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Title: Egholm and his God
Author: Buchholtz, Johannes
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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Egholm and his God



  Egholm and his
  God

  Translated from the Danish of
  Johannes Buchholtz

  By W. W. Worster

  [Illustration]

  New York

  Alfred · A · Knopf

  1922



EGHOLM AND HIS GOD



I


Sivert stands leaning his elbows on the window ledge, digging all ten
fingers into his curly hair, and looking down at the muddy court below.

Not a soul.

He looks at the wet roofs, and the raindrops splashing tiny rings in
the water all along the gutter.

Not so much as a sparrow in sight. Only the sullen November drizzle,
flung now and then into gusts, and whipping the panes with a lash of
rain.

But that is enough for Sivert. He looks out into the grey desolation,
highly amused at it all.

Now he purses up his lips and whispers something, raises his eyebrows,
mutters something in reply, and giggles.

Let him, for Heaven’s sake, as long as he can, thinks his mother.

And Sivert finds it more amusing still. Wonderful, so much there is
going on inside him. He shakes his poodle mop of hair, and gives way to
a long-drawn, gasping laugh--simply can’t help it--leans his forehead
against the pane, thrusts both hands suddenly deep into his pockets,
and gives a curious wriggle.

“You great big boy, what’s the matter now?” says his mother gently.

Sivert turns his head away and answers with an evasive laugh:

“All that rain ... it tickles so.”

Fru Egholm does not question him again; for a moment she really feels
as if the boy were right. And, anyhow, it would be no use asking him.
If only he can find his little pleasure in it, so much the better.

And there’s no saying how long ... Egholm had said it was time the boy
found something to do, now he was confirmed. Find him a place at once.
And Sivert, poor weakly lad--how would it go with him?

Fru Egholm shakes her head, and sends a loving glance at the boy, who
is plainly busy in his mind with something new and splendid.

Then suddenly his face changes, as if at the touch of death itself.
His eyes grow dull, his jaw drops; the childish features with their
prematurely aged look are furrowed with dread as he stares down at
something below.

“Is it Father?” she whispers breathlessly. “Back already?”

She lays down her sewing and hurries to the window; mother and son
stand watching with frightened eyes each movement of the figure below.

Egholm walks up from the gate, lithe and erect, just as in the old days
when he came home from the office. But at every step his knees give
under him, he stumbles, and his wet cloak hangs uncomfortably about
him. At last he comes to a standstill, heedless of the fact that his
broad boots are deep in a puddle of water.

Once he looks up, and Sivert and his mother hold their breath. But the
flower-pots in the window hide them. His head droops forward, he stands
there still. A little after, they see him trudging along close to the
wall, past his own door.

The watchers stand on tiptoe, pressing their temples against the cold
glass, straining to see what next.

Egholm stops at the Eriksens’ gate, glances round, and kneels.

Kneels down full in the mire, while the gale flings the cape of his
ulster over his head. Now he snatches off his hat and crushes it in his
fingers; his bald head looks queerly oblong, like a pumpkin, seen from
above.

“He’s praying!”

And the two at the window shudder, as if they were witnessing some
dreadful deed.

“Where am I to hide?” blubbers Sivert.

The mother pulls herself together--she must find strength for two.

“You need not hide to-day. Take your little saw and be doing some
work. You’ll see, it will be all right to-day.”

“But suppose he counts the money?”

“Oh, heaven...!”

“Hadn’t we better tell him at once? Shout out and tell him as soon as
he comes in, and say Hedvig took it?”

“No, no.”

“Or go and kill ourselves?”

“No, no. Sit still, Sivert dear, and don’t say a word. Maybe God will
help us. We might put something over the bowl ... no. Better leave it
as it is.”

Heavy steps on the stairs outside. Egholm walks in, strong and erect
again now.

He hangs up his wet things, and fumbles with a pair of sodden cuffs.

“Didn’t get a place, I suppose?” asks his wife, looking up from the
machine. Sivert sits obediently at a little table at the farther end of
the room.

“Is it likely?” Egholm’s face is that of one suffering intensely. And
he speaks in an injured tone.

“I only thought.... You’re home earlier than usual.”

No answer. Egholm walks over to the window and stares into the greyness
without, his long, thin fingers pulling now and again at his dark beard.

Lost in thought....

His wife does not venture to disturb him, though he is shutting out the
fading light. She keeps the machine audibly in motion, making pretence
of work.

A long, long time he stands there. Sivert has been sawing away
conscientiously all the time, but at last he can bear it no longer, and
utters a loud sigh. Fru Egholm reaches stealthily for the matches, and
lights the lamp. Her fingers tremble as she lifts the glass.

Egholm turns at the sound. And now he is no longer Egholm the upright,
nor Egholm the abject; _Egholm the Great_ he is now. His eyes glow
like windows in a burning house; he stands there filling the room
with Egholm; Egholm the invincible. The mother cowers behind her
sewing-machine; and her seam runs somewhat awry.

What terrible thing can he be thinking of now? The “Sect,” as
usual?--Heaven have mercy on them, now that Egholm has joined the
Brotherhood.

Surely something terrible must happen soon; he has rarely been as bad
as this before.

He moves, and his wife looks up with a start. But now he has changed
again, to something less terrible now--not quite so deadly terrible as
before.

He is far away in his dreamings now, without a thought for his
earthbound fellow-creatures.

He stands in his favourite attitude, with one hand on his hip, as if
posing to a sculptor. A fine figure of a man. His watch-chain hangs in
a golden arc from one waistcoat pocket to the other. Only one who knew
of the fact would ever notice that one of the oval links is missing,
and a piece of string tied in its place.

After a little he begins walking up and down, stopping now and again at
the window, with a gesture of the hand, as if addressing an assembly
without.

Then suddenly he swings round, facing his wife, and utters these words:

“Now I know what it means. At last!”

Fru Egholm checks the wheel of her machine, and looks up at him with
leaden-grey, shadow-fringed eyes. But he says no more, and she sets the
machine whirring once more.

Peace for a little while longer, at any rate, she thinks to herself.

Sivert looks up stealthily every time his father turns his back; the
boy is flushed with repressed excitement, the tip of his tongue keeps
creeping out.

“Mark you,” says Egholm after a long pause, “I’m wiser perhaps--a good
deal wiser--than you take me for.”

He throws out his chest with conscious dignity, lifting his head, and
placing one hand on his hip as before.

Oh, so he’s still thinking of that quarrel of theirs this morning.
Well, well, of course it would be something to do with the Brotherhood
some way or other.

“You said I was wasting my time.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You said I was throwing money out of the window.”

Fru Egholm shifts in her seat, pulling nervously at her work. She would
like to mitigate the sharpness of her words, and yet, if possible,
stand by what she had said.

Sivert wakes to the fact that he is dribbling down over his hand, and
sniffs up hastily.

“Didn’t you say it was throwing money out of the window?”

“I said, it was hard taking money where there was none.”

“You said it was throwing money away. But do you know what I’m doing
with that money all the time? I’m putting it in the bank.”

“In the bank?...”

“In the _Bank of Heaven_--where the interest is a thousand--nay, tens
of thousands--per cent.! If it wasn’t for that, I’d never have thought
of joining the Brotherhood at all.”

“But--I can’t help it, but I don’t believe in him, that Evangelist man.
Young Karlsen, I mean.”

Egholm breathed sharply, and quickened his steps. The answer did not
please him.

“You talk about young Karlsen: I am talking of Holy Writ.”

“But it was Karlsen that....”

“Yes, and I shall thank him for it till my dying day. He it was that
opened my eyes, and showed me I was living the life of one accursed;
pointed out the goal I can reach--cannot fail to reach--if only I will
pay my tithe. Do you know what it says in Malachi? Shall I give you the
words of Malachi the Prophet?”

“Ye--es ... if you please,” answers his wife confusedly.

“Yes ... if you please,” echoes Sivert in precisely the same tone.
He has a painful habit of taking up his mother’s words when anything
excites him.

But Egholm had no time now to punish the interruption; he stood forth
and spoke, with threatening sternness:

“‘_Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have
we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings._’

“‘_Ye are cursed with a curse...._’

“Cursed!” Egholm struck the table with his fist in condemnation. “Do
you hear? They are accursed who would rob the Lord--_in tithes and
offerings!_”

“It’s solemn hard words,” said the mother, with a sigh.

“No harder than it should be. Just and right!”

“I was only thinking--the New Testament--perhaps there might be
something there to make it easier.”

“Make it easier! God’s Law to be made easier! Are you utterly lost in
sin, woman? Or do you think I would tamper with the Holy Scriptures?
Read for yourself--there!”

He snatched the old Bible from its shelf and flung it down on the
sewing-machine. Fru Egholm looked at the thick, heavy tome with
something like fear in her eyes.

“I only meant ... if it was really God’s will that we should starve to
find that money for Karlsen.”

“Starve--and what’s a trifle of starvation when the reward’s so much
the greater? What does it say there, only a little farther on: ‘_Prove
me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the
windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be
room enough to receive it_’?

“Isn’t that a glorious promise? Perhaps the finest in the whole
Bible. Are you so destitute of imagination that you cannot see the
Lord opening the windows of heaven, and the money pouring out like a
waterfall, like a rainbow, over us poor worms that have not room enough
to receive it?”

“Money?--but it doesn’t say anything about money.”

“Yes, it does--if you read it aright. It’s there all right,
only”--Egholm drew his lips back a little, baring his teeth--“only,
of course, it needs a little sense in one’s head to read the Bible,
just as any other book. It wasn’t all quite easy to me at first, but
now I understand it to the full. There’s not a shadow of doubt, but
the Bible means _ready money_. What else could it be? The blessing
of the Lord, you say. Well, there’s more than one of the Brethren in
the congregation thinks the same--and that’s what makes them slow in
paying up _their_ tithes and offerings. They think the blessing is just
something supernatural; an inner feeling of content--fools’ nonsense!
Do you suppose I could be content, with duns and creditors tearing at
me like dogs about a carcase? No; ready money, that’s what it means.
Money we give, and money shall be given unto us in return; we shall
receive our own with usury, as it is written.”

“Do you really mean....”

Egholm grasped eagerly at the hint of admission that he fancied lay
behind her doubt. He strode to the chest of drawers, and, picking up
the crystal bowl, held it out towards the light as if raising it in
salutation. The tithe-money showed like some dark wine at the bottom.

“I swear unto you,” he said, with great solemnity, “it is even so.”

Fru Egholm meets his burning glance, and is confused.

“It would be a grand thing, sure enough, if we could come by a little
money.” And she sighs.

“But it’s not a little,” says Egholm. The impression he has made on her
is reacting now with added force upon himself. “Not altogether little;
no. I can feel it; there is a change about to come. And a change, with
me, must be a change for the better. It means I am to be exalted.
‘Friend, come up higher!’”

Again he strides up and down, seeking an outlet for his emotion. He
sets down the bowl, and picks up the Bible instead, presses the book
to his breast, and slaps its wooden cover, shaking out a puff of
worm-eaten dust.

“Beautiful book,” he says tenderly--“beautiful old book. By thee I
live, and am one with thee!” And, turning to his wife, he goes on:
“After all, it’s simple enough. If I do my duty by God, He’s got to do
His by me, and I’d like to see how He can get out of it.”

There was a rattle of the door below. Fru Egholm listened ... yes,
it was Hedvig, coming back from her work. There--wiping her boots
on Eriksens’ mat, the very thing she’d been strictly forbidden. And
dashing upstairs three steps at a time and whistling like a boy. No
mistaking Hedvig.

Fru Egholm signed covertly to Sivert to go out in the kitchen. She
could give the children their food there, without being noticed. What
you don’t hear you don’t fear, as the saying goes. And that was true
of Egholm; it always irritated him when Sivert made a noise over his
food. Poor child--a good thing he’d the heart to eat and enjoy it.

Hedvig came tumbling in, with a clatter of wooden shoes.

“Puh, what a mess! I’m drenched to the skin. Look!” She ducked forward,
sending a stream of water from the brim of her hat. Her hair, in two
heavy yellow plaits, slipped round on either side, the ends touching
the floor; then with a toss of her head she threw it back, and stood
there laughing, in the full glare of the lamp.

Glittering white teeth and golden eyelashes. The freckles round her
nose gave a touch of boyishness to her face.

“My dear child, what can we give you to put on?”

“Oh, I’ll find some dry stockings--there’s a pair of mine in the
settee.”

“Sivert borrowed those, dear, last Sunday, you know. But you can ask
him--he’s outside in the kitchen.”

Egholm, too, must have his meal. He had a ravenous appetite. The pile
of bread and dripping vanished from his plate as a cloud passes from
the face of the moon. Possibly because he was reading, as he ate, of
the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.

The rain spattered unceasingly against the panes.

“What are you hanging about here for?” asked Hedvig. Sivert was
standing huddled up by the sink.

“He’ll find out in a minute,” whispered the boy. “He’s waving his arms
and legs about, and talking all about money.”

“Puh--let him. We must eat, so there’s an end of it. He’ll have
forgotten by to-morrow how much there was.”

“But he’ll count it to-night. He’s going to the meeting.”

“To-night--h’m. That’s a nasty one,” said Hedvig thoughtfully.

Sivert showed a strange reluctance to hand over the stockings.

“They’ve been confirmed,” he explained. “I wore them last Sunday. You
can’t have them back now after they’ve been to my confirmation. It’s a
great honour.”

“You take them off, and that sharp! You can see mine are wet through.”

“Mine are ... they’re wet, too.”

“Wet, too? Why, what have you been doing?”

“I--I couldn’t help it,” snivelled Sivert shamefacedly. “It came of
itself, when Father took the bowl....”

Hedvig drew away from him, turning up her nose in disgust.

“Ugh! You baby!”

“Mother! Is she to call me a baby now I’m grown up and confirmed?”

“Hold your noise, out there!” cried his father. “Run down to Eriksens’
and ask the time.”

Sivert hurried away, and brought back word: half-past seven.

“I must be off,” said Egholm, with an air of importance.

Mother and children looked with a shiver of dread towards the cut-glass
bowl. But Egholm was quietly putting on his still dripping coat,
looking at himself in the glass, as he always did. It was a game of
blind man’s buff, where all save the blind man know how near the
culprit stands.

“Leave out the key, Anna, if I’m not....”

“Oh, I’ll be waiting up all right.”

“Well, if you like.” Egholm moved to the door; he grasped the handle.
A flicker of hope went through them; he had forgotten his tithe and
offering. To-morrow it wouldn’t matter so much....

But Egholm stood there still, pulling at his beard, straining himself
to think....

“Ah--I mustn’t forget the chiefest of all.”

In the midst of a ghastly silence he took the bowl from its place,
shook out the little heap of coppers, and with a satisfied air stacked
them up in orderly piles, ready to count. He counted all through,
counted over again, and moved the piles in different order, pulled at
his beard, and glowered. The mother kept her eyes fixed on her work,
but the children were staring, staring at their father’s hands.

“How much was it he lent us on the clock last time? Three _kroner_,
surely?”

“Yes; I think it was three,” said Fru Egholm, trying her hardest to
speak naturally.

“What do you mean?--‘you _think_ it was!’” Her husband rose to his feet
with a threatening mien.

“Yes, yes, I remember now. It _was_ three _kroner_.”

“And did you put the thirty-_øre_ tithe in the bowl, as I ordered?”

Fru Egholm felt instinctively that it would be best to insist that the
money had been put in the bowl. But another and stronger instinct led
her at this most unfortunate moment to hold forth in protest against
the giving of tithes at all, and more especially tithe of moneys
received on pawned effects. And very soon she had floundered into a
slough of argument that led no way at all.

Egholm strode fuming up and down the room.

“You didn’t put it in at all.”

“I did. To the last _øre_.”

Now this was perfectly true. The money _had_ been put in....

“Then you must have stolen it again after.”

“God wouldn’t have it, I know. It’s blood money.”

“Wouldn’t He? He shall--I’ll see that He does! You’ve stolen money from
the Lord! What have you done with it?”

“What do you think we should do with it?”

“Who’s been out buying things?” he thundered, turning to the children.

“It wasn’t me--not quite,” said Sivert, with one thumb deep in his
mouth.

“That means it was you, you little whelp. What did you buy with the
money?”

“I didn’t buy two eggs.” Sivert was steadfastly pleading not guilty.

Egholm called to mind that he had had an egg with his dinner. The depth
of villainy was clear and plain.

Fru Egholm could hold out no longer. “I--I thought you needed something
strengthening, Egholm; you’ve been looking so poorly. And I took out
the thirty _øre_ again and bought two eggs. One you had, and one I gave
the children. They need it, too, poor dears.”

Egholm felt his brain seething; he gripped his head with both hands,
as if fearing it might burst. Every nerve seemed to shudder as at the
touch of glowing iron.

“_Ye are cursed with a curse_,” he said in a hollow voice.

“Egholm, do be calm....” But his wife’s well-meaning effort only made
him the more furious. He picked up his stick and struck the table with
a crash.

“You should be struck down and smitten to earth--you have brought a
curse upon my house!”

“Egholm, do be careful. It’s not for my own sake I say it, but remember
the state I’m in....”

“What have I to do with the state you’re in?” he thundered
inconsequently, but laid down his stick. “Out with the money this
minute! Do you hear? The money, the money you took!”

“But you know yourself we used all we had for the rent, or I wouldn’t
have touched the other. I can’t dig up money out of the ground.”

“Then give me the silver spoon.”

This was a little child’s spoon, worn thin, and bearing the date of Fru
Egholm’s christening.

“Take it, then,” she said, weeping.

The children had been looking on with frightened eyes. Sivert, in his
confusion, now began sawing again.

“What--you dare--at such a time! Stop that at once!” cried his father.
And by way of securing immediate obedience, he twined his fingers in
the boy’s hair and dragged him backwards out of his chair, till his
wooden shoes rattled against the flap of the table.

Fru Egholm sprang towards them; the linen she was at work on tore with
a scream.

“For Heaven’s sake!” she cried desperately, picking up the boy in her
arms.

“Give me the spoon and let’s have no more nonsense,” said Egholm, and
strode out. The three stood listening, as to the echoes of retreating
thunder. First the slam of the door below, then the heavier clang of
the gate across the yard.

“O--oh!” said Hedvig, “he ought to be _thrashed_!” And she drew a deep
breath, as of cleaner air.

“Don’t speak like that, child. After all, he’s your father.”



II


Egholm descended the stairs, each step carrying him so much farther
down from the heights of his rage. By the time he had crossed the stone
paving, and let the street door clang behind him, he was as gentle as
any hermit of the dale.

A gust of wind sent him staggering over to the outflow of a gutter
pipe, which greeted him with an icy shower; he took it as one might
take the jest of a friend. What matter, either, that the same wind
thrust a chilly feeler in under his collar, right down to the armhole,
or slapped him flat-handed on the mouth and left him breathless? He was
not moved to anger when the streams and puddles he was wading through
followed the law of nature and filled his leaky boots within to the
level of the waters without. Meekly he pressed his hat more firmly
down, bowed his head submissively, and walked in all humility close to
the house walls, lest he should hinder the wind in its task.

The tumult within him had subsided, leaving no more than the ordinary
eagerness of a man in a hurry--a man intent on getting to a meeting in
good time.

Street after street, with the same wet breath in his face. He crossed
over Vestergade, where the shop windows flared in a row on either side,
and a carriage on its way to the theatre nearly knocked him down.
Then he burrowed once more into the side streets, emerging at last,
by way of a narrow passage, into a yard, where lights were burning in
the windows of a stable--a stable converted, being now the hall and
meeting-place of the Brethren of St. John.

The unlighted entry gave out a thick smell of mildew and plaster.
Egholm felt a childish nervousness as he realised that the meeting had
already begun. He smoothed his wreath of hair, and wiped the water from
his face with his cape; then, fumbling for the handle of the door, he
walked in.

The hall was half-full of people; young Karlsen was standing on the
stage, delivering a sort of homily. This was young Karlsen’s usual
opening, designed to pass the time until old Karlsen could get away
from the shop. Everybody knew it, and all bore it patiently, excepting
young Karlsen himself, who longed most earnestly for the hour of his
deliverance.

At the sound of the door, he stooped and bent forward, trying to
see beneath the lamps and make out who had come in. But he made no
pause in his sermon; only, his delivery became somewhat strained and
disconnected.

When the bald top of Egholm’s head caught the light, however, he drew
back with a jerk of disappointment, yawned, thrust his hands resignedly
into his pockets, and went on:

“Consequently, my dear friends, as I have said----”

Egholm stepped softly to a rickety seat, and sheltered himself behind
Fru Laursen’s ample figure.

The hall was not large, but all were heartily welcome there. On
Saturdays and Sundays its rotten floor-boards shook beneath the
feet of factory girls, with high wooden heels, and lads from the
slaughterhouse, with neckties slipping up at the back. Both parties
sweated profusely as they danced, and mine host from the dramshop
across the courtyard sat on an upturned box next the door uncorking
bottled beer.

On Wednesdays, from six to eight, a drill sergeant fumed over a class
of unpromising pupils from the Peasant Welfare Schools, who walked, and
on the toes rose, and from the hips bent, as they were told, yet never
managing to attain that explosive _élan_ which alone maketh the heart
of a drill sergeant to rejoice.

When the Brethren of St. John arrived at eight, the air would be foggy
with chalk precipitated in the sweat of peasant brows; it might even
happen that the “last four” were still gaspingly at work dragging the
vaulting-horse back into place.

For three hours, no more, the congregation of Brethren held the hall
in peace; a few minutes past eleven, and figures uncouthly garbed
thrust pale but insistent faces in at the door. These were the
Histrionics--the Amateur Dramatic Society of the Trade and Commercial
Assistants’ Union, who with true business talent had chosen Wednesday
for their rehearsals, in order to enjoy the warmth provided beforehand
by the Brethren. They were not interested in other of the Brethren’s
manifestations. Any extension of the service or proceedings beyond time
limit would be greeted with whistlings, cat-calls, and slamming of
doors--while nothing could exceed the eager politeness with which the
waiting Histrionics made way for the Brethren as they left.

The hall was further used as an auction room. Egholm was often
present on such occasions; he had an inclination towards the feverish
excitement of the hammer.

Karlsen was still on his feet.

Egholm let his glance wander absently from the ropes and trapeze to the
ragged fringe of the stage curtain, that waved in the draught like the
fin of a fish.

He was not an attentive listener; he freely admitted that, when he
came to the meetings, it was not so much to hear the edifying speeches
of the “Evangelist,” as because the door to the treasury of the Lord
was here to be found. And the depth of faith in his heart--that was
the key.... With a sudden impulse, he felt in his pocket for the
tithe-money. Yes, thank Heaven, it was there.

Karlsen was taking an unpardonable time about it this evening. There
was an ever-recurring phrase he used: “_Dear friends._” He used it like
the knots in the climbing-rope that hung from the ceiling, as something
to rest on by the way. And there was often quite an appreciable pause
before he could spit on his hands and go on. It was plain to see that
his speech would never carry him beyond the roof, but, for all that,
his face, bluely unshaven, and furrowed with intercrossing wrinkles,
showed a degree of cunning as if he were solving a difficult problem,
or recounting the details of a complicated business manœuvre.

Egholm knew that Karlsen had been a travelling pedlar selling woollen
goods from his pack along the roads, before he turned Evangelist.
And in some ways, the tricks of his old trade clung to him yet.
He would hand out eternal truths as if it were a pair of flannel
unmentionables--pure wool, unshrinkable, everlasting wear....

Having nothing now with which to occupy his hands, the Evangelist
thrust them in his pockets and gesticulated with them under cover
there. Now he would clench his fist, till the pocket bulged as if with
a heavy revolver; now he would draw out his breeches sideways like a
concertina. And in the pauses he could be seen to scratch himself
assiduously, first with one hand, then with the other.

At last--at last he came to an end, and led the singing from a little
thin book.

The congregation livened up a little, with a clearing of throats and
shifting in seats. Half-way through the hymn, the door was heard. The
Evangelist ducked down again to look, and when suddenly he pulled his
hands out of his pockets, all knew who it was that had arrived.

Old Karlsen, the Evangelist’s father, was the eldest of the flock, and
holder of its highest dignity--that of Angel.

Also, apart from his connection with the Brethren, proprietor of a very
paying little ironmongery business.

Slowly he strode through the hall; the singing faces turned towards
him as he came. His black clothes gave him an air of distinction;
his silvery hair and prophet’s beard were outward and visible signs
of holiness. It would be hard to imagine a figure more suited in its
dignity to the weighty name of Angel.

The only access to the stage was by way of three beer cases set
stairwise to its edge. But under the footsteps of the prophet they were
transformed to golden steps of a ladder leading heavenward.

Young Karlsen murmured a few words, glanced at his watch, and
disappeared like one cast forth as unworthy. And old Karlsen prayed
with his earnest, almost tearful voice for the welfare of the
congregation.

Egholm was thrilled. This--this was surely communion with the Lord.

The eyes of the prophet shone in the glare from the footlights--or
perhaps it was rather that he saw God, as it had been promised to the
pure in heart.

There came a sound of weeping from behind; Egholm turned to see. It
was Lystrup, the cobbler. His flat, brown fingers clutched and curled
convulsively, and his bony head, with the queer feathery hair, rocked
to and fro, as he wept and moaned, without covering his face.

The cobbler’s emotion spread to those around. Within a second it had
reached the hindmost bench, where the old women from the almshouses
sat. There was a flutter of movement among the shawls, accompanied by a
low wailing. Egholm noticed with some surprise that deaf old Maren was
weeping with the best. Evidently, the influence of Angel Karlsen could
manifest itself in other ways than that of common speech.

Egholm was greatly moved; he withdrew his gaze, and looked down at
the floor as if in search of something fixed and immovable. But Fru
Laursen’s back began to work, and soon her bulky frame was slopping
incontinently about in front of him. Egholm felt an ache within him,
something comparable to hunger; he raised his eyes and seemed to see,
through tears, great folded angel-wings behind Karlsen’s back. This was
too much; Egholm surrendered himself utterly, and wept. And his weeping
was louder and more passionate than the weeping of those about him;
some there were who ceased at the sound, and watched him.

Young Karlsen had planted himself against the wall by the end of
Egholm’s bench, and was enjoying the effect. The wrinkles in the young
apostle’s face were ceaselessly at play, forming new and intricate
labyrinths without end. As soon as the Angel had finished his prayer,
young Karlsen slipped in close to Egholm and sat down beside him.

“Straight to the heart,” he said admiringly. “That’s the sort of goods,
what? It fetches them.”

Egholm dried his eyes bashfully.

“That’s the way to drive a lot like this. But”--a sudden gleam of
contempt shone in his blue-and-watery sheep’s eyes--“it’s about the
only thing he can do. Angel, indeed! Once he’s got you here, he’s good
for something, I’ll allow. But who is it fills the hall?--eh, young
man? Who is it gets them here to start with? Jutland and the half of
Fyn, that’s my district. I’m an Evangelist--a fisher of men. And I’ve
my little gift of tongues as well--and need it, or the fishes wouldn’t
bite as they do.

“Hear my little speech this evening? Not much in it to speak of. But
then I’d finished really, by the time you came. But I’ve got another
on hand that’ll do the trick. The Word, what?”

“Yes,” sighed Egholm accommodatingly.

“Well, you know yourself,” said the Evangelist, with a little laugh,
“for you were simply done for when I began. You can’t deny it!”

“God’s own words----” began Egholm.

“Of course, my dear good man, of course. But who picked them out? God’s
words, you say, but there’s any amount of words; no end of words. The
thing is to pick out the right ones--just as you’d pick out the right
sort of bait for the right sort of fish. God’s words--huh! The Bible’s
like a pack of cards; doesn’t mean anything till it’s been dealt round.”

Egholm spoke up at this. “I wouldn’t like, myself,” he said, “to
compare the Bible to a pack of cards. But--as far as I know--I’d say
there’s no card to beat the ace of clubs.”

The Evangelist laughed heartily. “If spades are trumps, a bit of a
smudgy black knave’s enough to do for your ace of clubs. There’s one
coming along this evening--I’ve been working on her for over two years
now, and all she cared for was the fear of Hell. You’ve got to deal
with them according to their lights, and there’s a power of difference
sometimes. Now, you, for instance--you were easy enough. Windows of
heaven opening, that was your line. Ho, I remember! Well, well, it’s
all the same, as long as....”

Karlsen broke off in distraction every time the door opened.

“As long as the Lord gets your souls. And Father, he’ll see to that.”

Egholm began to feel uncomfortable.

The congregation had broken up into groups, centring more particularly
about the neighbourhood of the Angel. Johannes, the postman, glared
furiously, with distended greenish eyes, at Fru Laursen wading like a
cow among the reeds.

“If I can keep behind her,” thought Egholm to himself as he rose, “I
might get through. Just to thank him....”

“Thought it was her,” whispered Karlsen in his ear.

“Eh?”

With a look of unspeakable cunning, Karlsen brought his face closer,
blinked his eyes, and whispered again:

“A goldfish! And, on my word, the best we’ve had up to now. The one I
told you about before.”

Egholm forgot all else. “A lady, you mean? Who? Coming to-night?”

“A lady, yes,” said Karlsen, almost stifling with pride. “A real
lady, and no fudge.” He made a gesture that might have been mere
helplessness. “But whether she’ll come or not, well, time will show.”

A little after, he lapsed into his natural dialect, and said frankly:

“I’m simply bursting to see if she’ll come.”

“But who is it?” asked Egholm impatiently.

“Her name--is--Fru Westergaard!”

“What? You don’t mean--the Distillery?”

“Hundred thousand,” said Karlsen, patting an imaginary pocket-book.
“Widow of the late Distiller Westergaard, yes!” Then suddenly he broke
into his platform tone, an imitation of Angel Karlsen’s tear-stifled
voice.

“Fru Westergaard’s soul was hungered and athirst after Zion. And for
two years past I’ve cried aloud to her in the wilderness, making ready
the way before her--the way to the blessed Brotherhood of St. John. And
now, at last, my words have brought forth fruit in her heart. Yes, and
_I’ve been to the villa!_”

He grasped Egholm’s hand and pressed it in a long, firm grip--a way
they had among the Brethren.

Again the door opened, but it was only Meilby, the photographer. The
Evangelist turned up his nose in scorn, and looked another way.

Meilby was another uncommon figure in his way. Here, among a
congregation of contritely stooping sinners, he walked as stiffly
upright as a well-drilled recruit. Even his eyes had nothing of that
humility which might be expected in the house of the Lord, but looked
about him sharply, as if in challenge, though ordinarily they were
mildly blue as a boy’s. What did he want here, night after night? Was
he drawn by some higher power, and yet sought, like Saulus, to kick
against the pricks? Maybe. Egholm looked after him with a shake of the
head, as he tramped through the hall, shut his cigar-case with a click,
and seated himself irreverently on the vaulting-horse.

Egholm often walked home with Meilby after the meetings, but it was
he who did the talking, Meilby’s contributions rarely amounting
to more than a fretful “Heh,” “Haw,” or “Ho”--a kind of barking,
incomprehensible to ordinary mortals.

“D’you know Meilby at all?” asked Egholm.

Karlsen twirled one finger circlewise in front of his forehead, but
he had not time to explain himself further; just at that moment Fru
Westergaard arrived.

She stopped just inside the door, and turned her wet veil up over her
eiderdown toque--a tall, thin woman, with the angular movements of an
old maid, and clothes that looked as if she slept in them.

“Naughty, naughty dog! Outside, Mirre, Mirre, do you hear!”

She faced round, and waved her dripping umbrella at an eager poodle
with its tongue hanging out.

“Here she is!” cried young Karlsen. And at once the room was so still
that the scraping of the dog could be heard against the flooring. All
mouths stood open, as if in one long indrawn breath of astonishment.

Still scolding under her breath, she walked with some embarrassment a
few steps forward. Young Karlsen thrust Egholm aside, and hurried to
meet her with a bow.

“Dog’s all right,” he said, with reassuring ease of manner. “Don’t
bother about him. Late? Not a bit of it; we’ve hardly begun. Just
sitting talking, heart to heart, you understand. Come along in, both of
you. Know me, doggy, don’t you, eh?”

He bent down and ruffled the dog’s ears.

“He--he must have slipped out and followed me. I’d no idea....”

Young Karlsen’s eyeballs rolled about, to see what impression the lady
made upon the congregation. And he was not disappointed. If St. John
the Apostle, the traditional founder of the sect, had appeared in their
midst, it could hardly have created a greater sensation.

Egholm had himself been something of a thunderbolt--an ex-official of
the railway service suddenly appearing in this assembly of hunchbacked
tailors and lame shoemakers, relics from the almshouses, and all that
was worn out and faded--always excepting, of course, the prosperous
ironmonger at their head. But Fru Westergaard was as an earthquake that
sent them flat on their faces at once. Not a child in the town but
knew her and her villa and her dog, that took its meals with her at
table.

Johannes, the postman, stood leaning against the wall, helpless, as if
in terror.

Madam[1] Kvist, her eyes starting out behind her glasses, asked aloud,
in unaffected wonder:

[1] “Madam,” the title used for elderly--strictly speaking,
married--women of the working class, as distinct from “Fru” (Mrs.),
which is--or was--reserved for ladies of higher social standing.

“Why--what in the name of mercy will she be wanting here?”

And Madam Strand, the dustman’s wife, a little black figure of a woman,
was curtseying and mumbling continually: “Such an honour, did you ever,
such an honour....”

Most of those present inwardly endorsed the sentiment.

Egholm drew himself up and sought to catch Fru Westergaard’s eye.
He did not manage it, but let off his bow all the same. Only the
incorrigible photographer sat swinging his legs on the vaulting-horse,
with an expression of cold disapproval on his face.

Angel Karlsen stood by the three steps, ready, like another St. Peter,
to receive the approaching soul. He took both the lady’s hands and
pressed them warmly.

“There’s rejoicing here on earth and in the mansions of the Lord,” he
said, with emotion, “at the coming of this our new disciple.” When he
spoke, his great white beard went up and down, as if emphasising his
words.

“And now the usual word of thanksgiving. Sit down here in front,
_Frue_.”

The new disciple was still talking nervously about the dog--it was
leaving footmarks all over the place, but then, you know, in such
weather.... She had galoshes for it, really, only to-night....

She moved to sit down, but the others rose hurriedly as she did so, and
the bench rocked.

No, no, she couldn’t sit there--no, not there; she couldn’t. No....

Fru Westergaard allowed herself the luxury of some eccentricities. She
had remained unmarried until her six-and-fortieth year.

Egholm had been prepared for the trouble about the seat. Sprightly as
a youth, he dashed out of the hall and across the courtyard to the
taproom in front.

“A chair; lend me a chair, will you? Fru Westergaard’s there.”

“Fru Westergaard!”

“Fru Westergaard!”

He came back, breathless, with an American rocking-chair, which he
proffered humbly.

The congregation had meanwhile arranged itself in a phalanx formation
like wild geese on the wing. In the forefront of all sat the new
disciple in her restless chair. On the next bench were Evangelist
Karlsen and Egholm alone, and behind them again came the rest of the
dearly beloved, in order of precedence according to dignity or ambition.

The entire flock seemed shaping its course towards the sun, in the
person of Angel Karlsen, who was up on the platform praying and
preaching, tearful and affecting as ever.

“_As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after
Thee, O God._

“_My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God; when shall I come and
appear before God?_”

He wrung his hands in a great agony, and hid his face.

“_My tears have been my meat day and night...._”

Egholm was touched. He, too, knew what it was to weep for meat.

Karlsen the Elder closed with the Lord’s Prayer; and another hymn was
sung.

“Now, it’s me again,” whispered the young Evangelist. “You see me let
her have it this time.”

His speech seemed actually to have gained force and balance; there was
an evident purpose in it. The opening was weak, perhaps, for here he
still clung to his “Dear friends” from force of habit, though every
word was addressed to Fru Westergaard only.

“And now, in conclusion, I thank you, my dear friends, for coming here
among us the first time. I hope, dear friends, it may not be the last.
In the midst of all your wealth and luxury and manifold delights out
at the villa, you have yet felt the lack of a word--the word of the
Spirit. Yes, dear friends, it is even so. You go to church and you go
back home again, and your need is not fulfilled.

“But then one day there comes to your door--out at the villa--a
poor Evangelist, an unlearned man. And lo--a strange thing, dear
friends--_he_ has the word--the word of the Spirit!”

Having thus laid down a flattering position for himself, young Karlsen
went on to praise his new convert as one docile and of a good heart.
She had come this evening of all evenings--a first Wednesday--on
purpose that she might pay her tithe. No, there was no drawing back.
And in truth it would be a fool’s game to try it on. The Lord, He could
see straight through a drawer in a table or the cover of a bank-book,
never fear of that. And what was His, that He was going to have. Yes,
that was His way. And woe unto him that falleth into the hands of the
living God!

Far down by the door, old Karlsen was modestly seated on the extreme
end of a bench. In his lap was a japanned tin box. There was a slight
rattle during the next hymn, as he took out his keys and opened the
casket.

The bench was so placed that the disciples could only pass by in single
file. The old women from the almshouses, who had been sitting farthest
back, were now the first to pass. As a matter of fact, they were exempt
from the tithe contribution, having no income beyond their food and
lodging. But most of them, nevertheless, managed to deposit a copper
two or five _øre_ piece with the Angel as they went out, though he
never so much as looked up.

Why should he look? The money was not for himself, but for God. He was
only sitting there holding the black tin box.

There was a clicking of purse-clips, and a soft ring of coin. Lystrup,
the cobbler, dropped his money, and crawled miserably over the floor
beneath the benches, looking for that which was lost.

Those who had paid stopped behind to see the others share their fate.

Fru Westergaard, Egholm, and the Evangelist came down together.

“But--but how do you manage when it doesn’t work out exactly?” said the
lady, nervously trying to do sums in her head.

“It always works out exactly,” said Karlsen, with superior calm.

“As long as it’s _kroner_, of course, I understand. But when it’s
_kroner and øre_?”

She gave it up as hopeless, and drew out a crumpled book from the
little bag she carried.

“Here you are; you can see. I get my money from the bank, you know;
it’s in a book like this.”

Egholm craned up on tiptoe. The Evangelist wormed up closer, his face
a curious mingling of venom and sweetness; even old Karlsen thrust the
box under his arm and rose to his feet.

“My spectacles!” And he slapped his pockets so that the money rattled
in the box.

Two hundred and sixty-six _kroner_ thirty _øre_.

That was the figure that showed again and again down the page in the
cross-shaded columns, with Fru Westergaard’s signature after. There was
a murmur from the waiting crowd.

“How much was it?”

“Eh, to think now! And every month!”

“Over two hundred and fifty, that is,” explained Lystrup, the cobbler.

“That will be twenty-six _kroner_ sixty-three to us,” said the
Evangelist, as if it were the merest trifle.

“Not sixty-three _øre_?--that can’t be,” said the disciple
energetically, looking round for support.

Egholm could not meet her eyes; it pained him that Karlsen was so
evidently right.

“But I only get thirty _øre_, and you say I’m to pay out sixty-three!
No, thank you, that’s trying it on, I know.”

“It’s the law--it’s the law.” Old Karlsen drummed on his box.

“Oh, I won’t put up with it!” Fru Westergaard’s grey cheeks flushed
with a red spot.

“Not an _øre_ less.”

Young Karlsen stood planted in the opening between the bench and the
wall. He wore high boots, with his trousers thrust into them, and stood
with his feet a little apart. There was something ominous written, as
it were, between the lines in his face. His shoulders were slightly
raised--a very respectable pair of shoulders had young Karlsen.

Fru Westergaard tucked away her book again with trembling hands.

“Perhaps you’ll let me pass?”

“It’s twenty-six sixty-three, all the same,” said the Evangelist,
without moving an inch.

“I won’t give more than twenty-six thirty!” She stamped her foot. Mirre
growled softly, and sniffed round and round Karlsen’s legs.

“Twenty-six sixty-three.”

“Sh!” old Karlsen intervened. “We’ll take what _Fruen_ thinks is right.
The Lord is long-suffering.... Lauritz, you can be putting out the
corner lights.”

Thus did the Angel, by his wisdom and gentleness, save one soul for the
congregation of the Brethren.

Fru Westergaard had, it appeared, the money in a separate compartment
of her bag, all ready counted out. Handing them to Angel Karlsen, she
said:

“And you’re quite sure there’s no Hell, really?”

“No Hell....”

Young Karlsen was standing on a bench, puffing at one of the lights. He
turned warningly towards his father.

“No,” he cried. “That’s right. No Hell. You know, we talked it over....”

Angel Karlsen bowed his head in silence, but Fru Westergaard stared
wildly before her.

“Hell, hell fire, all yellow flames....”

Egholm could contain himself no longer. He would show the lady and the
rest of them how a true disciple settled up his accounts with God.
With a smile and a gesture as if he had been casting a rose into his
mistress’ lap, he flung his paper bag of money into the Angel’s casket.
The bag burst with the shock, and the coins came twirling out; the old
man had to use both hands to guard them, and could hardly close the box.

“Wait, there’s more yet!” cried Egholm, and his voice broke. He held
the silver spoon aloft in two fingers, then pressed it in through the
crack at the lid of the box.

But the box was full to repletion, and the bowl of the spoon would not
go in.

Egholm felt there had never been so magnificent an offering.

Yet another of the Brethren passed by that strait place--Meilby, the
photographer. Not one single copper _øre_ did he put in, but Angel
Karlsen only turned his eyes meekly to the other side.



III


February had set in. Fru Egholm’s seventh was making ever stronger
demands on her heart’s blood. While she toiled at her work, the young
citizen to come was pleased to kick about occasionally, or turn over on
the other side, making her faint and dizzy. But, recovering, she would
smile, and whisper softly: “There there, now, bide your time, little
man.” She had her own convictions that it was to be a boy.

Egholm stood in front of the mirror, smoothing his wreath of hair. His
pupil was due for the English lesson.

“The Pupil” was a subject of considerable importance in the house,
especially to Egholm’s own mind. It was no other than Meilby, the
sharp-tongued photographer, who had started taking lessons in the
previous November. After many mysterious hints, and exacting a promise
of silence, he had confided to Egholm that he was going to America
in a few months’ time. Egholm had grabbed at him avidly and without
ceremony, as a chance of work. Regarded as a pupil, he was by no means
promising. He had but the faintest conception of any difference
between parts of speech such as substantives and adjectives, and
whenever his mentor touched on genitives and possessives, he would
glance absently towards the door. Furthermore, he never paid any fees,
which was a subject of constant tribulation between Anna and her
husband.

“But it’s a good thing to have a little outstanding. Like capital in
the bank, against a rainy day.”

Anna made no answer to this. It seemed to her mind that the days were
rainy enough to call for all the capital by any means available.

Egholm sniffed vigorously, and postponed the matter further. But now
it was February, and he must raise the question somehow. He smoothed
his hair with extra attention, to make the most of his dignity when
the pupil arrived. Unfortunately, he could hardly point to the goods
delivered and demand payment in cash--the goods were so little in
evidence.

It passed off better than he had expected. Meilby said “Good evening”
in English when he arrived, and laughed a little nervously, as if
dismayed at his own courage. Egholm snatched at the opening, and came
to the point at once:

“That’s right, that’s right--you’re getting on. Getting on, yes. But
don’t you think, now, you might let me have a little on account?”

Meilby laughed no more. Money--it was always such a nuisance about
money. There didn’t seem to be any money these days. Money was a thing
extinct, he said.

“On earth, yes,” Egholm admitted.

But no need to bother about that. It would be all right. Only wait to
the end of the month, and then it would be decided. “Whether I’m to go
or not,” said Meilby.

Of course, he didn’t want to go. Much rather stay where he was. But,
of course, he would go all the same. What else could he do? And if he
went, why, then, of course, Egholm would get his money. That was how it
stood. How else could it be?

Egholm was very far from understanding, but he gave it up. Opening the
book, he got to work at the lesson, but with less careful attention,
perhaps, than usual. And after a little he broke in, cutting short his
pupil in the middle of a sentence:

“But about the money--how will you get the money if you do go?”

“Why, then, of course, I shall sell all my apparatus.”

So that was it. Egholm still seemed troubled in his mind. He knew the
collection of things that formed Meilby’s stock-in-trade. There was one
item in particular--that devilish camera of his. It was quite a small
one, but with a breadth of focus that could almost look round a corner.
Fancy having that for his own! There would be an end of poverty then!

The windows of heaven should be opened, and the flood pour in--oh, in
no time. He knew it, he felt sure of it. But the belly was not to be
put off, not for so much as a day. And his hands were impatient too;
there was a nervous thrill at the roots of the nails, or a deadly chill
in the fingers from sheer inactivity. Every morning he raced about
after the situations vacant in the papers, but always in vain. With
Meilby’s apparatus, he could make money--ay, though his studio had no
roof but the February sky.

He grew quite genial towards his pupil, and praised him more than was
properly his due. When they had finished with their brainwork for the
evening, he said anxiously:

“But, promise me you don’t go selling them without letting me know.”

Meilby would bear it in mind.

“Yes, but suppose you forgot?”

“Why, we’ll be none the less friends for that,” said Meilby, with an
amiable smile.

“You’ll get nothing out of him, you see,” said Anna when he had gone.
“It’ll be just the same with him as with young Karlsen, when he came to
learn English, too. Huh! It was you that learned something that time,
if you ask me.”

“He’s an artful one,” said Egholm, with a laugh. “He tricked the doctor
when he went to be examined. But, after all--what’s a trifle like that
when a man stands firm on the rock of truth?”

“Do you think Meilby does? You think it’s for any good he’s going
running off to America like that?”

Egholm, law-abiding man, paled at the thought, but said, with an
attempt at liveliness:

“I’ll get him to stay, then.”

“But he won’t pay you at all unless he goes.”

That, again, was true--painfully true. No ... anyhow, Egholm would have
nothing to do with any doubtful affairs. Not for any price. Better let
Meilby go his own gait as soon as he pleased.

But even as he formed the thought, he seemed to feel the milled edges
of the screws that set the camera between his fingers, and with a sigh
he breathed the resolution from him once more.

       *       *       *       *       *

One morning, a few days later, Egholm came back from his usual round.

“No luck, I suppose?”

“No, no, no,” he snarled, flinging off his hat. Then he took down the
Bible.

What could have happened to make his hands shake like that?

A few minutes later came the explanation.

“I went after a job--Hansen and Tvede, it was--as errand boy. Told them
they could have me a full day’s work just for my food. But they laughed
at me. Oh, and there was a beast of a fellow in riding-boots--the
manager, perhaps. You should have seen his face.”

“Perhaps he meant it wasn’t the sort of thing they could offer you.
Something better,” hinted Fru Egholm.

He made no answer, but strove to calm his indignation by strenuous
attention to the Bible. If that didn’t help him, why, then.... But he
was nearly through with it now--it was the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The letters danced and crept like ants before his eyes.

“_And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office
of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people
according to the law, that is, of their brethren...._”

“Ha ha! Riding-boots and all! No, ’twasn’t that he meant, giving me
something better. The beast! I shan’t forget him!”

“_For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change
also of the law...._”

“‘I see from the paper you’re wanting an errand boy’--that’s what I
said to him. And asked if I would do. And I crushed my hat in my hands
and stood up. Then, of course, what he ought to have said was, ‘What,
_you_ looking for a place as errand boy? No, no. Couldn’t think of it.
I’ll take you on in the office, as a clerk. You shall be cashier. I’ve
taken a fancy to you, the way you stand there modestly as could be.’
But he didn’t say that, not a word of it. Good Lord, no! The worst of
it was, he saw through me. _He winked at me!_”

“_For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before
for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof._

“_For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better
hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God._”

Egholm sighed, and passed his hand over his face. Alas, he noted to his
shame how his thoughts had strayed from the Bible’s lofty theme.

What could it be for a commandment, that was disannulled for the
weakness and unprofitableness thereof, he wondered. H’m, it would
say farther on, no doubt. And he read on, but it did not appear to
say. Then he went back and began again, reading slowly, in a whisper,
the same verses over again. And of a sudden, his heart contracted
violently, forcing a spout of blood to his temples. What--what was
this? Was it _the tithe_ that was abolished?

He read it through again and again.

“Anna”--he dared not trust his own senses now--“Anna, come here and
look at this. Quick--read from there to there.” He stood as if about
to strike; there were red spots on his pale face. Anna trembled with
fear, and fell to reading about Melchisedec, the Levites, and the rest,
without understanding a word of it all.

“Well, why don’t you speak, woman?” broke in Egholm, when she had
been reading a few seconds. “Are you asleep?--or, perhaps it doesn’t
interest you? Eh? Now, then, what is it you’re reading?--what do you
make of it? Eh?”

“Yes, yes, I see,” stammered Fru Egholm, her eyes flitting to another
part altogether in her confusion--“something about the Tabernacle....”

“Is the tithe abolished?--that’s what I want to know,” said Egholm
insistently. “Does it say there, or does it not, that the tithe is weak
and unprofitable?”

“Why, yes--but that’s what I’ve always said,” answered she, with
marvellous presence of mind. “Was it only that you wanted me to see?”

Egholm looked her up and down contemptuously.

A moment later he was tearing down the street with the big family Bible
all uncovered under one arm.

Oh, but this was the most wonderful day of his life! The Bible itself
had revealed its darkest secrets to him--_to him alone_. What would
they say, all those whose minds were yet in darkness? what would old
Angel Karlsen say? what would young Evangelist Karlsen look like with
his wrinkled face--when they heard that the Community of the Brethren
of St. John was built on sand--nay, upon a swamp, into the bottomless
depth of which their money sank never to be seen again? _He, Egholm,
was a new Luther_, wielding the Bible as a mighty club against heresy
and false doctrine. They would have to make him Angel, ay, Archangel,
after this. In every land where the Brethren of St. John were known,
his name would be named with honour. He would write a new Book of Laws
for the Brotherhood, and it should be translated into seven tongues.
Into seven tongues! Almost like a new Bible.

Karlsen’s shop was at a corner of the market square. It was a very old
house, with a steep red roof. At the bottom two small windows had been
let in to make it look like a shop, and through them one could discern,
in spite of a thick layer of cobwebs and dust, the rows of shelves with
yellow jars in all sizes. The modest store was suited to the taste of
the peasant customers. They could stand for ages pondering over the
choice of a shovel or rake, and weighing it in the hand. Karlsen was
understood to be a wealthy man.

Egholm inquired of a chilblainy youth if he could speak with Angel
Karlsen.

H’m. He didn’t know. Would go in and ask.

“Say it’s something of importance,” said Egholm.

As the door in the corner was opened, Egholm heard a sound of voices in
dispute from the office beyond. Two voices--and he could not recognise
either. Or was it--yes, surely that was old Karlsen’s, after all?
Egholm listened in wonder, as one might listen to a familiar air played
out of time or at a different pace.

“Call me a scoundrel if you like,” shouted the one, a nasal trumpeting
voice with a twang of city jargon--“call me a thief, a convict, or
anything you damn well please, but I won’t be called a fool!”

“But the contract, the contract, the contract!” screamed out the
angelic voice of Karlsen the Elder.

No, the young man was sorry, Hr. Karlsen could not possibly see him
just now. He was engaged with one of the travellers.

“Well, I must see him, anyhow,” said Egholm more soberly.

They were at it again inside, and his knock was unheeded. Then suddenly
the whole seemed to collapse in a cascade of laughter.

He knocked again, and walked in. There was old Karlsen, his face
unevenly flushed, with a fat cigar sticking out of his beard, and
before him a bright-eyed, elegantly dressed commercial traveller, who
slapped the Angel’s outstretched hand repeatedly, both men laughing at
the top of their voices.

“Beg pardon, Hr. Karlsen--er--would you kindly read this?...” Where was
it now? Egholm began helplessly turning the pages of his Bible.

“Hullo, here’s somebody wants to save our souls, by the look of it,”
said the elegant one, with a tentative laugh.

“Didn’t my young man out there tell you I was engaged?” said old
Karlsen angrily, turning aside.

“But it’s a discovery I’ve made--it’s of the utmost importance. A
wonderful find--here in the Holy Scripture itself. Read it, here--it’s
only a few lines. I can hardly believe my own senses. Read it--there!”

“But, my dear friend,” said the Angel, “you can see for yourself I’m
engaged. We’re in the middle of important business.”

“Let me read just three words to you.”

“No, no, no, I won’t have it, I say.”

Egholm stood with hectic cheeks; his former respect for the Angel still
checked any actual outburst of fury, but from the look of him, it was
doubtful what might happen next.

“This is not the proper place to discuss the word of God, nor the
proper time, nor the mood for it, either. Come round again this
evening, my dear Egholm. At eight, say, and then we can talk over
whatever it is that’s troubling you.”

The commercial plucked him by the sleeve. “I thought you were coming
round to the hotel--_Postgaarden_, you said.”

“Er--well, we might say _to-morrow_ evening at eight,” corrected the
Angel. “Yes, come round to-morrow, Egholm; that will do.”

Egholm drew himself up and shot sparks, but said nothing. He shut up
the clasp of his Bible with a snap.

“Have a cigar, won’t you?” said the Angel, offering the box.

“No, thank you.”

“Yes, yes, do. They’re none so bad--what, Hr. Nathan?”

Hr. Nathan uttered a curious sound--an articulate shudder, as it
were--and looked quizzically at the box.

“I don’t smoke.”

“Well, then, a glass of port?”

“I’ve other things to think about than drinking wine. The fate of the
Brotherhood lies in my hand. In _my_ hand. I’m going round to the
Deacon now.”

“No, really? He he! Are you really? Well, well,” said Karlsen, with
that strangely jovial angel voice of his, that Egholm knew so well, and
yet found strange....



IV


But Egholm was so shaken by his interview with the Angel that he did
not go round to the Deacon after all. The Deacon was a pottery worker,
living at a village just outside the town.

He went back home to look again and make sure it was right. He clutched
the Bible tightly under his arm as he walked, as if in dread lest the
all-important text might drop out.

Yes, there it was. He read through the passage again in wonder, and
fell to musing anew.

That same evening Evangelist Karlsen came round.

Egholm shook his head nervously.

“It’s no good, Karlsen. No. I’m not going to give in.”

Young Karlsen stood staring open mouthed.

“No. I’ve settled up with myself once and for all. I won’t give in. I
know well enough what you’ve come for.”

“But, my dear friends, what on earth are you talking about? Anything
wrong?”

“Karlsen, you know as well as I do it’s your father sent you round,”
said Egholm almost pleadingly.

“I swear I know nothing of the sort. I’ve only just got back this
evening. From Veile. Know Justesen, the horsedealer, there? Been seeing
him. And then on the way--I’ve been dragging my bag along, and it’s
heavy. I thought I’d just look in for a breather.”

“Let Sivert carry it for you,” said Fru Egholm.

“No, thanks, it’s all right outside on the stairs. I never like to
leave it very long.”

Egholm put his hand to his eyes; the cracked and furrowed countenance
of the Evangelist always distracted his attention. Then he began
telling of his discovery--first, in mysterious roundabout hints, then
suddenly breaking out into fiery declamation, with the open book before
him, and his finger-nail underlining the words.

Karlsen was thunderstruck. And he thought _he_ knew his Bible.... Never
in his life had he come across that place. He stamped about the room,
spitting into all four corners.

Egholm went further; he drew up an outline of the new laws, the entire
reorganisation....

“It’ll be a hard struggle for me, I know. But I’ll....”

“Oh, we’ll manage it all right,” said Karlsen cheerfully.

“Eh? D’you mean to say ... you’re on my side?”

“Oh, I’m on the side of the Bible, of course.”

And there was Egholm with the enemy’s leading general won over, without
a blow!

“It’s the only thing to do, anyway,” explained Karlsen, “as things are
now. There’s been some talk about you having my place when I moved up.
But I don’t know what they’ll say to that now....”

“Me! Evangelist!” Egholm turned stiff all over.

“Yes,” said Karlsen quietly.

“I’ve never heard a word about it before.”

“Well, the Elders have gathered together.... But it was to be a
surprise, you understand?”

“Yes, yes,” murmured Egholm faintly. Again it overwhelmed him for the
moment, but he recovered himself, and said, with a laugh:

“Who knows, they might make me Angel now.”

“Almost sure to, I should say,” opined the dark Evangelist.

Egholm felt calm and strong now, no longer dizzy as he had been during
the morning. And Karlsen was really a jolly sort, after all. Here he
was, actually gloating over the face his respected father, the Angel,
would set up when the bombshell burst.

The upshot of it was that they worked out a plan together.

Egholm was to prepare a grand speech for the meeting next Wednesday.
Karlsen knew--now he came to think of it--quite a lot of first-rate
texts that could be used, in support of the new discovery.

“But don’t you think”--Egholm lowered his voice
confidentially--“wouldn’t it be better if I went round to the Brethren,
and just let them know how it stands?”

Karlsen pondered.

“H’m. I should say, the best way’s to take the whole congregation by
surprise, all at once. Better effect, you know, when you can stand
there and throw out a hand and there it is! And you’ve quite a decent
platform manner, to my mind.”

“Yes,” agreed Egholm, beaming.

“Anyhow, I’ll trot round and tackle a few of the thickest heads myself.
I’ve a certain amount of influence, you know, and authority, and all
that. I know how to manage them.”

“Why, then, it’s as good as done!” Egholm’s voice was almost a song.

“Easy as winking,” said Karlsen confidently.

“You don’t know how glad I am you came over to the right side at once.”

“Oh, never mind about that. You can always do me a little service some
time in return.”

They stayed up till nearly midnight. Egholm strode up and down, filling
the room with words. Possibly he was already rehearsing for the coming
Wednesday. Karlsen smoked, and drank many cups of black coffee. The
children hung over the table, limp and heavy with drowsiness, casting
greedy glances at the settee. Their mother tore at her sewing more
violently than usual, and sighed aloud.

At last Karlsen took his leave. Egholm could not bear to break off even
then, but went out with him. He waved his arms in the air, and tripped
about, now and then actually circling round his companion as they
walked.

Did he think, now, the Bible Society would care to have a dissertation
on the two conflicting points? There ought, at any rate, to be some
kind of indication, an asterisk, say, in the first place, to save
others from confusion.

Karlsen thought they very likely would.

The street lamps glowed red in the fog. A policeman appeared at a
corner, waved to them cheerfully, and said sympathetically: “Get along
home; that’s the best place for you.”

“Thinks we’re drunk,” said Egholm, and stopped for breath. “But--we’ve
been talking, and never thought ... your bag. We’ve forgotten all about
it.”

“Bag? Oh yes.... No; that’s all right. I spotted the old man’s cart
just outside the station, and sent it home by that.”

“Good! Then that’s all right.” Egholm’s thoughts were at once occupied
with something else. His brain was fluttering with innumerable winged
thoughts.

“Well, better say good-night.”

“Good-night, Karlsen. And thanks, thanks. You shall be Angel, if I can
put in a word.”

Egholm looked round, confused. Where had they got to now? These big
houses ... it wasn’t the way....

“I’ll see you right home,” he offered.

“Well--er--I’m not exactly going home just yet,” said the Evangelist,
with some embarrassment. “Just a hand at cards with a few friends,
that’s all.” He sighed guiltily. “But if I do win a _kroner_, say, it
means ten _øre_ to the Brethren.... Oh, I forgot, that’s all over now,
of course.”

“But--d’you mean to say there’s anybody up at this time of night?”
asked Egholm in astonishment.

“Only a couple of friends--Brethren in the Lord.”

“But where?”

“In the red room at the Hotel _Postgaarden_,” said Karlsen innocently.



V


Going round to the meeting on the following Wednesday, Egholm was
surprised to find the hall already full, though it was not yet eight
o’clock. He was also surprised, and agreeably so, to perceive that his
entry created some stir. Evidently, Karlsen had let fall a word of what
was to happen. Unless, indeed, it were the Lord Himself that had given
hint of it to each individually. Anyhow, it was just as well to have
plenty of witnesses in a case like this.

But where--where were the Elders of the flock?

Egholm sat down at the back of the hall, by the stove; it was a pious
impulse that had come to him, having in mind the promise that whoso
humbleth himself shall be exalted. And it was a good idea in other
ways, he thought. The little group of paupers would form an excellent
background.

“Angel Karlsen--hasn’t he come yet?” he whispered to a shawl-wrapped
crone at his side.

The woman looked round, showing a face weather-worn and overgrown like
a relic of the past. A single tooth showed like a stone wedge in her
half-open mouth. She made no answer.

Egholm repeated his question, with no more result than before. Oh, but,
of course, it was Deaf Maren. He had forgotten for the moment. But how
ugly she looked to-night--and what a malicious glance she gave him. And
the others, too, all with the same forbidding look--why couldn’t they
answer? It was plain to see they had heard his question, and that they
knew enough to tell him if they would. But every one of them turned
away, or looked down at the floor--until at last Madam Strand, the
gipsy woman, who was sitting on a bench at the extreme left, crept up
to him with a submissive curtsey.

“They’re in there--all of them,” she said, with a shake of her thin
grey locks. “All the God-fearing lot--the Angel, and the Prophet from
Copenhagen--bless ’em--and the Deacon and young Karlsen. Talking
and talking and making their plans. Such a fuss they’re making
to-night--enough to make a body quake all over.”

She passed her wrinkled skinny hand over his wrist as she spoke.

Egholm felt his heart beat faster. He glanced over towards the door
Madam Strand had indicated; it led to a little anteroom that was used,
among other things, as a dressing-room for the gymnasium class. He
fancied he could hear voices. A moment ago he had felt something like
pity for all these people, whose conviction he would now be called
upon to shatter and replace by another. But already he found himself
in need of courage, seeking comfort from the fact that, after all, the
weapon was in his hand. What did it matter if there were many who came
up against him? And young Karlsen, no doubt, would help to bear the
brunt of it.

This last was merely a sort of aside to himself. But Egholm felt his
doubts of the Evangelist’s honesty suddenly grown stronger than ever.

Those artful round eyes of his--and the queer look in them when he had
said good-night that evening outside Hotel _Postgaarden_. What could
one expect from a man who went off to play cards at twelve o’clock at
night at hotels? And what sort of companions could he find for the
same? “Brethren in the Lord,” indeed! It was an expensive place, too,
that one could hardly expect the poorer Brethren to frequent. Wait a
bit, though: _Postgaarden_ ... wasn’t it there the commercial traveller
man was going to meet old Karlsen that same evening?... To sum up,
then, nothing more nor less than a neat piece of spying, and carrying
the whole tale to his father immediately after! After which, of course,
he had simply been sent round to all these simple souls, to set their
minds against him, Egholm....

It would be a hard fight now.

Fru Westergaard and Mirre, the dog, passed by. Egholm rose and bowed,
but received only a half-glance in return. Fru Westergaard made her way
through to her privileged chair, and sat down carefully, arranging her
skirts about the dog’s head.

Her arrival was like that of the bride at a wedding, the signal for
proceedings to begin. At the same moment, the door of the little room
opened, and a little troop of men--looking, to tell the truth, more
like mutes at a funeral than anything to do with weddings--marched
in close order up on to the stage. At their head the Angel, wrapped
in his beard, which seemed alive with electric tension. After him
marched the Prophet from Copenhagen--a quondam priest by the name of
Finck--together with the Deacon, Potter Kaasmose, whose long hair was
plastered down and cut as if to the rim of one of his own pots. Of
the remaining five, Egholm knew only two--Dideriksen, the Apostle,
and Karlsen, the Evangelist. Dideriksen was a very pious man, as was
apparent, for instance, in his habit of constantly stroking downwards
over his face. Karlsen had put on a glaring red tie, which gave him
a martial touch. He looked as if he were gloating over some great
disaster. The stairs had been widened with a further consignment
of beer boxes, so that the procession could mount the platform in
something like order.

A breathless silence reigned among the congregation when Angel Karlsen
began to pray, while the remaining Elders seated themselves in a
half-circle. The Copenhagen Prophet, evidently on easy and familiar
terms with platforms, thrust his coat-tails carelessly aside, polished
his gold pince-nez with a handkerchief of brilliant whiteness, and did
other things hitherto unknown in those surroundings. Young Karlsen,
for instance--not to speak of Potter Kaasmose--would have been utterly
unable to imitate the elegant movement with which he flung one leg
over the other, after first pulling up the legs of his trousers. He
had chosen his seat on the extreme right, like the first violin in an
orchestra. His interesting appearance could hardly fail to draw off
some attention from the prayer, but was no doubt edifying in itself.

“Amen,” said Angel Karlsen.

“And having now concluded this prayer which Thou Thyself hast taught
us, we further pray that this our ancient congregation, founded by
St. John the Apostle, and lasting even unto this day in despite of
the deluge of sin and the drought of indifference, may likewise
henceforward so prevail against the ravages of the wolf that steals
abroad by night, that neither sheep nor lamb may fall a prey.

“All ye who were present here last evening know what I mean. But for
those others who do not, I will briefly set forth the matter which has
called us Elders to gather in conclave here to-night.”

Egholm sat gasping as if half stunned. “Present here _last
evening_!...” Then they had called a meeting, without his knowledge--a
meeting where they had betrayed him and his great cause, and sowed
the seed of hatred against him in all the hearts of those who had no
judgment of their own. In the midst of his anger, indignation, and
fear, Egholm yet tried to frame a prayer for strength and courage. But
he could do no more than mumble helplessly: “I’m in the right, you know
I am. Lord God, you know I’m in the right.”

Meanwhile, old Karlsen was reciting a pretty parable about the wolf
that took upon itself sheep’s clothing, that it might deceive the
unwary--ay, even the shepherd himself, that he might open the door of
the fold and let that monster enter in, with kindly words: “Enter,
poor strayed sheep, and be refreshed with the grass of this pleasant
fold.” But then one day the shepherd looked into the eyes of that wolf
in sheep’s clothing, and lo! they were eyes of fire. And another day
he looked at its teeth, and lo! they were the teeth of a wolf. But
the monster believed itself still safe and unsuspected--even until
to-night. “And so it comes here amongst us at this moment, and says to
the sheep: ‘Follow me. I know a place where the grass is richer and
more pleasant; make haste and leave that evil shepherd, who shears you
of your fleece. I will lead you; I will be your shepherd!’”

When the Angel had finished, Egholm rose, pale and ill at ease, and
begged leave to speak. But his seat was so far back, and his voice so
weak, that those on the platform might be excused for overlooking him.
All heard, however, when young Karlsen called out the number of a hymn,
and though Egholm repeated his request in a slightly louder voice, the
congregation began singing:

    “‘Up, ye Christians, up and doing,
    Warriors of the Lord, to arms!
    Lo, the foeman’s host pursuing,
    All the power of war’s alarms.
          Draw and smite
          For the right,
    Hell is arming ’gainst the Light.

    Follow in your leader’s train,
    Trusting in his strength to win,
    Satan hopes the day to gain,
    Up, and smite the host of sin!
          Here at hand
          Still doth stand
    One who can all powers command!’”

Egholm had lost patience. As the hymn concluded, he sprang up and
roared across the hall:

“Look here, do you mean to say _I’m_ Satan?”

There was a stir as all in the hall turned round. Fru Westergaard’s
chair rocked suddenly, and a bench crashed down, but after that
followed a moment of icy silence, cleft immediately by Karlsen’s angel
trumpet:

“Guilty conscience, Egholm?”

A new silence, Egholm stammering and gurgling, but finding no
appropriate answer. Then the Evangelist let loose a shower of insulting
laughter. Strangely enough, this had the effect of bringing Egholm to
his senses.

“I was the first to ask; it’s your place to answer. D’you mean to say
I’m Satan?”

And before any of the Elders on the platform could pull themselves
sufficiently together, he went on:

“Do you know this book here? It’s an old one, and the title-page is
missing. You think, perhaps, it’s St. Cyprian, but I can tell you,
it’s the Holy Scripture. Yes, that’s what it is. And what I have to
say to you now is just the words of the Scriptures, and no more. Holy
Scripture, pure and undefiled. I’ll read it out, and you can judge for
yourselves. I tell you, you haven’t got a shepherd at all; you’ve a
_butcher_!”

At the first exchange of words, the congregation had been confused and
uneasy, quivering this way and that like a magnetic needle exposed to
intermittent current. Now, Egholm had, it is true, most of them facing
his way, but many looked up to the Elders, and especially to the Angel,
partly to see the effect of Egholm’s words, and partly to gain some
hint as to which way their own feeling should tend. The congregation
was thus divided, but Egholm wanted it united. Accordingly, he left his
place between Deaf Maren and the stove, and advanced by jerks, still
speaking, up towards his foes.

Yes, he knew it was a serious thing to call Angel Karlsen--Egholm
shook a little at the venerable words--a butcher. But it was plain
to him now, after what had passed, that Angel Karlsen was not acting
in good faith as regards the point in dispute: whether tithe should
be paid, or if tithe had been abolished by God’s own word, and was
consequently foolish--nay, wicked. But if the Angel knew God’s will,
and did not act upon it, and open the eyes of the Brotherhood to the
same, then no words could be too strong.

Egholm spoke for twenty minutes. He had got right to the front, and
stepped up on to the first of the beer boxes, making, as it were, an
act drop of his body in front of those on the platform. The audience
could only see their shadows, and hear a slight sound when the
Copenhagen Prophet cleared his throat. Once young Karlsen tried his
devilish laugh, but was sternly suppressed by his venerable sire.
There was no real disturbance of any sort; the congregation made
but one listening, eager face. The Elders were exorcised already.
Victory--victory!

But at the very moment when the thought first thrilled him, Egholm’s
eloquence suddenly ran dry. With a spasm of dread he realised that he
could say no more. The source within him, that he had imagined endless,
had ceased. He had not firmness enough to begin again, and the texts
and parables he had chosen for his purpose had been rehearsed so often
in his mind for the occasion that he could not now remember what he had
actually said and what he could still use.

The emptiness that followed was almost physically oppressive--Egholm
gasped once or twice as if the very air about him were gone. Then came
the voice of the Angel, calm and firm:

“Have you any more to say?”

“No,” said Egholm, paling as he spoke. “I hope now you have understood.”

And with that he stepped down from his elevation, sighed, wiped his
forehead nervously, and leaned up against the wall at the side.

Old Karlsen delivered a prayer longer and more powerful than ever
before. It gathered like a cloud above the congregation, gradually
obscuring all that Egholm had said. Not until he noticed that the cloud
had condensed here and there to a mild rain of tears did the Angel pass
over imperceptibly to mention of Egholm’s onslaught.

“And now, now--well, you have heard the leader of your flock, the
shepherd and Angel of the Brotherhood, referred to as a butcher. Here,
in our own house, and out of the mouth of one whom we regarded as a
brother. Why do I not lift up my hand against him, and drive him forth,
even as the Master drove out those from the Temple who defiled its holy
places? No! For it is written: _Blessed are the meek_.”

The Angel’s prayer had opened the hearts of the flock. Thereupon
Finck the Prophet stepped forward. He wore a reddish-brown beard, his
eyebrows were bushy, and his eyes glittered behind his glasses. It
seemed as if he had hitherto affected lordly indifference, but was now
so moved that he could no longer control his emotion, and his anger
burst forth in a torrent.

“In days gone by,” he began, “when I realised that the Established
Church of Denmark was being suffered to drift like a ship without a
compass, I declined to stay on board. And before leaving, I warned my
fellow-travellers, and the captain and the mate. I told them in plain,
bold words that they were drifting towards shipwreck. Many believed
that my words were over-bold. A conflict raged about my name, as some
of you may perhaps remember. But, now, we have heard a man whose words
were not bold, but only brutal and coarse--a man who, I think I am
qualified to say, lacks the very rudiments of ability to understand
what he reads. This ignoramus takes upon himself to pick out a verse
here and a verse there, and then adds them together in a fashion of his
own. We may compare him with the man who read one day in his Bible:
‘Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him’--and the next:
‘Go thou and do likewise.’...”

The sum and essence of Finck’s oration was that the rendering of tithe
was a jewel of price reserved for the Brotherhood of St. John apart
from all others. To cast away that jewel now would be sheer madness.

Egholm stood quivering with impatience to answer. His mind was clear
now as to what he should say. And as soon as Finck had ended, he sprang
forward.

“It seems to me that Hr. Finck, the Prophet, in spite of all his claims
to learning, and his libellous attack....”

“Silence, man!” roared Finck, his voice echoing roundly from the walls.
“We will hear no more. You have said your last word here. Go!”

“My turn now,” said young Karlsen, with a swaggering fling of his
shoulders.

But the venerable Angel could not find it in his heart to deny Egholm a
last word. He found it preferable to let him wreak his own destruction.
And with his keen perception of the feeling among the congregation, he
was confident that this would be the result.

“Beloved Brethren,” he said, “there is but a quarter of an hour left
us--one poor quarter of an hour. I had endeavoured to secure the hall
for another hour, but other and more worldly matters intervened. I
think, then, we should let Egholm say what his conscience permits him,
and then conclude with the old hymn: ‘All is in the Father’s hand.’”

“I should just like to ask Prophet Finck,” said Egholm furiously, “how
_he_ would interpret and explain....”

“What’s that?” said Finck loftily.

“The leading point, the essence of the whole thing, namely, the text
found by me in the Epistle to the Hebrews--you have not said a word
about that, really. I am firmly convinced that I am right, but, all the
same, I should like to hear how you propose to explain away....”

“Write it down,” broke in Finck sharply.

Egholm obeyed involuntarily. He found a stump of lead pencil in his
waistcoat pocket, and began scrawling on the faded paper at the back of
his Bible. He was a facile writer ordinarily, but in his present state
of emotion he could hardly frame his question. Two or three times he
struck out what he had written and began again. Suddenly he heard young
Karlsen clearing his throat, and then:

“Now, then, we’d better....”

“No, no!” cried Egholm.

“Throw that man out,” commanded Finck.

“You cowards, you’re afraid to let me speak!”

“Oh, go and heave him out, Johannes,” called young Karlsen, leaning
over the footlights.

But Johannes, the postman, was paralysed already by the unwonted
tumult, and did not move. There were others in the hall, however, who
seemed eager enough to respond to the invitation, seeing that Karlsen
himself was to be responsible.

“You miserable traitor,” hissed Egholm, “give me back my tithes, give
me my money, and I’ll go. But not before. Give me my four hundred
_kroner_.”

“Turn him out, the wretch!”

    “‘All is in the Father’s hand,
    All things answer His command....’”

The Angel made a brave attempt to start the hymn, but the congregation
appeared more interested in the conflict, and no one followed his lead.

“My money--give me my money, you thieves!”

“Pot calling the kettle black!” cried the Evangelist, with a sneer.

“Liar, slanderer, scoundrel!” roared Egholm, seeing in this last remark
a reference to the manner of his dismissal from the railway service.
And, beside himself with fury, he raised the heavy Bible to throw at
Karlsen, when a diversion took place which drew off his attention and
that of the audience.

A confused but violent noise came from the back of the hall, and then
repeated shouts that rose above the din.

“You lanky black beast! You filthy devil! What about the seventh
commandment? Yes; it’s you I mean, you filthy, incontinent swine! You
evangelical hypocrite! What about Metha, eh? She’s lying there at home
now and asking for you--for you!”

The words were plain and to the point; everyone in the hall stared in
amazement at the backsliding photographer, who was standing on a bench
and waving clenched fists in the air. It was evident that he had been
drinking.

Then they turned to look at young Karlsen. His face was drawn awry.

Egholm was so moved at this unexpected reinforcement that the tears
flowed down his cheeks. He found voice again and took up the cry.

“They’re a lot of criminals, all of them. Setting themselves up against
God’s laws that I’ve discovered. I’ll have you up, that I will. Give me
my money, my money!”

Young Karlsen lost his self-control. He sprang in long leaps down
through the hall, and flung himself upon Egholm, thrusting his head
forward like a bull about to charge.

“You shut yo’ jaw!” he cried, lapsing into his country dialect.

“Lauritz, be careful!” cried the Angel warningly. But it was too late.
Finck came up to take part, and Egholm was borne towards the door,
still shouting, and hanging on with arms and legs to the benches as he
passed.

A little party of Brethren carried Meilby in similar fashion to the
door. Serve him right, the sneak, always behindhand with his tithes....

The hall was filled with shouts and oaths, cries, and the barking of a
dog.

The Histrionics gathered open mouthed about the doorway. It was their
dress-rehearsal night for the coming performance of _The Lovers’
Secret_.



VI


Meilby was in difficulties with his dress--his braces had given
way--and Egholm was sucking an abrasion on the back of his hand.
Nevertheless, each felt a sense of relief, as they walked briskly over
the cobblestones, talking loudly and emphatically.

“If the Lord had sent a rain of fire upon their heads ... I was looking
for it all the time. I can’t understand that He didn’t. Can you, now?”

Meilby answered, with a self-satisfied smile:

“Wasn’t wanted, that’s about it. He sent me instead.”

“Yes; that’s true. Thanks, Meilby--thanks for your help,” said Egholm,
pressing the other’s arm. “But what was it all about, really? I was so
excited at the time.... I mean, what was behind it all?”

“Ha ha, yes, what was behind it all! Metha Madsen was behind it
all--Metha and her brat. Karlsen’s it was, and they’ve been trying to
make out it was mine.”

“Terrible, terrible!”

“No; it’s not. I’m going away, and I’ll be out of it all. The old Angel
in his little shop, he fixed it all up, for her to say it was me.
Wouldn’t have done for his dear little son, you know, and an Evangelist
into the bargain. Kid was born at ten o’clock, and it wasn’t stillborn
either.”

“But you could declare on oath....”

“Well, you know, that’s a ticklish business. On oath.... No; I did
the only thing there was to be done--came along every evening to the
meetings, and glared at them, and threatened to kick up a scandal.
But it’s not so easy to make a speech in a crowd like that. Anyhow, I
managed it all right this time, didn’t I?”

“Splendidly. And now--you’re going away?”

“To-morrow. First thing to-morrow morning,” whispered Meilby hoarsely.
“Come up with me now. I shan’t go to bed to-night.”

“Why, it’s all empty!” said Egholm dismally, looking round the place.
There was a travelling trunk in the middle of the studio floor, and
that was all.

“Every rag and stick cleared out,” said Meilby triumphantly.

“But you promised me--you promised me for certain....”

“Oh, I’ve fixed it up for you all right. Never meant to do you in,
you know. That I swear. Not from the first evening. Here--here’s the
pawnticket for some neat little things--that’s yours. I’ve sold the
rest. Eh? Oh, don’t mention it, not at all.”

Egholm read the legend on the ticket--for a matter of a few _kroner_ he
could buy the camera thing outright. He was delighted; he was touched.

“None of your sneaking Angel ways about me,” said Meilby simply.

“And what are you going to do over there when you get there?”

“How should I know? Don’t even know where America is. If I hadn’t got
my ticket, I’d never find the way. But I’ve got it all right, thank the
Lord! Here, you can see. Looks like business, doesn’t it, what? But
it’s a long way, that’s true. Wonder if there’s women there....”

Egholm staggered off homewards.

If only he could go with Meilby. Get away out of this hole, with its
hypocrites and scoundrels, its patent-shoed prophets and broadcloth
deacons, away to America....

Yes; Egholm felt he must go. Not to America, of course--that was beyond
him. But go somewhere. Just a few miles away. Knarreby, for instance,
or somewhere thereabout. Meilby’s camera would keep him above water,
wherever he chose to commit himself to the waves--himself, that is. As
for his family, well, he could always send some money home.

Anna was still up when he got back. He sat down and commenced telling
her about the meeting. Also, that he was going away. He grew excited
again, but she did not seem to take in all he was saying. There was
something strange about her this evening....

“I knew it all along,” was all she said.

She was still moving about when he rolled himself in the bedclothes and
laid his weary head on the pillow. But suddenly a fresh quiver of raw
pain went through her. She staggered to the bed and dropped.

“Oh ... Egholm, it’s coming. You’ll have to--go and fetch her now. You
know where she lives....”

Beyond her pain and fear, she felt for one brief moment a blessed sense
that this was _her_ hour; she was to be the centre of importance for
once. It was a victory.

Her husband, on his part, felt no share in anything victorious. He
roused her quickly to her senses.

“It’ll have to keep till to-morrow,” he said in an offended tone. “You
surely don’t mean to send me running about now in the middle of the
night?”

But it would not keep till to-morrow....

       *       *       *       *       *

Egholm suffered considerably that night. A couple of women whom he
did not remember to have seen before came up to assist the midwife,
and took possession of the place, relegating him--the master--to the
status of a slave. One handed him a bucket, indicating simply that it
was to be emptied in the dustbin in the yard. He was not accustomed
to such errands, but went down the dark stairs meekly. He had barely
returned, when, shaken as he was, they bade him run at full speed to
the chemist’s. He looked round helplessly for Hedvig and Sivert, but
the children had already been safely lodged with Eriksens’ down below,
out of the way. Egholm went. He took it like a man. True, he wept, but
he did not scream aloud, as did his wife over her part.

Later on, towards morning, he was ordered to find some tape. As the
simplest way of searching, he took his wife’s workbox and tipped it
upside down. He found no tape, but he found some crumpled letters,
which interested him as soon as he perceived the signature was his own.

Egholm’s features writhed themselves into expressions of disgust as
he read the tender words, the ardent longing, with which he had once
written to a certain “dearest Anna.”

There were even some verses dedicated to that same Anna--“Dove of my
heart....”

The verses in themselves were chiefly in praise of Helsingør,
Helsingør.... As through a mist Egholm saw the two women who had played
any part in his life--Clara Steen, from Helsingør, and Anna, from
Aalborg. Once, the two had been as one in his mind--it was at the time
he wrote those letters. The verses to Helsingør, dedicated to Anna,
were proof of it. And now--ah, now ... Clara, a silken-soft, delicious
dream, and Anna, a heavy, sighing, hollow-eyed reality.

Clara--what of Clara now? No; she was forgotten. All that Egholm
remembered was the picture of her on the wall of her father’s office.
But he remembered that only too well. Though it was long now since he
had seen it of nights....

Egholm, the weary, his night’s rest broken, his hopes trampled under
the butcher-boots of Karlsen Junior, his past for years back a ravening
hunt for work; Egholm, the miserable, sank down on a chair and buried
his face in the litter from the workbox, with the letters under it.

There was a bitterness in his mouth almost of physical disgust....

As it grew light he stole out of the house. The women were making
coffee, with a great deal of fussing about. He seemed to remember they
had come in once during the night, and showed him a child. He had
expected it, and showed no surprise....

The walk out along the frosted roads did him good.

That money for the camera must be found. Ten _kroner_--after all, it
was not a million. And he _must_ have them....

He came back home warm and cheerful, to find the house in an atmosphere
of rejoicing that fitted well with his mood.

Anna lay there in bed with a splendidly clean nightdress on, and a face
younger by years.

“Did you ever see such a blessing of things?” she said, pointing round
the room. “What do you think that is? _Butter!_ And there’s soup. Sit
down, you poor thing. Hedvig, make haste and dish up a plate of soup.
And Mother’s sent ten _kroner_. Don’t say the day of miracles is past!”

“Why, that’ll pay for the journey!” Egholm exclaimed, with emotion.

“Journey? What journey?”

“Er--well, you remember.... We said before....”

“Oh no!” cried Anna, trembling. “You mustn’t, Egholm. You mustn’t.
God’s everywhere. He can help you here as well. I haven’t been able to
be much to you lately, I know, but only wait a little, and you shall
see. With God’s help, I’ll be up and about again in four days from now.
I can generally manage with four, you know.--Yes, I know you always
say the gipsies and that sort don’t need to stay in bed at all, but
then they’re more like animals than human beings--heathen, at any rate.
Don’t go away now, Egholm; you see how I’ll work--oh, you wait and see.
And make money, and you’ll get work, too, all right.”

“Never, in this beastly place.”

“Yes, you will. Listen. Last night, when it was over, and the women had
gone, I lay thinking of the lovely boy the Lord had sent me. I felt
such a relief, and it was all so good and nice. It was about four,
I think. And just as I was dropping off again, I saw a man with two
bright eyes standing there by the cradle....”

“A spirit, you mean?” said Egholm, with a gasp.

“Yes, yes.--Be careful, you’re spilling the soup. I lay there quite
quiet, and looked at him, and he looked at me. I dared hardly breathe,
for fear he should vanish again. His eyes were ever so big--and I can’t
tell you what a gentle look in them.”

“Did he say anything?”

“He nodded several times, and then he said: ‘That boy is sent to help
you.’ Oh, you can’t think how lovely it was. When I woke up I could
feel I had been crying.”

“When you woke up--why, then, it was only a dream.” Egholm was deeply
disappointed.

“Dream? No; I wasn’t asleep, only just dozing, I tell you. He stood
there as plain and alive as you are now.”

But Egholm went on with his soup. And he had his way. He was to go
off that very day. Sivert was despatched to the pawnbroker’s for the
camera, and while he waited, Egholm was as gentle as could be. His
wife could not remember having seen him so kind, not for years past.
He took one of the snowdrops from the bedside--Hedvig, with her usual
readiness, had stolen them from Eriksens’ garden for her mother--and
put it in his buttonhole.

“Good-bye, dear, and take care of yourself,” said Egholm, and kissed
his wife on both cheeks.

Anna was touched at so much gentleness. The tears flowed from her eyes.



VII


As Egholm came up to the station, he caught sight of young Karlsen. He
was pale, and there was a cut on the bridge of his nose, but his temper
was of the best.

“Aha!” he said artfully, nudging Egholm with his elbow. “Aha!” And he
grinned.

That nudge, that grin, and that “Aha!” said much. They seemed to imply
that Karlsen and Egholm had a pleasant--oh, a delightful little secret
between them.

“A nice way you treated me last night,” said Egholm. He would have
spoken more forcibly, a great deal more forcibly, but his mind was
distracted by the thoughts of his journey. He had not yet made his
choice of where to go. And the world was wide. “I hadn’t expected that
of you--after what you said. You know.”

“Let not the sun go down upon thy wrath. And--er--bless them that curse
you, and--er--put up thy sword into its sheath, for.... Well, anyhow.
You see, the old man wouldn’t hear of it. It was no earthly good. He
said he’d resign first. Put yourself in my place, my dear fellow. And
then I began to be doubtful myself, too, afterwards, about it all.
Come and have a drink. You look as if you were going off somewhere.
What’s on now?”

“Er--I’m going away,” said Egholm nervously. “Going to open a
photographic studio.”

“Well, I never,” said Karlsen, with ungrudging wonder. “And where’s it
going to be? You never said a word about that before.”

“I had a studio once in Copenhagen--Østergade, a splendid position. And
customers accordingly. Made any amount of money. This time I’m going to
try--er--Knarreby. Quite a nice little place, don’t you think?”

(There! Now it was said.)

“Knarreby? Oh yes, first-rate.”

They went into the waiting-room. Egholm carried the camera himself,
Sivert following behind him with the handbag.

“_Skaal_,[2] Egholm, and here’s to burying the hatchet. Friends again
now, aren’t we? We were both a bit upset last night, and didn’t know
quite what we were doing. Turn the other cheek, what?”

[2] “Here’s luck.” The word is widely used when drinking, as a
salutation; the precise equivalent in English would vary with the
company and the occasion.

“I was going to, only you were holding me behind.”

“Ha ha! That’s good. Taking it literally, as you might say. That’s very
good. _Skaal!_ Have another of these. Yes; go on. I’m sure you can.”

Egholm joined in the laugh at his own jest. Now that he had finally
decided, all was brightness and freedom ahead. Away, away, like a bird
that wakes to find its cage suddenly open. He could feel no anger
against anyone now.

“Have a cigar,” said Karlsen. There was no end to his amiability to-day.

“I don’t smoke.”

“Don’t you, though? I say, Egholm, I wonder if you’d be above doing me
a little favour?” Karlsen bit off the end of his cigar.

“Certainly, certainly.” Egholm dived willingly into his pocket and
pulled out a box of matches.

“Thanks--as a matter of fact, it wasn’t matches so much I was thinking
of. Another little matter....” The match flared and flared.

Egholm happened to glance at the other’s face. The bright black eyes,
with a fan of wrinkles out to the side, reminded him of fluttering
cockchafers. Why, the man was nervous himself! His hand was shaking.
And suddenly he brought the match too close to his beard....

“Of all the cursed.... H’m. Well, never mind.--Look here, Egholm, you
couldn’t manage to fix up another youngster at your place--a baby?
You’ve quite a crowd already; it wouldn’t be noticed. It’s not mine--ha
ha! No; it’s Meilby’s. I daresay he’s told you.... Silly thing to
do--playing with fire....”

“But why should I....”

“Ah, that’s just where it comes in. In the first place, there’s no
one I’d sooner trust with a little angel like that, than you, my dear
friends. And, in the second place, it’ll be worth something to whoever
takes it, and I’d like you to have the money. It’ll be paid for, and
well paid for. See what I mean?”

Egholm was alert in an instant. His heart was bubbling over with
gratified malice. He put on a thoughtful expression as he took his
ticket.

“Was it Meilby that put you on to me?”

“Well, yes and no. He comes to the meetings, you know, so I’d like to
help him if I can. I can’t take the kid myself, you understand. The
mother’s in a dairy all day.”

“But about the money,” said Egholm, moving towards the train. “What’s
it worth?”

“Oh, any amount,” said the Evangelist. In his delight at finding Egholm
so amenable to his plan, he forgot to restrain his play of feature.
“Hundred and fifty _kroner_ at the least. Let him pay, the beggar, it’s
his own fault, and I’ll give him a talking-to. I went up to his place
just now, by the way, but he wasn’t in.”

Egholm was in his seat. The train was ready to start.

“I’ll tell you where he is,” said Egholm, with a smile. “He’s on his
way to America by now. I said good-bye to him last night.”

Young Karlsen was not used to being made a fool of. He collapsed as
the train moved off; he waved a clenched fist furiously after it, and
shouted. Then, turning to go, he discovered Sivert.

“What are you grinning at, you young devil?”

“He’s forgotten his bag,” said Sivert, shaking his white mop of hair
with a satisfied smile.

But Karlsen found poor comfort in that.



VIII


Sivert stood in the smithy, trembling in every limb each time the
hammer clanged on the iron plate. His mother had just gone, and he was
alone. The hammer crashed like thunder, and he expected every moment to
be struck by lightning.

“Look to your work,” said the blacksmith.

Fru Egholm had shaken her head at first, when she saw there was a boy
wanted at Dorn’s smithy. Sivert a blacksmith? Never. But as there was
no other job to be found in all Odense, and when Dorn explained that he
wasn’t a blacksmith really, but a locksmith and general metal worker,
she agreed, albeit with some mistrust.

The boy stood holding a metal plate, his master cutting through it
along chalked-out lines. It was to be a weathercock, in the shape of a
horse. Suddenly--just at an awkward turn--the plate slipped, and the
smith snipped off one lifted foreleg.

For a second or two he seethed like a glowing bar of iron thrust into
water. A box on the ears was not enough....

“Here, Valdemar!” he cried to his man. “Take hold of the little beast,
and we’ll cut his fingers off. That’s it. So!”

Sivert wriggled and screamed, and even tried to kick. But the man
behind only crushed him the harder in his blouse-clad arms, till the
boy’s limbs hung limply down and his voice died to a hoarse gasp.

The smith opened the little white-knuckled hand with a grip as if
shelling peas, and drew one finger between the shears, but managing
carefully so that the boy could wrench it away at the critical moment.

This, of course, prolonged the joke, and made it all the funnier.

The man, too, began to find it interesting; his dull eyes glittered
like molten metal newly set. There was a kind of anticipation in his
mind--he realised that he would find considerable enjoyment in having
Sivert all to himself when they went up to the bedroom they were to
share at nights. It was but a vague thought as yet, a blind and pale
Proteus moving uncertainly in the secret passages of his mind.

At dinner, while master and man sat over their porridge, Sivert was
busy peeling potatoes for the next course. He sat on the wood box out
in the kitchen, a tiny place, which was filled with the odour of Madam
Dorn. She was the hugest piece of womankind Sivert had ever seen, and
full of curious noises. Every other moment there came a threatening
rumble from within like an approaching hurricane--perhaps she was
hungry, too--then she would clear her throat with a thick, full sound,
that seemed to rise from unknown depths. Sivert made the surprising
discovery that her posterior part resembled a huge heart when she bent
down. Was that perhaps an indication of general kindliness?

Now and again she came over to where he sat, and thrust her fingers
down among the potatoes, to see if there were enough done yet.

It was a long, long time before the kitchen door opened, and the two
superior beings within said, “_Tak for Mad_.”[3] Not till then could
Sivert fall to upon the crumbs from their richer table--a draggled
herring and a few diseased potatoes.

[3] “Thanks for the meal”--a formality addressed to housewife or
hostess on rising from table, used more especially among working people.

“It’s a funny big world,” thought Sivert, “but seems mainly alike in
most things.” His father’s thrashings had been delivered with more
solemnity than his present master’s clouts, but then, on the other
hand, Father would never have left a whole herring.

He had just finished washing up when the smith woke from his afternoon
nap. “Kept up with him that time,” thought Sivert, with some pride.

Evening came, after an endless day. Sivert had had his supper, and was
standing with the bucket of leavings out by the pigs’ trough, when he
saw the journeyman striding out through the gate--a sight to see,
with his hat down over his eyes and a cigar between his teeth pointing
upwards. The boy wept with emotion at seeing him go--_that strangling
brute_. Ah, the day was over now. He would have peace at last. He could
go to bed.

The pigs sniffed at the empty bucket, and grunted encouragingly. Sivert
was overjoyed with the pigs--he had made friends with them already,
after dinner. There were two of them, one black.

He clambered up on the partition, and talked confidentially to them
about the events of the day.

“Now, don’t you think I’m crying, because I’m not. Not a bit of it. I
promised mother I wouldn’t. I was only wiping my nose, and you thought
I was crying--ha ha, I did you there! And I’m not homesick, no; only
making a little invisible sound, the same as when you’re homesick.
It’s a trick I’ve learnt, and it’s not everybody can do it. Just
listen.... No; you’ve got to be quiet. You make worse noises than Madam
Dorn. Homesick? What for, I should like to know? Father in Knarreby?
I tell you I’m not fretting for him a single bit. Still, he couldn’t
do anything to me about the bag; he never said I was to put it in the
train.

“Homesick? For Hedvig, perhaps? She’s not really warm to sleep with,
you know, and she always pulls the clothes off me. Oh, but of course
you don’t know Hedvig. She’s my sister--a girl, you understand....”

Sivert realised on a sudden that between his knowledge and that of his
hearers was a great gulf fixed. He fell to laughing, and then shook his
head contemptuously.

“As like as not you don’t even know what sort of thing a girl is at
all. Poor silly pigs that you are. Now, I know all the things there are
in the world. But I was stupid myself once.”

A little before eleven he clambered up to the attic, his own bedroom,
the one thing that had tempted him most of all when his mother had
pointed out what he would gain by going out into the world, instead of
staying at home.

“And you’ll have your own room, with a big bed you can turn about in
whenever you like and as much as you like, with no one to pinch you for
being a nuisance. And you can cut out pictures and stick them up on the
walls, and on Sundays you can pick flowers and put them in water to
last all the week. And then when the mistress comes up to make the bed,
she’ll say: ‘Why, what a nice lad we’ve got, now. Picking flowers....’”

He was much puzzled to find that there were _two_ beds, and neither of
them made. Mistress must have forgotten it. And what on earth was he
to do with two beds? Perhaps the boy they had had before used to lie
in one of them till it got warm; and then shift over to the other.
That way, of course, you could keep them both warm. But.... No. Sivert
decided not. Much better to save the wear of them, and only sleep in
one. Mistress, no doubt, would appreciate that, and praise him for it.

He noticed, certainly, that there were some clothes on a chair, and a
trunk between one bed and the window, but all unused as he was to the
ways of out-in-the-world, he thought nothing of it. There were often
things lying about at home here and there. After much consideration, he
chose one of the beds, and sank to sleep.

Late that night came journeyman locksmith Valdemar August Olsen home,
quite appreciably drunk. He stopped singing as he entered the gate, and
took off his boots at the foot of the stairs, moved, no doubt, by some
vestige of respect from his apprentice days.

He did not seem to need a light, but sat down on Sivert’s bed,
talking softly to himself. Suddenly he felt something alive under the
bedclothes, and started up, almost sobered by the fright. He fumbled
for matches, and a moment later was staring into the face of a pale,
whitish-haired boy, who sat up in bed with wide, terror-stricken eyes.

Olsen waved the match till it went out, and threw away the stump. The
boy must not see him quake. That bed there--it had been empty for three
months past, ever since Boy Sofus ran away.

“Ha, frightened you, what?”

“Yes.”

Olsen called vaguely to mind the interesting episode of the morning; he
lit the lamp, and sat down again on the edge of Sivert’s bed.

“No need to be frightened of me. I shan’t hurt you.”

He thrust his hand under the bedclothes, and stroked the child’s knobby
spine. It gave him a curious sensation, something promising and yet
uncanny. He had felt like that once before, when he had bought a bottle
of spirits for the night, but mislaid it.

Drowsy as he was, but still obstinate, he sat like a beast of prey,
watching his time. Now and again he sniffed at Sivert’s scalp--he had
noticed the smell of it that morning when he was holding him.

“What d’you want to have long hair like that for?” he asked.

Sivert felt it would be dangerous to be at a loss for an answer. And,
diving swiftly into the primeval forest growth of his mind, he snatched
the first fruit that came to hand.

“That’s for the executioner to hold on by, when he’s cut off the body,”
he said.

“Executioner--what the devil!--cut off the body. It’s the head that’s
cut off, stupid.”

“Oh,” said Sivert. “Not the body, then?”

But Valdemar August felt strangely confused in his mind. He tried
again and again to see that curious question clearly, but in vain. Then
he gave it up, and began talking at random of the days when he was out
on his travels, after ending his apprenticeship, some ten years before.

He had passed through no end of towns, lodged in all sorts of places.
He told of it all in short, descriptive sentences, always beginning
with the words: “And then....”

“And then we came over to Jutland--and then we went down to
Kolding--and then my mate said ... and then said I....”

He had set out on his travels with a receptive mind, and had seen and
experienced much. It was not just ordinary things such as the position
and “sights” of the different towns that had impressed him, but each
place was associated with some new and remarkable experience, vicious
for the most part, that came to his mind anew as soon as he named the
scene.

Sivert dropped off to sleep for a second at a time, between the
intervals of Olsen’s recurrent “And then....” He understood but little
of it all, but was grateful to find no immediate prospect of thrashing
or strangling. If only he weren’t so sleepy, and so horribly cold. And
how long was it to last? Olsen was telling now of an inn where they had
found a dead rat in a steaming dish of cabbage, and of how they had
paid the host in his own coin.

He laughed at the joyous recollection, and nudged the boy in the ribs.
His imagination grew more fertile, he used ever stranger words, until
at last Sivert began to wake up, and feel amused. Evidently this Olsen
was a merry soul, though it was hard to make him out at first.

Suddenly Olsen jumped up, and began dancing about in the half-dark in
his ill-mended socks, making the queerest antics. Sivert took advantage
of a burst of laughter to bury his tired head among the pillows, but a
sudden silence made him open one eye warily and peer out into the room.

Olsen was standing over him, looking wilder and more incomprehensible
than ever. Sivert was paralysed with fear. He was about to scream, but
thought better of it--perhaps, after all, it was not so bad but that he
could turn it off with a grin. And with an utmost effort, he broke into
a fine imitation of a hiccuping laugh.

Then Olsen’s rough hand closed over his mouth.



IX


What seemed most remarkable of all to Sivert was that there was never
anything strange about Olsen’s manner in the daytime, even when the
smith was not there.

Olsen by day was simply brutal, like any ordinary man; his eyes, that
glittered so insanely in the dark, looked out in daylight with a gleam
of unadulterated cruelty from under the brow they shared in common. And
the hand that stroked him so affectionately could land out a blow that
would make his ears tingle all day.

For a time Sivert endeavoured to persuade himself that it was merely
nightmare. But there were things that could not be so explained. And he
bore his horror alone, for his mother misunderstood the hints he threw
out, owing to the fact that Sivert, as was his custom, assured her that
Olsen _did not_ do so-and-so.

“I should think not, indeed. It’s wicked even to think such things.”

“But I can’t help it.”

“Then say your prayers properly and earnestly, and God will help you
all right.”

“I say my prayers like anything, every night. But Olsen’s ever so
strong, and it’s no good. God can’t manage him, I suppose.”

“Sivert!”

“Or perhaps God doesn’t trouble about things as much as people say.”

“Sivert, now be a good child, do. Do you think God doesn’t trouble
about us? Why, look, what a lovely boy He’s given us now....” Fru
Egholm lifted the coverlet aside, to show the baby’s face. “Isn’t he
sweet? And so healthy he looks. I think he’ll be fair haired.”

“But you promised me I was to be the only fair-haired boy?”

“I’d like to have as many of them as I can. They’re the best sort. And,
you know, Abel was fair haired, but Cain was dark.”

“Just like Father!”

“Oh, child, how can you say such a thing!” Fru Egholm chattered on to
cover her confusion. What a head the child had, to be sure.

The little one in the cradle awoke, and set up a faint cry like the
bleating of a lamb. His mother took him up to her breast.

Sivert looked on with an expression of intense disgust.

“That’s enough--that’s enough,” he said again and again, his eyes
straining awry in consuming envy.

“Mother, let’s break it up, let’s tear it to bits, before it gets any
bigger.”

“What do you think your father would say to that?” said his mother,
with a smile.

Sivert started; he had not thought of that difficult side of the
question.

“Couldn’t we say it had got lost somehow? No, I know; we’ll tell him
there never was but me and Hedvig. He won’t remember. And then we can
show him me, and ask if that’s the one he means. Oh, may we, dear
little darling mother?” And he stretched out his hand for the child.

“Just listen and I’ll tell you what Father says,” said his mother,
feeling in a pocket of her dress.

Sivert’s face darkened; he stared anxiously at the letter.

  “MY DEAR ANNA,--Excuse my long silence, but I have got things settled
  now, and every day feeling happier for the change. Karlsen, the
  Evangelist, has been a nightmare to me, but now I am awake once more,
  and drink in the fresh air and feel myself another man. And only
  fancy--_my powers of invention_, that I thought were dead, have come
  back again stronger than before. You remember I used to say I was as
  _the hand of God_ here on earth. I am to go over the work, file away
  at it and make it even--in a word, _improve the whole world_, that
  He created great and rich and round, it is true, but rough at the
  edges. In my innermost self, and right out to my fingertips, I feel
  conscious of this as my calling. If I only go for a little walk with
  the wind against me, I feel my powers in urgent movement. Now, the
  friction exerted by the wind could be reduced to one-seventh by means
  of a little invention of mine. I can tell you, there is a _great
  time_ ahead. But it is not this that occupies my mind just now, but
  something else. A machine. I dare not set down on paper what it is.
  Only this: be sure that all the taps and other parts of the _steam
  wagon_, my old construction, are sent to me here as soon as possible.
  I must try my wings now; I feel myself free. Free as a bird.”

“So I should think,” murmured Fru Egholm. “With no wife and children or
anything else to look after. Well, thank goodness that’s not all.”

  “I believe God Himself has led me to this place, and guided my
  footsteps in the way.”

“Yes, I daresay--but who was it went down on her knees a hundred times
and prayed God to deliver you out of that Angel creature’s claws?”

Fru Egholm knew the letter by heart from end to end. Nevertheless, each
line affected her now as strongly as if read for the first time. Even
then, despite her critical opposition to the present passage, she was
already feeling for her handkerchief, ready for the touching part she
knew was just ahead.

  “I have fitted up a splendid little studio in a carpenter’s place. Do
  you think anyone in Odense would ever have given me credit for the
  rent, and paid for a glass roof into the bargain and all that? When
  I came into the town the first day, it was like a triumphal march. I
  walked down from the station with a man, and asked him if he knew a
  place where I could put up. ‘Yes,’ said he; ‘you can stay at Vang’s
  hotel. My name’s Henrik Vang; it’s my father owns the place.’ I shook
  my head, thinking of my 3 _kroner_ 50 that was all I had. But he
  said I could fix my own price; he’d look after that all right. Did
  you ever hear of such luck? We spent the whole evening together, in
  the restaurant, and all the notables of the town were there. He told
  them to put it all on his bill. While I think of it--be sure to send
  my embroidered waistcoat and the small boots, if you can manage it.
  They’re only in for a small sum, and you should be able to get them
  out all right, now you haven’t got me to feed....”

“Only a small sum! Heh! Embroidered waistcoat and creaky boots--no, my
good man, you won’t get them, and that’s flat.”

But now came the part that filled Fru Egholm with joy and pride. Egholm
wrote that he had been thinking much about the vision she had had on
the night the child was born. It would be as well to give the child
a name that should remind the Lord of His promise. He would suggest
_Emanuel_.

Was there ever such a thoughtful creature in the world? And it was the
first time Egholm had ever troubled himself to think of a name for any
of the children. But perhaps he was a different man now. For he wrote
further:

  “The country round here is lovely. Only two minutes’ walk from my
  studio down to the shore. Might easily have a little sailing boat
  there, all ready to hand. I often go down there, but only for a
  minute at a time--there might be people coming up while I was out.
  You must see and come over soon. I am longing for you, dearest
  Anna....”

“And I’m longing, too,” said Fru Egholm, using her handkerchief. “Man
and wife should be one, as they say. But what about you young ones?
Hedvig ought surely to be able to get a place in Knarreby, no worse
than the one she’s got. It’s you that’s the trouble, Sivert lad.”

“Olsen’s a good enough hand at thrashing, but I think Father beats him
at using hard words,” said Sivert judicially.

The matter was not one to be settled out of hand. Money was not the
only difficulty. Fru Egholm had gradually worked up quite a decent
business connection with the sewing of grave-clothes. One day she had
made 1 _kroner_ 67 _øre_, _net earnings_. And a business like that was
not to be lightly thrown away.

Hedvig was getting on nicely, at school and in her situation, and
Sivert’s curious revelations grew less frequent.

Indeed, the boy suffered less now from the attentions of his tormentor
at the smithy than at first. There were always the wonderful stories
to begin with, and these he took as a kind of compensation for what
followed. Olsen had also a book which he would bring out on rare
occasions. It was a crumpled rag to look at, from the outside. But
within were marvels. Sivert’s eyes glowed when Olsen took it out of the
drawer. It was his journeyman’s book, at once a passport and a register.

Page after page, the stamp and signatures of the police--the State
Authorities, no less. One stamp for every imaginable town.

Sivert was dumb with emotion. Even Olsen’s voice shook. And in the
middle of showing it, he would sometimes snatch up the book with an
oath and hide it jealously against his naked breast, only to draw it
forth lovingly a moment later. It was as if he could not bear the
glorious vision for more than a little glimpse at a time.

It was a treasure of almost inconceivable value, was that book. Better
to lose one’s own head than that, for, once lost, the unfortunate owner
would be put in prison on the spot. On the other hand, whoever held
such a book, duly stamped and signed and in order, might wander the
whole world over, and none should dare to touch a hair of his head.

In the front of the book was something more wonderful even than the
police stamps. Sivert had been three times granted a sight of it.
Nothing less than a painting in words of the owner of the book. The
boy grew giddy at the thought that in five years’ time he, too, might
attain a like distinction.

  “Height--58 inches.
  Hair--black.
  Eyes--brown (eyebrows meeting in centre).
  Nose--ordinary.”

Sivert turned his eyes from the book to the living Olsen before him; it
was a marvel that anyone could have hit off the description thus to a
hair.

But then came the best of all:

  “Any distinctive marks: _Has six toes on each foot_.”

Olsen threw back his head, and set his lips sternly. Yes, he had six
toes; it was perfectly true. And why shouldn’t he? What, didn’t believe
it? Well, then, look here!

Off came Olsen’s socks, and Sivert, in humble amazement, counted the
whole dozen. True, the outermost toe was no giant, but rather a tiny
blind thing that clung to the next. There was no nail to it, yet it was
undoubtedly a toe. A whole limb additional!

Sivert counted his own inferior equipment again and again by night, and
in course of time developed a fine gift of counting them wrong.

“Why don’t they write down about your inside?” he ventured to ask.

“They can’t. That’s private,” answered Olsen.



X


Henrik Vang loved a soft, easy seat, and from his very first visit he
had chosen to sit down in the middle of Egholm’s iron bed. Sometimes,
when it was cold, he would pull the bedclothes up over his legs, right
to his throat. Egholm did not mind. He preferred to walk up and down
the floor, listening to his own voice. It was rarely but he had some
new strange plan or invention in his head.

To-day, however, he was nervous, and void of ideas. Anna was coming by
the midday train. Consequently, he found nothing now to talk of but
old, worn-out themes. Of the Brethren, who had cheated him out of all
that money. Of his great Day of Reckoning with those same Brethren, and
how they had risen up and cast him forth, together with one Meilby, a
photographer.

“He was something like you, Vang, by the way, was Meilby. Same light
hair, and eyes--and especially in the look of them. Now, anyone not
seeing that great big body of yours would say you weren’t grown up yet.
But Meilby, he was younger, and not so heavy built, perhaps.”

“Was he married?”

“No, but he....”

“Then he wasn’t like me.”

“Ha ha--but he was, though, on my word. The voice, too. Same rumbling
sort of way, as if that wasn’t properly set either.”

“Anyhow, he wasn’t married, so he wasn’t like me. She’s been talking to
Father again. Asking him to turn me out. I don’t know if she wants me
to die of hunger. For she never gives me anything herself.”

“Well, you know, Vang,” laughed Egholm, “you’re not exactly a model
husband, either. Women like being made a fuss of now and then. Now me,
for instance. Here’s my wife coming to-day, and what do I do? Go up to
the station myself to meet her. See?”

Egholm looked at his watch, and felt uncomfortable. Again he had
forgotten the time. The train must be in by now, and Anna would be left
standing there, utterly strange to the place....

He left Vang in the nest he had made, and hurried out.

Annoyance at the little misfortune was but a herald for the host of
black thoughts that had been gathering in Egholm’s mind ever since the
day when, in a weak--a very weak--moment, he had written to Anna to
come.

Now, was it nice, was it decent of her, to take advantage of a
momentary lapse like that?

Anyhow, it was too late now. The thing was done. Good-bye to
freedom--he had himself turned back to seek his fetters. Anna would
be there, right enough, standing on the platform ready to clap the
handcuffs on him once more.

And now, just as things were beginning to move! With a wife and two
hungry children to drag about after him, it would be stagnation once
more, however he might put his shoulder to the work.

The gravel path leading to the station had been newly planted with
trees, poor, scraggy things, more like the brooms on the buoys outside
the harbour. And now they had to feel about with their roots through
the hard earth. It would be ages before they grew to be tall and
strong, with broad leafy crowns. And they were young--but he was no
longer young, and his strength had been wasted in many a barren soil.

Egholm clasped his hands under his cloak, and prayed:

“Lord, spare Thy servant. Take away this cup from me. Let it be so
that, when I come to the station, I may wake up out of a painful dream.
No wife and children at all. Lord, hear Thy servant; hear him for that
he suffered for the sake of Thy word, at the hands of the Brethren in
Odense!”

He writhed his bony fingers, and looked up to the blue March sky. How
grateful he would be; how he would fall down and bend his forehead to
the earth, if his prayer should be heard!

But, alas, they would surely be there--Anna, Sivert, and Hedvig. Yes;
they would be there, never fear.

It suddenly occurred to him that he could not remember the children’s
faces. All he could call to mind of Hedvig was her keen grey eyes, and
Sivert was associated chiefly with the grating sound of a little saw.
But that sound was so vividly present in his mind that he lashed out
with his stick, by way of relief. It was a reflex movement, a case of
cause and effect.

Egholm had expected to find his family on the steps of the station,
but there was no one there. The whole place looked dead and deserted.
The omnibus horse stood drowsing in its tether, while the driver, Red
Jeppe, jested with the waitress at the bar. No one on the platform but
a group of girls. And it was already half-past twelve by the clock.

Strange--very strange.

He drifted up to a porter, and asked:

“The train from Odense--has it come in yet?”

“She’s broken down at Aaby. A nasty mess.”

“Broken down!”

“Yes. Engine off the line, and....”

_Oh!_ Egholm felt a nasty blow at his heart. So God--or was it
Satan?--had heard his prayer for once. With an ashy face he asked
again:

“Nobody hurt, I hope?” And the answer seemed to flash on him as a
vision: Anna stretched out on a canvas bier, her thick hair matted with
blood.

“Hurt? Oh, Lord, no,” said the porter. “Only the engine turned off
down the wrong track, and stuck in the gravel.” He yawned hungrily.
“You’re not the only one hanging about here waiting for their blessed
trains....”

Egholm felt a strange weakness in the legs, and sat down. The signal
bell rang--train due in ten minutes. It seemed to him as if the station
had suddenly brightened up. Quite cheerful all at once. Those girls
there, for instance, with lovely new boots on. And laughing all the
time. The one on the outside leaned right over to listen when the
others whispered. Well, well, a good thing everyone wasn’t miserable.

And there--there was a man coming out of the waiting-room--a tall,
fat man with rather thin legs--a commercial traveller. He didn’t look
pleased at all, but dragged at his two bags like a convict in irons.
Then, at sight of the girls, he stopped and drew himself up, anxious to
be seen.

He draws a mirror and a tiny brush from his pocket, and wields them
like a virtuoso. Then a cigar-case, and next a smart little contrivance
for cutting off the end; another little case, with matches in.
Evidently he is trying to impress those girls with an idea that he
is a sort of original chest of drawers, with all manner of cases and
shiny, interesting things inside. And he succeeds. The girls stop
talking, and look at him, to see what will happen next. But after a
little they fall to laughing again.

When the train rolled in, Fru Egholm, standing at the window of a
compartment beyond the end of the platform, saw her husband come
running down the length of the carriages, eagerly, with delighted eyes.

Hurriedly she took leave of a couple of women fellow-travellers. They
had lived together for the past three or four hours, and suddenly that
was over....

Egholm clambered up on the footboard, and found a pleasant surprise.
Sivert was not there!

True, there was little Emanuel, whom he had forgotten altogether for
the moment. But then Emanuel was the child of victory. Or at least it
was reasonable here, as ever, of two evils to choose the lesser.

Anna was a little puffy and dark under the eyes, but her cheeks were
flushed with excitement. She and Hedvig handed out an endless array of
packages, a lamp, some pictures, and the family treasure--the cut-glass
bowl. One of the parcels was soft and round, and Anna proffered it with
a warning:

“Be careful; don’t lay it down anywhere. There might come a dog....”

Egholm fingered it over, and made out the contours of a fowl. His heart
softened. And then, as Anna stood feeling helplessly behind her with
her lace boots, he took her in his arms, helped her out, and twisted
her round. Her face was flushed with confusion. The features he cared
for hid those he hated. For a second he read the anxious questioning in
her eyes, then a wave of deep sympathy overwhelmed him, and he pressed
her to him again and again.

“I’m so glad you’ve come, Anna, my dear, I’m so glad.”

Omnibus-Jeppe was to take the heavier luggage that was in the van.

“H’m,” said Jeppe, scratching the back of his head, “there’s enough to
stock a shop.”

Egholm scratched his head likewise, and stared helplessly at the
bundles of bedding and Anna’s flower-pots--a whole score of them.

“What on earth d’you want to drag all that about for?” he asked
irritably.

“Oh, look! They’ve broken the calla there,” wailed Fru Egholm, kneeling
down beside it. “Broken right down at the root. And it was just coming
out....”

“Oh, never mind that!”

“Give me a twenty-five _øre_, and I’ll look after the lot,” said Jeppe,
melting at once before feminine grief.

The family had as much as they could carry. Egholm walked with pictures
under either arm; his wife took the fowl, the cut-glass bowl, and the
flower-pot with the calla. Leave it--because it was broken? No, she
could never be so cruel.

Emanuel’s perambulator lay upside down, revealing the advertisement
placard for somebody’s beer that had been tacked over the hole in the
bottom. Hedvig tipped it right side up. It would hold a good deal,
being of a peculiarly low, broad shape. Emanuel was ultimately placed
among the various goods there disposed, as one surrounded by trophies
in a triumphal car. He sat looking round with big blue eyes under his
little white cap. It was a girl’s cap, really--a sort of sunbonnet that
had lain in a drawer since Hedvig’s time, but--_Herregud!_ what did it
matter? At his age....

Egholm walked in front, the pictures waving up and down like a pair of
wings as he described the view with great enthusiasm to his wife.

The slow-moving flood of the Belt glittered in newborn sunlight. The
fields lay green and open under God’s sky. The landscape looked one
freshly and boldly in the eyes--Anna marked how the very air tasted
utterly different from that about Eriksens’ sour little patch of yard
and garden. Her husband voiced her thought exactly when he said:

“I don’t believe there’s a prettier spot in all the world.”

“But the town?” she asked in surprise. “Where is it?”

“Right up there in the bay. See the red church-tower there, and the
Custom House--that yellow place standing out against the great black
woods? The town’s as sheltered as a bird in its nest. And look, that’s
Jutland over there--see how close it looks, and the two lines of coast
all soft against each other. Looks almost as if they were dancing.”

“And look at the white sails on the blue water!”

“Yes. I know that one with the topsail. That’s Etatsraad Brodersen’s.
You know, ‘Brodersen’s Pure Grape.’ He’s the great man of the town.”

“It’s a lovely place.”

“Ah, but wait till it’s summer, and the beeches are out,” said Egholm,
with bright eyes. “We’ll go out one day together. I’ll show you it all.”

Tears welled up into Anna’s eyes. What a marvellous place was this
Knarreby, that could so change her husband altogether! Actually running
down the platform to meet them as if it had been visitors of rank. And
no grumbling or scolding because the train was late.

Egholm was himself moved. He blinked his eyes and looked away.

Out on the Belt, Brodersen’s cutter was cruising about. It was on the
water early this year. There--it was tacking now. Stood for a moment
straight as a white church, and then off on the new tack. Heavens, how
it heeled over! Why don’t they let go the sheet? Ah, there she was up
again! But Egholm had somehow slipped out of his former joyous mood,
and said a trifle absently and wearily:

“Yes, it’s a pretty place; that’s true.”

Fru Egholm did not notice his altered tone. She found the moment
opportune to put in a word for one that had been left behind in Odense,
one that had stood on the platform in the early morning, waving and
waving, till he suddenly collapsed, as if the ground had been snatched
from under his feet. Was he not to have a share in the promised land?

“Sivert sent his love. He couldn’t come, of course, poor child.”

“No, thank goodness!”

The mother started--it was the old voice again. Her rejoicing had
hurried her forward along a path that ended in a morass--she must drag
her steps back now, uncertain of her way.

Listlessly she followed Egholm’s account of some excursion of his own.

“We came round the point to an island that was like a floating
forest--Heireøen, it’s called. We put in there, alongside a pavilion
place, and had steak and onions.”

“Wasn’t it dreadfully expensive--at a place like that?” Anna’s voice
was dull and joyless as her own meals and the children’s had been every
day, Sundays and weekdays alike, as far back as she could remember.

“I don’t know. It was Henrik Vang that paid. That is to say--he knew
the man who kept the place, and so....”

“Henrik Vang? Oh, that’ll be the one you wrote about. His father’s got
a little eating-house or something.”

“Little eating-house! Good Lord!--the finest hotel in the place.
First-class restaurant!”

Anna had no grounds for disapproval, but, none the less, she murmured:

“H’m. A fellow like that....”

The family had reached the outskirts of the town. As they walked
on, curtains were moved aside, and a nose-tip here and there showed
through. In the little shops, the shopkeepers dropped their paper bags
and crowded with their customers to see.

Hedvig enjoyed being thus a centre of attraction. She arranged the
newspaper-holder, the plaster figure, and the lamp in a specially
attractive fashion, drew herself up, tossed her head, and only wished
they might have to walk all through the town. As it happened, she was
disappointed.

Egholm, whose fingers were getting sore with holding the pictures,
tripped on faster.

“There--that’s where I live,” he said, out of breath. “Pick up your
legs a bit, can’t you?”

“Where?”

“The grey house there, with the gateway.”

All else was forgotten now in the anxiety to see the place that was
to be their home. It was a long, low house. A gateway, two narrow
shop-windows, a door, and four pairs of windows beside. Over the
entrance was a placard inscribed with black letters on a white ground:
“_H. Andreasen. Coffins and Funeral Furnishings._”

A very respectable house it was, plastered with cement. And now they
could see the show-case on one side of the entrance, with the photos
in. No dream, then, no misunderstanding. It was here they were to live.

“Lord, isn’t it fine!” cried Hedvig.

Anna sighed resignedly, even perhaps in relief.

Saw and plane stopped suddenly. The men wiped the cobwebs from the
panes and looked out, their bare arms gleaming against their blue
overalls.

Anna hurried in through the entrance, but stopped inside, and looked
back at her husband inquiringly.

_There was someone in there!_ She could feel it, and it made her ill at
ease. She was ready to drop as it was, from weariness, and longed to
hide herself between four walls, to get her breath in peace, and set
about to make things comfortable for her husband, the children, and
herself.

“What are you waiting for? Go along in--the door’s open.”

“But there’s someone ... I thought I....”

“Oh, that’ll be Vang, I suppose,” said Egholm, opening the door
himself. “Hullo, Vang, here we are again. Nobody been, I suppose? No,
no. Well, here’s my little party.”

Vang was seated in the middle of the bed, with his hat on, and a cold
cigar at one corner of his mouth. The bed had sunk under the weight of
his heavy frame; the dirty sheets and spotted blankets were twirled up
as by a waterspout.

“My husband wrote about you,” Fru Egholm stammered with an effort. She
stood holding her flower-pot and her parcels as if dreading to soil the
paint of table and seats.

“Him and me,” said Vang in a solemn bass, letting his chin fall forward
on his chest--“him and me we’ve been as one. But I’m going now, all
right.”

“Why, what for?” said Egholm, touched. “There’s no need....” He took
Vang’s arm.

“Ah, but I must. Henrik Vang can’t stay where there’s women about.”

“What’s turned you so serious all at once?”

Vang smoothed the bedclothes, evidently embarrassed.

“It’s not just making a fuss, to be asked again. I know I’d rather
stay. Where should I go to, anyway?”

“You’ve a charming wife at home,” said Egholm mischievously. “But stay
here if you like. I’ll be only too pleased.”

“Home? I’d rather walk in water up to my neck the rest of the day. But
if you really mean it--if you’ll let me stay where I am--still as a
mouse, and never disturb a soul, why, I’d just love it.”

“Do, then, Vang, do.”

Vang turned with a smile towards Fru Egholm, who was removing her hat
in silence at the farthest corner of the room.

“I’ll stay, then, just as I am, in what I’ve got on. My clothes aren’t
much, anyway. And I’m mostly drunk as well. But when you get to know
me, _Frue_, you’ll see that right down inside I’m the man I am. Son
of Sofus Vang. First-class hotel, excellent cuisine, and choicest
wines--with terrace overlooking the water!”

Hedvig burst out laughing. She and her mother began carrying in the
things Omnibus-Jeppe had piled up outside.

Egholm saw how he and Vang were gradually being immured behind the
various belongings. It even seemed to him that now and then something
was thrust with unnecessary harshness against his legs, and a
threatening look crept into his eyes. In the midst of a flow of speech
addressed to Vang, he broke off suddenly, and said in a voice of
command:

“Take that stuff into the other room!”

“I will, dear. Let me,” said Fru Egholm. “But it looked like rain, you
know.”

“Not that door,” said Egholm angrily.

“But these are the kitchen things.” Fru Egholm had already seen that
the other door opened into an attic or box-room or something of the
sort. “Isn’t that the kitchen there?”

“Kitchen! That’s my dark-room.” Egholm spoke as might a God to whom
creations are the merest trifle. The place might have been a kitchen.
Well and good--Egholm spoke the words: “Let there be a dark-room.”

“You’ll have to manage in there--at any rate, for the present.” He
nodded towards the nondescript apartment opposite. “Make that a
kitchen.”

“But, my dear....” Fru Egholm pulled herself together with a poor
attempt at a smile. Then she shook her head; it was hopeless to try
to explain to the uninitiate what a little world in itself a kitchen
is. “The stove....” she managed to protest. “There’s not even a
heating-stove in there.”

She waited still, with the chest of utensils in her hands, before the
forbidden door. She _must_ get in there.

Egholm reflected that it was perfectly true about there being no stove.
It was for that reason he had had his bed in here for the winter. He
could find no way out of the difficulty, and grew furious--for even he
was not so far almighty as to create a kitchen where no kitchen was.

“All right, get along with you, then?” he said, pushing her in, and
Hedvig, with Emanuel in her arms, behind her. “There you are! But mind!
No fooling about with any of my things!”

The door opened with a queer sucking noise--it had been caulked with
strips of cardboard and cloth.

Hedvig and her mother stood aghast, while Egholm thrust past them and
began moving his bottles with the easy familiarity of habit.

All the windows were darkened but one, that glared red as a furnace
door. They could see nothing save their own hands, which looked strange
and uncanny in the red light.

“Egholm, you surely don’t mean to say we’re to do the cooking here?
When you can’t see your hand before your face!”

Egholm stepped across and shut the door behind them; then, turning to
his wife, he brought his face close down to hers, and whispered in a
voice that seethed like a leak in an overheated boiler:

“Look here! You’re not going to come along and ruin the business for me
now, so don’t you think it. If I can see to do my developing, you can
see to cook. You understand?”

And he went on with a further flow of words, furious, though subdued.

Fru Egholm writhed.

“But, Egholm ... there’s no _room_! I can’t even see the stove....
Oh....”

She still clung to a faint hope that he might be brought to see things
with her eyes, and realise how unreasonable it was to ask her.

“Very well. I’ll give you a lamp. My dark-room lamp should be about
here somewhere.”

His fingers moved among rattling bottles on the stove.

“Here it is--no. Now, where the devil....”

A bottle upset; he grasped at it hurriedly and knocked over another;
the liquid gurgled out into a pool on the floor.

“A basin--quick, give me a basin! My silver nitrate ... quick, a basin!”

They reached about for one in haste and confusion.

“Open the door so we can see!” cried Hedvig. But at the same moment her
father came towards them. His face looked as if smeared with blood in
the light from the red-covered pane; his teeth showed between parted
lips.

“You--you’re the serpent in the garden!” he hissed.

“Oh, don’t!” she cried, her voice rising to a scream.

Emanuel was beginning to cry. Hedvig tried to wriggle through with him
to the door, but stepped on the basin her father had just set on the
floor.

This was too much for Egholm. He felt he must either discharge the
current within, or be fused by it, like an overcharged wire.

He staggered one step back, then forward again. His arms rose up as if
with an inner force of their own; then with his full strength he struck
his clenched fist in his wife’s face.

Once again, and once again he struck, the flesh of her checks
squelching under the blows. Then he stumbled out, and closed the door
carefully behind him.

Vang was seated on the bed exactly as before. What could he say to
him? It was the first time any stranger had witnessed a scene of this
sort. What was the use of starting upon heart-rending explanations,
which Vang would never understand? And how much of the trouble had been
audible through the close-padded door?

Vang gets to his feet; he must go now--yes, he must. There is something
cowed about him; he speaks in a low voice, and does not look up. And
Egholm, suddenly aware of Anna’s sobbing and Hedvig’s uncontrolled
blubbering plainly heard through the door, realises that Vang must have
been able to follow the drama through all its painful details.

And now he is going off, convinced that Egholm is a cruel, cruel brute.

It must not be! Egholm feels now, more strongly than ever before, that
he _can_ be so good, so good!

“No, no; you mustn’t go!” he cries, as Vang steps cautiously over the
bath full of flower-pots. He grips him by the arm, anxious to prove
his all-embracing affection on the spot. “You mustn’t go now I’m in
all this mess. Didn’t you say we’d been as one together? Wait a bit;
there’s something I want to talk to you about.”

Egholm sat down on a ragged mattress, and covered his face with his
hands.

If only he had something--some precious gift--to offer Vang. But he had
nothing--not a copper _øre_ in his pocket; not a thing. Not so much as
a bite of bread for himself, still less for Vang. And what about the
others?...

_The fowl!_ The thought of it seemed to flow like something rich and
soft and fat right out to his fingers. He straightened himself up and
looked round--yes, there it was, in the perambulator.

“I was going to ask you to supper, Vang. My wife’s brought a fowl
along, a fine fat bird, almost as big as a drake. But I suppose you’ve
something better for supper yourself?”

He gauged Vang’s hunger by the rumbling of his own empty paunch, and
made every effort to persuade him.

“A fine bird, a delicious bird; the size of a drake as nearly as can
be.”

Egholm was not quite sure whether a duck or a drake would be the
larger, but took the word as it came into his head, to help him in his
need.

Vang could not resist. He smacked his lips, and said:

“I could go down to Father’s place, of course. They can’t refuse me
anything there, after all, though they do keep me waiting and make
things as uncomfortable as they can. If only I could be sure your wife
wouldn’t mind....”

“Not a bit, not a bit,” said Egholm cheerfully, relieved that all was
well again. He had been cruel, by an unfortunate chance, but now he had
wiped that out. Briskly he took up the parcel with the delicious bird,
and even played ball with it as he went towards the dark-room door. The
business in there before sickened him unspeakably.

There was a moment of deadly silence as he opened the door, but hardly
had he taken a step forward when he ran against a shadow that would not
let him pass. Next moment he felt Hedvig’s skinny hands like claws, one
at his chest, the other gripping his throat, as she hissed out:

“You dare to touch Mother again--you dare! Quick, Mother, take Emanuel
and run!”

Egholm was more astonished than angry at first. What was all this?

But--ugh! it hurt! He tried in vain to wrest her hands away; then he
struck at her head. But she ducked down between his arms and butted
him over against the stove.

“Run--run quick! I’ve got him!”

“Let go, you little devil!--oh, help! she’s strangling me!”

“Hedvig, what are you doing?--Hedvig, dearest child! Let go, do; it’s
your father!” Fru Egholm tried to pull her off.

Then Hedvig realised that the day was lost. She loosened her hold, and
let Mother and Father wrest an arm to either side, till she stood as
if crucified up against the wall, her head drooping, and yellow wisps
of hair falling over her flushed face. And she fell to crying, with a
horrible penetrating wail.

Egholm had still by no means recovered from his astonishment. He
coughed, and began rubbing his neck, speculating the while on some
appropriate punishment for the presumptuous girl.

“Well, you’re a nice little beast, you are,” he said. But he could
hardly find more to say. There were not actually words in the language
for criminals of that sex.

“You overgrown hobbledehoy, falling upon your own father, your own
flesh and blood. I never heard of such a thing. If you had your
deserts, you’d be bundled off to gaol this minute, you disgraceful
young scoundrel.”

Suddenly he began tearing down the planks and cardboard from the
window, without a word of explanation, but with emphatic jerks and
crashes that fell in time to his words and gave them added weight.

“You wait--I shan’t--forget, you--squat-nosed--little--guttersnipe.”

But for every tug at the flimsy covering, the light poured in more
violently, like a wonderful grace of God. Both Hedvig and her mother,
despite their indignation, could not help craning their necks to look,
as the corner of a garden, with budding trees, came moving, as it were,
towards them. Even Emanuel opened his eyes wide, and lifted his little
hands towards the light.

Once he had begun, there seemed no end to Egholm’s willingness to
oblige. He cut the string by which the door was fastened, and tore away
the padding from all sides.

“There! _Now_, are you satisfied?” he asked, with great politeness.

But there was something wanting yet to render his wife’s satisfaction
complete. Those bottles.... All along the shelves and dresser were
rows of bottles, in every shape, thickness, and colour. Many of them
were ticketed with complicated chemical names, and some bore the
awe-inspiring death’s-head poison label. Egholm had strung a tangle of
lines from wall to wall, on which his photos hung to dry, exactly as
when Hedvig played dolls’ washing-day.

And the kitchen table was a veritable map of stains.

“They cost something, those did,” said Egholm. “That’s my silver
nitrate.” And he seemed as proud as if he had paved the way for his
wife’s arrival with pieces of eight.

He helped to set the numerous bowls and glass plates aside, and
murmured regretfully:

“Well, well, anyhow, you’ve had your way.”

“Yes, but....”

“I hope you can see now, at any rate. And now, for Heaven’s sake, make
haste and get that fowl done. I’ve asked Vang to supper.”

“But, Egholm! You don’t mean to say....” Fru Egholm almost screamed.

“Beginning again, are you?” he said threateningly. But at sight of her
face, bruised and already colouring from his recent blows, he turned
away.

“We must do something for him. He’s been a help to me from the first
day I came. And he’s got a miserable home.”

“We’ve neither knives nor forks--we haven’t even plates.” Fru Egholm
dared not say too much just now, but hurried to unpack a box, that the
contents might speak for her. There were a few cups without handles,
five or six plates, some of them soup-plates, but no two alike. One
had a pattern of flowers, another birds; a third was ornamented with a
landscape. Two of the knives lacked handles, and nearly all the forks
were one prong short.

“There! I don’t know what you think?”

Egholm was on the point of breaking out again, but suddenly he laughed.

“Oh, an elegant dinner service. Splendid! splendid!” And he danced
about the floor.

“We haven’t a single dish, or a tureen. And his father keeps a real
hotel--we can’t serve it up in the saucepan.”

“Oh yes, you can. Vang and I, we’re not the sort to stand on ceremony.
Wait a minute, though--a dish ... I can let you have a dish.”

He picked up a big white rinsing-dish from among his own equipment,
fished up some plates that were lying in the bottom, and tipped the
liquid into a bottle.

“There you are--real porcelain. Now the set’s complete. But mind you
wash it out well, or you’ll send us all to kingdom come. And, for
Heaven’s sake, make haste. I’ve got to keep talking to him all the
time, and you’ve no idea what a business that is.”

Whereupon Egholm danced out of the doorway, leaving his wife, confused
and helpless, with the dripping poison dish in her hands.



XI


Hedvig sat in front of the stove, crumpling up newspapers and thrusting
them in through the open door, to keep the fire from going out entirely.

“This will never do,” said her mother, wringing her hands. Egholm was
tramping up and down in the next room, stopping every now and then to
open the door and ask if the supper wasn’t nearly ready. His face was
pale--he was always most dangerous when he was hungry.

“Huh! Let them wait,” said Hedvig.

“Run outside, dear, and see if you can’t find some bits of something--a
piece of board or some twigs or anything that’ll burn. I fancy I saw
some stuff under that bush in the corner.”

Hedvig was always happiest when she found a chance of using her legs.
She explored the yard across and across, quartering like a hound in all
directions, and finding not a little in the way of fuel. When she had
filled her apron, there was a knocking at one of the windows. At first
she tried to ignore it, and was hurrying in with her findings, but the
knocking was repeated, and more loudly. She turned angrily and looked
in.

A brown-eyed young workman in the carpenter’s shop stood beckoning to
her, both hands full of beautiful lumps of newly cut wood.

This was a language Hedvig understood; she picked up her heels and ran
to the workshop door.

“You the photographer’s?” he asked, with a bashful grin and a slight
lisp in his voice, as he laid the blocks like an offering in her apron.

“Yes,” said Hedvig. “We haven’t had time to get in any wood as yet.
Mother and I only came to-day. We’re going to have chicken soup for
dinner. There’s visitors.”

“But what are the bones for?” said the man, picking about among the
contents of the apron.

Hedvig flushed, but, ready witted as ever, answered, laughing:

“Oh. Perhaps you don’t do that here. In Odense we always use bones for
the fire when we can get them. They burn almost better than wood.”

“What’s your name?”

“Hedvig Egholm. And what’s yours? You’re the carpenter’s son, I
suppose?”

“No, I’m only working here, that’s all. My room’s just at that
end--like to come and see it?”

“No, thanks. I must make haste in.”

“Well, then, come this evening, or to-morrow. Will you?” he asked
eagerly, routing about in all the corners for more wood.

But Hedvig only laughed, and shook her heavy yellow plaits. She came
back to her mother with a load that reached to her chin. There was no
need to use the bones, after all--they burnt well enough, it is true,
but stank abominably in the burning.

Emanuel was given a row of the neat wooden blocks, set up on the table
before him.

“Look--there’s the puff-puff,” said Hedvig.

The child laughed all over his face, but a moment later he was nibbling
at the engine.

In the next room Egholm was still talking about the manifold
vicissitudes of his life.

He had started as a grocer’s assistant in Helsingør, then in Aalborg;
after that he had been a photographer, in the time of the war, when
the Austrians were there. He had made a fortune, but it had vanished
in an attempt to double it, in Göteborg, Sweden, where there was no
photographer at that time at all. Then on to Copenhagen with but a
few small coins remaining, and, despite this adverse beginning, the
possession of the biggest photographic studio in the town a few months
later.

This was Egholm’s _chef-d’œuvre_; he had told the story of it a
hundred times. And by frequent repetition, it had gained a certain
style, as he omitted more and more of the commonplace. He told of his
bold advertisements--a new departure altogether--his growing staff of
assistants, the eagerness of the public to come first, and the tearful
envy of his competitors. And when, in the flight of his telling,
he reached its highest point, where he really was the greatest
photographer in the place--he stopped. He felt he must remain there
on those heights, above the clouds; he wished his hearers always to
remember him as there and so. The miserable descent he passed over, and
began as a matter of course with his appointment on the railways, as
station assistant, at a wretched rate of pay.

Vang did not seem to miss the intervening chapters; he sat wallowing in
the delicious smell of cooking that came through from the kitchen.

Egholm told of his railway period, how he had rushed about the country,
now at some desolate little station on the Jutland moors, now in big
places like Odense or Frederikshavn. He sighed, and passed over the
conflicts with authority, and his dismissal. No, he would not think of
those things now; not a thought. He turned abruptly to the annals of
the Brethren of St. John. True, there was much that was disappointing
about his relations with that community, but, after all, there had
been something grand in its way about the final meeting. Had he not
stood there alone, and told them the truth, in such a wise that even
the fellow from Copenhagen had polished his glasses and shaken in his
shoes, finding nothing to say in return? Had he not gained the victory?
They had thrown him out--but was not that in itself sufficient evidence
that his words were true, and had pierced them accordingly?

“Yes, and then I heard a shout from someone down by the door; it was
Meilby. You know, the photographer I used to teach English. He was
rather like you, by the way, Vang--the same gentle sort of eyes....”

Augh! Egholm realised suddenly that he had said that once before
to-day. He had got to the end of his repertoire. A sense of shame came
over him, he cleared his throat, and cried in a forced voice:

“Hi, Anna! Vang says he’ll have his money back if the performance
doesn’t begin very soon.”

Vang grunted; that was the sort of thing he understood. But Fru Egholm
shivered in fear.

“Yes, yes, in a minute--five minutes more! Hedvig, for Heaven’s sake,
look and see if it’s nearly done?”

“Yes; it’s peeling now,” reported Hedvig, and her mother left the
horseradish to go and taste the soup. _Herregud!_ it was as weak as
ditchwater. She closed her eyes, and tasted once again, looking very
much like a blinking hen herself. “Ditchwater, simply!”

“Hedvig!” She routed out a pocket-handkerchief, and untied a
twenty-five _øre_ from one corner. “Run out and get a quarter of
butter, there’s a dear.”

“Well, and what then?” she said sullenly to herself. “It’s got to be
used, and I’m not sorry I did it. Egholm always likes his things a
little on the rich side, and now after he’s been so angry....”

It was hard to please him anyway when he was in that mood. Who would
have thought he could have turned so furious just for a little remark
like that?... What was it now she had happened to say?

Her brain was puzzling to remember it as she bustled about the final
preparations. She talked to herself in an undertone, weeping silently
the while.

“Anna, what do you think you’re doing out there?” cried Egholm.

Hedvig answered with a brief, sharp word, which her mother tried to
cover with a “Sh!”

“Yes, dear--yes,” she called.

At the last moment she had hit upon a new and ingenious plan for saving
her housewifely credit. The soup could be served up in the plates
outside, and brought to table thus; the nasty dish thing could be
used for the fowl itself. Fortunately, Vang might not know it was a
developing tank at all.

Hedvig carried Vang’s plate in, walking stiffly as a wooden doll,
and biting her lips till they showed white. But Vang, with a single
friendly tug at her pigtails, made her open her mouth at once.

She laughed, showing her fresh white teeth. That was Hedvig’s way.

Vang gulped down the hot soup with a gurgling noise like a malstrøm.
Egholm looked across nervously and enviously, and when Hedvig came
round behind his chair, he reached out backwards greedily, but was
sadly disappointed. No second helping--only the big geranium that
Hedvig had brought in to set in the middle of the table. This was her
mother’s last brilliant effort; no one could see now that the plates
were not alike. She had even fastened paper round the pot, as if it
were a birthday tribute.

They ate in silence, but when the dish was empty, and each
was wrenching at his skinny, fleshless wing, Vang let off his
long-restrained witticism:

“Egholm, what do you say? Can a chicken swim?”

“Swim? A chicken? Why, I suppose so--no, that is, I don’t think so.”

“Well, shall we try if we can teach it?”

“I--I don’t quite follow.... And, anyhow there’s only the ghost of it
left now, ha ha!”

“Well, there’s time yet, for it’s fluttering about just now in this
little round pond just here!” Vang rose heavily, as if from repletion,
snorting with delight at the success of his little joke, and drew a
circle with one finger over the front of his well-expanded waistcoat.
“All we want’s a drop of something for it to practise in!”

Hedvig was dispatched to buy _akvavit_ with the few coins Vang found
in his pockets; he gave her the most precise instructions as to which
particular brand it was to be.

Egholm never drank with his meals as a rule, but that evening he took
three glasses of the spirit, though it burned his throat like fire.
Vang made no attempt to force him, but simply said “_Skaal!_” and
tossed off his glass.

Egholm, however, had other reasons.

He had fancied he could _eat_ himself into oblivion, and was trying
now--with just as little effect--to drink his trouble away. But it only
grew the worse.

It was Anna’s eyes that would keep rising up before him.

Anna’s grey-green eyes, with their frightened look, in a setting of
swollen, blue, and bloodshot flesh, that hung in pouches down on either
side of her nose.

It was not that he felt remorse for what he had done; that did not cost
him a thought. But the effects of it--those _eyes_--haunted him now,
following him everywhere he turned, relentlessly, cruelly. He writhed,
and sighed, overflowing with self-pity for his troubles.

Eating did not help him, drinking was equally futile; there was but one
thing to do, then--to start talking again, before it grew worse. It was
nothing to what it might be yet. And Egholm launched out into a sea of
talk, diving into it, swimming out into it, hoping to leave the thing
that followed him outdistanced on the shore.

“And the money I made in Aalborg when the Austrians were there--you’ve
no idea. My studio was simply besieged by all those black-bearded
soldiers with their strings and stripes--and they’d no lack of cash,
I can tell you. But then while they were sitting about waiting, there
would come some slip of a lieutenant and turn the whole lot of them
out to make way for him. And one dirty thief I remember that wouldn’t
pay--between you and me, the photos were not much good, and that’s
the truth. Showed him with three or four heads, you understand. But
the General simply told him to pay up sharp, if he didn’t want his
brains blown out. And that settled it. The General, of course, was a
particular friend of mine. I’ll tell you while I think of it. It was
this way. He wanted his photo taken, of course, like all the rest of
them, but he must have it done up at the castle itself, in the great
hall, and that was as dark as a cellar. I managed to get him out on
the steps at last, though he cursed and swore all the time, and hacked
about on the stone paving with his spurs. All the others got out of the
way--sloped off like shadows--and there was I all alone with him, in a
ghastly fright, and making a fearful mess of things with the camera.
The interpreter had vanished, too. Then, just as I was ready, at the
critical moment, you understand, I rapped out in German, ‘Now! Look
pleasant, please!’ All photographers used to do that, you know, in
those days. I said it without thinking.

“You should have seen him. First he swore like the very devil; you
could almost see the blue flames dancing round him. But then he burst
out laughing.

“He wanted me to go back to Austria with him. Tried all he knew to get
me to go.”

Egholm sighed, and gazed vacantly before him, trying if the vision that
haunted him were gone.

... Eyes, eyes. Eyes full of terror, set in patches of bruised flesh,
and a drop of congealed blood just at the side of the nose....

He sprang violently to his feet, and started talking about Göteborg.
The canals, where the women did their washing, the park, Trädgården,
and Masthugget, where he had been out one Sunday. He talked Swedish,
and gave a long account of a funeral--Anna had lost one child in
Göteborg--the first.

Meanwhile, Vang was quietly getting to the bottom of the bottle, and
when at last Egholm, weary of his desperate fluttering on empty words,
flung himself down, Vang felt that it was _his_ turn to speak.

“Ahem!--seeing no other gentleman has risen Henrik Vang now begs to
propose: ‘The Ladies.’ My friend, my old and faithful friend, wake up
and listen to my words. You have honoured me. You have invited me to
share your board. The supper was good--rather tough, that fowl, but,
after all, that’s neither here nor there. In a word, you have done me
a great honour, and I propose then to honour you in return. My friend,
my old and faithful friend, you are a _man_. You can assert yourself,
and get your own way. But Henrik Vang, he can’t. And I ask you now: How
shall we gain the mastery over woman? There! That, my friend, is the
problem--the problem of the future.”

“But is it true that she knocks you about?” asked Egholm, grasping
eagerly at anything to turn the current of his own thoughts.

“Sh! Wait. Let me. I’ll tell you the whole story, from the time when
she was parlourmaid at the house. I was only a boy, really--it was
just after Mother had died. No--I won’t begin there, though. Nothing
happened, really, till four or five years after, when I came home after
I’d been out in the world a bit. Therese had got to be housekeeper,
then. And Father, he said I was to leave her alone. Well, that of
course put me on to her at once. There were enough of them about I
could have got if I’d cared--what do you think? Ah, you don’t know
the sort of man Henrik Vang was to look at in those days! But she was
nearest to hand, of course. Ever so near.... Oh! And handsome, that she
was. In two layers, as you might say, one outside the other. Father,
he was after us whenever he got a chance. He offered me his gold watch
to leave her alone, but I wasn’t such a fool. I’d have that anyway
when he was gone, and I told him so. But then one day comes Therese and
shows me where he’d been pinching her--arms black and blue. Well, I
wasn’t going to stand that, you know, so we got a special licence, and
went off and got married in Fredericia. Father, he didn’t know about
it, of course, and when he sees us coming up the steps arm in arm, he
says: ‘Henrik, do you know I’ve kept that girl ever since your mother
died?’ ‘That’s as may be,’ says I. ‘Anyhow, she’s mine now.’ And then
I up and showed him our wedding ring--cost me ten _kroner_, it did.
Then says he: ‘Out you get--out of my house. A thousand _kroner_ a
year, that’s all you’ll get. The hotel here I’ll keep, as long as I’ve
strength to lift a glass!’”

The tears flowed down over Vang’s puffy purple cheeks. Egholm sniffed
once or twice in sympathy, and forgot his own troubles for a moment.

Vang licked a last drop from the neck of the bottle, and went on:

“Well, you see, Therese had never expected that--nor had I. But don’t
let’s talk about me. What _was_ I to expect? Drunken fool, that’s all.
Perhaps it was that made her turn religious. I don’t know. I never can
think things out. It tires me. Well, she said to me: ‘Look here, you
get me a place at the Postmaster’s or the Stationmaster’s, or one of
those you’re always drinking with.’ Well, they simply laughed at me.
But the religious lot, they didn’t mind. Only the worst of it was, from
the time she set her thoughts on heaven, it’s been simply hell for me!
Now, how d’you explain that?”

Egholm saw him off, going out to the gate with him, and at the same
moment Hedvig opened the kitchen door. Yes, the dish was empty. A good
thing they had helped themselves before it went in.

They lit the lamp, and began making things ready for the night. There
was a jumble of things in every corner. Empty bottles by the dozen,
and in one place she found a parcel, carefully wrapped in newspaper,
containing the skins and skeleton remains of smoked herrings. Father,
no doubt, thought that was the easiest way of clearing up after him.

“We’ll sleep in the little room, of course,” said Hedvig firmly to her
mother.

“Ye--es,” said her mother quietly. But as Hedvig began dragging the
bedding across, she put on her sternest face, and said:

“Never you mind where your mother’s to sleep or not to sleep. You know
your Bible, don’t you, enough to remember about man and wife being one?”

“Ho!”

“But I’ll be there under the window. Yes, that’s best.”

“I know what I’d have done if I’d been you,” said Hedvig firmly. “I
wouldn’t have washed that dish.”

“The one with the poison! Heavens, child--why, they might have been
ever so ill!”

“_They might have died!_” Hedvig’s eyes were almost white to look at as
she spoke.

At the same moment Egholm came in again, and now nothing was heard but
the rattle of the iron bedsteads and flapping of sheets and bedclothes
patted down. They shared for better or worse. Hedvig was given one iron
bedstead in the little room to herself, but had to be content with a
woollen blanket and her father’s old railway cloak for covering. Fru
Egholm had to spread her mattress on the floor till they could get the
settee screwed together; then she had a real down coverlet over.

Egholm began undressing without a word. His wife turned down the
lamp--there were no curtains to the windows. They heard him drop his
waistcoat over by the coal-scuttle, and his trousers by the door; then
he threw himself on his bed, breathing heavily.

Fru Egholm stole into the little room, where Emanuel’s cradle was set
against Hedvig’s bed, lest the master of the house should be disturbed.

Sleeping soundly, the little angel.

“Hedvig dear, you’ve kept your stockings on, haven’t you?”

“Oh, I’m warm enough--just feel here.” She found her mother’s hand and
drew it down over some thick woollen stuff, that felt strange to the
fingers.

“What--what is it?”

“Look and see!”

Fru Egholm closed the door and struck a match. There lay Hedvig,
covered over with a curious black rug with a silver fringe round the
edges and a cross in the centre.

For a moment she was dazed, then, calling up some distant memory, she
exclaimed in horror:

“Heavens, child! Why, it’s the pall they use for the hearse! Wherever
did you get it?”

“It was hanging on the stairs outside,” said Hedvig, with a grin.

“But you mustn’t. However could you, Hedvig! That you could ever
dare.... Come! We must put it back at once.”

Hedvig made as if to obey, and drew the thing down, but the moment
her legs were free, she turned a back-somersault and commenced a
wild topsy-turvy dance in the air, waving her feet about like a
catherine-wheel. Then suddenly she disappeared again under the pall,
showing not so much as the tip of her nose.

The match went out. Fru Egholm shook her head anxiously, with a faint
smile, and stole out of the room. Hedvig--what a child!

All was quiet in the parlour now. Egholm was apparently asleep. Pray
God he might wake in a better mood!

Anyhow, they had got that fellow Vang out of the house at last--and if
she could manage it, he should not be in a hurry to come again. He’d a
bad influence. The way he spoke about his wife--Egholm would never have
talked like that himself! A nice sort of fellow, indeed--and his father
owned a hotel!

Her breast heaved as she undressed and laid her things neatly on
a chair, as her father had taught her when a child. She listened
breathlessly--was Egholm asleep?

Should she?... He didn’t deserve it--but why think of that now?

Softly she dragged the mattress from under the window, a little way
over the floor, stopped, listened, and dragged it a little farther.
Then she started at a sound, and felt ashamed, as if she had been a
thief trying to steal her own bed.

Little by little she edged her way along, and finally crept under the
clothes with a sigh of resignation.

When he awoke, he should find her humble couch on the floor beside his
bed.



XII


But Egholm was not asleep; only lying quite still, with wide-open eyes.

His trouble was that going to bed only made him wakeful, however sleepy
he might have been while undressing. It generally took him a couple
of hours to get to sleep, and during that time his eyes seemed to
acquire a power of inward vision. The experiences of the day lifted
their coffin lid and swarmed out from his brain-cells as terrifying
apparitions in the dark.

True, it might happen at times, as now to-day, that they also appeared
in the daytime, but then he could ward them off as long as he kept on
talking and talking incessantly.

But at night! They laughed at him in horrid wise, lifted the wrappings
from their skulls, and blinked at him with empty eye-sockets. He was
_theirs_.

Nevertheless, he had developed a certain method in his madness; they
could not take him by surprise now, as they had done at first.

To-day, he had struck Anna three times in the face--no light blows
either, for he could feel his knuckles slightly tender still--well and
good, then to-night the result would be that he found Anna exchanged
for Clara Steen, the child with the deep eyes, the splendid Clara of
youth, the beloved little maiden in the gold frame.

In a gold frame--yes, an oval gold frame.

Here again was one of those ridiculous things that could, given the
opportunity and a suitable mood, make a man laugh himself crooked.

Egholm turned over on the other side, and set himself to think through
the whole affair from the beginning, how it had started when he had
first gone as a boy to work in Konsul Steen’s business in Helsingør.

The memory here was sweet as a breath from gardens of lilac, and was
intended solely to form a nice, crude background of contrast to that
which was to come. Yes, Egholm knew the system of these things.

He saw himself as a slender, brown-eyed, curly-haired lad running
about upstairs and down in the big store, hauling at casks and pulling
out drawers, followed everywhere by the sharp eyes of Jespersen, the
assistant.

Now down into the cellar for rum, now to the warehouse for dried fish,
then up to the huge loft for tobacco. Up there was the place he liked
best; not only were the finest goods kept there, breathing essences of
the whole world towards him from cases of spice, but he loved the view
from the slip-door, out over the Sound and the fortress of Kronborg,
and the red roofs of the town.

From north and south came ships with proudly upright masts and rigging,
heaving to while the Customs officers went on board. And each of them
utilised the opportunity to lay in provisions. Kasper Egholm was rowed
out to them with heavy boat-loads of wares, and was soon at home on
vessels of all nations--Dutch, English, French, and Russian. He even
began to feel himself familiar with the languages.

It was from here he had first caught sight of Clara, Konsul Steen’s
daughter.

Possibly it was as much for her sake as for anything else that he loved
to throw open the slip-door, or climb up to a window in the roof.

One little episode he remembered as distinctly as if it had happened
yesterday.

He had been set to counting Swedish nails, a hundred to each packet,
but, seeing his chance, used the scales instead. It was ever so much
easier to weigh them out, than with all that everlasting counting;
also, he could finish in no time, and be free to loiter by the window
and dream.

The wind blows freshly about his ears, he looks over toward the
grey-green slopes of the Swedish coast, and feels himself as free as if
his glance could carry him over the Sound, high over the roofs, and
green trees, and the top-masts of the ships.

Suddenly he cranes his neck forward, and a flood of warmth surges from
his heart to his cheeks, swelling the veins of his neck; _there_, on
the gravel path just below, in his master’s garden, walks Clara.

White stockings and little low shoes; her footsteps shoot forward like
the narrow-leaved bine of some swiftly growing plant, and she hums in
time to her walk. Kasper is so fascinated that involuntarily he hums as
well, but wakes with a start of fright at hearing his own rough voice.
He fancies he can see the delicate skin of her neck gleaming through
the lace edge of her dress, the blue pulse in her temples, and the play
of the sunlight in her dark-brown hair.

She walks round the lawn, and turns into a patch that would take her
along under the wall, where Kasper cannot follow. He realises this, and
works his way right out on to the roof, with only his legs dangling
down inside.

“Clara, dear little Jomfru Clara,” whispers his mouth, “do not go away!”

At the same moment his legs are gripped by powerful claws, and he is
hauled down with such force and suddenness that he has not time even to
put out his hands. Down he comes anyhow on the floor, and lies there,
bruised and shaken, looking up into Jespersen’s green eyes.

“Ho! So you loaf about looking out of the window when you ought to be
counting nails!”

And now it was discovered that he had used the scales. Jespersen found
one packet with ninety-eight nails and another with a hundred and one
instead of a hundred, and ran off to tell his master. Next day Kasper
was sent for from the inner office.

The thought of this is a culmination of delight for Egholm in his
sleepless state, but at the same time, he notes, in parenthesis, as it
were, that he is now on the brink of the abyss he _knows_ will shortly
swallow him up.

The stately man with the dark, full beard talks to him of doing one’s
duty to the utmost, not merely as far as may be seen. And during the
speech Kasper discovers on the leather-covered wall a picture in a
gilded oval frame--a painting of Clara.

To him it seems even more lovely, even more living, than the girl
herself; his eyes are simply held spellbound to the beautiful vision.

Konsul Steen glances absently in the same direction, and then, with a
very eloquent gesture, places himself between Kasper and his daughter.

“Have you already forgotten your duties in life, which your parents,
honest people, I have no doubt, taught you? What did you say your
father was?”

“I’m a foundling,” says the boy, with dignity, enjoying his master’s
embarrassment.

Afterwards, standing out in the passage, he remembers only that one
question and answer. But, most of all, Clara’s portrait is burned deep
into his brain. Many a time he steals a peep at it through the keyhole.
Even in the golden days when Clara’s living self would place her hand
in his and follow him adventuring through the gloomy cellars, or over
mountains of sacks to the topmost opening of the loft, telling him her
troubles and her joys, and listening to all _his_ confessions, with
her firm, commanding, and yet so innocent eyes fixed on his--even then
the painting did not lose its halo. And throughout the many years of
struggle, it lived on in his joy and his anguish, mostly in anguish, it
is true, for there was certainly nothing merely amusing when it rose
up like life before his mental vision, in all its smiling, merciless
beauty, rendering his agony tenfold worse. Egholm had spoken to several
people about that same thing, among them the doctor at the hospital
where he had once been a patient for some time. The doctor knew that
sort of thing very well; it was what was called an _obsession_. Well
and good--but was that any explanation, after all? No; it was rather
something mysterious, something of the nature of magic, that had come
into his life from the time he married Anna.

Anna--yes....

He writhed and twisted in his bed, as if he were on a spit. His heart
pumped audibly and irregularly.

To begin with, she had opened the door, letting out all the warmth, and
made him nervous with all the things she strewed about the floor.

Then there had been that trouble about the dark-room, which had driven
him out of his senses with its insistence.

Why couldn’t she understand that it was not her his blows were aimed
at, but at Fate?

What was a photographer without a dark-room?

No--she could not understand. Not an atom. She could only stand there
and say “But, Egholm....” and plague him about her kitchen.

Egholm half raised himself in bed, utterly in the power of his
nightmare thoughts, and struck wildly at the air with his clenched fist.

The vision--yes, there it was!

“_Herregud!_--can’t a man be left to sleep in peace?” he murmured
offendedly, yet with a sort of humility at the same time. “I’m so
tired....”

But as in the gleam of lightning he saw again and again Jomfru Clara,
and at last she stood there clearly, steadfastly, with her great deep
and mischievous eyes radiantly upon him.

He groaned and shuddered, flinging himself desperately about as he lay,
for he knew what was coming now.

Hastily, mechanically, he ran through the scene once more. There stood
Anna, and there he himself....

“But, Egholm....”

“You are the serpent....”

His fist shot out into the dark, and struck, this time, not Anna, but
the pale, bright girl who seemed to glide into her place.

“Oh--oh!” He writhed and groaned again, drawing in his breath between
closed lips, as one who has suddenly cut a deep wound in his hand.

“Aren’t you well, dear?” It was Anna’s voice, close at hand.

He lay stiff and still, hardly breathing now. The interruption had
driven the horrors away.

Ridiculous--but so it was with him. He remembered, for instance, having
been haunted by a snake--one he had seen preserved in spirits at some
railway station office or other ... yes. That had stopped, after a
while, of itself. But it was worse with Clara’s picture. In a way, it
was more beautiful, of course--oh, so beautiful....

He yawned audibly.

But he thought many other things out yet: of his business and his money
affairs; of Vang and Vang’s domestic life; of an invention he wanted to
get on with--a thing of almost world-revolutionary importance, a steam
turbine, that could go forward or back like lightning. It would make
him a rich man--a wealthy man....

A little later he dropped off to sleep, lying on his back, and
breathing still in little unsteady gasps.

Fru Egholm’s straw mattress creaked as she rose quietly, and with a
gentle touch here and there tucked his bedclothes close about him.

In the next room Hedvig was talking in her sleep--something about
cakes....

“_Herregud!_” murmured her mother--“dreaming of cakes means illness. I
hope it doesn’t mean Emanuel’s going to get the chickenpox.”

With a sigh she fell off to sleep.

The clock struck two.



XIII


Madam Hermansen came into every house in Knarreby, without
exception--whence follows, that she came to Egholm’s.

How she managed to effect an entry there, where shutters and bolts were
carefully set to hide the shame of poverty, is not stated.

Presumably, she came of herself, like most diseases--and she came again
and again, like a series of bad relapses. She literally clung to the
Egholms, and almost neglected her other visits therefor.

They were somehow more remarkable than others, she thought. They had a
past.

Madam Hermansen herself was tolerated--almost, one might say, esteemed.
At any rate, no attempt was ever made to find a cure for her. Egholm
enjoyed the abundant laughter with which she greeted even the most
diluted sample of his wit, and Fru Egholm needed someone to _confide
in_.

It was all very well for _him_. In his all too extensive leisure, he
made excursions through the town, spending hours in talk with fishermen
down at the harbour, or going off for solitary walks along the shore
or in the woods. _She_, on the other hand, could only trip about in
the two small rooms, with never a sight of the sun beyond the narrow
strip that drew like the hand of a clock across the kitchen floor from
four till half-past seven in the morning. And no one to talk to but her
husband and the children. Little wonder, then, that the flow of speech
so long held back poured forth in flood when Madam Hermansen began
deftly working at the sluices.

The talk itself was but a detail, that cropped up before one knew,
thought Fru Egholm at times; but if she had not had someone to look at
her needlework, why, in the long run, it would mean sinking down to the
level of a man.

True, Madam Hermansen was no connoisseur of art, but a dollymop who
never achieved more than the knitting of stockings herself. On the
other hand, she was ready to prostrate herself in admiration of even
the most trivial piece of embroidery or crochet-work. There was
something in that....

“Why, it almost turns my head only to look at it,” she declared,
fingering the coverlet for the chest of drawers. It was one afternoon
in May, and the two women were alone in the house with little Emanuel.

“Oh, you could learn it yourself in five minutes.” Fru Egholm flushed
with pride, and her hands flew over the work. “No, but you should see a
thing I made just before we left Odense. Fancy crochet.”

“Heaven preserve us! Me! Never to my dying day! It’s more than I’m
ever likely to learn, I’m sure. What was it you called it?”

“Fancy crochet. And then I lost it--it was a cruel shame, really. And
such a lovely pattern.”

“Stolen?” cried Fru Hermansen, slapping her thighs.

“No. I gave it away to a woman that came up to congratulate when
Emanuel was born. She praised it up, and I saw what she meant, of
course. But here’s another thing you must see.”

She rose, and took out a pin-cushion from a drawer.

“There’s nothing special about that, of course....”

But Madam Hermansen declared she had never seen anything like it. The
pale pink silk showing all glossy through under the crochet cover was
simply luxurious.

“Ah yes! That’s the sort of things a body would like to have about the
house,” she said, turning it over in her chapped and knotty hands. “And
what do you use a thing like that for, now?”

“Oh, fine ladies use it for brooches and things. But it’s mostly meant
for a young girl, you know, to have on a chest of drawers, this way....”

“Yes, yes, that’s much the best. Why, it would be a sin and a shame to
stick pins in a thing like that.”

“Look here,” said Fru Egholm, flushing, “you keep it. Yes, do; it’s
yours. No, no; do as I say--and we’ll speak no more about it.”

Madam Hermansen made a great fuss of protest, but allowed herself to be
persuaded, and thrust it under her shawl. She held it as if it had been
a live lobster.

And Fru Egholm brought out other things. There was a newspaper holder
worked with poppies, and a cushion embroidered on canvas.

“There’s little pleasure in having them,” she sighed. “Egholm, he
doesn’t value it more than the dirt under his feet.”

“Ah! It’s just the same with Hermansen, now. One Sunday afternoon I
came home and found him, as true as I’m here, sitting on the curtains,
smoking, as careless as could be. But your husband--I thought he was a
model.”

“Egholm doesn’t smoke. If he did, he’d be just the same. But I can
tell you a thing--just to show what he thinks about my work. Ah, Madam
Hermansen, take my word for it, there’s many a slight a woman has to
put up with that hurts more than all your blows.”

“And he’s been on the railway, too....”

“It doesn’t change human nature, after all. It was these here things
from the auction at Gammelhauge, the mirror and the chest of drawers,
and the big chair over by the window, and that very one you’re sitting
in now. Now, tell me honestly, would you call them nice to look at?”

Madam Hermansen shifted a little under in her big green shawl.

“They’re a trifle old fashioned to my mind.” And she sniffed
disdainfully.

“Old fashioned and worm eaten and heavy and clumsy--you needn’t be
afraid to say it. Why, it’s almost two men’s work to lift a chair
like that. And as for the glass--why, it makes you look like a
chimney-sweep. The chest of drawers is not so bad; it does hold a good
deal. Wools and odds and ends.... But, all the same....”

“My daughter she had one with nickel handles to pull out,” said Madam
Hermansen, poking at it. “And walnut’s the nicest you can have, so the
joiner man said.”

“Yes, that’s what I say. But what do you think Egholm said? ‘Rare
specimens,’ he said--‘solid mahogany!’ Ugh! Well, do you know what I
did? I set to work then and there and made up something to cover the
worst of it. Those butterflies for the rocking-chair, and the cloth
with the stars on for the chest of drawers, and paper roses to put in
by the mirror. It took me the whole of a night, but I wouldn’t have
grudged it, if I’d only got a thimbleful of thanks for my pains. And
now, just listen, and I’ll tell you the thanks I got. One day the
Sanitary Inspector came round to have a look at the sink. He’d brought
a whole crowd with him--it was a commission or something, with the
mayor and the doctor and the vet, and so on. Then one of them gets it
into his head he’d like to have a look round the place. Egholm, of
course, waves his hand and says, ‘With pleasure.’ And never a thought
in his head of anything the matter.”

Madam Hermansen nodded sympathetically.

“Well, they came in through the kitchen and stood there poking about at
the sink for a bit, and while they’re at it, Egholm comes in here. And
then--what do you say to this?--he rushes round the room and pulls it
all off. As true as I’m here; the butterflies and the paper flowers,
and the toilet cover and all. Threw the flowers under the table,
and stuffed the rest in under his coat. Now, if that isn’t simply
disgraceful....”

“And what did you _say_ to him?” Madam Hermansen shook herself, giving
out a perfume of leeks and celery from under her shawl.

“Not a word. I had to keep it all back, and bow and scrape to the
gentlemen, with my heart like to bursting all the time. ‘We must take
all that stuff out of the way when anyone comes,’ he says after. Oh,
he’s that full of his fashionable notions, there’s no room for human
feeling in his breast. And if there is one thing I can’t abide, it is
that fashionable nonsense.”

“Well, now, I don’t know that it’s altogether put on, you know, with
him, seeing he’s a man of good family, as you might say.”

“Good family--h’m. As to that....” Fru Egholm raised her eyebrows.

“Well, well, I don’t know, of course,” said Madam Hermansen, shifting
heavily a little forward. “I thought he was a parson’s son, and his
parents were dead?”

“No, indeed he’s not. Nothing of the kind.”

“He’s not a circus child, is he?--there’s some say he is.”

“It wouldn’t be so surprising, with all his antics generally. But the
real truth is, he’s a foundling--that is to say, illegitimate.” Fru
Egholm uttered the last word with a certain coldness, but a moment
after sighed compassionately.

“You don’t say so! Well, now, I never did....” Madam Hermansen sat
rocking backwards and forwards in ecstasy, and as she realised what
a grand piece of news she had got hold of, a silent laughter began
bubbling up from her heart.

Fru Egholm looked at her in some surprise, and, uncertain how to take
her, bent over the cradle and busied herself with the child.

“Why, then, Madam Danielsen was right, after all,” said Madam
Hermansen. “But who was his mother, then?”

“Well, to tell the truth, she was a fine lady, and married a professor
after--and that’s a strange thing, seeing what a plenty of honest girls
there are about. She must have been a baggage, though, all the same,
to get into trouble like that.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Madam Hermansen, patting the hairpins that jostled
each other in a knot of hair about the size of a walnut. “And his
father?”

“Oh, a scatter-brained fellow. Government official, they called him,
but he was a painter--an artist, you know--besides, and I daresay it
was that was his undoing in the end, when he led the girl astray.”

“But I thought the doctors at the Foundling Hospital were under oath
not to tell who the parents were?”

“That’s true enough. But d’you think Egholm would be put off like that?
No, he set to work--that is, when he was grown up--and advertised in
_Berlingske Tidende_, putting it all in, so-and-so, as if he didn’t
know what shame was. And then his sister--half-sister, that is, of
course--wrote and came along of her own accord. Nice enough in her way,
she was, too, but you could see she was one of the same sort....”

Fru Egholm made a grimace involving numerous wrinkles of the nose.
Madam Hermansen nodded as one who understood.

“Yes ... she gave herself out for an artist, like her father had
been--and she was the image of him to look at, too.”

“But I thought....”

“Well, that of course, in a way. For they said she used to go sitting
in a public place and painting pictures with a man stark naked as a
model.”

“Heaven preserve us!” gasped Madam Hermansen. “In all my born days....
Well, she must have been a nice one.”

“She and Egholm simply slobbered over each other with their affected
ways. She called him her dear lost brother, and how glad she was to
find him again--and all that sort of thing. I simply said there was no
need to carry on too much about it that I could see, for if they had
grown up together, like as not they’d have been tearing each other’s
eyes out. He was a terrible child, I believe--used to pour sand over
the cake-man’s basket outside Rundetaarn, and let off fireworks in the
street and so on.”

“And his father wouldn’t acknowledge him, then?”

“No. That is to say, his father made haste and died when the boy was
only four or five about, but he’d had the grace to set aside a little
money beforehand, so Egholm could have the most expensive schooling
there ever was. And it’s left its pretty mark on him, as you can hear
when he speaks.”

“Well, in the way of politeness, as you might say, he certainly is,”
said Fru Hermansen warmly.

“Puh! When there’s anyone about, yes,” said Fru Egholm. She was not in
the humour for praising her husband just now. “But what’s he like at
home? Ah--that’s where you get to know people’s hearts!”

And before she knew it, she had lifted the roof off their entire abode,
making plain to her visitor that which had formerly been shrouded in
darkness.

It was not a little.

Madam Hermansen was simply speechless when Fru Egholm showed her, with
tears, the scars under her eyes and the little spot by the temple where
the hair was gone.

“I can’t understand you staying another day,” she said, when the
sufferer stuck fast in a sob.

“Oh, you mustn’t talk like that. When you’ve vowed before the altar....”

“Did _he_ vow before the altar to knock you about like that, eh? Did he
say anything about that?”

“No--o.” Fru Egholm laughed through her tears, anxious to bring her
visitor to a gentler frame of mind. “No, and it would be no more than
his deserts if I said I wouldn’t live with him any more. But I can’t
help it; it’s not in my nature to do it. And, after all, it’s his
business how he treats his wife, isn’t it? What’s it to do with me? I
couldn’t think of living anywhere but where he is. Love’s not a thing
you can pull up by the roots all of a sudden.

    “‘When first the flame of love warms human heart, they little know
    What harm they do beyond repair who make it cease to glow!’”

“Hymns!” said Madam Hermansen scornfully.

“Ah, but it’s just hymns and such that lift us up nearer to God.”

“Oh, God’s all right, of course, but it doesn’t do in this world to
leave too much to God.”

“It’s all we poor sinful mortals have. Where do you suppose I should
ever find comfort and solace if I hadn’t God to turn to? Why, He’s
almighty. He’s even done things with Egholm at times. When I think
of it, I feel ashamed of myself that I ever can sit and complain.
Now, just by way of example.... It was the day we came over here from
Odense, me and the children. I’d no sooner got out of the train than
he puts his arms round me and kisses me right on the cheek. And what’s
the most marvellous thing about it all--I can’t understand it to this
day--he did it right in front of three or four girls standing staring
at us all the time. Ah, Madam Hermansen, take my word for it, a little
thing like that gives you strength to live on for a long time after.
And then Egholm’s been good to me in other ways. He knows--Lord forgive
me that I should say it--that I’m more of a God-fearing sort than he
is himself. And--I don’t know how to put it--that my God’s--well, more
genuine, as you might say, than his. I’ll tell you how I found that
out, Madam Hermansen. You know it was said the end of the world was to
come a few years back. It was in all the papers, and Egholm, he took it
all in for gospel truth, because he said it agreed with the signs in
the Revelations, you know....”

“And did it come?”

“Why, of course it didn’t--or we shouldn’t be sitting here now, should
we? But Egholm, he was as sure as could be it was going to happen, on
the thirteenth of November, and when it was only the eighth, he came
and told me to make up a bed for one of us on the floor. We’d always
been used to sleep together in one bed.”

“But what did he want to change for?” asked Madam Hermansen, with
increasing interest.

“Why,” explained Fru Egholm eagerly, “you see--he confessed himself
why it was; he was wonderfully gentle those days. He wouldn’t have us
sleeping together--not because of anything indecent or that sort, but
because it says in the Bible that on the Day of Judgment there may be
two people sleeping in the same bed, ‘and the one shall be taken and
the other left.’”

“So, you see. Madam Hermansen, I soon reckoned out what he thought, how
I might get to heaven after all.”

“And he’s never been in love with anybody--_outside_, I mean?”

“There’s one he’s in love with,” laughed Fru Egholm--“more than
anything else in the world. And that’s--himself! No, thank goodness
he’s never had time for that sort of thing, being too busy with his
steam-engine inventions. Now I think of it, though, there was a girl
once, when he was quite young, over in Helsingør. Clara Steen was her
name. You’ll have heard of Consul Steen, no doubt; he’s ever so rich.
His daughter, it was. And she ran after him to such a degree.... Why,
he used to write verses to her. Though I don’t count that anything very
much against him, for he’s written poetry to me, too, in the days when
we were engaged.”

She thrust a practised hand into her workbox, and fished up a yellowed
scrap of paper, and read:

    “‘Helsingør by waters bright
    Like a Venice to the sight,
    All the world thy fame doth know.
    Beeches fair around thee grow,
    And the fortress with its crown
    Looks majestically down,...’”

Fru Hermansen relapsed into an envious silence, absently investigating
her nostrils with one finger. Fru Egholm took out some new hair, and
compared the colour with that she was using.

“Think that will do?” she asked ingratiatingly.

“Well, it ought to. It’s a deal prettier than the other.”

“But it oughtn’t to be! You’re supposed to have all the same coloured
hair in one plait.”

“Ugh! I’ve no patience with all their affected ways,” said Fru
Hermansen sullenly. She was disappointed at finding the conversation
turned to something of so little interest by comparison. “What was
I going to say now?” she went on. “Was it just lately he knocked you
about like that?”

“Ye--es, of course. But no worse than before. Not nearly so bad. And
anyhow, if he did, I suppose it was God’s will. Or else, perhaps, he
can’t help it, by reason of always having an unruly mind.”

She checked herself with a sudden start, and her busy hands fell to
patting aimlessly here and there.

“I think it must be toothache,” she said in a loud, drawling, careless
voice, altogether different from her former manner.

“Toothache?...” Madam Hermansen sat with her mouth wide open for a
moment--then she, too, caught the sound of Egholm’s approaching step.
“Yes, yes, of course, it would be toothache, yes, yes....” And she
chuckled with a sound like the rattle of a rake on a watering-can.

“Emanuel, I mean, of course,” said Fru Egholm confusedly, as her
husband walked in. He was carrying a huge paper bag, that looked as if
it might burst at any minute.

He set it down carefully, and joined in the conversation.

“Now, if only Anna would let me,” he said eagerly, “I’d cure that child
in no time.”

“I’ve heard you can do all sorts of wonders, so people say.” Fru
Hermansen leaned back with her hands folded across her lap, and looked
up admiringly at Egholm.

“Why, I know a trifle of the secrets of Nature, that’s all. As for
toothache, there’s no such thing. The youngster there--what’s his name,
now?--Emanuel, is suffering from indigestion, nothing more. Give him a
plate of carrots chopped up fine, mixed with equal parts of sand and
gravel, morning and evening, and he’d be all right in a couple of days.”

“Never as long as I live!” said Fru Egholm.

“Powdered glass is very effective, too,” went on Egholm, encouraged by
Fru Hermansen’s laughter, and putting on a thoughtful expression.

“I’ll not see a child of mine murdered that or any other way,” said the
mother.

“Oh, but you’d see what a difference it would make. I’m quite in
earnest. Haven’t you heard that fowls have to have gravel? I noticed
it myself yesterday with my own eyes, saw them pecking it up. And the
idea came to me at once. I’ve half a mind, really, to set up as a quack
doctor....”

Egholm was interrupted by a sudden splash behind him. The paper bag
he had placed on the chest of drawers, dissolved by the moisture of
something within, had burst; a lump of squashy-looking semi-transparent
stuff had slipped to the floor, and more threatened to follow.

Fru Egholm, sorrowful and indignant, hurried to save her embroidered
slip from further damage.

“Don’t go spoiling my jelly-fish! Better bring a plate, or a dish or
something.”

“What on earth are they for, now?” asked Madam Hermansen.

“That’s a great secret. For the present, at any rate. Well,
I don’t know; I may as well tell you, perhaps. These ... are
jelly-fish--Medusæ.” He tipped the contents out into a washing-basin,
and poked about among the quivering specimens. “Look, here’s a red
one--the sort they call stingers. If you touch one, it stings you like
nettles. The others are harmless--just touch one and try. Smooth and
luscious, like soapsuds, what?”

Madam Hermansen advanced one hand hesitatingly, but drew it back with a
scream.

“Isn’t it?” said Egholm, undismayed. “Well, now, what do you think
they’re for? Shall I tell you? Why, _soap!_ There’s only one thing
lacking to make them into perfect soap--a touch of lime to get a grip
on the dirt--and perhaps a trifle of scent. And, only think, they’re
lying about on the beach in thousands, all to no use. Yes ... I’ll
start a soap factory, that’s what I’ll do.”

“I thought you said you were going to be a doctor,” said Fru Egholm,
with an innocent expression, winking at Madam Hermansen.

“Both. And then we can save on the advertising. ‘Egholm’s United
Surgeries and Soap Factories.’”

“And one as bad as the other.” Anna had to shout aloud to make herself
heard through the tempest of Madam Hermansen’s laughter.

“Say, rather, one as good as the other. Oh, I shall be famous all over
Denmark, all over Europe. We’ll have an advertisement for the doctoring
on all the soap wrappers: speciality--broken legs!”

“If only you don’t break your neck holding your head in the air.”

“Oh, I wasn’t thinking of bones,” said Egholm, delighted with the
effect he was producing. “I was referring to the fracture of _wooden_
legs.”

“Well, now, I wonder if you could set this to rights for me?” said Fru
Hermansen, patting her calf.

“Easily! What’s the matter?”

“Well, I don’t know that it’s proper for me to show you, but never
mind. We’re both married folk. This leg of mine’s been bad for--let me
see--fifteen or sixteen years it is now. And Dr. Hoff, he’s no idea,
the way he’s messed about with it.”

Fru Hermansen turned round, set her foot upon a chair, and busied
herself with underclothing, tying and untying here and there, and
muttering to herself the while.

“There, you have a look at it,” she said at last, with a laugh, and
faced round again.

She had a rag in her mouth, and her face was flushed from bending down.
Her skirts were lifted to her knees.

From the ankle up over the shin, almost to the kneecap, was a long red
sore, yellowish in the centre. It looked horribly like a trail of some
climbing plant.

Egholm put out a hand as if to ward off the sight, and looked away. But
the would-be patient said harshly:

“And you going to be a doctor! If you can’t abide the smell of hot
bread, then it’s no good going for a baker!”

Egholm overcame his reluctance, knelt down, and began examining the
leg, from the greenish-faded stocking that was gathered like an
ankle-ring at the bottom, to the knee, where a garter had cut deep
brownish-red furrows.

“Here’s the mischief,” he said, nodding wisely. “The blood can’t get
past here, and that’s why it can’t heal. You’ll have to stop wearing
garters at once.”

“Easy to hear it’s a man that’s talking,” laughed Fru Egholm.

“And then we must draw fresh blood to the spot. Let me see....”

“I should think you’d have seen enough by this time.”

“Fresh blood....” he murmured. His mind was busy choosing and rejecting
from a hundred different things; nothing seemed to satisfy him quite.
A smile of irony at his own idea curved his lips; it was not such a
simple matter, after all, to get to work with Egholm’s United Soap
Factories and Surgeries, specialising in leg troubles.

Suddenly his face brightened all over.

“Those jelly-fish--what did you do with the dish?”

“But, Egholm? what do you want them for now?”

“You leave that to me. We want something to tickle up the nerves, and
draw the blood to the spot.”

He picked up the “stinger”--in his coat-tails--and held it out. It was
domed like a dish-cover, and ornamented with a fiery double star at the
top; innumerable threads of slimy stuff hung from its lower side.

“Suppose we put that on the sore?”

Madam Hermansen, in her first amazement, had hoisted her canvas beyond
all reasonable limits; now, she let all down with a run.

“None of your games with me, thank you,” she said sharply.

“What?” said Egholm in surprise. “You won’t? I warrant you the leg will
be all in a glow in no time. And then it’s a practically certain cure.”

He waved the thing enticingly before her, exhibiting it from all sides,
and bending it to show the venomous lips. “Why, I wouldn’t mind putting
it on myself.”

But Madam Hermansen’s face was dark and discouraging; she set about
resolutely wrapping her tender spot in all its armour of rags and
bandages.

“And quite right of you, I’m sure, Madam Hermansen,” said Fru Egholm.

“Well, well, we must hit on something else,” said Egholm. “I won’t give
it up. But it must be a natural cure in any case. The sources of Nature
are manifold.”

And by way of restoring good humour all round, he began telling the
story of the furniture from Gammelhauge.

“Isn’t that an elegant chair I’ve got there? Do for a throne; look
at the coronet on the back--it’s almost on my own head now as I sit
here. I’ve just the feel of an old nobleman, a general, or a landed
aristocrat, in this chair. Let’s bring it up in front of the glass.
What’s the use of sitting on a throne with a coronet on your bald pate
when you can’t see yourself?”

“Now I suppose you’ll be putting a new glass in the mirror--another
twenty--thirty--forty--fifty _kroner_ gone, but that’s nothing, of
course,” cried Madam Hermansen.

“Not in the least, my dear lady. In _this glass_ it was that the
splendidly attired knights and ladies surveyed their magnificence
before the feasting commenced.”

It could be seen from Egholm’s movements how a knight and his lady were
wont to prance and preen themselves before a mirror. A little after,
he added in a voice of mystery:

“I have often seen shadows moving by in there, of an evening.”

“Ugh! The nasty thing! I wouldn’t have it in my house for anything,”
said Madam Hermansen, with a shiver.



XIV


Egholm took his washing-basin across to the studio, which had been
fitted up at one end of the carpenter’s store shed. The jelly-fish he
placed for the present as far in under the table as possible.

First of all, he must get some work done. There were Sunday’s negatives
to develop--he could be thinking a bit while he was doing that. Egholm
found the new dark-room an excellent place for thought, free from all
disturbance.

Yes, he would think over that turbine.

That jelly-fish soap business was merely an idea--quite possibly,
indeed probably, a good idea. But the turbine, the _reversible
steam-turbine_, was the child of his heart, born of him, conceived by
him in a length of sleep-forsaken nights. Once brought forth to the
world, it would be greeted with acclamation.

It was imminent, it was hovering in the air, this question of something
to replace the more complicated steam-engine. The English had come very
near to a solution already.

But, for all that, it might perhaps be reserved for himself, for
Egholm the Dane, to show them how to make their turbine reverse.

He could think of more than one thing at a time. As long as he could
cast out sufficient ballast, he could always find a new direction of
the wind to carry his thought. Nearest earth was the current connected
with his work, but even that was no less erratic than those of the
higher strata.

Might as well try the new developer to-day, he thought to himself, and
set out his dishes all ready. Then he went into the studio again, and
began studying the recipes he had scrawled up from time to time on the
plank wall of the dark-room. Already there were so many of them that
the list reached to the floor. He had to go down on his knees to see
if it said 25 gr. or 35 gr. Suddenly he forgot what he was there for,
and remained lying prone, thinking only of his steam-turbine; it seemed
to him the axle bearings ought to be made with a little more stability
yet. The slightest oscillation, of course, would mean an escape of
steam--waste of power. Then, becoming aware of his posture, he wondered
how he had got there, but, finding himself on his knees, he at once, as
a practical man, decided to utilise the opportunity, and started off
on a long and earnest prayer to God for the furtherance of his idea.
It was, indeed, not merely a point of honour with him that it should
succeed, but also, he might as well confess, a hoped-for way out of
his present difficulties.

The photography business had turned out a desperate failure--there was
no denying it.

The only people who came at all were the peasants who came into town
on Sundays. Of these, quite a good number patronised the studio,
but, unfortunately, they did not always come for the photos they had
ordered. They were not impressed by his skill when they found the
studio situate in a woodshed at the back of Andreasen’s, with the
camera perched on a cement barrel instead of a tripod.

The fine folk of the place, in accordance with an established
tradition, always went over to the neighbouring town for their
photographs. It didn’t seem to count, somehow, unless they did.

They were just as superficial in their judgment as the peasants, and
paid more heed to a smart shop than to the artistic execution of the
pictures.

Here Egholm laughed to himself. The photographs he turned out could
hardly be included under the heading of art at all, and he knew it.
But was there anything surprising in that? In the first place, how
could anyone help becoming dulled by so much adversity, and in the
second--oh, well, in the second place, why the devil should _he_ put
himself out for all and sundry, when it was only a question of time
before he threw aside his mask and revealed himself as a world-renowned
inventor?

Smilingly he set to rocking his plates in their bath, and as the work
went on, he bored out, in his mind, the steam channels of his turbine,
and decided on the cogwheel transference.

He held a negative up to the light, and recognised three of his
customers grouped about the little round table. Yes, it was those three
that had taken such particular care to have the labels on their beer
bottles facing neatly front, towards the observer.

Ho, ho! And that was the sort one had to bow and scrape to!

Unfortunately, this business of the turbine was not a matter to be
settled in a moment. Rothe, the ironfounder, had promised to make him
the larger parts, and Krogh, the smith, who had at first answered
gruffly and bent farther over his intricate lock work, had been
completely won over as an adherent. The next thing was to procure a
boat into which the turbine could be built.

Now, where on earth could he get a boat for no money at all? Well,
never mind; imagine the boat was there. Then the upright boiler would
have to be set in _there_, a trifle aft of midships, so that the man
at the helm could stoke as well. As for the screw, that would require
special treatment in these waters, where there was so much weed about.
He would have to go into that.

Egholm’s mind was so keen that he saw every detail. Difficulties were
disposed of as fast as they appeared.

Not till the last of the plates glided into the fixing solution did
he come to himself, and then to find his heart pumping like the
steam-turbine at full speed. It was always like that when he had been
long at work in the dark-room. He threw open the door and went out, but
the light and the fresh air turned him dizzy and blind for the moment;
he staggered to a bench, and had to sit there some time before he
recovered.



XV


Hedvig knew how to make herself respected. She and her father glared at
each other with eyes alert and claws ready, but it was rarely anything
more came of it. She had a place at the baker’s, running errands for
six _kroner_ a month, which was no small sum for a girl still at
school. Anyhow, it was practically half their rent.

Yet she was a strange little creature, not like other children, and her
confidence slipped somehow between her mother’s fingers.

Many a night the keyhole of the door to her little room still showed
a speck of light by the time the clock struck twelve, or even one.
Her mother lay anxiously listening to Egholm’s snore; there was no
saying what terrible thing might happen if he were to wake and find it
out. But Hedvig would listen to reproaches the next morning with an
unfathomable expression on her face, or smile, and shake her head. The
pocket of her dress bulged with a new novel every other day.

“You should tell your mother what it _says_ in those silly books you’re
always reading,” said Fru Egholm admonishingly.

“Oh, you’d never understand a word of it,” was all Hedvig answered.

One day she had stuck up a picture over her bed, showing a man and a
woman, tied together with a rope, flinging themselves into the water
from a bridge. A yellow half-moon shone through the tree-tops and was
reflected in the water. Hedvig stood quietly, apparently indifferent,
as her mother tore it down and told in vehement words how sinful it
was to look at such things. But when her mother moved to hold it over
the lamp, the girl flung herself suddenly in front of her with wild
screams, and would not be brought to her senses until she had the
horrible picture safely put away in her workbox.

Now, who would ever believe that this was the same good little Hedvig
that the baker’s people always said a good word for, and who could
always manage to find a way when it was a case of helping others! Fuel,
for instance--Egholm did not seem to have the instinct of acquiring
fuel. But Hedvig was a little marvel in that way--though, no doubt,
it was largely through the help of Marinus in the workshop, to give
him his due. He always tucked away odd bits under his work-bench for
her. He was a kindly sort, was Marinus. And he seemed particularly
fond of Hedvig, and she of him--that is to say, at times. For it was
towards Marinus that her fickleness of humour showed itself most of
all. Sometimes when she had been in the workshop she would come back
and fall into a fit of miserable weeping; at other times she would rush
in at once the moment he tapped with his rule on the pane, whether
she wanted firewood for the kitchen or no. And as to getting any
explanation out of her--that, of course, was hopeless.

Otherwise, she was particularly good at telling things, and both her
father and her mother were often amused at her way of relating little
things that had passed.

Her father even had a speciality of his own in this respect; he loved
to hear of the money Hedvig took across the counter when she was
minding shop while her mistress was at dinner.

Then it would be Wassermann, the Customs officer, who came in and
bought best part of a tray of mixed pastries--he was such a sweet
tooth. Then perhaps there would be a message from Etatsraadens’ for
sixty butter puffs for to-morrow morning.

“Sixty!” cried her father. “And what do they cost apiece?”

“Three _øre_--but, Lord! that’s nothing to them at all. No, you should
have seen the order that came in the day they had their garden party.
_Five_ cakes with icing and marzipan.”

“Why, the bakers must be making a fortune.”

“They’ve made it already. Mistress bought a new hat the other day.”

“What was on it?” asked her mother. But her father leaned back with
closed eyes, feeling as if his own thirst were assuaged for the moment
by the flow of money Hedvig dipped her fingers in.

He was feverish, and needed something cooling. Here he was in the
throes of his invention, and could not get it out.

Not a step nearer. No boat, nothing. And it was nearly autumn now. The
trees stood there with their round juicy fruits. But, in his mind,
it was all flowers. Was there anyone in all Knarreby so poor as the
Egholms? Unless it were Bisserup, the brushmaker. And yet Egholm had
spared no pains. He had tried Etatsraaden, tried Bro, the grocer,
Rothe, the ironfounder; practically speaking, everyone of means in the
place. He had also, by the way, tried those without means. Altogether,
he had not passed by many an open ear without shouting into it
something about Egholm’s fore-and-aft turbine. Rothe had promised to
make the castings for him, but that was all.

He looked at Hedvig. She stood up, reaching with her thin, girlish arms
for the parcel with her white apron in, up on the dresser. Off to her
work. Off to all that money again.

“Wait a minute,” he said. There was a slight pause then, before he
could stammer out his proposal--that they should all kneel down and
pray to God. He did not know why, but it must be now, just at this
moment, he said.

This was by no means a new and unheard-of thing; on the contrary, it
had been known as far back as Hedvig could remember.

“It’ll keep till this evening, won’t it?” she said. “I shall be late if
I stay behind now.”

“‘Seek first the kingdom of God and righteousness....’”

“Ha!” A single sound, like the scream of a cockerel, escaped from
Hedvig. It was the first time she had openly derided her father’s
godliness. She regretted it bitterly next moment. True, the door out
to the alley-way was open, just at her left, but what was the good of
escaping herself when her mother was left behind to face what would
come? She knew what it was to come home in high spirits from her work,
and find her mother weeping, perhaps bruised into the bargain. She had
no wish to experience that again.

The tears were gathering already; something was choking her.

Egholm set his hands on the arms of his chair, to spring up and dash
out into the kitchen, but his anger seemed to snap in the middle.

In a sudden glimpse of vision he saw Hedvig in a new light. The slip of
a girl, whose naughtinesses he had been at such pains to weed out, was
no longer a slip of a girl and merely naughty--she was a _sinner_.

Every line of her figure, every feature in her face spoke blasphemy.
She stood there with the challenge of an idol.

With a strangely sweet horror her father noted all: her guilty mouth,
half-open, with lips pale and narrow, yet fresh, and teeth white as
almonds, whence issued that hell-born defiance. Her blood must be evil
as smoking brimstone.

Egholm sank back powerless in his chair.

But a moment later a new feeling came over him. How great a thing would
it be to bring this child of sin to God, with bowed head and folded
hands. “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth,
than of the ninety and nine which need no repentance.” So the Scripture
said. Hedvig would be a heavenly subject for conversion.

And there could be no doubt but that God would appreciate the efforts
of the one who had borne the trial of that conversion.

Hedvig stood with her back to him, slightly stooping, as if awaiting
the blow. She started when her father came out and laid his hand on her
shoulder instead.

The conversion process appeared strangely easy; yes, she should always
find something to say to the bakers by way of excuse. She set to work
at once pulling the chairs aside to make room.

Her father looked crestfallen and unsatisfied. He had been prepared for
a struggle--but this was _too_ easy.

Still, he had something in reserve. Little Emanuel, whose
inconsiderable length of days might serve as warrant for his innocence,
was set on a pillow in the middle of the floor.

“Put something under your knees, Hedvig dear,” said her mother.

“No need of that,” said Egholm, thumping his own on the floor with
unnecessary force.

“Oh, great and merciful God....”

“You’ve got your hat on, dear,” said Fru Egholm mildly.

He sent her a wrathful glance, but laid aside his hat with much dignity.

“Almighty God, Lord of Heaven and Earth....”

Egholm’s prayer began as a sonorous commonplace, an echo from the halls
of the Brethren of St. John. But gradually, as his subject grew on him,
his own individual religious view for the time being showed through.

It was to God as the Owner of great possessions that he prayed.

If any had asked him who was the greatest inventor in the world, he
would have confessed, with a pious bend of the head, that it was one
of the least of God’s servants, an unworthy creature by the name of
Egholm. But at the thought that God _owned_ the fields, the woods, and
the cities--the lands and the seas, Egholm, who had never owned more
than the poor clothes he wore and a trifle of old furniture, was moved
to prostrate himself before that mighty power.

It distressed him, however, that God should suffer those possessions
of His to be put to ill use, in that He allowed them to fall into
the wrong hands. It was by no means altogether selfishness that led
him, Egholm, here to point out himself as one who would be a true and
grateful steward of even the largest and most troublesome estate.

“Am I not Thy son, art Thou not my Father, whose will it is that all
should be well with me?”

Hedvig heard but little of her father’s words: her eyes were following
the hands of the clock; it was jerking by tiny stages on towards
twelve. There it stopped, and seemed to linger for a moment, as if
inviting the figure to join it on its way; then on again, irrevocably
on and on. She clenched her teeth in impotent fury. Then suddenly a new
note was touched in her father’s prayer--something which made her all
attention.

He had commenced, quite advisedly, with the practical human tactics of
praising those qualities in the Lord which he himself wished to call
forth towards himself.

“Thy goodness is without end and beyond all measure. So great is Thy
love to us poor children of men, that Thou hearest every prayer we
offer up to Thee, and grantest it. It is written: ‘Ask, and thou shalt
receive!’ So great is Thy loving-kindness unto us, that Thou wouldst
not have us suffer more, and therefore sayest, let there be an end.
Behold, Egholm Thy servant groaneth under the weight of poverty; Thou
seest, and it is enough; Thou sayest the word, and lo, Thy servant
cometh into riches and happiness....”

The words seemed to have a sort of hypnotic power; for a moment,
Hedvig quivered with hope that it might really come to pass. Then she
remembered how often she had heard the same thing; how many times she
had been forced to kneel thus on aching knees in prayer for the same,
but to no avail. From the time she was first able to speak, her tongue
had praised the Lord. Now, it revolted her; something within her seemed
to rise in protest; she felt that she _hated_ God.

Never for a moment did she doubt His existence; on the contrary, she
seemed to see His face. But it was a face hard and cold as stone, with
eyes looking absently out. The ardent prayers of men were powerless to
affect Him.

She began mumbling an oath every time her father found a new form for
his praise.

It was otherwise with Egholm himself. He felt stronger and stronger as
he went on; and at sight of Hedvig’s lips moving, he burst into tears,
and found courage to speak out without reserve.

For it was a curious fact that more courage was needed to ask for
little things. It was a simple matter enough to pray for wealth and
happiness in general, but to-day he managed to get out the matter that
really troubled him.

“Dear, good Lord, grant me--or only _lend_ me--one hundred _kroner_;
even fifty would do. You know what it’s for--that boat, the green boat
of Ulrik’s. Not his new one, but the old. You know, dear Lord, I want
it for my steam-turbine. And I’ve come to a dead stop now, and can’t
move a step if you won’t lend me a miserable fifty _kroner_....”

His voice had altered now to a wheedling tone, with a marked city
accent. He made a sort of half scrape-and-bow, and finished off.

“A--far....” prattled Emanuel.

It was Egholm’s habit after a prayer to embrace his wife. He made as
if to do so now, but, to his surprise, she thrust him away with every
indication of ill-will.

“No! Don’t think you’re going to get me on to that sort of thing,
because I won’t.”

“That sort of thing!” Egholm’s voice was uncertain; he had a feeling
that his wife was, after all, somehow in relation with the heavenly
powers.

“No good having a cow that yields when it kicks over the bucket after.
The first part was all right, but if you think God’s going to help
with your silly tricks about that turbine thing--why, you’re very much
mistaken.”

“But, why not?...”

“Because it’s an abomination. Cain was the first smith, and you know
it. And the Lord hates all that hammering and smithying about at
turbines and steam carts and friction cylinders....”

“Friction couplings,” corrected Egholm gently.

“Well, I don’t care what you call them. He hates all that sort of
stuff, whatever name you give it. And you can be certain sure you’ll
get nothing out of that prayer,” she concluded, with a lofty shake of
her head.

Egholm sat down in silence, and Hedvig, seeing that he was overcome by
some incomprehensible means, hurried off in relief.

What had come to Egholm now? Was he impressed by his wife’s wisdom? Oh,
he thought her foolish beyond words.

But she had destroyed his exaltation as effectively as a knife thrust
into a balloon.

His head dropped on his breast.

Yes, it was true enough, no doubt, that God was against him in all
his plans and inventions. His prayer had been in vain, despite the
brilliant idea of bringing along Hedvig as a sacrifice.

“Well, what do you think I ought to do?” he asked weakly.

“Me! And how’s a simple creature like me to say what you should do?
You’re so clever....”

He fancied there was something behind her words, and grasped at it
eagerly.

“What d’you mean?”

Fru Egholm kept up her pretence of emptiness for some time, but her
speech was crafty as a will-o’-the-wisp, and he followed her till he
lost his foothold. Then she said:

“Write to the Brethren, and ask for your money back.”

Egholm looked up with a momentary gleam of light, but pursed up his
mouth in a grimace, and said:

“The Brethren--no. I’ve done with them for good and all.”

“All right, then, just as you please,” said she. And no more was said.

Towards evening, Egholm took his stick, and went for a walk through the
town and down along the quay.

The black gliding waters of the Belt slapped softly against the
stonework, and patted like flat hands under the tarred beams. He went
right out to the point, where some boys were fishing with lines, and
calling to one another in their singing dialect, as often as they
fancied a bite.

A big Norwegian timber ship with a heavy deck-load lay in the harbour,
and all the fishing-boats of Knarreby were gathered along the side of
the quay.

The background was dominated by the church, the Custom House, and
Vang’s hotel. To the west, little fisher huts set all up a steep slope,
that rose farther on to the great beeches of Kongeskoven. Knarreby
itself was on an elevation; the ground line of St. Nicholas Church was
level with the roof of the Custom House. From where he stood, Egholm
could see two gravestones showing white in the churchyard.

Loud voices could be heard from the terrace of Vang’s hotel; three
gentlemen had just come out, and were sniffing and wiping their
foreheads with handkerchiefs. Evidently, they had been dining. Somebody
gave an order to a waiter, with a heavy slap on the back. There was a
certain noisiness apparent.

Egholm pricked up his ears--that was Rothe’s voice and no other.

Ah--and now he recognised the other two: the warlike editor and Vang
with a silk skull-cap.

Here were three men who, he felt sure, never bowed the knee to God. And
yet they seemed to enjoy themselves.

How could it be?

That fellow Rothe, for instance, the ironfounder. He was said to have
started at the lowest rung, as a blacksmith’s hand, eighteen years ago.
Now, he owned the whole of Knarreby ironfoundry.

A turbine boat would be a mere nothing to a man like that.

Egholm sat on the quay for a while, following the three with envious
eyes; then he strolled in towards the land with the ferrule of his
stick dragging listlessly over the stones.

There was the usual crowd of fishermen gathered about the warehouse.
They were always to be found there or over by the agent’s house. The
walls of both were worn smooth by the backs of their trousers.

“Going to have thunder?” asked Egholm, with a swinging gesture which he
fancied smacked of the sea.

They puffed at their pipes, and squinted in towards the centre, where
Peder Kvabs stood. He was the fattest and reddest-faced of them all,
and went about in his shirt-sleeves all the year round. When he said
nothing, then there was nothing to be said.

Well, after all, no need for any introduction, thought Egholm, and
came to the matter of his turbine at once. Funny thing, when you came
to think of it, that in four or five years from now every little
rowing-boat would have its turbine, and go spurting across the Belt
like a cat, dead against the wind.

“If only it don’t turn out one of them infernal machines like they use
for the Czar,” said Peder Kvabs, spitting between his teeth. The others
were roused at his words to some considerable emotion. They rubbed
themselves against the wooden wall, spat, and worked their eyebrows up
and down. One of them made strange sounds.

“Ah, well,” said Egholm, discomfited, “you wait and see.”

He walked a few paces, swinging his stick, then turned and called back
to them:

“You wait and see when it comes! I’m getting the money now--three or
four hundred _kroner_. From Odense. It’s money I was done out of under
false pretences. And I’m going to have the law of them....”

The woollen jerseys seemed to betray a seething and bubbling within.
The men could contain themselves no longer. Suddenly Peder Kvabs
hoisted his slacks, and led the whole flock hastily into the nearest
_café_. There was no need to ask should they go; all felt it was a
simple necessity.

“Yes,” said Egholm to himself. “That’s what I’ll do. They couldn’t give
it against me if I went to law.”

But he felt sorely in need of someone who would have faith in him, and
he longed for Henrik Vang’s ever-ready admiration. Might just slip up
to his room....

Fru Vang kept a quiet little boarding-house for a few old bachelors who
had taken the best rooms of the house. She and Vang himself occupied
separate attics.

Vang was in bed, with half an inch of reddish stubble on his chin, and
the hair on his forehead clammy with feverish sweat.

“Why, what’s this?” cried Egholm, aghast. “Are you ill? And I’d never
heard a word.... A great strong fellow like you! What’s the matter?”

“Sit down a minute,” said Vang faintly. “We can shift this here. Or
give it to Diana ... there you are.”

He set a plate down on the floor, and wiped the seat of a chair with
his bare arm.

“I’ve worked it out,” said Egholm, without preface. “The boiler must be
vertical. With the first experimental boat, of course, it’s more than
ever important to save space. Can’t make out why I didn’t hit on that
before.”

There were half a score of other things he had “worked out.”
Vang listened attentively, wrinkling up his forehead and gazing
ceilingwards, as if something were passing far above his head.

Egholm felt comfortable now, and in a burst of geniality exclaimed:

“Here, Vang, you’d better let me have a look at you. I’m something of a
doctor--natural healer, you know. I was patching up Madam Hermansen’s
leg the other day. Have you seen a doctor at all? What did he say?”

“No, I haven’t,” said Vang, looking away.

“All the better; nothing to distract my instinctive powers. Where’s the
pain?”

“Oh, you know all the time,” said Vang piteously, laying one hand on
Egholm’s arm. “Don’t go teasing me now, there’s a good fellow.”

Egholm rose to his feet in surprise; his imagination was weaving
intricate tangles in a moment.

“Is it--is it.... No, I’ve no idea--really, I haven’t.”

Vang pouted like a boy, and after a little hesitation explained that
his wife had a habit now and again--more and more frequently of
late--of taking away his trousers. He had been lying here now for four
days, with no trousers to put on.

“Oh, don’t sit there grinning just like all the rest of them!”

“I’m not, indeed. So she takes away your trousers? First-rate idea, you
know, really. She’s one of my sort. But, look here, you know, we must
be able to borrow a pair from somewhere. I’ve only these myself, more’s
the pity. But we might take it in turns....”

“There’s only one man in the place whose trousers fit me. And he won’t.
Oh, the beast! I sent down to ask him. He knows very well what’s the
trouble. It’s Rothe.”

There was a sound of short, rapid steps outside. Vang listened, waved
one arm as if with a baton to bid the orchestra cease, and fell back,
looking very ill indeed. There was a knock, and Fru Vang entered. She
was a dark, thin, sour-looking woman with pale cheeks and a burnt
fringe.

Vang sat up hastily and made the introduction with an ease of manner
acquired from habitual attendance at ballrooms, then lay back and
resumed his invalid air.

“I’ve sewed that button on,” said Fru Vang, laying something on the
bed. “Don’t you think you might try to get up now?”

She tripped back and forth about her husband’s bed, settled his
pillows, and pulled the sheet straight. Her skirts were shorter than
was usual, and her patent shoes had pointed toes and very high heels.

The legs were undoubtedly the legs of a waitress, but the rest of her
was unimpeachable. Save, perhaps, for the fringe.... Yes, the legs and
the fringe....

Egholm left the pair to themselves and hurried home. He had gained
something at least, in that his gloomy thoughts were dispersed for the
time being. Again and again he stopped, shook his head, and snorted
with laughter, at the recollection of huge Vang’s helpless expression.

After all, there was no sense in taking things too seriously. Most of
life was only fooling at the best. He would write to the Brethren, yes;
but he would not be a fool and insist on his rights; much better to go
warily, and beg their assistance in his extremity. It was one of the
rules of the community to help any brother in distress.

Fru Egholm had the pleasure of her husband’s company till late that
night. She looked to her work, and he sat there as in the old days,
busy with pen and ink and quantities of paper. But he was not angry
now; he hummed and chuckled in a self-satisfied way. At one o’clock he
began to read his petition aloud.

The letter ought to be sent off at once, wherefore he started off
himself to the railway station, and Fru Egholm was for once the first
to retire. She was asleep when he returned, but woke shortly after, and
was puzzled a good deal by a curious sniffling sound that seemed to
come from his pillow. Then the bed shook, and all at once she realised
that he was laughing!

Ah, well, those who laugh at night may come to weep by day, she thought
to herself, with some irritation.

Egholm gabbled away for some time about the turbine, about his letter
to the Brethren, and about Vang, the trouserless, and his wife.

His wife.... Ah, she was a devil! A cold air seemed to breathe from
her--though she might well have exhaled overmuch warmth in earlier
days. He remembered her mechanical smile and her soft, gentle
ministrations about her husband’s bedside. False, false from top to toe.

One might almost be tempted to say that there was but one thing genuine
about her--her false teeth! Egholm ducked down in bed again at the
thought, his lips opening and closing stickily.



XVI


The Egholms managed to drag on into December without using their stove.

Fru Egholm pointed to the trees in Andreasen’s garden, showing how
the leaves broke away in the frost, and slid drowning one by one down
through the air, like naked yellowish bodies.

“Well, and what then?” asked her husband uncomprehendingly.

“Why, then--it’s winter, and time to be getting in fuel, unless you
want to perish with cold.”

“Why, as for that,” said Egholm, leaning over the kitchen table to get
a better view, “there’s one tree there that’s as green as ever. Look.”

“Green as ever it may be,” said his wife, “seeing it’s an evergreen.
That’s holly.”

“Holly’s a sacred tree,” said Egholm, “and we should take it as a
model.” It was not meant in jest. He really endeavoured to school
himself to endurance. He left one button of his coat undone, and made
long speeches about the unwarrantable luxury of having a fire in the
stove. When you went about wrapped up in clothes, and even lived in a
house, why....

Fru Egholm sighed. She made herself and Emanuel into bundles of
clothes, and hoped for the best.

At first it really seemed as if Egholm had conquered the ancient
prejudice in favour of warmth. He talked about pawning his overcoat,
and went about rejoicing at his excellent health. He expected to feel
even better as it grew colder, he said.

But cold was a strangely elusive enemy to fight against. Out in the
open, in a gale of wind, where one might expect to find it at its
worst, he could defeat it easily, and come home flushed and warm. Then,
before he knew it, it had crushed and left him exhausted in his own
comparatively sheltered room. His wrists grew thinner, and his fingers
curled like the fingers of a corpse.

One evening he gave in completely. Now he _would_ have a fire, and that
at once. And since there was nothing else in the place to burn, he
cut up his wife’s chopping-boards, tore out the stuffing from an old
straw mattress, and trampled Hedvig’s doll’s house flat. Fru Egholm
made piteous protest, but Hedvig simply looked on with a curious smile.
Next day Egholm himself was most eager to obtain credit at the coal
merchant’s.

This, then, was the state of things in the house. They had no money,
and very little credit; both difficult things to do without.

People seemed to have forgotten there was such a thing as having their
photograph taken.

The Egholms felt it in various ways: food and clothing, for instance.
Hedvig could manage all right as to food. She was always eating at
the baker’s, and cakes dropped out of her clothes when she undressed
at night; she brought them home for Emanuel. But even her existence
was touched with the ugly grey brush of poverty. Her boots were a
marvel; every schoolgirl in the town knew Hedvig’s boots. They had
an extraordinary number of buttons up the side, with springs, and a
sort of ventilation. They must have cost a great deal at one time.
There were no soles to them now, but that did not matter, said her
father--you don’t walk with your feet in the air! Hedvig admitted there
was something in that, and comforted herself further with the thought
that no one could see what her under things were like.

There was little gaiety about the Egholms’ life.

And yet there was one little being whose only longing day and night was
to share their lot in every way. This was Sivert in his smithy.

The day his mother had got into the train and glided out into the
morning mist, his organ of equilibrium had suffered a shock. One day he
would fall, and fall, moreover, in the direction of Knarreby.

He had always been keenly attached to his mother, and, now that she was
gone, his longing conjured up her picture into this or that piece of
bright metal he held, or he would hear her voice in the blowing of the
bellows. Then he would laugh and talk out loud, or stand up and swing
his arms in a joyful embrace towards his beloved mother.

Whereupon his master would immediately land out at him from one side,
and Olsen from the other, which was perhaps the reason why he retained
the same degree of crookedness.

His mother had given him to understand that there would be occasional
visits; either he should come to Knarreby, or she would come to him
there, but there came nothing more than a letter once a month, and even
these grew shorter and shorter. At last they contained hardly more than
the advice to be a good boy and do what he was told, and not to forget
his prayers.

Sivert read them with quivering mouth, and nodded; he would do as she
said.

Then, further, the letter reported that they were all well at home.
Sivert nodded at this likewise. But when he came to read the signature,
“Your own loving mother,” the tears began to trickle down, and, a
moment after, he was sobbing all over.

Each day was for the boy a ladder of a hundred toilsome steps, and
the ladder led to nights spent with Olsen. It was getting on towards
Christmas. Sivert realised it one day, as he came trotting along
through the street with a load of iron rods.

In one of the shop windows stood a Christmas tree decked out with
little baskets and paper horns and cottonwool on all the branches.
There was a crowd of children in front of the window. Sivert made a
sharp turn about, and stood there lost in admiration. Ho! That was a
Christmas tree! He knew it!

He was not suffered to stand there very long, for his iron rods barred
the whole footway. But for the rest of his journey back, he talked out
loud to himself of the wonderful vision.

It _was_ a Christmas tree. Then Christmas must be coming. It was put in
the window as a sign that Christmas would soon be here.

Already there was a taste of sweets in his mouth, just as he remembered
once before....

Then suddenly his mother’s letters, that he knew by heart, began
talking too.

“All well at home!”

At home--yes, at home ... with Mother, they were all well.

An indomitable craving, and a resolution, ripened within him.

His craving was that he, too, would share in that “all well” at home.
As to the resolution, he clenched his teeth upon it for the present,
and his eyes stared fixedly. In the evening, when he had seen Olsen go
out, he stood with shaking hands up in their room, and collected his
belongings. Yes, this was what he was going to do. He was going home.
And never come back any more. So he must be careful not to forget a
single thing.

There were his pictures all cut out, his letters and--under the
mattress--that indispensable tie-pin given him by the Eriksens at his
confirmation; he would find some use for it, no doubt, when he was
older.

And that was all. But still he wandered about the room, looking into
every corner.

In the washstand drawer was Olsen’s registration book--fancy Olsen’s
leaving it there! Suppose a thief....

In a moment of confusion, Sivert’s hand dipped into the drawer, closed
all five fingers on the book, and thrust it under his blouse, close
against his trembling heart.

Then, overcome by dizziness, he stole on all fours down the stairs.

The shop windows were ablaze, and the streets full of people. It was
all like some great festival, thought Sivert, as he trotted along in
the gutter.

Suddenly it struck him that he might encounter Olsen.

Wasn’t that Olsen coming round the corner there? Sivert did not stay to
make closer investigation, but raced off down the first turning. And
there--Heaven preserve him!--was Olsen himself, coming out of a tavern
not ten paces away. It _was_ Olsen this time. Leaning up against the
railing just as Olsen always did. Sivert turned round and fled, as if
the lightnings of retribution were at his heels, dodging in a zigzag
through a maze of intercrossing streets.

He came into quarters of the town where he had never been before, and
met four more Olsens on his way. Once with a girl on his arm, once in
the very gateway where he was hiding in fear of--yes, of that same
Olsen.

At last he found the road he sought--the road to Knarreby. The distance
between the houses increased, and the gale rose to a hurricane. It was
full in his face now, and beating against his cheeks with a torrent of
sand and stones, but he bent forward and drew his cap down over his
eyes, sighting at the next lamp-post through the split between the peak
and the cloth top, and keeping his hands behind his back.

Yes, he would manage it now!

Then suddenly there were no more lamp-posts to go by. The last one shed
its gleam a few yards round, a solitary figure of a lamp, the extreme
outpost, rattling its glass with a noise as of chattering teeth in the
cold, and its flame hopping from the wick at every gust. Sivert set his
back against it--he dared not give himself up entirely to the gaping
jaws of the black dark ahead.

He knew the place well, by the way; he had stood here many a Sunday
afternoon, staring out towards Knarreby. The tears welled up chokingly
within him now.

A little later, there came a man with a pole. He growled out something
or other, but Sivert drew away shyly out of the ring of light.

Well, well, the man put out the lamp, and turned in towards the town
again, leaving darkness behind him as he went.

Sivert stole on behind him, sobbing. The putting out of the lamps
entered into his consciousness as a picture of his own desolation.

Late that night he squeezed himself up in the doorway of the old home
in Nedergade, where he had not been since his mother left.

The gloomy place had something of homeliness about it; almost
instinctively he stole in through the door to the washing cellar. There
were tubs lying about, full of washing left to soak.

He stumbled in amongst them, and took a drink of water from the tap,
not so much from thirst, but more from a fancy to use his familiar
knowledge of the place. Then he recollected that it made a buzzing
sound in the tenements upstairs when that tap was turned on, and he
hurried away to the passage between the coal cellars. Egholms’ cellar
used to be the fifth. Could he manage now to tear open the padlock
with a smart twist? Wonderful--it was as easy as ever! That showed
that God was with him after all. Full of thankfulness, Sivert slipped
into the narrow space, and tried to concentrate his mind on the Lord’s
Prayer, but fell asleep despite his efforts, and did not wake until the
pale light of morning came filtering in to him through the cobwebbed
windows. His back was like a boil from the knobs and points of the
firewood he had been lying on.

Out in the washing cellars someone was rattling tubs and buckets, and
the water was running.

Sivert pressed himself closer up in a corner. He stood there a long
time, till his sense was dulled. There was a bottle in the window, that
looked as if it had been used for oil. A cork was stuck half-way down
the neck. And from among the broken lumps of peat and turf on the floor
a lump of old iron pipe was sticking out.

Sivert looked at the two things--first one, then the other, a hundred
times. Bottle--iron pipe--iron pipe--bottle. He thrust out his wooden
shoe and kicked at the pipe to make a change. There was a brass tap on
it. It emerged from the litter on the floor like a revelation.

“Father’s big tap,” he burst out in wondering recognition. They must
have forgotten it. No, not forgotten; it had been left here for him to
take with him.

Half an hour later he was clattering along at a sharp trot out of the
town, with the tap under his coat.

The poplars stood in two endless rows with their leafless branches
pointing stiffly heavenwards. Only one thing to do now--get along as
fast as he could. His heart might hop and thump as it pleased, like a
dry nut in its shell; he had no use for that now--only for his legs.

Villages showed up ahead of him and faded away behind, all nothing
to do with him. It did not enter his head to ask for food anywhere,
or even to rest. Only go on, on, along the road, past ditches where
the snow lay streaked with wind-borne dust, and tufts of withered
grass above; past flattened heaps of road-metal that lay like so
many nameless graves. Trotting or dragging his feet, he went on past
buzzing telegraph poles, passing or following heavy-laden milk-carts or
solitary peasants with kerchiefs bound over their ears as a protection
from the biting cold.

He spoke to no one until evening was drawing on; then, an old woman
told him there was but another mile to Knarreby.

This came to him as something of a shock; he felt there ought to be,
say, four or six miles more yet.

He slackened his pace, and at the same time his mind began working
again.

All the way till now, through those twenty-four icy miles, he had had a
feeling that he was running straight into his mother’s welcoming arms.
Now the picture changed incomprehensibly. Her open arms were turned to
clenched fists, and her gentle eyes gave place to his father’s glaring
fiery orbs. After all, perhaps it was not so simple a matter to run
away from one’s place and go home!

Thrashings, even kicks, he knew, but how should he ever be able to bear
his father’s thundering voice when he was angry? Sivert remembered how
he had once himself offered his father a brass ladle to beat him with,
just to get it over. His father had taken it--yes--and there were dints
in it still. Oh, his father’s voice was the most terrible thing in the
world. It was not thick like Olsen’s, or whinnying like the smith’s,
but a sort of voice that made one feel stiff all over.

By the time he reached Knarreby Mill it was pitch dark. The high
invisible sails flung rattling round past a little red window far
above. A little later, and the town itself blinked out to meet him,
but it was some time before he managed, with the help of a lad of
his own age, to find the way in through Andreasen’s yard, and stood,
with beating heart, looking in at the light behind the familiar green
curtains. Someone was standing outside the window, looking in from
one side where the curtain was folded. Someone in a blue blouse,
only a little bigger than Sivert himself. He did not look so very
dangerous.... When Sivert crept nearer, the other started, as if to run
away, but judging Sivert to be equally harmless, he thought better of
it, and soon the two had come to a whispered understanding.

The figure in the blue blouse was called Marinus. Yes, and Sivert could
stand there by the other window, if he liked, and look in, if he kept
quite still.

Inside, was Mother--yes, his mother--sitting over her work, making up
hair. Her practised fingers took up the piece, plaited it into the
three strands, thrust it into place, and then, wetting her fingers, she
reached for another. She nodded now and then as she worked. And the
lamp was reflected upside down in her spectacles.

Sivert began sniffing and swallowing something in his throat. Then he
tore himself away from that picture, and perceived his father sitting
in a big arm-chair, his fingers twined into his beard, reading the
Bible. Now he turned a page; now he lifted his eyes from the book and
fixed something or other in space, nailing it, as it were, to the
ceiling with his glance.

On the settee in the room behind, the light from the lamp shone on
Emanuel’s fair round head, and by the door sat Hedvig, undressed,
combing her hair. She had drawn one leg up under her, and leaned back
dreamily. A feeling of envy stole over Sivert at sight of those legs,
so thick and overfed they seemed, both here and there. And both legs,
too--oh, it was not fair.

Truly, all well at home.

His father was speaking. Hedvig answered, but with lips tight and
straight as a line, though her nose moved.

“Won’t?” cried her father. “You disobedient little devil! To bed with
you this instant!”

He slapped down the Bible on the table and shook his hand in the air.

“That’s Father’s voice; I know it. I know it’s the right one,” muttered
Sivert. His legs carried him staggering out through the gateway again,
and Marinus turned and watched him as he went.

After much aimless wandering, Sivert found his way at last into
the waiting-room of the railway station. It was naturally his last
resource, being the only place that showed a light still burning.

His wooden shoes echoed in the empty room, but no one came to turn him
out. He slept close to a lovely warm stove, and heard trains rushing
past, doors opening and slamming through his sleep; not till next
morning did anyone disturb him, and then it was an old peasant who
slipped the boy’s feet down to make room for himself on the bench.
There were a number of other people about.

One or two men in heavy travelling cloaks walked up and down, rubbing
their hands for warmth. A waitress with beautiful frills at her throat
had appeared; she took down the shutters from the buffet and set out
dishes of refreshments. A little later came the popping of corks.

Vehicles rolled up outside; and drivers with silver-tasseled hats
came in and hung over the bar. They talked with noisy humour of the
waitress, who, they declared, looked as if she had not slept well that
night. The lady in question, however, merely raised her eyebrows to
show that she had not even heard what they said. Now and again she
scratched her hair with the least little touch of one fourth finger.
Sivert understood this as evidence that so elegant a being had little
need to scratch at all.

Altogether, it was a morning rich in experience for Sivert. When the
trains and the passengers had gone, the head-scratching waitress sat
down to further cups of coffee. Sivert shifted a little closer, and
saw how deliciously ready to hand were the dishes of _smørrebrød_,[4]
whereat his mouth watered quite literally, down his blouse.

[4] Slices of bread and butter, with meat, cheese, etc., laid over.

“Are you going by train?”

“No,” said Sivert, dismayed at being noticed. Doubtless he would be
turned out at once.

“What are you doing, then?” said the waitress after a pause. She was
taking her hair down, and undoing the plaits.

What was he doing? Heaven only knew!

“Taking home the big tap. For Father,” he stammered.

The lady laughed--it sounded like a scream. A moment after she was
serious again, but anyhow, she _had_ laughed. She was sitting now,
bending forward, combing her back hair upward and forward in little
jerks, and observing the effect in a little round mirror with an
advertisement on the back. She laughed, though it evidently hurt badly
when the comb stuck.

A lovely creature, was that waitress.

“And who’s your father?”

“Egholm. I saw him eat one of those once. Just like that.” Sivert
nodded sideways towards the dish.

“One of what?”

“One of those!” said Sivert, springing up to the counter and pointing
to a piece with slices of sausage. “This one’s bigger, though, I’m
sure.”

Sivert could not say more; he stammered and hiccuped in a delirium of
hunger.

The waitress was combing back again now, till the comb fairly crackled;
she spread out her chest mightily, and shook her mane of hair.

“You can have that piece, if you like,” she said, with her mouth full
of hairpins. And added mysteriously: “Serve her right, too.”

Three further pieces were granted Sivert on the same grounds, of
serving somebody right. He laughed and cried and stuffed his mouth all
at the same time.

“You’re a funny sort of deaf-and-dumb lad, you are. What’s your name?”

“Well, I’m mostly Olsen, really,” said Sivert, fumbling at the place
where the precious book was hidden. “But I’m not all deaf and dumb. Not
quite....”

“Well, I said you were half a lunatic.”

“... Or I couldn’t sing, you know.”

“Let’s hear you sing.” The barmaiden surveyed her work of art in its
entirety, until it seemed as if her eyes would turn back to front in
their sockets.

“Well, I can, you know....” said Sivert hesitatingly.

The barmaid pointed to another piece--cheese it was this time--with her
little finger. Sivert pounced on it at once.

Then he wiped his mouth, wrinkled up his forehead thoughtfully, and
rattled off at a furious rate:

    “The pretty bird upon the tree its merry notes doth sing....”

and all the rest of that verse. It sounded like an Eskimo letting off a
single word of a hundred syllables or so.

“That wasn’t singing, not yet; I was just trying if I knew all the
words,” explained Sivert apologetically, and proceeded to repeat the
words “with music.”

A porter and one or two others came up, and grouped themselves in an
attentive half-circle about the singing mannikin.

Sivert sang all the _smørrebrød_ off one dish, and then went out with
the porter to a little room where they cleaned the lamps, and here he
talked of many remarkable things, helping to clean lamps the while. At
last he brought out his brass tap, and polished that up till it shone.
Then suddenly he stole off unobserved.

Down the street and across Andreasen’s yard, walking awkwardly and
shuffling like an epileptic, his mouth running over all the time with
prayers and verses of hymns.

In the little entry he stood still and laid one ear to the crack of the
door, listening breathlessly.

Yes, there was Emanuel prattling away, and his mother answering with a
few low words.

Was it to be his luck to find them alone? He listened again, with his
head on one side, and heard now another sound--a long-drawn, sucking
sound, almost like a snore, and then the rattle of a cup, repeated at
regular intervals. Ah ... now he knew who was there besides!

Sivert knelt down where he stood, with his face against the door and
his hands folded piously. He had knelt that way once before, when he
had happened to upset a lamp. So, too, Knud, the Martyr-King, had knelt
waiting for death. It was the proper thing on such occasions, and no
doubt looked well. But was his hair all right?

He drew forth the brass tap, and tried to make out his own reflection
swimming unsteadily in the polished metal.

Perhaps he had spoken aloud. For suddenly his father appeared in the
open door. The first astonishment in his face changed to inflamed fury,
and he swung back his boot ready for a blow.

Sivert, terrified, held up the brass tap like a crucifix above his
head, as if to guard.

His thoughts were scattered in flight like sparrows at a shot, but
some instinct came to his aid, and he cried out in his cracked voice,
echoing through the house:

“Oh, Lord my God, I’ve brought your brass tap.”

Sivert’s ideas as to his father on earth and his Father in heaven had
always been somewhat vague; now, they seemed fused into one.

The effect of his words was beyond comprehension. The threatened kick
did not fall; his father snatched up the tap instead, and said:

“Wherever did you find it? I’ve been wanting it all the time.”

“In the cellar,” said Sivert. “But it wasn’t me that didn’t bring it
along.”

And with an idiot laugh he collapsed in his mother’s arms.

Egholm stood by the window overlooking the yard. He blew through the
tap, and turned it lovingly in his fingers. A great ship came throbbing
towards him and took him on board. And he mounted up, high, high, up to
the bridge.

“Full speed ahead! Stand by! Full speed astern!”

And the ship went astern till Captain Egholm felt the tears welling
into his eyes with delight. A little after, he went to the kitchen door.

“Sivert!”

A timorous “Yes” came from within.

“Did you really think I was God Himself?”

Sivert nodded.

His father turned on his heel and said calmly:

“Then you were wrong, boy, because I’m not.”



XVII


Egholm went up to the station in a great state of excitement every
time a train was due from Odense. There had come a wondrous letter in
a blue envelope from the Brethren there--a document to the effect that
the community had voted him a gift of money. It would be delivered in
person within a few days, by Evangelist Karlsen.

The letter lay on the floor, as if deposited by mysterious means from
above. And certainly no one had heard the postman come.

Egholm gave thanks to God. That was a thing which should be done to the
full, and preferably a little before the fulfilment of his prayer.

For the first few days he talked a great deal about the practice he had
gradually acquired in the art of prayer. But as Karlsen still failed to
appear, he grew silent, and began going up to meet the trains. And then
at last, on the eighth day, just as he came home tired and discouraged
from the station, there sat the Evangelist himself in the parlour.

He, too, looked as if some angel had brought him on wings through the
air, though, as a matter of fact, this was not the case. He explained
himself that he had come by train from Jutland.

Egholm forgot to take off his coat; he sat down opposite his ancient
enemy, lacking words with which to begin. And, truth to tell, he
was humiliated and abashed after all at having to accept a gift,
in view of what had passed. What made things worse was that the
Evangelist was grown so surpassingly elegant in his dress. No more
butcher-boots--nothing like it. Striped trousers he wore, and a
smart-looking collar and cuffs. True, the last were of indiarubber,
but still.... His moustache was simply beyond description, and the
blue-black wether-eyes glittered like globes of lightning. Under his
chair was a handbag, undeniably new, but, of course, ... no, of course,
it couldn’t be the money in that.

Karlsen looked round the room, and thrust his shoulders back, as if
preparing to speak, but still he did not seem to find the suitable
“word.”

What was he to say? As for the gift, that could wait a little. A sermon
would hardly do either, though he was known to be a first-rate hand at
that. Suppose he were to launch out with a suitable text? Yes, that
would be the thing!

Karlsen went about, so to speak, with his pockets full of texts, which
he used, now to smite the head of an unruly disciple, now to scatter
like golden largesse among the poor. He had, too, long extracts from
Revelations, which could be flung like lassos to entangle the ungodly,
cooling draughts from the Sermon on the Mount, and blood and fire from
the Mosaic portions of the Old Testament. But it always took a certain
degree of opposition before he could be brought to use them.

Egholm asked in a very general way how the Brotherhood was getting on.

“First-rate,” said Karlsen, with an absent yawn--“first-rate,” and
relapsed into silence.

Egholm could not keep away from the scene of the crime. He stammered
out:

“Karlsen, you mustn’t regard my attack--my somewhat over-zealous
attack, perhaps--that evening, you know, as--as evidence of enmity
towards the Brethren. Not in the least. There was much in the
Brotherhood that I greatly appreciated. A certain simplicity.... No;
if hard words were said, they were due to a momentary indignation over
the refusal to give me a plain, straightforward answer to my definite
question, regarding that text in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which--at
any rate to my humble mind--expressly annuls all giving of tithes.”

Karlsen gloated awhile over Egholm’s downcast eyes and the tip of his
tongue creeping over dry lips. He wrinkled up his forehead deeply, and
said, with that crafty, ingratiating smile that was so thoroughly his
own:

“An answer, my dear friends--why, of course. Nothing easier. You shall
have it to-day. I’ve a big fat book here in my bag; you can read it
there to your heart’s content....”

“A book?...”

“Yes. Half a minute, I’ll show you. Six _kroner’s_ the price of it, but
there’s edifying reading for more than twice the money. Guaranteed. A
big fat book, bound cloth boards. Let me show you.”

“No, no. I’ll take your word for it. No doubt it’s excellent. But ...
er ... well....”

It would be sheer madness to offend Karlsen now, and send him away with
the three or four hundred _kroner_, but still, there was no sense in
spending the six _kroner_ if it could be helped. Egholm knew the book
well enough himself--a rambling translation from the English.

“But ... er ... well, you know, there was nothing said about that on
the night. If only they’d given me an answer in some way or other, I’m
sure I’d never have resigned from the Brotherhood at all.”

“You never did resign from the Brotherhood!”

“Well, no, not resigned exactly ... that is to say....”

Egholm sat crushed and despairing in the arm-chair, letting Karlsen do
with him as he pleased.

“No, my dear good man, what possessed you to say so? If you weren’t
a disciple still, of course we shouldn’t have troubled to help you.
Nothing to do with us, you understand. As it is, why, we hung up a box
for you at the meeting.”

Egholm sighed inaudibly, and inwardly reduced his claim to half. So
they had hung up a collecting box for him. Well, well. He knew those
boxes. There were a number of them--hung along the wall like a row
of young birds with hungrily gaping mouths. He remembered how the
Evangelist used to draw attention to them discreetly before closing
the proceedings for each evening--quite unnecessarily, by the way,
seeing that Karlsen senior, the Angel of the flock, stood with hand
outstretched in farewell, just where the boxes began.

“And now, my dear friends, we have heard the Word, for our souls’ good,
and that we can take with us in our hearts. And, in return, let us not
forget to put something in the boxes. No one calls upon you to give
much. When each gives what he can, it is enough. The first is for the
hall, that we may have a place to meet in; the second is for light and
firing--neither of these can be got for nothing, my dear friends--and
the third is for myself--I need hardly remind you, my dear friends,
that I cannot live on air. The fourth is for members of the Brotherhood
in distress, and the fifth towards the purchase of a library. Put a
little in each, and your conscience will be at ease!”

On tithe nights the boxes were not in evidence.

Egholm remembered that according to an unwritten law it was permissible
to pass by the boxes for Brethren in distress and for the library. How
would it have been with the sixth in the row, hung up for Egholm in the
throes of poverty?

“Did any of them give anything?” he asked humbly.

“Oh, it brought in quite a lot,” said Karlsen comfortingly. “Quite
a decent little sum. You see”--he leaned forward confidentially and
plucked at Egholm’s coat collar, almost stupefying him with his
tobacco-laden breath--“I got the old man to stand beside it!”

He gave Egholm a friendly shake, and laughed in a spluttering shower.

“But there’s one condition. I may as well tell you that first as last.
The condition of your receiving this gift is, that your wife becomes
a member of the Brotherhood. Both of you, you understand--or no gift!
For it’s her fault we’ve had all this bother about you. Yes, I’ve found
that out. She’s from Aalborg. I know those obstinate Jutland folk!”

“My wife!” cried Egholm. New difficulties towered before him at the
idea, but, at the same time, the value of the gift seemed to increase.
He sprang to his feet, and ran to the kitchen door.

“Well, there you are. Now you can talk it over with her,” said Karlsen,
with a laugh, leaning his head back and showing the scar of his
“glands” and his ill-shaven throat. “But, look here, tell her at the
same time I’m staying till the eight o’clock train, so you’ll have to
find me a bite of something to eat. You know what it says about us
Evangelists: we’re to have neither scrip nor staff, but take that which
is set before us.”

Fru Egholm was busy plaiting hair at the kitchen table. Her husband
could see from the way she tugged at her work that she had followed the
conversation in the next room.

“Never as long as I live,” she said firmly.

A catastrophe seemed imminent, but Egholm was so destitute of physical
or moral force at the moment that he contented himself with a
threatening gesture.

“And as for supper,” she went on, “wild horses wouldn’t give us more
than we’ve got, and that’s no more than bread and dripping and a rind
of cheese.”

“Nothing hot--not even a cup of tea?”

“Only the clove.”

“_Only_ the clove! As if that wasn’t good enough.”

Clove tea was one of Egholm’s minor inventions. One day when the
tea and coffee canisters were as empty as his empty purse, he had
manufactured an aromatic beverage from cloves and hot water. He himself
drank it thereafter in quantities and with relish, and Sivert was for a
time in his good books merely on account of the audible “Aaah!” which
he gave when it was poured out. Fru Egholm, too, conceded that it was
certainly cheap--a packet of cloves costing two _øre_ sufficed for a
whole month. But Hedvig would not touch it.

“Good enough for that young humbug, yes.”

Once more Egholm felt his hands itching with murderous instincts, but
when the tension was at its height, a spark flew over to some nerve of
humour. He bent down almost double, put one hand to his mouth like a
funnel, and whispered in his wife’s ear:

“Sh! Remember, his father’s an Angel!”

The Evangelist closed his puffy eyes reflectively for a moment when
Egholm returned and stated what was the menu for the day.

“H’m. I’ll stay, all the same,” he said. And added a moment after: “If
there’s eggs, I like them hard boiled.”

“Hard boiled--yes, yes,” said Egholm, precisely in the manner of a
waiter, and disappeared into the kitchen once more.

“I never heard the like--that rascally scamp ... thinks we can dig up
eggs out of the ground--and that in December! Why, only to ask at the
grocer’s they’d think we were mad. Eggs, indeed! _Eggs--on credit!_ No,
as long as we can get what’s barely needful. Why....”

But Egholm, with great ends in view, wasted little time in talk. He
went out himself, and returned five minutes later with a bag of
eggs and a lump of sausage, which he set down triumphantly on the
kitchen table. Thus supper was provided of a kind to exceed Karlsen’s
expectations, and set him in good humour.

Both laughed, Karlsen, however, the louder, when the host’s egg was
found to be bad. As for the clove tea, Karlsen, like Hedvig, did not
find it to his taste. He explained that he liked something with a
little more colour, his taste and smell having suffered through smoking.

Then, at a suitable moment, Egholm said:

“My wife says she won’t come into the Brotherhood at any price--not
just at the moment, that is to say. But perhaps later, I’ve no doubt
... that is to say....”

And he waited for the answer with the sweat standing out on his
forehead.

“Oh, well, never mind. Hang the condition. We’ll leave it out.”

Egholm could have knelt at his feet.

Karlsen went on to tell of the Brotherhood and its doings. Everything
was going on first-rate. Fru Westergaard had got dropsy, and
there was every likelihood--here Karlsen clicked his tongue in
anticipation--every likelihood of her bequeathing them a whole heap of
money. The Angel went to see her practically every day, and, in case of
need, the Prophet from Copenhagen would come too.

“Father’s in touch with a heap of them, you know. By letter. He got a
letter the other day from John the Apostle. He’s in London.”

“John the Apostle? You don’t mean.... Is that....”

“Exactly. He lives in London. Don’t you know it’s written: ‘If he tarry
till I come, what is that to thee?’ Yes, he’ll be here all right, up
to the day of the coming again. Father’s got his address, but he keeps
himself quiet, you understand, mostly. And Father doesn’t say where he
is, but I managed to get hold of it, all the same. I sent him a picture
post card from Veile only yesterday.”

Egholm ran in to borrow a pipe from Marinus. On the way he whispered to
his wife:

“He’s the biggest liar on earth. But if only he’d hand over that
money.... I can’t stand the suspense. Put in a prayer meanwhile.”

The Evangelist puffed great clouds, and delivered another turn or so.

“I’ve something to tell you, my dear friend--in confidence, that is.
_The Star of Bethlehem’s been seen!_”

He bent over Egholm and stared full into his eyes.

“Yes, the Star of Bethlehem--right over Odense, it was.”

And he puffed a spurt of smoke into Egholm’s face, his own contracting
into an unconcealed grin.

“My father, the Angel, was standing in his office, and he saw it. It
isn’t everyone that can see it, you know. But I could. It was the
hugest star I’ve ever seen.”

Egholm condescended to shake his head as if deeply impressed. For the
rest, his every nerve-cell was concentrating in an effort to hypnotise
Karlsen’s hand into Karlsen’s pocket for that bundle of notes.

At eleven minutes past seven the Evangelist laid down his pipe and
buttoned his coat.

“The money! Er--you’ll excuse me, but--you’re not forgetting ... that
gift.... No hurry, of course, not in the least....”

“You shall have it. I’m not forgetting it, no,” said Karlsen, with
unction. “It’s not a great sum, but with the blessing of the Lord it
may go a long way.”

He drew out a leather purse with a string from his pocket, unfastened
the lace with exasperating care, and flung out a hand with a
two-_kroner_ piece.

“Two _kroner_! Is that--the gift? Karlsen, you don’t mean it!” said
Egholm, weeping.

“One _daler_, yes,” said Karlsen, laughing heartily. But his expression
changed suddenly, possibly influenced by Egholm’s threatening look,
and, resuming his dignified manner, he went on:

“The gift was originally forty-two _kroner_ altogether, that being the
sum found when the box was opened. Fru Westergaard gave thirty-five
herself. You were in her good books, my friend.”

Karlsen allowed himself a momentary lapse from dignity to the extent of
a single wink.

“The rocking-chair,” murmured Egholm reminiscently.

“But,” went on the Evangelist, “you owed arrears of tithe ever since
February of last year....”

His voice grew thick with imminent laughter.

“So we decided to annex the forty _kroner_ for tithes--and here’s the
rest!”

“Decided ... who decided? When the money was collected for me?
Impossible!”

“The congregation agreed to it,” said Karlsen unconcernedly. Then
suddenly he dug one thumb into his despairing brother’s ribs, uttered a
sound like the rasp of a saw, and whispered:

“And Fru Westergaard was there, too--my son!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Limp and utterly dispirited, Egholm walked up with Karlsen to the
station. A strange feeling of detachment had come over him, and the
inclination to weep that he always felt after great excitement.

Karlsen walked a couple of paces ahead, talking gaily over his shoulder.

“What say?” queried Egholm against the wind. The handbag with edifying
works at six _kroner_ cloth boards weighed heavily in his numbed hand.

“I say, it’s a good thing we’re near the end of the month.”

“Yes,” agreed Egholm. “But what d’you mean?”

“Pay day, my dear man. And I can do with it!”

“But I thought--I thought the work was voluntary. It says in the Rules
of the Brotherhood....”

“Well, what d’you expect me to live on?”

“Why, gifts.”

“Huh! A long way that’d go. About as far as....”

“No, of course....” agreed Egholm meekly, shifting the bag to his other
hand.

“But they don’t pay me enough,” said the Evangelist harshly. “Not by
a long way. Everything’s getting dearer, and I’ve had a lot of extra
expenses into the bargain. I helped a poor girl that had got into
trouble. A Frøken Madsen. Bought her a cigar shop in Kerteminde; it
cost an awful sum. But she was a sort of relation--not of mine, you
understand. My wife’s people. But I count it all the same, of course.
No, they’ll have to give me a rise. And they will, too, I know. They
can’t do without me, and that’s the end of it.”

They reached the station, and Karlsen took his ticket.

“_Second_ class, I said,” he cried, and winked at Egholm.

“Came from Veile, and going back to Veile. Life’s one long journey.
Anyhow, it’s what we’re supposed to do: go out into the world and make
converts. Know a man named Justesen in Veile? Horse-dealer. No? Ah,
he’s a man if you like! Never troubles to ask the price when he finds a
pair to suit him. ‘Bring ’em along’--that’s all he says.”

“Horse-dealers don’t go in much for religion as a rule.”

“Not him--no. But his wife!” said Karlsen, rasping again like a saw.
“His wife.... Had a wire from Justesen last evening; he’s coming home
to-day and going off again by the night train to Hamburg. So off I go
to look up my old friend Egholm--what?”

“Yes....” said Egholm.

He stood in the waiting-room a little after the train had gone,
warming himself by the stove. Then he shook his head and staggered off
homewards.

Again and again he tried to reckon up how he stood.

“No hope of getting to work on the boat now,” he muttered. But, to his
surprise, he found his thoughts refused to dwell on this disaster,
which should by rights have overshadowed all else.

No; he could think of one thing--he was hungry.

For months past he had not had a decent meal, and, though he had
not realised it himself, his looking forward to that gift from the
Brotherhood had been associated with an indomitable desire for _food_.

Outside his own door he stopped. The scent of the clove tea came to
greet him, and revolted him for the first time. He turned round and
walked away again, out over the sandhills, along the quay, and down
between the warehouses.

The group of fishermen sighted his thin, fluttering figure in the
gloom, shook themselves, and pressed their backs closer against the
wall of the shed.

But Egholm found at last an old green rowing boat among those drawn up
on the beach. He struck a match, and made sure it was the one.

Then he clambered up on to it, and knelt down on the boards.

The wind tore his plaintive prayer to shreds, and strewed a shower of
broken, unmeaning sounds out over the harbour and the town.



XVIII


Egholm’s God was perhaps not as generous as might be wished, but,
on the other hand, possessed of limitless patience as a listener,
differing in this regard considerably from the children of men. It
was perhaps this which led Egholm, the ever restless, to come again
faithfully with his hopes and his prayers, though he might have turned
away in dudgeon but a short while back.

It was not brain-weariness. That was an ailment Egholm never knew. He
lived, as it were, under full sail all day and night. He rose in the
morning, swallowed his clove tea, hurried out to his place of prayer in
the woods, and came back about dinner-time. Then he would mess about
for a few hours in the studio, while his thoughts flew all ways at
will, generally down to the beach, where he struggled with imaginary
parts of his machine in an imaginary boat, but ready and willing to
occupy themselves with anything of any sort anywhere in the world.
Egholm felt it a wasted day when he had not stowed away a couple of new
inventions in the warehouse of his mind. And a night that brought him
nothing but sleep and rest he counted empty and unfruitful. Better a
touch of the horrors than just nothing. For, painful as it was to have
Clara Steen’s face there before him in the dark, taking the blows that
Anna should have had, still, after all--in the long run--one could get
used to anything. Yes.

True, it was no use striking Anna, but it was at least excusable. And
God never said anything about it to him out in the woods where he
prayed. More especially since that boy had come home it was excusable
... nay, it was a simple necessity.

Thus Egholm forgave his God and revenged himself on his family.

His wife noticed, too, how the boy’s coming had brought a kind of
ferment into their home life. Ah, why should it be so? There he sat,
the little lad, at her side, as simple and innocent as when he was
a child, helping her at her work. She did all she could to make him
appear a harmless and useful item about the house. She would have liked
to make him invisible, but his father _saw_ the boy to the exclusion
of all else, circled round him, shot sparks at him, and might be found
gripping him by the hair if she only went out into the kitchen for a
minute.

Things could not go on like this. And so one afternoon she put on the
best things she possessed, and went out with Sivert to try and find him
a place.

With trembling knees she walked straight into Lund’s smart drapery
shop. After all, he couldn’t do more than eat her. And she always went
to him for what she needed in the way of thread and material, and that
was the truth. They stood just inside the door, waiting for other
customers to be served first. Modesty, that was the way.

There! Minna Lund, the daughter of the house, coming in with coffee for
the assistant. Was there ever such a place? She set down the tray on a
step-ladder, and began pulling out drawers full of ribbons.

A little princess, that was the least one could call her--though little
was hardly the word, seeing she was half a head taller than her father.
Why, she could wind off as many yards of ribbon as she pleased, without
even asking the price.

And the mother, standing there, fell to weaving a long and beautiful
future for her boy in Lund’s splendid house. Those two young
people--they would surely have an eye to each other.... And then when
Sivert’s apprenticeship was at an end, and Lund was getting on in
years, who knows.... Once they found out what a heart the boy had,
surely there’d be no one in the world they’d sooner trust with their
daughter and the shop....

She pressed Sivert’s hand; for here was Lund himself right in front of
her, bowing politely. He wouldn’t eat her, no fear of that....

So Fru Egholm had thought of having her son apprenticed to the
business? Why, a nice idea, to be sure....

Lund was a little man with a full beard, and elegantly dressed in
brand-new things, but with a thread or a piece of fluff here and there.
And his manner was precisely the same.

He talked with studied ease and distinction, flourishing the roll of
material before him into a fan as he spoke. And so thoroughly did
he possess the gift of salesmanship that a moment later Fru Egholm
was eagerly discussing with him how much it would take for a pair of
curtains.

“Or we’ve a rather better quality,” said Lund, reaching for another
roll. But here Fru Egholm came to herself, and thrust Sivert forward.

“Well, you know, I’m afraid,” said Lund kindly--he had only forgotten
the business of the apprenticeship for a moment--“we could hardly ...
you see, we make a point of taking only boys--pupils in the business
that is--from better-class homes. The customers demand it.”

“But”--the mother was ready to sink into the ground for shame--but ...
Sivert _was_ from a better-class home. Not meaning herself, of course,
but her husband. He knew all sorts of languages, English and French
and so on. And only a little time back he’d been an assistant on the
railway--why they had his uniform coat in the house now! Hr. Lund ought
just to hear him talk and speak up for himself, like he did with those
people from the Public Health Committee. And as for Sivert, he was as
good and honest a lad as any could wish to have.

Hr. Lund didn’t doubt it for a moment, but--er--well, one could hardly
see it, for instance, from the way he was dressed, you know. Now, could
you? And Lund bent over the counter with a smile, whereby his own coat
was brought in close proximity to Sivert’s blouse. He he! Still, he
might just examine the young man a little. Sivert was given two or
three smart questions, while his mother was on the point of swooning
from confusion. Then Lund turned calmly round and took down the roll of
material before mentioned--the rather better quality....

“But how about the place?” asked Fru Egholm doubtfully. “Is he to have
it?”

“Eh? Oh, no. I’ve no use for him. Did you notice he said ‘drawers’?
Well, ‘knickers’ is the proper word--at any rate, the one we use in
this establishment. A little trap of mine, you know. He he!”

Fru Egholm sighed, purchased resignedly a reel of No. 50 white,
and left the shop. She and Sivert went to many places that day--to
a barber’s, to Bro, the grocer, and at last to the editor of the
_Knarreby News_--only to wander home at last discouraged at a total
failure all round.

Well, she would leave it for a day or two, and look round.

“Find him a place?” asked Egholm.

“Well--there’s places enough where they’d be glad to have him....”

“That is to say, you _didn’t_ find him a place?”

Fru Egholm was so very loth to utter that little decisive “No.” She
talked eagerly about the Christmas sales at Bro’s and Lund’s.

“... And, do you know, the editor, he knew about your plans with the
machine business. He asked a heap of things, and said you were a
genius.”

The subject was wisely chosen. And it did draw off attention for the
moment from the matter in hand, but then her husband lapsed into his
gloomy thoughts once more.

“No--we’ll never get rid of him now. Who’d ever have him? What can you
use a head like that for, anyway? He’s little better than a lunatic.
Eh? What do you say?”

Here Fru Egholm suddenly appeared unwontedly versed in the Scriptures.
She answered boldly, and with emphasis:

“Well, there’s one place where Sivert won’t be set behind the
rest--even if they’re ever so much of a genius.”

“Eh, what--what do you say?”

“I say: _Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of
Heaven!_”

Egholm gasped, utterly at a loss, and made no answer.

Sivert slept in the little back room where Hedvig had her couch. He
lay on the floor, upon a sort of bed of some nondescript material, and
slept in his clothes to keep warm. Nevertheless, he went to bed with a
smile on his lips. His father’s persecution could not shatter his joy
at being _at home_. Even the blows and kicks he got beat into him the
fact that he was at home, and he took them without complaint. Yes, all
was well, everything.

Next morning, as Egholm was gulping down his tea, he caught sight of
Sivert’s bowed and huddled figure slipping across the yard. Ordinarily,
Sivert stole out of his room by the window, and kept out of the way
till his father had gone out--there was no sense in giving him the
trouble of getting angry if it could be avoided. But to-day the boy had
overslept himself.

Egholm reached out and rapped at the window, at the imminent risk of
breaking the glass.

Sivert stopped, gave a sickly smile, turned round twice where he stood,
and made towards the gate.

“Here, you fool!” roared his father, and Sivert stopped again.

“Be quick and come in,” whispered his mother out from the kitchen door.

“Well, why don’t you come? Put on your cap and come along with me.”

Sivert obeyed without a word.

Egholm held the boy close to his side, and they marched down the path
towards the beach.

“Go on ahead, so I can keep an eye on you,” he commands. And Sivert
walks on ahead with the transcendent smile of the martyr-about-to-be.
He knows now he is to die, but it doesn’t matter so much, after all.
Going to drown him, he supposes, since they are making towards the
water.

“Know what you’ve got to do?” asks his father.

“Yes,” says Sivert, smiling again. And a little after, he ventures to
add: “But if--if you don’t mind, I’d like it better if you’d take a
nice soft stone and batter my head with it. I’d die quite soon that
way....”

“Soft stone?” says Egholm mechanically, busy with his own thoughts.
“Nonsense. You walk straight on; that’s all you’ve got to do.”

“Ah well,” sighs Sivert, breaking into a trot. “I was only thinking,
perhaps I’m not a good one to drown, after all. I can’t swim, you know.”

“Who’s talking about drowning? That can wait till to-morrow, anyway.
You’re coming out with me to a place of mine, to pray.”

“I think I’d like that better, yes,” said Sivert. But his voice showed
only the slightest possible change of tone.

They walked along the beach a long way, out to the woods. Sivert
walked with an unsteady gait; he would really rather have died after
all if only he might be left to himself for a single minute first....
But his father drove him on like a donkey in front. The boy’s
strangeness of manner irritated him.

“Walk properly, boy, and keep your mind on godly things!”

“Yes,” said Sivert, and managed to call to mind a verse of a hymn,
which he proceeded to mutter as he went. But he still walked
unsteadily, bending spasmodically every now and then.

“We can stop here,” said his father, as they reached a wooded slope,
where some young pines stood out from a thin covering of snow.

“Do you know the text: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’? Good. We’ll
say that text, and then a prayer, that you’ll repeat after me word for
word. You understand?”

Then, while they were still in the preparatory stage, kneeling opposite
each other with bared heads, something happened which destroyed at one
blow all possibility of further co-operation.

Under cover of his cap, held before him in his folded hands, Sivert has
managed to undo one button....

Egholm hears a peculiar sound ... springs up with a roar....

Off goes Sivert like a hare across the ice, unable to stop what he had
already begun. It looked as if he were spinning a thread behind him
like a spider. He had no intention of returning, however. He had but
one thought--home.

Egholm did not attempt to pursue. He tried to go on with his prayer,
but gave it up, and went into the woods. He walked all the morning, and
came round by a wide detour into Knarreby about dinner-time. But his
haste was such that he passed by the house without thought of hunger or
thirst. Not till he was in the main street did he slacken his pace, and
begin looking absently into the shop windows. They were crammed with
all manner of things--Christmas was near. There were ducks, and these
he noticed in particular, but all the rest made one confused medley
to his eyes. Nevertheless, he went up to the next window and gazed at
it attentively, as if mentally selecting something specially rare and
costly as a present for his love.

Then, at the sale department of the ironfoundry, he came to himself
again. Here at last were things worth looking at. Right up against the
glass were lovely heavy castings, pieces of machinery, and metal parts.
Pumps of all sizes, stacks of copper and brass tubing, taps and boiler
gauges, and heaps of nuts and bolts and screws, as if a wagon load had
been tipped down at random. Then there were spiral coils of the most
delicious lead and hempen packing, and farther back, at the end of
the shop, stood a mail-clad army of stoves. Somehow or other, Egholm
always found comfort in the sight of masses of cold metal. Possibly it
drew off the warmth of his over-heated brain.

Rothe, the ironfounder, a giant of a man, stood on the steps calling to
passers-by in greeting: “_Goddag, goddag!_”--the words seemed to echo
in the shield-like cavity of his stomach. His great head shone as if it
were of burnished copper. Now he caught sight of Egholm.

“Hey, _goddag, goddag_, Egholm! How’s the turbine getting on?”

Egholm walked in and spluttered out his latest ideas. Rothe laughed,
and slapped him genially on the shoulder.

“Henrik Vang’s full of it. Talks of nothing else down at the hotel.
But, look here--when are you going to get it _done_? Egholm’s famous
turbine....”

“Well, there’s one or two little things I still want,” said Egholm,
walking round the shop and fingering the items that caught his
attention.

“What sort of things?”

“A boat, for instance, and a small boiler.” Egholm mentioned these as
carelessly as if it had been a matter of a couple of waistcoat buttons.
“But”--he broke off suddenly--“what’s that thing there?” He dragged at
something in the warehouse behind.

“That? Oh, that’s Dr. Hoff’s old bath oven. I’ve just sent him a new
one.”

Egholm was still pulling the thing about, when Rothe, who was in his
best lunch-time and Christmas-time mood, said:

“If it’s any good to you, bring round a barrow and take it along.”

Whereupon he slapped Egholm again on the shoulder, and took up his
post again at the door, dealing out his double-barrelled greetings:
“_Goddag--goddag!_”

Egholm was in high spirits for quite a time over his unexpected coup.
Then, happening to catch sight of himself in a mirror-backed window, he
started in horror to see what a ghastly figure he made.

Yellow and haggard, with his black beard hanging limp and dead over his
worn and stained waistcoat. A disgusting sight.

Could it really be the Lord’s intention to starve him to death?

The thought almost brought him to his knees; he turned in through the
churchyard gate, as to a refuge where he could recover himself. The
naked branches of the mighty chestnuts sang in the wind, and great
heavy drops fell like tears from the roof of the church.

The wind must have changed. It was thawing now.

Egholm noticed that he no longer felt the biting cold. Perhaps, after
all, it was not so cruelly meant.

One end of the fire-ladder had fallen down. Egholm seated himself on
it, with his back against the church wall. He was physically exhausted,
and his brain had hardly rested for the past twenty-four hours.

It generally made him feel better to come in here for a while and look
out over the landscape he loved.

There at his feet lay the Custom House, its acute-angled roof just on
a level with the church foundations. Down in the office there sat Old
Poulsen at one window and Wassermann himself at the other. Funny thing,
really, that Poulsen should be called Old Poulsen, for the sake of the
few grey hairs about his ears--he was an infant, really, compared with
Wassermann.

How old could Wassermann be? Some said eighty-eight, but, looking at
his mummy-face, one might feel more inclined to think he had stood as
a man in the prime of life, wearing his gold-braided cap, what time
Noah’s Ark had landed on Mount Ararat, and he had come to examine the
ship’s papers.

Egholm gave a little grunt.

There was but a single vessel in the harbour--a schooner, laid up for
the winter. Its masts looked thin and, as it were, leafless, with the
sails and rigging taken down. The boys had built themselves a snow hut
out on the ice under its bowsprit. The current of the Belt was too
strong just here for the ice to hold it altogether in check; a little
farther north, there had been a battle between the two, and the ice had
lost. Mighty sheets of it came floating down the channel; off the mole,
they packed and closed in an angry whirl, setting their teeth in the
piles, but were torn away ruthlessly and sent on southward again.

In the curve of the channel between the black woods, the ice-floes
looked like a flock of white swans on a blue lake. The grey-green line
of hills on the Jutland side looked far away in the misty air, though
the distance was not so great but that one could count the windows of
the ferry station over between the trees.

Egholm’s brain had rested for just the space of time it took to turn
his head from right to left and back again. Now it began hammering
again; he had caught sight of a certain green-painted dinghy down by
the harbour, and that particular craft interested him more than all the
other rowing boats in the world.

But--in Heaven’s name--how was he to gain possession?

He rose, and went down into the coal-cellar of the church, where he
commenced to pray. His thoughts were confused with excitement, he did
not understand his own words, and when he stood up again, the coals
came rattling down with a sound as of scornful laughter. Could a man
go to the devil and get hold of fifty _kroner_ that way?

Or, could not a man settle the business himself, by his own unaided
power? Why this constant begging round?

Egholm walked out of the churchyard, talking to himself, and took the
road to Kongeskoven--thus completing the whole circuit of the town and
neighbourhood for that day.

All his inventions, were they of no more value when it came to the
point than that he must die of hunger? Surely there should be some
appreciation of them--at any rate, in higher quarters. He thought of
some of the more important; not mere ideas he had busied himself with
to pass the time, shaking them out of his sleeve like a conjurer, but
those that were really worth something, say, a million.

As, for instance, the pair of frictionless wheels for railway
carriages--that should have meant an income to the inventor out of
every pair of wheels in all the world, if only God had lifted a little
finger to help.

And then that preparation of his for turning yellow bricks red--a
profit of several _kroner_ per thousand of bricks!

There was Egholm’s smoke-consumer, that would make the atmosphere of
great cities as pure as the purest sea air.

There was ... but, no; it was enough. These three supreme inventions
of his were in themselves sufficient to condemn that God up there!

Plainly, God was not disposed to help: He kept down genius out of sheer
envy.

Egholm walked into the woods, beating his breast and threatening high
Heaven. Once he happened to strike himself on the mouth, and this set
his thoughts off in an entirely new direction, where they tore away
even more furiously, and flung themselves cascading into headlong
depths.

The blow had reminded him of that last affair with Anna--yesterday
morning, was it, or the day before?

“It’s a lie!” he hissed, kicking at a root. “A downright lie, fostered
in a venomous woman’s brain. Her nose came on to bleed, that was all.
Just an ordinary case of nose-bleeding, that happened to come on at
the same time. But, of course, she made the most of it. I didn’t do
anything worse than”--here he lashed out with his stick--“other days,
but then she starts screaming hysterically, and there’s the blood
trickling down through her fingers. Ugly--horrible....”

What was that?

Egholm came to a standstill in the middle of the path, and looked round
with staring eyes.

What was this? Was he to be haunted now, in broad daylight? Surely it
might at least have the decency to wait till night?

No; it was here. The same old story from his sleepless nights; the
fights with Anna over again. Every word that had been spoken between
them. And then, at the decisive moment--the loved and detested face of
Clara Steen rising up to take the blows--Clara’s white fingers vainly
trying to stop that crimson stream.... Clara’s eyes, looking at him....

“I must be ill, I think,” he murmured to himself. “And there’s a nasty
pain here in the middle of my chest. Throbbing and throbbing like
anything. Not quite in the middle, though--no, a little to the left.”

He burst out into a wild laugh and beat his forehead with the back of
his hand.

Not so strange, after all, that it should be more to the left. The
heart was on the left side. Ha ha! yes, he was a witty fellow, after
all!

But the drama was still going on before his eyes. Oh, but he would
not see it. No, no--not here in the daytime. For the love of God, let
the curtain fall! Leave it till the night, when all sorts of things
happened anyway, beyond understanding. Here, in the middle of the road,
he could not go smashing pictures in broad daylight. It was too much to
ask.

And--well, he was ready to admit, if that would help at all, that it
wasn’t just ordinary nose-bleeding. No, Heaven help him, he had struck
her with all his force right across nose and mouth. Well, then, now he
had confessed. Wasn’t that enough?

Where was the sense of being an inventor and a natural healer, if he
could not find a pain-killer for his own case?

Still, perhaps he might, after all. Suppose, now, he were to make one
smart cut and tear that beating heart right out, all would be well.

Next moment he sawed the fancy across with a grin. Ugh! poetic nonsense!

No--but there was something else--something far better....

Here, close by, must be Fruedammen, the Lady Pool, where a noble dame
had once disappeared in her bridal chariot with all eight horses.
Surely it would make things easier to get down deep into that?

Aha! Good old inventor--never at a loss!

He hung his stick over his arm and folded his hands.

“Forgive me, Heavenly Father, for this once--for just this once.”

Some critical self within himself marked the words as lisping and
ridiculous.

He ran at a stumbling trot along the ground over the serpentine
contortions of the great beech roots. It could not be more than a
minute’s walk to the pool. But there was no time to be lost.

Curious, by the way, that a man should for close on fifty years have
clung to life tooth and nail, and now, to-day, on Christmas Eve, be
hurrying to get rid of it.

What would they say to it all at home?

Would Hedvig stand up straight and stiff and say, “A good thing, too”?

And Emanuel, the child of victory, what would be his future? Ah, well,
there was little victory to be expected there, after all. No, that
turbine was the true victory child.

Farewell, smooth round thing, that should have gone one day with a soft
“dut-dut,” while all the world shouted hurrah and wept at the same
moment.

Egholm found himself weeping at the thought, and his legs grew weak
under him, but he kept up his pace, and took a last evasive mental
farewell of Anna as he went.

Now, just across to the other side of the road--here it was.

There was a little low seat with many initials cut in. Egholm ran round
it, swept past a thorn-bush, tearing his face against the branches,
and stood breathing heavily on the brink of the bottomless pool in the
forest.

A chill shudder passed through him. His head sank forward. A moment
after he gave a queer little laugh, shrugged his shoulders, then
staggered up to a tree and leaned against it.

On the farther side of the pool, a blackbird was rustling in the
leaves; now it flew off with a long whistling cry. It was a little past
noon. Now and again a draggled ray of sunlight slipped through the
covering of clouds, and the branches threw pale shadows in its gleam.
Only a second they remained, then vanished again like spirits.

Egholm felt his knees sinking--he was deadly tired. Then, at the sound
of a cart crushing through the wood far away, he drew himself up with a
sigh and walked off among the trees.

The blood began pulsing in long swells through his veins, following
on his excitement, but there was no pain anywhere now. He had a nice
strong feeling of having been honest.

He murmured a few words of Sivert’s oracular speech that had stuck in
his mind:

“It’s ever so hard to do a thing when it’s impossible.”

Suppose he tried laughing a little at the whole thing. He had hurried
to the pool--and lo, the ice was Heaven knows how many inches thick. Of
course, it was. Still, he had been honest--God was his witness to that.
It must have been the open water of the Belt that made him forget.

It was evening before he found himself back, wiping his shoes carefully
and gently in the passage. So unwontedly gentle was he, indeed, that
Anna came out in a fright with the lamp to see who was there.

“Oh, heavens, is it you, Egholm? We’ve been almost out of our wits
because you didn’t come back. Wherever have you been all day?”

She rubbed his wet things with a towel, and told of the joint of pork
that had come from the Christmas Charity Committee, and the cakes that
Hedvig had brought home.

She rubbed away, chattering all the time, mentioning casually what a
blessing it was Sivert had got that place with the glazier’s--to have
his own room and all. She stopped, astounded at her own boldness in
daring to utter Sivert’s name.

But Egholm made no sound, and she went on, scraping the mud from his
boots the while, to tell how she had just happened to think of Nøckel,
the glazier, if he might happen to want a boy, and she had hardly got
inside the door when they said yes, and were glad to have him.

“He can stay here this evening--if you like,” said his father.

Fru Egholm could hardly believe her ears, and Sivert, carefully hidden
away in the pantry, fancied, too, that there must be something queer
behind it all.

“Don’t somehow feel like being thrashed to-day, either,” he said,
darkly reflecting.

So the Egholms had some sort of a Christmas, after all. The gentler
feelings flourished in every heart. Egholm himself gave orders that
Marinus from the carpenter’s shop should be sent for, having found
him gazing longingly in through a window. On Christmas Eve, it was a
duty to entertain the poor at one’s table, he said, if one wanted to
feel any Christmas rejoicing oneself. His wife found this a very pretty
sentiment, with the one reservation that the principle, to her mind,
was followed out to an extreme degree in their case, since the five who
were daily entertained at their board were undeniably poor themselves.

Later in the evening, she went to the window, and with a certain
awkwardness brought over the champagne blossom and set it on a chair
in the middle of the room with a candle in front. Anyone could see it
was meant to be a Christmas tree, all ready decked. Marinus giggled at
Sivert, but Hedvig rose of her own accord, stepped out into their midst
like an actress, and sang till the windows rattled about sweet and
joyous Christmastide.

“Now we ought to hand round the presents,” said Fru Egholm to Marinus,
with a laugh.

Egholm joined absently in the laugh. He had a vague idea of having
already received a Christmas present that was worth something.

He had been given back his life.

And that was, after all, a thing of some importance, if he was ever to
get that turbine done.



XIX


After a cruel winter came the spring at last, offering gentle hands to
all mankind. Folk might be seen walking in the streets, hat in hand, in
gratitude and veneration towards the bright, happy face of the sun.

It was much the same with the flowers; they came forth in hosts from
out of the earth, _saw_ the sun, and bowed.

The beech, knowing its flowers were nothing to speak of, put on its
pale green silk first thing in the morning, and found no reason to be
ashamed, but the apple tree surpassed them all; it had to put on its
bridal dress with a blush.

Fru Egholm left the kitchen window open all day long. A branch from
Andreasen’s espalier, an apple branch of all things, thrust itself
up across the opening. It was almost her property, so to speak, that
apple branch. She showed Emanuel how the bees came flying up, whispered
something sweet into the ears of the little flower things, and were
given honeyed kisses in return before flying off again.

Fru Egholm did more than that for her little boy; she got Hedvig to
take him out every afternoon into the meadow near by. He came home
with a chain of dandelion stalks round his neck, and one day he even
had a dead butterfly in his clammy little fist. That day, he could
hardly speak for the wonders he had seen.

Spring came to Egholm, too. He had got his boat--the very green one he
had prayed for. Vang had procured it for him, by some means unknown.

“My dear fellow, my old and trusted friend, let me make you a present
of it. Here you are, the boat is yours, presented by a circle of
friends.”

And the pair overflowed in a transport of mutual affection.

The boiler was already in its place, and the funnel towered proudly
above, painted a fine bold red. The screw stuck out behind, and could
revolve when turned by hand. All looked well, so far.

But the turbine itself, the beating heart that was to make the thing
alive, was not yet finished.

Krogh, the old blacksmith, worked away at it till his yellow drooping
jaws shook. His tools were mediæval. What a machine drill could have
managed in an afternoon, he took a week to do. Egholm turned up his
eyes to heaven, when he saw how little had been done in twenty-four
hours, but he said nothing. The fact was, that Krogh had one quality
which rendered him more valuable than all other blacksmiths together:
he was willing to work without seeing the money first. Moreover, his
work was good when it _was_ done, and in spite of his sour looks, he
took a real interest in the project.

Egholm was so kindly and easy to get on with all that spring that his
wife was quite uneasy about him at times. All the hours he could spare
from his studio--and they, alas, were not a few--he spent down on the
beach, scraping and patching and painting his wonderful creation.

At home, he would sit dreaming in the arm-chair, so far removed from
all reality that Emanuel might sing and prattle as much as he pleased
without being stopped by a peremptory order from his father.

He was sitting thus one evening towards the end of May; both Emanuel
and Hedvig were asleep. The day had been hot, and the heat still hung
in the low-ceiled rooms. The children were tossing restlessly in their
beds. If only one dared to open a window--but no; the night air was
a thing to be careful about, while there were children in the place,
thought Fru Egholm to herself. It was late, very late, but what did
that matter, as long as there was oil enough in the lamp?

“Whatever are you sitting there thinking about?” she asked, when the
silence had lasted an eternity. There was not the slightest danger now
in such a piece of familiarity on her part. Not as he had been lately.

“Nothing,” said Egholm, drawing in his breath as if he had just
emerged from the depths of the sea. “What’s that you’re fussing about
now?”

“Wassermann’s wig. Look at it--it’s simply falling to pieces. But as
for a new one--well, you should have seen his wife’s face when I spoke
of it. And if it hadn’t been that there’s a chance they might take
Hedvig as maid there, I’d never....”

“What d’you get for a bit of work like that?”

“Well, it ought to be a _krone_, but seventy-five _øre_ I will have,
and that’s the least. Though I don’t suppose she’ll offer me more than
fifty, the stingy old wretch.”

Egholm sat silent a while, then involuntarily he lied a little. “I’ll
tell you,” he said, “what I was thinking about. You know that verse
from ‘_Adam Homo_’:

    “‘What trouble’s worst? We’ve trials enough, Lord knows
    If I should ask, a score of voices swift
    Would tell me where _they_ found the “little rift”
    Each as experience led him to suppose.
    One says ’tis boredom, one, ’tis married life;
    Another finds it worse _without_ a wife.
    One thinks remorsefully of sins committed,
    Another with regret of those omitted.
    One, of all pains we’ve suffered since the Fall,
    Will reckon _Money Troubles_ worst of all.’

Yes, money troubles--that’s the worst. Paludan Müller, he knew. And
he’s my favourite poet. He knew everything!”

And Egholm fell to talking pitifully of poverty, the nightmare that
had its teeth in his throat, and could not be torn away.

“But there’s more comes after,” said Anna, when he paused. “Don’t you
remember the next verse?”

“I know the whole thing off by heart. Anywhere you like to choose.”

“Well, then, you know that money troubles aren’t the worst in the
world. It’s no good losing courage like that. And we’re getting on
nicely now, really. Etatsraaden said about the rhubarb, we might....”

She put forth all her womanly arts to comfort him, but in vain. Still
she kept on--and her voice was much the same as when she was soothing
Emanuel.

Egholm let her go on; yes, they were getting on nicely now, he thought
to himself, and smiled bitterly. Oh yes, nicely, magnificently!

The globe of the lamp was stuck together with strips of newspaper.
Before the window hung a piece of faded green stuff in two tapes,
drooping down to a slack fold in the middle. At the sides were ragged,
dusty curtains, into which Anna had stuck some paper flowers.

On the walls were a couple of old engravings, an embroidered
newspaper-holder of his wife’s, and a few fretwork brackets and
photograph frames, these being Sivert’s work.

The big mirror, too, looked ridiculous, really, at that angle--it had
to be slanted forward to an excessive degree, owing to the lowness
of the room. Egholm could see himself in it, and the children’s bed
as well. Emanuel lay on the settee, but Hedvig’s bed, in the little
side room, consisted of three chairs. Her coverlet was his old uniform
cloak, and the chairs rocked at every breath she drew.

Poverty in every corner. The very pattern of the wallpaper was formed
of holes and patches of damp.

True, there were the two arm-chairs and the chest of drawers, but....

His wife was still talking away of all the good things they had to be
thankful for. Of Hedvig, coming home regularly with her good wages, and
the chance now of getting a place at ten _kroner_, at Wassermann’s. And
then Sivert, still at the glazier’s this ever so long. Surely it was a
mercy they could be proud of their children?

And soon Egholm himself would have finished that steamboat thing of
his.... Fru Egholm threw out this last by some chance, having exhausted
all other items that could reasonably be included.

Her husband started. It was what he had been thinking of all the
evening himself. But, anxious not to betray the fact, he said only:

“Yes; if I’m lucky.”

But Anna saw through him all the same. Stupid of her not to have
thought before of the one thing that was all the world to him.

“And why shouldn’t you be lucky, I should like to know? You haven’t
lost faith in your own invention?”

“It’s a curious thing,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “One moment
I believe in it, and the next I don’t. How is it possible that the
trained experts with all modern equipment at their backs--and money,
most of all--with nothing to worry about but their own calculations and
plans--how could they have missed the solution of the problem when it
seems to me as plain as the nose on your face?”

“Why, as to that, I don’t know, I’m sure. But that steam cart you made,
you know, just before Hedvig was born, that didn’t work.”

“Oh, what’s that got to do with it?” said Egholm irritably.

His wife pointed warningly towards the sleeping children. “Sh!” she
said. Then, noticing that the cloak had slipped down from Hedvig’s
legs, she hastened to tuck it up again. Egholm calmed down.

“Don’t mix up a steam cart and a turbine,” he said when she re-entered
the room. “I didn’t take any particular trouble over that steam
cart--at any rate, not enough. After all, it was only construction
work, that. But a turbine that can _reverse_--that’s an independent
invention. I’d give my heart’s blood to realise it. You know what a
friction coupling is, I suppose?”

“Do you mean the thing with the two balls, that swing round and look
like an umbrella?”

“Good heavens, no! You’re thinking of a centrifugal regulator valve.”

“Oh well, well, then....”

No, it was no use talking to her; she muddled up the simplest things
imaginable. Egholm wrung his hands and was silent.

But a little after, he looked up brightly and suggested they should go
and have a look at the machinery now, both together.

Anna shook her head. What an idea!

“Aren’t you a bit interested in my things?”

“Why, that you know I am, Egholm. But you wouldn’t ask me to go running
out now in the middle of the night. Look, it’s half-past one!”

“But you say you never can go out in the daytime.”

This was true; Anna never set foot outside the door as long as it was
light. Her dress had been ruined altogether this winter, from having
to use it for Emanuel’s bedclothes at night. And what was the use of
having rooms across a courtyard, when Andreasen’s workmen came running
to the window every time they heard the door?

“But the lamp might upset, and the house burn down and the children in
it.”

“Turn it out, then, of course. Don’t talk such a lot.”

Fru Egholm writhed; there was no persuading him any way once he had
taken a thing into his head.

Hesitatingly she took out a white knitted kerchief from a drawer. She
had almost forgotten what it was like to put on one’s things to go
out....

It was moonlight outside; the shadow of the tall workshop roof lay
coal-black over half the courtyard, leaving the remainder white as if
it had been lime-washed.

Every step she took seemed new and strange. So softly their steps fell
in the thick dust as they crossed the road.

Up in the old churchyard, every tree stood like a temple of perfume
in the quiet, soft night. And all the time, she was marvelling that
it really _was_ moonlight. She had not noticed it at home--doubtless
because the lamp was burning.

The tears came into her eyes--just such a moonlight night it had been
the time they....

And here she was walking with him, just as then.

Surely, it was enough to turn one’s head.

Here was Egholm actually taking her arm. Taking her arm!...

Great moths and small glided silently past; one of them vanished into
the hedge as if by magic.

Bats showed up here and there against the pale sky, flung about like
leaves in the wind. From the meadow came a quivering chorus of a
thousand frogs.

“It must be like this in Paradise,” she said faintly.

“Ah, wait till you can see the boat,” said her husband.

The dew on the thick grass down by the beach soaked through her boots
and stockings. Moonlight _and_ stockings wet with dew.... Oh, it was
not _just like_ that time now; it _was_ that time ... that night at
Aalborg, after the dance at the assembly rooms, where she had met the
interesting young photographer--the pale one, as they called him--and
let herself be tempted to go out for a walk in the woods after. And
Thea, her sister, who was with them, had almost pinched her arm black
and blue in her excitement. But it had to be; he was irresistible,
with his foreign-looking appearance, his silver-mounted stick, and his
smartly creaking calfskin boots.

He had not danced himself, by the way, but sat majestically apart
drinking his tea.

But how he could talk! Until one hardly knew if it was real or all a
dream....

It was light when she pulled off her soaking wet stockings and her
sodden dancing shoes.

Yes, it must be some good angel that had put back the clock of time
to-night. Here she was, walking in the woods of Aalborg with her
lover. There was the fjord, and the moon drawing a silvery path right
to her feet. Come, come!

She gazed with dimmed eyes towards the wondrous ball in the heavens,
that called up tides in the seas and in hearts; she clung trustingly to
her friend’s arm. And, glancing at him sideways, she saw that his eyes
were looking out towards it too. Yes, their glances moved together,
taking the same road out over the gliding waters of the Belt, in
through a gate of clouds, to kneel at the full moon, that is the God of
Fools.

A startled bird rose at their feet and flew, the air rushing audibly in
its feathers.

“Listen--a lark! And singing now, though it’s night!”

“A lark!” Egholm took this, too, as an omen of good fortune for his
turbine.

At the foot of the slope lay the boat, drawn up on land with props
against the sides.

He explained it all, the parts that were there and the rest that should
be added as soon as Krogh had got the turbine finished. He spoke
eagerly and disconnectedly; none but an expert could have understood
him. But Anna kept on saying:

“Yes, yes, I can understand that, of course. Ever so much better that
way, yes. And how prettily it’s painted, the boiler there. I thought it
would be just an old rusty stove. And the boat--why, it’s quite a ship
in itself.”

“Beautiful little boat, isn’t it?” said Egholm, in high good humour
now. “And I’ve caulked it all over. Take my word for it, the natives’ll
stare a bit when the day comes, and they see it racing away. Let’s sit
down and look at it a bit. Here, Anna, just here.”

They sat down, but it was wet in the tufty grass.

“We can climb up in the boat and sit there.”

Anna hesitated at first, but soon gave way. After all, everything was
topsy-turvy already; she hardly knew if she were awake or dreaming.
Egholm turned up an old bucket. “Here!” and he offered his hand like a
polite cavalier and helped her up.

The summer night was all about them. The lapping of the waves sounded
now near, now far; it was like delicate footsteps. For a little while
neither spoke.

“But--you’re not crying, Anna, dear?” He had felt her shoulders
quivering.

“We’ve been so far away from each other; strangers like,” she sniffed.
And then she broke down completely. “Anna, dear,” he had said. “Far
away from each other.... I don’t see how.... Seems to me we’ve been
seeing each other all day the same as usual.”

“Oh, but--we haven’t talked together for an hour like we are now, not
really, all the time we’ve been here.”

“Well, what should we talk about? You don’t generally take any interest
in my things. And, besides, living as we do in a hell of poverty....”

“But that’s just the reason why we ought to have helped each other. It
would have made everything easier if we had.”

“Well, I don’t know.... But, anyhow, there’s never been any difficulty
on my part, I’m sure.” Egholm spoke throughout with the same slight
touch of surprise. Really, she was getting too unreasonable.

There was nothing for it now--she must say it.

“You’ve struck me many a time in the two years we’ve been living here.”
She stopped in fright at her own words, then hastened to add: “But I
know you don’t mean any harm, of course.”

“Then why do you bother about it?” he said, in the same tone as before.
But a moment later, before she could answer, he got up, reached out as
if to swing himself out of the boat, then sat down again and shook his
head.

“Struck you?” he said plaintively. “Have I really struck you?”

He did not expect an answer, but asked the same question again, all the
same. He fumbled for her hand under her apron, and stroked it again and
again.

“Have I really struck you?”

Then he drew back his hand again, and shook his head once more.

Anna was deeply moved. The single caress seemed to her like the
sunlight and the scent of flowers that came in through the kitchen
window in the morning, before the others were awake. Her heart swelled
up within her, and her tears poured down as she put her arms round
him and begged him to forget what she had said. She lost sight of the
starting-point altogether, and behaved like a penitent sinner herself.

“Forgive me, do say you forgive me. Say you’ll forget it. Oh, don’t
make me miserable now because it slipped out like that! You’re so good,
so good....”

White banks of mist lay over the Belt, and away in the north-east the
sun was already preparing to emerge after the brief night. The larks
rose and fell, singing; the gulls called cheerily as they came tearing
down after food.

Egholm turned round several times to look back at the boat as they
walked home.

Quietly they stole into the house. Nothing had gone wrong in their
absence.

Hedvig awoke, and stared stiffly at her parents; then she yawned and
lay down again. Very soon the chairs were rocking under her again as
they should.

Egholm began undressing at once; he looked tired and peaceful. But
his wife whispered to say she would be there directly; only a few more
stitches to finish the work.

And as she sewed, she looked with a smile at the spots of red paint on
her fingers. There, on the left hand, was one that looked just like a
ring. That was where he had helped her up into the boat.

Who could sleep after a night like that?



XX


Draper Lund and Barber Trane came walking together from the direction
of the town. Reaching Egholm’s beach path, Lund broke off in the middle
of a sentence, and said:

“Well, I think I’ll go down this way. Enjoy the view, you know.
Good-bye!”

“Why, I was going down that way myself. It’s to-day that thing was to
start, you know--the miracle man’s steamboat thing.”

“H’m. If it goes at all.” Lund straightened his glasses and shot an
unexpected glance of considerable meaning at the other.

“No, no, of course. But it’s as well to know how it went off, you know,
when customers come in and talk about it.”

“I don’t want to deliver any definite judgment,” said Lund delicately,
as a very Professor of Drapery, “but there is something about the man
that leads me to doubt. He talks so much.”

“Yes, and so mysterious about things. And conceited, too.”

“Which, with his dirty vest and frayed trousers....” added Lund in
agreement.

“I suppose he’ll go sailing round with it to show it off?”

“I daresay he’ll take out a patent.”

“Those patent things are never any good,” said Trane energetically. He
knew. He had a patent pipe at home, that was always sour.

Lund and Trane stopped in surprise when they came down to the beach
and found how many others of the townsfolk had had the same idea of
going down that way. Lund made as if to turn back, but realised that
it was too late, and laughed with great heartiness. And those on the
spot laughed again in perfect comprehension--they had felt exactly
the same way themselves. One of them had made a long detour round by
Etatsraaden’s garden, and others had done the same as Lund, walking
smartly out as if going a long way, and then turning off suddenly, as
if by the impulse of the moment, towards the beach.

Well, _Herregud!_ here they were. And, anyhow, it was only reasonable
to take what fun there might be going these sad times. There was not
much in the way of amusement in the town.

Besides, it was pleasant enough, lying here in the soft dried seaweed
and the warm tickling sand. The sun shone over the Belt and the green
shores of Jutland beyond. They could, as Lund repeated again and again,
enjoy the view.

He and Trane joined a group that had gathered for instruction in steam
engines about the person of Lange, the schoolmaster.

“Then there’s a pipe goes here....” The schoolmaster pointed to a
certain spot in the air and came to a standstill. He was very nervous
without a blackboard and his handbook of physics to help him out. And
now here were those two unpleasant characters, Lund and Trane, lounging
up in the middle of the lesson.

“A pipe goes there ... and that leads to the cylinder here....” He
raised his voice and pointed again.

Trane, anxious to see as much as possible, craned his neck to follow
the direction of Lange’s index finger, but perceived, to his surprise,
nothing more tangible than the driving clouds.

He shook his head. How could he tell his customers this? He gave it up,
and lay down with the others to bask in the September sunshine.

Egholm’s boat lay some twenty yards out; the shallow water prevented
it from coming closer in. It was white, with a brilliant red stripe
along the side. Behind the red-leaded funnel, which was supported with
stays, could be seen curious parts of bright metal. Egholm was on his
knees, hat in hand, puffing at the furnace. The fuel, which consisted
of half-rotten fragments of board, was not quite dry. Now and again he
lifted his head and gave a brief glance towards land.

Astonishing, such a lot of people had turned up. He felt his
responsibility towards them like a delicious ache at his heart.

Oh, it would turn out all right.

If only he had had someone to lend a hand. Even Sivert would have been
better than nothing. Egholm looked across reproachfully at Krogh, the
old blacksmith, who stood on the beach with his jaws drooping as ever.
He had just come down with the last bits of the machine, but could not
be persuaded to go on board. He dared not mix with the rest, even, for
he was an accomplice in the thing, however much he might turn up his
nose to show disapproval.

Well, well, he would have to manage alone.

What was that?--who were they lifting their hats to suddenly?

Heavens, if it wasn’t the editor himself! Egholm dropped a nut that
slipped away between the bottom boards. Perhaps, after all, Anna had
not been altogether lying when she said the editor had called him a
genius. But he would not do discredit to the name--no, he would take
care of that!

Trembling with emotion, Egholm watched the mighty personage striding
through the groups. He always walked as if battling his way forward
in the teeth of a gale. Even to-day, when the water was smooth as a
mirror, his flowing cloak, his greyish-yellow military beard, even his
bushy eyebrows, seemed to stand away from him as if borne on the wings
of some private particular wind; possibly one he had brought home with
him from the battlefields of ’64.

The onlookers leaped aside, like recruits, to make way for him. His
presence brought sudden encouragement to the rest--something would
surely come of it, after all. A good thing they had not stayed at home.

The editor stopped at the water’s edge, and hailed across, with a voice
rent by the storm:

“Egholm! Can you get done by six, so that I can have a line in the
paper?”

Egholm tried to rise, but slipped down again. He was rather cramped for
room.

“I think so, yes, I think so!” He drew out his watch and looked at it.
A quarter to nine it showed now--as it had done for heaven knows how
long past. “I’ll do my best.”

The editor muttered something, balanced against a sudden gust, and
marched off.

But there were plenty remaining. The slopes of the beach were alive and
noisy as bird-cliffs in the nesting season.

How had all these people ever managed to find their way to the spot?
Egholm had not drummed about any announcement as to time and place of
his experiment. He had, indeed, grown rather more reticent of late. And
old Krogh would hardly say more than he need. How could it have come
about?

The explanation was there in the flesh--with a shawl about her head
and beautifully varnished clogs on her feet. The explanation was Madam
Hermansen, who had the backstairs entry of every house in Knarreby.
Whatever was thrown into her as into a sink at one place was gladly
used to wash up the coffee cups in at another. She smelt a little of
everything, like a sewer, and was as useful and as indispensable.

In addition to this comprehensive occupation for the public weal, she
found time to cherish great amorous passions for all the big fat men in
the town. She walked about, smiling and confident, from group to group,
shaking her hips at every step, and sidling round people like a horse
preparing to kick.

“That leg of yours still bad?” asked little Dr. Hoff.

“Yes, much the same.”

“H’m,” said Hoff, a little annoyed. “Mind you keep it clean. That’s the
only thing to do.”

“I suppose it’s no use trying an earth cure?”

“Earth cure? What on earth’s that?”

“Why, it’s just an earth cure, that’s all. It was Egholm’s been
plaguing me to try it. But he ... well, I’m not sure his intentions are
really decent like and proper. I know how he’s been with me sometimes
... and his poor wife....”

“What’s he want you to do with the leg?” asked Hoff, his eyes
glittering behind his glasses.

“Why, as sure as I’m alive, he wants me to bury it in the ground.”
Madam Hermansen laughed alarmingly.

“Now, does he mean? While it’s on you, that is?” Hoff blinked again.

“Now, this moment, if he could get me to do it. And then sit there for
a week, for the juices of the earth to work a cure, if you please.”

“Well, mind you don’t take root,” said Hoff. His face was immobile,
save for his eyes.

“What? Yes, and then all the worms and rats and things.... But how he
can talk, that Egholm. Never knew such a man.”

Wassermann from the Customs House came down too, his galoshes leaving
a long dragging trail in the dry sand. Under the gold-braided cap his
red wig stuck out, stiff as a tuft of hay. It was said he had inherited
it from his father. Be that as it may, he certainly kept it in use,
wore it at all times, and stayed religiously at home while it was being
mended once a year by Fru Egholm. His features seemed erased, with
the exception of his mouth, which appeared as a black cavity like a
rat’s hole in a white-washed wall. He stood for some minutes gaping
over towards Egholm’s boat, then he shambled on again. His moribund
perceptions had had their touch of excitement, and that sufficed.

Henrik Vang had settled himself almost as in a cave, half-way up the
slope between two willow bushes. Sivert, who had likewise succumbed to
the prevalent fever, and run off from his glazier work in the middle of
a day, had brought him down a whole case of beer. The boy had run so
fast with the barrow that half the bottles were broken.

“No harm done as far as I’m concerned,” said Vang solemnly as a funeral
oration. “But it is a pity to waste good beer.”

The onlookers of the better class came up to him one by one, to shake
hands and dispose of a bottle of beer, as quietly as might be.

“Why the devil can’t you come over to the rest of us?” said Rothe, who
was dressed in his best, having just come from a meeting of the town
council.

“Not such a fool. This is not the only place where there’s any shade
to cool the beer.” Vang pointed under one of the bushes. “Look
there--might be in the garden of Eden.”

Henrik Vang himself was perspiring profusely, out of anxiety on his
friend Egholm’s behalf.

“Isn’t it wonderful? Just look out there, and see it’s really true.
There’s the boat--the steamer he’s invented. Now, if I live to be a
hundred”--here he glanced darkly at Rothe--“if I lived to be _two_
hundred, I could never invent a steamboat. Not me.”

“There’ve been steamboats before, I fancy,” said Rothe.

“Eh, what?” Vang looked up sharply, and was for a moment at a loss;
then he laughed, and waved Rothe aside with his broad paw. “Oh yes,
those great big unwieldy things, I know. Any fool can make a thing like
that. But a _little_ steamboat--that’s another thing!”

He caught sight of Sivert lying flat in the grass, dividing his
attention equally between his father’s manœuvres with the machinery and
Vang’s operations with the bottles.

“Come up here, boy!” cried Vang, and Sivert crawled nearer. He dared
not let himself be seen, least of all by his father.

“How does he do it?” Vang looked sternly, but with unsteady gaze, at
the boy. “You ought to know. How does your father manage it--inventing
things and all that?”

“Like this!” said Sivert, without a moment’s hesitation, shaking his
woolly head from side to side like a rattle.

“The devil he does!”

“But it was me that invented the big brass tap in the cellar, though.
But then it was a very little one, really. I don’t think it was bigger
than there to there,” said Sivert modestly, indicating a length of
Vang’s leg from the ankle to the middle of the thigh. “Look how it’s
puffing now!”

The smoke was pouring out violently from the funnel of the boat,
drifting in towards the onlookers as a foretaste of what was to
come. Egholm was working away feverishly. Now he was seen clambering
barefooted, with his trousers rolled up to the knee, out past the
engine to the bow; a moment later, he was back in the stern, leaning
over with his sleeves in the water up to the elbows, turning at the
screw, or baling out water as frantically as if in peril of shipwreck.

Folk whispered to one another; now he was doing so-and-so....

But--what was this? Here was Egholm’s girl Hedvig coming down, with
the youngest child by the hand--what did she want? And wearing the
famous button boots, too--the ones with ventilators in. Emanuel had one
stocking hanging in rings about his ankle.

“What do _you_ want?” Egholm’s nose was smeared with soot and oil, and
his brow was puckered angrily.

“There’s a lady come to be taken.”

“Tell her to come again to-morrow.”

Egholm gave a single proud, firm glance towards the land. Then he bent
down again over his spanner. The matter was decided. Hedvig tossed her
head, fished up Emanuel out of the sand, and walked off.

What legs the girl had! But it was really indecent to go about like
that, with her skirts cut short above the knee.

“Say your father’s busy--dreadfully busy about something just now.”
Egholm consulted his dead watch once more. “Ask if she can’t wait, say,
about an hour, and I’ll be there directly.”

“Very well.”

“Hedvig!” Egholm stood up and shouted. “Who was the lady?”

“A fine lady,” said Hedvig, angry and ashamed.

“Ask her to sit down,” said Egholm, his voice somewhat faint. “I’ll
come directly.”

He thrust more fuel under the boiler, stepped over the side, and waded
ashore, with his boots in his hand and his socks dangling out of his
pockets.

“You’re a smart one!” said Rothe, playfully threatening.

“Very annoying,” said Egholm. “But I’ll be back in five minutes’ time.”

He thrust his bare feet into his boots and ran up towards home.

“We may as well go,” said Lange, the schoolmaster, looking round. “It
won’t come to anything, after all.”

“I’m going out to have a look at the thing, anyhow,” said Rothe, and
began pulling off his boots.

“I’m half a mind to myself,” said Dr. Hoff, tripping about.

“Give you a ride out, Doctor?” suggested Rothe.

Several of the onlookers laughed, but the little dark medico accepted
the offer in all seriousness.

And suddenly quite a number decided to go out and look for themselves.

Trane, the barber, and schoolmaster Lange sat down back to back and
began pulling off shoes and stockings. Lange put his hat over the foot
he bared first.

“Ugh!” from one and then another as they dipped their feet. The water
was cold.

“But surely--it looks like....” The Doctor stood in the boat, gazing
nearsightedly at the engine. “Surely that’s the lid of my old bathroom
stove--you remember I sent it back to you?”

“Why, so it is!” cried Rothe. “Oho, so that was what he wanted the old
scrap-iron for.”

“Have you noticed the funnel?” said Lange.

All saw at once that the funnel was a milk-can with the button knocked
out; the stays were made fast to the handles on either side. Lange
laughed, with chattering teeth; it was abominably cold.

“It makes an excellent funnel, anyhow,” said the Doctor shortly.

“Suppose the thing started off with us now,” said Trane, measuring the
distance to shore.

“We’d soon be at the bottom, in this rotten old hulk.” Lange pointed
to the water slopping about over the bottom boards. He had in his mind
appointed Dr. Hoff head of the class, and did not care to address
himself to others.

“No doubt,” said Hoff sharply. “You’d have preferred him to start with
mahogany and polished brass.”

Lange turned away angrily; it was distressing to have to set a
mental black mark against the name of his most promising pupil. But
impertinence....

“Still, a man need not be stingy all round,” said Trane. He was
thinking of Egholm’s bald pate and untouched beard, that rendered him
independent of all the barbers in the world.

“Here, Rothe,” said the Doctor. “Come and explain the thing. How’s it
supposed to work? I’ve seen plans and drawings of that sort, of course,
but I don’t mind admitting it’s altogether beyond me.”

“Oh,” said Rothe, shrugging his shoulders and puckering his brows with
a careless air, “it’s not so easy to explain when you’re not in the
business. But, roughly, it’s like this....” And he began setting forth
briefly the principles of the turbine.

“And that, of course, can only go round one way. How he’s ever managed
to get it to reverse, the Lord only knows. There’s nothing much to see
from the outside.”

“Well, we shall hear this evening how it works.”

“Perhaps--perhaps not. I shouldn’t be too certain. There’s a heap of
things to take into consideration, apart from what you might call the
principle of the thing.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, you wouldn’t see it, of course, but there’s a hundred odd
things. That boiler there, for instance--can he get up a sufficient
head of steam with that? I don’t believe it. A turbine wants any amount
of steam to drive. If he got it fairly going, the thing’d simply burst.
Hark! how it’s thumping away already. But there’s no danger as long as
he’s only got that dolls’ house grate to heat it with. And as for the
boat”--Rothe looked round to make sure that Lange was out of hearing;
the others were limping back shiveringly to land--“the freckle-nosed
birch-and-ruler merchant’s right enough; it’s simply falling to pieces
as it is. Egholm, poor devil, he got some odd bits of tin from my
place and patched up the worst parts, but the nails wouldn’t hold even
then.--Coming off, Doctor? Here, get up again.--And the stuff he’s
burning’s no better than hay. He’s been stoking away for a couple of
hours now, and hasn’t got up steam yet.”

“What d’you reckon it would cost to make the experiment properly?”
asked the Doctor, with his expressionless face, as they reached dry
land again.

“Oh, any amount of money. Thousands of _kroner_. It’s hopeless for a
poor devil like him to try. But, of course, once he could get the thing
to go once round and reverse, why, _he’d be a millionaire!_”

Rothe shouted out the last words to the whole assembly; then he hopped
across to Henrik Vang’s bush. He pricked up his ears at the murmur
that arose from his words.

Madam Hermansen had only just discovered Vang. Suddenly she stood at
the foot of the slope and gave an amorous laugh.

Vang took the bottle from his lips in the middle of a draught, and the
beer frothed over down his vest.

“Get out!” he cried, with horror in his face. “Get out!” And he threw
the bottle at her.

Vang was a big man among his fellows; but under Madam Hermansen’s
glance he felt himself naked and ashamed.

Madam Hermansen sidled away in her polished clogs, still smiling.

Egholm came back at a trot, pushing an old perambulator full of coals.
He breathed in relief to find that the crowd was still there; it had,
indeed, increased. The workmen from the factory had come down to the
beach on their way home, and stood there now talking in bass voices,
their eyes turning ridiculously in their black faces. The apprentice
lads had come, too--unable to resist. They felt a kind of primitive,
brutally affectionate attraction towards the boat, which for some
unexplained reason they had christened _The Long Dragon_. It was just
the right distance for a stone-throwing target, and gave a delightful
metallic sound when hit. They had used it as a bathing-station while
the weather was still warm, undressing in it, diving in from it, and
rocking it in the water till the waves washed up on the sand. They
heaved up the anchoring stones, and sailed out with it, shouting and
singing, into deep water, where they swam round it in flocks, like
grampus about a whale. They turned the screw and made bonfires under
the boiler. But they did more: they laid an oar across from gunwale
to gunwale, and danced on it to see if it would break. And found it
did. They threw the manometer into the water to see if it would float.
And found it didn’t. A pale youngster, the son of Worms, the brewer,
who was not a factory apprentice at all, but a fine gentleman in the
uniform of the Academy, found a pot of paint under one of the seats,
and promptly painted his name, _Cornelius_, in red on the side of the
boat.

This was not done merely in jest, but by way of revenge for a nasty
jagged cut he had sustained when making his first investigations.

Egholm waged a continual hopeless war against those boys. It was
rarely that he encountered them himself, but he found their traces
frequently. When he did happen to catch one, it always turned out to be
an innocent, who did not even know the others of the band.

This evening, however, in the presence of so many respectable citizens,
the boys stood with hunched-up shoulders and hands in their pockets,
silent, or speaking only in whispers. Now and again they nudged one
another, like owls on a beam in the church tower.

The fire was being fed properly now, with coal, sending out a cloud of
smoke like a waving velvet banner. There was a rasp of filing and sharp
strokes of a hammer; the sound of iron against iron. Then down came a
compositor boy with the editor’s compliments, and....

“You can tell him I guarantee the machine will work all right. I
_guarantee_ it--you understand. And....”

“Then it hasn’t gone yet?”

“But you can see for yourself,” cried Egholm in despair; “the
pressure’s there all right now.” And, to prove it, he sprang up and
pulled at the little steam whistle. It gave a shriek as if to call for
help--then died away.

“Hark at the cock-crow!” shouted Sivert, beside himself. “The
world-famous cock crowing.”

“What’s that he’s shouting about?”

No one had understood the words. But they saw the boy dancing on the
crest of a hill with his white curls whirling about his head, and the
enthusiasm laid hold on them, too. They leaped up from their mounds of
seaweed, and in the dusk it seemed to them as if the boat moved. There
was a tickling in their throats. Vang was weeping copiously already.

“Give him a cheer,” said the doctor, moving from group to group. The
doctor with his glasses was not to be contradicted.

They filled their lungs with air ready for a shout; then up came Petrea
Bisserup, dragging her father along, and that air was expended in
laughter.

Bisserup was a blind brushmaker, who lived in a little white house on
the outskirts of the town. He was a little grey man, with a felt hat
several sizes too large, and his face so covered with a fungus-growth
of beard that only his nose showed through. His daughter, who led him,
had a crooked neck, which bent over so far as to leave her head lying
archly on one shoulder; she was a woman grown, but wore short skirts
and cloth shoes. They were a remarkable pair, and in face of this
counter-attraction, Egholm’s wonder-boat might have sailed away to
Jutland without being noticed by the crowd.

“Ei, ei.... Anything hereabout for a blind man to see?”

The boys from the factory could contain themselves no longer; one of
them barged another over against the old man, while the rest chuckled
and cackled and quacked like a yard full of mixed poultry.

“Petrea--here, Petrea, what are you looking at?”

“Little devils!” said Trane, gloating over them all the same. Lund, the
scientific draper, laughed too, but schoolmaster Lange, recollecting
his lessons at the drawing school, shrank back a little.

Petrea strode untroubled through the crowd, her mouth hanging open,
and the old man trailing behind at her skirts like some uncouth goblin
child. His moleskin breeches were of enormous capacity; the seat hung
down behind to his calves. When he stood still, the superfluous folds
fluttered in the wind like a rag-and-patch tent at a fair.

“Is’t that way there, Petrea?” He pointed with his stick, and leant
over, listening.

It was growing dusk. Folk were beginning to shiver a little in the
evening air. And there was nothing amusing after all in the sight of
these two poor vagrants. What was the time?

When Egholm opened the furnace door, the column of smoke shone like
gold, and his face glowed fantastically big and red. Still a few more
degrees were needed on the manometer--just a few. He stoked away, till
the sparks flew like shooting stars across the sky. A fever seized him;
he threw on coal with his bare hands, and found himself grasping with
all ten fingers at a single lump.

Every second he glanced over at the shore, though it was impossible to
distinguish anything clearly now.

Trembling, he heard a burst of laughter, that rolled like a wave along
the line.

“Look straight ahead, Petrea, pretty Petrea, do!”

Heaven be thanked--they were not laughing at him, after all. If only
the coals had been a little better. But it was dust and refuse, every
handful.

“Is Dr. Hoff here?” someone cried.

“Who’s asking for _me_?”

“There’s a cart from the country.”

The doctor cast a final glance at the water, where the glow from the
fire played like a shoal of red fish; then he walked away with little
hurried steps.

“I’m off,” said Lange. “I don’t see what there is to stand about here
for.”

What was there to stand about there for? No one could find any
satisfactory answer.

It was dark and cold, and wife and supper were waiting at home.

The crowd broke up in little groups by common instinct. Lund and Trane
went. The workmen from the factory went. All of them together.

Over between the two bushes Rothe was giving orders in a low voice. It
was Henrik Vang being lifted on to a wheelbarrow. Sivert and his bosom
friend, Ditlev Pløk, the cobbler’s boy, were hauling each at one leg.
When they came up to the level road, Sivert left the work to Ditlev,
and clambered up himself beside Vang. The boy was wild with delight,
and bubbling over with laughter and snatches of song. Madam Hermansen
hurried up after them.

What had they been thinking of?

Away, away! homeward; see, the lights were lit already in the town.

The factory boys whistled like rockets, and marched in procession two
and two about Petrea and her father.

The respectable citizens stepped out briskly to get warm, and laughed
modestly one to another, like peasants emerging from a conjurer’s tent.

But never again!

The sound of footsteps died away on the path, and the last of the
figures disappeared into the gloom, leaving a solitary figure still
waiting on the beach--a little woman, shivering under a white knitted
kerchief. It was Fru Egholm. No one had seen her come; she sat as if
under a spell, watching the myriad sparks that rose in curves against
the evening sky, to fall and expire in the sand.



XXI


A few weeks have passed. It is just after dawn.

Up on the beach, Egholm and Sivert are toiling away till their feet
are buried in the sand, hauling away at a rope that runs through a
square-cut block to the boat. They bend forward and tug till their
faces are fiery red. Then at last the _Long Dragon_ yields and scrapes
slowly up over the stones on to the sand. There it lies, like a newly
caught fish, with a growth of shell and weed under its belly.

“Now--up with her! Put your shoulder to it, slave! That’s it! Now up
and bale her out.”

Sivert had discovered that the water drained out of the boat from one
of the tin patches, and found therefore no need to hurry, but followed
with greater interest his father’s operations. Egholm clambered up the
slope, vanished between two bushes, and came down again laden with a
sack bigger than himself. It was evidently light in proportion to its
bulk, since it could be carried by one hand. In the other he held a
bottle.

Up to now, Sivert had seen only his father’s usual harsh look, but as
he came down to the boat this time his expression changed to a great
smile.

“Now for a grand burnt-offering, boy! The biggest that ever was since
the days of Abraham and Isaac. No; stay where you are. I’m not going to
sacrifice you; _that_ wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice, anyway. It’s the
boat--the turbine. Bale away; we must have it thoroughly dry.”

Sivert splashed about with the dipper, and his father, still smiling,
opened the sack. It was full of shavings.

“A sacrifice and a burnt-offering to the Lord.”

“Wouldn’t it work, then--the brass tap?”

“The turbine, you mean? Work and work, why....” Egholm shrugged his
shoulders. “Oh yes, it worked all right. _My_ calculations were right
enough. Couldn’t be wrong. But _the Lord_ wouldn’t have it. Didn’t
suit Him to let my little invention come out just now, and so”--again
a mighty shrug of the shoulders--“so, of course, I gave it up. I think
she’ll do now.”

He began tearing out handfuls of shavings and spreading them over the
boat fore and aft; they filled up beautifully now they were loose.

“No,” he went on; “God wouldn’t have it. I felt it while I was stoking
the fire that day. The pressure wouldn’t come as it should, though I’d
brought down a whole perambulator full of coal. Then at last, when He
sent away the crowd that had come to see, I understood--I understood
that He was jealous of my triumph and wouldn’t have it. Well, He can
have it now.”

Sivert kept carefully to the opposite side of the boat, away from his
father. It was safer, he felt, in case.... For, despite the smile, it
was evident that his father was in a highly excited state. He did not
scruple to walk round from one side to the other through the water,
with his boots and socks on, though the waves splashed up over his
knees. Sivert felt it would have been better to go round the other end
of the boat, on dry land. At any rate, he preferred that way himself.

Now for the bottle. Egholm waved it generously, sprinkling the paraffin
over the shavings and woodwork. Sivert, too, began to find it amusing.
Paraffin and shavings--that was the thing!

“Got a match?”

Had he not! Sivert’s fingers had been itching for minutes past to get
at the box.

“Right--then fire away!”

Sivert struck a light, but the wind blew it out at once. He took a
whole bundle in his fingers, leaned in over the edge of the boat, and
struck. They went off like tiny shells, sputtering out on every side,
but the shavings remained as dead as the sand of the beach. Once more
he tried the same way, and this time it seemed with better success.
There was a glow deep down among the mass. But nothing came of it save
a smouldering redness that sent a thin white smoke out over the side.
The lowest layer of shavings must have been wetted by the water in the
bottom.

Egholm fired up in sudden anger.

“Get out of it, you Cain! Spoiling my burnt-offering!” He grasped an
oar and struck out at the boy.

Sivert slipped aside unscathed, and clambered up to the top of the
slope.

With a couple of furious blows, Egholm struck the oar through the
rotten planks. The wind rushed in through the opening, and next moment
a burst of flame rose several feet into the air.

A ship laden with flames!

Egholm stood as if petrified; then he began hurriedly throwing on more
combustibles. He had a tar barrel and another huge sack of shavings,
besides a whole pile of dry driftwood.

The funnel stays burned through, and the funnel blew off as a hat is
torn from a man’s head.

The tar barrel lay on a thwart, spewing green flame from its mouth.
The sides had caught already. Egholm took up an armful of crackling
dry weed and threw it in. As he did so, he happened to catch sight of
the little manometer, and he sprang back in dismay. The indicator had
worked round as far as it could, and stood firmly pressed against the
stopping-pin.

God in Heaven! He had forgotten the water in the boiler! Another second
and it would burst!

True, that mattered little, since the boat and all its contents were
to be sacrificed. Nevertheless, Egholm picked up the oar and thrust it
here and there among the flames, trying to open some valve or other. He
had not reckoned on a bursting boiler, which would be out of place, to
say the least, in a burnt-offering. He flung his coat about his face to
shield him from the flames, and stabbed blindly with his oar.

Suddenly the burning boat seemed to shiver. Egholm dropped his oar and
sprang back, expecting to see the whole thing explode....

When he turned round, he saw a strange sight. The screw was revolving
at a furious rate, just touching the surface, and flinging up a hail of
salt water against the wind.

He stooped forward, bending low down, his mouth agape with overwhelming
astonishment. This was more of a marvel than anything he had seen.
He had lied when he said the thing had worked all right the first
time. At any rate, he knew nothing of how it had worked himself. He
had simply had some parts made according to his own idea, and screwed
them together. Now, he could hear the turbine whirring round, saying
dut-dut, just as he had dreamed.

It only remained to see if it would reverse. Could he reverse the
steering-gear in all that flame and smoke? It would have to be done
swiftly--swiftly--for in a moment the boiler would be empty.

He worked and wriggled away with the oar, unheeding the fire that
singed his beard and eyebrows. When this proved fruitless, he wrapped
wet seaweed thickly round his arm and thrust it into the flames.

He had found it now, though in agonising pain. Then--the screw stood
still a moment, and whirled round the opposite way. Egholm could feel
the water spurting up towards him now. It soothed his burns. He stood
still, close up to the boat, and wept.

Sivert sat up on the slope, watching it all. His father called to him
to come down.

“D’you see that?” he cried. Despite the grime and the red burns, his
face wore a look of supreme exaltation. “D’you see that?”

“She’s puffing away finely,” Sivert admitted.

Just then something snapped inside, and the engine stopped. Egholm ran
for more weed to wrap round his arm, but, before he was ready, the
explosion came. The sound was scarcely heard in the gale, only a slight
_pouf_, but it split the boat lengthways like a ripe pea-pod.

Egholm looked on, delighted.

“D’you know what I think?” he said, cooling his martyred hand. “I
think, my boy, we’ve done a great thing to-day. We’ve made a great
burnt-offering unto the Lord. But more than that. We’ve--yes, in a way,
_we’ve heaped coals of fire on His head!_”

  PRINTED BY MORRISON AND GIBB LTD., EDINBURGH



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's Note


The following apparent errors have been corrected:

p. 8 "Do you" changed to "“Do you"

p. 77 "bustdin" changed to "dustbin"


The following possible errors have been left as printed:

p. 97 land out

p. 195 "have the law of them"


The following are used inconsistently in the text:

fair haired and fair-haired

overheated and over-heated





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