrated all the
small and great secrets which a married pair have between themselves;
she also repeated what he in moments of irritation had said about them.
She was sorry afterwards, but then it was too late. The spirit of
discord was aroused, and the storm could no longer be allayed.

When he happened to have money and offered to contribute towards
domestic expenses, they were annoyed at his want of tact in wishing to
pay rich relatives for inviting him; when he had no money then they
uttered jeremiads over the dearness of everything and sent him the
doctor's bill. In a word, nothing could be done with such uncontrolled
and incorrigible people.

He often thought of going on foot and seeking some fellow-countrymen
with whose help he might proceed farther. But every time he made the
attempt he turned back, as though he had been enchanted and spellbound,
to the little stream where the cottage stood. He had spent some happy
days there, and the memory of these held him fast. Moreover, he was
thankful for the past and felt love to the child, though he dared not
show it, for then the little one would have become a lime-twig to
fetter his wings.

One day he had taken a longer walk than usual among the picturesque
flooded meadows where the deer sported; the pheasants shot out of the
bushes like rockets, their feathers shining with a metallic gleam; the
storks fished in the marsh and the loriots piped in the poplars. Here
he felt well, for it was a lonely landscape where no one ventured to
build a house for fear of the great floods.

For three-quarters of a year he had come here alone every morning. He
did not even let his wife accompany him, for he wished to have this
landscape for himself, to see it exclusively with his eyes, and to hear
no one else's voice there. If he ever saw this horizon again, he did
not wish to be reminded of anyone else.

Here, accordingly, he was accustomed to find himself again himself and
no one else. Here he obtained his great thoughts and here he held his
devotions. The incomprehensible events of the last weeks and his deep
suffering had caused him to change the word "destiny" for "Providence,"
meaning thereby that a conscious personal Being guided his course. In
order to have a name, he now called himself a Providentialist--in other
words he believed in God without being able to define more distinctly
what he meant by that belief.

To-day he felt a pang of melancholy shoot through him as though he
were saying farewell to these meadows and thickets. Something was
impending which he foreboded and feared.

On coming home, he found the house empty; his wife and child were gone.
When he at last discovered the maidservant and asked where his wife
was, she answered impertinently: "She has gone away."

"Where?"

"To Odense."

He did not know whether he believed it or not. But he found a great
charm in the silence and emptiness. He breathed unpoisoned air, enjoyed
the solitude, and went to his work with the imperturbable calm of a
Buddha. His travelling-bag was already packed, and the journey money
might come any day.

The afternoon passed. As he looked out of the window, he noticed an
unusual stillness round the great house; none of the family were to be
seen. But a maidservant was going to and fro between the cottage and
the house as though she were giving information. Once she asked if he
wished for anything. "I wish for nothing," he answered. And that was
the truth, for his last wish to get out of all this misery had been
fulfilled without his having taken a step towards it. He ate his supper
alone and enjoyed it; then remained sitting at the table and smoked.
His mind accepted this fortunate equipoise of the scales, ready to sink
on whichever side it pleased. He guarded himself from forming any wish,
fearing lest his wish might be crossed.

But he expected something. "If I know women rightly," he said to
himself, "she will not be able to sleep to-night without sending a
messenger to see whether the victim is suffering according to her
calculations."

And sure enough his mother-in-law came. "Good evening," she said; "are
you sitting here alone, my son?"

With the stoicism of an Indian before the fire which is to roast him,
he answered: "Yes, I am sitting alone."

"And what are you thinking of doing now?"

"Of going, naturally."

"You seem to take this matter very quietly."

"Why not?"

"Maria intends to seek for a separation."

"I can imagine it."

"Then you don't love her."

"You wish that I should love her in order that I may suffer more."

"Can you suffer--you?"

"You would be glad if I could."

"When are you thinking of going?"

"When I get the journey money."

"You have said that so often."

"You don't want to put me out on the high road to-night?"

"Grandmother is much excited."

"Then she should read her evening prayers attentively."

"One doesn't get far with you."

"No, why should I allow it?"

"Good night." Then she went.

He slept well and deeply as if after an event which he had long
expected.

The next morning he woke up with the distinct idea: "She has not gone;
she is keeping somewhere in the neighbourhood."

When he went out, he saw the maid getting into the ferry-boat with some
of the child's things.

"Ha, ha," then he understood. She was waiting on the other side of the
stream. The maid came back soon, after he had watched her manoeuvres on
the other side through his opera-glass. "If I only keep quiet now," he
thought, "the imperialists are routed."

His mother-in-law came and looked uneasy but yielding. "Well, now you
are alone my son and will never see her any more."

"Is she then so far away?"

"Yes."

He laughed and looked over the water.

"Well," said the old woman, "since you know it, go after her."

"No, I won't do that."

"But she won't come first."

"First or last, it is all the same to me."

The boat went to and fro with messages the whole day.

In the afternoon his mother-in-law came again. "You must take the first
step," she said. "Maria is desperate and will be ill if you don't write
to her and ask her to come again."

"How do you know that I want to have her again? A wife who remains a
night out of her house has forfeited her conjugal rights and injured
her husband's honour."

This was an expected parry, and his mother-in-law beat a sudden
retreat. She crossed over in the ferry-boat and remained there till
evening.

He was sitting in his room and writing when his wife entered with an
air as though she were sorry for his trouble and came in response to
his pressing call. He could have laid her prostrate but did not do so,
being magnanimous towards the conquered. When he had his wife and child
back in the house he found it just as good as when they were away,
perhaps even a little better.

In the evening the journey money came. His position was now altered,
and he had the keys to the dungeon in his hand. At the same moment his
wife saw the matter from another point of view. "Do you know," she
said, "this life is killing me; I have not read a single book since the
child came, and I have not written an article for a year. I will go
with you to Paris."

"Let me go in front," he said, "and spy out the land."

"Then I shall never get away."

He persuaded her to remain, without having formed any distinct purpose
of leaving her; he only longed to feel himself free for a time at any
rate.

But she was now ready to leave her child, "the most important person
of all," as she called it, in order to come out into the world and
play a part there. She knew well that he was not going to seek an
uncertain fortune but to reap the fruits of a success which he had
already gained. The ambitious and independent woman again came into
view, perhaps also the envious rival, for she had moments in which
she regarded herself as an author, superior to him. That was when her
friends in a letter had called her a "genius"; this letter she left
lying about that it might be read.

Fortunately it was not possible for her to travel just now, because her
parents held her back; she had to content herself with the fact that
he, who might be considered as expelled, was leaving her. She became
mild, emotional, and sensitive, so that the parting was really painful.

So he went out into the world again. As the steamer in the beautiful
autumn evening worked its way up the river, he saw again the cottage,
whose windows were lit up. All the evil and ugliness he had seen there
was now obliterated; he hardly felt a fleeting joy at having escaped
this prison in which he had suffered so terribly. Only feelings of
gratitude and melancholy possessed him. For a moment the bond which
united him to wife and child drew him so strongly that he wanted
to throw himself into the water. But the steamer paddles made some
powerful forward strokes, the bond stretched itself, stretched itself,
and broke!

       *       *       *       *       *

"That was an infernal story," exclaimed the postmaster when the reading
was over. "What can one say about it, except what you yourself have
said in it? But do you think, generally speaking, that marriage will
continue to exist?"

"Although I regard wife, child and home as desirable objects," answered
the doctor, "I do not think lifelong marriages will be long possible"
for in our days the individual--man or woman--is too egotistic and
desirous of independence. You see yourself the direction which social
evolution is taking. We hear of nothing but discontent and divorce.
I grant that conjugal life demands consideration and yieldingness,
but to live suppressing one's innermost wishes in an atmosphere of
contradiction and contrariety, can only end in producing Furies. You
have been married?"

The question came somewhat suddenly and the answer was only given with
hesitation: "Yes, I have been married but am not a widower."

"Divorced then?"

"Yes! and you?"

"Divorced."

"If anyone asked us why, neither you nor I could give a reason."

"A reason--no. I only know that if we had continued to live together,
I should have ended as a homicide, and she as a murderess. Isn't that
enough?"

"Quite enough."

And they took their supper.



HERR BENGT'S WIFE


"What is love? Desire, of course," the young Count answered his old
preceptor, as they both sat below in the cabin and beguiled the time by
talking while waiting off Elfsnabben for a favourable wind for their
journey to the University of Prague.

"No, young sir," answered Magister Franciscus Olai. "Love is something
quite different and something more, which neither high theology nor
deep philosophy have been able to express. Our over-wise time believes
too little, but that is because our fathers believed too much. I was
present at the beginning of this period, young sir; I helped to pull
down old venerable buildings, ancient, decayed temples of pride and
selfishness; I tore pages out of the holy books and pictures from the
walls of the churches; I was present, young sir, and helped to shut
up the convents, and to announce the abolition of the old faith, but,
sir, there are things which all-powerful Nature herself has founded,
and which we had better not attempt to pull down. I wish to speak now
of Amor or Love, whose fire burns unquenchably when it is rightly
bestowed, but when wrongly, can soon be quenched, or even turn to hate
when things go quite wrong."

"When then is it rightly bestowed? It cannot be so very often,"
answered the Count, settling himself more comfortably on the couch.

"Often or not, love is like a flash from heaven when it comes, and
then it surpasses all our will and all our understanding, but it is
different with different people, whether it lasts or not. For in this
respect men are born with different dispositions and characters, like
birds or other creatures. Some are like the wood grouse and black cock
who must have a whole seraglio like the grand Turk; why it is so we
know not, but it is so, and that is their nature. Others are like the
small birds which take a mate for each year and then change. Others
again are amiable like doves and build their nests together for life,
and when one of them dies, the other no longer desires to live."

"Have you seen any human beings corresponding to doves?" asked the
Count doubtfully.

"I have seen many, dear sir. I have seen wood cocks who have paired
with doves, and the doves have been very unhappy; I have seen male
doves who have wedded a cuckoo, and the cuckoo is the worst of all
birds, for it likes the pleasure of love, but not the trouble of
children, and therefore turns its children out of the nest; but I have
also seen wedded doves, sir."

"Who never pecked each other?"

"Yes, I have seen them peck when the nest was narrow, and there was
trouble about food, but still they were good friends, and that is love.
There is also a sea-bird called 'svärt,' sir, which always flies in
pairs. If you shoot one, the other descends and lets itself be shot
too, and therefore the 'svärt' is called the stupidest of all birds."

"That is in the pairing time, venerable preceptor."

"No, young sir, they keep together the whole year round and their
pairing time is in spring. In the winter when they have no young ones
with them, but are alone, they eat together, hunt together, and sleep
together. That is not desire, but love, and if this charming feeling
can exist among soulless creatures, why can it not among men?"

"Yes, I have heard of its being found among men, but that it departs
after marriage."

"That is mere sensual pleasure, which partly goes, but then love comes."

"That is only friendship when there is any."

"Quite right, noble sir, but friendship between those of opposite
sex is just love. But there are so many things and so many sides to
everything. If you like, I will relate a story which I have seen
myself, and from which you may learn something or other. It happened
in my youth, forty years ago, but I remember every detail as though it
happened yesterday. Shall I relate it?"

"Certainly, preceptor. Time goes slowly when one waits for a favourable
wind. But bring a light and wine before you begin, for I think your
story will not keep one awake."

"Very likely not you, sir, but it has kept me awake many nights,"
answered Franciscus, and went to fetch what was required. When he had
returned and they sat down again on their berths, he began as follows:

"This is the story of Herr Bengt's wife. She was born of noble
parentage at the beginning of this century. She was strictly brought
up, and, when her parents died, her guardian placed her in a convent.
There she distinguished herself by her intense religious zeal; she
scourged herself on Fridays and fasted on all the greater saint's
days. When she reached the age of puberty, her condition became more
serious, and she actually attempted to starve herself to death,
believing it consistent with the duty of a Christian to kill the flesh
and to live with God in Christ. Then two circumstances contributed to
bring about a crisis in her life. Her guardian fled the country after
having squandered her property, and the convent authorities changed
their behaviour towards her, for it was a worldly institution which did
not at all open its gates for the poor and wretched. When she saw that,
she began to be assailed by doubts. Doubt was the disease of that time
and she had a strong attack of it. Her fellow-nuns believed nothing and
her superiors not much.

"One day she was sent from the convent to visit a sick person. On the
way, a beautiful lonely forest path, she met a Knight, young, strong,
and handsome. She stood and stared at him as though he had been a
vision; he was the first man she had seen for five years, and the first
man she had seen since she was a woman. He stopped his horse for a
moment, greeted her, and rode on. After that day she was tired of the
convent, and life enticed her. Life with its beauty and attraction drew
her away from Christ; she had attacks of temptation and outbreaks,
and had to spend most of her time in the punishment cell. One day she
received a letter smuggled in by the gardener. It was from the Knight.
He lived on the other side of the lake and she could see his castle
from the window of the cell. The correspondence continued. Faint
rumours began to be circulated that a great change in ecclesiastical
affairs was about to take place and that even the convents were about
to be abolished and the nuns released from their vows.

"Then hope awoke in her, but at the same time that she learnt that one
could be released from vows, she lost faith in the sanctity of the vow
itself, and at one stroke all restraint gave way. She believed now
rather in the everlasting rights of her instincts in the face of all
social and ecclesiastical laws!

"At last she was betrayed by a false friend, and the discovery of the
correspondence led to her being condemned to corporal punishment. But
Fate had ordered otherwise, and on the day that the punishment was to
be carried out a messenger came from the King and estates of the realm
with the command that the convent was to be closed. The messenger was
no other than the Knight. He opened for her the doors of the convent in
order to offer her freedom and his hand. That closed the first part of
her career."

"The first?" remarked the Count, as he lifted the jar of Rhine wine.
"Isn't the story over? They were married."

"No, sir. That is how stories usually end, but the real beginning is
just there. And I remember the day after the marriage. I had married
them and was her domestic chaplain. The breakfast-table was laid and
she came out of her room, beaming as though the whole earth danced on
her account, and the sun was only set in the sky to give them light.
He was full of courage and felt capable of bearing the whole world on
his shoulders. All his thoughts were intent on making life as kind and
beautiful for her as he could; and she was so happy that she could
neither eat nor drink; she wished only to forget, the existence of the
sinful earth. Well! she had her fancies, springing from the old time
when heaven was all, and earth was nothing; he was a child of the new
age who knew that one must live on earth in order to be able to enter
heaven afterwards."

"And so things came to a crisis?" interrupted the Count.

"They came to a crisis, as you say. I remember how he ate at the
breakfast-table like a hungry man, and she only sat and watched him;
but when she talked of birds' songs he talked of roast veal. Then he
noticed how she had thrown her clothes the evening before on a chair in
the dining-room, and reminded her that one must be orderly in a house."

"Then of course there was hell in the house."

"No, it was not so dangerous as that. But it brought a cloud over her
sun, and she felt that a breach was opened between them. Still she shut
her eyes in order not to see it, as one does when near a precipice.
Then the sky clouded over again. He had secret, melancholy thoughts
for his harvest-sheaves were on the field, and he knew that his income
depended on them. He wished to take her out to see them, but she begged
him to stay at home and not to talk of earth on that day."

"Earth! What an idiot!"

"Yes, yes! She was brought up like that; it was the fault of the
convent which had taught her to despise God's creation. So her husband
remained with her, and proposed that they should go hunting; she
accepted the proposal with joy."

"A proposal to kill! That was nice!"

"Yes, according to the views of the period, sir; every period has
its own views. But the sky clouded over once more, for this day was
not a lucky one for the young Knight. The King's bailiff called and
desired a special interview with him. The interview was granted and
the Knight was informed that he would lose his rank as a noble if he
did not supply the quota of arms due from him as the King's vassal,
which he had neglected to do for five years. The Knight had no means of
meeting this demand but the bailiff offered to procure him an advance
in money in exchange for a mortgage on his estate. So the matter was
arranged. But then the question arose how far he should take his wife
into his confidence with regard to this matter. He summoned me in order
to hear my advice. I thought it was a pity that the young wife should
be torn so suddenly out of her dreams of happiness and joy, and I was
short-sighted enough to advise that she should not be told the real
state of affairs till the first year was over."

"In that you were right! Why should women mix in business? It would
only lead to trouble and confusion and their poor husbands would never
have peace."

"No, sir, I was wrong, for in a true marriage husband and wife should
have full confidence in each other and be one. And what was the result
in this case? During the year they grew apart from one another. She
lived in her rose-garden and he in the fields; he had secrets concealed
from her and worked desperately without having her as his adviser;
he lived his own life apart and she, hers. When they met, he had to
pretend to be cheerful, and so their whole life became false. Finally
he became tired and withdrew into himself and so did she."

"And so it was all over with their love."

"No, sir; it might have been so, but true love goes through worse fires
than these. They loved each other still and that was destined to be
proved by the tests which they were to pass through.

"Her child came, and with it commenced a new stage of their life
journey. She needed her husband less now for her time was occupied
by looking after the child, and her husband felt freer, for so many
claims were not made on his tenderness as before. She threw herself
heart and soul into the new occupations which absorbed her; she watched
through the nights and toiled through the days and would never give up
the child to a nurse The contact with reality and the little affairs
of life seemed at first to have an intoxicating effect upon her empty
soul and she began to find a certain satisfaction in talking with her
husband about his fields and their cultivation. But this could not
last long. Education lies behind us like the seeds of weeds which may
remain in the ground for a year or two, but which only need proper
cultivation in order to spring up again. One day she looked in the
glass and found that she had become pale, thin, and ugly. She saw that
the bloom of her youth was past, and her charms decayed. Then the woman
awoke in her or rather one side of the mysterious being which is called
a woman: and then came the longing to be beautiful, to please, to feel
herself ruling through her beauty. She was now no longer so eagerly
occupied with the child as before, and she began to spend more care
on her own person. Her husband saw this change with joy, for strange
to say although he had at first been glad to observe her desperate
zeal about the child and the house, yet when he saw his heart's queen
dressed negligently, and marked how pale and wretched she looked, it
cut him to the heart. He wished to have back again the charming fairy
who had waited with longing at the window for his return home, and at
whose feet he wished to worship. So strange is man's heart, and so much
leaven does it still retain from the old times of chivalry when woman
was regarded as a Madonna.

"But now came something else. During the first period of her
confinement he had become a little tired and careless in his habits; he
came and went with his hat on, ate his meals at a corner of the table,
and took no pains about his dress. And when his wife began to return
to the ways of everyday life he forgot to follow her, and to alter his
habits. His wife, who was still somewhat sickly, thought she saw in the
relaxing of these courtesies a want of love, and an unfortunate chance
afforded her an apparent proof that he was tired of her.

"It was an unlucky day! The year was approaching its end when the chief
payments would be made. The harvest promised to be bountiful but its
overplus could not cover everything. The Knight had to find other means
of raising money, and he found them. He ordered some fine timber-trees
round the courtyard to be cut down, but in so doing, they came too near
the house, so that his wife's favourite lime-tree was also cut down.
The Knight did not know that she had a special liking for it, and the
act was quite unintentional. His wife had been ill for a week or two,
and when she came into the dining-room she saw that the lime-tree had
disappeared; she at once believed that it had been cut down to annoy
her. She also noticed that her rose-bushes had withered, for no one
had had time to think of such trifles amid all the bustle of bringing
in the harvest. This seemed to her another act of unkindness and she
sent all the available horses and oxen to fetch water.

"Now there intervened a new circumstance to hasten the coming
misfortune. The bailiff had come to the castle to wait for the bringing
in of the harvest, and had an interview with the Knight's wife just
after she had made the two above-mentioned discoveries. They found
that they had known each other as children, and a confidential chat
followed, which afforded her some amusement. She liked her visitor's
rustic but courteous manners, and the comparison she made between his
politeness and her husband's boorishness, was not to the advantage
of the latter. She forgot that her husband could be as polite as the
bailiff when paying a formal visit, and that the bailiff could be as
brusque as he in everyday business.

"Thus everything was in train for what should happen when her husband
came home. The bailiff had gone and left her alone with her thoughts.
When her husband came in, he was cheerful, being pleased to see his
wife up again, and because the continued dry weather was good for
the harvest, which was all now ready cut and could be brought in in
a single day. But his wife, depressed by her thoughts, felt annoyed
by his cheerfulness, and now the shots went off, one after the other.
She asked about her lime-tree, and he said he had cut it down because
he required timber; she then asked why he must cut down 'just' the
lime-tree which shaded her window; he answered that he had not cut down
just that one, but all of them together.

"Then she began about the rose-bushes. He replied that he had never
promised to water them. She, having no answer to this, discovered that
he was wearing greased boots, and immediately remarked upon it. He
acknowledged his inadvertence and was about to repair it on the spot by
drawing them off, but she became furious at such an act of discourtesy.
Hard words passed between them and she declared that he loved her no
more. Then the Knight answered somewhat in this way: 'I don't love
you, you say, because I work for you and don't sit and gossip by
your embroidery frame; I don't love you because I am hungry through
neglecting food; I don't love you because I don't change my boots when
I come for a minute into the room. I don't love you, you say! Oh, if
you only knew how much I loved you!'

"To this his wife replied: 'before we married you loved me and at the
same time gossiped by my embroidery frame, took off your boots when you
came in, and showed me politeness. What has happened then, to make you
change your behaviour?'

"Her husband answered: 'We are married now.' His wife thought he meant
that marriage had given him a proprietary right over her, and that he
wished to show this by his free-and-easy demeanour, but this last was
simply due to his unshakeable trust in her vow to love him through joy
and sorrow, and in her forbearance, if, in order to avoid loss of time,
he dropped a number of little empty ceremonies. He was on the point of
telling her that it was in order to stave off ruin that he worked in
the fields, thought only of crops, tramped in the mud, and brought dirt
into the house, but he kept silence, for he thought that in her weak
state, she could not bear the shock, and he knew that in twenty-four
hours all danger would be passed and the house would be saved. He
asked her to forgive him, and they forgave one another, and spoke
gently together again. But then came a shock! The steward rushed in and
announced that a storm was approaching. The Knight's wife was glad that
the roses would get rain, but he was not. It seemed to him like the
finger of God, and he told his wife everything but bade her at the same
time be of good courage. He then gave orders that all the oxen should
be yoked and the harvest brought in at once. He was told that they had
been sent to fetch water. Who had sent them? 'I did,' answered his
wife. 'I wanted water for my flowers, which you allowed to be dried up,
while I was ill.'

"'Aren't you ashamed to say you did?' asked the Knight.

"She answered: 'You plume yourself on having deceived me for a whole
year. I have no need to be ashamed of telling the truth, since I have
committed no fault, but only met with a misfortune.' Then he became
furious, went to her with upraised hand, and struck her."

"And served her devilish right!" said the Count.

"Fie! Fie! young sir! To strike a weak woman!"

"Why should one not strike a woman, when one strikes children?"

"Because woman is weaker, sir."

"Another reason! One cannot get at the stronger, and one must not
strike the weaker: Whom shall one strike then?"

"One should not strike at all, my friend. Fie! Fie! What sentiments
you utter, and you wish to be a soldier!"

"Yes! What happens in war? The stronger strikes and the weaker is
struck. Isn't that logic?"

"It may be logic, but it is not morality. But do you want to hear the
continuation?"

"Wasn't it over then, with their love at any rate?"

"No, sir! not by a long way! Love does not depart so easily. Well!
she believed now just as you do, that it was all over with love, and
she asked the bailiff, who came in just then, to make an appeal for
separation in her name to the King."

"And she wanted to leave her child?"

"No, she thought she could take it with her. Her pride was wounded to
the quick, and she felt crushed under the ruins of her beautiful castle
in the air."

"And her husband?"

"He was pulverised! His dream of wedded love was over, and he was
ruined besides, for the rainstorm had carried away and destroyed the
whole of his harvest. And when he saw that it was she whom he loved who
was the cause of his misfortune he felt resentment in his heart against
her, but he loved her still? when his anger had been allayed."

"Still?"

"Yes, sir, for love does not ask why. It only knows that it is so. The
Knight was ruined, and left his house to look after itself while he
rode about in the woods and fields. His wife, on the contrary, awoke to
a life of energy and diligence and took in hand the whole management
of the house; necessity made the little, tender being who never had
worked, strong; she sewed clothes for herself and the children; she
made payments and looked after the servants, and this last was not
the easiest, for the latter had grown accustomed to regard the little
spoilt lady as only a guest, but she took hold of affairs with an
energetic hand and kept them in order. When money was insufficient she
pawned her jewels, and by that means paid wages and cleared off debts.
One day when the Knight awoke to reflection and came home anxiously to
look after the condition of affairs which he regarded as hopeless, he
found everything in proper order. When he made inquiries, he was told
that his wife had saved everything. Then remorse and shame awoke in
him and he went to ask her on his knees to forgive him for not having
understood and valued her. She forgave him and declared that she had
not formerly deserved to be more highly valued, since she did not
then possess the qualities which she afterwards acquired. They were
reconciled as friends, but she declared that her love was dead, and
that she did not intend to be his wife for the future.

"Their conversation was interrupted by the bailiff, who during this
time had lived in the house and helped the wife by his advice and
service. Her husband felt himself put aside and his place occupied by
another; jealousy raged in him, and he forbade his wife to receive
a stranger in her rooms. His wife thereupon declared that she would
visit the bailiff in his rooms but her husband reminded her that he had
rights over her person, since she was still his wife according to the
law. But she had that day received by post the decree of separation
and told him that she was free and could go where she liked. Then when
he saw that it was all over, he collapsed and begged her on his knees
to remain. When she saw the proud Knight crawling on the ground like
a slave she lost the last remnants of respect for him, and when she
remembered how once in her weakness and misery, she had looked up to
him as the one who could carry her in his arms over thorns and stones,
she wished to fly from this spectacle. Being no more able to find in
him, what he had once been to her, she simply went away."

"Well now," interrupted the Count, who began to be bored, "it really
was over."

"No, no, young sir, it only looked so, but was not. But here I must
make a confession. I saw everything with my own eyes, sir, for I was
her friend and honoured her in my heart. How foolish I was, I will
also confess. We of the old school, who were brought up at the end of
the age of chivalry, had learnt to see in woman a creature above the
ordinary level of humanity; we revered the outward part, and that which
was beautiful and useless; in our ideas that which pleased the eye took
the first place. You can well imagine that I, though a seeker of the
truth, was so misled by these old ideas, that I thought she was sinking
just when she showed the greatest energy and courage. Yes, on the very
day that the decree of separation came, I had a conversation with her
which I can remember as clearly as though I had written it down. I
said: 'If you knew how idolatrously high you once stood in my sight.
And I saw the angel let her white wings fall, I saw the fairy lose her
golden shoe. I saw you the morning after the marriage when you rode on
your white horse through the wood, it carried you so lightly over the
damp grass and lifted you so high over the mud of the marsh without a
spot coming on your silver-bright clothing. For a moment I thought as
I stood behind a tree; "Suppose she fell!" and my thought turned into a
vision. I saw you sink in the mire; the black water spirited over you;
your yellow hair lay like sunshine over the white blossoms of the bog
of myrtle; you sank and sank till I only saw your little hand; then I
heard a falcon scream up in the air and mount up on its wrings till it
was lost in the clouds.' But then she answered me so well. 'You said
once long ago that reality with all its dirt and sordidness was given
us by God, and that we should not curse it, but take it as it is. Very
well! But now you hint that I have sunk because I am on the way to
reconcile myself with this life; I have changed the garment of the rich
for that of the poor, since I am poor; I lost my youth when I obeyed
the law of nature and became a mother; the beauty of my hands is spoilt
by sewing, my eyes are dim with care, the burden of life presses me to
the earth but my soul mounts--mounts like the falcon towards the sky
and freedom, while my earthly body sinks in the mud amid evil-smelling
weeds.'

"Then I asked if she really believed she could keep the soul above
while the body sank, and she answered 'No!' This was because she, like
myself, had the delusion that something sank. The body, however,
did not sink through work; on the contrary, it was hardened and
strengthened; it improved and mounted but did not sink. However,
we were both so foolish that we both imagined it did, having been
indoctrinated with this view from our youth upwards. We considered
white hands, though they might be weak and sickly as more beautiful
than those which were hardened and embrowned by toil. So perverse were
people's ideas in my youth, sir, and so they are still, here and there.
But in my perversity I went farther and advised her to commit a crime 6
Loose the falcon and let it mount, I said.'

"'I have already thought of that,' she answered, understanding my
thought, 'but the chain is strong.'

"'I have the key to it,' I replied.

"She asked me to give it her, and received from me a bottle of poison.

"Now I return to the story where I left it off. It was where she had
left her husband's room to seek the bailiff in the upper story. When
she came there she had to wait, for the bailiff had visitors. She also
received a lesson, for none of her married friends would greet her,
because she had dissolved her marriage. One of these friends had been
unfaithful to her husband and had a lover but she thought herself
too good to take Frau Margit's hand. What is one to say to that? At
that time it was considered one of the greatest crimes to dissolve a
marriage, but now, thank Heaven! our ideas have changed. She came, as
I have said, to the bailiff to ask his advice as she had done all the
time when difficulties arose.

"Did she love him? Probably not; but the heart is never so likely to
deceive itself as in such cases. She imagined that she did, because she
thought she had lost her husband and by birth and upbringing she was
not adapted to stand alone.

"But the bailiff was another sort of man. He was like one of those
birds with a seraglio which I spoke of, and if he had not been so
cowardly, he would have already enticed the Knight's wife. But he did
not do it, for he saw that this fruit would drop when it was ripe
enough. Therefore he waited. But he had another characteristic; he was
as vain as a cock in a hen-house, and thought that he was a terrible
fellow whom no woman could resist. So when he overheard Frau Margit
say that she intended visiting him in his room, he believed that the
time had come, and made elaborate preparations to receive her. She came
quite unsuspiciously, for she trusted his friendship and devotion to
her interests. She wished to speak of the serious prospect which lay
before her; he spoke of his love and she did not wish to listen. She
was legally free but still felt herself bound. The might of memory
held her and perhaps the old love had a word to say in the matter. The
bailiff became bolder and begged for her love on his knees. Then she
despised him. His vanity was wounded, he forgot himself, threw the mask
aside, and wished to use force. I came accidentally there and was able
to give him the _coup de grâce_ by telling Frau Margit that he was
engaged to be married. There was nothing left for him but to withdraw.

"But she had already, when her last hope collapsed and her last dream
vanished, used the key to open the gate of eternity; I who knew that
the poison required an hour to produce its effect, used the opportunity
to speak to her, as one speaks to the dying. Ah! certainly the love of
mortals for this wretched life is great, and at such moments the human
soul is turned upside down; what lies at the bottom comes uppermost,
old memories revive; old beliefs, however absurd and however rightly
they may have been rejected, arise again, and I woke up in her the old
ideas of duty, foolish perhaps, but necessary now. I brought her so
far that she wished to live and commence again a life of renunciation
and reflection in the convent. But since the convent no longer existed
I persuaded her to be willing to exchange it for the imprisonment
of home, where there is plenty of opportunity for penance in mutual
self-denial, for devotion in the fulfilment of duties and in obedience.
She fought against her pride and regretted her surrender, she raged
against life, which had deceived her, and against men who had lied and
said that life was a pleasure-garden. In this matter I agreed with her,
for the unhappiness in most marriages arises from the fact that people
persuade the married pair that they will find absolute happiness in
marriage, whereas happiness is not to be found in life at all.

"She was frantic, but an accident came to my aid. Her child, whose room
was underneath us, began to cry. She was shaken to her depths, and
said that she was willing to live for her child's sake, in order to
teach it that life is not what people describe it to be. She did not
wish to leave it to the same fate which she had escaped. She did not
speak of her husband; whether she thought of him or not, I cannot say.
I who had given her the poison, knew where the antidote was; but as I
still wished to keep her in fear, I gave her less hope than I myself
possessed.

"I went away, and when I returned, I found her in her husband's arms.
He had found her on the stairs, where she had fallen down in a swoon.
All was forgiven and all was forgotten. You think that strange? But
have you not forgiven your mother although she chastised you, and
does not your mother love you, although you have deceived her, and
caused her grief and anxiety. This last agitation had convulsed her
soul so that the old love lay uppermost like a clear pearl, which has
been fished up from the miry bottom of the sea where it lay hidden
in a dirty mollusc. But she still struggled with her pride and said
she would not love him, although she did love him. I never forget his
answer, which contains the whole riddle, 'You did not wish to love me,
Margit,' he said, 'for your pride forbade it, but you love me still.
You love me, although I raised my hand against you, and although I
was shamefully cowardly when the trouble came. I wished to hate you
when you left me; I wished to kill you, because you were willing to
sacrifice your child, and still I love you. Do you not now believe in
the power of love over our evil wills?'

"So he said; and I say now like the fabulist: this fable teaches that
love is a great power which passes all understanding and against which
our wills can do nothing. Love bears all things, gives up all things,
and of faith, hope, and love, sir, love is the greatest."

"Well, how did they go on afterwards?" asked the Count.

"I was no longer with them."

"They probably continued to quarrel."

"I know that they have disagreements sometimes, for these must happen
when there are different opinions, but I know also that neither wishes
to domineer over the other. They go their way, making less demands on
life than before and therefore they are as happy as one can be when
one takes life as it is. That was what the old period with its claim
of being able to make a heaven on earth could not do, but what the new
period has learnt."


THE END





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