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Title: Shallow Soil
Author: Hamsun, Knut
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Shallow Soil" ***

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SHALLOW SOIL

BY

KNUT HAMSUN



AUTHORISED TRANSLATION FROM THE NORWEGIAN BY

CARL CHRISTIAN HYLLESTED



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE


In the autumn of 1888 a Danish magazine published a few chapters of an
autobiographical novel which instantly created the greatest stir in
literary circles throughout Europe. At that time Ibsen, Björnson, Brandes,
Strindberg, and other Scandinavian writers were at the height of their
cosmopolitan fame, and it was only natural that the reading world should
keep in close touch with the literary production of the North. But even
the professional star-gazers, who maintained a vigilant watch on northern
skies, had never come across the name of Knut Hamsun. He was unknown;
whatever slight attention his earlier struggles for recognition may have
attracted was long ago forgotten. And now he blazed forth overnight, with
meteoric suddenness, with a strange, fantastic, intense brilliance which
could only emanate from a star of the first magnitude.

Sudden as was Hamsun's recognition, however, it has proved lasting. The
story of his rise from obscurity to fame is one of absorbing interest.
Behind that hour of triumph lay a long and bitter struggle, weary years of
striving, of constant and courageous battle with a destiny that strewed
his path with disappointments and defeats, overwhelming him with
adversities that would have swamped a genius of less energy and real
power.

Knut Hamsun began life in one of the deep Norwegian valleys familiar to
English readers through Björnson's earlier stories. He was born in August,
1860. When he was four years old his poverty-stricken parents sent him to
an uncle, a stern, unlovely man who made his home on one of the Lofoten
Islands--that "Drama in Granite" which Norway's rugged coast-line flings
far into the Arctic night. Here he grew up, a taciturn, peculiar lad,
inured to hardship and danger, in close communion with nature; dreaming
through the endless northern twilight, revelling through the brief intense
summer, surrounded by influences and by an atmosphere which later were to
give to his production its strange, mystical colouring, its
pendulum-swings from extreme to extreme.

At seventeen he was apprenticed to a cobbler, and while working at his
trade he wrote and, at the cost of no one knows what sacrifices, saved
enough money to have his first literary efforts printed and published.
They consisted of a long, fantastic poem and a novel, "Björger"--the
latter a grotesque conglomeration of intense self-analytical studies.
These attracted far less attention than they really deserved. However, the
cobbler's bench saw no more of Knut Hamsun.

During the next twelve years he led the life of a rover, but a rover with
a fixed purpose from which he never swerved. First he turned his face
toward Christiania, the capital and the intellectual centre of the
country; and in order to get there he worked at anything that offered
itself. He was a longshoreman on Bodö's docks, a road-labourer, a
lumberjack in the mountains; a private tutor and court messenger. Finally
he reached the metropolis and enrolled as a student at the university. But
the gaunt, raw-boned youth, unpractical and improvident, overbearing of
manner, passionately independent in thought and conduct, failed utterly in
his attempts to realise whatever ambitions he had cherished. So it was
hardly strange that this the first chapter of his Odyssey should end in
the steerage of an American-bound emigrant steamer.

In America, where he landed penniless, he turned his strong and capable
hands to whatever labour he could find. He had intended to become a
Unitarian minister. Instead of doing so he had to work as a farm-hand on
the prairie, street-car conductor in Chicago, dairyman in Dakota; and he
varied these pursuits by giving a series of lectures on French literature
in Minneapolis. By that time he probably imagined that he was equipped for
a more successful attack on the literary strongholds of his own country,
and returned to Christiania. Disappointments and privations followed more
bitter than any he had ever known. He starved and studied and dreamed;
vainly he made the most desperate attempts to gain recognition. In despair
he once more abandoned the battle-field and fled to America again, with
the avowed purpose of gaining a reputation on the lecture platform.

Once more he failed; his countrymen resident in the Northwest would have
none of him. Beaten back in every attempt, discouraged, perhaps feeling
the need of solitude and the opportunities for introspective thought which
he could not find in the larger cities, he exiled himself to that most
desolate of existences, a life on a Newfoundland fishing-smack. Three long
years he spent as one of a rude crew with whom he could have nothing in
common save the daily death-struggle with the elements. But these years
finished the preparatory stage of Hamsun's education. During the solitary
watches he matured as an artist and as a man. In his very first effort
upon his return to civilisation he proved that the days of aimless
fumblings were over: in "Hunger" he stands suddenly revealed as a master
of style and description, a bold and independent thinker, a penetrating,
keen psychologist, a realist of marked virility.

Since "Hunger" was written Hamsun has published over thirty large works--
novels, dramas, travel descriptions, essays, and poems. Every one of them
is of a high order. Each is unlike the rest; but through them all flash in
vivid gleams a dazzling witchery of style, a bewildering originality, a
passionate nature-worship, and an imagination which at times takes away
the breath.

"Shallow Soil," in some respects the most contained of Hamsun's works, is
perhaps best suited as a medium for his introduction to Anglo-Saxon
readers. In a very complete analysis of Hamsun's authorship the German
literary critic, Professor Carl Morburger, thus refers to "Shallow Soil":

"Not only is this book Knut Hamsun's most significant work, but it gives
the very best description available of life in Christiania toward the
close of the century. A book of exquisite lyric beauty, of masterly
psychology, and finished artistic form, it is so rich in idea and life
that one must refrain from touching on the contents in order to keep
within the narrow limits of this essay. A most superbly delicate
delineation of the feminine soul is here given in the drawing of Hanka and
Aagot; nowhere else is woman's love in its dawn and growth described with
such mastery, with a deftness and sureness of touch which reminds one of
the very greatest passages in that Danish classic, 'Niels Lyhne.'"

Hamsun is now in his fifty-fourth year. The expectations aroused by his
first book have been more than fulfilled; the star that was born overnight
still shines with undimmed brilliance--nay, with a purer, warmer, steadier
flame. The volcanic violence of earlier days has been mellowed and
subdued; the "red eruptions of flame-tongued, primeval power" have all but
ceased. In one of his latest works Hamsun himself notes this change in
saying: "When a wanderer reaches fifty years he plays with muted strings."
But with or without the sordine Hamsun's production is equally seductive,
equally entrancing and compelling. All over the continent of Europe he is
known and his writings treasured; in Russia his popularity exceeds that of
many of its own inimitable writers. It is to be expected that the
English-speaking world will accord him that appreciation which is the
natural tribute to genius, irrespective of language or clime.

CARL CHR. HYLLESTED.

NEW YORK, December, 1913.



CONTENTS


  PROLOGUE

  GERMINATION

  RIPENING

  SIXTYFOLD

  FINALE



PROLOGUE



I


A faint, golden, metallic rim appears in the east where the sun is rising.
The city is beginning to stir; already can be heard an occasional distant
rumble of trucks rolling into the streets from the country, large
farm-wagons heavily loaded with supplies for the markets--with hay and
meat and cordwood. And these wagons make more noise than usual because the
pavements are still brittle from nightly frosts. It is the latter part of
March.

Everything is quiet around the harbour. Here and there a sleepy sailor
tumbles out of a forecastle; smoke is curling from the galleys. A skipper
puts his head out of a companionway and sniffs toward the weather; the sea
stretches in undisturbed calm; all the winches are at rest.

The first wharf gate is thrown open. Through it one catches a glimpse of
sacks and cases piled high, of cans and barrels; men with ropes and
wheelbarrows are moving around, still half asleep, yawning openly with
angular, bearded jaws. And barges are warped in alongside the docks;
another army begins the hoisting and stowing of goods, the loading of
wagons, and the moving of freight.

In the streets one door after another is opened; blinds are raised,
office-boys are sweeping floors and dusting counters. In the H. Henriksen
office the son is sitting at a desk, all alone; he is sorting mail. A
young gentleman is strolling, tired and sleepy, toward the railway square;
he comes from a late party given in some comrade's den and is taking the
morning air. At Fire Headquarters he runs across an acquaintance who has
also been celebrating.

"Abroad so early, Ojen?" asks the first stroller.

"Yes--that is to say, I haven't been in bed yet!"

"Neither have I," laughs the first. "Good night!"

And he wanders on, smiling in amusement over that good night on a bright
and sunny morning. He is a young and promising man; his name had suddenly
become famous two years ago when he published a lyric drama. His name is
Irgens; everybody knows him. He wears patent-leather shoes and is
good-looking, with his curled moustache and his sleek, dark hair.

He drifts from one market square to another; it amuses him, sleepy as he
is, to watch the farmers who are invading the public squares with their
trucks. The spring sun has browned their faces; they wear heavy mufflers
around their necks, and their hands are sinewy and dirty. They are in such
a hurry to sell their wares that they even hail him, a youth of
twenty-four without a family, a lyric writer who is simply loitering at
random in order to divert himself.

The sun climbs higher. Now people begin to swarm in all directions; shrill
whistles are heard, now from the factories in the city suburbs, now from
the railway stations and docks; the traffic increases. Busy workers dart
hither and thither--some munching their breakfast from newspaper parcels.
A man pushes an enormous load of bundles on a push-cart, he is delivering
groceries; he strains like a horse and reads addresses from a note-book as
he hurries along. A child is distributing morning papers; she is a little
girl who has Saint Vitus's dance; she jerks her angular body in all
directions, twitches her shoulders, blinks, hustles from door to door,
climbs the stairs in the high-storied houses, presses bells, and hurries
on, leaving papers on every doorstep. A dog follows her and makes every
trip with her.

Traffic and noise increase and spread; beginning at the factories, the
wharves, the shipyards, and the sawmills, they mingle with wagon rumblings
and human voices; the air is rent by steam-whistles whose agonising wails
rise skyward, meeting and blending above the large squares in a booming
diapason, a deep-throated, throbbing roar that enwraps the entire city.
Telegraph messengers dart hither and yon, scattering orders and quotations
from distant markets. The powerful, vitalising chant of commerce booms
through the air; the wheat in India, the coffee in Java promise well; the
Spanish markets are crying for fish--enormous quantities of fish during
Lent.

It is eight o'clock; Irgens starts for home. He passes H. Henriksen's
establishment and decides to drop in a moment. The son of the house, a
young man in a business suit of cheviot, is still busy at his desk. His
eyes are large and blue, although his complexion is rather dark otherwise;
a stray wisp of hair sags untidily over his forehead. The tall, somewhat
gaunt and taciturn fellow looks about thirty years old. His comrades value
him highly because he helps them a good deal with money and articles of
commerce from the firm's cellars.

"Good morning!" calls Irgens.

The other looks up in surprise.

"What--you? Are you abroad so early?"

"Yes. That is to say, I haven't been to bed yet."

"Oh--that's different. I have been at my desk since five; I have cabled to
three countries already."

"Good Lord--you know I am not the least interested in your trading! There
is only one thing I want to discuss with you, Ole Henriksen; have you got
a drink of brandy?"

The two men leave the office and pass through the store down into the
cellar. Ole Henriksen pulls a cork hurriedly; his father is expected any
moment, and for this reason he is in haste. The father is old, but that is
no reason why he should be ignored.

Irgens drinks and says: "Can I take the bottle along?" And Ole Henriksen
nods.

On their way back through the store he pulls out a drawer from the
counter, and Irgens, who understands the hint, takes something from the
drawer which he puts in his mouth. It is coffee, roasted coffee; good for
the breath.



II


At two o'clock people swarm up and down the promenade. They chat and laugh
in all manner of voices, greet each other, smile, nod, turn around, shout.
Cigar smoke and ladies' veils flutter in the air; a kaleidoscopic
confusion of light gloves and handkerchiefs, of bobbing hats and swinging
canes, glides down the street along which carriages drive with ladies and
gentlemen in stylish attire.

Several young gentlemen have taken their accustomed stand at "The Corner."
They form a circle of acquaintances--a couple of artists, a couple of
authors, a business man, an undefinable--comrades all. They are dressed
variously: some have already dispensed with their overcoats, others wear
long ulsters with turned-up collars as in midwinter. Everybody knows "the
clique."

Some join it while others depart; there remain a young, corpulent artist
by the name of Milde, and an actor with a snub nose and a creamy voice;
also Irgens, and Attorney Grande of the prominent Grande family. The most
important, however, is Paulsberg, Lars Paulsberg, the author of half a
dozen novels and a scientific work on the Atonement. He is loudly referred
to as the Poet, even though both Irgens and Ojen are present.

The Actor buttons his ulster tightly and shivers.

"No--spring-time is a little too chilly to suit me," he says.

"The contrary here!" exclaims the Attorney. "I could shout all the time; I
am neighing inwardly; my blood sings a hunting chorus!" And the little
stooping youth straightens his shoulders and glances secretly at
Paulsberg.


"Listen to that!" says the Actor sarcastically. "A man is a man, as the
eunuch said."

"What does that remark signify?"

"Nothing, God bless you! But you in your patent leathers and your silk hat
hunting wolves--the idea appealed to my sense of humour."

"Ha, ha! I note the fact that Norem has a sense of humour! Let us duly
appreciate it."

They spoke with practised ease about everything, had perfect control over
their words, made quick sallies, and were skilled in repartee.

A number of cadets were passing.

"Did you ever see anything as flabby as these military youths!" said
Irgens. "Look at them; they do not walk past like other mortals, they
_stalk_ past!"

Both Irgens and the Artist laughed at this, but the Attorney glanced
quickly at Paulsberg, whose face remained immovable. Paulsberg made a few
remarks about the Art Exhibition and was silent.

The conversation drifted to yesterday's performance in Tivoli, and from
there to political subjects. Of course, they could refuse to pass all
financial bills, but--And perhaps there was not even a sufficient
majority to defeat the government budget. It certainly looked dubious--
rotten--They cited quotations from leading parliamentarians, they proposed
to put the torch to the Castle and proclaim the republic without delay.
The Artist threatened a general revolt of the labouring classes. "Do you
know what the Speaker told me in confidence? That he never, _never_
would agree to a compromise--rather let the Union sink or swim! 'Sink or
swim,' these were his very words. And when one knows the Speaker--"

Still Paulsberg did not say anything, and as the comrades were eager to
hear his opinion, the Attorney finally ventured to address him:

"And you, Paulsberg, you don't say a word?"

Paulsberg very seldom spoke; he had kept to himself and to his studies and
his literary tasks, and lacked the verbal facility of his comrades. He
smiled good-naturedly and answered:

"'Let your communication be Yea, yea, and Nay, nay,' you know!" At this
they all laughed loudly. "But otherwise," he added, "apart from that I am
seriously considering going home to my wife."

And Paulsberg went. It was his wont to go when he said he would.

But after Paulsberg's departure it seemed as if they might as well all go;
there was no reason to remain now. The Actor saluted and disappeared; he
hurried off in order to catch up with Paulsberg. The Painter threw his
ulster around himself without buttoning it, drew up his shoulders, and
said:

"I feel rotten! If a fellow could only afford a little dinner!"

"You must try and strike a huckster," said Irgens. "I struck one for a
brandy this morning."

"I am wondering what Paulsberg really meant by that remark," said the
Attorney. "'Your communication shall be Yea, yea, and Nay, nay'; it is
evident it had a deeper meaning."

"Yes, very evident," said Milde. "Did you notice, he laughed when he said
it; something must have amused him."

Pause.

A crowd of promenaders were sauntering continually up and down the street,
back and forth, laughing and talking.

Milde continued:

"I have often wished that we had just one more head like Paulsberg's here
in Norway."

"And why, pray?" asked Irgens stiffly.

Milde stared at him, stared at the Attorney, and burst into a surprised
laugh.

"Listen to that, Grande! He asks why we need another head like Paulsberg's
in this country!"

"I do," said Irgens.

But Grande did not laugh either, and Milde was unable to understand why
his words failed to provoke mirth. He decided to pass it off; he began to
speak about other things.

"You said you struck a huckster for brandy; you have got brandy, then?"

"As for me, I place Paulsberg so high that I consider him _alone_
able to do what is needed," said Irgens with thinly veiled sarcasm.

This took Milde by surprise; he was not prepared to contradict Irgens; he
nodded and said:

"Certainly--exactly. I only thought it might accelerate matters to have a
little assistance, so to speak--a brother in arms. But of course I agree
with you."

Outside the Grand Hotel they were fortunate enough to run across Tidemand,
a huckster also, a wholesaler, a big business man, head of a large and
well-known business house.

"Have you dined?" called the Artist to him.

"Lots of times!" countered Tidemand.

"Now, no nonsense! Are you going to take me to dinner?"

"May I be permitted to shake hands first?"

It was finally arranged that they should take a run up to Irgens's rooms
to sample the brandy, after which they were to return to the Grand for
dinner. Tidemand and the Attorney walked ahead.

"It is a good thing that we have these peddlers to fall back on," said
Milde to Irgens. "They are useful after all."

Irgens replied with a shrug of the shoulders which might mean anything.

"And they never consider that they are being imposed upon," continued
Milde. "On the contrary, they think they are highly favoured; it flatters
them. Treat them familiarly, drink their health, that is sufficient. Ha,
ha, ha! Isn't it true?"

The Attorney had stopped; he was waiting.

"While we remember it, we have got to make definite arrangements about
that farewell celebration for Ojen," he said.

Of course, they had almost forgotten about that. Certainly, Ojen was going
away; something had to be done.

The situation was this: Ojen had written two novels which had been
translated into German; now his nerves were bothering him; he could not be
allowed to kill himself with work--something had to be done to procure him
a highly needed rest. He had applied for a government subsidy and had
every expectation of receiving it; Paulsberg himself had recommended him,
even if a little tepidly. The comrades had therefore united in an effort
to get him to Torahus, to a little mountain resort where the air was
splendid for neurasthenics. Ojen was to go in about a week; the money had
been raised; both Ole Henriksen and Tidemand had been exceedingly
generous. It now only remained to arrange a little celebration to speed
the parting comrade.

"But where shall we find a battle-ground?" asked Milde. "At your house,
Grande? You have plenty of room?"

Grande was not unwilling; it might be arranged; he would speak to his wife
about it. For Grande was married to Mrs. Liberia, and Mrs. Liberia simply
had to be consulted. It was agreed to invite Paulsberg and his wife; as
contributors Mr. and Mrs. Tidemand and Ole Henriksen were coming as a
matter of course. That was settled.

"Ask whom you like, but I refuse to open my doors to that fellow Norem,"
said the Attorney. "He always gets drunk and sentimental; he is an awful
bore. My wife wouldn't stand for him."

Then the affair could not be held at Grande's house. It would never do to
slight Norem. In the perplexity Milde offered his studio.

The friends considered. It was not a bad idea; a better place would be
hard to find. The studio was big and roomy as a barn, with two cosy
adjoining rooms. Milde's studio, then--settled.

The affair was coming off in a few days.

The four gentlemen stopped at Irgens's place, drank his brandy, and went
out again. The Attorney was going home; this decision about the studio did
not suit him; he felt slighted. He might decide to stay away altogether.
At any rate, he said good-bye now and went his own way.

"What about you, Irgens--I hope you will join us?"

Irgens did not say no; he did not at all refuse this invitation. To tell
the truth, he was not unduly eager to return to the Grand; this fat artist
vexed him considerably with his familiar manners. However, he might be
able to get away immediately after the dinner was over.

In this desire Tidemand himself unconsciously assisted him; he left as
soon as he had paid the check. He was going somewhere.



III


Tidemand made his way to H. Henriksen's large warehouse on the wharf where
he knew that Ole could be found at this time.

Tidemand had passed thirty and was already getting a little grey around
the temples. He, too, was dark of hair and beard, but his eyes were brown
and had a listless expression. When he was sitting still and silent,
blinking slowly, these heavy lids of his would rise and sink almost as if
they were exhausted by much watching. He was beginning to get a little bit
stout. He was considered an exceedingly able business man.

He was married and had two children; he had been married four years. His
marriage had begun auspiciously and was still in force, although people
were at a loss to understand how it could possibly last. Tidemand himself
did not conceal his astonishment over the fact that his wife had managed
to tolerate him so long. He had been a bachelor too long, had travelled
too much, lived too much in hotels; he admitted it himself. He liked to
ring whenever he wanted anything; he preferred his meals served at all
hours, whenever he took a notion, no matter if it happened to be meal-time
or not. And Tidemand went into details: he could not bear to have his wife
serve him his soup, for instance--was it possible for a woman, even with
the best intention in the world, to divine how much soup he might want?

And, on the other side, there was Mrs. Hanka, an artistic nature, two and
twenty, fond of life and audacious as a boy. Mrs. Hanka was greatly gifted
and warmly interested in many things; she was a welcome guest wherever the
youthful assembled, whether in homes or bachelor dens; nobody could resist
her. No, she did not greatly care for home life or house drudgery. She
could not help that; unfortunately she had not inherited these tastes. And
this unbearable blessing, of a child every year two years running, drove
her almost to distraction. Good Lord! she was only a child herself, full
of life and frivolity; her youth was ahead of her. But pursuant to the
arrangement the couple had made last year, Mrs. Hanka now found it
unnecessary to place any restraint upon herself....

Tidemand entered the warehouse. A cool and tart smell of tropical
products, of coffee and oils and wines, filled the atmosphere. Tall piles
of tea-boxes, bundles of cinnamon sewn in bast, fruits, rice, spices,
mountains of flour-sacks--everything had its designated place, from floor
to roof. In one of the corners a stairway led to the cellar, where
venerable hogsheads of wine with copper bands could be glimpsed in the
half-light and where enormous metal tanks rested in massive repose.

Tidemand nodded to the busy warehousemen, walked across the floor, and
peeped through the pane into the little office. Ole was there. He was
revising an account on a slate.

Ole put the slate down immediately and rose to meet his friend.

These two men had known each other since childhood, had gone through the
business college together, and shared with each other their happiest
moments. Even now, when they were competitors, they continued to visit
each other as often as their work would permit. They did not envy each
other; the business spirit had made them broad-minded and generous; they
toyed with ship-loads, dealt in large amounts, had daily before their eyes
enormous successes or imposing ruin.

Once Tidemand had expressed admiration for a little yacht which Ole
Henriksen owned. It was two years ago, when it was known that the Tidemand
firm had suffered heavy losses in a fish exportation. The yacht lay
anchored just outside the Henriksen warehouse and attracted much attention
because of its beautiful lines. The masthead was gilded.

Tidemand said:

"This is the most beautiful little dream I have ever seen, upon my word!"

Ole Henriksen answered modestly:

"I do not suppose I could get a thousand for her if I were to sell her."

"I'll give you a thousand," offered Tidemand.

Pause. Ole smiled.

"Cash?" he asked.

"Yes; I happen to have it with me."

And Tidemand took out his pocketbook and paid over the money.

This occurred in the warehouse. The clerks laughed, whispered, and
wondered.

A few days later Ole went over to Tidemand's office and said:

"I don't suppose you would take two thousand for the yacht?"

"Have you got the money with you?"

"Yes; it just happens that I have."

"All right," said Tidemand.

And the yacht was Ole's once more....

Tidemand had called on Ole now in order to pass away an hour or so. The
two friends were no longer children; they treated each other with the
greatest courtesy and were sincerely fond of each other.

Ole got hold of Tidemand's hat and cane, which he put away, at the same
time pointing his friend to a seat on the little sofa.

"What may I offer you?" he asked.

"Thanks--nothing," said Tidemand. "I have just had my dinner at the
Grand."

Ole placed the flat box with Havanas before him and asked again:

"A little glass? An 1812?"

"Well, thank you, yes. But never mind; it is too much trouble; you have to
go down-stairs for it."

"Nonsense; no trouble at all!"

Ole brought the bottle from the cellar; it was impossible to tell what it
was; the bottle appeared to be made of some coarse cloth, so deeply
covered with dust was it. The wine was chilled and sparkling, it beaded in
the glass, and Ole said:

"Here you are; drink hearty, Andreas!"

They drank. A pause ensued.

"I have really come to congratulate you," said Tidemand. "I have never yet
made a stroke like that last one of yours!"

It was true that Ole had turned a trick lately. But he insisted that there
really was nothing in it that entitled him to any credit; it was just a
bit of luck. And if there was any credit to bestow, then it belonged to
the firm, not to him. The operations in London had succeeded because of
the cleverness of his agent.

The affair was as follows:

An English freight-steamer, the _Concordia_, had left Rio with half a
cargo of coffee; she touched at Bathurst for a deck-load of hides, ran
into the December gales on the north coast of Normandy, and sprung a leak;
then she was towed into Plymouth. The cargo was water-soaked; half of it
was coffee.

This cargo of damaged coffee was washed out and brought to London; it was
put on the market, but could not be sold; the combination of sea-water and
hides had spoiled it. The owner tried all sorts of doctorings: he used
colouring matter--indigo, kurkuma, chrome, copper vitriol--he had it
rolled in hogsheads with leaden bullets. Nothing availed; he had to sell
it at auction. Henriksen's agent bid it in for a song.

Ole went to London; he made tests with this coffee, washed out the
colouring matter, flushed it thoroughly, and dried it again. Finally he
had the entire cargo roasted and packed in hermetically sealed zinc boxes.
These boxes were brought to Norway after a month of storing; they were
unloaded, taken to the warehouse, opened, and sold. The coffee was as good
as ever. The firm made a barrel of money out of this enterprise.

Tidemand said:

"I only learned the particulars a couple of days ago; I must confess that
I was proud of you!"

"My part of the business was simply the idea of roasting the coffee--
making it sweat out the damage, so to speak. But otherwise, really--"

"I suppose you were a little anxious until you knew the result?"

"Yes; I must admit I was a little anxious."

"But what did your father say?"

"Oh, he did not know anything until it was all over. I was afraid to tell
him; he might have disinherited me, cast me off, you know. Ha, ha!"

Tidemand looked at him.

"Hm. This is all very well, Ole. But if you want to give your father, the
firm, half the credit, then you should not at the same time tell me that
your father knew nothing until it was all over. I have you there!"

A clerk entered with another account on a slate; he bowed, placed the
slate on the desk, and retired. The telephone rang.

"One moment, Andreas; it is probably only an order. Hello!"

Ole took down the order, rang for a clerk, and gave it to him..

"I am detaining you," said Tidemand. "Let me take one of the slates; there
is one for each now!"

"Not much!" said Ole; "do you think I will let you work when you come to
see me?"

But Tidemand was already busy. He was thoroughly familiar with these
strange marks and figures in the many columns, and made out the account on
a sheet of paper. They stood at the desk opposite each other and worked,
with an occasional bantering remark.

"Don't let us forget the glasses altogether!"

"No; you are right!"

"This is the most enjoyable day I have had in a long time," said Ole.

"Do you think so? I was just going to say the same. I have just left the
Grand--By the way, I have an invitation for you; we are both going to the
farewell celebration for Ojen--quite a number will be there."

"Is that so? Where is it going to be?"

"In Milde's studio. You are going, I hope?"

"Yes; I will be there."

They went back to their accounts.

"Lord! do you remember the old times when we sat on the school bench
together?" said Tidemand. "None of us sported a beard then. It seems as if
it were only a couple of months ago, I remember it so distinctly."

Ole put down his pen. The accounts were finished.

"I should like to speak to you about something--you mustn't be offended,
Andreas--No; take another glass, old fellow, do! I'll get another bottle;
this wine is really not fit for company."

And he hurried out; he looked quite confused.

"What is the matter with him?" thought Tidemand.

Ole returned with another bottle, downy as velvet, with trailing cobwebs;
he pulled the cork.

"I don't know how you'll like this," he said, and sniffed the glass. "Try
it, anyhow; it is really--I am sure you'll like it; I have forgotten the
vintage, but it is ancient."

Tidemand sniffed, sipped, put down his glass, and looked at Ole.

"It isn't half bad, is it?"

"No," said Tidemand, "it is not. You should not have done this, Ole."

"Ho! don't be silly--a bottle of wine!"

Pause.

"I thought you wanted to speak to me about something," asked Tidemand.

"Yes, well--I don't know that I do, exactly." Ole went over and locked the
door. "I thought that, as you cannot possibly know anything about it, I
had perhaps better tell you that people are talking about you,
calumniating you, blackening your reputation, so to speak. And you hear
nothing, of course."

"Are they blackening me? What are they saying?"

"Oh, you can feel above anything they say. Never mind what they say. The
gossip is that you neglect your wife; that you frequent restaurants
although you have a home of your own; that you leave her to herself while
you enjoy life single-handed. You are above such insinuations, of course.
But, anyway, why do you eat away from home and live so much in
restaurants? Not that I have any business to--Say, this wine is not half
bad, believe me! Take another glass; do me the favour--"

Tidemand's eyes had suddenly become clear and sharp. He got up, made a few
turns across the floor, and went back to the sofa.

"I am not at all surprised that people are talking," he said. "I myself
have done what I could to start the gossip; I know that only too well. But
I have ceased to care about anything any more." Tidemand shrugged his
shoulders and got up again. Drifting back and forth across the floor,
staring fixedly straight ahead, he murmured again that he had ceased to
care about anything.

"But listen, old friend, I told you you need not pay the slightest
attention to such contemptible gossip," objected Ole.

"It is not true that I neglect Hanka, as people think," said Tidemand;
"the fact is that I don't want to bother her. You understand, she must be
allowed to do as she pleases; it is an agreement, otherwise she will leave
me." During the following sentences Tidemand got up and sat down again; he
was in a state of deep emotion. "I want to tell you this, Ole; it is the
first time I have ever mentioned it to anybody, and no one will ever hear
me repeat it. But I want you to know that I do not go to restaurants
because I like to. Where else can I go? Hanka is never at home; there is
no dinner, not a soul in the whole house. We have had a friendly
understanding; we have ceased to keep house. Do you understand now why I
am often seen in restaurants? I am not wanted; I keep to my office and go
to the Grand, I meet friends of whom she is one, we sit at a table and
have a good time. What should I do at home? Hanka is more likely to be at
the Grand; we sit at the same table, perhaps opposite each other; we hand
each other a glass, a carafe. 'Andreas,' she says, 'please order a glass
for Milde, too.' And, of course, I order a glass for Milde. I like to do
it; don't believe anything else! 'I have hardly seen you to-day,' she
sometimes says; 'you left very early this morning. Oh, he is a fine
husband!' she tells the others and laughs. I am delighted that she is in
good spirits; I help her along and say: 'Who in the world could wait until
you have finished your toilet; I have business to attend to!' But the
truth is that perhaps I haven't seen her for a couple of days. Do you
understand why I go to restaurants? I go in order to meet her after not
having seen her for a couple of days; I go to spend a few moments with her
and with my friends, who all are exceedingly nice to me. But, of course,
everything has been arranged in the friendliest manner possible; don't
think otherwise. I am sure it is all for the best; I think the arrangement
excellent. It is all a matter of habit."

Ole Henriksen sat with open mouth. He said in surprise:

"Is that how matters stand? I had no idea it was that way with you two--
that it was that bad."

"Why not? Do you find it strange that she prefers the clique? All of them
are famous men, artists and poets, people who count for something. When
you come to look at it they are not like you and me, Ole; we like to be
with them ourselves. Bad, you say? No, understand me rightly, it is not at
all bad. It is a good arrangement. I couldn't always get home on time from
the office, and so I went to a restaurant, naturally. Hanka could not make
herself ridiculous and preside at table in solitary state, and so she went
to a restaurant. We do not go to the same place always; sometimes we miss
each other. But that is all right."

There was a pause. Tidemand leaned his head in his hands. Ole asked:

"But who started this? Who proposed it?"

"Ha, do you think for a moment it was I? Would I be likely to say to my
wife: 'You will have to go to a restaurant, Hanka, so I can find the house
empty when I get home to dinner!' Hardly. But all the same, things are not
so bad as you might think--What would you say if I were to tell you
that she does not even regard herself as being married? Of course, you
cannot realise that. I reasoned with her, said this and that, a married
woman, house and home, and she answered: 'Married, did you say? That is
rather an exaggeration, don't you think?' How does _that_ strike you?
For this reason I am careful not to say anything to her; she isn't
married; that is her affair. She lives occasionally where I live, we visit
the children, go in and out, and part again. It is all right as long as
she is satisfied."

"But this is ridiculous!" exclaimed Ole suddenly. "I can't imagine--Does
she think you are an old glove she can throw away when she is through with
it? Why haven't you put your foot down?"

"Of course, I have said something like that. Then she wanted a divorce.
Twice. What could I do then? I am not made so that I can tear everything
up all at once; I need a little time; it will come later. She is right
about the divorce; it is I who am against it; she is justified in blaming
me for that. Why haven't I played the part of a man, showed her her place,
made her behave? But, my dear man, she would have left me! She said so
plainly; there was no misunderstanding possible; it has happened twice.
What could I do?"

The two men sat awhile in silence. Ole asked quietly:

"But has your wife, then--I mean, do you think she is in love with
somebody else?"

"Of course," answered Tidemand. "Such things are bound to happen; not
intentionally, of course, but--"

"And you do not know who it is?"

"Don't you think I know? That is, I don't know really; how could I know
for sure? I am almost certain she is not really in love with anybody; it
is hard to say. Do you think that I am jealous, perhaps? Don't for a
moment imagine anything, Ole; I am glad to say that I have a little sense
left; not much, perhaps, but a little. In short, she is not in love with
anybody else, as people suspect; it is simply a whim, a fancy. In a little
while she will probably come and propose that we shall begin housekeeping
again and live together; it is not at all impossible, I tell you, for I
know her thoroughly. She is, at any rate, very fond of the children; I
have never seen anybody so fond of children as she has been lately. You
ought to come and see us some time--Do you remember when we were married?"

"I certainly do."

"She was a somewhat passable bride, what? Not at all one to be ashamed of,
don't you think? Ha, ha, ha, not at all, Ole! But you ought to see her
now, I mean at home, now that she is so very fond of the children again. I
cannot describe her. She wears a black velvet gown--Be sure and come over
some time. Sometimes she is in red, a dark red velvet--This reminds me--
perhaps she is at home now; I am going to drop in; I might be able to do
something for her."

The two friends emptied their glasses and stood facing each other.

"I hope everything will come out all right," said Ole.

"Oh, yes, it will," said Tidemand. "I am grateful to you, Ole; you have
been a good friend to me. I haven't had such a pleasant hour as long as I
can remember."

"Listen!" Tidemand turned in the doorway and said: "What we have discussed
here remains between us, eh? Not a hint on Thursday; everything is as it
should be as far as we are concerned, what? We are no mopes, I hope!"

And Tidemand departed.



IV


Evening falls over the town. Business rests, stores are closed, and lights
are lowered. But old, grey-haired business men shut themselves in their
offices, light their lamps, take out papers, open heavy ledgers, note some
figures, a sum, and think. They hear the noise from the docks where
steamers load and unload all night long.

It gets to be ten, eleven; the cafés are crowded and the traffic is great.
All sorts of people roam the streets in their best attire; they follow
each other, whistle after girls, and dart in and out from gateways and
basement stairs. Cabbies stand at attention on the squares, on the lookout
for the least sign from the passers-by; they gossip between themselves
about their horses and smoke idly their vile pipes.

A woman hurries past--a child of night whom everybody knows; after her a
sailor and a gentleman in silk hat, both eagerly stepping out to reach her
first. Then two youths with cigars at an impertinent angle, hands in
pockets, speaking loudly. Behind them another woman; finally, a couple of
men hurrying to catch up with her.

But now one tower-clock after another booms forth the twelve solemn
strokes all over the city; the cafés empty themselves, and from the
music-halls crowds of people swarm into the streets. The winches are still
groaning along the docks; cabs roll through the streets. But inside the
hidden offices one old business chief after another has finished his
accounts and his planning; the grey-headed gentlemen close their ledgers,
take their hats from the rack, put out the lights, and go home.

And the last guests depart from the Grand, a crowd that has stuck to the
end, young fellows, joyful souls. They saunter down the street with coats
wide open, canes held jauntily under the arms, and hats slightly askew.
They talk loudly, hum the latest popular air, call jestingly to a lonely,
forgotten girl in a boa and white veil.

The company wanders toward the university. The conversation is about
literature and politics, and, although nobody contradicts them, they are
loud and eager: Was Norway a sovereign state or not? Was Norway perhaps
not entitled to the rights and privileges of a sovereign state? Just wait
a moment, the Speaker had promised to attend to things; besides, there
were the elections.... All were agreed, the elections would decide.

Three of the gentlemen part from the group when the university is reached;
the remaining two take another turn down the street, stop outside the
Grand, and exchange opinions. It is Milde and Ojen. Milde is highly
indignant.

"I repeat: If Parliament yields this time, it is me for Australia. In that
case it will be unbearable here."

Ojen is young and nervous; his little, round, girlish face is pale and
void of expression; he squints as if he were near-sighted, although his
eyes are good, and his voice is soft and babyish.

"I am unable to understand that all this can interest you so greatly. It
is all one to me." And Ojen shrugs his shoulders; he is tired of politics.
His shoulders slope effeminately.

"Oh well, I won't detain you," says Milde. "By the way, have you written
anything lately?"

"A couple of prose poems," replies Ojen, brightening at once. "I am
waiting to get off to Torahus so I can start in in earnest. You are right
--this town is unbearable!"

"Well--I had the whole country in mind, though--Say, don't forget next
Thursday evening in my studio. By the way, old fellow, have you got a
crown or so you could spare?"

Ojen unbuttons his coat and finds the crown.

"Thanks, old man. Thursday evening, then. Come early so that you can help
me a little with the arrangements--Good Lord, silk lining! And I who asked
you for a miserable crown! I hope I did not offend you."

Ojen smiles and pooh-poohs the joke.

"As if one sees anything nowadays but silk-lined clothes!"

"By Jove! What do they soak you for a coat like that?" And Milde feels the
goods appraisingly.

"Oh, I don't remember; I never can remember figures; that is out of my
line. I put all my tailor bills away; I come across them whenever I move."

"Ha, ha, ha! that is certainly a rational system, most practical. For I do
not suppose you ever pay them!"

"In God's own time, as the Bible says--Of course, if I ever get rich,
then--But I want you to go now. I must be alone."

"All right, good night. But listen, seriously speaking: if you have
another crown to spare--"

And once more Ojen unbuttons his coat.

"A thousand thanks! Oh, you poets, you poets! Where, for instance, may you
be going now?"

"I think I'll walk here awhile, and look at houses. I can't sleep, so I
count the windows; it is not such a bad occupation at times. I take an
exquisite pleasure in satiating my vision with squares and rectangles,
with pure lines. Of course, you cannot understand such things."

"I should say I did understand--no one better! But I prefer human beings.
Don't you at times--flesh and blood, humans, eh--they have their
attraction, don't you think?"

"I am ashamed to say it, but people weary me. No; take for instance the
sweep of a solitary, deserted street--have you never noticed the charm of
such a view?"

"Haven't I? I am not blind, not entirely. A desolate street, of course,
has its own beauty, its own charm, in its kind the highest charm
imaginable. But everything in its place--Well, I must not detain you!
_Au revoir_--Thursday!"

Milde saluted with his cane, turned, and strolled up the street. Ojen
continued alone. He proved a few moments afterward that he had not lost
all his interest in human beings; he had calumniated himself. To the very
first hussy who hailed him he gave, absent-mindedly, every penny he had
left, and continued his way in silence. He had not spoken a word; his
slender, nervous figure disappeared in the darkness before the girl could
even manage to thank him--

And at last everything is still; the winches fall to rest along the
wharves; the town has turned in. From afar, nobody knows from where, comes
the sound of a single footfall; the gas flames flicker in the street
lamps; two policemen talk to each other, occasionally stamping their feet
to keep warm.

Thus the night passes. Human footsteps here and there; now and then a
policeman who stamps his feet to keep warm.



V


A barnlike room with blue walls and sliding windows, a sort of drying-loft
with a stove in the middle, and with stovepipes hanging in wires along the
ceiling. The walls are decorated with a number of sketches, painted fans,
and palettes; several framed pictures lean against the wainscoting. Smell
of paints and tobacco smoke; brushes, tubes, overcoats which the guests
had thrown aside; an old rubber shoe filled with nails and junk; on the
easel in the corner a large, half-finished portrait of Paulsberg.

This was Milde's studio.

When Ole Henriksen entered about nine o'clock all the guests were
assembled, also Tidemand and his wife. There were altogether ten or twelve
people. The three lamps were covered with opaque shades, and the heavy
tobacco smoke did not make the room any lighter. This obscurity was
evidently Mrs. Hanka's idea. A couple of very young gentlemen, beardless
students with bachelor degrees, were of the party; they were poets who had
put aside their studies last year. Their heads were so closely cropped as
to be almost entirely naked. One of them carried a small compass on his
watch-chain. They were Ojen's comrades, his admirers and pupils; both
wrote verses.

Besides these, one noticed a man from the _Gazette_, Journalist
Gregersen, the literary member of the staff. He was a man who did his
friends many a favour and published in his paper many an item concerning
them. Paulsberg showed him the greatest deference, and conversed with him
about his series, "New Literature," which he found admirable; and the
Journalist was happy and proud because of this approbation. He had a
peculiar habit of twisting words so that they sounded odd and absurd, and
nobody could turn this trick as smartly as he.

"It is rather difficult to write such a series within reasonable limits,"
he says. "There are so many authors that have to be included--a veritable
choas!"

He makes Paulsberg smile over this "choas," and they talk on in the best
of harmony.

Attorney Grande and his wife were absent.

"So the Attorney is not coming," says Mrs. Hanka Tidemand, without
referring to his wife. Mrs. Liberia never came, anyway.

"He sulks," said Milde, and drank with Norem, the Actor. "He did not want
to come because Norem was invited."

Nobody felt the least constraint; they chatted about everything, drank,
and made plenty of noise. It was a splendid place, Milde's studio; as soon
as one got inside the door one felt free to do or say anything one's
inclination prompted.

Mrs. Hanka is seated on the sofa; Ojen sits beside her. On the other side
of the table sits Irgens; the light falls across his narrow chest. Mrs.
Hanka hardly glances at him.

She is in her red velvet gown; her eyes have a greenish sheen. Her upper
lip is slightly raised. One glimpses her teeth and marvels at their
whiteness. The face is fresh and the complexion clear. Her beautiful
forehead is not hidden beneath her hair; she carries it sweetly and
candidly, like a nun. A couple of rings flash on her fingers. She breathes
deeply and says to Irgens, across the table:

"How hot it is here, Irgens!"

Irgens gets up and goes over to open a window, but a voice is raised in
protest; it is Mrs. Paulsberg's. "For Heaven's sake, no open windows. Come
away from the sofa; it is cooler further back!"

And Mrs. Hanka gets up. Her movements are undulating. When she stands up
she is like a young girl, with bold shoulders. She does not glance into
the large, cracked mirror as she passes; she exhales no odours of
perfumes; she takes, accidentally, her husband's arm and walks up and down
with him while the conversation and the refreshments keep the other guests
at the table.

Tidemand is talking, with somewhat forced liveliness, about a cargo of
grain, a certain Fürst in Riga, a raise in customs duties somewhere.
Suddenly he says, bending toward her:

"Yes; I am very happy to-day. But, pardon me, you are hardly interested in
these things--Did you see Ida before you left? Wasn't she sweet in her
white dress? We'll get her a carriage when spring comes!"

"Yes; in the country! I am beginning to long for it already!" Mrs. Hanka
herself is animated. "You must get the garden and the grove fixed up. It
will be fine."

And Tidemand, who already has arranged to have the country-house put in
order, although it is not April yet, is delighted because of his wife's
sudden interest. His sombre eyes brighten and he presses her arm.

"I want you to know, Hanka, I am very happy to-day," he exclaims.
"Everything will be all right soon, I am sure."

"Are you--What will be all right, by the way?"

"Oh, nothing," he says quickly. He turns the subject, looks down, and
continues: "Business is booming; I have given Fürst orders to buy!"

Fool that he was! There he had once more made a mistake and bothered his
wife with his shop talk. But Mrs. Hanka was good enough to overlook it;
nobody could have answered more patiently and sweetly than did she:

"I am very glad to hear it!"

These gentle words embolden him; he is grateful and wants to show it as
best he can; he smiles with dewy eyes and says in a low voice:

"I should like to give you a little present if you care--a sort of
souvenir of this occasion. If there is anything you would like--"

Mrs. Hanka glances at him.

"No, my dear. What are you thinking of? Though, perhaps--you might let me
have a couple of hundred crowns. Thanks, very much!" Suddenly she spies
the old rubber shoe with nails and junk, and she cries, full of curiosity:
"Whatever is this?" She lets go her husband's arm and brings the rubber
over to the table. "Whatever have you got here, Milde?" She rummages in
the rubbish with her white fingers, calls Irgens over, finds one strange
thing after another, and asks questions concerning them. "Will somebody
please tell me what this is good for?"

She has fished out an umbrella-handle which she throws aside at once; then
a lock of hair enclosed in paper. "Look--a lock of somebody's hair! Come
and see!"

Milde joined her.

"Leave that alone!" he said and took his cigar out of his mouth. "However
did that get in there? Did you ever--hair from my last love, so to speak!"

This was sufficient to make everybody laugh. The Journalist shouted:

"But have you seen Milde's collection of corsets? Out with the corsets,
Milde!"

And Milde did not refuse; he went into one of the side rooms and brought
forth his package. There were both white and brown ones; the white ones
were a little grey, and Mrs. Paulsberg asked in surprise:

"But--have they been used?"

"Of course; why do you think Milde collects them? Where would be their
sentimental value otherwise?" And the Journalist laughed heartily, happy
to be able to twist even this word around.

But the corpulent Milde wrapped his corsets together and said:

"This is a little specialty of mine, a talent--But what the dickens are
you all gaping at? It is my own corsets; I have used them myself--don't
you understand? I used them when I began to grow stout; I laced and
thought it would help. But it helped like fun!"

Paulsberg shook his head and said to Norem:

"Your health, Norem! What nonsense is this I hear, that Grande objects to
your company?"

"God only knows," says Norem, already half drunk. "Can you imagine why? I
have never offended him in my life!"

"No; he is beginning to get a little chesty lately."

Norem shouted happily:

"You hear that? Paulsberg himself says that Grande is getting chesty
lately."

They all agreed. Paulsberg very seldom said that much; usually he sat,
distant and unfathomable, and listened without speaking; he was respected
by all. Only Irgens thought he could defy him; he was always ready with
his objections.

"I cannot see that this is something Paulsberg can decide," he said.

They looked at him in surprise. Was that so? So Paulsberg could not decide
that? He! he! so that was beyond him? But who, then, could decide it?

"Irgens," answered Paulsberg caustically.

Irgens looked at him; they gazed fixedly at each other. Mrs. Hanka stepped
between them, sat down on a chair, and began to speak to Ojen.

"Listen a moment!" she called after a while. "Ojen wants to read his
latest--a prose poem."

And they settled down to listen.

Ojen brought forth his prose poem from an inside pocket; his hands
trembled.

"I must ask your indulgence," said he.

But at this the two young students, the close-cropped poets, laughed
loudly, and the one with the compass in his fob said admiringly:

"And _you_ ask for _our_ indulgence? What about us, then?"

"Quiet!"

"The title of this is 'Sentenced to Death,'" said Ojen, and began:

    For a long time I have wondered: What if my secret guilt were
    known?...

    Sh....

    Yes, sh....

    For then I should be sentenced to death.

    And I would sit in my prison and know that I should be calm and
    indifferent when the supreme moment should arrive.

    I would ascend the steps of the scaffold, I would smile and humbly beg
    permission to say a word.

    And then I would speak. I would implore everybody to learn something
    good from my death. A speech from my inmost heart, and my last
    farewell should be like a breath of flame....

    Now my secret guilt is known.

    Yes!

    And I am sentenced to death. And I have languished in prison so long
    that my spirit is broken.

    I ascend the steps to the scaffold; but to-day the sun is shining and
    my eyes fill with tears.

    For I have languished so long in prison that I am weak. And then the
    sun is shining so--I haven't seen it for nine months, and I haven't
    heard the birds sing for nine months--until to-day.

    I smile in order to hide my tears and I ask humbly if my guards will
    permit me to speak a word.

    But they will not permit me.

    Still I want to speak--not to show my courage, but really I want to
    say a few words from my heart so as not to die mutely--innocent words
    that will harm nobody, a couple of hurried sentences before they clap
    their hands across my lips: Friends, see how God's sun is shining....

    And I open my lips, but I cannot speak.

    Am I afraid? Does my courage fail? Alas, no, I am not afraid. But I am
    weak, that I am, and I cannot speak because I look upon God's sun and
    the trees for the last time....

    What now? A horseman with a white flag?

    Peace, my heart, do not tremble so!

    No, it is a woman with a white veil, a handsome woman of my own age.
    Her neck is bare like my own.

    And I do not understand it, but I weep because of this white veil,
    too, because I am weak and the white veil flutters beautifully against
    the green background of the forest. But in a little while I shall see
    it no more....

    Perhaps, though, after my head has fallen I may still be able to see
    the blessed sky for a few moments with my eyes. It is not impossible,
    if I only open my eyes widely when the axe falls. Then the sky will be
    the last I see.

    But don't they tie a bandage across my eyes? Or won't they blindfold
    me because I am so weak and tearful? But then everything will be dark,
    and I shall lie blindly, unable even to count the threads in the cloth
    before my eyes.

    How stupidly mistaken I was when I hoped to be able to turn my eyes
    upward and behold the blessed vault of heaven. They will turn me over,
    on my stomach, with my neck in a clamp. And I shall be able to see
    nothing because of my bandaged eyes.

    Probably there will be a small box suspended below me; and I cannot
    even see the little box which I know will catch my severed head.

    Only night--a seething darkness around me. I blink my eyes and believe
    myself still alive--I have life in my fingers, even--I cling
    stubbornly to life. If they would only take off the bandage so I could
    see something--I might enjoy looking at the dust grains in the bottom
    of the box and see how tiny they were....

    Silence and Darkness. Mute exhalations from the crowds....

    Merciful God! Grant me one supplication--take off the bandage!
    Merciful God! I am _Thy_ creature--take off the bandage!

Everybody was silent when he was through. Ojen drank; Milde was busy with
a spot on his vest, and did not understand a word of what he had heard; he
lifted his glass to the Journalist and whispered:

"Your health!"

Mrs. Hanka spoke first; she smiled to Ojen and said, out of the goodness
of her heart:

"Oh, you Ojen, you Ojen! How everything you write seems evanescent,
ethereal! 'Mute exhalations from the crowds'--I can hear it; I can feel
it! It is thrilling!"

Everybody thought so, too, and Ojen was happy. Happiness was very becoming
to his girlish face.

"Oh, it is only a little thing, a mood," he said. He would have liked to
hear Paulsberg's opinion, but Paulsberg remained sphinxlike and silent.

"How _do_ you think of such things? These prose poems are really
exquisite!"

"It is my temperament, I suppose. I have no taste for fiction. In me
everything turns to poetry, with or without rhymes; but verses always. I
have entirely ceased to use rhymes lately."

"But tell me--in what manner does your nervousness really affect you?"
asked Mrs. Hanka in her gentle voice. "It is so very sad; you must really
try to get well again."

"Yes, I'll try. It is hard to explain; at times I will suddenly become
excited without the slightest reason. I shudder; I simply tear myself to
pieces. Then I cannot bear to walk on carpets; if I should lose anything I
should never find it again. I should not hear it drop, and consequently I
should never think of looking for it. Can you imagine anything more
distracting than to have something you have lost lying there without your
knowing it? It tortures me, therefore, to walk on carpets; I am in
constant fear and I keep my hands over my pockets; I look at my vest
buttons to be sure of them. I turn around again and again to make sure
that I haven't by chance lost something or other--And there are other
annoyances: I have the strangest ideas, the most peculiar hallucinations.
I place a glass on the very edge of the table and imagine I have made a
bet with some one--a bet involving enormous amounts. Then I blow on the
glass; if it falls I lose--lose an amount large enough to ruin me for
life; if it remains I have won and can build myself a castle on the
Mediterranean. It is the same whenever I go up a strange stairway: should
there be sixteen steps I win, but if there are eighteen I lose. Into this,
though, there enter other intricate possibilities: Suppose there should be
twenty steps, have I lost or won? I do not yield; I insist on my rights in
the matter; I go to law and lose my case--Well, you mustn't laugh; it is
really annoying. Of course these are only minor matters. I can give other
examples: Let somebody sit in a room next to yours and sing a single verse
of a certain song, sing it endlessly, without ceasing, sing it through and
begin again; tell me--would this not drive you crazy? Where I live there
is such a person, a tailor; he sits and sings and sews, and his singing is
unceasing. You cannot stand it; you get up in a fury and go out. Then you
run into another torture. You meet a man, an acquaintance, with whom you
enter into a conversation. But during this conversation you suddenly
happen to think of something pleasant, something good that is in store for
you, perhaps--something you wish to return to later and thoroughly enjoy.
But while you stand there talking you forget that pleasant thought, forget
it cleanly and cannot recall it at any cost! Then comes the pain, the
suffering; you are racked on the wheel because you have lost this
exquisite, secret enjoyment to which you could have treated yourself at no
cost or trouble."

"It _must_ be strange! But you are going to the country, to the pine
woods now; you will get well again," says Mrs. Hanka, and feels like a
mother.

Milde chimes in:

"Of course you will. And think of us when you are in your kingdom."

Ole Henriksen had remained quietly in his chair; he said little and smoked
his cigar. He knew Torahus; he gave Ojen a hint about visiting the house
of the county judge, which was a mile away. He had only to row across a
lake; pine woods all around--the house looked like a little white marble
palace in the green surroundings.

"How do you know all this?" asked Irgens, quite surprised to hear Ole
speak.

"I went through there on a walking trip," answered Ole, embarrassed. "We
were a couple of boys from the college. We stopped at the house and had a
glass of milk."

"Your health, Mr. College Man!" called the Journalist sarcastically.

"Be sure and row over," said Ole. "County Judge Lynum's family is
charming. There is even a young girl in the house if you care to fall in
love," he added smilingly.

"He, he! No; whatever else one can accuse Ojen of, the ladies he leaves
severely alone!" said Norem, good-natured and tipsy.

"Your health, Mr. College Man!" shouted Gregersen again.

Ole Henriksen looked at him.

"Do you mean me?" he asked.

"Of course, I mean you, certainly I do! Haven't you attended college?
Well, aren't you a college man, then?"

The Journalist, too, was a little tipsy.

"It was only a business college," said Ole quietly.

"Of course, you are a peddler, yes. But there is no reason why you should
be ashamed of that. Is there, Tidemand? I say there is no reason whatever!
Does anybody feel called upon to object?"

Tidemand did not answer. The Journalist kept obstinately to the question;
he frowned and thought of nothing else, afraid to forget what he had asked
about. He began to lose his temper; he demanded a reply in a loud voice.

Mrs. Hanka said suddenly:

"Silence, now. Ojen is going to read another poem."

Both Paulsberg and Irgens made secretly a wry face, but they said nothing;
on the contrary, Paulsberg nodded encouragingly. When the noise had
subsided a little Ojen got up, stepped back, and said:

"I know this by heart. It is called 'The Power of Love.'"

    We rode in a railway carriage through a strange landscape--strange to
    me, strange to her. We were also strangers to each other; we had never
    met before. Why is she sitting so quietly? I wondered. And I bent
    toward her and said, while my heart hammered:

    "Are you grieving for somebody, madam? Have you left a friend where
    you come from--a very dear friend?"

    "Yes," she answered, "a very dear friend."

    "And now you sit here unable to forget this friend?" I asked.

    And she answered and shook her head sadly:

    "No, no--I can never forget him."

    She was silent. She had not looked at me while she spoke.

    "May I lift your braid?" I asked her. "What a lovely braid--how very
    beautiful it is!"

    "My friend has kissed it," she said, and pushed back my hand.

    "Forgive me," I said then, and my heart pounded more and more. "May I
    not look at your ring--it shines so golden and is also so very
    beautiful. I should like to look at it and admire it for your sake."

    But to this she also said no and added:

    "My friend has given it to me."

    Then she moved still further away from me.

    "Please forgive me," I said....

    Time passes, the train rolls on, the journey is so long, so long and
    wearisome, there is nothing we can do except listen to the rumbling of
    the wheels. An engine flares past, it sounds like iron striking iron,
    and I start, but she does not; she is probably entirely absorbed in
    thoughts about her friend. And the train rolls on.

    Then, for the first time, she glances at me, and her eyes are
    strangely blue.

    "It grows darker?" she says.

    "We are approaching a tunnel," I answer.

    And we rode through the tunnel.

    Some time passes. She glances at me, a trifle impatiently, and says:

    "It seems to me it grows dark again?"

    "We are drawing near the second tunnel, there are three altogether," I
    answer. "Here is a map--do you want to see?"

    "It frightens me," she says and moves closer to me. I say nothing. She
    asks me smilingly:

    "Did you say three tunnels? Is there one more besides this one?"

    "Yes--one more."

    We enter the tunnel; I feel that she is very close to me, her hand
    touches mine. Then it grows light again and we are once more in the
    open.

    We ride for a quarter of an hour. She is now so close to me that I
    feel the warmth from her.

    "You are welcome to lift my braid if you wish to," she says, "and if
    you care to look at my ring--why, here it is!"

    I held her braid and did not take her ring because her friend had
    given it to her. She smiled and did not offer it to me again.

    "Your eyes are so bright, and how white your teeth!" she said and grew
    confused. "I am afraid of that last tunnel--please hold my hand when
    we get to it. No--don't hold my hand; I didn't mean that, I was
    jesting; but talk to me."

    I promised to do what she asked me to.

    A few moments later she laughed and said:

    "I was not afraid of the other tunnels; only this one frightens me."

    She glanced at my face to see how I might answer, and I said:

    "This is the longest, too; it is exceedingly long."

    Her confusion was now at its highest.

    "But we are not near any tunnel," she cried. "You are deceiving me;
    there is no tunnel!"

    "Yes, there is, the last one--look!"

    And I pointed to my map. But she would see nothing and listen to
    nothing.

    "No, no,--there is no tunnel, I tell you there is none! But speak to
    me if there be one!" she added.

    She leaned back against the cushions, and smiled through half-closed
    lids.

    The engine whistled; I looked out; we were approaching the black
    opening. I remembered that I had promised to speak to her; I bent
    towards her, and in the darkness I felt her arms around my neck.

    "Speak to me, please do! I am so frightened!" she whispered with
    beating heart. "Why don't you speak to me?"

    I felt plainly how her heart was beating, and I placed my lips close
    to her ears and whispered:

    "But now you are forgetting your friend!"

    She heard me, she trembled and let me go quickly; she pushed me away
    with both hands, and threw herself down in the seat. I sat there
    alone. I heard her sobs through the darkness.

"This was The Power of Love," Ojen said.

Everybody listened attentively; Milde sat with open mouth.

"Well--what more?" he asked, evidently thinking there must be a climax yet
to come. "Is that all? But Heaven preserve us, man, what is it all about?
No; the so-called poetry you young writers are dishing out nowadays--I
call it arrant rot!"

They all laughed loudly. The effect was spoiled; the poet with the compass
in his fob arose, pointed straight at Milde, and said furiously:

"This gentleman evidently lacks all understanding of modern poetry."

"Modern poetry! This sniffing at the moon and the sun, these filigree
phrases and unintelligible fancies--There must, at least, be a point, a
climax, to everything!"

Ojen was pale and furious.

"You have then not the slightest understanding of my new intentions," said
the poor fellow, trembling with excitement. "But, then, you are a brute,
Milde; one could not expect intelligent appreciation from you."

Only now did the fat painter realise how much he had offended; he had
hardly expected this when he spoke.

"A brute?" he answered good-naturedly. "It seems we are beginning to
express ourselves very plainly. I did not mean to insult you, anyway.
Don't you think I enjoyed the poem? I did, I tell you; enjoyed it
immensely. I only thought it a little disembodied, so to speak, somewhat
ethereal. Understand me correctly: it is very beautiful, exceedingly
artistic, one of the best things you have produced yet. Can't you take a
joke any more?"

But it was of no avail that Milde tried to smooth things over; the
seriousness of the moment had gone, they laughed and shouted more than
ever, and cut loose in earnest. Norem opened one of the windows and sang
to the street below.

To mend matters a little and make Ojen feel better, Mrs. Hanka placed her
hand on his shoulder and promised to come and see him off when he started
on his trip. Not she alone--they would all come. When was he going?

She turned to Ole Henriksen: "You'll come, won't you, and see Ojen off
when he goes?"

Ole Henriksen then gave an unexpected reply which surprised even Mrs.
Hanka: He would not only go with Ojen to the station, he would go with him
all the way to Torahus. Yes, he had suddenly made up his mind, he would
make this little trip; he had, in fact, a sort of reason for going--And
he was so much in earnest that he buttonholed Ojen at once and arranged
the day for the departure.

The Journalist drank with Mrs. Paulsberg, who held her glass in a peculiar
masculine fashion. They moved over to the sofa on account of the draught,
and told each other amusing anecdotes. Mrs. Paulsberg knew a story
concerning Grande and one of Pastor B.'s daughters. She had reached the
climax when she paused.

"Well--go on!" the Journalist exclaimed eagerly.

"Wait a moment!" answered Mrs. Paulsberg smilingly, "you must at least
give me time to blush a little!"

And she recounted merrily the climax.

Norem had retired to a corner and was fast asleep.

"Does anybody know the time?" asked Mrs. Paulsberg.

"Don't ask me," said Gregersen, and fumbled at his vest pocket. "It is
many a day since I carried a watch!"

It turned out that it was one o'clock.

About half-past one Mrs. Hanka and Irgens had disappeared. Irgens had
asked Milde for roasted coffee, and since then had not been seen. Nobody
seemed to think it strange that the two had sneaked away, and no questions
were asked; Tidemand was talking to Ole Henriksen about his trip to
Torahus.

"But have you time to run off like this?" he asked.

"I'll take time," answered Ole. "By the way, I want to tell you something
by and by."

Around Paulsberg's table the political situation was being discussed.
Milde once more threatened to banish himself to Australia. But, thank
Heaven, it now looked as if Parliament would do something before it was
dissolved, would refuse to yield.

"It is a matter of indifference to me what it does," said Gregersen of the
_Gazette_. "As things have been going, Norway has assumed the
character of a beaten country. We are decidedly poverty-stricken, in every
respect; we lack power, both in politics and in our civic life. How sad to
contemplate the general decline! What miserable remnants are left of the
intellectual life that once flamed up so brightly, that called loudly to
Heaven in the seventies! The aged go the way of the flesh; who is there to
take their places? I am sick of this decadence; I cannot thrive in low
intellectual altitudes!"

Everybody looked at the Journalist; what was the matter with the
ever-merry chap? He was not so very drunk now; he spoke passably clearly,
and did not twist any words. What did he mean? But when the witty dog
reached the declaration that he could only thrive in a high spiritual
altitude, then the guests broke into peals of merriment and understood
that it was a capital hoax. The merry blade--hadn't he almost fooled them
all! "Poor remnants of the intellectual life of the seventies!" Didn't we
have Paulsberg and Irgens, and Ojen and Milde, and the two close-cropped
poets, and an entire army of first-class, sprouting talents besides!

The Journalist himself laughed and wiped his forehead and laughed again.
It was generally believed that this fellow was possessed of a literary
talent which had not entirely stagnated in his newspaper. A book might be
expected from him some day, a remarkable work.

Paulsberg forced a smile. In reality he was offended because nobody had
alluded to his novels or to his work on the Atonement during the entire
evening. When therefore the Journalist asked him his opinion concerning
the intellectual life of the nation, his reply was brief:

"It seems to me I have had occasion to express an opinion somewhere in my
works."

Of course, of course; when they came to think of it they certainly
remembered it. It was true; a speech somewhere or other. Mrs. Paulsberg
quoted from book and page.

But Paulsberg made up his mind to leave now.

"I'll come and sit for you to-morrow," he said to Milde, with a glance at
the easel. He got up, emptied his glass, and found his overcoat. His wife
pressed everybody's hand vigorously. They met Mrs. Hanka and Irgens in the
door.

From now on the merriment knew no bounds; they drank like sponges; even
the two young poets kept up as well as they could, and talked with
bloodshot eyes about Baudelaire. Milde demanded to know why Irgens had
asked him for coffee. Why did he need coffee? He hoped he had not been
making preparations to kiss Mrs. Hanka? Damn him, he would hate to trust
him.... Tidemand hears this and he laughs with the others, louder than the
others, and he says: "You are right, he is not to be trusted, the sly
dog!" Tidemand was sober as always.

They did not restrain themselves; the conversation was free and they swore
liberally. When all was said and done, it was prudery that was Norway's
curse and Norway's bane; people preferred to let their young girls go to
the dogs in ignorance rather than enlighten them while there was time.
Prudery was the nourishing vice of the moment. So help me, there ought to
be public men appointed for the sole purpose of shouting obscenity on the
streets just to make young girls acquainted with certain things while
there was still time. What, do you object, Tidemand?

No, Tidemand did not object, and Ole Henriksen did not object. The idea
was original, to say the least. Ha, ha!

Milde got Tidemand over in a corner.

"It is like this," he said, "I wonder if you have got a couple of crowns?"

Yes; Tidemand was not entirely stripped. How much? A ten-spot?

"Thanks, old man, I'll give it back to you shortly," said Milde in all
seriousness. "Very soon, now. You are a brick! It is not more than a
couple of days since I said that you hucksters were great fellows. That is
exactly what I said. Here is my hand!"

Mrs. Hanka got up at last; she wanted to leave. It was beginning to grow
light outside.

Her husband kept close by her.

"Yes, Hanka, that is right--let us be going," he said. He was on the point
of offering her his arm.

"Thank you, my friend, but I have an escort," she said with an indifferent
glance.

It took him a moment to recover himself.

"Oh, I see," he said with a forced smile. "It is all right; I only
thought--"

He walked over to the window and remained standing there.

Mrs. Hanka said good night to everybody. When she came to Irgens she
whispered eagerly, breathlessly: "To-morrow, then, at three." She kept
Ojen's hand in hers and asked him when he was going. Had he remembered to
make reservations at Torahus? No; she might have known it; these poets
were always forgetting the most essential. He would have to telegraph at
once. Good-bye! And get well soon.... She was maternal to the last.

The Journalist accompanied her.



VI


"You said there was something you wanted to tell me," said Tidemand.

"Yes; so there is--You were surprised that I wanted to go along to
Torahus. Of course, I said that I had business there. That is not so; I
just said that. I know nobody there except Lynums; that is all there is to
it. I did really visit their house once. You never heard anything so
ridiculous; we came there, two thirsty tourists, and they gave us milk;
since then I have met the family when they came to town last fall and this
winter. It is quite a family--seven altogether, including the tutor. The
oldest daughter's name is Aagot. I'll tell you more about them later.
Aagot was eighteen the 7th of December; ha, ha! she is in her nineteenth
year; I happen to remember that she told me. In short, we are not exactly
engaged; I don't mean to say that; we have only written to each other once
in a while. But there is no telling what may happen--What do you say to
that?"

Tidemand was more than surprised; he stopped.

"But I had not the slightest idea; you haven't said a word to me about
it!"

"No; I was hardly in a position to say anything yet. There is nothing
definite; she is very young, you know. Suppose she had changed her mind?
She may tell me she has other intentions when I get there. In that case
nothing can be said against her; the execution will take place without
witnesses; her reputation will have suffered nothing--I want you to see
her, Andreas; I have a picture of her. I won't say that she gave it to me;
I almost took it forcibly; but--"

They stopped a moment and looked at the photograph.

"Charming!" said Tidemand.

"Isn't she? I am glad you think so. I am sure you will like her."

They walked on.

"I want to congratulate you!" said Tidemand and stopped again.

"Thanks!" Ole added a moment afterward: "Yes, I thank you. I may as well
tell you that it _is_ really decided, practically, that is. I am
going up to bring her to town with me."

They had almost reached the Railway Square when Tidemand suddenly stared
straight ahead and whispered:

"But isn't that my wife there ahead of us?"

"Yes; so it is," whispered Ole. "I have noticed this lady ahead of us a
long while; it is only now I see who it is."

Mrs. Hanka walked home alone; the Journalist had not accompanied her at
all.

"Thank God!" exclaimed Tidemand involuntarily. "She told me she had an
escort, and now she goes home all alone. Isn't she a darling? She is going
straight home. But tell me--why did she say she had an escort?"

"Oh, you mustn't take such things too literally," answered Ole. "She
probably did not want anybody to go with her, neither you nor I nor
anybody else. Couldn't she feel that way inclined, perhaps? Young ladies
have their moods, just like you or me."

"Of course, that is perfectly true." Tidemand accepted this explanation.
He was happy because his wife was alone and was making straight for home.
He said, nervously glad: "Do you know, to judge by a few words I had with
her this evening it seems as if things were coming around more and more.
She even asked about the business, about the Russian customs duty; honest,
she wanted to know everything about Fürst. You should have seen how
delighted she was because business is looking up again. We spoke about our
summer vacation, our country house. Yes, it is getting a little better
every day."

"There you are--didn't I tell you? It certainly would be a pity
otherwise."

Pause.

"There is something I am at a loss to explain, though," continued
Tidemand, worried again. "Here lately she has been talking about what a
woman like herself should do with her life. She must have a career,
something to do and accomplish. I must confess it astonished me a little,
a woman with two children and a large household--She has also begun to use
her former name again, Hanka Lange Tidemand, just as if her name still
were Lange."

Mrs. Hanka had stopped outside her own entrance; she was evidently waiting
for her husband. She called to him jestingly that he had better hurry--she
was almost freezing to death. And she lifted her finger banteringly and
asked:

"What plots and conspiracies are you two wholesalers now hatching? Where
is the price of wheat now, and what are you going to put it up to? God
have mercy on you on the day of judgment!"

Tidemand answered in kind: What in the world had she done with the
Journalist? So she had not wanted company, not even her own husband's; she
had been in a sentimental mood? But how could she be so cruel as to let
this poor fellow Gregersen ramble home all alone, drunk as he was? It was
simply heartless--

       *       *       *       *       *

In about a week Ole Henriksen had returned from Torahus. Ojen had
remained, but Ole had brought back a young lady, his fiancée, Aagot Lynum.
With them had come a third person, a somewhat peculiar fellow.



GERMINATION



I


Ole returned from Torahus the 5th of April. He introduced his fiancée at
once to the clique, presented her to his friends, and spent all day in her
company. He had not as yet introduced her to Irgens and Attorney Grande
because he had failed to run across them.

She was young and fair, with high bosom and a straight carriage. Her blond
hair and her frequent laughter gave an impression of extreme youthfulness.
She had a dimple in her left cheek and none in her right, and this
solitary dimple made her peculiar, characteristic. Wasn't it strange to
have one side of the face different from the other? She was of average
height.

She had been so carried away with everything she had seen in the city that
she wandered around in a state of joyful excitement all day. The clique
had capitulated to her charm and shown her much amiability; Mrs. Hanka had
simply embraced her and kissed her the moment she saw her.

She followed Ole around in the establishment, peeped into all the
wonderful drawers and boxes in the store, tasted old, strong wines in the
cellars, and opened in fun the heavy ledgers in the office. But she was
especially fond of the warehouse, the little stall of an office down there
that was filled with tart and peculiar odours from all kinds of tropical
products. From the window she could see the docks, the harbour, the tugs
that brought cargoes in and out and puffed stertorously, shaking the very
air with their efforts. Just outside floated the little yacht with the
golden masthead; it was hers; it had been conveyed to her and belonged to
her legally. Ole had even been in _Veritas_ [Footnote: The Maritime
Insurance and Registry Office in Christiania.] and had its name changed to
_Aagot_. She had all the documents.

And slate after slate is brought into the office; the accounts grow a
little every day, they fill many columns, swell into larger and larger
amounts; the spring season has commenced, the active period just before
summer; all the pulses of trade the world over leap and quiver with
passionate energy.

While Ole counts and makes notes, Aagot busies herself with something or
other on the other side of the desk. She was often unable to understand
how Ole managed to keep all these accounts straight without getting the
amounts mixed; she had tried it herself, but in vain. The only thing she
can be trusted with is the entering of endless orders in the books, and
this she does carefully and conscientiously.

Ole looks at her and says suddenly:

"Lord, what tiny hands you have, Aagot! He, he! they are next to nothing.
I can't understand how you can get along with them."

That is enough. Aagot throws down her pen and runs over to him. And they
are happy and silly until the next slate arrives.

"Little Mistress!" he says smilingly, and looks down into her eyes,
"Little Mistress!"

Time passes. At last the work is done, the accounts finished, and Ole
says, while he slams the ledger shut:

"Well, I have got to go and send some wires. Are you coming along?"

"Yes, dear, if you'll let me!" she answers. And she trips along, greatly
pleased.

On the way Ole remembers that he has not as yet presented his sweetheart
to Irgens. "You ought to meet this fellow Irgens," he says; "he is a great
man, one of the deep talents; everybody says so." Suppose they went as far
as the Grand; he might be there.

They entered the Grand, passed by the tables where people sat drinking
and smoking, and found Irgens far back in the room. Milde and Norem were
with him.

"So here you are!" called Ole.

Irgens gave him his left hand and did not get up. He glanced through
half-closed lids at Aagot.

"This, Aagot, is the poet Irgens." Ole presented him, somewhat proud of
his intimate acquaintance with the great man. "My fiancée, Miss Lynum."

Irgens got up and bowed deeply. Once more he looked at Aagot, looked
persistently, even, and she looked back at him; she was evidently
surprised to find the poet different from what she had thought. It was
over two years since she had read his book, the lyric drama which had
brought him so much fame. She had thought the master to be an elderly man.

"May I congratulate?" said Irgens finally, and gave Ole his hand.

They all sat down; each got a seidel and began a conversation. The spirits
around the little table rose; even Irgens grew communicative and joined
in. He addressed Aagot across the table, asked if she had been in the city
before, in the theatre, in Tivoli, read this book or that, visited the
Exhibition of paintings? "But, Miss Lynum, you must really see the
Exhibition! I should be delighted to show it to you if you cannot find a
better guide--" They conversed for about ten minutes across the table, and
Aagot replied rapidly to every question, sometimes laughing, now and then
forgetting herself and asking questions with her head tilted sideways; her
eyes were wide open and sparkling; she was not the least bit embarrassed.

Ole called the waiter. He had to leave; he was going to the telegraph
office. Aagot, too, got up.

"But there is no reason why you should go, Miss Lynum," said Milde. "You
can come back for Miss Lynum when you have telegraphed, Ole."

"Yes, I am going," said Aagot.

"But if you want to stay I'll call for you in a few moments," said Ole and
took his hat.

She looked at him and answered almost in a whisper:

"Won't you let me come with you?"

"Certainly, if you want to."

Ole paid his check.

"Say," said Milde, "be good enough to settle this check, too. None of us
is very flush to-day." And he smiled and glanced at Aagot.

Ole settled, said good-bye, and walked out with Aagot on his arm.

The three gentlemen looked after her.

"The devil!" murmured Irgens in sincere admiration. "Did you notice her."

"Did we! How the dickens did that groceryman get hold of such a beauty?"

Milde agreed with the Actor; it was simply incomprehensible. What in the
world could she be thinking of!

"Don't talk so loud; they have stopped over by the entrance," said Irgens.

They had run across the Attorney. The same introduction followed; a little
talk could not be avoided. They did not remove their hats and gloves and
were ready to go at a moment's notice. At last they left.

That very moment a man got up from one of the farthest tables and
approached the entrance.... He was a man in the forties, with greyish
beard and dark eyes; his clothes were a little shabby; he was partly bald.

He walked straight over to the Attorney, bowed, and said:

"Do you mind if I sit down here? I noticed that Mr. Henriksen spoke to
you; you must know him, then. As for me, I am acquainted with Miss Lynum,
who was introduced to you. I am the tutor in her home; my name is
Coldevin."

Something about the stranger appealed to the little Attorney's curiosity;
he made room for him at once and even offered him a cigar. The waiter
brought his glass over.

"I visit the city only very seldom," said Coldevin. "I live in the
country. During the last ten years I have hardly been anywhere with the
exception of a trip to Copenhagen during the Exhibition. So I run around
all day and look things over. There are many changes; the city grows
bigger and bigger."

"It is a pleasure to walk around down by the docks and watch the traffic."

His voice was well modulated; he spoke simply and quietly, although his
eyes at times glowed with a smouldering fire.

The Attorney listened and answered cordially. Yes, one had to admit that
the city was making progress; an electric car line was being built;
several more streets were going to be asphalted; the last census showed an
enormous increase.... Wasn't it strange to live in the country always? No?
But in the winter--in the darkness and the snow?

No; it was glorious! Dazzling snow everywhere; silent, wild woods,
ptarmigan, hares, and foxes. White, glittering white snow! But summer, of
course, was more beautiful. It would be high summer when he returned; his
intention was to stay a couple of months, perhaps even longer. That ought
to suffice to see and hear most of what went on. What was happening,
anyway? What was the situation?

"Well," answered the Attorney, "the situation is serious. But we place our
faith in Parliament. Several of the leaders have given their ultimatum; if
all signs do not fail, they surely will make short shrift this time."

"Yes, if the signs do not fail--"

"You appear to have your doubts?" asked the Attorney smilingly.

"No; only there seems to be too much confidence placed in the leaders and
in their promises. I come from the country; we have our suspicions; it is
hard to get rid of them. The leaders might fail us now as heretofore.
Indeed, they might."

Coldevin drank from his glass.

"I cannot say that I remember their failing us heretofore," said the
Attorney. "Do you refer to any particular occasion when the leaders have
betrayed us?"

"Well, yes. Promises have been broken, promises have been interpreted,
promises have been openly and dispassionately denied. We should not forget
these things. One should not rely too much on the leaders; the country's
youth should be our hope. No; a leader is apt to prove a broken reed. It
is an old law that whenever a leader reaches a certain age he pauses--yes,
he even turns right about face and pushes the other way. Then it is up to
the young to march on, to drive him ahead or trample him down."

The door opened and Lars Paulsberg entered. He nodded to the Attorney, who
returned his greeting. The Attorney pointed to a chair at his table, but
Paulsberg shook his head and said:

"No, I am looking for Milde. He has not done a stroke on my picture
to-day."

"Milde is over in the corner," said the Attorney. And he turned to
Coldevin and whispered: "This is one of the most prominent of our young
men--their leader, so to speak, Lars Paulsberg. Do you know him? If only
the rest were like him."

Yes, Coldevin knew his name. So this was Paulsberg? He could plainly see
that he was an important personality; people craned their necks, looked
after him and whispered. Yes, indeed, we had quite a number of writers, it
could not be denied--"There came to Torahus, for instance, one of them
before I left; his name was Stefan Ojen. I have read two of his books. He
was nervous, he told me; he spoke a good deal about a new school, a new
intention within the realm of literature. His clothes were silk lined, but
he did not put himself forward much. Of course, people were curious and
wanted to see him, but he appeared very modest. I met him one evening; his
entire shirt-front was covered with writing, with verses--long and short
lines, a poem in prose. He said that he had waked up in the morning and
found himself in the throes of an inspiration, and, as he had no paper
handy, he simply wrote on his shirt-front. He asked us not to mind it; he
had two more shirts with him, but as they were unlaundered he had to use
that one for his verses. He read something for us, things full of
sentiment. He gave us the impression that he was very clever."

The Attorney did not know if this were irony or not, for Coldevin smiled
one of his rare smiles. But he was probably serious.

"Yes, Ojen is one of our most significant ones," he said. "He is beginning
to create a school in Germany. There can be no doubt that his poetry is
unique."

"Exactly. I, too, got that impression. A little childish, perhaps; a
little immature, but--He, he! as we were sitting there that evening he
suddenly exclaimed: 'Do you know, gentlemen, why I use a capital R in
God?' 'A capital R in God!' we wondered and looked at each other blankly;
no; we did not know why. But Ojen burst into a peal of laughter and left--
It was a good joke; it wasn't at all bad, he, he!"

And Coldevin smiled.

The Attorney laughed with him. "Oh, that fellow Ojen could surprise you
with far better inventions; that was nothing for him. But his writing was
euphonious, his diction pure--Do you know Irgens?"

Yes, Coldevin knew his name. He hadn't written very much?

"He does not write for the masses, no," answered the Attorney. "He writes
for the chosen few. But his friends know that he has many beautiful things
unpublished. Good God, what a master! It is impossible to place one's
finger on a single thing he has done and say that it is below par. He is
sitting in the corner now. Do you wish to meet him? I can arrange it for
you. I know him well; no preliminaries are necessary."

But Coldevin asked to be excused. Some other time; then he could meet
Paulsberg and the others also--"So that is Paulsberg!" he repeated. "One
could tell it when he passed by; people were whispering about him. Nobody
whispered when Ole Henriksen passed by. By the way, I suppose Mr.
Henriksen is going to get married now?"

"I suppose so--Tell me--is it at all interesting to be a tutor? Isn't it
a somewhat tedious occupation at times?"

"Oh, no," answered Coldevin smilingly. "Of course, it depends a good deal
on both parents and children. It is all right if one happens to get among
good people. It is, of course, only a poor and modest situation, but--I
would not change even if I could."

"Are you a college man?"

"Theology, yes. Unfortunately, a rather antiquated student now." And
Coldevin smiled once more.

They continued the conversation for some time, told a couple of anecdotes
about a university professor, and drifted back to the situation. Finally
they discussed the grain prices. It looked bad; there was some talk of
crop failures in Russia.

Coldevin was absolutely normal in his talk; he evidently was well informed
and spoke quietly and thoughtfully. When he got up to leave he asked
casually:

"By the way, do you happen to know where Mr. Henriksen went?"

"To the telegraph office. He told me he had some wires to send."

"Thank you. I trust you will pardon me for descending upon you so
informally. It is kind of you to allow me to make your acquaintance."

"If you are going to stay awhile I trust we shall meet again," said the
Attorney amiably. Coldevin took his leave.

He walked straight to the telegraph office. He remained outside awhile;
then he ascended the stairs and peeped through the glass doors. Then he
turned, went back to the street, and made for the harbour. He sauntered
back and forth outside the Henriksen warehouse and glanced furtively
toward the little office window. He did not take his eyes from the window
for a long time. One would have thought he was anxious to find Ole
Henriksen but did not know whether he was in the warehouse or not.



II


Irgens was sitting in his room, Thranes Road, No. 5. He was in fine
spirits. The elegant man whom nobody suspected of doing anything sat there
in all secret and corrected proofs and slaved like a farmer. Who would
have believed it? He was the one in the clique who talked least about his
work; nobody could understand how he managed to live. It was more than two
years since his drama had been published, and he had apparently not done a
stroke of work since. Of course, he might be working quietly, but nobody
knew anything about it, nothing definitely. He owed a lot of money.

Irgens had locked his door so as not to be disturbed; he was very
secretive. When he had finished his proof-reading he got up and looked out
of the window. The weather was bright and sunny, a glorious day. He was
going to take Miss Lynum to the Art Exhibition at three. He looked forward
to this pleasure; it was really enjoyable to listen to this
unsophisticated girl's chatter. She had burst upon him like a revelation;
she reminded him of the first bird notes in spring.

There was a knock at the door. His first thought was to throw the proofs
beneath the table-cloth, but he refrained. He opened. He knew this knock;
it was Mrs. Hanka's finger which knocked twice so resolutely. She entered,
closed the door, and glided over to him. She smiled, bent toward him, and
looked into his eyes.

"It isn't me at all!" she said, and laughed quietly. "I want you to know
that!" She could not hide her embarrassment entirely and flushed deeply.

She wore a grey woollen gown, and looked very young with her low lace
collar and her bare neck.

He said:

"So it isn't you? Well, it doesn't matter who you are--you are equally
lovely! And what glorious weather you are bringing!"

They sat down. He placed before her the proof-sheet, and she clapped her
hands and cried: "Didn't I tell you? I knew it! No; but you are
wonderful!" And she did not get tired of marvelling at him--that he was
that far already! Oh, but wouldn't it come like a thunderclap; not a soul
suspected anything! They all went around thinking that he did not work any
more. Oh, Heavens! but nobody in the wide world was half as happy as she.
She smuggled an envelope with something in it under the proof-sheet and
pulled him away from the table. She talked all the time.

They sat down on the sofa. Her happiness, her violent joy, communicated
itself to him, carried him away, and made him tender with gratitude. How
she loved him, how she sacrificed herself for him and did for him what she
could! He embraced her passionately, kissed her time and again, and held
her close to his breast.

"I am so happy," she whispered. "I knew something was going to make me
glad; as I walked upstairs it seemed as if I were going into an embrace!
Dearest boy, no--the door--!"

The sun rose higher, the thrushes twittered passionately outside. The
first bird notes of spring, he thought again, how unsophisticated these
little creatures were in their chatter!

"How bright it is here!" she said; "it is much brighter here than
elsewhere."

"Do you think so?" he answered smilingly. He walked over to the window and
began to pluck from his clothes the fine, grey woolly fuzz her dress had
left there. She sat still on the sofa, her eyes on the floor, blushing,
arranging her hair a little. A ring flashed on each of her hands.

He could not remain there at the window so indifferently. She was
beginning to notice it; she looked up; and besides, she was remarkably
beautiful as she sat there fixing her hair. He stepped over to her and
kissed her as warmly as he could.

"Don't kiss me, darling," she said; "be careful! Look here--it is the
spring air."

She showed him a little red spot on her under lip. He asked her if it
hurt, and she answered that it was not that, but she was afraid he might
catch it from her. Suddenly she asked:

"Listen, can you come to Tivoli to-night? There is an operatic
performance. Couldn't we meet there? Otherwise I'll die of loneliness."

He remembered that he was going to the Art Exhibition. What might happen
afterward was hard to tell; he had better not promise anything. No, he
said, he was afraid it would be impossible; he had made certain
arrangements with Ole Henriksen.

"Oh, please--do come! I would be so proud and grateful!"

"But why in the world do you want to go to Tivoli?"

"But there is opera to-night!"

"Well, what of it? That means nothing to me. Well, if you like--"

"No, not if I like," she said sadly. "You seem so indifferent, Irgens!
Yes, I admit I should like to go to the opera, but--Where are you going
this evening? I am just like a compass-needle now: I oscillate, I may even
swing all the way round, but I hark constantly back to one point--I point
continually in one direction. It is you I am thinking of always."

Her little bewildered heart trembled. He looked at her. He knew it only
too well--there was nothing he could reproach her with; she had been more
than good to him. However, all he could promise was that he would come if
at all possible.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Hanka had left. Irgens was ready to go out; he put his proof-sheets
in his pocket and took his hat. Had he forgotten anything? He had the
proofs; that was the most important thing at present--the beginning of a
book which was to startle the community with the suddenness of an
explosion. He was going to see if his quiet industry would be denied
appreciation. He, too, was going to send in an application for the
government subsidy; he would delay until the very last day in order to
avoid having his name paraded in the daily press alongside all those
nonentities who already were licking their chops in anticipation of this
modest emolument. His application should be brief and to the point,
without recommendations, simply accompanied by his book. He would tell
nobody, not even Mrs. Hanka. They should not be able to say that he had
moved heaven and earth in order to secure this well-earned encouragement.
But he was curious to see if they would ignore him. He knew all his fellow
applicants, from Milde to Ojen; he did not fear any of them. He would have
preferred to stand back and yield his right to this charity, but he could
not afford it; he was obliged to accept it.

He brushed his clothes carefully all the way down the street; a little of
the grey wool still clung to him--what a provoking dress! He dropped into
a printing-office with his proofs. The foreman called his attention to a
letter, an envelope with something enclosed, which he found between the
sheets. Irgens turned in the door. A letter? Oh, yes; he had forgotten it.
He knew this envelope and he opened it at once. When he had seen what was
in it he lifted his brows, greatly pleased. The envelope he put in his
pocket without further ado.

Ole and Aagot were in the warehouse. She was sewing on some red plush
cushions for the cabin of the _Aagot_--doll cushions, one would
almost think, they were so small. Irgens put his cheek to one of them,
closed his eyes, and said, "Good night, good night."

"So you are going to the Art Exhibition!" said Ole smilingly. "Aagot has
hardly spoken about anything else all day."

"Couldn't you come, too?" she asked.

But Ole had no time; just now he was very busy. "Be off--don't disturb me
any more; out with you! Have a good time!"

It was the promenade-hour. Irgens proposed that they take the way through
the park; they could then hear a little music at the same time. Did she
like music?

Aagot was in a dark suit and wore a cape with red silk lining. The
snug-fitting garment clung to her body without a wrinkle; around her neck
she simply wore a bit of lace. The cape fluttered at times with scarlet
silken flashes. She was sorry to say that she was not very musical. She
liked to hear music, of course, but she lacked a thorough understanding of
it.

"Exactly like myself," answered Irgens. "That is funny; are you like that,
too? To tell the truth, I understand music unpardonably poorly, but I show
up in the park every day; it would never do to stay away." Much depended
upon that; if one did not show oneself and keep abreast of the procession,
one would soon be lost, submerged, forgotten.

"Can one be forgotten so easily?" she asked. "But that does not apply to
you, surely."

"Oh, yes, to me as well as to the rest," he replied. "Why shouldn't I be
forgotten?"

She answered quite simply:

"I thought you were too well known."

"Known? Oh, as to that, Lord help us! I may not be so entirely unknown, of
course, but--You must not think it is an easy matter to keep one's head
above water here; one friend is envious, another hateful and malicious, a
third simply despicable. No; as far as _that_ is concerned--"

"It seems to me, however, that you are known, and well known, too," she
said. "We cannot walk two steps that somebody isn't whispering about you;
I have noticed it all along." She stopped.

"No, it is unbearable; I just heard another remark! Rather let us go up to
the Exhibition at once!"

He laughed heartily, greatly flattered. How charming she was in her naive
and unspoiled way! He said: Never mind; keep on! Pay no attention
whatever. One got used to this whispering; if it amused people, what of
it? He himself never noticed it any more; honestly, it did not affect him
in the least. Besides, he wanted to let her know that to-day _he_ was
not the only subject of conversation--what about her? She could believe
him or not; she was being thoroughly discussed. One could not come to a
city like this one and look as she did without attracting attention; she
could be very sure of that.

It was not his intention to flatter her; he was sincere in what he said.
Still she did not seem to believe him.

They walked toward the park, where the band thundered Cherubini's
"Overture to the Water-Carrier" across the place.

"It seems to me this is an altogether unnecessary noise," he said
smilingly.

She laughed; she laughed often and heartily over his remarks. This
laughter from her fresh lips, the dimple in her left cheek, her many cute
and childlike ways, drove his spirits still higher; even her nose, which
was somewhat irregular in profile and a little too large, made him almost
feel as if he were in love. Greek or Roman noses were not always the most
beautiful--not at all; it depended on the rest of the face. There was no
such a thing as an authorised standard for noses.

He chatted about one thing after another and made time fly; he proved
himself the poet who could interest those he addressed himself to, the
highly cultured man, the genius of scintillating words. Aagot listened
attentively; he tried to amuse her and came back to the subject of music
again, to operatic music, which he simply abominated. He had, for
instance, never been to the opera that he didn't happen to get a seat
right behind a lady with a sharply bulging corset line, and he was
condemned to stare at this ghastly back during three, four long
intermissions. Then there was the performance itself, the brass
instruments close to the ear, and then the singers who tried with all
their might to drown their blatant blare in a roar of noise. At first one
would appear who made strange contortions and meanwhile produced song;
then another would stalk forth who did not want to take a back seat
either, and who likewise did his utmost; then a third, a fourth, men and
women, long processions, an army; and all sang their questions and sang
their answers and beat their arms in the air and rolled their eyes,
exercising their vocal chords without a moment's pause. Wasn't it true?
They wept to music, sobbed to music, gritted teeth, sneezed, and fainted
to music, and the conductor urged them on frantically with an ivory
hammer-handle. She might laugh, but it was just that way. Then all of a
sudden the conductor appears to become terror-stricken because of that
infernal noise he has inspired; he swings his hammer-handle as a sign that
there must be a change. Now the chorus starts in. This is not so bad; the
chorus can pass muster; at least, it does not use such heartrending
gestures. But in the midst of the singing another person strides forth,
and he spoils the whole thing again; ah! it is the Prince; he has a solo--
and when a prince has a solo of course everybody else has to keep still.
But imagine this more or less corpulent masculine person standing there,
bellowing, with legs wide apart! One gets furious; one experiences a
well-nigh irrepressible desire to yell to this fellow to get out, to stop
spoiling the evening for those who wanted to hear some music--hear the
chorus sing!

Irgens was not displeased with himself--he attained his object. Aagot
laughed incessantly and was hugely amused. How he did make things
interesting and give life and colour to the most commonplace!

They finally got to the Exhibition, looked at what there was to see, and
talked about the pictures as they went along. Aagot's questions were fully
answered; Irgens knew everything and even told her anecdotes about the
exhibiting painters. Here, too, they met curious people, who put their
heads together and looked after them when they passed; but Irgens hardly
glanced to the left or right; he seemed entirely indifferent to the
attention accorded him. He only bowed a couple of times.

When, after an hour or so, they started to leave, they did not notice in
an obscure corner a greyish-bearded, somewhat bald person, nor did they
perceive two fathomless, burning eyes that followed them as they departed.

On the street Irgens said:

"I wonder--You are not going home at once, I hope?"

"Yes," she said, "I am going right back."

He asked her several times to stay a little longer, but Aagot thanked him
and said that she wanted to get home. There was nothing to be done; she
could not be persuaded, and he had to let her have her way. But they could
make up for it some other time? There were both museums and galleries she
ought to see; he would gladly act as her guide. She smiled and thanked
him.

"I am admiring your walk," he said. "It is the most perfect walk I have
ever seen."

She flushed and looked at him quickly.

"You cannot mean that," she said. "I who have lived in the backwoods all
my life."

"Well, you may believe me or not, just as you please--You are altogether
unusual, Miss Lynum, gloriously uncommon; in vain I seek words that would
describe you. Do you know what you remind me of? I have carried this
impression around all day. You remind me of the first bird note, the
earliest warm spring tones--you know what I mean--that surge through the
heart when the snow is gone and the sun and the birds of passage are here!
But that isn't all about you. God help me, I cannot find the words I want,
poet though I am supposed to be!"

"But I have never heard anything like it!" she cried, and laughed
vivaciously. "I am supposed to be like all that? I should like to be, that
much is certain. If only it were true!"

"You have come in here from the blue mountains; you are full of smiles,"
he said. "For this reason the description should call to mind the wild
things--should have a flavour of venison, so to speak. I am not sure,
though."

They were at the warehouse. They stopped and shook hands.

"I am ever so much obliged," she said. "Aren't you coming up? Ole must be
in the office now."

"No, thanks--But listen, Miss Lynum, I would like to come soon and drag
you with me to some museum; may I?"

"Yes," she answered hesitatingly. "That is very kind of you. I'll see--But
I thank you for your company to-day."

She went in.



III


Irgens walked up the street. Where should he go now? He might go to
Tivoli; there was plenty of time; in fact, it was much too early; he would
have to kill an hour or so first. He felt in his pocket for the envelope;
he had money; he might as well go to the Grand.

As he entered the door he was hailed by Journalist Gregersen, the literary
member of the _Gazette_ staff. Irgens did not like this fellow; he
did not care to cultivate his friendship in order to get an item published
in the paper now and then. Paulsberg had now two days running had a
paragraph concerning his excursion to Honefos: the first day about his
going, the second about his return; Gregersen had in his usual
accommodating manner concocted two very excellent little items about this
excursion. That such a man could descend to such coarse work! It was said
that the fellow was capable of greater things; he would surely blossom
forth some day; all right, time enough then. Irgens did not care for him
very much nowadays.

Unwillingly, he walked over to the Journalist's table. Milde was there,
also the Attorney and Coldevin, the grey tutor from the country. They were
waiting for Paulsberg. They had been discussing the situation again; it
commenced to look a little dubious now when several of the leading
parliamentarians had shown symptoms of vacillation. "Just as I have told
you," said Milde, "it is beginning to be unbearable here!"

Mrs. Grande was not present. Mrs. Liberia stayed at home.

The Journalist reported that the talk about crop failures in Russia
evidently had something in it. It could not be concealed much longer in
spite of the fact that the correspondent of the London _Times_ had
been sharply contradicted by the Russian press.

"I had a letter from Ojen," said Milde. "It looks as if he were coming
back soon; he does not appear to enjoy himself out in the woods."

All these matters did not interest Irgens in the least. He made up his
mind to get away as soon as he could. Coldevin said nothing, but glanced
from one to another with his sombre eyes. When he had been presented to
Irgens he had murmured a few words, sat down again and remained silent.
Irgens looked at him languidly and was silent too. When he had finished
his seidel he got up to go.

"Are you leaving us so soon?"

"Yes; I have got to go home and dress. I am going to Tivoli. See you
later."

Irgens left.

"There you see the famous Irgens," said the Attorney to Coldevin.

"Yes, indeed," answered Coldevin with a smile. "I see so much greatness
here that I am getting altogether bewildered. I saw the Art Exhibition
to-day--It seems to me that our poets are beginning to pay considerable
attention to their personal appearance; I have seen a couple of them; they
are so groomed and patent-leathered--one can hardly say they come
thundering along with foam-flecked bridles."

"Why should they? The fashions have changed, you know."

"I suppose so."

Coldevin was again silent.

"The fire-and-sword period has passed by, my good man," said the
Journalist patronisingly, yawning across the table. "What the devil can be
keeping Paulsberg?"

When Paulsberg at last showed up they made room for him with alacrity; the
Journalist sat close by him and wanted to hear his opinion concerning the
situation. What did these events portend--what could be done now?

Paulsberg, reserved and taciturn as always, gave a half reply, a
fragmentary opinion: What could be done? Oh, one had to try to live even
if a couple of parliamentarians were to fail the cause. All the same, he
was going to publish an article soon; it would be worth while observing
what effect that would have. He was going to give it to the traitors good
and proper.

Goodness! Was he going to publish an article? That certainly would put
matters right. "Not too gentle, now, Paulsberg; don't show them any
consideration."

"I imagine Paulsberg knows exactly how gentle he is going to be," said
Milde reprovingly. "You can safely leave that to him."

"Of course," answered the Journalist, "that goes without saying. I had no
idea of offering any suggestions."

He was a little offended, but Paulsberg smoothed matters over by saying:

"I thank you for the two notices, Gregersen. It is fortunate for us that
you keep an eye on us; otherwise people would entirely forget that we
writers existed."

The Attorney ordered another round.

"I am waiting for my wife," said Paulsberg.

"She stopped in to borrow a hundred from Ole Henriksen. I see there is
talk about famine in Russia--Well, I can't say that I have starved as
yet."

Milde turned to Coldevin and remarked pompously:

"That is something it wouldn't hurt you to know out in the country: so
shabbily does Norway treat her great men!"

Coldevin glanced from one to another.

"Indeed," he said, "it is sad." A moment later he added: "Well, one cannot
say things are much better out in the country. The struggle to live is
bitter there, too."

"But, so help me, there is a difference between poets and peasants, I
should think!"

"In the country people adjust themselves to the law that the weak must
perish," said Coldevin quietly. "For instance, people who cannot support a
wife do not marry. If they do, and if they later on have to rely on others
to discharge their obligations, then they are disgraced, branded with
shame."

Everybody looked at the bald fellow; even Paulsberg snatched his glasses
that were hanging on a cord across his breast, looked at him a moment, and
asked in a stage whisper:

"What in the world--what kind of a phenomenon is that?"

This happy word made the friends smile; Paulsberg was asking what kind of
a phenomenon this was, a phenomenon--he, he! It was not often Paulsberg
said that much. Coldevin looked unconcerned; he did not smile. A pause
ensued.

Paulsberg looked out of the window, shivered a little, and murmured:

"Drat it, I cannot get anything accomplished these days; this eternal
sunshine has played me the scurvy trick of paralysing my imagination. I am
in the middle of a descriptive passage about a rainy season, a raw and
chilly milieu, and I cannot get anywhere with it." He mumbled maledictions
about the weather.

The Attorney was incautious enough to remark:

"Why don't you write about the sunshine, then?"

It was not many days since Paulsberg himself, in Milde's studio, had
bluntly expressed an opinion to the effect that Attorney Grande had showed
symptoms of a certain arrogance lately. He was right, the Attorney was
becoming a little impertinent; it might be well to put him in his place
once and for all.

"You talk according to your lights!" said the Journalist oracularly.

This reproach was received in silence; but shortly afterward Grande got up
and buttoned his coat.

"I don't suppose any of you are going my way?" he asked in order not to
show any ill feeling. And as nobody answered he paid his check, said
goodbye and left.

More drinks were ordered. Mrs. Paulsberg arrived in the company of Ole and
his fiancée. Coldevin moved as far back as he could until he found himself
almost at another table.

"We had to accompany Mrs. Paulsberg," said Ole good-naturedly; "we
couldn't let her go alone." And he slapped Paulsberg on the shoulder.

Miss Aagot had let a joyous exclamation escape her and had walked straight
over to Coldevin, to whom she gave her hand. But what in the world had
become of him? Hadn't she kept a continuous lookout for him on the streets
and asked Ole about him every day? She was at a loss to understand why she
saw him so rarely. She had had another letter from home, and everybody
sent him their kindest regards. Why did he keep so entirely to himself?

Coldevin stuttered many brief replies: there was no end of things to see
and do, exhibitions and museums, Tivoli and Parliament; there were
newspapers to read, lectures to attend; he also had to look up a few old
friends. Furthermore, it was best not to disturb a newly engaged couple
too much.

Coldevin smiled archly; his lips trembled a little and he spoke with bowed
head.

Ole came over, overwhelmed him with the same reproaches, and received the
same excuses. Coldevin was going to call on them to-morrow, though, they
could rely on it; he had made up his mind before he met them. Provided he
would not disturb them, of course.

Disturb? He? What was he thinking of?

Beer was served and everybody talked. Mrs. Paulsberg crossed her legs and
gripped the glass in her masculine fashion. The Journalist monopolised her
immediately. Ole continued his conversation with Coldevin.

"I hope you are enjoying yourself here? Interesting people, these! There
is Lars Paulsberg; have you met him?"

"Yes, I have met him. He is the third one of our authors I have met. No
doubt it is my fault; but, to tell the truth, none of them have made an
overwhelming impression on me."

"No? That is because you do not know them well enough."

"But I know what they have written. It seems to me they do not exactly
soar to the solitary heights. It is probably my own fault, though--Lars
Paulsberg uses perfumes."

"Does he? A little peculiarity. One must pardon such men a few oddities."

"But I notice that they treat each other with the greatest respect,"
Coldevin continued. "They talk about everything; they make excellent
speeches on every subject imaginable."

"Don't they, though? It is wonderful to listen to them, I must say."

"But how are you getting on--in the business, I mean?"

"Oh, we take one day at a time. We have just turned a little trick in
Brazil which I hope will prove satisfactory. I remember, you are
interested in business matters. When you come down tomorrow I will take
you around and show you how we do it. We will all go--you and Aagot and
myself--we three old friends."

"I thought I heard my name?" said Aagot merrily and joined them. "Yes, I
did; don't try to fool me, Ole. It seems to me it is my turn to speak a
little with Coldevin; you have had him to yourself long enough, Ole."

And she took Ole's chair and sat down.

"The letters from home are full of questions about you. Mamma asked me to
see that you were comfortable at your hotel."

Coldevin's lips quivered again, and he said, with his eyes on the floor:

"How can you bother with such things now? Don't worry about me; I am very
comfortable. I hope you are enjoying yourself? Though I hardly need to ask
you that."

"But, do you know, there are times when I am longing for home, too. Can
you understand that?"

"That is only the first few days--It will be a little hard never to see
you again, Miss Aagot--I mean a little--that is--"

"You talk so strangely to-night," she said. "You almost make me want to
cry; honestly you do."

"But, dear Miss Aagot--"

"To get married isn't the same as to die, I'm sure."

Coldevin's manner instantly changed; he became jocular.

"Die! Well, I like that! But you are right in saying that I have been
sitting here and depressing you with my talk. It was mostly your mother I
was thinking of. It was nobody else--Tell me, have you finished the
cushions for the yacht?"

"Yes," answered Aagot absently.

"But you have not been in Parliament yet? I imagine you have hardly had
time for that as yet. I have been there every day; but then I haven't
anything else to do."

"Listen," she said suddenly; "I may not have an opportunity to bid you
good night later, so I will do it now." She gave him her hand. "And
remember, you have promised to call to-morrow! I--You will make me very
happy if you come."

She dropped his hand and got up.

He sat there a moment as in a trance. He heard somebody say: "What can
Miss Aagot and Coldevin be so deeply absorbed in?" He heard that Aagot
was on the point of answering, and he exclaimed hurriedly:

"I shake hands with Miss Aagot on a promise to call on her to-morrow."

"Be sure and keep your promise, now," he heard Ole say. "Well, Aagot, I
suppose we ought to be getting home."

Ole put his hand in his pocket to pay the waiter; the Journalist did the
same, but Milde seized his arm and said:

"Leave that to Ole Henriksen. Kindly pay for us, too, Ole."

"With pleasure."

At the door Lars Paulsberg caught up with him and said:

"Don't go away without giving me the opportunity of shaking hands with
you. I hear you could lend me these rotten crowns."

Ole and Aagot went. A little later Coldevin got up, too; he bowed to each
of the clique and departed. He heard laughter behind his back and the word
"phenomenon" several times. He hurried into the first gateway he passed
and took out from his pocketbook a little silken bow, in the Norwegian
colours, carefully wrapped in paper. He kissed the bow, looked at it a
long time, and kissed it again, trembling in the grip of a silent, deep
emotion.



IV


It was Ole Henriksen's habit to make his rounds through the business
establishment immediately after his early morning coffee. He was an early
riser and had usually accomplished a great deal before breakfast,
inspected store and cellars, read and answered mail, telegraphed, given
instructions to his clerks; everything devolved upon him. Aagot kept him
company nowadays; she insisted on getting up as early as he, and her
little hands lightened many a task for him. Ole Henriksen worked more
enthusiastically than ever. The old man did nothing nowadays but make out
an occasional bill and balance up the cash-book; he kept to himself
up-stairs most of the time, and spent many an hour in the company of some
old crony, some visiting ship's captain or business acquaintance. But
before retiring old Henriksen always lit a lamp, shambled down-stairs to
the office, and took a last survey of the books. He took his time; and
when he came up about midnight he retired immediately.

Ole did the work for both of them; it was like play to him to direct all
these threads which he knew from the days of childhood. Aagot did not
disturb him much; it was only down in the little warehouse office that she
was apt to delay him at times. Her youth and gaiety filled the little
room, glorified everything, and brightened the world.

She was so cheerful that she carried away even the phlegmatic Ole. He was
lost in her; he played little tricks on her and trembled with the
tenderest affection for this hoydenish girl who wasn't even full grown.
When in the company of others he appeared vastly superior--she was his
little sweetheart; she was so young, much younger than he, it was up to
him to display his knowledge and experience. But when they were alone,
alas! then he could not keep up this pretence; he lost his seriousness and
was a child with her. He stole many a glance from his books and papers,
gazed at her secretly, lost in contemplation of her radiant figure and
worshipping to distraction her dimpling smile. How she could make his
heart pound when she would glance archly at him and then come over to him
and whisper: "So you are _my_ boy, are you?" She had so many adorable
ways. At times she could sit and gaze at the floor, gaze fixedly at
something which made her eyes dewy--memories, perhaps--some old memory--

Ole asked her at last when she thought they ought to get married, and when
he saw her blush deeply, even to her neck, he regretted that he had been
too abrupt. There was no hurry; she must decide that herself; no need to
answer now, not at all.

But she answered:

"I am ready when you are."

There was a knock at the door and Irgens entered. He came in order to
propose a visit to the sculpture-gallery. Ole said jestingly:

"I see! You have chosen this hour because you knew I couldn't come along!"

"What nonsense! We have to go when the galleries are open, naturally."

Ole laughed loudly.

"Look, he is getting mad, furious, ha, ha, ha! I fooled you that time,
Irgens!"

Aagot got her hat and coat and went with Irgens. Ole called after her:

"Don't stay too late, Aagot! Remember, we have promised to go with
Tidemand to Tivoli."

On the street Irgens glanced at his watch and said:

"I see it is a little too early yet. If you have no objections we might
take a walk up toward the Castle."

And they walked toward the Castle. The band played; people strolled up and
down. Irgens talked again interestingly and facetiously about different
matters, and Aagot replied and laughed, listening curiously to his words;
at times she would make some admiring little exclamation when he made a
specially striking remark. She could not refrain from looking at his
face--a handsome face, rich, curly moustache, a somewhat broad, voluptuous
mouth. He was in an entirely new suit to-day; she noticed it was bluish
like her own. He wore a silk shirt and grey gloves.

As they passed Our Saviour's Church he asked her if she liked to go to
church. She said yes--didn't he?

"Oh, no, not very often."

That was not nice of him.

He bowed smilingly. If she said so, of course. The fact of the matter was
that he had received a rude shock once; it sounded silly, it was only a
bagatelle, but it proved of far-reaching effect. He was sitting in this
very church on an occasion; a high mass was being celebrated. The minister
was all right; he was doing splendidly. He was even eloquent; he spoke
convincingly, with feeling and pathos. But in the middle of a most
stirring peroration in which he, carried away in an outburst of spiritual
fervour, had meant to shout: "Jews and Gentiles!" his tongue had tripped
and he had said: "Gents and Jewtiles! _Gents and Jewtiles!_--Imagine
these silly words hurled over the heads of the congregation in a loud,
sonorous voice! And the poor fellow stood there in full daylight and could
not get away from his miserable blunder. I assure you, it shocked me like
a cold shower!"

It sounded genuine as he spoke, not at all like an episode invented for
the occasion. Was it not possible that a particularly sensitive soul could
be seriously shaken by such a grotesque and silly mishap? Aagot could very
well understand it; and at the same time she had to laugh over that
miserable "Gents and Jewtiles," which she repeated over and over.

When they passed the Parliament buildings, Irgens pointed to the greystone
colossus and said:

"There we have Parliament; have you been there yet?"

"No, not yet."

Well, it wasn't a very cheerful place just now--wavering and treason all
along the line! The doughty parliamentarians lolled in their chairs and
chewed tobacco and grew fat and lazy; they used sonorous phrases and
challenged Sweden to a fight with bare knuckles, but when time for action
came--where were they then? She had no idea how he and others were boiling
with indignation over this display of loathsome cowardice. And what was
the mighty adversary like? Sweden! That invincible world power full of
doddering senility! He must compare Sweden to an octogenarian who sat,
dead drunk and feeble, and boasted of his warlike temper: "I'll never
yield--never!" And when Parliament heard that quavering voice it grew
palsied with fear. No, he, Irgens, should have been in Parliament!

How manly and proudly he spoke! She looked at him and said: "How zealous
you are now!"

"You must pardon me; I always grow impatient when our sovereignty is
discussed," he replied. "I trust I haven't unwittingly offended you by
trespassing on your personal opinions? I am glad to hear that."

They reached the Castle, turned aside, and entered the park; they forgot
that time was passing. He had started in to tell her a story from the
day's news, a scene from one of the courts: A man was being tried for
murder and had confessed. The question of mitigating circumstances arose,
and it was decided that there were mitigating circumstances. All right;
penitentiary for life. "Next case!" Suddenly a voice is heard from among
the spectators; it is the murderer's sweetheart, who shouts: "His
confession is untrue; he has not committed murder! How could he possibly
have done it; no one who knows him will believe it! And there are
mitigating circumstances; you cannot sentence him, for it wasn't
premeditated murder! No, Henry is innocent! Won't any of you who know him
say that he is innocent? Why are you all silent?" And the lady was led out
of the courtroom. That was love!

Aagot, the little goose, was moved. How beautiful--sad and beautiful! And
they carried her out? What a tragedy!

"Well, probably the story is a little exaggerated," he said. "Love as
strong as that does not grow on the bushes nowadays."

"But it does exist!"

"Perhaps, somewhere--on the Isle of the Blest--" But this expression awoke
the poet in him, and he rhapsodised. "And the place was called Evenrest,
because it was green and silent when the two arrived. A boy and a girl;
she fair, bright, shining like a white pinion against him who was dark--
two souls who gazed smilingly into each other, who voicelessly implored
each other, who closed rapturously around each other. And blue mountains
looked at them--"

He paused abruptly.

"I am making myself ridiculous," he said. "Let us sit down awhile."

They sat down. The sun sank, sank deeper; a tower-clock in the city
somewhere boomed forth the hour. Irgens continued to speak, impressively,
dreamily, warmly. He might go into the solitudes this summer, he said;
settle down in a cabin by the water and row around at night. Imagine,
wonderful nights in a rowboat!... But he had a feeling now that Aagot was
beginning to be uneasy because of the lateness of the hour, and in order
to keep her mind occupied he said:

"You must not believe, Miss Lynum, that I go around and prate about blue
mountains always; if I do it now it is only because of you. You impress me
deeply; you enrapture me when you are near me. I know what I am saying. It
is the loveliness and brightness of your face, and when you tilt your head
sideways--Of course, this is meant aesthetically, impersonally!"

Aagot had given him a quick glance, and this made him add the last words.
She did not understand him, perhaps; the reason for this last remark was
not quite clear to her, and she was on the point of saying something when
he resumed laughingly:

"I sincerely trust I haven't bored you too much with my nonsense? If I
have I'll go right down to the harbour and drown myself. Yes, you laugh,
but--I want to tell you, though, that your displeasure was charmingly
becoming to you, really. I saw that you were provoked. If I may be allowed
to express myself aesthetically once more, I would say that for a moment
you looked as the slender, wild fawn must look when she lifts her head and
snorts."

"But now I want to tell _you_ something," she said and got up. "What
time is it? But you must be crazy! Let us be off at once! If it is my
fault that you have talked too much, it is certainly yours that I have
listened to you and forgotten the time entirely. This is awful!"

And they hurried away down the park slope.

As they were going to turn toward the museum he wondered if there would be
time for a visit to-day. Perhaps they had better wait until some other
time? What did she think?

She stopped and reflected a moment; then she laughed merrily and
exclaimed:

"But we will have to go, if only for a moment! We must be able to say that
we have been there. No, this is simply terrible!"

And they hurried along.

The fact that she was conspiring with him to hide this peccadillo, that
from now on they would have a sort of secret together, filled him with a
warm pleasure. He wanted to keep on talking, to continue to keep her
interested; but she did not listen; she hurried along in order to get to
the museum before it should close. She skipped quickly up the many stairs,
ran past people going out, glanced quickly right and left in order to
identify the chief works of art, and asked breathlessly: "Where is the
Laocoön Group? Quick! I must see that!" They ran off in a wild search for
the Laocoön Group. It turned out that they had at least ten minutes before
closing time, and they took things a little easier.

Suddenly she imagined seeing Coldevin's dark eyes peering out from a
corner; but as she took a step forward to look closer the eyes disappeared
and she forgot all about it.

"What a pity we are in such a hurry!" she said several times.

When they had rushed through the first floor their time was up and they
had to leave. She talked with Irgens on the way back and seemed as pleased
as before; she gave him her hand at the door and thanked him, thanked him
twice. He begged her forgiveness because he had been responsible for her
failure to view the sculptures thoroughly, and she smiled amiably and said
that she had had a good time.

"I shall see you later at Tivoli," said Irgens.

"Are you going there?" she asked in surprise.

"I have been asked to come; I am going with some friends."

Aagot did not know that Irgens had received a pressing invitation from
Mrs. Hanka; she said all right, nodded, and went in.

Ole was waiting for her; she threw herself on his neck and cried eagerly:

"It was glorious--the Laocoön Group--everything! We did not have time to
see everything, that is, to see everything carefully; but you will take me
there some time, won't you? Promise! For I want you to take me."

       *       *       *       *       *

When later on Ole and Aagot were going to Tidemand's house on their way to
Tivoli, Aagot remarked casually:

"It is a pity that you are not a poet, Ole."

He looked at her in surprise. "Do you think so?" he asked.

Then suddenly it dawned on her what a tactless thing she had said. As a
matter of fact, she had not meant it at all; it was just a thoughtless
word, a thoughtless, thoughtless word. She repented it bitterly and would
have given anything to have it unsaid. She stopped, threw her arms around
Ole's neck right in the middle of the street, and said in agitation:

"And you believe it? It is easy to fool you, Ole! Listen--you don't for a
moment think--I swear I didn't mean it, Ole. It was so stupid of me to say
it, but I didn't for a moment think you would take it seriously. I want to
know if you think I meant it; tell me if you do?"

"Of course I don't," he said and patted her cheek; "not at all, dearest.
That you can make so much of a little thing like that, you foolish child!
He, he!"

They continued their interrupted walk. She was so grateful to him because
he had taken it so nicely. Oh, he was so good and considerate, she loved
him; Heavens! how she adored him....

But this little scene had its influence over her conduct all during the
evening.



V


When the performance was over they all gathered in the restaurant. The
entire clique was there, even Mr. and Mrs. Paulsberg; later on Attorney
Grande appeared, dragging with him Coldevin, who followed unwillingly and
protestingly; he wanted to be excused. The Attorney had met him outside
and had thought it would be fun to bring him along.

Everything under the sun had been discussed: literature and art, man and
God; they had settled the suffrage question, taken a fall out of Malthus,
strayed onto the political preserves. It had unfortunately turned out that
Paulsberg's article in the _Gazette_ failed to have the desired
effect on Parliament. With sixty-five votes to forty-four it had decided
to postpone matters indefinitely; five representatives had suddenly been
taken ill and could not participate in the voting. Milde declared that he
was going to Australia.

"But you are painting Paulsberg?" objected Norem, the Actor.

"Well, what of it? I can finish that picture in a couple of days."

It was, however, a secret arrangement that the picture was not to be
finished until after the close of the Exhibition. Paulsberg had expressly
demanded it. He did not want to be exhibited in mixed company; he desired
solitude, veneration, a large window all to himself on the promenade. This
was just like Paulsberg.

When, therefore, Milde said that he could finish the picture in a couple
of days, Paulsberg answered curtly:

"I shall be unable to sit for you at present; I am working."

That settled it.

Mrs. Hanka had placed Aagot next to her. She had called to her: "Come
here, you with the dimple, here by me!" And she had turned to Irgens and
whispered: "Isn't she sweet?"

Mrs. Hanka was again in her grey woollen dress with low lace collar; her
neck was bare. Spring seemed to affect her; she looked a little played
out. Her lips were cracked, and when she laughed her features were
distorted into wry grimaces because of these cracked lips.

She told Aagot that they were going to the country shortly and hoped to
see her there. They were going to eat currants and rake hay and loll in
the grass. Suddenly she turned to her husband across the table and said:

"While I remember it, can you let me have a hundred?"

"I wish you hadn't remembered it," said Tidemand good-naturedly. He
winked, jested happily, and was delighted. "Don't marry, my friends; it is
an expensive luxury! Another hundred!"

And he handed the bill to his wife, who thanked him.

"But what is it for?" he asked her banteringly.

"I refuse to tell you," she said, and turned to Aagot in order to avoid
further references to the matter.

Attorney Grande and Coldevin entered just then.

"Of course you are coming," said the Attorney. "I never heard anything
like it! I want you to join me in a little drink. Come and help me, you
fellows; I can't get the man inside!"

But when Coldevin saw who were present he wrenched himself free quickly
and disappeared.

He had visited Ole Henriksen one morning according to his promise, but he
had vanished since then and nobody had seen him until now.

The Attorney said:

"I discovered him outside; I had pity on the poor man, he seemed so
altogether alone, and I--"

Aagot had jumped up quickly and hurried outside; she caught up with
Coldevin on the stairs. They talked together a few moments; finally they
both returned.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "Attorney Grande was kind enough to ask me
to come with him, but I did not know that there were others here--that
there was a party here," he corrected himself.

The Attorney laughed.

"Sit down, drink, and be merry," he said.

And Coldevin made himself at home. This tutor from the country, bald and
grey, generally taciturn and restrained, talked now with and like the
rest. He seemed somewhat changed since his arrival; he answered boldly
when he was addressed, and was not backward in expressing his opinions.
Journalist Gregersen spoke again about the political situation. He had not
heard Paulsberg say anything about it. What was going to happen? What were
they going to do?

"What can one do about an accomplished fact?" asked Paulsberg. "Simply
take it like men; that is all I can say."

The Attorney now asked Coldevin:

"I suppose you have been in Parliament to-day, also?"

"Yes."

"You know, then, what took place. What do you think of it?"

"That is not easy to say on the spur of the moment."

"Perhaps you haven't followed matters very closely; you have just arrived,
I understand," said Mrs. Paulsberg amiably.

"Followed matters closely! I should say he has; don't you worry about
that!" cried the Attorney. "I have talked with him before."

The discussion grew violent. Milde and the Journalist simultaneously
demanded the dismissal of the cabinet; others expressed their opinion
about the Swedish opera they had just attended; it appeared that not one
among them understood music in the least, and they strayed back to
politics.

"So you were not seriously shaken by what occurred to-day, Mr. Coldevin?"
asked Paulsberg in order to be friendly, too. "I am ashamed to confess
that I have sat at home and cursed all afternoon!"

"Indeed!" answered Coldevin.

"Don't you hear that Paulsberg asked if you were shaken?" said the
Journalist sharply across the table.

Coldevin murmured:

"Shaken? One can, of course, not avoid feeling disappointed when such
things happen. But the climax to-day was hardly unexpected by me. As I see
it, it was only a last rite."

"Oh, you are a pessimist."

"Indeed, no, you are mistaken. I am not that."

Beer and sandwiches were served, afterward coffee. Coldevin glanced at
those present; he met Aagot's eyes looking at him very gently, and this
agitated him so that he suddenly spoke out loudly what was on his mind:

"Did this decision to-day surprise you so very much, then?" And when he
received a qualified affirmation he continued, in order to make himself
understood: "To me it appears to be entirely in harmony with conditions
otherwise prevailing.--People are saying to themselves: 'We have our
liberty; the constitution guarantees it, and now we want to enjoy it for a
while!' Behold--the sons of Norway have become freemen and the peers of
anybody."

Everybody agreed with him. Paulsberg nodded; this phenomenon from the
country might not be entirely impossible, after all. But he would say no
more; he preserved an obstinate silence. At last the Attorney got him
started again; he asked:

"When I met you at the Grand recently you insisted that it was wrong ever
to forget, ever to forgive. Is that a principle, or how--"

"Yes, you who are young should remember, should always remember, the
disappointment you have suffered to-day. You have put your faith in a man,
and the man has betrayed your confidence; this you should never forget.
One should never forgive, never; such wrongs should be avenged. Once I saw
two truck-horses maltreated; it was in a Catholic country, in France. The
driver sat high in his seat and swung his enormous whip; it was of no use,
the horses slipped and could not budge the heavy load, even though they,
so to speak, dug their hoofs into the asphalt. The driver got down; he
turned his whip around and used the handle; he beat the horses across
their backs; they tried again, stumbled and fell, got up and made another
effort. The driver became more and more enraged as people gathered around
and witnessed his dilemma; he went forward and beat the horses across the
eyes; he went back and struck them on the tender spots beneath the flanks,
and the horses squirmed and stumbled, and fell to their knees again, as if
they begged for mercy--Three times I tried to get at that brute, and every
time I was pushed back by the railing mob who wanted no interference. I
had no gun; I was helpless; I stood there with a penknife in my hands and
cursed and swore to high Heaven at that barbaric beast. Then somebody next
to me--a woman, a nun who carried on her breast the cross of Christ--said
mildly and reproachfully: 'You are committing an awful sin, sir; the Lord
is good; he forgives everything!' I turned to that unspeakably brutal
creature and said nothing, but glared at her and happened to spit in her
face--"

This delighted the clique.

"In the face? How did it turn out? The devil you say! Did you get away
with it?"

"No; I was arrested--But what I wanted to say is this: Never forgive; it
is brutal; it turns justice into a farce. A kind act should be repaid with
a still kinder act, but a wicked wrong should be avenged. If one is struck
on one cheek and turns the other in forgiveness and submission, then
goodness and justice lose all value. I wish to point out that the
result in Parliament to-day is not altogether an illogical consequence
of the conditions that have developed among us. We forgive and forget
treason in our leaders and excuse their vacillation and weakness in every
crisis. Now the youthful element should step forward, the young Norway,
invincible in its indignation and irresistible in its strength. But the
young Norway does not step forward; indeed no, we have mollycoddled it
with hymns and rot about peace eternal; we have taught it to admire
gentleness and submissiveness; above all, to emulate those who have
reached the highest degree of neutral toothlessness. Behold the country's
youth, strapping and full-grown, six foot tall, sucking its bottle and
growing fat and harmless. If some one smites it on one cheek it turns the
other accommodatingly, and keeps its fists in its pockets with admirable
self-control."

Coldevin's speech attracted not a little attention; they all looked
closely at him. He sat there as usual and spoke quietly, without
excitement. But his eyes blazed, and his hands trembled as he awkwardly
bent back his fingers until they cracked. He did not lift his voice above
the normal. Otherwise he did not look well; he wore a loose shirt-front,
and this had become disarranged and hung lopsidedly so that one could
glimpse a blue cotton shirt beneath. His beard straggled down his breast.

The Journalist nodded and remarked to his neighbour:

"Not at all bad! He is almost one of us."

Lars Paulsberg said jestingly, and still amiably:

"As I said before, I have done nothing but curse all day, so I guess I
have contributed considerably to the indignation of our youth."

Attorney Grande, who enjoyed himself immensely, was quite proud over his
idea of getting Coldevin to come. He told Milde once more how it had
happened: "I thought it would not be very lively here, and just then I ran
across this fellow outside, standing there all by himself looking in. It
kind of moved me, you know--"

Milde spoke up.

"You mentioned the conditions now prevailing. If by that you mean that we
are entirely surrounded by weakness and submissiveness, let me inform you
that you are much mistaken--"

"In that case I do not mean it, of course."

"But what do you mean, then? You cannot say that youth like ours, teeming
with talent and genius, is weak and of no account. Good God, man! there
never was a time when our youth was as rich in talent as at present."

"If there was, then I never heard of it," said even Norem, who had been
sitting quietly at a corner of the table emptying glass upon glass.

"Talent? Now that is an entirely different question, you know," said
Coldevin quietly. "But do you really think that the talents within our
youth are so sweepingly great?"

"He--he asks if--So our talents at present do not amount to so very much,
Mr. Coldevin?" Milde laughed contemptuously and turned to Irgens, who had
kept aloof from the conversation. "It looks bad for us, Irgens; the
phenomenon does not approve of us."

Mrs. Hanka now spoke; she wanted to smooth matters over. It could only be
a misunderstanding; Mr. Coldevin would surely explain himself
satisfactorily. Couldn't they listen to a man without losing their temper?
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Milde--"

"You are not much impressed with us who are supposed to have a little
talent, then?" asked Paulsberg, still indulgent.

"Impressed? I must admit that in my humble opinion things are a little on
the down grade with us," answered Coldevin. "I confess that that is my
opinion. And it is especially the country's youth I am thinking of. We
have begun a slow retrogression; in plain words, we are lowering our
standards, we are tapering down to a general zero. The young do not demand
much from themselves or from others any more; they accept the diminutive
and call it great; there is not much, not very much, needed to create a
stir nowadays. That is what I meant when I referred to the general
conditions."

"But, good Lord! what do you think of our younger writers, then?" cried
Journalist Gregersen, flushed and angry. "Our poets, yes! Have you read
any of them? Have you, for instance, ever come across the name of
Paulsberg, the name of Irgens?"

Aagot could not refrain from observing her old tutor. She was surprised to
note that this man, who invariably used to yield when he was contradicted,
now sat there with a ready reply to every remark and did not look very
timid either.

"You must not take offence at what I say," he begged. "I admit that I have
no business to express such opinions here; I ought to leave that to others
who understand these matters better than I; but if you want to know what I
think, then I must say that, according to my lights, our younger writers
do not seem to improve the conditions greatly. Of course, there can be no
fixed standard; everything depends on the point of view, and yours is not
mine; we are bound to differ. But, anyway, our younger writers do not lift
the level greatly; hardly, according to my understanding. It would seem
they lack the ability. Of course, that is no fault of theirs; but then
they have no right to pose as being greater than they are. It is a pity
that we lose sight of the greater and make mediocrity take its place. Look
at our youth; look at our authors; they are very clever, but--Yes, they
are both clever and industrious; they labour and toil, _but they lack
the spark_. Good God, how far they are from squandering their
treasures! They are saving and calculating and prudent. They write a few
verses and they print these few verses. They squeeze out a book now and
then; they delve into their inmost recesses and conscientiously scrape the
bottom until they arrive at a satisfactory result. They do not scatter
values broadcast; no, they do not fling gold along the highways. In former
days our poets could afford to be extravagant; there was wealth untold;
they towered rich and care-free and squandered their treasures with
glorious unconcern. Why not? There was plenty left. Oh, no, our
present-day authors are clever and sensible; they do not show us, as did
the old, a flood, a tempest, a red eruption of flame-tongued, primeval
power!"

Aagot's eyes were on him; he caught her glance of rapt attention, and she
made him understand with a warm smile that she had listened to his every
word. She wanted to show Ole how little she had meant her thoughtless
regret that he was no poet. She nodded to Coldevin and wished the poets
all they got. Coldevin was grateful for her smile; she was the only one
who smiled at him, and he did not mind the violent interruptions, the
shouts and rude questions: What kind of a phenomenon was he who could
assume this superior pose? What world-subduing exploits had he performed?
He should not remain incognito any longer; what was his real name? They
wanted to acclaim him!

Irgens was least affected of them all; he twirled his moustache and looked
at his watch to make everybody understand how this bored him. Glancing at
Coldevin, he whispered to Mrs. Hanka with an expression of disgust:

"It seems to me that this man is a little too untidy. Look at his collar,
or bib, or whatever one may call it. I noticed that he put his
cigar-holder in his vest-pocket a moment ago without first putting it in a
case. Who knows, there might be an old comb in the same pocket."

But with his air of undisturbed serenity, with his eyes fixed on a point
in the table, quietly indifferent, Coldevin listened to the exclamations
from the gentlemen of the party. The Journalist asked him pointblank if he
were not ashamed of himself.

"Leave him alone!" said Paulsberg. "I don't see why you want to annoy
him."

"It certainly looks bad for our poor country!" sneered the Journalist. "No
talents, no youth, nothing only a 'general condition.' He, he! God only
knows how it will all end! And we who have innocently assumed that a
people should honour and respect its young writers!"

Coldevin seized on this.

"Yes, but that is exactly what people are doing; nobody can justly
complain on that score! People respect most highly a man who has written a
book or two; he is admired far more, for instance, than the ablest
business man or the most talented professional! To our people an author
means a great deal; he is the essence of all that is distinguished and
admirable. There are probably very few countries in which the intellectual
life is dominated by authors to the degree it is here. As you probably
will admit, we have no statesmen; but our authors direct our politics, and
they do it well. It may have struck you that there are barren spots in our
scientific attainments; however, with true intuition, our authors are not
afraid to assume the burden and pose as scientists. It has surely not
escaped your attention that in all our history we have never produced a
thinker; never mind, our authors dabble in philosophy, and everybody
thinks they do it splendidly. It seems highly unjust to complain because
of a lack of appreciation of and admiration for our authors."

Paulsberg, who in his works had repeatedly proven himself a thinker and
philosopher of rank, sat and toyed with his eye-glass and smiled
superciliously. But when Coldevin added a few words and ended up with
saying that he had the greatest hope and faith in the country's practical
youth, in its young commercial talents, then a loud laugh greeted him, and
both the Journalist and Paulsberg shouted simultaneously that this was
great, by all the saints the best ever, so help me! Commercial talents--
whatever could that be? Talents for trading--what? Glory be!

"In my opinion you will find really great talents within the ranks of our
business youth," Coldevin continued undisturbed. "And I would advise you
to pay a little attention to them. They are building ships, opening new
markets, carrying on involved business enterprises on a hitherto undreamed
of scale--"

Coldevin could not be heard; they laughed and shouted, although out of
respect for their good friends the business men present they endeavoured
to change the subject. Ole Henriksen and Tidemand had listened in silence;
they were embarrassed and did not know how to take it, but began to speak
together in low voices. Suddenly Tidemand whispered:

"Can I come over and see you to-morrow about a business matter? I would
like to come early, about ten, if you have time then? All right; thanks!"

At Milde's corner of the table the discussion had swung to wines--old
wines, Johannisberger, Cabinet, Musigny. Milde understood the subject
thoroughly and contradicted the Attorney violently, although Grande, of
the well-known Grande family, was supposed to have drunk such wines since
he was a child.

"There is no end to your assertiveness lately," said Milde.

The Attorney glanced at him and muttered:

"Such a bit of an oil-painter will also presume to understand wines!"

Conversation strayed to the government art subsidies. Irgens listened
without changing a feature when Milde asserted that Ojen was the worthiest
applicant. It was exceedingly generous in Milde to express such views; he
himself had applied and needed the money as much as anybody. Irgens could
hardly understand it.

Interest in the preposterous tutor had entirely waned. Nobody spoke to him
any more; he had got hold of his hat, which he sat and twirled. Mrs. Hanka
addressed a couple of questions to him in order to be polite, but after
answering them he was entirely silent. It was strange that the man did not
notice how his shirt-front sagged; the slightest movement would correct
it. But he did not adjust it.

Paulsberg got up to take his leave. Before he went he manoeuvred the
Journalist into a corner and whispered:

"You might do me the favour to mention that I have about half completed my
new book. It might interest people to know I am at it."

Milde and the Attorney got up next; they awoke Norem, who was dozing after
all the many glasses he had emptied, and they got him on his legs with
difficulty. He began to speak; he had not quite heard the last, the very
last of the discussion; how had the poets fared? Oh, there was Mrs. Hanka;
so pleased to see her. But why had she arrived so late?

He was finally led outside.

"This means a general departure, I suppose?" asked Irgens, displeased. He
had tried to approach Miss Lynum once during the evening but without
success. She had plainly avoided him. He had noticed later on that
Coldevin's foolish remarks about the poets and the youth of the country
had amused her inordinately; what could that mean? Altogether it had been
an unpleasant evening. Mrs. Hanka had sat there with her cracked lips
unable to smile decently, and Mrs. Paulsberg was impossible. The evening
was simply wasted. And now the company was breaking up; no prospects for
livening up one's spirits with a little intimate half-hour.

Irgens promised to take his revenge on the clique because of the
indifference it seemed to show him. Perhaps next week....

Outside Tivoli the company parted. Mrs. Hanka and Aagot walked together
down the street.



VI


Tidemand came to H. Henriksen's office at ten the next morning. Ole was
standing at his desk.

Tidemand's errand was, as he had said, a matter of business only; he spoke
in a low voice and placed before Ole a telegram couched in mysterious
words. Where it said "Rising One," it really meant "Ten," and where it
said "Baisse U. S.," it meant an exportation prohibition on the Black Sea
and along the Danube, and a rise in America. The telegram was from
Tidemand's agent in Archangel.

Ole Henriksen immediately grasped the situation: on account of the Russian
crop failure, in connection with the already low supplies, Russia was
preparing to prohibit all grain exports. Hard times were coming. Norway,
too, would feel the pressure, and grain would soar to incredible prices.
It was necessary to get hold of as much as possible at no matter what
figure. In spite of official Russian denials of the rumours in English
newspapers, it seemed as if America already had scented the danger, for
American wheat was rising daily. From eighty-seven and eighty-eight it had
risen until it now fluctuated between one hundred and ten and one hundred
and fifteen. Nobody could predict to what heights it would climb.

Tidemand's business with Ole was a proposition that the two friends and
colleagues join in a speculation in American rye while there still was
time. They were to join forces and import a mass of rye that should
materially assist in keeping the country fed during the coming year. But
it was a matter of urgency; rye, too, was soaring; in Russia it was almost
unpurchasable.

Ole left his desk and began to walk up and down. His mind was working; he
had intended to offer Tidemand some refreshment, but forgot it entirely.
He was greatly tempted, but he was up to his neck in other pressing
engagements--that Brazilian affair had almost paralysed him for the
moment, and he did not expect to be able to take his profits until early
summer.

"There ought to be money in it," said Tidemand.

No doubt; that was not why Ole hesitated. But he simply was not able to do
it. He explained his circumstances and added that he was afraid to tackle
anything more at present. The speculation appealed to him, notwithstanding
his inability to participate; his eyes gleamed, and he inquired eagerly
into all the details. He took a piece of paper, made estimates, and
studied the telegram afresh with a thoughtful air. Finally he declared
that he could do nothing.

"Of course I can operate alone," said Tidemand. "I will do it on a smaller
scale, that is all. But I should have liked you to be in on this; I would
have felt safer. I realise that you cannot go further. However, I'll
telegraph myself; have you got a blank?"

Tidemand wrote out his telegram and handed it to Ole.

"I guess that is clear enough?"

Ole stepped back a pace.

"So much?" he exclaimed. "This is a big order, Andreas."

"It is big. But I hope the results will justify it," answered Tidemand
quietly. And unable to control a feeling that overwhelmed him at the
moment, he looked toward the wall and whispered as if to himself: "I don't
care how it turns out or about anything any more."

Ole looked at him and asked:

"Any news?"

"No--"

"Well, we'll see how it turns out."

Tidemand put the telegram in his pocket.

"I should have liked us both to be in this enterprise, Ole. I must confess
that I am in deep elsewhere, too, but--I have my ice to realise on. When
the warm weather comes I'll make money on that, don't you think?"

"Decidedly! As good as ready money, ice is."

"So I am not altogether on my knees. And may the Lord keep that sad fate
from me, both for my own sake and for the sake of mine!"

"But could you not as a matter of safety--Wait a moment. Pardon me for not
offering you a cigar; I know how you like to smoke while talking; I
forgot. Sit down a moment; I'll be back directly."

Tidemand knew that Ole was on his way to the cellar for the usual bottle
of wine, and tried to call him back, but Ole did not hear and returned in
a moment with the old, fuzzy bottle. They sat on the sofa as usual and
drank to each other.

"I simply wanted to ask," continued Ole, "are you sure you have considered
everything in connection with this American affair? I do not flatter
myself that I can teach you anything, you know, but--"

"Yes, I fancy I have calculated all contingencies," answered Tidemand.
"You notice I am using the term 'Delivery within three days.' Success
depends on quick action. I haven't even forgotten to consider the effect
of a possible presidential change in America."

"But wouldn't it be safer to place your limit a little closer? Perhaps you
ought not to buy over twelve."

"No; that would not be well. For you understand that if Russia closes,
then fifteen, or even twenty, is not too much. On the other hand, if she
does not close, then a hundred, yes, ninety, is far too much. In that case
I am done for."

They both reflected.

"I believe this enterprise is going to be lucky," said Tidemand suddenly.
"Really, I feel it. You know what it means when we traders have a
premonition of this kind."

"How are things otherwise?" asked Ole.

"Well," Tidemand answered hurriedly, "it does not look so bad just now,
not at all. Things are very much as usual at home."

"No change, then?"

"Well, no--I must get back now."

Tidemand got up. Ole followed him to the door and said:

"It wasn't you who didn't care how matters turn out, was it? Well, I am
glad you came, anyway."

The awkward fellow! This was Ole Henriksen's way of stiffening a comrade's
backbone.

But Tidemand did not go at once; he stood there with his hand on the
door-knob and shifted his eyes nervously from place to place.

"It can hardly be thought strange if I get a little downhearted once in a
while," he said. "Things do not look very bright for me; I do my best to
fix everything up, but I do not make much headway, not very much, no.
Well, we'll have to wait and see how matters shape themselves. I think it
is getting a little better, thank God."

"Does your wife keep at home more now? It seems to me that--"

"Hanka has been a good mother to the children lately. I have been very
happy because of that; it has brought us closer together, as it were. She
is busy fitting the children out for the country. It is wonderful the
things she gets together; I have never seen anything like it--blue and
white and red dresses! They are lying home; I look at them whenever I am
home. Perhaps I shouldn't place too much faith in it. She does not
consider herself married yet, she continues to call herself Lange. That
may be only a whim. She calls herself Tidemand, too; she does not forget
that. You yourself heard last night in Tivoli how she asked me for a
hundred. I am glad she does that; I don't mind, and shouldn't have
mentioned it if you hadn't heard it yourself. But it happened to be the
third hundred crowns she had got from me in two days. Don't misunderstand
me! But why does she ask me for money before people? Isn't that as if she
wanted to give out the impression that that is the only way to take me,
otherwise she wouldn't get any? She uses a good deal of money; I hardly
think she uses it for herself; I am sure she doesn't, for Hanka was never
extravagant. She must be giving it away; it is her affair if she helps
somebody. She gets quite a lot of money from me in a week's time;
sometimes she gets it when she goes out, and she has nothing left when she
returns, although she has bought nothing. Well, that does not matter. As
long as I have anything it belongs to her as well as to me; that is only
right and natural. I asked her jokingly once if she wanted to ruin me--
make a beggar out of me. It was only a joke, and I laughed heartily myself
as I said it. But I shouldn't have said it; she offered to leave the house
whenever I wanted her to--in short, divorce. She has told me that often
enough, but this time simply because of a joke. I said that I was sorry,
and I asked her pardon; I had never for a moment thought of such a thing
as that she might ruin me. 'Dear Andreas,' she asked me, 'can we never get
free from each other?' I do not know what I answered; I guess there was
not much sense to it, for she asked immediately for my key, as she had
lost her own. I gave it to her, and then she smiled. 'Smile again,' I
said, and she did it for my sake, and said smilingly that I was a big
baby. Yesterday morning I didn't see her before I got home from the
office. She was still working with the children's summer outfit and showed
me everything. She took out her handkerchief, and as she pulled it out
from her dress a tie fell out, a gentleman's red tie. I made out that I
did not see it; but I knew very well that the tie did not belong to me. I
knew it only too well. That is--understand me correctly--I did not see it
well enough to be sure whom it might belong to. It might even have been
one of my own ties, some old rag I have ceased to use. It is a peculiarity
of mine never to remember my own ties; I notice them so little, I
imagine--So things are coming around, as I said. And if my big trade now
succeeds, perhaps that will bring luck for us all. It would be fun to show
her that I am not such a dunce, ha, ha!"

The two friends talked a little further, after which Tidemand went to the
telegraph office. He was full of hope. His great idea was to discount the
crisis, to hold enormous supplies of grain when nobody else should have
any. He would succeed! He walked with a springy step, like a youth, and
avoided meeting anybody who might detain him.

       *       *       *       *       *

A telegram to the foreign office announced five days later that the
Russian government, owing to the shortage of grain and the dark outlook
for the coming harvests, had been obliged to prohibit all exports of rye,
wheat, corn, and grist from the harbours of Russia and Finland.

Tidemand's calculations had proven correct.



RIPENING



I


Irgens had published his book. This superior soul, who never took anybody
into his confidence, had, to the great surprise of everybody, put out a
charming volume of poems just when spring was in full blow. Was that not a
surprise? True, it was two years since his drama had appeared; but it was
now proven that he had not been idle; he had conceived one poem after
another, and quietly put them away, and when the heap had grown big enough
he had given it to the printer. It was thus a proud man should act; nobody
exceeded Irgens in strong and warm discretion.

His book was exhibited in the bookstore windows; people discussed it and
predicted it would attract much attention; the ladies were enraptured with
the gently glowing love stanzas scattered through it. There were also many
bold and courageous words, full of manliness and will: poems to Justice,
to Liberty, to the Kings--God knows he did not spare the kings. But Irgens
noticed no more than ever that people admired him when he strolled down
the promenade. Gracious! if they enjoyed looking at him, that was their
affair. He was frigidly indifferent, as ever.

"I must admit you are a foxy fellow!" exclaimed even Norem, the Actor,
when he ran across him on the street. "Here you go along quietly and say
nothing, and all of a sudden you set off a rocket right under our very
noses. You are unique!"

The Attorney, however, could not help giving him a little dig; he laughed
and said: "But you have enemies, Irgens. I was talking to a man today who
refused to see anything gigantic in the publishing of a small volume after
a lapse of nearly two years and a half!"

Then Irgens flung back the haughty reply: "I take a pride in a limited
production. The quantity does not matter."

Later on, however, he inquired concerning the identity of this detractor.
He was not tortured by curiosity; people knew fortunately that he was
quite indifferent to public opinion. But anyhow--was it Paulsberg?

No, it was not Paulsberg.

Irgens made a few more questions and guesses, but the pretentious Attorney
refused to betray his critic. He made a secret out of it, and irritated
Irgens as much as he could. "It seems you are not so altogether
indifferent," he teased and chuckled gleefully.

Irgens murmured contemptuously: "Nonsense!" But he was evidently
considerably bothered by this defamer, this jealous fellow who had
criticised him, and tried to belittle his exploit. If not Paulsberg, who
then? Who among them had done better during the last two and a half years?
Irgens knew nobody; among the younger writers he was absolutely paramount.
Suddenly something struck him, and he said indifferently:

"Of course, it is a matter of absolute indifference to me who the person
is; but if it is that lout Coldevin--Lord, man! do you really pay any
attention to what such a freak says? A man who carries a cigar-holder and
a dirty comb in the same pocket! Well, I must be going; so long!"

Irgens walked off. If the enemy was this barbarian from the backwoods,
well and good! His mind was again relieved; he nodded to acquaintances and
looked quite cheerful. He had for a moment felt aggrieved that anybody
should be grumbling behind his back, but that was now forgotten; it would
be foolish to take offence at this old bushwhacker.

Irgens intended to take a walk around the harbour so as to be left in
peace; this more or less stupid talk about his book had really got on his
nerves. Were people now beginning to prate about working hours and
quantity in connection with poetry? In that case his book would be found
wanting; it was not so very ponderous; it did not outweigh one of
Paulsberg's novels, thank God!

When he reached the harbour he suddenly caught a glimpse of Coldevin's
head behind a pile of packing-cases. Irgens noticed the direction of his
glance, but this told him nothing; the old imbecile was evidently lost in
some crazy meditation or other. It was amusing to see him so altogether
unconscious of his surroundings, standing there agape with his nose in the
air. His eyes were almost in a direct line with the little office window
at the end of Henriksen's warehouse; he stared unblinkingly and apparently
unseeingly at that particular spot. Irgens was on the point of going over
in order to inquire if he perhaps wanted to see Ole Henriksen; he would
then be able to turn the conversation to his book and get the old man to
express an opinion. It would be quite entertaining; the oaf would be
forced to admit that he valued poetry according to weight. But was it
worth while? It was really of no account whatever what this person might
think. Irgens made a turn across the docks; he looked up--Coldevin had not
moved. Irgens sauntered past, crossed the street on his way up-town.
Suddenly Ole Henriksen and Aagot came out of the warehouse and caught
sight of him.

"Good day, good day, Irgens!" called Ole with outstretched hand. "Glad to
see you. I want to thank you for the book you sent us. You are a wonder;
you surprise your very best friends even--poet, master!"

Ole talked on, pleased and happy over his friend's accomplishment,
admiring now one stanza, now another, and thanking Irgens over and over.

"Aagot and I have read it with beating hearts!" he said. "I really believe
Aagot wept a little now and then--Yes; you did; no use denying it, Aagot.
You need not feel ashamed of that--What I wanted to say--come along to
the telegraph office, Irgens; then we'll drop in at Sara's afterward, if
you like. I have a little surprise for you."

Aagot said nothing.

"You can walk up and down a little while I telegraph," said Ole. "But
don't get impatient if it takes some time. I have got to catch a ship
before it leaves Arendal!"

And Ole ran up the stairs and disappeared; Irgens looked after him.

"Listen--I want to thank you for your book!" said Aagot quickly in a low
voice. "You will never know how I have enjoyed it."

"Really? Truly? It is good to hear you say that," he replied, full of
gratitude. That she should have waited until Ole had left in order to
thank him was a charming and delicate tribute; she had done it now much
more genuinely and warmly; her words meant so much more now. She told him
what had especially stirred her; it was that wonderful "Song to Life";
never had she read anything so beautiful. Then, as if she feared she had
spoken too warmly and laid herself open to misunderstanding, she added in
an ordinary tone of voice that Ole had been just as enchanted as she; he
had read most of it aloud to her.

Irgens made a wry face. Did she care to have things read to her? Really?

It was intentionally that Aagot had mixed Ole's name into the
conversation. This afternoon he had once more asked her about the wedding,
and she had left everything to him; there was no reason for delay. It had
been decided to have the wedding after Ole had returned from London this
coming fall. Ole was as good as the day was long; he never grew impatient
with her and was almost absurdly fond of her. He had said that perhaps she
had better spend a little time in the house occasionally. She had flushed;
she could not help it; it was disgraceful not to have stirred a finger to
make herself a little useful instead of hanging around the office early
and late. Suppose she began to think a little about their house, said Ole;
she might make up her mind about things they wanted, furniture and such.
Of course, she should have all the help she needed, but--Yes, it was only
too true; she had not given her new home a thought; she had simply hung
about the office with him. She had begun to cry, and had told him how
silly and useless she really was; she was a goose, a stupid little goose.
But Ole had taken her in his arms and had sat down with her on the sofa
and told her that she was only a child, a charming, wonderful child, but
she was getting older and more sensible right along; time and life were
before them. How he loved her! His eyes, too, were wet; he looked like a
child himself. Above all, there was no hurry; she had free hands to decide
and arrange, just as she pleased. Yes; they were fully agreed....

"I must confess I feared you had lost interest in us poets," said Irgens.
"I was afraid we had forfeited your good-will in some way."

She woke up and looked at him.

"Why do you say that?"

"I had come to that conclusion. You remember that evening at Tivoli when
your old tutor was quite severe on us poor scribblers? You looked as if
you heartily approved of everything he said."

"No, you are mistaken."

Pause.

"I am very glad that I have met you, anyway," said Irgens as indifferently
as he could. "Only to see you is enough to put me in good spirits. It must
be wonderful to be able to bring happiness to others simply by appearing."

She had not the heart to show displeasure over that; perhaps he really
meant it, strange though it sounded, and she answered smilingly:

"It would be hard on you if you depended on me to bring you good spirits."
God knows she had not meant to pain him; she had said it in all innocence,
without any veiled thought or ulterior motive; but when Irgens's head
drooped and he said quietly, "Yes, I understand!" it occurred to her that
several interpretations might be placed upon this sentence, and she added
hurriedly: "For you do not see me very often. By the way, I am going to
the country this summer; I shall probably be away until fall."

He stopped.

"Are you going to the country?"

"Yes. I am going with Mrs. Tidemand. I shall be with her until fall."

Irgens was silent and thoughtful a few moments.

"Has it been decided that Tidemands are going to the country, then?" he
asked. "I understood it was not settled yet."

Aagot nodded and said that it had been decided.

"That pleasure has been denied me," he said with a wistful smile. "No
country joys for me."

"Why not?"

She regretted her question immediately; of course, he could not afford it.
She was always so indelicate and awkward! She added a few meaningless
words to save him the humiliation of a reply.

"When I want to go to the country I hire a boat and row over to the
island," he said with his sad smile. "Anyway, it is better than nothing."

The island? She grew 'attentive. "Of course, the island! I haven't been
there yet. Is it pretty?"

"Beautiful! There are some wonderful places. I know them all. If I only
dared I would ask you to let me row you over some time?"

This was not said in simple courtesy; it was a request. She understood it
perfectly. But she said, all the same, that she was not sure she had time;
it would be interesting, but--

Pause.

"I wrote many of my poems there," continued Irgens. "I should like to show
you the place."

Aagot was silent.

"Come, please!" he exclaimed suddenly, and wanted to take her hand.

Just then Ole Henriksen appeared on the stairs and came toward them.
Irgens remained in his pleading attitude; he said with outstretched hand:

"Do, please!"

She glanced at him hurriedly.

"Yes," she whispered.

Ole joined them; he had not been able to get hold of Arendal at once; he
could not get a reply until to-morrow. Off to Sara now! He really had a
surprise for them--he carried in his pocket Ojen's latest work. They just
ought to hear it!



II


Quite a number of the clique were ensconced at Sara's, drinking and
gossiping. Tidemand was there, happy and contented with everything. He had
been all smiles since his success with that enormous enterprise in rye.
The grain had begun to arrive and was being stored in his warehouses,
thousands upon thousands of sacks. They grew into mountains; there was no
room for anything else; even Ole Henriksen had been obliged to let him
have space for storing. Tidemand walked around and viewed this wealth with
pride; even he had accomplished something above the ordinary. Never for an
instant did he regret that he had given such unlimited orders.

Journalist Gregersen offered Ole one finger and said: "You have something
on your conscience, Ole?"

"Oh, nothing sensational, exactly," said Ole. "I had a letter from Ojen;
he sends me his latest poem. Do you want to hear it?"

"Does he send you his--Has he sent you a manuscript?" exclaimed Milde in
astonishment. "I have never heard anything like it!"

"Now, no personalities!" warned the Journalist.

"Yes, but excuse me--why in the world did he send it to _you_, Ole?"
asks Milde again and does not give in.

Irgens glanced at Aagot. She did not appear to be listening, but was
talking eagerly with Mrs. Hanka. Irgens turned to Milde and told him
curtly that there were certain impertinences which even friends were not
supposed to submit to--was that clear enough?

Milde burst out laughing. He had never heard anything funnier. Did they
get offended? He had not meant anything of a harmful nature, nothing
offensive, mentally or physically! The idea simply had tickled his sense
of humour. But if it wasn't funny, all right....

Ole took out his manuscript.

"It is something out of the ordinary," he said. "Ojen calls it
'Memories.'"

"Let me read it," said Norem quickly. "I am, at any rate, supposed to know
a little about reading."

Ole handed him the manuscript.

"Jehovah is very busy--" began Norem. "Ojen has expressly stated in a
marginal note that it is not to be Jahve; now you know it!"

    Jehovah is very busy; Jehovah has much to attend to. He was with me
    one night when I wandered in the forest; He descended to me while I
    lay on my face in prayer.

    I lay there praying in the night, and the forest was silent.

    The night oppressed me like an unbending, disjointed absurdity, and
    the night was like a silence in which something breathing and mute was
    abroad.

    Then Jehovah descended to me.

    When Jehovah came the air rushed away from Him like a wake; birds were
    blown away like chaff, and I clung to the sod and the trees and the
    rocks.

    "You are calling me?" said Jehovah.

    "I call out in my distress!" I answered.

    And Jehovah spoke: "You want to know what to choose in life, Beauty or
    Love or Truth?" And Jehovah said: "You want to know?"

    And when He said: "You want to learn that?" I did not answer, but was
    silent; for He knew my thoughts.

    Then Jehovah touched my eyes, and I beheld:

    I saw a tall woman against the skies. She wore no garments, and when
    she moved her body shimmered like white silk, and she wore no
    garments; for her body quivered toward me in rapture.

    And she stood against the skies in a sunrise, yes, in a crimson dawn;
    and the sun shone upon her, and a scarlet light streamed up through
    the skies, yes, a light of blood surrounded her.

    And she was tall and white, and her eyes were like two blue flowers
    which brushed my soul when she looked at me; and when she spoke to me
    she entreated me and urged me toward her, and her voice was like a
    sweet phosphorescence with a taste of the sea.

    I rose from the earth and stretched forth my arms toward her, and when
    I stretched both my arms toward her she again implored me, and her
    body was odorous with rapture. And I was gloriously stirred in my
    inmost being, and I rose and gave her my lips in the morning glow,
    and my eyes fell.

    When I looked up again the woman was old. And the woman was old and
    hoary with years, and her body had shrunk with age, and she had very
    little life left. But when I looked up the sky was darkling toward
    night, yes dark like night, and the woman was without hair. I looked
    to her and knew her not and knew not the sky, and when I looked toward
    the woman she was gone.

    "This was Beauty!" said Jehovah. "Beauty wanes. I am Jehovah!"

    And Jehovah touched my eyes again, and I beheld:

    I saw a terrace, high, beneath a castle. There were two people there,
    and the two people on the terrace were young and full of joy. And the
    sun shone on the castle, and on the terrace, and the sun shone on the
    two people and on the gravel deep, deep down the abyss, on the hard
    driveway. And the people were two, a man and a woman in the springtide
    of youth, and both were speaking honeyed words, and both were tender
    toward each other with desire.

    "See the flower on my breast!" he said; "can you hear what it is
    saying?" And he leaned backward toward the railing on the terrace
    and said: "This flower which you gave me stands here and murmurs
    and whispers toward you, and it murmurs: 'Beloved, Queen, Alvilde,
    Alvilde!' Do you hear it?"

    And she smiled and looked down, and she took his hand and placed his
    hand against her heart and answered: "But do you hear what my heart
    says to you? My heart throbs toward you and it blushes with emotion
    for your sake. And my heart babbles in joyful confusion and says:
    'Beloved, I pause before you and almost perish when you look at me,
    Beloved!'"

    He leaned toward the terrace-railing and gloriously his breast heaved
    with love. And deep, deep below was the abyss and the hard driveway.
    And he pointed his finger down the depths and said: "Throw down your
    fan, and I will follow it!" And when he had spoken his breast rose and
    sank, and he placed his hands on the railing and made ready for the
    leap.

    Then I cried out and closed my eyes....

    But when I looked up I saw again the two people, and they were both
    older and both in their prime. And the two did not speak to each
    other, but were silent with their thoughts. And when I looked up the
    sky was grey, and the two walked up the white castle-stairway, and she
    was full of indifference, yes full of hate in her steely eyes, and
    when I looked for the third time I saw also anger and hate in his
    glance, and his hair was grey like the grey skies.

    And as they ascended the stairs she dropped her fan, one step down it
    dropped, and she said with quivering lips and pointed downward: "I
    dropped my fan--there it lies on the lower step--please hand it to me,
    dear!"

    And he did not answer, but walked on and called a servant to pick up
    the fan.

    "This was Love," said Jehovah. "Love perishes. I am Jehovah!"

    And Jehovah touched my eyes for the last time, and I beheld:

    I saw a town and a public square, and I saw a scaffold. And when I
    listened I heard a seething sound of voices, and when I looked I saw
    many people who talked and gritted their teeth with joy. And I saw a
    man who was being bound, a malefactor who was being bound with leather
    thongs, and the malefactor's countenance was haughty and proud, and
    his eyes shone like stars. But his garment was torn and his feet stood
    naked on the ground, and his clothes were almost gone, yes his cloak
    was worn to almost nothing.

    And I listened and heard a voice, and when I looked I saw that the
    malefactor was speaking, and the malefactor spoke proudly and
    gloriously. And they bade him be silent, but he spoke, he testified,
    he shouted, and when they bade him be silent he did not cease with
    fear. And when the malefactor spoke the mob ran up and silenced his
    lips, and when he mutely pointed to the sky and to the sun, and when
    he pointed to his heart which still beat warmly, the mob ran up and
    struck him. And when the mob struck him the malefactor fell to his
    knees, and he knelt and clasped his hands and testified mutely,
    without words, in spite of the cruel blows.

    And I looked at the malefactor and saw his eyes like stars, and I saw
    the mob throw him down and hold him on the scaffold with their hands.
    And when once more I looked I saw an axe-blade write in the air, and
    when I listened I heard the stroke of the axe against the scaffolding
    and the people joyfully shouting. And while I listened a
    single-throated cry rose toward heaven from people groaning with
    ecstasy.

    But the malefactor's head rolled in the dirt and the mob ran up and
    seized it and lifted it high by the hair. And the malefactor's head
    still spoke, and it testified with unquenchable voice and spoke loudly
    all the words it uttered. And the malefactor's head was not silent
    even in death.

    But the mob ran up and took hold of the malefactor's head by the
    tongue and lifted it high by the tongue. And the vanquished tongue was
    mute, and the tongue spoke no more. But the eyes were like stars, yes,
    like gleaming stars to be seen by everybody....

    Then Jehovah said: "This was Truth. And Truth speaks even after its
    head is severed. And with its tongue bound its eyes shine like stars.
    I am Jehovah!"

    When Jehovah had spoken I fell on my face and spoke not, but was
    silent with much thought. And I thought that Beauty was lovely ere
    it waned and Love was sweet ere it perished, and I thought that Truth
    endured like stars everlasting. And tremblingly I thought of Truth.

    And Jehovah said: "You wanted to know what to choose in life?" And
    Jehovah said then: "Have you chosen?"

    I lay on my face and answered, full of many thoughts:

    "Beauty was lovely and Love was very sweet; and if I choose Truth,
    it is like the stars, eternal."

    And Jehovah spake once more and asked me:

    "Have you chosen?"

    And my thoughts were many, my thoughts warred mightily within me, and
    I answered:

    "Beauty was like a morning glow." And when I had said this I whispered
    and said: "Love was also sweet and glorious like a little star in my
    soul."

    But then I felt Jehovah's eye on me, and Jehovah's eye read my
    thoughts. And for the third time Jehovah asked and said:

    "Have you chosen?"

    And when He said for the third time: "Have you chosen?" my eyes stared
    with terror, yes, all my strength had left me. And when He said for
    the last time: "Have you chosen?" I remembered Beauty and Love and
    remembered them both, and I answered Jehovah:

    "I choose Truth!"

       *       *       *       *       *

    But I still remember....

"Well, that's all," concluded Norem.

Everybody was silent for a moment; then the Journalist said:

"I refrain from expressing an opinion; I notice Milde is going to say
something."

And Milde did not refrain; far from it; on the contrary, he had a remark
to make. Could anybody tell him what it was all about? He admired Ojen as
much as anybody, but was there any sense to all this "Jehovah said" and
"Jehovah said"? He wanted to be enlightened.

"But why are you always so unkind to Ojen?" asked Mrs. Hanka. "Memories--
can't you understand? To me it seemed beautiful and full of feeling; don't
spoil it for me now." And she turned to Aagot and said: "Didn't you find
it so, too?"

"But, dear Mrs. Hanka," exclaimed Milde, "don't say that I am always
unkind to Ojen! Do I not wish him success with his application for the
subsidy, contrary to my own interests? But this blessed new 'intention' is
beyond me. Memories--all right. But where, in Heaven's name, is the point?
Jehovah has never visited him; it is an invention. And, furthermore, why
didn't he choose both Youth and Beauty, and Truth as well? That is what I
should have done. The point, I say!"

"But that is just it--there is no definite point," replied Ole Henriksen.
"So Ojen says in a letter to me. Its effect lies in its euphony, he says."

"He does? No, that fellow is the same wherever he goes. That is the
trouble. Not even the mountains can do anything for him. Goats' milk and
pine woods and peasant girls have not the slightest effect on him, as it
were--I am still at a loss to understand why he sent _you_ his
manuscript, Ole; but if it is an offence to ask, of course, then--"

"I really don't know why he sent it to me," said Ole quietly. "He tells me
that he wanted me to see that he was doing something and not wasting his
time altogether. He is anxious to get back, though; he cannot stand
Torahus any longer."

Milde whistled.

"I understand! He asked you for carfare!"

"I do not suppose he has much money left. That could hardly be expected,"
answered Ole, and put the manuscript in his pocket. "As for me, I think it
is a remarkable poem, irrespective of your opinion."

"Surely, old fellow; but please don't talk about poetry," interrupted
Milde. And as it dawned on him that he had been a little too rude to the
poor peddler in Aagot's presence, he added hurriedly: "I mean--Isn't it
too much of a bore to talk about poetry and poetry all the time? Give us,
for a change, a little fishery talk, a little railway politics--Isn't it a
fierce lot of rye you are storing, Tidemand?"

As Tidemand saw many eyes upon him, he could not entirely ignore the
Artist's question, and he answered:

"Yes, I have tried to strike a modest blow; I cannot deny it. It all
depends now on how things turn out in Russia. If, in spite of everything
that had been forecasted, the crops should prove even middling, it does
not look any too bright for me and my rye. Rains in Russia now would
mean--"

"Rains are falling now," said Gregersen. "The English papers have been
informed of a sufficient rainfall in the larger provinces. Are you selling
your rye already?"

Of course, Tidemand had bought to sell if he could get his price.

Milde had moved over to Paulsberg, and spoke to him in a low whisper.
Ojen's prose poem had caused him some anxiety. Perhaps, after all, there
was something to this fellow, this competitor in the matter of the
subsidy. What was Paulsberg's opinion?

"You know I don't care to speak for or against in such a matter," said
Paulsberg. "But I have called at the ministry a few times and expressed my
preference. I hope it may carry some weight."

"Of course, of course, I didn't mean--Well, the Exhibition closes
to-morrow. We ought to get busy and finish that picture of yours. Can you
sit tomorrow?"

Paulsberg nodded and turned away.

Irgens had gradually lost his good spirits; it irritated him that no one
had mentioned his book. It was the latest event; why wasn't it even
referred to? Everybody was only too familiar with Ojen's filigree fancies.
Irgens shrugged his shoulders. Paulsberg had not indicated approval of his
book by a single word. Perhaps he was waiting to be asked? But Irgens
could get along without Paulsberg's opinion.

Irgens rose.

"Are you going?" asked Mrs. Hanka.

Irgens said good night to her and to Miss Aagot, nodded to the others, and
left Sara's.

He had only gone a few steps when he heard somebody call him. Mrs. Hanka
was hurrying after him; she had left her wraps in the cafe and had
followed in order to say good night properly. Wasn't that nice of her? She
smiled and was very happy.

"I have hardly seen you since I got your book. How I have enjoyed every
word!" she exclaimed, and put her hand in his coat pocket in order to be
close to him. He felt that she left an envelope in his pocket. "Oh, your
verses, your verses!" she said again and again.

He could not remain impassive in the presence of this warm admiration. He
wanted to return it, to show her how fond he was of her, and while in this
mood he confided to her that he, too, had applied for the subsidy. What
did she think of that? He had really applied, briefly and without
enclosing any recommendations, simply sending his book. That ought to be
sufficient.

Mrs. Hanka did not answer at once.

"You have suffered, then," she said; "you have lacked--I mean, you have
had to apply like the others--"

"Well, good Lord," he answered, and laughed, "what are the subsidies for,
anyway? I have not suffered want; but why not apply when one can do it
without loss of prestige? And I did not humble myself; be sure of that. 'I
hereby apply for the subsidy and enclose my last book'--that was all.
There was no kowtowing whatever. And when I survey my fellow applicants I
hardly think I shall be entirely eclipsed. What is your opinion?"

She smiled and said:

"No, you will not be eclipsed."

He put his arm around her and said:

"Now, Hanka, you must go back--I can endure it all as long as you are in
town, but when you go away it will look very dark for me! I shan't know
what to do with myself then."

"I am only going to the country," she said.

"Isn't that enough? We shall be separated just the same, for you know I
cannot leave the city. When are you going?"

"I imagine in about a week."

"I wish you wouldn't go away, Hanka!" he exclaimed, and stood still.

Mrs. Hanka reflected.

"Would it really please you so much if I stayed?" she asked. "All right;
then I'll stay. Yes, I will. It will be hard on the children, but--Anyway,
it is enough for me that I make you glad."

They had reached Sara's once more.

"Good night," he said happily. "Thank you, Hanka! When shall I see you
again? I am longing--"



III


Three days later Irgens received a note from Mrs. Hanka.

He was down-town; he had met a few acquaintances; he did not say much, but
was in a satisfied frame of mind. He had taken a look at Paulsberg's great
portrait which was now exhibited in the Arrow, in the large window which
everybody had to pass; people crowded in front of it continually. The
painting was elegant and obtrusive; Paulsberg's well-groomed form looked
very distinguished in the plain cane-bottomed chair, and people wondered
if that was the chair in which he had written his books. All the
newspapers had mentioned the picture in flattering terms.

Irgens had a glass of wine in front of him and listened abstractedly to
the conversation. Tidemand was still optimistic; that bit of rain in
Russia had not depressed his hopes. The prices were not soaring as yet,
but they surely would. Suddenly Irgens pricked up his ears: Tidemand was
talking about their summer plans.

"We are not going to the country after all," he said; "Hanka thought--In
fact, I told her plainly that if she wanted to go she would have to go
alone; I was too busy to think of getting off. Hanka was very nice about
it; she agreed to stay in the city."

The door opened and Milde entered. The corpulent chap beamed happily and
shouted, full of the great sensation he was going to spring:

"Congratulate me, good people, I have won the prize! Imagine, in its
inscrutable wisdom the ministry has chosen to bestow the subsidy upon me!"

"Have _you_ received the subsidy?" asked Irgens slowly.

"Yes, can you understand it? How it happened I am at a loss to know. I got
it from under your very noses! I hear that you, too, applied, Irgens?"

Silence fell upon the crowd at the table. Nobody had expected that, and
they were all wondering what influence had been brought to bear. Milde had
got the subsidy--what next?

"Well, I congratulate you!" said Tidemand, and gave Milde his hand.

"Thank you," Milde replied. "I want you to lend me some money now, so that
I can celebrate properly; you'll get it back when I cash in."

Irgens looked at his watch as if he suddenly remembered something and got
up.

"I, too, congratulate you," he said. "I am sorry to have to leave at once;
I have to--No; my object in applying was an entirely different one; I'll
tell you about it later," he added in order to hide his disappointment.

Irgens went home. So Milde had been chosen! That was the way Norway
rewarded her talents. Here he had hurled his inspired lyric in their
faces, and they did not even know what it was! _Whom_ had they
preferred? None other than oil-painter Milde, collector of ladies'
corsets!

Of course, he knew how it had happened; Paulsberg was behind it. Paulsberg
had supported Milde's application, and Milde had painted Paulsberg's
picture. A simon-pure advertising conspiracy! And when Irgens passed the
Arrow and saw the painting he spat contemptuously on the pavement. He had
seen through this hypocritical scurviness. However, he would find means to
make himself felt.

But why in the world should Lars Paulsberg be allowed to dispose of these
subsidies? True, he had never let slip an opportunity to ingratiate
himself with the newspapers; he had his press-agents; he took good care
that his name shouldn't be forgotten. But apart from that? Alas, a few
novels in the style of the seventies, a popular and amateurish criticism
of such a moss-grown dogma as the Atonement! What did it amount to when
one looked at it critically? But the fact that he had the press behind him
made his words carry weight. Yes, he was certainly a shrewd and thrifty
soul, a real backwoods bargain-hunter. He knew what he was doing when he
even allowed his wife to accept Journalist Gregersen's beer-perfumed
attentions! Faugh, what a sordid mess!

Well, he was not going to gain success by employing such methods; he hoped
he would manage to get along without unfairness. He had one weapon--his
pen. That was the kind of man _he_ was.

He went home and locked his door. There would still be time to regain his
composure before Mrs. Hanka's arrival. He tried to write, but found it
impossible. He paced back and forth furiously, pale with anger, bitter and
vindictive because of this defeat. He would, by Heaven, avenge this wrong;
no gentle words were to flow from his pen henceforth!

At last Mrs. Hanka arrived.

No matter how often she had entered this apartment, she always felt a
certain embarrassment at first, and she usually said in order to hide it:
"Does Mr. Irgens live here?"

But she noticed at once that Irgens was not in a playful mood to-day, and
she asked what was the matter. When he had told her of the great calamity
she, too, was indignant: "How unjust! What a scandal! Had Milde been
selected?"

"In payment for Paulsberg's portrait," said Irgens. "Well, it cannot be
helped; don't let it irritate you; I am reconciled."

"You take it beautifully; I don't see how you can."

"The only effect it has on me is to make me a little bitter; it does not
break my spirit."

"I simply cannot understand it; no, I can't. Did you send your book with
your application?"

"Certainly--Oh, my book! I might as well not have written it; so far
nobody seems to have noticed it. There has been no review of it so far in
any of the papers." And, angry because of this newspaper neglect of his
work, he gritted his teeth and walked up and down.

She looked sadly at him.

"Now, don't allow this to embitter you," she said. "You have great
provocation, but all the same--You can live without that miserable
subsidy. You know that nobody is your equal!"

"And what good does that do me? Judge for yourself; my book has not been
mentioned in a single newspaper!"

Mrs. Hanka had for the first time--yes, for the very first time--a feeling
that her hero was not the superior being she had imagined. A shuddering
thought pierced her heart: he did not carry his disappointment with more
than ordinary pride. She looked at him a little closer. His eyes were not
so clear, his mouth was drawn and his nostrils dilated. But it was only a
shuddering thought.

Then he added: "You might do me the favour to try to interest Gregersen in
my book, and see if he won't review it in the _Gazette_." And as he
noticed that she grew more and more thoughtful, that she even looked
interrogatingly straight into his eyes, he added: "Of course, you need not
ask him directly--only give him a little hint, a reminder."

Could this be Irgens? But she remembered at once his painful position,
alone as he was, fighting a conspiracy single-handed; and she excused him.
She ought to have thought of giving Gregersen a little hint herself and
spared her Poet this humiliation. Yes, she certainly would speak to
Gregersen at once.

And Irgens thanked her; his bitterness vanished slowly. They sat silently
on the sofa some time; then she said:

"Listen! An awful thing happened with that red tie of yours--you remember
the one I took from you once? He saw it!"

"How could you be so careless? What did he say?"

"Nothing; he never says anything. It fell out as I opened my dress. Well,
don't let that worry you; it doesn't matter. When can I see you again?"

Ever, _ever_ her tenderness was the same! Irgens took her hand and
caressed it. How fortunate he was to have her! She was the only one in all
the world who understood him, who was good to him--How about that stay in
the country? Had she given it up?

Yes; she was not going. She told him frankly that she had had no trouble
changing her husband's mind; he had given in at once. But she was sorry
for the children.

"Yes," answered Irgens sympathetically. And suddenly he asked in a
whisper:

"Did you lock the door as you came in?"

She glanced at him, lowered her eyes and whispered: "Yes."



IV


On the 17th of May, [Footnote: Norway's Independence Day.] in the
morning, the birds are singing over the city.

A coal-heaver, tired from a night of toil, wanders up through the docks
with his shovel across his shoulder; he is black, weary, and athirst; he
is going home. And as he walks along, the city begins to stir; a shade is
raised here and there; flags are flung from the windows. It is the 17th of
May.

All stores and schools are closed; the roar from the wharves and factories
is stilled. Only the winches rattle; they shatter the air with their
cheerful noise this bright morning. Departing steamers blow white clouds
of steam from their exhausts; the docks are busy, the harbour is alive.

And letter-carriers and telegraph messengers have already commenced their
rounds, bringing news, scattering information through the doors, whirling
up in the hearts of men emotions and feelings like leaves in an autumn
wind.

A stray dog with his nose on the pavement lopes through the streets, hot
on a scent and without a thought for anything else. Suddenly he stops,
jumps up and whines; he has found a little girl who is leaving on every
stoop newspapers full of 17th-of-May freedom and bold, ringing phrases.
The little girl jerks her tiny body in all directions, twitches her
shoulders, blinks and hurries from door to door. She is pale and
emaciated; she has Saint Vitus's dance.

The coal-heaver continues his walk with a heavy, long stride. He has
earned a good night's wage; these enormous English coal-steamers and the
many merchantmen from all over the world are indeed a blessing to such as
he! His shovel is shiny with wear; he shifts it to his other shoulder and
it glitters with every step he takes, signals to heaven with gleaming
flashes; it cuts the air like a weapon and shines like silver. The
coal-heaver runs foul of a gentleman coming out of a gateway; the
gentleman smells of liquor and looks a little shaky; his clothes are
silk-lined. As soon as he has lit a cigar he saunters down the street and
disappears.

The gentleman's face is small and round, like a girl's; he is young and
promising; it is Ojen, leader and model for all youthful poets. He has
been in the mountains to regain his health, and since his return he has
had many glorious nights; his friends have acclaimed him without ceasing.

As he turns toward the fortress he meets a man he seems to know; they both
stop.

"Pardon me, but haven't we met before?" asks Ojen politely.

The stranger answers with a smile:

"Yes, on Torahus. We spent an evening together."

"Of course; your name is Coldevin. I thought I knew you. How are you?"

"Oh, so so--But are you abroad so early?"

"Well, to tell the truth, I haven't been to bed yet."

"Oh, I see!"

"The fact of the matter is that I have hardly been in bed a single night
since my return. I am in the hands of my friends. And that means that I am
in my element once more--It is strange, Mr. Coldevin, how I need the city;
I love it! Look at these houses, these straight, pure lines! I only feel
at home here. The mountains--Lord preserve us! And yet, I expected much
when I went there."

"How did you get on? Did you get rid of your nervousness?"

"Did I? To tell you the truth, my nervousness is part of myself; it
belongs to me, as the Doctor says; there is nothing to be done about it."

"So you have been to the mountains and substantiated the fact that your
nervousness is chronic? Poor young talent, to be afflicted with such a
weakness!"

Ojen looked at him in amazement. But Coldevin smiled and continued to talk
innocently. So he did not like the country? But did he not feel that his
talent had been benefited by the mountain air?

"Not at all. I have never noticed that my talent stood in need of
bracing."

"Of course not."

"I have written a lengthy prose poem while I was away, so you see I have
not altogether wasted my time. Well, you will pardon me for renewing our
acquaintance so abruptly; but I must get home and get a little sleep now.
Very pleased to have met you again."

And Ojen walked off.

Coldevin shouted after him:

"But it is the 17th of May to-day!"

Ojen turned and looked surprised.

"Well, what of it?"

Coldevin shook his head and laughed shortly.

"Nothing. Nothing at all. I only wanted to see if you remembered it. And I
see that you remembered it perfectly."

"Yes," said Ojen, "one does not altogether forget the teachings of
childhood days."

Coldevin stood there and looked after him. _He_ was only waiting for
the processions to start. His coat was beginning to be rather shiny; it
was carefully brushed, but shabby; in the left lapel was fastened securely
a little silk bow in the Norwegian colours.

He shivered, for the air was still chilly; he walked rapidly in order to
get down to the harbour whence sounded the energetic rattle of anchor
chains. He nodded and glanced at the waving flags, counted them, and
followed their graceful billowing against the blue sky. Here and there a
few pale theatre bills were posted on pillars; he went from one to another
and read great and famous names--masterpieces from earlier periods. He
happened to think of Irgens's lyric drama, but he looked for it in vain.
And he turned his face toward the sea; the rattle of chains reached his
ears refreshingly.

The ships were dressed in bunting; the entire harbour scintillated with
these bright colours against the blue. Coldevin breathed deeply and stood
still. The odour of coal and tar, of wine and fruit, of fish and oils; the
roar from engines and traffic, the shouts, the footfalls on the decks, the
song from a young sailor who was shining shoes in his shirtsleeves--it all
stirred him with a violent joy which almost made his eyes moisten. What a
power was here! What ships! The harbour gleamed; far away he saw Miss
Aagot's little yacht with the shining masthead.

He lost himself in this spectacle. Time passed; suddenly he dived into a
basement restaurant that had opened up and asked for a sandwich for
breakfast. When he emerged a little later there were many people in the
streets; it was getting along toward the time for the boys' parade to
start. He had to hurry; it would never do to miss the processions.

       *       *       *       *       *

Along toward three o'clock a few members of the clique had occupied a
vantage-point at the corner, in order to see the big procession pass by
toward the Royal Castle. None of them marched in the parade. Suddenly one
of them called out:

"Look, there is Coldevin!"

They saw him march now under one, now under another banner; it was as if
he wanted to belong to them all; he was almost too enthusiastic to keep in
step. Attorney Grande crossed over and joined the procession; he caught up
with Coldevin and started a conversation.

"And where is the young Norway?" asked Coldevin, "the poets, the artists--
why aren't they marching? They ought to; it would not hurt their talent.
It might not help it much, either; I don't say that, but I am sure it
would never hurt. The trouble is, they don't care! They are indifferent;
but it is surely wrong to be so indifferent."

Coldevin had grown still more absurd, although he spoke with his usual
calm deliberation. He was obstinate; he talked about the suffrage
movement, and even hinted that it would be better if women should be a
little more anxious to make their homes attractive. It was wrong, he said,
that women should think too little of their home life and prefer a
hall-room in order to become what they called "independent." They had to
"study" until they, too, could wear glasses; they went to a business
school if they could do no better. And they did their things so
excellently that they were graduated, and if they were lucky they would
finally secure a position at twenty crowns a month. Fine! But they had to
pay twenty-seven for the hall-room and meals. Then they were
"independent"!

"But you cannot say that it is the fault of the women if their work is
paid so poorly," objected the Attorney, whose wife was liberal.

Certainly, these arguments were familiar; they were old and tried. They
had been answered, but.... In fact, they had been riddled several thousand
times. But the worst of it was that the home was simply destroyed by the
corroding influence of these ideas. Coldevin accentuated this. He had
noticed that a great many people here in the city mainly lived in the
restaurants. He had looked for acquaintances in their homes, but in vain;
however, he met them when he occasionally went to a café. He did not want
to speak about artists and authors; they simply did not have nor did they
want any other home than the cafés, and he did not understand how they
could accomplish anything under these circumstances. But women nowadays
were lacking in ambition and heart; they were satisfied with the mixed
company they found in these hang-outs. They did not extend themselves in
any one direction; they were not occupied with any single idea; they
became simply roundheaded. God, how rarely one nowadays saw real race!

Somebody in the procession called for cheers and was answered with
scattering hurrahs. Coldevin cheered enthusiastically, although he did not
hear what the cheers were for. He looked resentfully down the ranks and
swung his hat, urging the marchers to shout still louder.

"These people don't know how to cheer!" he said. "They shout in a whisper;
nobody can hear them. Help me, Mr. Attorney, and we'll liven them up!"

The Attorney thought it fun and shouted with him until they succeeded in
stirring up the dying hurrahs.

"Once again!" shouted Coldevin.

And again the cheers rolled down the ranks.

The Attorney said smilingly:

"That you should _care_ to do this!"

Coldevin looked at him. He said seriously:

"You should not say that. We should all care to do this; it would not hurt
us. Of course, this parading has not in itself great significance; but
there will be opportunities to cheer for Norway, for the flag, and then we
ought to be present. Who knows--these booming cheers may have their effect
on Parliament; it may be reminded of a few things it has begun to forget--
a little loyalty, a little steadfastness. People should not be so
unconcerned; now is the time for the young to step forward. Perhaps, if
the youth of the country had shown up occasionally and met together and
hurrahed at times, Parliament might have settled a few things differently
lately. And, if you had cared to take a walk along the docks to-day and
witnessed the nation's life throb so mightily, then, by Heaven, you would
have felt that the country is worth our cheers--"

The Attorney spied Ojen on the sidewalk; he excused himself and stepped
out of the procession. He looked back a moment later and saw that Coldevin
had changed places again; he was marching under the business-men's banner,
erect, grey-bearded, and shabby, with the glint of the Norwegian colours
on his lapel.



V


Aagot was dressed for the excursion; she pulled on her gloves and was
ready.

It had not been at all difficult to arrange this little trip; Ole had only
requested that she be careful and dress warmly; it was only May.

And they started.

It was calm, warm, and bright; not a cloud in the skies. Irgens had the
boat ready; they had only to go aboard. He spoke intentionally about
indifferent matters; he wanted to make her forget that she had originally
agreed to this island trip with a whispered yes, a sudden submission right
before Ole's very eyes. She was reassured. Irgens had not invested her
sudden consent with a deeper significance than she had intended; he walked
along as unconcernedly as possible and talked about the weather and almost
had to be hurried along. Just as they were on the verge of starting she
caught a glimpse of Coldevin, who stood on the dock half hidden behind a
pile of boxes. She jumped out of the boat and called:

"Coldevin! I want to see you!"

It was impossible to avoid her; he stepped forward and took off his hat.

She gave him her hand. Where in the world had he kept himself all this
time? Dear me, why was he never to be seen? It began to look a little
strange--really it did.

He stammered an excuse, spoke about library work, a translation from a
book, an absolutely necessary bit of work....

But she interrupted and asked where he lived now. She had looked for him
at the hotel but was told that he had left; nobody knew where he had gone.
She had also had a glimpse of him on the seventeenth; she was in the Grand
and saw him march by in the parade.

He repeated his excuses and trotted out the old joke about the impropriety
of disturbing sweethearts too much. He smiled good-naturedly as he spoke.

She observed him carefully. His clothes were threadbare, his face had
become thinner, and she wondered suddenly if he were in want. Why had he
left the hotel, and where did he live? He said something about a friend, a
college chum--honest, a teacher, a splendid fellow.

Aagot asked when he was going back to Torahus, but he did not know
exactly; he was unable to say. As long as he had this library work and was
so busy....

Well, he simply must promise to come before he went away; she insisted.
And she asked suddenly: "When I saw you on the seventeenth, didn't you
have a bow in your buttonhole?"

Certainly, he had a bow; one had to show the colours on such a day! Didn't
she remember that she had given it to him herself? She had wanted him to
be decorated last year, when he was going to speak to the peasants at
Torahus, and she had given him the bow. Didn't she remember?

Aagot recalled it. She asked:

"Was it really the same bow?"

"Yes; isn't it strange? I happened to come across it; I must have brought
it along with some clothes; I found it by accident."

"Imagine! I thought at once it was my bow. It made me glad; I don't know
why," she said and bowed her head.

Irgens shouted and asked her if she were coming.

"No!" she called bluntly and without thinking. She did not even turn her
head. But when she realised how she had answered she grew confused and
cried to Irgens: "Pardon me just a moment!" And she turned to Coldevin
again: "I would have loved to stay and talk with you, but I have no time;
I am going to the island." She offered Coldevin her hand and said:
"Anyway, I hope everything will turn out for the best; don't you think it
will, too? I am sorry to have to hurry off. So long; be sure and come up
soon!"

She skipped down the steps and into the boat. Again she apologised for
keeping Irgens waiting.

And Irgens rowed out. They talked about the sea, the far journeys, the
strange countries; he had been abroad only in his dreams, and he supposed
that would be the extent of his travellings. He looked sad and listless.
Suddenly he said:

"I hear you are not going to the country after all."

"No. The Tidemands have changed their plans."

"So I am told. It is a pity; I am sorry for your sake, in a way." And,
resting on his oars, he added bluntly: "But I am glad for my own sake; I
admit it frankly."

Aagot skipped up the stone jetty when they landed. The trees delighted
her; it was ages since she had seen a real forest--such great big trees,
just like home. She sniffed the pungent, pine-laden air, she looked at
stones and flowers with a feeling of recognition; memories from home
surged through her, and she was for an instant on the verge of tears.

"But here are other people!" she exclaimed suddenly.

Irgens laughed: "What did you expect? This is not a jungle, exactly."

They explored the island thoroughly, saw the changing views, and had
refreshments. Aagot beamed. The walk in the bracing air had flushed her
cheeks, her lips, her ears, even her nose; her eyes were sparkling gaily.
She suddenly remembered that she had almost pouted in disappointment when
she saw other people; what must Irgens have thought?

"I was at first a little surprised to find so many people here," she said.
"The reason was that you told me you had written some of your poems here,
and I did not think you could have done that unless you had been entirely
undisturbed."

How she remembered! He gazed at her exultantly and answered that he had
his own restful nook where nobody ever came. It was on the other side;
should they go over?

They went. It was certainly a restful place, a regular wilderness of rocks
and heather and junipers, enclosed on two sides. Far in the distance could
be seen a little glade. They sat down.

"So this is where you sit and write!" she exclaimed. "It is strange to
think of. Were you sitting here?"

"About here. Do you know, it is refreshing to meet such a spontaneous
interest as yours?"

"Tell me, how do you write your things? Do the thoughts come to you
without conscious effort?"

"Yes, in a way. Things affect one pleasantly or otherwise, and the mood is
there. But the trouble then is to make the words reflect the love or hate
one's heart feels at the moment. Often it is useless even to try; one can
never find words adequately to express that languid gesture of your hand,
to define that evanescent thrill your laughter sends through one--"

Slowly the sun sank; a tremor quivered through the trees, and all was
still.

"Listen," he said, "do you hear the noise boiling away yonder in the
city?"

He noted how her dress tightened across her knee; he followed the curving
outline of her figure, saw how her bosom rose and sank, observed her face
with the darling dimple and the somewhat irregular nose; his blood stirred
and he moved closer to her. He spoke in fumbling, broken sentences:

"This is now the Isle of the Blest, and its name is Evenrest. The sun is
sinking; we are here--the world far off; it is exactly my dream of dreams.
Tell me, does my voice disturb you? You seem so far away--Miss Lynum, it
is useless to continue the struggle; I surrender to you. I lie at your
feet and tell you this, although I have not moved--"

The swift change in his expression, the low, vibrant, fervent voice, his
nearness--for a moment she was completely, stupidly stunned. She looked at
him for an instant without answering. Then her cheeks began to flame; she
started to get up and said quickly:

"But isn't it time to go?"

"No!" he exclaimed. "No, don't go!" He took hold of her dress, flung his
arm around her, and held her back. She struggled with face aglow, laughing
uncertainly, making vain efforts to free herself.

"You must be crazy," she said again and again; "have you completely
forgotten yourself?"

"Please, let me at least tell you something!"

"Well, what is it?" she asked and sat still; she turned her face away, but
she listened.

And he began speaking rapidly and incoherently; his heart-beats trembled
in his voice, which was persuasive and full of tenderness. She could see
that all he wanted was to make her understand how unspeakably he loved
her; how he had been conquered, subdued as never before. She must believe
him; it had lain dormant and grown in his heart since the very first time
he met her. He had fought and struggled to keep his feelings within
bounds; but it was true--such a struggle was not very effective. It was
too sweet to yield, and so one yielded. One fought on with a steadily
slipping grip. And now the end had come; he could not fight any more, he
was entirely disarmed.... "I believe my breast will burst asunder."...

Still leaning away from him, she had turned her face and was gazing at him
while he spoke. Her hands had ceased their ineffectual efforts and were
now resting on his, tightly clasped around her waist; she saw the blood
leap through the veins along his throat. She straightened up and sat
erect; his hands were still around her, but she did not seem to notice it
now. She seized her gloves and said with quivering lips:

"But, Irgens, you should not say such things to me. You know you
shouldn't. It is sad, but I cannot help it now."

"No, you are right; I don't suppose I ought to have said it, but--" He
gazed at her; his lips were trembling too. "But, Miss Aagot, what would
_you_ do if your love made you weak and powerless; if it robbed you
of your senses and blinded you to everything else? I mean--"

"Yes, but say nothing more!" she interrupted. "I understand you in a way,
but--You know, I cannot listen to this." She looked at the arms around
her waist, and with a sudden jerk she moved away and got up.

She was still so confused that she remained standing immobile; she did not
even brush the heather from her dress. And when he got up she made no
effort to go, but remained where she was.

"Listen, I want you to promise not to tell this to anybody. I am afraid--
And you must not think of me any more. I had no idea that you really
cared; of course, I thought that you liked me very much--I had begun to
think that; but I never thought--'How could _he_ care for
_me?_' I always thought. If you want me to I will go back to Torahus
and stay there awhile."

He was deeply moved; he swallowed hard and his eyes grew moist. This
delicious simplicity, these candid words, her very attitude, which was
free from fear and entirely unaffected--his feelings flared up in him like
a consuming flame: No, no, not to Torahus--only stay! He would control
himself, would show her that he could control himself; she must not go
away. Even should he lose his mind and perish altogether--rather that, if
she would only stay!

He continued talking while he was brushing off her dress. She must pardon
him; he was not like everybody else, he was a poet; when it came over him
he must yield. But he would give her no further cause for complaint if she
would only stay.... Wouldn't she mind going away the least little bit,
though? No, of course, he had no false illusions.

Pause. He was waiting for her to answer, to contradict him; perhaps she
would go to Torahus a little regretfully after all? But she remained
silent. Did she, then, hold him in so slight regard? Impossible! Still,
the thought began to worry him; he felt aggrieved, hurt, almost slighted.
He repeated his question: Did all his love for her not call forth the
tiniest responsive spark in her heart?

She answered gently and sorrowfully:

"Please do not ask. What do you think Ole would say if he heard you?"

Ole? He had not given him a thought. Did he really play the role of
competitor to Ole Henriksen? It was too ridiculous. He could not believe
that she meant what she had said. Ole might be all right as far as that
went; he bought and sold, went his peddler rounds through life, paid his
bills and added dollars to his hoard. That was all. Did money really
matter so much to her? God knows, perhaps even this girlish little head
had its concealed nook where thoughts were figuring in crowns and pennies!

Irgens was silent for an instant; he felt the pangs of jealousy. Ole might
be able to hold her; he was tall and blue-eyed--perhaps she even preferred
him?

"Ole?" he said. "I do not care in the least what he would say. Ole does
not exist for me; it is you I love."

She seemed startled for the first time; she frowned a little and began to
walk away.

"This is too contemptible!" she said. "I wish you hadn't said that. So it
is me you love? Well, don't tell me any more about it."

"Miss Aagot--one word only. Don't you care the least little bit for me?"

He had seized her arm; she had to look at him. He was too violent; he did
not control himself as he had promised; he was not very handsome now.

She answered: "I love Ole; I hope you understand that."

The sun sank deeper. People had left the island; only an occasional late
straggler was still seen walking along the road toward the city. Irgens
did not ask questions any more; he spoke only when necessary. Aagot tried
in vain to start a conversation; she had all she could do to keep her
heart under control.

When they were in the boat again he said: "Perhaps you would have
preferred to drive back alone? I may be able to find a hackman for you, if
you like."

"Now don't be angry any more!" she said.

She could hardly keep her eyes from brimming over; she forced herself to
think of indifferent matters in order to regain control over herself; she
gazed back toward the island, followed the flight of a bird that sailed
gracefully above the water. She asked:

"Is that water over there?"

"No," he answered; "it is a meadow; the dew makes it look dark."

"Imagine! To me it looked like water." But as it was impossible to talk
further about this green meadow they were both silent.

He was rowing hard; they approached the docks. He landed and jumped out to
help her ashore. Neither of them had gloves on; her warm hand rested in
his, and she took the opportunity of thanking him for the trip.

"I want to ask you to forget that I have bothered you with my heart
troubles," he said.

And he lifted his hat, without waiting for an answer, jumped into the
boat, and pushed off.

She had stopped at the head of the steps. She saw that he went back into
the boat, and wanted to call to him and ask where he was going; but she
gave it up. He saw her fair form disappear across the jetty.

He had in reality not intended to do this; he acted on the spur of the
moment, embarrassed as he was, hardly knowing what he was doing. He seized
the oars and rowed out again, towards the island. The evening was
wondrously calm. Now, when he was alone, he realised how deep was his
despair; another disappointment, another fall, the very worst! And not a
star in the murky night! He suddenly remembered Hanka, who probably had
looked for him to-day; who perhaps was seeking him even now. No; Hanka was
not fair; Hanka was dark; she did not radiate, but she allured. But how
was it--didn't she walk a little peculiarly? No, Hanka did not have
Aagot's carriage. And why was it her laugh no longer made his blood
tingle?

He rested on the oars and let the boat drift. It grew darker. Fragmentary
thoughts drifted through his brain: a rudderless ship on the buffeting
waves, an emperor in defeat, King Lear, thoughts and thoughts. He went aft
and began to write on the back of some envelopes, verse upon verse. Thank
God, nothing could rob him of his talent! And this thought sent a thrill
of warm happiness coursing through his veins.



VI


Tidemand was still optimistic; his ice business in England was very
profitable. He did not place much faith in the reports that extensive
rains throughout Russia had greatly improved the prospects for a normal
harvest. It had rained, of course, but the fact remained that Russia was
still closed; not a sack of grain could be smuggled out if one were to
offer for it its weight in gold. Tidemand stuck to his price; occasionally
he would sell small quantities throughout the country, but his enormous
stores were hardly affected by this; he needed a panic, a famine, before
he could unload. But there was no hurry; only wait until winter!

As usual, Tidemand was eagerly sought by business solicitors of every
description; subscription lists and all kinds of propositions were placed
before him; his name was in demand everywhere. Nothing could be started
without the support of the business element; and it was especially the
younger business men, the energetic and self-made men who conducted the
large enterprises, who commanded money and credit and knew and recognised
opportunities, whose interest had to be enlisted. There was the electric
street-car proposition, the new theatre, the proposed pulp-mills in
Vardal, the whale-oil factories in Henningsvaer--everything had to have
the business men's stamp of approval. Both Tidemand and Ole Henriksen
became share-owners in everything as a matter of course.

"My father should have known this!" Tidemand would often say when he gave
his signature. His father had a reputation for miserly thrift which had
survived him; he was one of the old-fashioned tradesmen, who went around
in his shirt-sleeves and apron, and weighed out soap and flour by the
pound. He had no time to dress decently; his shoes were still a byword;
the toes were sticking out, and when he walked it looked as if his toes
were searching for pennies on the flagstones. The son did not resemble the
father much; for him the old horizons had been broken, cracked wide, and
opened large views; his optimistic business courage was recognised.

Ole Henriksen had just dropped in on him in his office and was talking
about the projected tannery for which an ideal site had been found near
Torahus. This enterprise was bound to amount to something in the near
future; the great forests were being cut rapidly; the lumber was sold here
and abroad. But two and three inch cuttings and the tops were left and
went to waste. What a lack of foresight! Pine bark contained nearly twenty
per cent tannin; why not utilise it and make money out of it?

"We will see what can be done next spring."

Ole Henriksen looked a little overworked. He had not sufficient help; when
he went to England that autumn he would have to give his head assistant
power of attorney and leave everything to him. Since Aagot came Ole's work
had been only fun; but now she was a little indisposed and had kept
up-stairs for a couple of days. Ole missed her. She must have been
careless on this excursion day before yesterday and have caught a cold. He
had wanted to take her out in the little yacht, but this had now been
postponed until Sunday. He asked Tidemand to come along; there would be a
few more; they would sail out to some reef and have coffee.

"Are you sure Miss Aagot will be well by Sunday?" asked Tidemand. "These
boat-rides are dangerous so early in the year. What I was going to say
was: Won't you please ask Hanka yourself? I am not sure I can make her
come--In regard to this tannery proposition, I think I shall have to hold
the matter in abeyance for the present. It will also depend on the lumber
quotations to some extent."

Ole returned after he had looked up Hanka and invited her. He wondered a
little over Tidemand's remark about boat-rides being dangerous; Tidemand
had given the remark a subtle meaning, and Ole had looked at him
interrogatingly.

Ole found Aagot in her own room; she was reading. When he entered she
threw down her book and ran to him. She was well again, entirely well--
just feel the pulse, not a trace of fever! How she looked forward to
Sunday! Ole warned her again about being careful; she would have to dress
properly. Even Tidemand had spoken about these risky boat-rides so early
in the season.

"And you are going to be the hostess!" he chaffed her. "What a darling
little mistress! By the way, what are you reading?"

"Oh, that is only Irgens's poems," she answered.

"Don't say 'only' Irgens's poems," he chided her playfully. "By the way, I
ran across Coldevin a moment ago; he said he was looking for somebody. I
couldn't get him to come up--he simply wouldn't."

"Did you invite him to our excursion?" asked Aagot quickly. She seemed
very much disappointed because Ole had forgotten to ask him. He had to
promise her to try his best to find Coldevin before Sunday.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tidemand rang Henriksen's bell late Saturday evening and asked for Ole. He
did not want to come in; it was only a small matter, he would keep Ole
only a minute.

When Ole came out he saw at once that something serious had happened. He
asked whether they should go down to the office or take a walk; Tidemand
did not care which. They went downstairs to the office.

Tidemand took out a telegram and said:

"I fancy my rye speculation isn't going to turn out very well. The prices
are normal at present; Russia has lifted the ban."

It was true that Russia had recalled her decree against rye exportations.
The favourable prospects had not proved disappointing, and this, in
connection with large amounts of grain stored in the elevators from
previous years, had made further restrictions superfluous. The famine
ghost had been laid; Russian and Finnish harbours were once more open.
Such was the purport of the telegraphic message.

Ole sat there silent. This was an awful blow! His brain was awhirl with
thoughts: could the telegram be a hoax, a piece of speculative trickery, a
bribed betrayal? He glanced at the signature; no, it was out of the
question to suspect this reliable agent. But had anything like that ever
happened before? A world-power had fooled itself and taken
self-destructive measures for no apparent reason! It was even worse than
in fifty-nine when a similar edict had been lifted and had caused the
world-markets wreck and ruin. But there had been war then.

The clock on the wall ticked and ticked in the unbroken silence.

Finally Ole asked: "Are you sure the wire is authentic?"

"It is authentic enough, I fancy," said Tidemand. "My agent wired me twice
yesterday to sell, and I sold what I could, sold even below the day's
quotations; but what did that amount to? I lost heavily yesterday, I tell
you."

"Well, don't do anything hastily now; let us consider this carefully. But
why did you not come to me yesterday? I had a right to expect that from
you."

"I ought hardly to have brought you such a piece of news this evening,
even, but--"

"Once and for all," Ole interrupted him, "understand that I will help you
all I possibly can. With everything I have, you understand. And that is
not so very little, either."

Pause.

"I thank you, Ole--for everything. I knew I shouldn't go to you in vain.
You could help me a good deal if you would take over some of my
obligations--I mean those that are non-speculative, of course."

"Nonsense--anybody will take such things! I am taking rye. We will date
the papers day before yesterday--for the sake of the old man."

Tidemand shook his head.

"I am not going to pull you under, too."

Ole looked at him; the veins in his temples were swelling. "You are a damn
fool!" he exclaimed angrily.

"Do you for a moment think you can so easily pull me under?" And Ole
swore, with blazing eyes, right into Tidemand's face: "By God, I'll show
you how easily you can pull _me_ under!"

But Tidemand was immovable; not even Ole's anger made him yield. He
understood Ole; his means were perhaps not so insignificant, but it was no
use making out that he could do everything. Ole boasted only because he
wanted to help him, that was all. But from to-morrow on the bottom would
simply drop out of the market; it wasn't right to sell rye even to one's
enemies at yesterday's prices.

"But what are you going to do? Are you going into a receiver's hands?"
asked Ole in a temper.

"No," answered Tidemand, "I think I can skin through without that. The ice
in England and Australia is quite a help now; not much, but crowns are
money to me now. I shall have to retrench, to sell what I can in order to
raise cash. I thought that perhaps you would care to buy--you might use it
when you are going to marry, you know, and we don't need it at all; we are
never there any more--"

"What are you talking about?"

"Well, I thought that you might want to buy my country estate now--You are
going to be married soon, so--" "Your country house? Are you going to
sell it?"

"What good is it to us?"

Pause. Ole noticed that Tidemand's composure began to fail him.

"All right. I'll take it. And whenever you want it back it will be for
sale. I have a premonition that it will not be mine so very long."

"Well, God only knows. Anyway, I am doing what I can and should. I am glad
the place will be yours. It is beautiful; it is not my fault we have not
been there this summer. Well, this will help some; as for the rest, we'll
see. I trust I can manage without closing up; that would be hard indeed.
And worst for the sake of the children!"

Again Ole offered his assistance.

"I appreciate your help, and I will avail myself of it within reasonable
limits. But a loss is a loss, and even if I weather the storm without
going into bankruptcy I shall be a poor man all the same. I don't know
whether I own a penny now or not--I am only glad that you didn't join me
in that unhappy speculation, Ole; that is a blessing, anyway. Well, we'll
see."

Ole asked:

"Does your wife know about this?"

"No; I'll tell her after the trip to-morrow."

"The trip? I'll cancel that, of course."

"No," said Tidemand, "I will ask you not to do that. Hanka is looking
forward to it; she has spoken of it a good deal. No, I would rather ask
you to act as if nothing has happened; be as cheerful as you can. I really
would appreciate it. Don't mention my misfortune at all, please."

And Tidemand put the fatal wire back in his pocket.

"I am sorry I had to come and bother you with this. But I go home with a
lighter heart, now I know you will take the country house."



SIXTYFOLD



I


A party of ladies and gentlemen had gathered on the jetty on the day of
the excursion. They were waiting for the Paulsbergs, who were late. Irgens
was growing impatient and sarcastic: Would it not be better to send the
yacht up for them? When finally Paulsberg and his wife arrived, they all
went aboard and were soon tacking out the fiord.

Tidemand held the tiller. A couple of warehousemen from Henriksen's wharf
were along as crew. Ole had arranged the trip carefully and had brought
along a choice supply of provisions; he had even remembered roasted coffee
for Irgens. But he had failed to find Coldevin, and he had purposely
avoided asking Gregersen; the Journalist might have heard the news from
Russia, and might inadvertently have betrayed the fatal tidings.

Tidemand looked as if he had spent a sleepless night. To Ole's whispered
inquiry, he answered smilingly that things might be worse. But he asked to
be allowed to keep his place at the tiller.

And the yacht tacked out toward the reefs.

Mrs. Hanka had chosen a place far forward; her face was fresh, and she had
thrown her fur coat around her shoulders; Milde said she looked
picturesque. He added loudly and gaily:

"And furthermore I wish it were drink time!"

Ole brought out bottles and glasses. He went around and wrapped the ladies
in shawls and blankets. Nothing to laugh about; true, the day was bright
and warm, but the sea air was treacherous. He repeatedly offered to
relieve Tidemand at the tiller, but was not permitted to. No, this was the
place for Tidemand; here he would not have to be entertaining, and he was
not in a mood for social amenities.

"Don't lose your nerve whatever happens! Have you heard anything further?"

"Only a confirmation. We shall get it officially to-morrow, I guess. But
don't worry; I have laid my lines now and shall manage to pull through
somehow. I imagine I shall save the ship."

Forward the spirits of the company rose rapidly. Ojen began to get a
little seasick, and drank steadily in order to subdue his qualms.

"It seems good to see you again," said Mrs. Hanka, prompted by a desire to
enliven him. "You still have your delicate face, but it is not quite as
pale as before you went away."

"But what is the matter with your eyes?" cried Mrs. Paulsberg mercilessly.
"I have never seen him as pallid as at this very moment."

This reference to his seasickness caused general merriment. Mrs. Hanka
continued to speak: She had heard his latest poem, that exquisite gem,
"Memories." His excursion had certainly been fruitful in results.

"You haven't heard my very latest poem, though," said Ojen in a weak
voice; "it has an Egyptian subject; the action takes place in an ancient
tomb--" And, sick and miserable as he was, he looked through all his
pockets for this poem. What could have become of it? He had taken it out
that morning with the intention of bringing it along; he had thought that
perhaps somebody would care to listen to it. He was not afraid of saying
that it really was a little out of the ordinary. He sincerely hoped he
hadn't lost it; in that case the trip would have proved most unfortunate
for him. Never had he produced anything so remarkable; it was only a
couple of pages, but....

"No," said Mrs. Hanka, "you must surely have left it behind." And she did
her best to make the poor poet forget his groundless fears. She had been
told that he preferred the city to the country?

He did, most assuredly. No sooner had his eyes beheld the straight lines
of streets and houses than his brain was aquiver, and he had conceived
that Egyptian prose poem. If that had been lost, now....

Milde had lately begun to appreciate Ojen; at last his eyes had been
opened to his poetry's delicate uniqueness. Irgens, who sat close enough
to hear this unusual praise, leaned over to Mrs. Hanka and said in a low
voice:

"You understand? Milde knows he has nothing to fear from his competitor
any more--hence his change of attitude." And Irgens pressed his lips
together and smiled venomously.

Mrs. Hanka glanced at him. How he persisted in his bitterness; how
unbecoming it was in him! He did not realise it, or he would not have thus
compressed his lips and continually shot baleful glances at his fellow
applicants. Otherwise Irgens was silent; he ignored Aagot entirely. She
thought: What have I done to him? Could I possibly have acted in any other
way?

The coffee was made on board, but out of regard for Ojen, who still felt
badly, it was decided to drink it on the very first reef they should
reach. They camped on the rocks, flung themselves on the ground, and threw
dignity to the winds. It was great fun; Ojen looked with big, astonished
eyes at everything--the sea, the waves which filled the air with a
continuous roar, the barren reef where not a tree grew and where the grass
was yellow from sun and spray. Aagot skipped round with cups and glasses;
she walked in a constant fear of dropping anything and stuck the tip of
her tongue out like a rope-walker.

Milde proposed that they drink her health. "Haven't you got champagne,
Ole?" he asked.

The champagne was produced, the glasses filled, and the toast drunk amid
cheers. Milde was in high spirits; he proposed that they throw the bottle
in the sea with a note enclosed which they all were to sign.

They all put their names down except Paulsberg, who curtly refused. A man
who wrote as much as he did could not sign his name to nonsensical notes,
he said. And he rose and walked away in dignified aloofness.

"Then I'll sign for him," said Milde, and seized a pencil.

But Mrs. Paulsberg cried indignantly:

"You will do nothing of the kind! Paulsberg has said that he does not want
his name on the note, and that ought to be sufficient for all of us." She
looked quite offended as she crossed her legs and held her cup in her
usual masculine fashion.

Milde apologised instantly; his proposition was meant as a harmless joke;
however, after considering the matter he admitted that perhaps it was a
little foolish and that it would not do for Paulsberg to have anything to
do with it. Perhaps they had better drop the whole thing; what did they
think? If Paulsberg wasn't going to be in it, then....

Irgens could not control himself any longer; he sneered openly and almost
hissed:

"Mr. Subsidist! You are divine!"

That subsidy was never out of his thoughts.

"And as for you," answered Milde scathingly, glaring at him with angry
eyes, "it is getting so that it is impossible to be near you."

Irgens feigned surprise.

"What is that? It would appear from your tone that I have offended you."

Mrs. Hanka had to intervene. Couldn't they stop quarrelling even on a
pleasure trip? They ought to be ducked if they couldn't behave!

And Irgens was silent at once; he did not even mumble maliciously between
his teeth. Mrs. Hanka grew thoughtful. How her poet and hero had changed
in a few brief weeks! What had really happened? How dull and lustreless
his dark eyes had become! Even his moustache seemed to be drooping; he had
lost his fresh immaculateness; he was not nearly as alluring as before.
But then she reminded herself of his disappointments, of that miserable
subsidy, and of his book, his beautiful lyric creation which they were
conspiring to kill by their studied silence. She leaned toward Aagot and
said:

"It is sad to observe how bitter Irgens has grown; have you noticed it? I
hope he will get over it soon." And Mrs. Hanka, who wanted to save him
from making too unfavourable an impression, added in the goodness of her
heart what she had heard Irgens himself say so often: It was not so
strange, after all; bitterness of that character could only arouse
respect. Here he had toiled and worked for years, had given freely of his
treasures, and the country, the government, had refused to offer him a
helping hand.

"Can you understand it?" said Aagot also. And she realised instantly that
she had not treated this man with the consideration due him; she had been
tactless; she had rebuffed him with unnecessary harshness. She wished her
conduct had been different; however, it was too late now.

Paulsberg returned from his solitary walk and suggested that it was time
to think of the return. The clouds held a menace of rain, he said; the sun
was sinking and it was blowing up a little.

Aagot went around again and poured coffee. She bent over Irgens, bent
deeper than necessary, and said:

"May I pour you some, Mr. Irgens?"

The almost supplicating note in her voice made him glance at her in
surprise. He did not want any coffee, thanks; but he smiled at her. She
was happy at once; she hardly knew what she was carrying, but she
stammered:

"Just a little, please."

He looked at her again and said: "No, thanks."

On the return trip Irgens seemed a different person. He chatted,
entertained the ladies, helped even poor Ojen, who suffered greatly. Milde
had captured a bottle on the pretext that it was drink time again, and
Irgens drank with him simply to be accommodating. Mrs. Hanka's spirits
also rose; she was lively and cheerful, and a strange association of ideas
made her suddenly decide to ask her husband for a couple of hundred crowns
this very evening.

Tidemand was at the tiller and could not be dislodged; he sailed the boat
and did not utter a syllable. He looked well as he stood high in the
stern, rising and falling against the blue background of sea and sky. His
wife called to him once and asked him if he were cold, an attention he
could hardly believe and therefore pretended not to hear.

"He is deaf," she said smilingly. "Are you cold Andreas?"

"Cold? Not at all," he called back.

And by and by the party reached the jetty.

Hardly had Ojen stepped ashore before he called a cab. He was in a hurry
to get home and find his manuscript or learn the worst. He could not rest
until he knew his fate. But perhaps he would meet the company later on.
Would they be at Sara's?

They looked at each other uncertainly and did not know what to say. But
Ole Henriksen declared that he was going home; he was thinking of
Tidemand, who was in need of rest and quiet. They parted outside
Tidemand's house.

Mrs. Hanka asked abruptly, before even the door was opened:

"Will you please let me have a hundred or so?"

"A hundred? Hm. Certainly. But you will have to come with me to the
office; I haven't got the money here."

In the office he handed her the bill; his hand was trembling violently.

"Here is the money," he said.

"Thanks--Why are you trembling?" she asked.

"Oh--I suppose because I have held the tiller so long--Hm. Listen, Hanka,
I have a pleasant surprise for you! You have asked me a number of times to
consent to a divorce; I have decided in God's name to do what you ask--You
understand, I am not going to oppose you any more."

She could hardly believe her ears. Did he agree to a divorce? She gazed at
him; he was deathly pale, his eyes were lowered. They were standing
opposite each other, the large desk between them.

He continued:

"Circumstances are different now--My big speculation has failed; even if
I am not a bankrupt this moment, I am a poor man. I may avoid closing up
shop, but that will be all. Anyway, I shall not be able to keep up this
mode of life. And, this being so, I feel that I have no right to interfere
with your plans and desires any longer."

His words reached her as from afar. For a moment she felt a vague
sensation of happiness--she was free; she would escape the yoke that had
become oppressive; she would be a girl once more! Hanka Lange--imagine,
only Hanka Lange! And when she realised that her husband was almost a
bankrupt it did not greatly upset her; he had said he might not be forced
to shut down. Of course, he was not wealthy, but neither was he a beggar;
it might have been a great deal worse.

"Is that so?" she said simply; "is that so?"

Pause. Tidemand had regained his composure; he stood again as he had stood
aboard the yacht; one could almost see the tiller in his hand. His eyes
were on her. She had not said no; her intentions were evidently not
shaken. Well, he had hardly expected that they would be.

He said:

"Well, that was all I wanted to tell you."

His voice was remarkably even, almost commanding; she thought: "He has not
spoken to me like that in three years." His strength was marvellous to
behold.

"Well, do you really want to?" she asked. "You think, then, that we ought
to separate? Of course, but--I hope you have thought it over--that you are
not doing this simply to please me?"

"It goes without saying that I do it to please you," he answered. "You
have requested it often enough, and I sincerely regret that I have opposed
you until now." And he added without a trace of malice: "You must forgive
me for having interfered with your wishes so long."

She grew attentive at once.

"I don't know what you mean," she said a trifle haughtily.

He did not care about that and did not answer. Hadn't she spoken about a
divorce time and time again? Hadn't he put her off? Perfectly composed, he
opened his coat and took out his pocket calendar, in which he proceeded to
make an entry.

She could not help being impressed by this quiet superiority, which she
never before had noticed in him; she happened to say:

"I think you have changed greatly."

"Oh, well, one gets a little grey, but--"

"No, you misunderstand me!" she interrupted.

Tidemand said slowly and looked straight into her eyes:

"I wish to God you had understood me as well as I have you, Hanka!
Perhaps, then, this would not have become necessary." He buttoned his coat
as if preparing to leave, and added: "Now, in regard to the money--"

"Yes, dear, here is the money!" she said, and wanted to give him back the
bill.

For the first time since their interview he tossed his head impatiently
and said:

"I am not talking about _that_ money now! Kindly make at least an
effort to understand me--Whatever money you need shall be sent you as
soon as you inform me where to send it."

"But, dear me," she said in confusion, "do I have to go away? I thought I
could stay in the city. What do you want me to do?"

"Whatever is agreeable to you. You will let the children remain here,
won't you? I shall take good care of them; you need not worry about that.
As for yourself, I suppose you will want to take an apartment somewhere.
You know it takes three years, don't you?"

She was standing with the bill in her hand, gazing at it abstractedly. She
was unable to think clearly; her mind was whirling; but deep down she had
a vague feeling of relief--she was free at last! She said nothing; he felt
his self-control give way and wanted to get it over with quickly so as not
to break down.

"Good-bye, then--" He could say no more, but offered her his hand; she
took it. "I hope we shall see each other occasionally; but I want to thank
you now for everything; this may be the last chance I shall have--I shall
send you the money every month." And he put on his hat and went to the
door.

She followed him with her eyes. Was this Andreas?

"Well, I suppose you want to go," she said, bewildered, "and I am standing
here delaying you. I suppose we shall have to do as you say--I don't know
what I am saying--" Her voice broke suddenly.

Tidemand opened the door with trembling hands and let her out. At the foot
of the stairs she stopped and let him walk ahead. When he reached the
landing he waited for her; then he opened the door with his key and held
it for her. When she was inside he said:

"Good night, then!"

And again Tidemand walked down-stairs, down to his office, where he shut
himself in. He went over to the window and stood there, his hands clasped
behind him, staring out into the street with unseeing eyes. No, she had
not changed her mind in the least, that was not to be expected. She had
not hesitated. There she had stood, with her elbow on the desk; she had
heard what he said and she had replied; "Well, I suppose we shall have to
do as you say." There had been no hesitation, no, none at all.... But she
had not exulted, either; she had spared him from witnessing any outburst
of joy. She had been considerate--he had to admit that. Oh, Hanka was
always considerate; God bless her wherever she went! She had stood there.
Hanka, Hanka!... But probably she was rejoicing now; why shouldn't she
be? She had had her way.... And the children were asleep now, both Ida and
Johanna. Poor little things; they did not even reach up to their pillows!
Well, they would be provided for. One might be getting a little grey, but
there was still a fight or two left....

And Tidemand went back to his desk. He worked over his books and papers
until daylight.



II


Mrs. Hanka looked in vain for Irgens for several days. She had hurried to
him to bring him the joyful news; she was free at last! But he was never
at home. His door was locked, and it was not opened when she knocked;
consequently he must be out. She did not meet him in his usual haunts,
either. Finally she had to write to him and make an appointment; she wrote
that she had excellent news for him.

But during these two days, these long hours of waiting in which she could
do nothing, it seemed as if her joy over the coming divorce had begun to
wane. She had dwelt on her happiness so long that she had grown accustomed
to it; it did not make her heart beat faster any more. She was going to be
free from her husband--true, but she had not been so entirely shackled
before. The difference was not so pronounced that she could steadily
continue to revel in it.

And to this was added an indefinable fear, now when the irrevocable
separation confronted her; the thought that she was to leave her home was
tinged with a vague sense of regretfulness, of impalpable foreboding.
Sometimes a quivering pang would pierce her heart when the children put
out their little arms to her; why that pain? She had got out of her bed
last night and looked at them in their sleep. There they were lying, each
in her little bed; they had kicked the blankets off and were uncovered up
to their very arms, but they slept soundly and moved, now and then, a rosy
finger or a dimpled toe in their sleep. Such children! To lie there
unblushingly naked, with arms and legs pointing in all directions! She
tucked them carefully in and left them with bowed head, her shoulders
shaken by inaudible sobs.

How was she going to arrange her future? She was free, but in reality she
was married still; for three years she would have to live somewhere, pay
rent, keep house for herself. She had worried and fretted about this for
two long days without anyone to help her; what could have happened to
Irgens? God only knew where he kept himself. She had not once seen her
former husband.

She started for Irgens's rooms. Surely he would help her find a place and
get settled! Oh, it was fine to have an end to this daily galling
restraint; here she had been tortured by dissatisfaction and restlessness
for months and years, ever since she had been introduced to the clique and
had acquired a taste for their irresponsible mode of living. She was free,
free and young! She would overwhelm Irgens with this joyful news, he who
had so often sighed for that divorce during their most intimate hours--

Irgens was at home at last.

She told him the great news at once. She recounted how it had happened,
repeated Tidemand's words, and praised his superiority. She gazed into
Irgens's eyes; her own were sparkling. Irgens, however, did not show any
great exultation; he smiled, said yes and no, asked her if she were
satisfied now. So she was really going to get a divorce? He was glad to
hear it; it was foolish to go through life in this heart-breaking
manner.... But he sat there very quietly and discussed the great news in
an every-day voice.

Gradually, very gradually, she came to earth; her heart began to flutter
wildly.

"It seems as if the news does not make you so very happy, Irgens," she
said.

"Happy? Of course I am. Why shouldn't I be happy? You have sighed for this
for a long time; why shouldn't I rejoice with you now? I do, most
assuredly."

Words only, without fire, without warmth even! What could have happened?
Did he not love her any more? She sat there, her heart heavy within her;
she wanted to gain time, to hush the wakening terror in her breast. She
said:

"But, dear, where have you been all this time? I have called on you three
times without finding you in."

He answered, choosing his words carefully, that she must have missed him
because of an unfortunate series of accidents. He went out occasionally,
of course; but he spent most of his time at home. Where in the world could
he go? He went nowhere.

Pause. Finally she yielded abjectly to her fears and stammered:

"Well, Irgens, I am yours now, entirely yours! I am going to leave the
house--You will thank me, won't you? It will take three years, of course,
but then--"

She stopped suddenly; she felt that he was squirming, that he was bracing
himself against the inevitable; her terror increased as he remained
silent. A few anguished moments went by.

"Well, Hanka, this is rather unfortunate, in a way," he began finally.
"You have evidently understood me to mean that when you got your divorce--
that if you only were free--Of course, I may have said something to that
effect; I admit that if you have interpreted my words literally such a
supposition is probably justified. I have most likely said things more
than once--"

"Yes, of course," she interrupted; "we have never meant anything else,
have we? For you love me, don't you? What is the matter? You are so
strange to-day!"

"I am awfully sorry, but really--things are not as they used to be." He
looked away sadly and searched for words. "I cannot lie to you, Hanka, and
the plain truth is that I am not enraptured by you as much as I used to
be. It would hardly be right to deceive you; anyway, I couldn't do it--it
is beyond me."

At last she understood; these were plain words. And quietly bending her
head, yielding to the inevitable, letting go of the last lingering hope,
she whispered in a dull and broken voice:

"Couldn't do it; no--It is all over, irrevocably over--"

He sat there silent.

Suddenly she turned and looked at him. Her white teeth showed beneath the
slightly raised upper lip as she endeavoured to force a smile. She said
slowly:

"But surely it cannot all be over, Irgens? Remember, I have sacrificed a
great deal--"

But he shook his head.

"Yes, I am awfully sorry, but--Do you know what I was thinking of just now
when I didn't answer you? You said 'irrevocably over.' I was wondering if
that was proper grammar, if it sounded right. That shows how little this
scene really affects me; you can see for yourself that I am not beside
myself with grief--not even deeply stirred. That ought to show you--" And
as if he wanted to utilise the opportunity to the utmost and leave no room
for doubt, he continued: "Did you say that you have been here three times,
looking for me? I know that you have been here twice. I think I ought to
tell you, so that you can see how impossible it is for me to pretend: I
sat here and heard you knock, but I didn't open. That surely proves the
matter is serious--Dearest Hanka, I cannot help it; really, you mustn't
be unhappy. But you surely will admit that our relationship must have been
a little galling, a little humiliating, to me as well? It is true; it has
not been easy for me to accept money from you continually; I have said to
myself: 'This degrades you!' You understand, don't you--a man with a
nature like mine; unhappily, I am proud, whether it is a virtue or a vice
in me--"

Pause.

"All right," she said mechanically, "all right." And she rose in order to
go. Her eyes were wide and staring, but she saw nothing.

However, he wanted to explain himself thoroughly; she must not leave with
a wrong impression of him. He called her back; he wanted to prove why it
could not have been otherwise, why his conduct was beyond reproach. He
spoke at length and cleared up the matter perfectly; it seemed as if he
had expected this and had prepared himself thoroughly. There were a number
of bagatelles; but it was just the little things that counted with a man
like him, and these little things had gradually made it so clear to him
that they were not compatible. Of course, she was fond of him, a great
deal more so than he deserved; but all the same he was not sure that she
understood and appreciated him fully. This was not said reproachfully,
but--She had said that she was proud of him, and that she enjoyed seeing
the ladies turn and look after him when they walked down the street
together. All right! But that did not prove that she valued his
individuality. She took no pride in the fact that he was, above all, a
somewhat different individuality. Of course, he did not blame her; but,
unfortunately, it proved that her understanding of him was not deep
enough. She was not proud of him for what he had thought or written; not
primarily, at any rate; she loved to see the ladies look after him on the
street. But ladies might turn and look after anybody, even after an
officer or a tradesman. She had once given him a cane so that he might
look well on the street....

"No, Irgens, I had no such thought, not at all," she interrupted.

All right, he might have been mistaken; if she said so, of course....
Nevertheless, he had the impression that such was her reason. He had
thought that if he couldn't pass muster without a cane, then.... For even
those two sheared sheep of Ojen's used a cane. In brief, he gave the cane
away to the first comer.... But there were other little things, other
bagatelles: She liked to go to the opera; he didn't. She went without him,
and he was very much pleased, of course; still.... She wore a light
woollen dress, and when he was with her his clothes got full of fuzz from
her dress, but she never noticed it. He had to brush and pick fuzz
unceasingly to avoid looking as if he had been in bed fully dressed; but
did she notice? Never. And in this manner one thing after another had come
between them and had affected his feelings for her. There were hundreds of
little things! A little while ago her lips had been so badly cracked that
she couldn't even smile naturally; and just think, an insignificant thing
like that had repulsed him, absolutely spoiled her for him! Dear me, she
must not think that he found fault with her because of a cracked lip; he
knew very well that she could not help such a thing; he was not
stupid.... But the truth of the matter was that it had reached a point
where he was beginning to dread her visits. He had to admit it; he had sat
on this very chair and suffered, suffered tortures, when he heard her
knock on the door. However, no sooner had she gone away than he felt
relieved; he got ready and went out, too. He went to some restaurant and
dined, dined unfeelingly and with a good appetite, not at all deploring
what he had done. He wanted her to know these things so that she would
understand him.... "But, dearest Hanka, I have told you all this and
perhaps added to your sorrow instead of alleviating it. I wanted you to
see how necessary has become our parting--that there are deep and weighty
reasons for it--that it is not merely a whim. Unfortunately, these things
are deeply rooted in my nature--But don't take it so to heart! You know I
am fond of you and appreciate all you have done for me; and I shall never
be able to forget you; I feel that only too well. Tell me that you will
take it calmly--that is all I ask--"

She sat there, dull and immobile. Her premonition had not deceived her; it
was all over. There he sat; he had spoken about this and that and
remembered this and that--everything that could possibly explain and
justify his actions. He had said a great deal, he had even bared himself
in spots; yes, how penuriously hadn't he scraped up the least little thing
that might vindicate him in the slightest degree! How could she ask him to
advise her? He would simply refer her to the newspaper advertisements:
"Flats and Apartments to Let." How insignificant he suddenly appeared!
Slowly he blurred before her eyes; he was blotted out; he became lost in
the dim distance; she saw him as through a haze; she barely discerned his
mother-of-pearl buttons and his sleek and shiny hair. She realised how her
eyes had been opened during his long speech; there he sat.... She felt
languidly that she ought to go, but she lacked the energy to get up. She
felt hollow and empty; the last little illusion to which she had clung so
tenaciously had collapsed miserably. Somebody's step sounded on the
stairs; she did not remember whether or no the door was locked, but she
did not go and make sure. The steps died down again; nobody knocked.

"Dearest Hanka," he said in an effort to console her as best he might,
"you ought to start in in earnest and write that novel we have talked
about. I am sure you could do it, and I will gladly go over the manuscript
for you. The effort, the concentration would do you good; you know I want
to see you content and satisfied."

Yes, once upon a time, she had really thought she would write a novel. Why
not? _Here_ one miss bobbed up, and _there_ another madam bobbed
up, and they all did write so cutely! Yes, she had really thought that it
was her turn next. And how they all had encouraged her! Thank God, she had
forgotten about it until now!

"You do not answer, Hanka?"

"Yes," she said absently, "there is something in what you say."

She got up suddenly and stood erect staring straight ahead. If she only
knew what to do now! Go home? That would probably be the best. Had she had
parents she would most likely have gone to them; however, she had never
had any parents, practically. She had better go home to Tidemand, where
she still lived....

And with a desolate smile she gave Irgens her hand and said farewell.

He felt so relieved because of her calmness that he pressed her hand
warmly. What a sensible woman she was, after all! No hysterics, no
heartrending reproaches; she said farewell with a smile! He wanted to
brace her still more and talked on in order to divert her mind; he
mentioned his work and plans; he would surely send her his next book; she
would find him again in that. And, really, she ought to get busy on that
novel.... To show her that their friendship was still unbroken he even
asked her to speak to Gregersen about that review of his book. It was most
extraordinary that his verses had attracted so little attention. If she
would only do him this favour. He himself would never be able to approach
Gregersen; he was too proud; he could never stoop to that....

She went over to the mirror and began arranging her hair. He could not
help watching her; she really surprised him a little. It was of course
admirable in her to keep her feelings in leash; still, this unruffled
composure was not altogether _au fait_. He had really credited her
with a little more depth; he had ventured to think that a settlement with
him would affect her somewhat. And there she stood tranquilly and arranged
her hair with apparent unconcern! He could not appreciate such a display
of _sang-froid_. To tell the truth, he felt snubbed; and he made the
remark that he was still present; it seemed peculiar that she had already
so completely forgotten him....

She did not answer. But when she left the mirror she paused for a moment
in the middle of the room, and with her eyes somewhere in the vicinity of
his shoes, she said wearily and indifferently:

"Don't you understand that I am entirely through with you?"

But in the street, bathed in the bright sunshine, surrounded by people and
carriages--there her strength gave way entirely and she began to sob
wildly. She covered her face with her veil, and sought the
least-frequented side-streets in order to avoid meeting anybody; she
walked hurriedly, stooping, shaken by convulsive sobs. How densely dark
the outlook whichever way she turned her eyes! She hurried on, walking in
the middle of the street, talking to herself in a choked voice. Could she
return to Andreas and the children? What if the door should be closed
against her? She had wasted two days; perhaps Andreas now had grown
impatient. Still, the door might be open if she only hurried....

Every time she took out her handkerchief she felt the crinkle of an
envelope. That was the envelope with the hundred-crown bill; she still had
that! Oh--if she only had somebody to go to now, a friend--not any of her
"friends" from the clique; she was through with them! She had been one of
them a year and a day; she had listened to their words and she had seen
their deeds. How had she been able to endure them? Thank God, she was done
with them forever. Could she go to Ole Henriksen and ask help from him?
No, no; she couldn't do that.

Andreas would probably be busy in his office. She had not seen him for two
days; very likely it was an accident, but it was so. And she had accepted
a hundred crowns from him, although he was ruined! Dear me, that she
hadn't thought of this before now! She had asked him for that money.
"Yes," he had said; "will you please come into the office? I have not so
much with me." And he had opened his safe and given her the hundred;
perhaps it was all the money he had! He had proffered the bill in such a
gentle and unobtrusive manner, although, perhaps, it was all the money he
owned! His hair had turned a little grey and he looked as if he hadn't had
much sleep lately; but he had not complained; his words were spoken in
proud and simple dignity. It had seemed as if she saw him then for the
first time.... Oh, would that she never had asked him for this money!
Perhaps he might forgive her if she brought it back. Would she bother him
very much if she stopped at his office a moment? She would not stay
long....

Mrs. Hanka dried her eyes beneath her veil and walked on. When at last she
stood outside Tidemand's office she hesitated. Suppose he turned her out?
Perhaps he even knew where she had been?

A clerk told her that Tidemand was in.

She knocked and listened. He called: "Come in." She entered quietly. He
was standing at his desk; he put down his pen when he saw her.

"Pardon me if I disturb you," she said hurriedly.

"Not at all," he said, and waited. A pile of letters was before him; he
stood there, tall and straight; he did not look so very grey, and his eyes
were not so listless.

She took the bill out and held it toward him.

"I only wanted to return this; and please forgive me for asking for money
when I might have known that you must need it so badly. I never thought of
it until now; I am extremely sorry."

He looked at her in surprise and said:

"Not at all--you just keep that! A hundred more or less means nothing to
the business--nothing at all."

"Yes, but--please take it! I ask you to take it."

"All right, if you don't need it. I thank you, but it is not necessary."

He had thanked her! What a fortunate thing that she had the money and
could give it back to him! But she suppressed her agitation and said
"Thank you" herself as she shoved the bill over toward him. When she saw
him reach for his pen again, she said with a wan smile:

"You must not be impatient because of this long delay--I have made very
little progress in the matter of taking an apartment, but--"

She could control herself no longer; her voice broke entirely and she
turned away from him, fumbling for her handkerchief with trembling
fingers.

"There is no great hurry about that," he said. "Take all the time you
want."

"I thank you."

"You thank me? I don't quite understand. It isn't I who--I am simply
trying to make it easy for you to have your own way."

She was afraid she had irritated him, and she said hastily:

"Of course, yes! Oh, I didn't mean--Pardon me for disturbing you."

And she turned and fled out of the office.



III


Tidemand had not been idle a moment since the blow struck him. He was at
his desk early and late; papers, bills, notes, and certificates fluttered
around him, and his energy and skill brought order out of confusion as the
days went by. Ole Henriksen had supported him on demand; he had paid cash
for the country estate and had relieved him of several outstanding
obligations.

It was made clear that the firm did not have an impregnable fortune to
throw into the breach, even though it carried on such a far-reaching
business and although its transactions were enormous. And who had even
heard of such a crazily hazardous speculation as Tidemand's fatal plunge
in rye! Everybody could see that now, and everybody pitied or scorned him
according to his individual disposition. Tidemand let them talk; he
worked, calculated, made arrangements, and kept things going. True, he
held in storage an enormous supply of rye which he had bought too high:
but rye was rye, after all; it did not deteriorate or shrink into
nothingness; he sold it steadily at prevailing prices and took his losses
like a man. His misfortunes had not broken his spirits.

He now had to weather the last turn--a demand note from the American
brokers--and for this he required Ole Henriksen's assistance; after that
he hoped to be able to manage unaided. It was his intention to simplify
his business, to reduce it to original dimensions and then gradually
extend it as it should show healthy growth. He would succeed; his head was
still full of plans and he was resourceful as ever.

Tidemand gathered his papers together and went over to Ole's office. It
was Monday. They had both finished their mail and were momentarily
disengaged, but Tidemand had to make a call at the bank; he had arranged
an appointment at five.

As soon as Ole saw him he laid down his pen and arose to meet him. They
still celebrated their meetings in the usual manner; the wine and the
cigars appeared as before; nothing had changed. Tidemand did not want to
disturb; he would rather lend a hand if he could, but Ole refused
smilingly; he had absolutely nothing to do.

Well, Tidemand had brought his usual tale of woe. He was beginning to be a
good deal of a nuisance; he simply came to see Ole whenever there was
anything the matter....

Ole interrupted him with a merry laugh.

"Whatever you do, don't forget to apologise every time!"

Ole signed the papers and said:

"How are things coming out?"

"Oh, about as usual. One day at a time, you know."

"Your wife hasn't moved as yet?"

"Not yet--no. I imagine she has a hard time finding a suitable apartment.
Well, that is her lookout. What I want to say--how is Miss Aagot?"

"All right, I guess; she is out walking. Irgens called for her."

Pause.

Ole said: "You still have all your help?"

"Well, you see, I couldn't fire them all in a minute; they have to have
time to look around for something else. But they are leaving soon; I am
only going to keep one man in the office."

They discussed business matters for a while. Tidemand had ground up a
large quantity of his grain in order to accelerate the sales; he sold and
lost, but he raised money. There was no longer any danger of a
receivership. He had also a little idea, a plan which had begun to ferment
in his brain; but he would rather not mention it until it had been
developed a little more fully. One did not stand knee-deep in schemes day
in and day out without occasionally stumbling over an idea. Suddenly he
said:

"If I could be sure of not offending you I should like to speak to you
about something that concerns yourself only--I don't want to hurt your
feelings, but I have thought a good deal about it. Hm; it is about
Irgens--You should not allow Aagot to go out so much. Miss Aagot walks a
good deal with him lately. It would be all right if you were along; of
course, it is perfectly right as it is--that she should take a walk
occasionally, but--Well, don't be angry because I mention this."

Ole looked at him with open mouth, then he burst out laughing.

"But, friend Andreas, what do you mean? Since when did _you_ begin to
look at people distrustfully?"

Tidemand interrupted him brusquely.

"I only want to tell you that I have never been in the habit of carrying
gossip."

Ole looked at him steadily. What could be the matter with Tidemand? His
eyes had become cold and steely; he put down his glass hard. Gossip? Of
course not. Tidemand did not carry gossip, but his mind must have become
affected.

"Well, you may be right if you mean that this kind of thing may lead to
unpleasant comment, to gossip," Ole said finally. "I really have not given
it a thought, but now you mention it--I will give Aagot a hint the first
opportunity I have."

Nothing further was said on the subject; the conversation swung back to
Tidemand's affairs.

How was it--did he still take his meals in restaurants?

He did for the present. What else could he do? He would have to stick to
the restaurants for a while, otherwise the gossips would finish poor Hanka
altogether. People would simply say that she was to blame if he hadn't
kept house the last few years; no sooner had she departed than Tidemand
again went to housekeeping and stayed at home. Nobody knew what
construction might be put on such things; Hanka did not have too many
friends. Tidemand laughed at the thought that he was fooling the
slanderous tongues so capitally. "She came to see me a couple of days ago;
I was in my office. I thought at first it was some bill-collector, some
dun or other, who knocked at my door; but it was Hanka. Can you guess what
she wanted? She came to give me a hundred crowns! She had probably saved
the money. Of course, you might say that it really was my own money; you
_might_ say that. Still, she could have kept it; but she knew I was a
little pinched--She hasn't gone out at all the last few days; I am at a
loss to know how she is keeping alive. I don't see her, but the maid says
she eats in her room sometimes. She is working, too; she is busy all the
time."

"It wouldn't surprise me at all to see her stay with you. Things may turn
out all right yet."

Tidemand glanced at his friend sharply.

"You believe that? Wasn't it you who once said that I was no glove to be
picked up or thrown away according to some one's fancy? Well, she has
probably no more thought of coming back than I have of accepting her."

And Tidemand rose quickly and said good-bye; he was going to the bank and
had to hurry.

Ole remained lost in contemplation; Tidemand's fate had made him
thoughtful. What had become of Aagot? She had promised to be back in an
hour, and it was much more than two hours since she had left. Of course,
it was all right to take a walk, but.... Tidemand was right. Tidemand had
his own thoughts, he had said; what could he have meant? Suddenly a
thought struck Ole--perhaps Irgens was the destroyer of Tidemand's home,
the slayer of his happiness? A red tie? Didn't Irgens use a red tie once?

Suddenly Ole understood Tidemand's previous significant remark about the
danger of boat-rides in May. Well, well! Come to think of it, Aagot
_had_ really seemed to lose the desire to be with him in the office
early and late; instead, she took a good many walks in good company; she
wanted to view things and places in this good company.... Hadn't she once
expressed a regret that he was not a poet? Still, she had apologised for
that remark with such sweet and regretful eagerness; it was a thoughtless
jest. No; Aagot was innocent as a child; still, for his sake, she might
refuse an occasional invitation from Irgens....

Another long hour went by before Aagot returned. Her face was fresh and
rosy, her eyes sparkling. She threw her arms around Ole's neck; she always
did that when she had been with Irgens. Ole's misgivings dissolved and
vanished in this warm embrace; how could he reproach her now? He only
asked her to stay around the house a little more--for his sake. It was
simply unbearable to be without her so long; he could do nothing but think
of her all the time.

Aagot listened quietly to him; he was perfectly right; she would remember.

"And perhaps I might as well ask another favour of you: please try to
avoid Irgens's company a little more, just a little more. I don't mean
anything, you know; but it would be better not to give people the least
cause for talk. Irgens is my friend, and I am his, but--Now, don't mind
what I have said--"

She took his head in both her hands and turned his face toward her. She
looked straight into his eyes and said:

"Do you doubt that I love you, Ole?"

He grew confused; he was too close to her. He stammered and took a step
backward.

"Love me? Ha, ha, you silly girl! Did you think I was chiding you? You
misunderstood me; I thought only of what people might say; I want to
protect you from gossip. But it is silly of me; I should have said
nothing--you might even take it into your head to avoid going out with
Irgens in the future! And that would never do; then people would surely
begin to wonder. No; forget this and act as if nothing had been said;
really, Irgens is a rare and a remarkable man."

However, she felt the need of explaining matters: she went just as gladly
with anybody else as with Irgens; it had only happened that he had asked
her. She admired him; she would not deny that, and she was not alone in
that; she pitied him a little, too; imagine, he had applied for a subsidy
and had been refused! She felt sorry for him, but that was all....

"Say no more about it!" cried Ole. "Let everything remain as it is--" It
was high time to think a little of the wedding; it was not too early to
make definite arrangements. As soon as he returned from that trip to
England he would be ready. And he thought it would be best for her to go
home to Torahus while he was away; when everything was in order he would
come up for her. Their wedding trip would have to be postponed until
spring; he would be too busy until then.

Aagot smiled happily and agreed to everything. A vague, inexplicable wish
had sprung up within her: she would have liked to remain in the city until
he should return from England; then they could have gone to Torahus
together. She did not know when or where this strange desire had been born
in her, and it was, for that matter, not sufficiently clear or definite to
be put in words; she would do as Ole wished. She told Ole to make haste
and return; her eyes were open and candid; she spoke to him with one arm
on his shoulder and the other resting on the desk.

And he had presumed to give _her_ a hint!



IV


Over a week went by before Irgens turned up again. Had he become
suspicious? Or had he simply tired of Aagot? However, he entered Ole's
office one afternoon; the weather was clear and sunny, but it was blowing
hard and the dust whirled through the streets in clouds and eddies. He was
in doubt whether Miss Aagot would want to go out on such a day, and for
this reason he said at once:

"It is a gloriously windy day, Miss Aagot; I should like to take you up on
the hills, up to the high places! You have never seen anything like it;
the town is shrouded in dust and smoke."

At any other time Ole would have said no; it was neither healthy nor
enjoyable to be blown full of dust. But now he wanted to show Aagot that
he was not thinking of their recent conversation.... Certainly; run
along! Really, she ought to take this walk.

And Aagot went.

"It is an age since I have seen you," said Irgens.

"Yes," she said, "I am busy nowadays. I am going home soon."

"You are?" he asked quickly and stopped.

"Yes. I am coming back, though."

Irgens had become thoughtful.

"I am afraid it is blowing a little too hard, after all," he said. "We can
hardly hear ourselves think. Suppose we go to the Castle Park? I know a
certain place--"

"As you like," she said.

They found the place; it was sheltered and isolated. Irgens said:

"To be entirely candid, it was not my intention to drag you up into the
hills to-day. The truth of the matter is that I was afraid you would not
care to come; that is the reason I said what I said. For I _had_ to
see you once more."

Pause.

"Really--I have ceased to wonder at anything you say."

"But think--it is ten days since I have seen you! That is a long, a very
long time."

"Well--that is not altogether my fault--But don't let us talk about it any
more," she added quickly. "Rather tell me--why do you still act toward me
in this manner? It is wrong of you. I have told you that before. I should
like to be friends with you, but--"

"But no more. I understand. However, that is hardly sufficient for one who
is distracted with suffering, you know. No, you do not know; you have
never known. Ever and ever one must circle around the forbidden; it
becomes a necessity continually to face one's fate. If, for instance, I
had to pay for a moment like this with age-long wreck and ruin, why, I
would gladly pay the price. I would rather be with you here one brief
moment, Miss Aagot, than live on for years without you."

"Oh, but--It is too late now, you know. Why talk about it, then? You only
make it so much harder for us both."

He said, slowly and emphatically:

"No, it is not too late."

She looked at him steadily and rose to her feet; he, too, got up; they
walked on. Immersed in their own thoughts, without conscious realisation
of what they were doing, walking slowly, they made the circuit of the park
and returned to their sheltered nook. They sat down on the same bench.

"We are walking in a circle," he said. "That is the way I am circling
around you."

"Listen," she said, and her eyes were moist, "this is the last time I
shall be with you, probably. Won't you be nice? I am going home, you know,
very soon now."

But just as he was preparing to answer her out of the fullness of his
heart somebody had to pass their seat. It was a lady. In one hand she
carried a twig with which she struck her skirt smartly for every step she
took. She approached them slowly; they saw that she was young. Irgens knew
her; he got up from his seat, took off his hat, and bowed deeply.

And the lady passed blushingly by.

Aagot asked:

"Who was that?"

"Only my landlady's daughter," he said. "You told me to be nice. Yes,
dearest--"

But Aagot wanted further information concerning this lady. So they lived
in the same house? What was she doing? What kind of a person was his
landlady?

And Irgens answered her fully. Just as if she were a child whose curiosity
had been aroused by the merest chance occurrence, Aagot made him tell her
everything he knew concerning these strange people in Thranes Road No. 5.
She wondered why the lady had blushed; why Irgens had greeted her so
obsequiously. She did not know that this was the way Irgens always paid
his rent--by being particularly gracious to his landlady's family on the
street.

The young lady was good-looking, although she had a few freckles. She was
really pretty when she blushed; didn't he think so?

And Irgens agreed; she was pretty. But she didn't have one only dimple;
there was only one who had that....

Aagot glanced at him quickly; his voice thrilled her; she closed her eyes.
The next instant she felt that she was bending toward him, that he kissed
her. Neither spoke; all her fears were lulled; she ceased to struggle and
rested deliciously in his arms.

And nobody disturbed them. The wind soughed through the trees; it hushed
and soothed.... Somebody came along; they rushed apart and kept their eyes
on the gravelled walk while he passed. Aagot was quite equal to the
occasion; she did not show the slightest trace of confusion. She got up
and began to walk away. And now she began to think; the tears were
dripping from her long lashes, and she whispered, dully, despairingly:

"God forgive me! What have I done?"

Irgens wanted to speak, to say something that would soften her despair. It
had happened because it had to happen. He was so unspeakably fond of her;
she surely knew he was in earnest.... And he really looked as if he were
greatly in earnest.

But Aagot heard nothing; she walked on, repeating these desperate words.
Instinctively she took the way down toward the city. It seemed as if she
were hurrying home.

"Dearest Aagot, listen a moment--"

She interrupted violently:

"Be quiet, will you!"

And he was silent.

Just as they emerged from the park a violent gust tore her hat from her
hair. She made an effort to recover it, but too late; it was blown back
into the park. Irgens caught up with it as it was flattened against a
tree.

She stood still for a moment; then she, too, began to run in pursuit, and
when at last they met by the tree her despair was less poignant. Irgens
handed her the hat, and she thanked him. She looked embarrassed.

As they were walking down the sloping driveway toward the street the wind
made Aagot turn and walk backward a few steps. Suddenly she stopped. She
had discovered Coldevin; he was walking through the park in the direction
of Tivoli. He walked hurriedly, furtively, and as if he did not want to be
seen. So he was still in the city!

And Aagot thought in sudden terror: What if he has seen us! As in a flash
she understood. He was coming from the park; he had wanted to wait until
they should have had time to reach the street; then the accident with her
hat had spoiled his calculations and made him show himself too soon. How
he stooped and squirmed! But he could find no hiding-place on this open
driveway.

Aagot called to him, but the wind drowned her voice. She waved her hand,
but he pretended not to see it; he did not bow. And without another word
to Irgens she ran after him, down the slope. The wind blew her skirts to
her knees; she grabbed her hat with one hand and ran. She caught up with
him by the first cross-street.

He stopped and greeted her as usual--awkwardly, with an expression of
melancholy gladness, moved in every fibre of his being. He was miserably
dressed.

"You--You must not come here and spy on me," she said hoarsely, all out of
breath. She stood before him, breathing hard, angry, with flashing eyes.

His lips parted but he could not speak; he did not know which way to turn.

"Do you hear me?"

"Yes--Have you been sick, perhaps? You haven't been out for two weeks now;
of course, I don't _know_ that you haven't, but--"

His helpless words, his wretched embarrassment, moved her; her anger died
down, she was again on the verge of tears, and, deeply humiliated, she
said:

"Dear Coldevin, forgive me!"

She asked him to forgive her! He did not know what to say to this, but
answered abstractedly:

"Forgive you? We won't speak about that--But why are you crying? I wish I
hadn't met you--"

"But I am glad I met you," she said. "I wanted to meet you; I think of you
always, but I never see you--I long for you often."

"Well, we won't speak about that, Miss Aagot. You know we have settled our
affair. I can only wish you every happiness, every possible happiness."

Coldevin had apparently regained his self-control; he commenced even to
speak about indifferent matters: Was not this a fearful storm? God knew
how the ships on the high seas were faring!

She listened and answered. His composure had its effect on her, and she
said quietly:

"So you are still in the city. I shall not ask you to come and see me;
that would be useless. Ole and I both wanted to ask you to come with us on
a little excursion, but you could not be found."

"I have seen Mr. Henriksen since then. I explained that I was engaged that
Sunday anyway. I was at a party, a little dinner--So everything is well
with you?"

"Yes, thanks."

Again she was seized with fear. What if he had been in the park and seen
everything? She said as indifferently as she could: "See how the trees are
swaying in the park! I suppose, though, there must be sheltered places
inside."

"In the park? I don't know. I haven't been there--But your escort is
waiting for you; isn't it Irgens?"

Thank God, she was saved! He had not been in the park. She heard nothing
else. Irgens was getting tired of this waiting, but she did not care. She
turned again to Coldevin.

"So you have seen Ole since the excursion? I wonder why he hasn't
mentioned it to me."

"Oh, he cannot remember everything. He has a lot to think of, Miss Aagot;
a great deal. He is at the head of a big business; I was really surprised
when I saw how big it is. Wonderful! A man like him must be excused if he
forgets a little thing like that. If you would permit me to say a word, he
loves you better than anybody else! He--Please remember that! I wanted so
much to say this to you!"

These few words flew straight to her heart. In a flash she saw the image
of Ole, and she exclaimed joyously:

"Yes, it is true! Oh, when I think of everything--I am coming!" she called
to Irgens and waved her hand at him.

She said good-bye to Coldevin and left him.

She seemed to be in a great hurry; she asked Irgens to pardon her for
having kept him waiting, but she walked on rapidly.

"Why this sudden haste?" he asked.

"Oh, I must get home. What a nasty wind!"

"Aagot!"

She shot him a swift glance; his voice had trembled; she felt a warm glow
throughout her being. No, she couldn't make herself colder than she was;
her eyes drooped again and she leaned toward him; her arm brushed his
sleeve.

He spoke her name again with infinite tenderness, and she yielded.

"Give me a little time, please! Whatever shall I do? I will love you if
you will only let me alone now."

He was silent.

Finally they reached the last crossing. Ole Henriksen's house could be
seen in the distance. The sight of that house seemed to bring her to her
senses. Whatever could she have said? Had she promised anything? No, no,
nothing! And she said with averted eyes:

"That which has happened to-day--your having kissed me--I regret it; God
knows I do! I grieve over it--"

"Then pronounce the sentence!" he answered briskly.

"No, I cannot punish you, but I give you my hand in promise that I will
tell Ole if you ever dare do that again."

And she gave him her hand.

He took it, pressed it; he bent over it, and kissed it repeatedly,
defiantly, right below her own windows. Covered with confusion, she
finally succeeded in opening the door and escaping up the stairs.



V


Ole Henriksen received a telegram which hastened his departure for London.
For twenty-four hours he worked like a slave to get through--wrote and
arranged, called at the banks, instructed his clerks, gave orders to his
chief assistant, who was to be in charge during his absence. The Hull
steamer was loading; it was to sail in a couple of hours. Ole Henriksen
did not have any too much time.

Aagot went with him from place to place, sad and faithful. She was
labouring under suppressed emotion. She did not say a word so as not to
disturb him, but she looked at him all the time with moist eyes. They had
arranged that she should go home the next morning on the first train.

Old Henriksen shuffled back and forth, quiet and silent; he knew that his
son needed to hurry. Every once in a while a man would come up from the
dock with reports from the steamer; now there was only a shipment of
whale-oil to load, then she would start. It would take about
three-quarters of an hour. At last Ole was ready to say farewell. Aagot
only had to put on her wraps; she would stay with him to the last.

"What are you thinking of, Aagot?"

"Oh, nothing. But I wish you were well back again, Ole."

"Silly little girl! I am only going to London," he said, forcing a gaiety
he did not feel. "Don't you worry! I shall be back in no time." He put his
arm around her waist and caressed her; he gave her the usual pet names:
Little Mistress, dear little Mistress! A whistle sounded; Ole glanced at
his watch; he had fifteen minutes left. He had to see Tidemand a moment.

As soon as he entered Tidemand's office he said: "I am going to London. I
want you to come over occasionally and give the old man a lift. Won't
you?"

"Certainly," said Tidemand. "Are you not going to sit down, Miss Aagot?
For you are not departing, I hope?"

"Yes, to-morrow," answered Aagot.

Ole happened to think of the last quotations. Rye was going up again. He
congratulated his friend warmly.

Yes, prices were better; the Russian crops hadn't quite come up to
expectations; the rise was not large, but it meant a great deal to
Tidemand with his enormous stores.

"Yes, I am keeping afloat," he said happily, "and I can thank you for
that. Yes, I can--" And he told them that he was busy with a turn in tar.
He had contracts from a house in Bilbao. "But we will talk about this when
you get back. _Bon voyage_!"

"If anything happens, wire me," said Ole.

Tidemand followed the couple to his door. Both Ole and Aagot were moved.
He went to the window and waved to them as they passed; then he went back
to his desk and worked away with books and papers. A quarter of an hour
passed. He saw Aagot return alone; Ole had gone.

Tidemand paced back and forth, mumbling, figuring, calculating every
contingency regarding this business in tar. He happened to see a long
entry in the ledger which was lying open on his desk. It was Irgens's
account. Tidemand glanced at it indifferently; old loans, bad debts, wine
and loans, wine and cash. The entries were dated several years back; there
were none during the last year. Irgens had never made any payments; the
credit column was clean. Tidemand still remembered how Irgens used to joke
about his debts. He did not conceal that he owed his twenty thousand; he
admitted it with open and smiling face. What could he do? He had to live.
It was deplorable that circumstances forced him into such a position. He
wished it were different and he would have been sincerely grateful if
anybody had come along and paid his debts, but so far nobody had offered
to do that. Well, he would say, that could not be helped; he would have to
carry his own burdens. Fortunately, most of his creditors were people with
sufficient culture and delicacy to appreciate his position; they did not
like to dun him; they respected his talent. But occasionally it would
happen that a tailor or a wine-dealer would send him a bill and as like as
not spoil an exquisite mood. He simply must open his door whenever anybody
knocked, even if he were just composing some rare poem. He had to answer,
to expostulate: What, another bill? Well, put it there, and I will look at
it some time when I need a piece of paper. Oh, it is receipted? Well, then
I will have to refuse to accept it; I never have receipted bills lying
round. Take it back with my compliments....

Tidemand walked back and forth. An association of ideas made him think of
Hanka and the divorce. God knows what she was waiting for; she kept to
herself and spent all her time with the children, sewing slips and dresses
all day long. He had met her on the stairs once; she was carrying some
groceries in a bundle; she had stepped aside and muttered an excuse. They
had not spoken to each other.

What could she be thinking of? He did not want to drive her away, but this
could not continue. He was at a loss to understand why she took her meals
at home; she never went to a restaurant. Dear me, perhaps she had no more
money! He had sent the maid to her once with a couple of hundred crowns--
they could not last for ever! He glanced in his calendar and noticed that
it was nearly a month since he had had that settlement with Hanka; her
money must have been used up long ago. She had probably even bought things
for the children with that money.

Tidemand grew hot all of a sudden. At least _she_ should never lack
anything; thank God, one wasn't a pauper exactly! He took out all the
money he could spare, left the office, and went up-stairs. The maid told
him that Hanka was in her own little room, the middle room facing the
street. It was four o'clock.

He knocked and entered.

Hanka sat at the table, eating. She rose quickly.

"Oh--I thought it was the maid," she stammered. Her face coloured and she
glanced uneasily at the table. She began to clear away, to place napkins
over the dishes. She moved the chairs and said again and again: "I did not
know--everything is so upset--"

But he asked her to excuse his abrupt entrance. He only wanted to--she
must have been in need of money, of course she must; it couldn't be
otherwise; he wouldn't hear any more about it. Here--he had brought a
little for her present needs. And he placed the envelope on the table.

She refused to accept it. She had plenty of money left. She took out the
last two hundred crowns he had sent her and showed him the bills. She even
wanted to return them.

He looked at her in amazement. He noticed that her left hand was without
the ring. He frowned and asked:

"What has become of your ring, Hanka?"

"It isn't the one you gave me," she answered quickly. "It is the other
one. That doesn't matter."

"I did not know you had been obliged to do that, or I would long ago--"

"But I was not obliged to do it; I wanted to. You see I have plenty of
money. But it does not matter in the least, for I still have _your_
ring."

"Well, whether it is my ring or not, you have not done me a favour by
this. I want you to keep your things. I am not so altogether down and out,
even if I have had to let some of my help go."

She bowed her head. He walked over to the window; when he turned back he
noticed that she was looking at him; her eyes were candid and open. He
grew confused and turned his back to her again. No, he could not speak to
her of moving now; let her stay on awhile if she wanted to. But he would
at least try to persuade her to cease this strange manner of living; there
was no sense in that; besides, she was getting thin and pale.

"Don't be offended, but ought you not--Not for my sake, of course, but for
your own--"

"Yes, I know," she interrupted, afraid of letting him finish; "time
passes, and I haven't moved yet."

He forgot what he intended to say about her housekeeping eccentricities;
he caught only her last words.

"I cannot understand you. You have had your way; nothing binds you any
more. You can be Hanka Lange now as much as you like; you surely know that
I am not holding you back."

"No," she answered. She rose and took a step toward him. She held out her
hand to him in a meaningless way, and when he did not take it, she dropped
it to her side limply, with burning cheeks. She sank into her chair again.

"No, you are not holding me back--I wanted to ask you--Of course, I have
no right to expect that you will let me, but if you would--if I could
remain here awhile yet? I would not be as I was before--I have changed a
good deal, and so have you. I cannot say what I want to--"

His eyes blurred suddenly. What did she mean? For a moment he faltered;
then he buttoned his coat and straightened his shoulders. Had he, then,
suffered in vain during all these weary days and nights? Hardly! He would
prove it now. Hanka was sitting there, but evidently she was beside
herself; he had excited her by calling on her so "unexpectedly".

"Don't excite yourself, Hanka. Perhaps you are saying what you do not
mean."

A bright, irrepressible hope flamed up within her.

"Yes," she exclaimed, "I mean every word! Oh, if you could forget what I
have been, Andreas? If you would only have pity on me! Take me back; be
merciful! I have wanted to come back for more than a month now, come back
to you and to the children; I have stood here behind the curtains and
watched you when you went out! The first time I really saw you was that
night on the yacht--do you remember? I had never seen you until then. You
stood by the tiller. I saw you against the sky; your hair was a little
grey around the temples. I was so surprised when I saw you. I asked you if
you were cold. I did it so you would speak to me! I know--time passed, but
during all these weeks I have seen nobody but you--nobody! I am four and
twenty years old, and have never felt like this before. Everything you do,
everything you say--And everything the little ones do and say. We play and
laugh, they cling to my neck.... I follow you with my eyes. See, I have
cut a little hole in the curtain so that I can see you better. I can see
you all the way to the end of the street. I can tell your steps whenever
you walk down-stairs. Punish me, make me suffer, but do not cast me off!
Simply to be here gives me a thousand joys, and I am altogether different
now--"

She could hardly stop; she continued to speak hysterically; at times her
voice was choked with emotion. She rose from the chair. She smiled while
the tears rained down her face. Her voice trailed off into inarticulate
sounds.

"For Heaven's sake, be calm!" he exclaimed abruptly, and his own tears
were falling as he spoke. His face twitched. He was furious because he
could not control himself better. He stood there and snapped out his
words. He could not find the ones he sought. "You could always make me do
whatever you wanted. I am not very clever when it comes to bandying words,
no, indeed! The clique knows how to talk, but I haven't learned the art--
Forgive me, I did not mean to hurt you. But if you mean that you want me
to take somebody else's place now--If you want me as a successor--Of
course, I do not know, but I ask. You say you want to come back now. But
_how_ do you come back? Oh, I don't want to know; go in God's name!"

"No, you are right. I simply wanted to ask you--I had to. I have been
unfaithful to you, yes. I have done everything I shouldn't do,
everything--"

"Well, let us end this scene. You need rest more than anything else."

Tidemand walked to the door. She followed him with wide-open eyes.

"Punish me!" she cried. "I ask you to--have pity! I should be grateful to
you. Don't leave me, I cannot bear to have you go! Do not cast me off; I
have been unfaithful and--But try me once more; try me only a little! Do
you think I might remain here? I don't know--"

He opened the door. She stood still, her eyes dilated. From them shone the
great question.

"Why do you look at me like that? What do you want me to do?" he asked.
"Come to your senses. Do not brood over the past. I will do all I can for
the children. I think that is all you can reasonably ask."

Then she gave up. She stretched her arms out after him as the door closed.
She heard his steps down the stairs. He paused a moment as if uncertain
which way to take. Hanka ran to the window, but she heard his office door
open. Then all was quiet.

Too late! How could she have expected otherwise? Good God, how could she
have expected otherwise! How she had nourished that vain hope night and
day for a whole month! He had gone; he said no, and he went away. Most
likely he even objected to her staying with the children!

Mrs. Hanka moved the following day. She took a room she saw advertised in
the paper, the first room she came across; it was near the Fortress. She
left home in the morning while Tidemand was out. She kissed the children
and wept. She put her keys in an envelope and wrote a line to her husband.
Tidemand found it upon his return; found the keys and this farewell, which
was only a line or two.

Tidemand went out again. He sauntered through the streets, down toward the
harbour. He followed the docks far out. A couple of hours went by, then he
returned the same way. He looked at his watch; it was one o'clock.
Suddenly he ran across Coldevin.

Coldevin stood immovable behind a corner and showed only his head. When he
saw Tidemand coming straight toward him he stepped out in the street and
bowed.

Tidemand looked up abstractedly.

And Coldevin asked:

"Pardon me, isn't this Mr. Irgens I see down there--that gentleman in
grey?"

"Where? Oh, yes, it looks like him," answered Tidemand indifferently.

"And the lady who is with him, isn't that Miss Lynum?"

"Perhaps it is. Yes, I fancy that is she."

"But wasn't she going away to-day? It seems to me I heard--Perhaps she has
changed her mind?"

"I suppose she has."

Coldevin glanced swiftly at him. Tidemand looked as if he did not want to
be disturbed. He excused himself politely and walked off, lost in thought.



VI


No, Aagot did not go away as had been arranged. It occurred to her that
she ought to buy a few things for her smaller sisters and brothers. It was
quite amusing to go around and look at the store windows all alone; she
did that all the afternoon, and it was six when at last she was through
and happened to meet Irgens on the street. He relieved her of her parcels
and went with her. Finally they hailed a carriage and took a ride out in
the country. It was a mild and quiet evening.

No, she must not go away to-morrow. What good would that do? One day more
or less didn't matter. And Irgens confessed frankly that he was not very
flush at present, or he would have accompanied her.... If not in the same
compartment, at least on the same train. He wanted to be near her to the
very last. But he was too poor, alas!

Wasn't it a crying shame that a man like him should be so hard up? Not
that she would have allowed him to come, but.... How it impressed her that
he so frankly told her of his poverty!

"Besides, I am not sure that my life is safe here any more," he said
smilingly. "Did you tell my friend Ole how I acted?"

"It is never too late to do that," she said.

They told the driver to stop. They walked ahead, talking gaily and
happily. He asked her to forgive him his rashness--not that he wanted her
to think that he had forgotten her, or could forget her.

"I love you," he confessed, "but I know it is useless. I have now one
thing left--my pen. I may write a verse or two to you; you must not be
angry if I do. Well, time will tell. In a hundred years everything will be
forgotten."

"I am powerless to change anything," she said.

"No, you are not. It depends, of course--At least, there is nobody else
who can." And he added quickly: "You told me to give you a little time,
you asked me to wait--what did you mean by that?"

"Nothing," she answered.

They walked on. They came into a field. Irgens spoke entertainingly about
the far, blue, pine-clad ridges, about a tethered horse, a workingman who
was making a fence. Aagot was grateful; she knew he did this in order to
maintain his self-control; she appreciated it. He even said with a shy
smile that if she would not think him affected he would like to jot down a
couple of stanzas which just now occurred to him. And he jotted down the
couple of stanzas.

She wanted to see what he wrote. She bent toward him and asked him
laughingly to let her see.

If she really wanted to! It was nothing much, though.

"Do you know," he said, "when you bent toward me and your head was so
close to me, I prayed in my heart that you would remain like that! That is
the reason I first refused to let you see what I had written."

"Irgens," she said suddenly, in a tender voice, "what would happen if I
said yes to you?"

Pause. They looked at each other.

"Then it would happen, of course, that--that you would say no to another."

"Yes--but it is too late now, too late! It is not to be considered--But
if it is any comfort to you to know it, then I can say that you are not
the only one to grieve--"

He took this beautifully. He seized her hand and pressed it silently, with
a happy glance, and he let it go at once.

They walked along the road. They had never been closer to each other. When
they reached the new fence the workman took off his cap. They stopped
before a gate; they looked at each other a moment and turned back. They
did not speak.

They came back to the carriage. During the drive Irgens held all Aagot's
bundles in his arms. He did not move and was not in the least insistent.

She was really touched by his tactful behaviour, and when he finally asked
her to stay another day she consented.

But when the carriage had to be paid for he searched his pockets in vain;
at last he had to ask her to pay the driver herself. She was pleased to be
able to do that; she only wished she had thought of it at once. He had
looked quite crestfallen.

They met each other early the next day. They walked along the docks,
talking together in low voices, trembling with suppressed feeling. Their
eyes were full of caresses; they walked close to each other. When,
finally, Irgens caught sight of Coldevin standing half hidden behind a
corner, he did not mention his discovery with a single syllable in order
not to distress her. He said simply:

"What a pity you and I are not ordinary working people now! We seem to
attract attention; people are for ever staring at us. It would be
preferable to be less prominent."

They spoke about seeing each other at the Grand in the evening. It was
quite a while since she had been there; she had really had few pleasures
of late. Suddenly he said:

"Come and go up to my place. There we can sit and talk in peace and
quiet."

"But would that do?"

Why not? In broad daylight? There was absolutely no reason why she
shouldn't. And he would always, always have the memory of her visit to
treasure.

And she went with him, timid, fearful, but happy.



FINALE



I


Milde and Gregersen walked down the street together. They talked about
Milde's portrait of Paulsberg which had been bought by the National
Galleries; about the Actor Norem, who, together with a comrade, had been
found drunk in a gutter and had been arrested; about Mrs. Hanka, who was
said at last to have left her husband. Was anything else to be expected?
Hadn't she endured it for four long years down in that shop? They asked
each other for her address; they wanted to congratulate her; she must know
that they fully sympathised with her. But none of them knew her address.

They were deeply interested in the situation. It had come to this that
Parliament had been dissolved without having said the deciding word,
without having said anything, in fact. The _Gazette_ had advised
against radical action at the last moment. The paper had talked about the
seriousness of assuming responsibilities, about the unwisdom of a
straightforward challenge.

"What the devil can we do--with our army and navy?" said Gregersen with
deep conviction. "We shall simply have to wait."

They went into the Grand. Ojen was there with his two close-cropped poets.
He was speaking about his latest prose poems: "A Sleeping City,"
"Poppies," "The Tower of Babel." Imagine the Tower of Babel--its
architecture! And with a nervous gesture he drew a spiral in the air.

Paulsberg and his wife arrived; they moved the tables together and formed
a circle. Milde stood treat; he still had money left from the first half
of the subsidy. Paulsberg attacked Gregersen at once because of the
_Gazette's_ change of front. Hadn't he himself, a short time ago,
written a rather pointed article in the paper? Had they entirely forgotten
that? How could he reconcile this with their present attitude? It would
soon be a disgrace for an honest man to see his name in that sheet.
Paulsberg was indignant and said so without mincing words.

Gregersen had no defence. He simply answered that the _Gazette_ had
fully explained its position, had given reasons....

"What kind of reasons?" Paulsberg would show them how shallow they were.
"Waiter, the _Gazette_ for to-day!"

While they waited for the paper even Milde ventured to say that the
reasons were anything but convincing. They consisted of vague vapourings
about the easterly boundary, the unpreparedness of the army, even
mentioning foreign intervention....

"And fifteen minutes ago you yourself agreed with the _Gazette_
unqualifiedly," said Gregersen.

Paulsberg commenced reading from the _Gazette_, paragraph after
paragraph. He laughed maliciously. Wasn't it great to hear a paper like
the _Gazette_ mention the word responsibility? And Paulsberg threw
the paper aside in disgust. No; there ought to be at least a trace of
honesty in our national life! This sacrifice of principle for the sake of
expediency was degrading, to say the least.

Grande and Norem entered, with Coldevin between them. Coldevin was
talking. He nodded to the others and finished what he was saying before he
paused. The Attorney, this peculiar nonentity, who neither said nor did
anything himself, took a wicked pleasure in listening to this uncouth
person from the backwoods. He had happened upon Coldevin far up in Thranes
Road; he had spoken to him, and Coldevin had said that he was going away
soon, perhaps to-morrow. He was going back to Torahus; he was mainly going
in order to resign his position; he had accepted a situation farther
north. But in that case Grande had insisted that they empty a glass
together, and Coldevin had finally come along. They had met Norem outside.

Coldevin, too, spoke about the situation; he accused the young because
they had remained silent and accepted this last indignity without a
protest. God help us, what kind of a youth was that? Was our youth, then,
_entirely_ decadent?

"It looks bad for us again," said Milde in a stage whisper.

Paulsberg smiled.

"You will have to grin and bear it--Let us get toward home, Nikoline. I am
not equal to this."

And Paulsberg and his wife left.



II


Coldevin looked very shabby indeed. He was in the same suit he wore when
he came to town; his hair and beard were shaggy and unkempt.

The Journalist brought him over to the table. What did he want? Only a
glass of beer?

Coldevin glanced around him indifferently. It would seem that he had had a
hard time. He was thin to emaciation and his eyes shone through dark,
shadowy rings. He drank his beer greedily. He even said it was a long time
since a glass of beer had tasted better. Perhaps he was hungry, too.

"To return to the matter under discussion," said the Attorney. "One cannot
affirm offhand that we are floating on the battered hull. One must not
forget to take the young Norway into consideration."

"No," answered Coldevin, "one should never affirm anything offhand. One
must try to reach the basic reason for every condition. And this basic
reason might just be--as I have said--our superstitious faith in a power
which we do not possess. We have grown so terribly modest in our demands;
why is it? Might this not lie at the very root of our predicament? Our
power is theoretical; we talk, we intoxicate ourselves in words, but we do
not act. The fancy of our youth turns to literature and clothes; its
ambition goes no further, and it is not interested in other things. It
might, for instance, profitably take an interest in our business life."

"Dear me, how you know everything!" sneered the Journalist.

But Milde nudged him secretly and whispered: "Leave him alone! Let him
talk. He, he! He really believes what he says; he trembles with eagerness
and conviction. He is a sight in our day and generation!"

The Attorney asked him:

"Have you read Irgens's latest book?"

"Yes, I have read it. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, simply because I am at a loss to understand how you can have such a
poor opinion of our youth when you know its production. We have writers of
rank--"

"Yes--but, on the other hand, there is in your circle a young man who has
lost heavily in rye," answered Coldevin. "I am more interested in him. Do
you know what this man is doing? He is not crushed or broken by his loss.
He is just now creating a new article of export; he has undertaken to
supply a foreign enterprise with tar, Norwegian tar. But you do not
mention his name."

"No; I must confess that my knowledge of Norwegian tar is limited, but--"

"There may be nothing lacking in your knowledge, Mr. Attorney, but you
have possibly too little sympathy for commerce and the creation of values.
On the other hand, you are thoroughly up to date as far as the aesthetic
occurrences are concerned; you have heard the latest prose poem. We have
so many young writers; we have Ojen, and we have Irgens, and we have
Paulsberg, and we have many more. That is the young Norway. I see them on
the streets occasionally. They stalk past me as poets should stalk past
ordinary people. They are brimful of new intentions, new fashions. They
are fragrant with perfume--in brief, there is nothing lacking. When they
show up everybody else is mute: 'Silence! The poet speaks.' The papers are
able to inform their readers that Paulsberg is on a trip to Honefos. In a
word--"

But this was too much for Gregersen. He himself had written the news notes
about Paulsberg's trip to Honefos. He shouted:

"But you have the most infernal way of saying insolent things! You look as
if you were saying nothing of consequence--"

"I simply cannot understand why you lose your temper," said Milde
tranquilly, "when Paulsberg himself told us to grin and bear it!"

Pause.

"In a word," resumed Coldevin, "the people do their duty, the papers do
their duty. Our authors are not ordinary, readable talents; no, they are
flaming pillars of fire; they are being translated into German! They
assume dimensions. This, of course, can be repeated so often that people
at last believe it; but such a self-delusion is very harmful. It makes us
complacent, it perpetuates our insignificance."

Gregersen plays a trump card:

"But tell me, you--I don't remember your name:--do you know the story of
Vinje and the potato? I always think of that when I hear you speak. You
are so immensely unsophisticated; you are from the country, and you think
you can amaze us. You have not the slightest suspicion that your opinions
are somewhat antiquated. Your opinions are those of the self-taught man.
Once Vinje began to ponder over the ring in a newly cut, raw potato; being
from the country, you, at least, must know that there in springtime,
often, is a purple figure in a potato. And Vinje was so interested in this
purple outline that he sat down and wrote a mathematical thesis about it.
He took this to Fearnley in the fond belief that he had made a great
discovery. 'This is very fine,' said Fearnley; 'it is perfectly correct.
You have solved the problem. But the Egyptians knew this two thousand
years ago--' They knew it ages ago, ha, ha, ha! And I am always reminded
of this story when I hear you speak! Don't be offended, now!"

Pause.

"No, I am not offended in the least," said Coldevin. "But if I understand
you correctly, then we agree. I am only saying what you already know?"

But Gregersen shook his head in despair and turned to Milde.

"He is impossible," he said. He emptied his glass and spoke again to
Coldevin, spoke in a louder voice than necessary; he bent toward him and
shouted: "For Heaven's sake, man, don't you understand that your opinions
are too absurd--the opinions of the self-taught man? You think that what
you say is news to us. We have heard it for ages; we know it, and we think
it ridiculous. Isch! I don't want to talk to you!"

And Gregersen got up and walked unsteadily away. It was six o'clock. The
three men who remained at the table sat silently a few moments. At last
Coldevin said:

"There goes Journalist Gregersen. That man has my unqualified pity and
sympathy."

"He would hardly accept it," said Milde with a laugh.

"But he cannot avoid it. I think often of these writers for the daily
press, these faithful workers who accomplish more in a month than the
poets wring from themselves during a year. They are often married men in
poor circumstances; their fate is not too pleasant at best. They have
probably dreamed about a freer and richer life than this slavery in an
office where their best efforts are swallowed up in anonymity, and where
they often have to repress themselves and their convictions in order to
keep their jobs. It might be well if these men were given the approbation
they deserved; it might even be profitable; it might bear fruit in a free
and honest newspaper literature. What have we at present? An irresponsible
press, lacking convictions and clearly defined principles, its policy
dictated by personal preferences--by even worse motives. No; a truly great
journalist ranks far higher than a poet."

Just then the door opened and Irgens and Miss Aagot entered. They stopped
by the door and looked around; Aagot showed no sign of embarrassment, but
when she caught sight of Coldevin, she stepped forward quickly, with a
smile on lips that were already opened as if to speak. Suddenly she
stopped. Coldevin stared at her and fumbled mechanically at his buttons.

This lasted a few moments. Irgens and Aagot went over to the table, shook
hands, and sat down. Aagot gave Coldevin her hand. Milde wanted to know
what they would have. He happened to be flush. "Order anything you like--"

"You come too late," he said smilingly. "Coldevin has entertained us
splendidly."

Irgens looked up. He shot a swift glance at Coldevin and said, while he
lit a cigar:

"I have enjoyed Mr. Coldevin's entertainment once before in Tivoli, I
believe. This will have to satisfy me for the present."

It was only with difficulty that Irgens succeeded in hiding his
displeasure. This was the second time to-day he had seen Coldevin; he had
observed him outside his lodgings in Thranes Road No. 5. He had not been
able to get Aagot out until this infernal fellow had disappeared. By a
happy chance Grande had passed by; otherwise he would probably have been
there still. And how had he acted? He had stood like a guard, immovable;
Irgens had been furious. He had had the greatest difficulty in keeping
Aagot from the windows. If she had happened to glance out she must have
discovered him. He had made no effort to conceal himself. One would think
he had stood there with the avowed intention of being seen, in order to
keep the couple in a state of siege.

Now he appeared slightly embarrassed. He fingered his glass nervously and
looked down. But suddenly it seemed as if Irgens's insolence had roused
him; he said bluntly and without connection with what had been discussed
before:

"Tell me one thing--Or, let me rather say it myself: These poets are
turning everything upside down; nobody dares to grumble. An author might
owe in unsecured debts his twenty thousand--what of it? He is unable to
pay, that is all. What if a business man should act in this manner? What
if he were to obtain wine or clothes on false promises of payment? He
would simply be arrested for fraud and declared bankrupt. But the authors,
the artists, these talented superbeings who suck the country's blood like
vampires to the nation's acclaim--who would dare take such measures with
them? People simply discuss the scandal privately and laugh and think it
infernally smart that a man can owe his twenty thousand--"

Milde put his glass down hard and said:

"My good man, this has gone far enough!"

That splendid fellow Milde seemed all at once to have lost his patience.
While he was sitting alone with the Attorney and the Actor he had found
the miserable Tutor's bitter sarcasms amusing, but no sooner had one of
the Authors appeared than he felt outraged and struck his fist on the
table. It was Milde's excellent habit always to await reinforcements.

Coldevin looked at him.

"Do you think so?" he said.

"I'll be damned if I don't."

Coldevin had undoubtedly spoken intentionally. He had even addressed his
remarks very plainly. Irgens bit his moustache occasionally.

But now Norem woke up. He understood that something was happening before
his dull eyes, and he began to mix in, to declaim about business morals.
It was the rottenest morality on earth, usury--a morality for Jews! Was it
right to demand usurious interest? Don't argue with him. He knew what he
was talking about. Ho! business morals! The rottenest morals on earth....

Meanwhile the Attorney was talking across the table to Irgens and Miss
Aagot. He told them how he had come across Coldevin.

"I ran across him a moment ago up your way, Irgens, in Thranes Road, right
below your windows. I brought him along. I couldn't let the fellow stand
there alone--"

Aagot asked quickly, with big, bewildered eyes:

"Thranes Road, did you say? Irgens, he was standing below your windows!"

Her heart was fluttering with fear. Coldevin observed her fixedly; he made
sure that she should notice he was staring straight at her.

Meanwhile Norem continued his impossible tirade. So it was charged that
the people as a whole was corrupt, that its men and women were debased
because they honoured literature and art. "Ho! you leave art alone, my
good man, and don't you bother about that! Men and women corrupt!--"

Coldevin seized this chance remark by the hair and replied. He did not
address Norem; he looked away from him. He spoke about something that
evidently was vitally important in his eyes. He addressed himself to
nobody in particular, and yet his words were meant for some one. It was
hardly correct to say that men and women were corrupt; they had simply
reached a certain degree of hollowness; they had degenerated and grown
small. Shallow soil, anaemic soil, without growth, without fertility! The
women carried on their surface existence. They were not tired of life, but
they did not venture much either. How could they put up any stakes? They
had none to put up. They darted around like blue, heatless flames; they
nibbled at everything, joys and sorrows, and they did not realise that
they had grown insignificant. Their ambitions did not soar; their hearts
did not suffer greatly; they beat quite regularly, but they did not swell
more for one thing than for another, more for one person than for another.
What had our young women done with their proud eyes? Nowadays they looked
on mediocrity as willingly as on superiority. They lost themselves in
admiration over rather every-day poetry, over common fiction. Some time
ago greater and prouder things were needed to conquer them. There was a
page here and there in Norway's history to prove that. Our young women had
modified their demands considerably; they couldn't help it; their pride
was gone, their strength sapped. The young woman had lost her power, her
glorious and priceless simplicity, her unbridled passion, her brand of
breed. She had lost her pride in the only man, her hero, her god. She had
acquired a sweet tooth. She sniffed at everything and gave everybody the
willing glance. Love to her was simply the name for an extinct feeling;
she had read about it and at times she had been entertained by it, but it
had never sweetly overpowered her and forced her to her knees; it had
simply fluttered past her like an outworn sound. "But the young woman of
our day does not pretend to all this; alas, no! She is honestly shorn.
There is nothing to do about it; the only thing is to keep the loss within
limits. In a few generations we shall probably experience a renaissance;
everything comes in cycles. But for the present we are sadly denuded. Only
our business life beats with a healthy, strong pulse. Only our commerce
lives its deed-filled life. Let us place our faith in that! From it will
the newer Norway spring!"

These last words seemed to irritate Milde; he took out of his pocketbook a
ten-crown bill which he threw across the table to Coldevin. He said
furiously:

"There--take your money! I had almost forgotten that I owed you this
money, but I trust you understand that you can go now!"

Coldevin coloured deeply. He took the bill slowly.

"You do not thank me very politely for the loan," he said.

"And who has told you that I am a polite man? The main thing is that you
have got your money and that we hope now to be rid of you."

"Well, I thank you; I need it," said Coldevin. The very way in which he
picked up the bill showed plainly that he was not used to handling money.
Suddenly he looked straight at Milde and added:

"I must confess I had not expected you ever to repay this loan."

Milde blazed up, but only for a moment. Even this direct insult did not
make him lose his temper. He swallowed it, mumbled a reply, said finally
that he had not intended to be rude; he would apologise....

But Norem, who sat there drunk and dull, could no longer repress his
amusement. He only saw the comical side of the incident and cried
laughingly:

"Have you touched this fellow, too, Milde? So help me, you can borrow
money from anybody! You are inimitable. Ha, ha! from him, too!"

Coldevin rose.

Aagot got up simultaneously and ran over to him. She took his hand, a prey
to the greatest excitement. She began whispering to him. She led him over
to a window and continued speaking earnestly, in a low voice. They sat
down. There was nobody else around, and she said:

"Yes, yes, you are right; it is true. You were speaking to me; I
understood it only too well; you are right, right, right! Oh, but it is
going to be different! You said that I couldn't, that it was not within my
power; but I can; I will show you! I understand it all now; you have
opened my eyes. Dear, do not be angry with me. I have done a great wrong,
but--"

She wept with dry eyes. She swallowed hard. She sat on the very edge of
the chair in her excitement. He injected a word now and then, nodded,
shook his head when she appeared too disconsolate, and in his confusion he
called her "Aagot, dearest Aagot." She must not apply everything he had
said to herself, not at all. Of course, he had thought of her, too, that
was true; but then he had been mistaken--thank God for that! He had simply
wanted to warn her. She was so young; he, who was older, knew better from
where danger threatened. But now she must forget it and be cheerful.

They continued to speak. Irgens grew impatient and rose. He stretched
himself and yawned as if to indicate that he was going. Suddenly he
remembered something he had forgotten. He walked quickly over to the bar
and got some roasted coffee which he put in his vest pocket.

Milde settled the checks. He flung money around with the greatest
unconcern; then he said good-bye and left. A moment afterward they saw him
bow to a lady outside. He spoke a few words and they walked away through a
side-street. The lady wore a long boa which billowed behind her in the
breeze.

And still Aagot and Coldevin sat there.

"Won't you take me home? Excuse me a moment, I want to--"

She ran over to Irgens's table and took her coat from the chair.

"Are you going?" he asked her in amazement.

"Yes. Ugh--I won't do this any more. Goodbye!"

"What won't you do any more? Don't you want me to take you home?"

"No. And not later either; not to-morrow. No, I am through for good." She
gave Irgens her hand and said good-bye quickly. All the time she looked at
Coldevin and seemed impatient to be off.

"Remember our engagement for to-morrow," Irgens said.



III


Aagot and Coldevin walked together down the street. He said nothing about
his going away, and she didn't know of his intention. She was happy to be
with Coldevin, this phenomenon who irritated everybody with his impossible
harangues. She walked close beside him; her heart was fluttering.

"Forgive me!" she pleaded. "Yes, you must forgive me everything, both that
which has happened before and to-day. A while ago I should have been
afraid to ask you, but no sooner am I with you than I become bold again.
You never reprove me, never. But I haven't done anything wrong to-day--I
mean to-day when I was far up-town; you understand what I mean." And she
looked at him with an open, straightforward glance.

"Are you going back home soon, Miss Aagot?"

"Yes, I am going back at once--Forgive me, Coldevin, and believe me,
believe me--I have done nothing wrong to-day; but I am so sorry, I repent
everything--Blue, heatless flames, without much pride--I am not so stupid
that I do not know whom you had in mind when you said this."

"But, dearest Aagot," he exclaimed in his perplexity, "it was not meant
for you--I didn't mean it at all! And besides, I was mistaken, greatly
mistaken; thank God, _you_ are entirely different. But promise me one
thing, Aagot; promise that you will be a little careful, do! It is none of
my business, of course; but you have fallen in with a crowd--believe me,
they are not your kind of people. Mrs. Tidemand has gained bitter
experience through them."

She glanced at him inquiringly.

"I thought it best to tell you. Mrs. Tidemand, one of the few sterling
personalities in the clique, even she! One from that crowd has destroyed
her, too."

"Is that true?" said Aagot. "Well, I don't care in the least for them;
alas, no! I don't want to remember any of them." And she seized Coldevin's
arm and pressed close to him as if in fear.

This embarrassed him still more. He slowed up a little, and she said with
a smile as she let go his arm:

"I suppose I mustn't do that?"

"H'm. What are you going to do when you get back home? By the way, have
you heard from your fiancé?"

"No, not yet. But I suppose it is too early. Are you afraid of anything
happening to him? Dear me, tell me if you are!"

"No; don't worry! He will get back safe enough."

They stopped at her door and said good-bye. She ascended the few steps
hesitatingly, without even lifting her dress; suddenly she turned, ran
downstairs again, and seized Coldevin's hand.

Without another word she hurried up-stairs and through the door.

He stood still a moment. He heard her steps from inside, then they died
down. And he turned and drifted down the street. He saw and heard nothing
of what happened around him.

Instinctively he walked toward the basement restaurant where he usually
took his meals. He went down and ordered something. Hurriedly he ate
everything that was placed before him; apparently he had not eaten for a
long while. And when he was through he took out the ten-crown bill and
paid his check from that. At the same time he felt in his waistcoat pocket
for a little package, a few crowns in silver--the small amount he had put
aside for his railway ticket, and which he had not dared to touch.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following day, around five, Aagot was walking down toward the docks,
toward the same place where she had walked the day before. Irgens was
already waiting for her.

She hurried toward him and said:

"I came after all, but only to tell you--I won't meet you any more. I
haven't time to talk to you now, but I did not want you to come here and
wait for me."

"Listen, Miss Aagot," he said boldly, "you can't back out now, you know."

"I am not going home with you any more, never. I have learned something.
Why don't you get Mrs. Tidemand to go with you? Why don't you?" Aagot was
pale and excited.

"Mrs. Tidemand?" he asked, startled.

"Yes, I know everything. I have asked questions--Yes, I have thought of it
all night long. Go to Mrs. Tidemand, why don't you?"

He stepped close to her.

"Mrs. Tidemand has not existed for me since I saw you. I haven't seen her
for weeks. I don't even know where she lives."

"Well, it doesn't matter," she said. "I suppose you can look her up. I
won't go home with you, but I can walk with you a few moments."

They walked on. Aagot was quiet now.

"I said I have thought of it all night," she continued. "Of course, not
all night. All day, I meant. Not all the time, I mean--You ought to be
ashamed of yourself! Married ladies! You don't defend yourself very
warmly, Irgens."

"What is the use?"

"No, I suppose you love her." And when he was silent she grew violently
jealous. "You might at least tell me if you love her!"

"I love you," he answered, "I do not lie; it is you and nobody else I
love, Aagot. You can do with me what you like, but it is you." He did not
look at her. He gazed down on the pavement and he wrung his hands
repeatedly.

She felt that his emotion was genuine and she said gently:

"All right, Irgens, I'll believe you. But I won't go home with you."

Pause.

"What has made you so hostile toward me all of a sudden?" he asked. "Is it
this--? He has been your tutor, but I must frankly say that he disgusts
me, dirty and unkempt as he is."

"You will be good enough to speak civilly of Coldevin," she said coldly.

"Well, he is going away to-night, so we shall be rid of him," he said.

She stopped.

"Is he going this evening?"

"So I heard. On the night train."

Was he going? He hadn't mentioned that to her. Irgens had to tell her how
he knew. She was so taken up with this news about Coldevin that she forgot
everything else; perhaps she even felt a sense of relief at the thought
that henceforth she would be free from his espionage. When Irgens touched
her arm lightly she walked mechanically ahead. They went straight to his
rooms. When they stood by the entrance she suddenly recoiled. She said
"No!" repeatedly while she looked at him with staring, bewildered eyes.
But he pleaded with her. Finally he took her arm and led her firmly
inside.

The door slammed behind them....

On the corner Coldevin stood and watched. When the couple disappeared he
stepped forward and walked over to the entrance. He stood there awhile. He
bent forward stiffly as if he were listening. He was much changed. His
face was fearfully drawn and his lips were frozen in a ghastly smile. Then
he sat down on the steps, close by the wall, waiting.

An hour passed by. A tower-clock boomed. His train was not due to leave
for another hour. Half an hour went by. He heard somebody on the stairs.
Irgens came first. Coldevin did not stir; he sat motionless with his back
to the door. Then Aagot appeared. Suddenly she cried out loudly. Coldevin
arose and walked away. He had not looked at her nor had he said a word; he
had simply shown himself--he had been on the spot. He swayed like a man in
a stupor. He turned the very first corner, the frozen smile still on his
lips.

Coldevin walked straight down to the railway station. He bought his ticket
and was ready. The doors were thrown open. He walked out to the
train-shed; a porter came after him with his trunk. His trunk? All right;
he had almost forgotten it. Put it in there, in this empty compartment! He
entered after it had been stowed away; then he collapsed utterly. He sat
in the corner; his gaunt, emaciated body shivered convulsively. In a few
moments he took from his pocketbook a tiny silken bow in the Norwegian
colours and began to tear it to pieces. He sat there quietly and plucked
the threads apart. When he had finished he stared at the shreds with a
fixed, vacant stare. The engine gave a hoarse blast; the train started.
Coldevin opened the window slowly and emptied his hand. And the tiny bits
of red and blue whirled away behind the train, fluttered and sank to the
gravel, to be ground in the dust beneath every man's foot.



IV


It was several days later before Aagot went home. Irgens had not persisted
in vain. He had succeeded, and now he reaped the reward of all his labour.
Aagot was with him continually. She was as much in love with him as she
could be. She clung to his neck.

The days passed by.

Finally a telegram arrived from Ole, and Aagot woke from her trance. The
wire had been sent to Torahus. It reached her after much delay. Ole was in
London.

Well, what was to be done? Ole was in London, but he was not here yet. She
did not remember clearly how he looked. Dark, with blue eyes; tall, with a
stray wisp of hair which always fell across his forehead. Whenever she
thought of him he seemed to belong to an age long past. How long, long it
was since he went away!

The telegram stirred to life again her dormant feelings for the absent
one. She trembled with the old sense of possession. She whispered his name
and blessed him for his goodness. She called him to her, blushing
breathlessly. No, nobody was like him! He did not wrong anybody. He walked
his straightforward way, guileless and upright. How he loved her! Little
mistress, little mistress! His breast was so warm! She grew warm herself
when she nestled close to him. How he could look up from a row of figures
and smile!... Oh, she had not forgotten!...

She packed her belongings resolutely and wanted to go home in spite of
everything. The evening before she left she said good-bye to Irgens, a
protracted good-bye which rent her heart. She was his now, and Ole would
probably get over it. She made up her mind. She would go home and she
would cancel her engagement as soon as Ole returned. What would he say
when he read her letter with the ring enclosed? She writhed at the thought
that she wouldn't be near him to comfort him. She had to strike him from
afar! And thus it had to end!

Irgens was full of tenderness and cheered her as much as he could. They
should not be separated for long. If nothing else turned up he would walk
up to her on his feet! Besides, she could get back to town; she wasn't a
pauper exactly; she even owned a yacht, a real yacht--what more did she
want? And Aagot smiled at this jest and felt relieved.

The door was locked; they were alone. Everything was quiet; they heard
their hearts beat. And they said farewell to each other.

Irgens would not take her to the train. It might give rise to too much
gossip; the town was so small and he was, unfortunately, so well known.
But they would write, write every day; otherwise she would never be able
to endure the separation....

Tidemand was the only one who knew of Aagot's departure and who followed
her to the train. He was paying his usual call to Henriksen's office
during the afternoon and was having his daily chat with the old man. As he
left he met Aagot outside: she was ready to go. Tidemand accompanied her
and carried her valise; her trunk had been sent ahead.

It had rained and the streets were muddy. Aagot said several times:

"What a disagreeable, mournful day!"

They hardly spoke. Aagot simply said:

"It was very kind of you to come with me; otherwise I should have been
altogether alone." And Tidemand noticed that she tried to appear
unconcerned. She smiled, but her eyes were moist.

He, too, smiled and said comfortingly that he was glad she was going to
leave all this mud and filth; now she was going to the country, to cleaner
roads, to purer air. These few words were all they spoke. They stood in
the train-shed beneath the glass vault. It had begun to rain, and they
heard the drops beating on the roof while the engine stood wheezing on the
track. Aagot entered her compartment and gave Tidemand her hand. And in a
sudden desire to be forgiven, to be judged charitably, she said to this
stranger, whom she knew so slightly:

"Good-bye--And do not judge me too harshly!" and she coloured deeply.

"But, child!" he said amazed. He had no time to say more.

She put her fair little face out of the window and nodded as the train
moved along. Her eyes were wet, and she struggled not to break down. She
looked at Tidemand as long as she could see him, then she waved a tiny
handkerchief.

The strange girl! Her unaffected simplicity moved him. He did not stop
waving until the train was out of sight. Not judge her too harshly? He
certainly wouldn't! And if he ever had been tempted to, he would know
better in the future. She had waved to him--almost a stranger! He would be
sure and tell Ole--how that would please him!...

       *        *        *        *        *

Tidemand walked toward his own wharf. He was very busy. He was altogether
taken up with his affairs. His business was steadily growing. He had been
forced to take on several of his old employees. At present he was shipping
tar.

When he had given his orders in the warehouse, he walked over to the
restaurant where he usually took his meals. It was late. He ate hurriedly
and spoke to no one. He was engrossed in thought about a new enterprise he
had in mind. His tar was going to Spain. The rye held firm, with good
prices; he sold steadily, his business began to stretch forth new arms.
There was that new tannery near Torahus. How would it do if one gave a
little thought to a tar-manufacturing plant alongside? He really was going
to speak to Ole about that. He had had it in mind several weeks. He had
even consulted an engineer about it. There were the cuttings and the tops.
If the tannery took the bark, why shouldn't the tar plant take the wood?

Tidemand walked home. It rained steadily.

A few steps from his office entrance he stopped abruptly; then he sidled
quietly into an area-way. He stared straight ahead. His wife was standing
out there in the rain, outside his office. She was gazing, now at his
office windows, now up to the second story. There she stood. He could not
be mistaken, and his breath came in gasps. Once before he had seen her
there. She had circled around in the shadows beneath the street lamps,
just as now. He had called her name in a low voice, and she had
immediately hurried around the street corner without looking back. This
happened a Sunday evening three weeks ago. And now she was here again.

He wanted to step forward. He made a movement and his raincoat rustled.
She glanced around quickly and hurried away. He stood immovable where he
was until she had disappeared.



V


Ole Henriksen returned a week later. He had become uneasy. He had
telegraphed to Aagot again and again, but could get no reply. He finished
up his business in a hurry and returned. But so far was he from suspecting
the true condition of affairs that on the very last afternoon in London he
bought her a little present, a carriage for her fiord pony on Torahus.

And on his desk he found Aagot's letter with her ring enclosed.

Ole Henriksen read the letter almost without grasping its meaning. His
hands commenced to tremble, and his eyes were staring. He went over and
locked the office door, and read the letter once more. It was brief and to
the point; it could not be misunderstood; she gave him back his "freedom."
And there was the ring, wrapped in tissue-paper. No, he could hardly be
uncertain as to the meaning of that letter.

And Ole Henriksen drifted back and forth in his office for several hours.
He placed the letter on his desk and walked with hands tightly clasped
behind him. He took the letter again and read it once more. He was "free"!

He must not think that she did not love him, she had written. She thought
of him as much as ever; yes, more even. She begged his forgiveness a
hundred times every day. But what good was it if she thought of him ever
so much? she continued. She was his no more, it had come to that. But she
had not surrendered at once, nor without a struggle; God knows that she
had loved him so dearly, and that she did not want to belong to anybody
but to him. However, it had gone entirely too far now; she would only ask
him to judge her kindly, though she did not deserve it, and not to grieve
over her.

The letter was dated twice. She had not noticed that. It was written in
Aagot's large, childish hand, and was touching in its simplicity; she had
made several corrections.

Yes, he had understood it clearly; and, besides, there was the ring. After
all, what did _he_ amount to? He was no prominent man, known all over
the country; he was no genius who could interest a girl greatly; he was
just an ordinary toiler, a business man--that was all. He should have
known better than imagine he would be allowed to keep Aagot's heart for
himself. Just see how he had fooled himself! Of course, he attended to his
business and worked conscientiously early and late, but that could not
make people fond of him. There was nothing to say to that. Anyhow, he knew
now why his telegrams had remained unanswered. He ought to have understood
it at once, but he hadn't.... She had gone entirely too far. She said
goodbye and loved somebody else. Nothing could be done about that. If she
loved somebody else, then.... It was probably Irgens--he would get her
after all. Tidemand had been right. It was dangerous with these many
boat-rides and walks; Tidemand had had experience. Well, it was too late
to think of that now. However, one's love could not have been so very
firmly rooted if a walk or two had been enough to break it down....

And suddenly the anger blazed up in the poor fellow. He walked more
rapidly and his forehead flamed. She had gone entirely too far. That was
his reward for the love he had lavished on her! He had knelt before a
hussy. He had let that miserable lover of hers cheat him openly for years!
He could prove it by the ledger--look here--now Aagot's fine friend had
been hard up for ten, now for fifty crowns! And he, Ole Henriksen, had
even been afraid that Aagot some day might chance to see the poet's
account in his books. He had finally put away the ledger, entirely out of
regard for the great man's feelings. It was a most suitable partnership;
they were worthy of each other. The poet had something to write about now,
a splendid subject! Ha, he must not grieve too much over her; she could
not stand that; she might even lose sleep over it! Think of that! But who
had said that he would grieve? She was mistaken. He might have knelt
before her, but he hadn't licked her boots; no, he would hardly be
compelled to take to his bed on account of this. She need not worry; she
need not weep scalding tears on his account. So she had jilted him; she
returned his ring. What of it? But why had she dragged the ring all the
way up to Torahus? Why hadn't she simply left it on his desk and saved the
postage? Good-bye; good riddance! Go to the devil with your silk-lined
deceiver, and never let me hear of you again!...

He wrung his hands in anguish and paced back and forth with long, furious
strides. He would take it like a man. He would fling his own ring in her
face and end the comedy quickly. He stopped at the desk and tore the ring
off his finger, wrapped it up, and put it in an envelope. He wrote the
address in large, brutal letters; his hand trembled violently. Somebody
knocked. He flung the letter into a drawer and closed it hastily.

It was one of his clerks who came to remind him that it was late. Should
he close up?

"Yes, close up. But wait; I am through now; I am going, too. Bring me the
keys."

Nobody should be able to say that he broke down because of a shabby trick
like this. He would show people that he could keep his composure. He might
go to the Grand and celebrate his return with a plain glass of beer! That
would be just the thing. He had no intention of avoiding people. He had a
revolver lying in a desk drawer; but had he wanted to use that, even for
the briefest moment? Had he _thought_ of it even? Not at all. It just
occurred to him now that it might be getting rusty. No, thank God! one was
not exactly weary of life....

Ole Henriksen went to the Grand.

He sat down at a table and ordered his glass of beer. A moment later he
felt somebody slap him on the shoulder. He looked up; it was Milde.

"Good old boy!" shouted Milde. "Are you sitting here without saying a
word? Welcome back! Come over to the window; you will find a couple of the
fellows there."

Ole went over to the window. There were Ojen, Norem, and Gregersen, all of
them with half-empty wine-glasses in front of them. Ojen jumped up and
said pleasantly:

"Welcome home, old man! I am glad to see you again. I have missed you a
good deal. I am coming down to-morrow to see you. There is something I
want to see you about."

Gregersen gave him a finger. Ole took it, sat down, and told the waiter to
bring him his beer.

"What! are you drinking beer? No, beer will never do on this occasion; it
must be wine!"

"Well, drink what you want to. I am drinking beer."

Just then Irgens arrived, and Milde called to him: "Ole is drinking beer,
but we are not going to do that. What do you say?"

Irgens did not show the least sign of embarrassment when he faced Ole; he
barely nodded and said indifferently: "Welcome home!" And Ole looked at
him and noticed that his cuffs were not entirely clean; as a matter of
fact, his dress was not quite up to his usual standard.

But Milde repeated his question: wasn't it a little too commonplace to
drink beer at a double celebration?

"A double celebration?" asked Gregersen.

"Exactly--yes. In the first place, Ole has returned, and that is of the
greatest importance to us at present; I frankly admit that. But I have, in
the second place, just been dispossessed from my studio, and that has also
a certain solemn significance. What do you think? The landlady came and
wanted money. 'Money?' I asked in amazement, and so on and so on. But the
outcome was that I was put out, without notice--only a couple of hours'.
Ha, ha! I have never heard of such a notice. Of course, she had already
given me her ultimatum a month ago; still--I had to leave a couple of
finished canvases. But I think this ought to be celebrated in wine, for
Ole does not care what we drink."

"Of course not; why should I care?" asked Ole.

And the gentlemen drank industriously. They grew well disposed and
cheerful before they took their departure. Irgens was first to leave; then
Ojen followed. Ole remained until they had all gone, all except Norem, who
sat there as usual and slumbered. He had listened to the talk.
Occasionally he had injected a word. He had grown weary and subdued; a
bitter disgust had taken possession of him and made him dully indifferent
to everything.

At last he got up and paid his check.

The waiter halted him.

"Pardon me," he said, "but the wine--"

"The wine?" asked Ole. "I have only had a couple of glasses of beer."

"Yes, but the wine isn't paid for."

So the gentlemen hadn't paid their checks? For a moment the hot anger
blazed up in him again; he was on the point of saying that if they would
send the bill to Torahus it would be paid instantly. But he said: "All
right; I can pay it, I suppose."

But what should he do at home? Go to bed and sleep? If he only could! He
turned into the darkest streets in order to be alone. He was going
homeward, but he swung aside and walked toward the Fortress.

Here he suddenly came across Tidemand. He was standing in front of a dark
gateway gazing at the house opposite. What could Tidemand be doing there?

Ole walked over to him. They looked at each other in surprise.

"I am taking a walk, a little walk," said Tidemand somewhat sheepishly. "I
came by here by accident--Thank goodness, you are back, Ole! Welcome home!
Let us get away from here!"

Tidemand could not get over his surprise. He had not known that Ole was
back. Everything was all right at the office; he had called on the old man
regularly, as he had promised.

"And your sweetheart has gone away," he continued. "I went with her to the
train. She is a darling girl! She was a little upset because she was going
away; she stood there and looked at me with real shining eyes; you know
how she is. And as the train went off she took out her handkerchief and
waved to me--waved so sweetly, just because I had come with her. You ought
to have seen her; she was lovely."

"Well, I am not engaged any more," said Ole in a hollow voice.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ole went into his office. It was late at night. He had walked with
Tidemand a long time and told him everything. He was going to write a
letter to Aagot's parents, respectful and dignified, without reproaches.
He felt he ought to do that.

When he had finished this letter he read Aagot's once more. He wanted to
tear it to pieces and burn it up, but he paused and placed it in front of
him on the desk. It was at least a letter from her, the last. She had sat
there and written to him and thought of him while she wrote. She had held
the paper with her tiny hands, and there her pen had scratched. She had
probably wiped it on something and dipped it and written on. That letter
was for him, for no one else. Everybody had probably been in bed while she
wrote.

He took the ring out of its wrapping and looked at it for a long time. He
was sorry that he had lost his temper and said words which he now
regretted. He took them back, every one. Good-bye, then, Aagot....

And he placed Aagot's last letter with the others.



VI


Ole began to work hard again; he spent practically all his time in his
office. He lost flesh; he did not get out enough; his eyes became absent
and flickering. He was hardly off the wharves or outside the warehouses
for several weeks. Nobody should say that he pined and drooped because his
engagement was cancelled! He worked and minded his own business and was
getting on nicely.

He was getting thin; that was simply because he worked too hard. He hoped
nobody would think it might be due to other causes. There were so many
things to be done since his return from England; he had explained it all
to Tidemand. But he was going to take it a little easier now. He wanted to
get out a little, observe what was doing, amuse himself.

And he dragged Tidemand to theatres and to Tivoli. They took long walks in
the evenings. They arranged to start the tannery and the tar works this
coming spring. Ole was even more enthusiastic than Tidemand; he threw
himself so eagerly into the project that nobody could for a moment harbour
any mistaken notions about his being grief-stricken. He never mentioned
Aagot; she was dead and forgotten.

And Tidemand, too, was getting along comfortably. He had lately re-engaged
his old cook and he took his meals at home now. It was a little lonely.
The dining-room was too large, and there was an empty chair; but the
children carried on and made the most glorious noise throughout the house;
he heard them sometimes clear down in his office. They disturbed him
often, took him away from his work at times; for whenever he heard their
little feet patter on the floors up-stairs and their merry shouts echo
through the rooms he simply had to put down his pen and run up for a
moment. In a few minutes he would come back and throw himself into his
work like an energetic youth.... Yes, Tidemand was getting along famously;
he couldn't deny it. Everything had begun to turn out well for him.

On his way home one evening Tidemand happened to drop in at a grocery
store he supplied with goods. It was entirely by accident. He entered the
store and walked over to the owner who stood behind the counter. Suddenly
he saw his wife at the counter; in front of her he noticed some parcels.

Tidemand had not seen her since that evening outside his office. He had
fortunately caught sight of her ring in a jewellery window as he passed by
one day and had immediately bought it and sent it to her. On a card she
had written a few words of thanks. She had not missed the ring, but it was
another matter now; she would keep it always.

She stood there at the counter in a black dress; it was a little
threadbare. For a moment he wondered if perhaps she was in need, if he did
not give her enough money? Why did she wear such old dresses? But he had
sent her a good deal of money. Thank God, he was able to do that. In the
beginning, when he was still struggling, he hadn't sent her such large
amounts, it was true. He had grieved over it and written to her not to be
impatient; it would be better soon. And she had thanked him and answered
that he was sending her altogether too much; how was she going to use it
all? She had lots and lots of money left.

But why did she dress so shabbily, then?

She had turned around; she recognised his voice when he spoke to the
owner. He grew confused; he bowed smilingly to her as he had to the
grocer, and she blushed deeply as she returned his bow.

"Never mind about the rest," she said to the clerk in a low voice. "I'll
get that some other time." And she paid hurriedly and gathered up her
bundles. Tidemand followed her with his eyes. She stooped as she walked
and looked abashed until she disappeared.



VII


And the days passed by. The town was quiet; everything was quiet.

Irgens was still capable of surprising people and attracting everybody's
attention. He had looked a little careworn and depressed for some time;
his debts bothered him; he earned no money and nobody gave him any. Fall
and winter were coming; it did not look any too bright for him. He had
even been obliged to make use of a couple of last year's suits.

Then all of a sudden he amazed everybody by appearing on the promenade,
rehabilitated from top to toe in an elegant fall suit, with tan gloves and
money in his pockets, distinguished and elegant as the old and only
Irgens. People looked at him admiringly. Devil of a chap--he was unique!
What kind of a diamond mine had he discovered? Oh, there was a head on
these shoulders, a superior talent! He had been obliged to move from his
former apartments on Thranes Road. Certainly; but what of it? He had taken
other apartments in the residential district--elegant apartments, fine
view, furniture upholstered in leather! He simply couldn't have stood it
much longer in the old lodgings; his best moods were constantly being
spoiled; he suffered. It was necessary to pay a little attention to one's
surroundings if one cared to produce good work. Miss Lynum had come to
town a week ago and was going to remain awhile; she made him feel like a
new man. How the whole town burst into bloom and colour when Aagot
returned!

It had all been decided: they were going to get married next spring and
pin their faith to next year's subsidy. It would seem that he must be
recognised sometime, especially now when he was going to found a family
and was publishing a new collection of poems. They couldn't starve him to
death entirely; hardly that! And Irgens had approached Attorney Grande,
who had approached the Minister personally in regard to next year's
subsidy. "You know my circumstances," he had said to Grande. "I am not
well off, but if you will speak to the Minister I shall be much obliged to
you. Personally, I will do nothing. I cannot stoop to that!" Grande was a
man whom Irgens otherwise honoured with his contempt. But it could not be
helped; this brainless Attorney began to have influence; he had been
appointed on a royal commission and had even been interviewed by the
_Gazette_.

When Tidemand told Ole that he had seen Aagot on the street it gave him a
fearful shock. But he recovered himself quickly and said with a smile:

"Well, how does that concern me? Let her be here as much as she likes; I
have no objections. I have other things to worry about." He forced himself
to renewed interest in the conversation, talked about Tidemand's new
orders for tar, and said repeatedly: "Be sure to have the cargo well
insured; it never hurts!" He was a little nervous but otherwise normal.

They drank a glass of wine as of old. A couple of hours went by while they
chatted cosily, and when Tidemand left Ole said, full of gratitude:

"I am awfully glad that you came to see me. I know you have enough to do
besides this--Listen," he continued; "let us go to the farewell
performance of the opera this evening; I want you to come!" And the
serious young man with the hollow eyes looked as if he were exceedingly
anxious to attend that performance. He even said he had looked forward to
it for several days.

Tidemand promised to come; Ole said that he would get the tickets.

No sooner had Tidemand left the office than Ole telephoned for the tickets
he wanted--three tickets together, 11, 12, and 13. He was going to take
No. 12 to Mrs. Hanka, to her room near the Fortress. She would surely want
to come, for nobody could be fonder of the opera than she used to be. He
rubbed his hands in satisfaction as he walked along--No. 12; she should
sit between them. He would keep No. 13 for himself; that was a proper
number for him, a most unlucky number.

He walked faster and faster and forgot his own misery. He was done and
through with it all; his sufferings lay behind; he had recovered fully.
Had he been so very much shaken because Aagot had come to town? Not at
all; it had not affected him in the least.

And Ole walked on. He knew Mrs. Hanka's address well; more than once had
he taken her home when she had called on him secretly, asking for news
about the children. And had he not found Tidemand outside her windows that
night he returned from England? How their thoughts were ever busy with
each other! With him it was different; he had forgotten his experience and
did not think of such things any more.

But when he inquired for Mrs. Hanka he was told that she had gone away for
a couple of days; she had gone to the country house. She would be back
to-morrow.

He listened and did not understand at once. The country house? Which
country house?

Of course, yes; Tidemand's country house. Ole glanced at his watch. No; it
was too late to try and get Mrs. Hanka back to-day. What reason could he
have given, anyway? He had wanted to surprise them both with his little
scheme, but now it had become impossible. Alas, how everything turned out
badly for him of late!

Ole turned back.

To the country house! How she haunted the old places! She had been unable
to resist; she had to see once more that house and these grounds, although
the leaves were almost gone and the garden was desolate. Oh! Aagot had
intended to spend the summer there if everything had turned out all right.
Well, that was another matter, something that did not concern him in the
least.

Ole was weary and disappointed. He decided to go to Tidemand at once and
tell him everything. He had meant it for the best.

"We shall have to go alone after all," he said. "I really have a ticket
for your wife, though."

Tidemand changed colour.

"You have?" he simply said.

"Yes, I had planned to have her sit between us; perhaps I ought to have
told you beforehand; but any way, she has gone away and won't be back till
to-morrow."

"Is that so?" said Tidemand as before.

"Listen, you mustn't be angry with me because of this! If you only knew--
Your wife has called on me quite frequently of late; she asks about you
and the children--"

"That is all right."

"What?"

"I say, that is all right. But why do you tell me this?"

Then Ole's anger blazed forth; he stuck his face close up to Tidemand's
and shouted furiously, in a shrill voice:

"I want to tell you something, damn you--you don't understand your own
welfare! You are a fool, you are killing her--that will be the end of it.
And you are doing your very best to go the same way yourself--don't you
think I see it? 'That is all right'--so it is all right for her to steal
down to me when darkness falls and ask about you and the children with the
tears dripping from her eyes? Do you for a moment imagine it is for
_your_ sake I have been inquiring about your health these last
months? Why should I ask if not for her? You personally can go to the
devil as far as I am concerned. You say nothing; you cannot understand
that she is wearing her heart away for you. I saw her outside your office
once at midnight, saying good night to you and to the children. She wept
and blew kisses to Johanna and Ida; she tiptoed up-stairs and caressed the
door-knob because your hand had held it a moment before. I have seen this
several times from the corner. I suppose you will say that 'that is all
right,' too; for your heart must be petrified--Well, perhaps I shouldn't
say that your heart is exactly petrified," added Ole repentantly when at
last he noticed Tidemand's terrible face. "But you need not expect any
apology from me, either. You are hardened; that's what you are! I tell
you, Hanka wants to come back!"

Pause.

"I wish to God she wanted to come back--I mean--Back, you say? But how?
Do you know what has happened? I do. I have wanted to go to Hanka and beg
her to come back--beg her on my knees, if necessary; but how would she
come back--how would she come back? She told me herself--Of course, it is
nothing much; you mustn't think it is anything bad, anything very bad;
don't think that of Hanka. But, anyway, I am not so sure that she wants to
come back. From where have you got that idea?"

"Well, perhaps I ought not to have tried to interfere," said Ole. "But
think of it anyway, Andreas; and pardon my violence; I take it all back. I
don't know how it is; I am getting to be so hot-tempered lately. But think
it over. And let us be ready in an hour or so."

"So she still asks for the children," said Tidemand. "Think of that!"



VIII


Ole Henriksen stood in his office a few days later. It was in the
afternoon, about three; the weather was clear and calm; the docks were
busy as ever.

Ole walked over to the window and looked out. An enormous coal-steamer was
gliding in from the fiord; masts and rigging pointed skyward everywhere;
cargoes were being unloaded along the wharves. Suddenly he started; the
yacht was gone! He opened his eyes wide. Among all the hundreds of
mastheads none were golden.

He wanted to go out and look into this, but paused at the door. He went
back to his desk again, leaned his head on his hands, and reflected. In
reality the yacht did not belong to him any more; it was hers, Miss
Lynum's; he had given it to her, and the papers were in her keeping. She
had not returned these papers together with the ring; she might have
forgotten it--how could he know? Anyway, the yacht was hers; he had
nothing to do with it. But if it had been stolen? Well, even that was no
affair of his.

Ole took up his pen again, but only for a few moments. Dear me, she used
to sit there on the sofa and sew so busily on the little cushions! They
had been so cute and tiny that it was almost absurd. There she used to
sit; he could see her still....

And Ole wrote again.

Then he opened the door and called out to the clerks that the yacht had
disappeared; what had happened?

One of the clerks informed him that the yacht had been removed this
morning by two men from a lawyer's office; she was anchored outside the
Fortress now.

"Which lawyer?" asked Ole.

The clerk didn't know.

Ole grew curious. The yacht was not his any more, of course; but Miss
Lynum had no business with a lawyer either; there must be a
misunderstanding somewhere. And straightway he went down to the Fortress
landing and made inquiries for a couple of hours. Finally he learned the
name of the lawyer and went to his office.

He saw a man of his own age and asked a few guarded questions.

Yes, it was quite true; he had orders to sell the yacht; as a matter of
fact, he had already advanced a thousand crowns on it. Here were the
papers; Irgens had left them with him, the poet Irgens. He hoped there
were no objections?

None at all.

The lawyer grew more and more polite and cordial; he probably knew
everything about the whole matter, but he did not betray his knowledge.
How much was the yacht worth, did Mr. Henriksen think? Irgens had come to
him with a request that he take charge of this transaction; he had said
that he needed some money at once, and of course one had to stretch a
point where a man like Irgens was concerned. Unfortunately, our men of
talent were not rewarded any too liberally, as a rule; but if there was
the least objection to this sale he would try his best to arrange
everything satisfactorily.

And Ole said again that there was none; he had simply missed the yacht and
wondered what had become of it. And he left.

Now it had become clear why Irgens suddenly had blossomed forth in gay
plumage, rejuvenated from top to toe! The whole town was talking about it;
however, nobody knew the real source of his affluence. That _she_
should do such a thing! Didn't she understand that this was dishonourable,
disgraceful? On the other hand, why was it so disgraceful? Her possessions
were his; they shared lovingly; there was nothing to say to that. In God's
name, let her act as she thought right and proper. She was in town now;
she was going to take a course in the School of Industries. It was quite
natural that she should realise on that bit of a yacht. Could anybody
blame her because she helped her fiancé? On the contrary, it reflected
credit on her.... But she might not even know that the yacht had been put
on the market. Perhaps she had forgotten both yacht and documents and did
not care what became of them. At any rate, she had not wanted to sell the
yacht simply to raise money on her own account--never; he knew her too
well. She had done it for somebody else's sake; that was she. And that was
the important point.

He remembered her so distinctly: her fair curls, her nose, her dimple; she
would be nineteen on the seventh of December. Never mind the yacht; that
didn't matter. He might have wished to save the cushions, but it would
probably be too late for that.

He returned to his office, but could only concentrate his attention on
what was absolutely necessary. He paused frequently and gazed straight
ahead, lost in reflection. What if he should buy back the yacht? Would she
mind, perhaps? God knows; she might think it was done spitefully, with
malice aforethought. It might be better to remain neutral. Yes, that would
be best; what was the use of making a fool of himself?--Miss Lynum and he
were through with each other for ever. Nobody should say that he collected
souvenirs of her.

He closed the office as usual and went out. The street lamps were burning
brightly; the evening was calm. He saw a light in Tidemand's office and
started to go in; but he paused on the stairs and reflected. Tidemand
might be busy; he had better go on.

Hour after hour passed by; he wandered around as in a stupor. How tired
and weary he was! His eyes were half-closed. He found himself in the
vicinity of the park. He turned and strode toward the hills behind the
city. He sat down on a stoop to rest. By and by he looked at his watch; it
was half past eleven. And he sauntered down toward the city again. His
mind was almost a blank.

He turned aside and passed by Tivoli and Sara. What a walk this had been!
To-night he was going to sleep--at last! Outside Sara he stopped abruptly.
He drew back in the shadows slowly, four, six steps; his eyes were staring
fixedly toward the entrance to the cafe. A cab was standing outside.

He had heard Aagot's voice; she came out with Irgens. Irgens appeared
first. Aagot had been delayed by something on the stairs.

"Hurry up, now!" called Irgens.

"Just a moment, Mr. Irgens," said the driver; "the lady is not quite
ready."

"Do you know me?" asked Irgens in surprise.

"I certainly do," said the cabman.

"He knows you! he knows you!" cried Aagot as she stumbled down the steps.
She had not put on her wrap yet; it was dragging after her and she tripped
in it. Her eyes were expressionless and staring. Suddenly she laughed.
"That nasty fellow, Gregersen; he was kicking me on the leg all the time!
I am sure I am black and blue! Imagine, Irgens, the cabby knows you!"

"You are drunk," said Irgens brutally, and helped her into the carriage.

Her hat was awry, she tried to get into her coat and she babbled
incoherently.

"No, I am not drunk; I am only a little cheerful--Won't you see if my leg
is bruised? I am sure I am dripping blood! It hurts, too; but that doesn't
matter; nothing matters now. Drunk, you say? What if I am? It is your
fault. I do everything for your sake--do it gladly--Ha, ha, ha! I have to
laugh when I think of that wretched Gregersen. He told me he would write
the most beautiful article about me if I would only let him see where he
had kicked me. It is different if you see it--That was an awful strong
wine; it makes my head swim--And all those cigarettes!"

"Drive on, damn you!" cried Irgens.

And the carriage rolled off.

Ole stood there and stared after the carriage; his knees shook under him.
He fumbled convulsively with his hands up and down his clothes, around his
chest. So that was Aagot! How they had corrupted her! how they had spoiled
her! Aagot--his Aagot....

Ole sat down on a stoop. A long time passed by.

The lamps outside Sara were extinguished; it grew very dark. An officer
tapped him on the shoulder and said that he could not sit there and sleep.
Ole looked up bewildered. Of course not; he was going now. Thanks! And he
swayed down the street as if he were intoxicated.

He reached home about two o'clock and entered his office. He lit the lamp
and hung his hat mechanically on the rack; his face was drawn and void of
expression. A long hour went by while he strode up and down. Then he
walked over to his desk and commenced to write--letters, documents, brief
lines on various papers which he sealed and filed away. He looked at his
watch; it was half past three. He wound it up mechanically while he held
it. He went out and mailed a letter to Tidemand which he had just written.
Upon his return he took Aagot's letters from the safe and loosened the
string that bound them together.

He did not read any of these letters; he carried them over to the
fireplace and burned them one by one. The last, the very last one, he
pulled halfway-out of its envelope and looked at it a moment; then he
burned also that, without taking out the ring.

The little clock on the wall struck four. A steamer's whistle sounded. Ole
went away from the fireplace. His face was full of anguish; every feature
was distorted; the veins around his temples were swollen. And slowly he
pulled out a little drawer in his desk.

       *       *       *       *       *

They found Ole Henriksen dead in the morning; he had shot himself. The
lamp was burning on the desk; a few sealed letters were lying on the
blotter; he himself lay stretched on the floor.

In the letter to Tidemand he had asked to be forgiven because he could not
come for the last time and thank him for his friendship. He had to finish
it all now; he could not live another day; he was sick unto death. The
country house he gave to Tidemand in memory of everything. "It will
probably bring you more pleasure than it brought me," he wrote; "it is
yours, my friend; accept it from me. Mrs. Hanka will be glad to have it;
remember me to her. And if you ever should find Miss Lynum in need of
help, be good to her; I saw her this evening, but she did not see me. I
cannot collect my thoughts and write to you as I would like to. One thing
only is clear to me, and that thing I will have to do in half an hour."

A picture of Aagot was still in his pocketbook; he had probably forgotten
to burn it. He had also forgotten to send the two or three telegrams he
had carried in his pocket since the previous afternoon; they were found on
him. He had spoken truly: to him only one thing was clear!



IX


Part of September had passed; the weather was cool, the sky clear and
high; the city was free from dust and dirt; the city was beautiful. As yet
no snow had fallen on the mountains.

Event had followed event; Ole Henriksen's suicide had only caused a
passing sensation. The shot down there in the young business man's office
had not been followed by a very loud or reverberating echo; days and weeks
had come and gone, and nobody mentioned it any more. Only Tidemand could
not forget.

Tidemand was busier than ever. He had to assist Ole's father for a while;
the old man did not want to retire, but he made the chief assistant his
partner and carried on the business as before; he did not allow his sorrow
to break him down. Old man Henriksen proved that he was not too old to
work when circumstances required it.

And Tidemand was unceasing in his efforts. His rye was at last dwindling;
he sold heavily at advancing prices now winter was approaching; his losses
were diminishing. He had to take back still more of his old employees; he
was shipping tar; to-morrow a new cargo was to sail.

He had finished the preparations, made out the papers, taken out his
insurance; it was all done. Before he turned to something else he lit a
cigar and reflected. It was about four in the afternoon. He went over to
the window and looked out. While he stood there a gentle knock was heard;
his wife entered. She asked if she disturbed him; it was only a small
matter of business....

She wore a heavy veil.

Tidemand threw away his cigar. He had not seen her for weeks, long, weary
weeks; one evening he had thought he recognised her in a lady whose walk
was somewhat similar to hers; he had followed this lady a long time before
he discovered that he was mistaken. He had never objected to her coming,
and she knew it; still, she did not come. She had probably forgotten both
him and the children; it looked that way. And, although he had strolled
around the streets near the Fortress many a night when it was too lonely
at home and at times seen a light in her window, her he had never seen.
What could she be doing? He had sent her money occasionally in order to
hear from her.

Now she stood there before him, only a few steps away.

"So you have come?" he said at last.

"Yes, I have come," she answered. "I had--I wanted to--" And suddenly she
commenced to fumble with her hand-bag; she brought forth a package of
money which she placed before him on the desk. Her hands trembled so
violently that she disarranged the bills, she even dropped a few; she
stooped down and picked them up and stammered: "Take it, please; don't say
no! It is money which I have used for--which I have put to unworthy uses.
Spare me from saying what I have used it for; it is too degrading. There
ought to be much more, but I couldn't delay any longer; there ought to be
twice as much, but I was too impatient to wait until I could bring it all.
Take it, please! I shall bring you the rest later; but I simply had to
come to-day!"

He interrupted her, much annoyed:

"But will you never understand? You bring up this subject of money for
ever! Why are you saving money for me? I have all I need; the business is
very profitable, increasingly so; I don't need it, I tell you--"

"But this money is altogether a different matter," she said timidly. "It
is for my own sake I give it to you. If I hadn't been able to think that I
might repay it I never could have endured life. I have counted and counted
every day and waited until I should have enough. I was wrong in saying
that it was only half; it is at least three-fourths--Oh, how I have
suffered under the disgrace--"

And suddenly he understood why she had wanted to bring him this money. He
took it and thanked her. He did not know what to say except that it was a
lot of money, quite a lot. But could she spare it? Surely? For he really
would be glad if she would let him have it for the present; he could use
it in the business. As a matter of fact, it was most fortunate that she
had come just now; he needed some money, he was not ashamed to confess
it....

He watched her closely and saw the joy well up in her; her eyes sparkled
beneath her veil, and she said:

"God, how happy I am that I came to-day, after all!"

This voice! Oh, this voice! He remembered it so well from their first
delightful days. He had walked around the edge of the desk; now he stepped
back again, bewildered by her proximity, her lovely form, her radiant eyes
beneath the veil. He dropped his own.

"And how are you?" she asked, "and the children?"

"Fine, thank you. The children are growing out of their clothes. We are
all well. And you?"

"I have heard nothing from you for so long. I had intended to wait until I
could bring it all to you, but it was beyond my strength. While Ole lived
he told me about you; but since I cannot go to him any more I have been
very impatient. I was here yesterday, but I didn't come in; I turned
back--"

Should he ask her to go up to the children a moment?

"Perhaps you would like to go up-stairs a moment?" he asked. "The children
will be delighted. I don't know how the house looks, but if you don't
mind--"

"I thank you!"

He saw how deeply she was moved, although she said nothing more. She gave
him her hand in farewell. "I hope they will know me," she said.

"I'll be up in a moment," he remarked. "I haven't much to do just now.
Perhaps you would like to stay awhile? Here is the key; you need not ring.
But be careful of their shoes if you take them on your lap. Well, don't
laugh; God knows if their shoes aren't muddy!"

Hanka went. He opened the door for her and followed her to the foot of the
stairs; then he returned to his office.

He walked over to the desk, but he did not work. There she had stood! She
wore her black velvet dress to-day; she was up-stairs. Could he go up now?
He did not hear the children; they were probably in her lap. He hoped they
had on their red dresses.

He walked up-stairs, a prey to the strangest emotions. He knocked on the
door as if it were somebody else's home he was entering. Hanka got up at
once when she saw him.

She had taken off her veil; she flushed deeply. He could see now why she
used a veil. The joyless days in her solitary room had not left her
unmarked; her face spoke plainly of her sufferings. Johanna and Ida stood
beside her and clung to her dress; they did not remember her clearly; they
looked at her questioningly and were silent.

"They don't know me," said Mrs. Hanka, and sat down again. "I have asked
them."

"Yes, I know you," said Johanna, and crawled up into her lap. Ida did the
same.

Tidemand looked at them unsteadily.

"You mustn't crawl all over mamma, children," he said. "Don't bother mamma
now."

They didn't hear him; they wanted to bother mamma. She had rings on her
fingers and she had the strangest buttons on her dress; that was something
to interest them! They began to chatter about these buttons; they caught
sight of the mother's brooch and had many remarks to make about that.

"Put them down when you are tired of them," said Tidemand.

Tired? She? Let them be, let them be!

They spoke about Ole; they mentioned Aagot. Tidemand wanted to look her up
some day. Ole had asked him to do it; he felt, in a way, responsible for
her. But the nurse came and wanted to put the children to bed.

However, the children had no idea of going to bed; they refused
pointblank. And Hanka had to come along, follow them into their bed-room,
and get them settled for the night. She looked around. Everything was as
it used to be. There were the two little beds, the coverlets, the tiny
pillows, the picture-books, the toys. And when they were in bed she had to
sing to them; they simply wouldn't keep still but crawled out of bed
continually and chattered on.

Tidemand watched this awhile with blinking eyes; then he turned quickly
away and went out.

In half an hour or so Hanka came back.

"They are asleep now," she said.

"I was wondering if I might ask you to stay," said Tidemand. "We live
rather informally here; we keep house in a way, but nothing seems to go
right for us. If you would like to have dinner with us--I don't know what
they are going to give us to eat, but if you will take things as they
are?"

She looked at him shyly, like a young girl; she said: "Thank you."

After dinner, when they had returned to the drawing-room, Hanka said
suddenly:

"Andreas, you mustn't think I came here to-day thinking that everything
could be well again with us. Don't think that. I simply came because I
couldn't wait any longer; I had to see you again."

"I have not thought of that at all," he said. "But it seems the children
don't want to let you go."

"I have no thought of asking you again what I asked you for once," she
said. "That would be impossible; I know it too well. But perhaps you would
allow me to come and visit you at times?"

Tidemand bowed his head. She had no thought of coming back; it was all
over.

"Come whenever you like; come every day," he said. "You are not coming to
see me."

"Oh, yes, to see you also. I think of you with every breath. Ever since
that sail last summer; it began then. You have changed and so have I. But
that is neither here nor there. I have seen you on the streets oftener
than you know; I have followed you at times."

He rose and went in his confusion over to the barometer on the wall; he
examined it carefully and tapped the tube.

"But in that case--I don't understand why it is necessary to live apart. I
mean--Things are in a sad state of disorder here; and then there are the
children--"

"I didn't come for that!" she exclaimed. "Yes, I did, in a way; of course
I did; but--I am afraid you will never be able to forget--Oh, no. I cannot
expect that--"

She took her wraps.

"Don't go!" he called. "You have never been out of my thoughts, either. As
far as that goes, I am as much to blame as you, and it is true that I have
changed. I am, perhaps, a little different now. But here is your room just
as before. Come and see! We haven't touched a single thing. And if you
would stay--By the way, I am afraid I shall have to stay in the office
all night. I am almost sure there is a lot of mail to attend to. But your
room is just as when you left it. Come and see!"

He had opened the door. She came over and peeped in. The lamp was lit. She
looked at everything and entered. He really wanted to, after all, after
all! She could stay; he had said so; he took her back! She stood there
timidly and said nothing; then their eyes met. He flung his arms around
her and kissed her, as he had kissed her the first time, all these many
years ago. Her eyes closed and he felt suddenly the pressure of her arms
around his neck.



X


And morning came.

The city woke up and the hammers danced their ringing dance along the
shipyards. Through the streets the farmers' wagons rolled in a slow
procession. It is the same story. The squares are filling with people and
supplies, stores are opened, the roar increases, and up and down the
stairs skips a slip of a girl with her papers and her dog.

It is the same story.

It is twelve before people begin to group themselves on the "corner,"
young and carefree gentlemen who can afford to sleep late and do what they
feel like. There are a few from the well-known clique, Milde and Norem and
Ojen. It is cold, and they are shivering. The conversation is not very
lively. Even when Irgens appears, in high spirits and elegant attire, as
befits the best-dressed man in town, nobody grows very enthusiastic. It is
too early and too chilly; in a few hours it will be different. Ojen had
said something about his latest prose poem; he had half-finished it last
night. It was called "A Sleeping City." He had begun to write on coloured
paper; he had found this very soothing. Imagine, he says, the heavy,
ponderous quiet over a city asleep; only its breathing is heard like an
open sluice miles away. It takes time; hours elapse, a seeming eternity;
then the brute begins to stir, to wake up. Wasn't this rather promising?

And Milde thinks it very promising; he has made his peace with Ojen long
ago. Milde is busy on his caricatures to "Norway's Dawn." He had really
drawn a few very funny caricatures and made ruinous fun of the impossible
poem.

Norem said nothing.

Suddenly Lars Paulsberg bobs up; with him is Gregersen. The group is
growing; everybody takes notice; so much is gathered here in a very small
space. Literature is in the ascendant; literature dominates the entire
sidewalk. People turn back in order to get a good look at these six
gentlemen in ulsters and great-coats. Milde also attracts attention; he
has been able to afford an entirely new outfit. He says nothing about
Australia now.

At two the life and traffic has risen to its high-water mark; movement
everywhere, people promenade, drive in carriages, gossip; engines are
breathing stertorously in the far distance. A steamer whistles in the
harbour, another steamer answers with a hoarse blast; flags flutter,
barges swim back and forth; sails rattle aloft and sails are furled. Here
and there an anchor splashes; the anchor-chains tear out of the
hawse-holes in a cloud of rust. The sounds mingle in a ponderous harmony
which rolls in over the city like a jubilant chorus.

Tidemand's tar steamer was ready to weigh anchor. He had come down himself
to see it off. Hanka was with him; they stood there quietly arm in arm.
They glanced at each other every few moments with eyes that were filled
with youth and happiness; the harbour saluted them with a swirl of flags.
When the steamer at last was under way, Tidemand swung his hat in the air
and Hanka waved with her handkerchief. Somebody on the ship waved back a
greeting. The steamer slid quietly out into the fiord.

"Shall we go?" he asked.

And she clung to him closer, and said: "As you will."

Just then another steamer entered the harbour, an enormous leviathan from
whose funnels smoke poured in billowy masses. Tidemand had goods aboard;
he had been waiting for this steamer the last two days, and he said in
great good humour:

"She is also bringing us goods!"

"Yes?" she answered quietly. But he felt, as she looked into his face,
that a quivering joy shot through her being; her arm trembled in his.

And they went home.





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