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Title: Niels Lyhne
Author: Jacobsen, J. P. (Jens Peter)
Language: English
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This series of SCANDINAVIAN CLASSICS is published by The
American-Scandinavian Foundation in the belief that greater familiarity
with the chief literary monuments of the North will help Americans to
a better understanding of Scandinavians, and thus serve to stimulate
their sympathetic coöperation to good ends.


SCANDINAVIAN CLASSICS
VOLUME XIII

NIELS LYHNE

by

J. P. JACOBSEN


[Illustration: ESTABLISHED BY NIELS POULSON]


NIELS LYHNE

by

J. P. JACOBSEN

Translated from the Danish
by Hanna Astrup Larsen

New York
The American-Scandinavian Foundation
London: Humphrey Milford
Oxford University Press
1919

Copyright, 1919, by The American-Scandinavian Foundation

D. B. Updike · The Merrymount Press · Boston · U. S. A.



                             _Introduction_

To the student of Jens Peter Jacobsen’s life and works, _Niels Lyhne_
has a value apart from its greatness as literature from the fact that
it is the book in which the author recorded his own spiritual struggles
and embodied the faith on which he came, finally, to rest his soul in
death as in life. It tells of his early dreams and ideals, his efforts
to know and to achieve, his revolt against the dream-swathed dogmas in
which people take refuge from harsh reality, and his brave acceptance
of what he conceived to be the truth, however dreary and bitter.

The person of the hero is marked for a self-portrait by the
description, “Niels Lyhne of Lönborggaard, who was twenty-three years
old, walked with a slight stoop, had beautiful hands and small ears,
and was a little timid,”—though friends of Jacobsen’s youth declare
that “a little timid” was far from describing the excessive shyness
from which he suffered. He himself would sometimes joke about his
“North Cimbrian heaviness,” for like Niels Lyhne he was a native
of Jutland, where the people are more sluggish than the sprightly
islanders. Like him, again, he had a mother who kept alive her romantic
spirit in rather humdrum, prosaic surroundings, and who instilled into
her son’s mind from childhood the idea that he was to be a poet. It is
Jacobsen’s own youthful ideal speaking through Niels Lyhne’s mouth when
he says: “Mother—I am a poet—really—through my whole soul. Don’t
imagine it’s childish dreams or dreams fed by vanity.... I _shall_
be one of those who fight for the greatest, and I promise you that I
shall not fail, that I shall always be faithful to you and to my gift.
Nothing but the best shall be good enough. No compromise, mother! When
I weigh what I’ve done and feel that it isn’t sterling, or when I hear
that it’s got a crack or a flaw—into the melting-pot it goes! Every
single work must be my best!”

Niels Lyhne never wrote the poems he had fashioned in his mind. On
the intellectual side of his nature he remained always a dreamer,
floundering around in a slough of doubt and self-analysis. Edvard
Brandes, in his introduction to J. P. Jacobsen’s letters,[A] calls
attention to “the place dreams occupy in this book, which begins with
the childish fancies of the three boys, in which the mother dreams with
her son of the future and of distant lands, while Edele dreams her
love, and Bigum dreams his genius and his passion—he who is put into
the novel as a tragic caricature of Niels Lyhne himself, as he goes
about dreaming, in the midst of people and yet far away from them. In
his youth, Niels Lyhne never attained to anything but dreams of great
deeds and of love.... Read _Niels Lyhne_, and on almost every page
you will find the word _dream_! Read about Niels Lyhne’s mother who
‘dreamed a thousand dreams of those sunlit regions, and was consumed
with longing for this other and richer self, forgetting—what is so
easily forgotten—that even the fairest dreams and the deepest longings
do not add an inch to the stature of the human soul,’ and who goes
on dreaming because ‘a life soberly lived, without the fair vice of
dreams, was no life at all.’”

[A] _Breve fra J. P. Jacobsen. Med et Forord udgivne af Edvard Brandes._

In his strictures on dreams and dreamers Jacobsen scourged his own
sluggish temperament, and the story of Niels Lyhne’s futile efforts
is in part the record of the author’s own youth. From the time he was
ten years old, he tells us, his one sure dogma was that he was to be a
poet, and there must have been years of his boyhood and early manhood
when he was haunted by visions of what he wanted to write without being
able to frame it in a form satisfactory to himself. He was almost
twenty-five years old when his first story, _Mogens_, appeared, in
1872, and after that his other short stories followed only at intervals
of years. It is true, he was by no means idle. He won distinction as a
botanist; he introduced Darwin to the Scandinavian reading public by
translations and magazine articles, and he familiarized himself with
the literature not only of Denmark, but of England, France, Germany,
and Italy. He had a theory that any one aspiring to produce creative
literature ought to know what had been written by great minds before
him, and we recognize himself in the picture of Niels Lyhne restlessly
trying to absorb all the knowledge and wisdom of the ages while he felt
like a child trying to dip out the ocean in his hollow hand.

Unlike Niels Lyhne, who never formed in his own image the clay he had
carted together for his Adam, Jacobsen shaped his material in the image
of the vision that had taken possession of him at the inception of his
idea. Though execution always cost him an agonizing effort, he did not
shirk it, and though he worked four years on each of his two novels,
_Marie Grubbe_ and _Niels Lyhne_, he never lost sight of his goal. The
truth is that, however much he might abuse his own slothfulness—which
was due largely to failing health—Jacobsen had a slow, deep strength
by virtue of which he managed to write his immortal works.

Niels Lyhne, too, had a kind of strength and was essentially sound
though a dreamer. So we see him, when every relation of life was
dissolved, when friend and mistress had thrown him back upon himself,
gathering himself together in a resolve to find a place in his old home
and make it a fixed point in his hitherto aimless existence. There, at
last, he tasted life in its fullness, and by an effort of the finest,
purest will made his short married life an experience of such beauty
that the description, so moving in its simplicity, is one of the most
exquisite things Jacobsen ever wrote. He, too, mastered life, though
not in the sense of which he had dreamed. The solution of his hero’s
problem is perhaps a compromise on Jacobsen’s part; he did not want to
drop his other self as a mere failure, but shrank from picturing him as
the fêted and admired author he himself became in the latter years of
his life.

In this connection, it may not be out of place to state briefly that
Niels Lyhne’s love affairs are drawn entirely from the imagination.
On this point we have the positive evidence of Edvard Brandes and
the negative testimony of Jacobsen’s own letters. Even if he had
experienced the great love for which he longed at the same time as
he shrank from it, poverty and ill health would have prevented his
marriage. His fine rectitude and horror of doing anything that might
hurt another human being kept him from questionable adventures.

The revolt of his hero from the accepted religion of his day is in
accord with Jacobsen’s own development. The word “atheism,” which falls
on our ears with a dead sound, meant to him a revolt against fallacious
dreams. He believed that the evangelical religion as taught in Denmark
at the time had become a soft mantle in which people wrapped themselves
against the bracing winds of truth. As a scientist he refused to accept
the facile theory that a Providence outside of man would somehow juggle
away the consequences of wrongdoing. The doctrine that immunity could
be bought by repentance seemed to him a cheap attempt to escape the
bitter and wholesome fruit of experience. To our modern consciousness,
there is no reason why his sense of the sacredness of law should have
driven him away from all religion—it might rather have driven him to a
truer conception of Him who said of Himself that He came to fulfil the
law—but in this respect he was the child of his day.

For himself, Jacobsen resolved that illness, suffering, and death
should not make him accept in weakness the religion that his sober
judgement in the fullness of his strength had rejected. Niels Lyhne’s
death “in armor” foreshadowed his own, and was perhaps written to steel
himself for the ordeal he knew to be approaching. His refusal to lean
on any spiritual power outside of his own soul lends an added sadness
to the stoicism of his death, which took place in his home in Thisted,
in 1885.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the above paragraphs I have attempted only to sketch the relation
of _Niels Lyhne_ to Jacobsen’s own life. For a brief estimate of
his position in Northern literature I will refer the reader to my
introduction to _Marie Grubbe_, SCANDINAVIAN CLASSICS, VII.

The translation of an author who, as Edvard Brandes says, “worshipped
the word,” and who believed that there never was more than one word
or one phrase in all the world that could exactly express what he
meant in any given instance, is naturally fraught with more than usual
difficulty. I have striven, above all, to be faithful, and very often,
where my first impulse has been to simplify a paragraph, my second,
and I hope better, thought has been to leave it as the master chose to
write it, with only such slight changes as the new medium absolutely
required. I wish to express my sincere thanks to Professor W. H.
Schofield, chairman of the Publication Committee, who has been so good
as to read the proof and has helped to solve many problems of language.

                                                              H. A. L.



                              NIELS LYHNE


                              _Chapter I_

She had the black, luminous eyes of the Blid family with delicate,
straight eyebrows; she had their boldly shaped nose, their strong chin,
and full lips. The curious line of mingled pain and sensuousness about
the corners of her mouth was likewise an inheritance from them, and so
were the restless movements of her head; but her cheek was pale; her
hair was soft as silk, and was wound smoothly around her head.

Not so the Blids; their coloring was of roses and bronze. Their hair
was rough and curly, heavy as a mane, and their full, deep, resonant
voices bore out the tales told of their forefathers, whose noisy
hunting-parties, solemn morning prayers, and thousand and one amorous
adventures were matters of family tradition.

Her voice was languid and colorless. I am describing her as she was at
seventeen. A few years later, after she had been married, her voice
gained fullness, her cheek took on a fresher tint, and her eye lost
some of its lustre, but seemed even larger and more intensely black.

At seventeen she did not at all resemble her brothers and sisters;
nor was there any great intimacy between herself and her parents. The
Blid family were practical folk who accepted things as they were; they
did their work, slept their sleep, and never thought of demanding any
diversions beyond the harvest home and three or four Christmas parties.
They never passed through any religious experiences, but they would no
more have dreamed of not rendering unto God what was God’s than they
would have neglected to pay their taxes. Therefore they said their
evening prayers, went to church at Easter and Whitsun, sang their hymns
on Christmas Eve, and partook of the Lord’s Supper twice a year. They
had no particular thirst for knowledge. As for their love of beauty,
they were by no means insensible to the charm of little sentimental
ditties, and when summer came with thick, luscious grass in the meadows
and grain sprouting in broad fields, they would sometimes say to one
another that this was a fine time for travelling about the country,
but their natures had nothing of the poetic; beauty never stirred any
raptures in them, and they were never visited by vague longings or
day-dreams.

Bartholine was not of their kind. She had no interest in the affairs
of the fields and the stables, no taste for the dairy and the
kitchen—none whatever.

She loved poetry.

She lived on poems, dreamed poems, and put her faith in them above
everything else in the world. Parents, sisters and brothers, neighbors
and friends—none of them ever said a word that was worth listening to.
Their thoughts never rose above their land and their business; their
eyes never sought anything beyond the conditions and affairs that were
right before them.

But the poems! They teemed with new ideas and profound truths about
life in the great outside world, where grief was black, and joy was
red; they glowed with images, foamed and sparkled with rhythm and
rhyme. They were all about young girls, and the girls were noble and
beautiful—how noble and beautiful they never knew themselves. Their
hearts and their love meant more than the wealth of all the earth; men
bore them up in their hands, lifted them high in the sunshine of joy,
honored and worshipped them, and were delighted to share with them
their thoughts and plans, their triumphs and renown. They would even
say that these same fortunate girls had inspired all the plans and
achieved all the triumphs.

Why might not she herself be such a girl? They were thus and so—and
they never knew it themselves. How was she to know what she really was?
And the poets all said very plainly that this was life, and that it was
not life to sit and sew, work about the house, and make stupid calls.

When all this was sifted down, it meant little beyond a slightly morbid
desire to realize herself, a longing to find herself, which she had
in common with many other young girls with talents a little above the
ordinary. It was only a pity that there was not in her circle a single
individual of sufficient distinction to give her the measure of her own
powers. There was not even a kindred nature. So she came to look upon
herself as something wonderful, unique, a sort of exotic plant that
had grown in these ungentle climes and had barely strength enough to
unfold its leaves; though in more genial warmth, under a more powerful
sun, it might have shot up, straight and tall, with a gloriously rich
and brilliant bloom. Such was the image of her real self that she
carried in her mind. She dreamed a thousand dreams of those sunlit
regions and was consumed with longing for this other and richer self,
forgetting—what is so easily forgotten—that even the fairest dreams
and the deepest longings do not add an inch to the stature of the human
soul.

       *       *       *       *       *

One fine day a suitor came to her.

Young Lyhne of Lönborggaard was the man, and he was the last male
scion of a family whose members had for three generations been
among the most distinguished people in the county. As burgomasters,
revenue-collectors, or royal commissioners, often rewarded with the
title of councillor of justice, the Lyhnes in their maturer years had
served king and country with diligence and honor. In their younger days
they had travelled in France and Germany, and these trips, carefully
planned and carried out with great thoroughness, had enriched their
receptive minds with all the scenes of beauty and the knowledge of life
that foreign lands had to offer. Nor were these years of travel pushed
into the background, after their return, as mere reminiscences, like
the memory of a feast after the last candle has burned down and the
last note of music has died away. No, life in their homes was built
on these years; the tastes awakened in this manner were not allowed
to languish, but were nourished and developed by every means at their
command. Rare copper plates, costly bronzes, German poetry, French
juridical works, and French philosophy were every-day matters and
common topics in the Lyhne households.

Their bearing had an old-fashioned ease, a courtly graciousness, which
contrasted oddly with the heavy majesty and awkward pomposity of the
other county families. Their speech was well rounded, delicately
precise, a little marred, perhaps, by rhetorical affectation, yet it
somehow went well with those large, broad figures with their domelike
foreheads, their bushy hair growing far back on their temples, their
calm, smiling eyes, and slightly aquiline noses. The lower part of the
face was too heavy, however, the mouth too wide, and the lips much too
full.

Young Lyhne showed all these physical traits, but more faintly, and, in
the same manner, the family intelligence seemed to have grown weary in
him. None of the mental problems or finer artistic enjoyments that he
encountered stirred him to any zeal or desire whatsoever. He had simply
striven with them in a painstaking effort which was never brightened by
joy in feeling his own powers unfold or pride in finding them adequate.
Mere satisfaction in a task accomplished was the only reward that came
to him.

His estate, Lönborggaard, had been left him by an uncle who had
recently died, and he had returned from the traditional trip abroad in
order to take over the management. As the Blid family were the nearest
neighbors of his own rank, and his uncle had been intimate with them,
he called, met Bartholine, and fell in love with her.

That she should fall in love with him was almost a foregone conclusion.

Here at last was some one from the outside world, some one who had
lived in great, distant cities, where forests of spires were etched
on a sunlit sky, where the air was vibrant with the chimes of bells,
the pealing of organs, and the twanging of mandolins, while festal
processions, resplendent with gold and colors, wound their way through
broad streets; where marble mansions shone, where noble families
flaunted bright escutcheons hung two by two over wide portals, while
fans flashed, and veils fluttered over the sculptured vines of curving
balconies. Here was one who had sojourned where victorious armies had
tramped the roads, where tremendous battles had invested the names of
villages and fields with immortal fame, where smoke rising from gipsy
fires trailed over the leafy masses of the forest, where red ruins
looked down from vine-wreathed hills into the smiling valley, while
water surged over the mill-wheel, and cow-bells tinkled as the herds
came home over wide-arched bridges.

All these things he told about, not as the poems did, but in a
matter-of-fact way, as familiarly as the people at home talked about
the villages in their own county or the next parish. He talked of
painters and poets, too, and sometimes he would laud to the skies a
name that she had never even heard. He showed her their pictures and
read their poems to her in the garden or on the hill where they could
look out over the bright waters of the fjord and the brown, billowing
heath. Love made him poetic; the view took on beauty, the clouds seemed
like those drifting through the poems, and the trees were clothed in
the leaves rustling so mournfully in the ballads.

Bartholine was happy; for her love enabled her to dissolve the
twenty-four hours into a string of romantic episodes. It was romance
when she went down the road to meet him; their meeting was romance,
and so was their parting. It was romance when she stood on the hilltop
in the light of the setting sun and waved him one last farewell before
going up to her quiet little chamber, wistfully happy, to give herself
up to thoughts of him; and when she included his name in her evening
prayer, that was romance, too.

She no longer felt the old vague desires and longings. The new life
with its shifting moods gave her all she craved, and moreover her
thoughts and ideas had been clarified through having some one to whom
she could speak freely without fear of being misunderstood.

She was changed in another way, too. Happiness had made her more
amiable toward her parents and sisters and brothers. She discovered
that, after all, they had more intelligence than she had supposed and
more feeling.

And so they were married.

The first year passed very much as their courtship; but when their
wedded life had lost its newness, Lyhne could no longer conceal from
himself that he wearied of always seeking new expressions for his love.
He was tired of donning the plumage of romance and eternally spreading
his wings to fly through all the heavens of sentiment and all the
abysses of thought. He longed to settle peacefully on his own quiet
perch and drowse, with his tired head under the soft, feathery shelter
of a wing. He had never conceived of love as an ever-wakeful, restless
flame, casting its strong, flickering light into every nook and corner
of existence, making everything seem fantastically large and strange.
Love to him was more like the quiet glow of embers on their bed of
ashes, spreading a gentle warmth, while the faint dusk wraps all
distant things in forgetfulness and makes the near seem nearer and more
intimate.

He was tired, worn out. He could not stand all this romance. He longed
for the firm support of the commonplace under his feet, as a fish,
suffocating in hot air, languishes for the clear, fresh coolness of the
waves. It must end sometime, when it had run its course. Bartholine
was no longer inexperienced either in life or books. She knew them as
well as he. He had given her all he had—and now he was expected to go
on giving. It was impossible; he had nothing more. There was only one
comfort: Bartholine was with child.

Bartholine had long realized with sorrow that her conception of Lyhne
was changing little by little, and that he no longer stood on the dizzy
pinnacle to which she had raised him in the days of their courtship.
While she did not yet doubt that he was at bottom what she called a
poetic nature, she had begun to feel a little uneasy; for the cloven
hoof of prose had shown itself once and again. This only made her
pursue romance the more ardently, and she tried to bring back the old
state of things by lavishing on him a still greater wealth of sentiment
and a still greater rapture, but she met so little response that she
almost felt as if she were stilted and unnatural. For awhile she
tried to drag Lyhne with her, in spite of his resistance; she refused
to accept what she suspected; but when, at last, the failure of her
efforts made her begin to doubt whether her own mind and heart really
possessed the treasures she had imagined, then she suddenly left him
alone, became cool, silent, and reserved, and often went off by herself
to grieve over her lost illusions. For she saw it all now, and was
bitterly disappointed to find that Lyhne, in his inmost self, was no
whit different from the people she used to live among. She had merely
been deceived by the very ordinary fact that his love, for a brief
moment, had invested him with a fleeting glamor of soulfulness and
exaltation—a very common occurrence with persons of a lower nature.

Lyhne was grieved and anxious, too, over the change in their
relationship, and he tried to mend matters by unlucky attempts at
the old romantic flights, but it all availed nothing except to show
Bartholine yet more clearly how great had been her mistake.

Such was the state of things between man and wife when Bartholine
brought forth her first child. It was a boy, and they called him Niels.


                              _Chapter II_

In a way, the child brought the parents together again. Over his little
cradle they would meet in a common hope, a common joy, and a common
fear; of him they would think, and of him they would talk, each as
often and as readily as the other, and each was grateful to the other
for the child and for all the happiness and love he brought.

Yet they were still far apart.

Lyhne was quite absorbed in his farming and the affairs of the parish.
Not that he took the position of a leader or even of a reformer, but he
gave scrupulous attention to the existing order of things, looked on
as an interested spectator, and carried out the cautious improvements
recommended, after deliberate—very deliberate—consideration, by his
old head servant or the elders of the parish.

It never occurred to him to make any use of the knowledge he had
acquired in earlier days. He had too little faith in what he called
theories and far too great respect for the time-hallowed, venerable
dogmas of experience which other people called practical. In fact,
there was nothing about him to indicate that he had not lived here and
lived thus all his life—except one little trait. He had a habit of
sitting for half hours at a time, quite motionless, on a stile or a
boundary stone, looking out over the luscious green rye or the golden
top-heavy oats, in a strange, vegetative trance. This was of the old
Lyhne, the young Lyhne.

Bartholine, in her world, was by no means so ready to adapt herself
quickly and with a good grace. No, she first had to voice her sorrow
through the verses of a hundred poets, lamenting, in all the broad
generalities of the period, the thousands of barriers and fetters
that oppress humanity. Sometimes her lament would be clothed in lofty
indignation, flinging its wordy froth against the thrones of emperors
and the dungeons of tyrants; sometimes it would take the form of a
calm, pitying sorrow, looking on as the effulgent light of beauty faded
from a blind and slavish generation cowed and broken by the soulless
bustle of the day; then again it would appear only as a gentle sigh for
the freedom of the bird in its flight and of the cloud drifting lightly
into the distance.

At last she grew tired of lamenting, and the impotence of her grief
goaded her into doubt and bitterness. Like worshippers who beat their
saint and tread him under foot when he refuses to show his power,
she would scoff at the romance she once idolized, and scornfully ask
herself whether she did not expect the bird Roc to appear presently
in the cucumber bed, or Aladdin’s cave to open under the floor of the
milk cellar. She would answer herself in a sort of childish cynicism,
pretending that the world was excessively prosaic, calling the moon
green cheese and the roses potpourri, all with a sense of taking
revenge and at the same time with a half uneasy, half fascinated
feeling that she was committing blasphemy.

These attempts at setting herself free were futile. She sank back into
the dreams of her girlhood, but with the difference that now they were
no longer illumined by hope. Moreover, she had learned that they were
only dreams—distant, illusive dreams, which no longing in the world
could ever draw down to her earth. When she abandoned herself to them
now, it was with a sense of weariness, while an accusing inner voice
told her that she was like the drunkard who knows that his passion
is destroying him, that every debauch means strength taken from his
weakness and added to the power of his desire. But the voice sounded in
vain, for a life soberly lived, without the fair vice of dreams, was no
life at all—life had exactly the value that dreams gave it and no more.

So widely different, then, were Niels Lyhne’s father and mother, the
two friendly powers that struggled unconsciously for mastery over his
young soul from the moment the first gleam of intelligence in him gave
them something to work on. As the child grew older, the struggle became
more intense and was waged with a greater variety of weapons.

The faculty in the boy through which the mother tried to influence him
was his imagination. He had plenty of imagination, but even when he
was a very small boy, it was evident that he felt a great difference
between the fairy world his mother’s words conjured up and the world
that really existed. Often his mother would tell him stories and
describe the woeful plight of the hero, until Niels could not see
any way out of all this trouble, and could not understand how the
misery closing like an impenetrable wall tighter and tighter around
him and the hero could be overcome. Then it happened more than eleven
times that he would suddenly press his cheek against his mother’s
and whisper, with eyes full of tears and lips trembling, “But it
isn’t _really_ true?” And when he had received the comforting answer
he wanted, he would heave a deep sigh of relief and settle down
contentedly to listen to the end.

His mother did not quite like this defection.

When he grew too old for fairy tales, and she tired of inventing them,
she would tell him, with some embroideries of her own, about the heroes
of war and peace, choosing those that lent themselves to pointing a
moral about the power dwelling in a human soul when it wills one thing
only and neither allows itself to be discouraged by the short-sighted
doubts of the moment nor to be enticed into a soft, enervating peace.

All her stories went to this tune, and when history had no more heroes
that suited her, she chose an imaginary hero, one whose deeds and fate
she could shape as she pleased—a hero after her own heart, spirit of
her spirit, ay, flesh of her flesh and blood of hers too.

A few years after Niels was born, she had brought forth a still-born
boy child, and him she chose. All that he might have been and done
she served up before his brother in a confused medley of Promethean
longings, Messianic courage, and Herculean might, with a naïve
travesty, a monstrous distortion, a world of cheap fantasies, having no
more body of reality than had the tiny little skeleton mouldering in
the earth of Lönborg graveyard.

Niels was not deceived about the moral of all these tales. He realized
perfectly that it was contemptible to be like ordinary people, and he
was quite ready to submit to the hard fate that belonged to heroes.
In imagination he willingly suffered the wearisome struggles, the ill
fortune, the martyrdom of being misjudged, and the victories without
peace; but at the same time he felt a wondrous relief in thinking that
it was so far away, that nothing of all this would happen before he was
grown up.

As the dream-figures and dream-tones of night may walk abroad in the
wakeful day like vapory forms, mere shadows of sound, calling on
thought and holding it for a fleeting second, as it listens and wonders
whether any one really called—so the images of that dream-born future
whispered softly through Niels Lyhne’s childhood, reminding him gently
but ceaselessly of the fact that there was a limit set to this happy
time, and that presently one day it would be no more.

This consciousness roused in him a craving to enjoy his childhood to
the full, to suck it up through every sense, not to spill a drop, not a
single one. Therefore his play had an intensity, sometimes lashed into
a passion, under the pressure of an uneasy sense that time was flowing
away from him before he could gather from its treasure-laden waters all
they brought, as one wave broke upon another. He would sometimes throw
himself down on the ground and sob with despair when a holiday hung
heavy on his hands for the lack of one thing or another—playmates,
inventiveness, or fair weather—and he hated to go to bed, because
sleep was empty of events and devoid of sensation.

Yet it was not always so.

It would sometimes happen that he grew weary, and his imagination ran
out of colors. Then he would be quite wretched and feel that he was
too small and insignificant for these ambitious dreams. He seemed to
himself a mean liar, who had brazenly pretended to love and understand
what was great, though, if the truth were told, he cared only for the
petty, loved only the commonplace, and carried all, all low-born wishes
and desires fully alive within him. Sometimes he would even feel that
he had the class-hatred of the rabble against everything exalted, and
that he would joyfully have helped to stone these heroes who were of a
better blood than he and knew that they were.

On such days, he would shun his mother, and, with a sense of following
an ignoble instinct, would seek his father, turning a willing ear and
receptive mind to the latter’s earth-bound thoughts and matter-of-fact
explanations. He felt at home with his father and rejoiced in the
likeness between them, well-nigh forgetting that it was the same father
whom he was wont to look down upon with pity from the pinnacles of his
dream-castle. Of course this was not present in his childish mind with
the clearness and definiteness given it by the spoken word, but it was
all there, though unformed, unborn, in a vague and intangible embryo
form. It was like the curious vegetation at the bottom of the sea when
seen through layers of ice. Break the ice, or draw that which lives
in the dimness out into the full light of speech—what happens is the
same: that which is now seen and now grasped is not, in its clearness,
the shadowy thing that was.


                             _Chapter III_

The years passed. One Christmas trod upon the heels of another,
leaving the air bright with its festive glow till long after Epiphany.
Whitsun after Whitsun scampered over flower-decked meadows. One summer
holiday after another drew near, celebrated its orgie of fresh air and
sunshine, poured out its fiery wine from brimming goblets, and then
vanished, one day, in a sinking sun; only memory lingered with sunburnt
cheek and wondering eyes and blood that danced.

The years had passed, and the world was no longer the realm of wonder
that it had been. The dim recesses behind the mouldering elder-bushes,
the mysterious attic rooms, the gloomy stone passage under the Klastrup
road—fancied terrors that once thrilled him no longer lurked there.
The hillside that bloomed at the first trill of the lark, hiding the
grass under starry, purple-rimmed daisies and yellow buttercups,
the fantastic wealth of animals and plants in the river, the wild
precipices of the sand-pit, its black rocks and bits of silvery
granite—all these were just flowers, animals, and stones; the shining
fairy gold had turned into withered leaves again.

One game after another grew old and silly, stupid and tiresome like the
pictures in the A B C, and yet they had once been new, inexhaustibly
new. Here they used to roll a barrel-hoop—Niels and the pastor’s
Frithjof—and the hoop was a ship, which was wrecked when it toppled
over, but if you caught it before it fell, then it was casting anchor.
The narrow passage between the outhouses, where you could hardly
squeeze through, was Bab-el-Mandeb or the Portal of Death. On the
stable door “England” was written in chalk, and on the barn door
“France.” The garden gate was Rio Janeiro, but the smithy was Brazil.
Another game was to play Holger the Dane: you _could_ play it among
the tall burs behind the barn; but if you went up in the miller’s
pasture, there were two sink-holes known as the gorges, and there were
the haunts of the veritable Prince Burmand and his wild Saracens, with
reddish gray turbans and yellow plumes in their helmets—burdocks and
Aaron’s rod of the tallest. That was the only _real_ Mauretania. That
rank, succulent growth, that teeming mass of exuberant plant-life,
excited their lust of destruction and intoxicated them with the
voluptuous joy of demolishing. The wooden swords gleamed with the
brightness of steel; the green sap stained the blade with red gore, and
the cut stalks squashing under their feet were Turks’ bodies trampled
under horses’ hoofs with a sound as of bones crunched in flesh.

Sometimes they played down by the fjord: mussel-shells were launched
as ships, and when the vessel got stuck in a clump of seaweed, or
went aground on a sand-bank, it was Columbus in the Sargasso Sea or
the discovery of America. Harbors and mighty embankments were built;
the Nile was dug out in the firm beach sand, and once they made Gurre
Castle out of pebbles—a tiny dead fish in an oyster-shell was the
corpse of Tove, and they were King Valdemar who sat sorrowing by her
side.

But this was all past.

Niels was quite a lad now, twelve years old, nearing thirteen, and he
no longer needed to hack thistles and burdocks in order to feed his
knightly fancies, any more than he had to launch his explorer’s dreams
in a mussel-shell. A book and a corner of the sofa were enough for him
now, and if the book refused to bear him to the coast of his desires,
he would hunt up Frithjof and tell him the tale which the book would
not yield. Arm in arm, they would saunter down the road, one telling,
both listening; but when they wanted to revel to the full and really
give their imagination free play, they would hide in the fragrant
dimness of the hayloft. After a while, these stories, which always
ended just when you had really entered into them, grew into a single
long story that never ended, but lived and died with one generation
after the other; for when the hero had grown old, or you had been
careless enough to let him die, you could always give him a son, who
would inherit everything from the father, and whom, in addition,
you could dower with any other virtues that you happened to value
particularly just at the moment.

Whatever stamped itself on Niels’s mind, what he saw, what he
understood and what he misunderstood, what he admired and what he
knew he ought to admire—all was woven into the story. As running
water is colored by every passing picture, sometimes holding the image
with perfect clearness, sometimes distorting it or throwing it back
in wavering, uncertain lines, then again drowning it completely in
the color and play of its own ripples, so the lad’s story reflected
feelings and thoughts, his own and those of other people, mirrored
human beings and events, life and books, as well as it could. It was a
play life, running side by side with real life. It was a snug retreat,
where you could abandon yourself to dreams of the wildest adventures.
It was a fairy garden that opened at your slightest nod, and received
you in all its glory, shutting out everybody else. Whispering palms
closed overhead; flowers of sunshine and leaves like stars on vines of
coral spread at your feet, and among them a thousand paths led to all
the ages and the climes. If you followed one, it would lead you to one
place, and if you followed another, it would lead you to another place,
to Aladdin and Robinson Crusoe, to Vaulunder and Henrik Magnard, to
Niels Klim and Mungo Park, to Peter Simple and Odysseus—and the moment
you wished it, you were home again.

About a month after Niels’s twelfth birthday, two new faces appeared at
Lönborggaard.

One was that of the new tutor; the other was that of Edele Lyhne.

The tutor, Mr. Bigum, was a candidate for orders and was at the
threshold of the forties. He was rather small, but with a stocky
strength like that of a work-horse, broad-chested, high-shouldered, and
slightly stooping. He walked with a heavy, slow, deliberate tread, and
moved his arms in a vague, expressionless way that seemed to require
a great deal of room. His high, wide forehead was flat as a wall,
with two perpendicular lines between the eyebrows; the nose was short
and blunt, the mouth large with thick, fresh lips. His eyes were his
best feature, light in color, mild, and clear. The movements of his
eye-balls showed that he was slightly deaf. Nevertheless, he loved
music and played his violin with passionate devotion; for the notes, he
said, were not heard only with the ears, but with the whole body, eyes,
fingers, and feet; if the ear failed sometimes, the hand would find the
right note without its aid, by a strange, intuitive genius of its own.
Besides, the audible tones were, after all, false, but he who possessed
the divine gift of music carried within him an invisible instrument
compared to which the most wonderful Cremona was like the stringed
calabash of the savage. On this instrument the soul played; its strings
gave forth ideal notes, and upon it the great tone-poets had composed
their immortal works.

The external music, which was borne on the air of reality and heard
with the ears, was nothing but a wretched simulation, a stammering
attempt to say the unutterable. It resembled the music of the soul as
the statue modelled by hands, carved with a chisel, and meted with a
measure resembled the wondrous marble dream of the sculptor which no
eye ever beheld and no lip ever praised.

Music, however, was by no means Mr. Bigum’s chief interest. He was
first of all a philosopher, but not one of the productive philosophers
who find new laws and build new systems. He laughed at their
systems, the snail-shells in which they dragged themselves across
the illimitable field of thought, fondly imagining that the field
was within the snail-shell! And these laws—laws of thought, laws of
nature! Why, the discovery of a law meant nothing but the fixing of
your own limitations: I can see so far and no farther—as if there were
not another horizon beyond the first, and another and yet another,
horizon beyond horizon, law beyond law, in an unending vista! No, he
was not that kind of a philosopher. He did not think he was vain, or
that he overvalued himself, but he could not close his eyes to the
fact that his intellect had a wider span than that of other mortals.
When he meditated upon the works of the great thinkers, it seemed to
him that he strode forward through a region peopled by slumbering
thought-giants, who awoke, bathed in the light of his spirit, to
consciousness of their own strength. And so it was always; every
thought, mood, or sentiment of another person which was vouchsafed
the privilege of awakening within him rose up with his sign on its
forehead, ennobled, purified, with wings strengthened, endowed with a
power and a might that its creator had never dreamed of.

How often had he gazed with an almost humble amazement on the
marvellous wealth of his soul and the divine assurance of his spirit!
For it would often happen that different days would find him judging
the world and the things of the world from entirely divergent points
of view, looking at them through hypotheses that were as far apart as
night and morning; yet these points of view and hypotheses, which he
chose to make his own, never even for one second made him theirs, any
more than the god who has taken on the semblance of a bull or a swan
becomes a bull or a swan and ceases to be a god.

And no one suspected what dwelt within him—all passed him by unseeing.
But he rejoiced in their blindness and felt his contempt for humanity
growing. A day would come when the light of his eye would go out, and
the magnificent structure of his mind would crumble to its foundations
and become as that which had never been, but no work from his hand,
no, not a line, would he leave to tell the tale of what had been lost
in him. His genius should not be crowned with thorns by the world’s
misjudgment, neither should it wear the defiling purple cloak of the
world’s admiration. He exulted at the thought that generation after
generation would be born and die, and the greatest men of all ages
would spend years of their life in the attempt to gain what he could
have given them if he had chosen to open his hand.

The fact that he lived in such a humble fashion gave him a curious
pleasure, simply because there was such a magnificent extravagance in
using his mind to teach children, such a wild incongruity in paying
for his time with mere daily bread, and such a colossal absurdity
in allowing him to earn this bread upon the recommendation of poor,
ordinary mortals, who had vouched for him that he knew enough to take
upon himself the miserable task of a tutor. And they had given him
_non_ in his examination for a degree!

Oh, there was rapture in feeling the brutal stupidity of an existence
that cast him aside as poor chaff and valued as golden grain the empty
husks, while he knew in his own mind that his lightest thought was
worth a world!

Yet there were other times when the solitude of his greatness weighed
upon him and depressed him.

Ah, how often, when he had communed with himself in sacred silence,
hour after hour, and then returned again to consciousness of the
audible, visible life round about him, had he not felt himself a
stranger to its paltriness and corruptibility. Then he had often been
like the monk who listened in the monastery woods to a single trill
of the paradise bird and, when he came back, found that a century
had died. Ah, if the monk was lonely with the generation that lived
among the groves he knew, how much more lonely was the man whose
contemporaries had not yet been born.

In such desolate moments he would sometimes be seized with a cowardly
longing to sink down to the level of the common herd, to share their
low-born happiness, to become a native of their great earth and a
citizen of their little heaven. But soon he would be himself again.

The other newcomer was Edele Lyhne, Lyhne’s twenty-six-year-old sister.
She had lived many years in Copenhagen, first with her mother, who had
moved to the city when she became a widow, and, after her mother’s
death, in the home of a wealthy uncle, Councillor of State Neergaard.
The Neergaards entertained on a large scale and went out a great deal,
so Edele lived in a whirl of balls and festivities.

She was admired wherever she went, and envy, the faithful shadow of
admiration, also followed her. She was talked about as much as one can
be without having done anything scandalous, and whenever men discussed
the three reigning beauties of the town there were always many voices
in favor of striking out one name and substituting that of Edele Lyhne,
but they could never agree on which of two others should yield to
her—as for the third, it was out of the question.

Yet very young men did not admire her. They were abashed in her
presence, and felt twice as stupid as usual when she listened to them
with her look of mild toleration—a maliciously emphasized toleration
which crushed them with a sense that she had heard it all before and
knew it by heart. They made efforts to shine in her eyes and their own
by assuming _blasés_ airs, by inventing wild paradoxes, or, when their
desperation reached a climax, by making bold declarations; but all
these attempts, jostling and crowding one upon the other in the abrupt
transitions of youth, were met with the faint shadow of a smile, a
deadly smile of boredom, which made the victim redden and feel that he
was the one hundred and eleventh fly in the same merciless spider’s web.

Moreover, her beauty had neither the softness nor the fire to ensnare
young hearts. On older hearts and cooler heads she exercised a peculiar
fascination.

She was tall. Her thick, heavy hair was blonde with the faint reddish
sheen of ripening wheat, but fairer and curling where it grew in two
points low on the nape of her neck. Under the high, clean-cut forehead,
her eyebrows were pale and indefinite. The light gray eyes were large
and clear, neither accented by the brows nor borrowing fitful shadows
from the thin, delicate lids. There was something indeterminate and
indeterminable in their expression. They always met you with a full
and open gaze, without any of the changeful play of sidelong glances
or lightning flashes, but almost unnaturally wakeful, invincible,
inscrutable. The vivacity was all in the lower part of the face, the
nostrils, the mouth, and the chin. The eyes merely looked on. The mouth
was particularly expressive. The lips met in a lovely bow with deep,
gracious curves and flexible lines, but their beauty was a little
marred by a hardness of the lower lip, which sometimes melted away in a
smile, and then again stiffened into something akin to brutality.

The bold sweep of the back and the luxuriant fullness of the bosom,
contrasted with the classic severity of the shoulders and arms, gave
her an audacity, an exotic fascination, which was enhanced by the
gleaming whiteness of her skin and the morbid redness of her lips. The
effect was provocative and disquieting.

Her tall, slender figure had a subtle distinction, which she was clever
enough to underscore, especially in her ball dresses, with sure and
conscious art. In fact, her artistic sense applied to her own person
would sometimes speak so loudly from her costume that it barely escaped
a hint of bad taste even when most exquisitely tasteful. To many this
seemed an added charm.

Nothing could be more punctiliously correct than her behavior. In
what she said, and in what she permitted to be said, she kept within
the strictest bounds of prudery. Her coquetry consisted in not being
coquettish, in being incurably blind to her own power, and never making
the slightest distinction between her admirers. For that very reason,
they all dreamed intoxicating dreams of the face that must be hidden
behind the mask; they believed in a fire under the snow and scented
depravity in her innocence. None of them would have been surprised to
hear that she had a secret lover, but neither would they have ventured
to guess his name.

This was the way people saw Edele Lyhne.

She had left the city for Lönborggaard, because her health had suffered
from the constant round of pleasures, the thousand and one nights of
balls and masquerades. Toward the end of the winter, the doctor had
declared her lungs to be affected, and had prescribed fresh air, quiet,
and milk. All these things she found in abundance in her present abode,
but she also found an unceasing boredom, which made her long for
Copenhagen before a week had passed. She filled letter after letter
with entreaties that she might be allowed to return from her exile,
and hinted that homesickness did her more harm than the air did her
good. But the doctor had so alarmed her uncle and aunt that they felt
it their duty to turn a deaf ear to her lamentations, no matter how
pathetic.

It was not so much the social diversions she pined for; it was rather
that she craved the sense of feeling her own life mingling with
the sound-filled air of the great city, whereas in the country the
stillness in thoughts, in words, in eyes—in everything—made her
feel as though she heard herself unceasingly and with inescapable
distinctness, just as one hears a watch ticking through a sleepless
night. And to know that over there they were living exactly as
before—it was as if she were lying dead in the quiet night and heard
the strains of music from a ballroom stealing on the air over her grave.

There was no one she could talk to. No one of them all ever caught just
the shade of meaning that was the essence of what she said. Of course,
they understood her after a fashion, inasmuch as she spoke Danish,
but it was in a dull, general sort of a way, just as they might have
understood a foreign language which they heard only once in a while.
They never had the slightest idea of whom or what was meant by a
particular intonation of a word, never dreamed that such a little
phrase was a quotation, or that another, used in just such a way,
was a new variation of a popular witticism. As for their own speech,
it had a decent leanness through which one could positively feel the
grammatical ribs, and the words were used with a literalness as if
they had just come fresh from the columns of the dictionary. Even the
way they said Copenhagen! Sometimes with a mysterious emphasis, as
if it were a place where people ate little children; then again with
a far-away expression, as if they were speaking of a town in central
Africa, or in a festive voice tremulous with history, as they might
have said Nineveh or Carthage. The pastor always said Axelstead with
a reminiscent rapture, as if it had been the name of one of his old
sweethearts. Not one of them could say Copenhagen so that it meant
the city stretching from Vesterport to the Custom House on both sides
of Östergade and Kongens Nytorv. And so it was with all they said and
all they did.

There was not a thing at Lönborggaard that did not displease her; these
mealtimes regulated by the sun, this smell of lavender in chests and
presses, these Spartan chairs, all these provincial pieces of furniture
that stood shrinking against the walls as if they were afraid of
people! Even the very air was distasteful to her; she could never take
a walk without bringing home a robust perfume of meadow-hay and wild
flowers, as if she had been locked up in a haymarket.

And then to be called aunt, Aunt Edele. How it grated on her ears! She
got used to it after a while, but in the beginning it made the relation
between her and Niels rather cool.

Niels didn’t care.

Then came a Sunday in the early part of August, when Lyhne and his
wife had gone out in the carriage to pay a visit, and Niels and Miss
Edele were home alone. In the morning Edele had asked Niels to pick
some corn-flowers for her, but he had forgotten it. Suddenly, in the
afternoon, as he was walking with Frithjof, he remembered, gathered a
bouquet, and ran up to the house with it.

Everything was so still that he imagined his aunt must be asleep, and
crept silently through the house. At the threshold of the sitting-room
he stopped, with bated breath, preparing to approach Edele’s door. The
sitting-room was flooded with sunshine, and a blossoming oleander made
the air heavy with its sweet fragrance. There was no sound except a
muffled splash from the flower-stand whenever the goldfish moved in
their glass dish.

Niels crossed the room, balancing himself with outstretched arms, his
tongue between his teeth. Cautiously he grasped the door-knob, which
was so hot with the sun that it burned his hand, and turned it slowly
and carefully, knitting his brows and half closing his eyes. He pulled
the door toward him, bent in through the narrow opening, and laid the
flowers on a chair just within. The room was dark as if the shades were
down, and the air seemed moist with fragrance, the fragrance of attar
of roses. As he stooped, he saw only the light straw matting on the
floor, the wainscoting under the window, and the lacquered foot of a
Gueridon; but when he straightened himself to back out of the door, he
caught sight of his aunt.

She was stretched full-length on a couch of sea-green satin, dressed
in a fanciful gypsy costume. As she lay on her back, chin up, throat
tense, and forehead low, her loosened hair flowed down over the end
of the couch and along the rug. An artificial pomegranate flower
looked as if it had been washed ashore on an island made by a little
bronze-colored shoe in the midst of the dull golden stream.

The motley colors of her dress were rich and mellow. Dull blue, pale
rose, gray, and orange were blended in the pattern of a little low-cut
bodice of a thick, lustreless stuff. Underneath, she wore a white silk
chemise with wide sleeves falling to the elbow. The white had a faint
pinkish tone, and was shot with threads of reddish gold. Her skirt of
pansy-colored velvet without any border was gathered loosely around
her, and slid down over the side of the couch in slanting folds. Her
feet and legs were bare, and around her crossed ankles she had wound a
necklace of pale corals. An open fan was lying on the floor, showing
its pattern of playing-cards arranged in a wheel, and a little farther
away a pair of leaf-brown silk stockings had been thrown, one partly
rolled up, the other spread out and revealing the red clock.

At the same moment that Niels caught sight of her, she saw him.
Involuntarily she made a slight movement as if to rise, but checked
herself and lay still as before, only turning her head a little to look
at the boy with a questioning smile.

“I brought these,” he said, and went over to her with the flowers.

She held out her hand, glanced at them and then at her costume,
comparing the colors, and dropped them with a wearily murmured
“Impossible!”

Niels would have picked them up, but she stopped him with a motion of
her hand.

“Give me that!” she said, pointing to a red flask that lay on a
crumpled handkerchief at her feet.

Niels went to take it. His face was crimson, as he bent over the
milk-white, gently rounded legs and the long, slender feet, which had
almost the intelligence of a hand in their fine flexible curves. He
felt dizzy, and when one foot suddenly turned and bent downward with a
quick movement, he almost fell.

“Where did you pick the flowers?” Edele asked.

Niels pulled himself together and turned toward her. “I picked them in
the pastor’s rye-field,” he said, in a voice that sounded strange to
himself. He handed her the flask without looking up.

Edele noticed his emotion and looked at him astonished. Suddenly
she blushed, raised herself on one arm, and drew her feet under her
petticoat. “Go, go, go, go!” she said, half peevishly, half shyly, and
at every word she sprayed him with the attar of roses.

Niels went. When he was out of the room, she let her feet glide slowly
down from the couch and looked at them curiously.

Running with unsteady steps, he hurried through the house to his own
room. He felt quite stunned; there was a strange weakness in his
knees and a choking sensation in his throat. He threw himself down
on the couch and closed his eyes, but it was of no avail, a strange
restlessness possessed him; his breath came heavily as in fear, and the
light tortured him in spite of his closed eyelids.

Little by little a change came over him. A hot, heavy breath seemed to
blow on him and make him helplessly weak. He felt as one in a dream who
hears some one calling and tries to go, but cannot move a foot, and is
tortured by his weakness, sickens with his longing to get away, is
lashed to madness by this calling which does not know one is bound. And
he sighed impatiently as if he were ill and looked around quite lost.
Never had he felt so miserable, so lonely, so forsaken, and so forlorn.

He sat down in the flood of sunlight from the window, and wept.

From that day Niels felt a timid happiness in Edele’s presence. She
was no more a human being like any one else, but an exalted creature,
divine by virtue of her strange, mystic beauty. His heart throbbed
with rapture in merely looking at her, kneeling to her in his heart,
crawling to her feet in abject self-effacement. Yet there were moments
when his adoration had to have vent in outward signs of subjection. At
such times he would lie in wait for a chance to steal into Edele’s room
and go through a fixed rite of a certain interminable number of kisses
lavished on the little rug in front of her bed, her shoe, or any other
object that presented itself to his idolatry.

He regarded it as a piece of great good fortune that his Sunday jacket
happened to be degraded, just then, to every-day use; for the lingering
scent of attar of roses was like a mighty talisman with which he could
conjure up in a magic mirror the image of Edele as he had seen her
lying on the green couch wearing her masquerade costume. In the story
he and Frithjof were telling each other, this image was ever present,
and from now on the wretched Frithjof was never safe from bare-footed
princesses. If he dragged himself through the dense primeval forest,
they would call to him from hammocks of vines. If he sought shelter
from the storm in a mountain cave, they would rise from their couches
of velvety moss to welcome him, and when he dashed, bloody and
smoke-blackened, into the pirate’s cabin, shivering the door with a
tremendous blow of his sabre, he found them there too, resting on the
captain’s green sofa. They bored him terribly, and he could not see why
they should suddenly have become so necessary to their beloved heroes.

       *       *       *       *       *

No matter in how exalted a place a human being may set his throne,
no matter how firmly he may press the tiara of the exceptional, that
is genius, upon his brow, he can never be sure that he may not, like
Nebuchadnezzar, be seized with a sudden desire to go on all-fours and
eat grass and herd with the common beasts of the field.

That was what happened to Mr. Bigum when he quite simply fell in love
with Miss Edele, and it availed him nothing that he distorted history
to find an excuse for his love by calling Edele Beatrice or Laura or
Vittoria Colonna, for all the artificial halos with which he tried to
crown his love were blown out as fast as he could light them by the
stubborn fact that it was Edele’s beauty he was in love with; nor was
it the graces of her mind and heart that had captivated him, but her
elegance, her air of fashion, her easy assurance, even her graceful
insolence. It was a kind of love that might well fill him with shamed
surprise at the inconstancy of the children of men.

And what did it all matter! Those eternal truths and makeshift lies
that were woven ring in ring to form the heavy armor he called his
principles, what were they against his love? If they really were the
strength and marrow and kernel of life, then let them show their
strength; if they were weaker, let them break; if stronger—But they
were already broken, plucked to pieces like the mesh of rotten threads
they were. What did she care about eternal truths? And the mighty
visions, how did they help him? Thoughts that plumbed the unfathomable,
could they win her? All that he possessed was worthless. Even though
his soul shone with the radiance of a hundred suns, what did it avail,
when his light was hidden under the ugly fustian of a Diogenes’
mantle? Oh, for beauty! Take my soul and give me my thirty pieces of
silver—Alcibiades’ body, Don Juan’s mantle, and a court chamberlain’s
rank!

But, alas, he had none of these graces, and Edele was by no means
attracted to his heavy, philosophic nature. His habit of seeing life
in barbarously naked abstractions gave him a noisy dogmaticism, an
unpleasant positiveness that jarred her like a misplaced drum in a
concert of soft music. The strained quality of his mind, which always
seemed to knit its muscles and strike an attitude before every little
question like a strong man about to play with iron balls, seemed to her
ridiculous. He irritated her by his censorious morality, which pounced
on every lightly sketched feeling, indiscreetly tearing away its
incognito, rudely calling it by name, just as it was about to flit past
him in the course of conversation.

Bigum knew very well what an unfavorable impression he made and how
hopeless his love was, but he knew it as we know a thing when we hope
with all the strength of our soul that our knowledge is false. There
is always the miracle left; and though miracles do not happen, they
might happen. Who knows? Perhaps our intelligence, our instinct, our
senses, in spite of their daylight clearness, are leading us astray.
Perhaps the one thing needful is just that unreasoning courage which
follows hope’s will-o’-the-wisp as it burns over seething passions
pregnant with desire! It is only when we have heard the door of destiny
slam shut that we begin to feel the iron-cold talons of certainty
digging into our breast, gathering slowly, slowly around our heart,
and fastening their clutches upon the fine thread of hope on which our
world of happiness hangs: then the thread is severed; then all that it
held falls and is shattered; then the shriek of despair sounds through
the emptiness.

In doubt, no one despairs.

       *       *       *       *       *

On a sunny afternoon in September, Edele was sitting on the landing of
the half-dozen broad, old-fashioned steps that led down from the summer
parlor into the garden. Behind her, the French windows were wide open,
flung back against the motley wall-covering of bright red and bright
green vines. She leaned her head against a chair piled high with large
black portfolios, and held an etching up before her with both hands.
Color prints of Byzantine mozaics in blue and gold were scattered on
the pale green rush matting that covered the boards of the landing, on
the threshold, and on the oak-brown parquet floor of the summer parlor.
At the foot of the steps lay a white shade hat; for Edele’s hair was
uncovered, with no ornament but a flower of gold filigree in a pattern
to match the gold bracelet she wore high on her arm. Her white dress
was of semi-transparent stuff with narrow silky stripes; it had an
edging of twisted orange and black chenille and tiny rosettes in the
same two colors. Light silk mitts covered her hands and reached to the
elbow. They were pearl gray like her shoes.

The yellow sunlight was filtered through the drooping branches of an
ancient ash. It pierced the cool dimness, forming distinct lines of
light, powdering the air with gold dust, and painting the steps, the
wall, and the doors with spots of light, spot of sun upon spot of sun,
like a perforated shade. Through the tracery of shadow, each color rose
to meet the light: white from Edele’s dress, blood-red from crimson
lips, amber from yellow-blonde hair, and a hundred other tints round
about, blue and gold, oak-brown, glitter of glass, red and green.

Edele dropped the etching and looked up despondently, her eyes
expressing the silent plaint she was too weary to give vent to in a
sigh. Then she settled down again as if to shut out her surroundings
and withdraw within herself.

Just then Mr. Bigum appeared.

Edele looked at him with a drowsy blinking like that of a child who is
too sleepy and comfortable to stir, but too curious to shut its eyes.

Mr. Bigum wore his new beaver hat. He was absorbed in his own thoughts,
and gesticulated with his tombac watch in his hand, until the thin
silver chain threatened to snap. With a sudden, almost vicious
movement, he thrust the watch deep down into his pocket, threw back
his head impatiently, caught the lapel of his coat in a peevish grasp,
and would have gone on with an angry jerk of his whole body, his face
darkened by all the hopeless rage that boils in a man when he is
running away from his own torturing thoughts, and knows that he runs in
vain.

Edele’s hat, lying at the foot of the steps and shining white against
the black earth of the walk, stopped him in his flight. He picked it
up with both hands, then caught sight of Edele, and as he stood trying
to think of something to say, he held it instead of giving it to her.
Not an idea could he find in his brain; not a word would be born on
his tongue, and he looked straight ahead with a stupid expression of
arrested profundity.

“It is a hat, Mr. Bigum,” said Edele carelessly, to break the
embarrassed silence.

“Yes,” said the tutor eagerly, delighted to hear her confirm a likeness
that had struck him also; but the next moment he blushed at his clumsy
answer.

“It was lying here,” he added hurriedly, “here on the ground like
this—just like this,” and he bent down to show where it had lain with
an inconsequential minuteness born of his confusion. He felt almost
happy in his relief at having given some sign of life, however futile.
He was still standing with the hat in his hand.

“Do you intend to keep it?” asked Edele.

Bigum had no answer to that.

“I mean will you give it to me?” she explained.

Bigum came a few steps nearer and handed her the hat. “Miss Lyhne,” he
said, “you think—you must not think—I beg you to let me speak; that
is—I am not saying anything, but be patient with me!—I love you, Miss
Lyhne, unutterably, unutterably, beyond all words I love you. Oh, if
language held a word that combined the cringing admiration of the
slave, the ecstatic smile of the martyr, and the gnawing homesickness
of the exile, with that word I could tell you my love. Oh, listen to
me, do not thrust me away yet! Do not think that I am insulting you
with an insane hope! I know how insignificant I seem in your eyes, how
clumsy and repulsive, yes, repulsive. I am not forgetting that I am
poor,—you must know it,—so poor that I have to let my mother live
in a charitable institution, and I can’t help it, can’t help it. I am
so miserably poor. Yes, Miss Lyhne, I am only a poor servant in your
brother’s house, and yet there is a world where I am ruler, powerful,
proud, rich, with the crown of victory, noble by virtue of the passion
that drove Prometheus to steal the fire from the heaven of the gods.
There I am brother to all the great in spirit, whom the earth has
borne, and who bear the earth. I understand them as none but equals
understand one another; no flight that they have flown is too high for
the strength of my wings. Do you understand me? Do you believe me? Oh,
don’t believe me! It isn’t true, I am nothing but the Kobold figure
you see before you. It is all past; for this terrible madness of love
has paralyzed my wings, the eyes of my spirit have lost their sight,
my heart is dried up, my soul is drained to bloodless poltroonery. Oh,
save me from myself, Miss Lyhne, don’t turn away in scorn! Weep over
me, weep, it is Rome burning!”

He had fallen to his knees on the steps, wringing his hands. His face
was blanched and distorted, his teeth were clinched in agony, his eyes
drowned in tears; his whole body shook under the suppressed sobs that
were heard only as a gasping for breath.

“Control yourself, Mr. Bigum,” she said in a slightly too compassionate
tone. “Control yourself; don’t give way so, be a man! Please get up
and go down into the garden a little while and try to pull yourself
together.”

“And you can’t love me at all?” groaned Mr. Bigum almost inaudibly.
“Oh, it’s terrible! There is not a thing in my soul that I wouldn’t
murder and degrade if I could win you thereby. No, no, even if any
one offered me madness and I could possess you in my hallucinations,
_possess_ you, then I would say: Take my brain, tear down its wonderful
structure with rude hands, break all the fine threads that bind my
spirit to the resplendent triumphal chariot of the human mind, and let
me sink in the mire of the physical, under the wheels of the chariot,
and let others follow the shining paths that lead to the light! Do you
understand me? Can you comprehend that even if your love came to me
robbed of its glory, debased, befouled, as a caricature of love, as a
diseased phantom, I would receive it kneeling as if it were the Sacred
Host? But the best in me is useless, the worst in me is useless, too. I
cry to the sun, but it does not shine; to the statue, but it does not
answer—answer!... What is there to answer except that I suffer? No,
these unutterable torments that rend my whole being down to its deepest
roots, this anguish is nothing to you but an impertinence. You feel
nothing but a little cold offence; in your heart you laugh scornfully
at the poor tutor and his impossible passion.”

“You do me an injustice, Mr. Bigum,” said Edele, rising, while Mr.
Bigum rose too. “I am not laughing. You ask me if there is no hope,
and I answer: No, there is no hope. That is surely nothing to laugh
at. But there is one thing I want to say to you. From the first moment
you began to think of me, you must have known what my answer would be,
and you did know it, did you not? You knew it all the time, and yet
you have been lashing all your thoughts and desires on toward the goal
which you knew you could not reach. I am not offended by your love,
Mr. Bigum, but I condemn it. You have done what so many people do:
they close their eyes to the realities and stop their ears when life
cries ‘No’ to their wishes. They want to forget the deep chasm fate has
placed between them and the object of their ardent longing. They want
their dream to be fulfilled. But life takes no account of dreams. There
isn’t a single obstacle that can be dreamed out of the world, and in the
end we lie there crying at the edge of the chasm, which hasn’t changed
and is just where it always was. But we have changed, for we have let
our dreams goad all our thoughts and spur all our longings to the very
highest tension. The chasm is no narrower, and everything in us cries
out with longing to reach the other side, but no, always no, never
anything else. If we had only kept a watch on ourselves in time! But
now it is too late, now we are unhappy.”

She paused almost as if she woke from a trance. Her voice had been
quiet, groping, as if she were speaking to herself, but now it hardened
into a cold aloofness.

“I cannot help you, Mr. Bigum. You are nothing to me of what you wish
to be. If that makes you unhappy, you must be unhappy; if you suffer,
you must suffer—there are always some who have to suffer. If you make
a human being your God and the ruler of your fate, you must bow to the
will of your divinity, but it is never wise to make yourself gods, or
to give your soul over to another; for there are gods who will not step
down from their pedestals. Be sensible, Mr. Bigum! Your god is so small
and so little worth your worship; turn from it and be happy with one of
the daughters of the land.”

With a faint little smile, she went in through the summer parlor, while
Mr. Bigum looked after her, crestfallen. For another fifteen minutes he
walked up and down before the steps. All the words that had been spoken
seemed to be still vibrating through the air; she had so lately gone,
it seemed that her shadow must still linger there; it seemed that she
could not yet be out of reach of his prayers, and everything could not
be inexorably ended. But after a while the chambermaid came out and
gathered up the engravings, carried in the chair, the portfolios, the
rush matting—everything.

Then he could go too.

In the open gable window up above, Niels sat gazing after him. He
had heard the whole conversation from beginning to end. His face had
a frightened look, and a nervous trembling passed through his body.
For the first time he was afraid of life. For the first time his mind
grasped the fact that when life has sentenced you to suffer, the
sentence is neither a fancy nor a threat, but you _are_ dragged to the
rack, and you _are_ tortured, and there is no marvellous rescue at the
last moment, no awakening as from a bad dream.

He felt it as a foreboding which struck him with terror.

       *       *       *       *       *

Edele did not have a good autumn, and the winter drained her strength
completely. Spring, when it came, did not find one poor little
life-germ that it could warm and coax into growth; it found only a
withering, which no gentleness and no warmth could arrest or even
retard. But it could at least pour a flood of light over the paling
life and caress the ebbing strength with fragrant, balmy air, as the
evening crimson follows slowly in the wake of dying day.

The end came in May, on a day flooded with sunshine, one of the
days when the lark is never silent, and you can almost see the rye
grow. The great cherry-trees outside of her window were white with
flowers—nosegays of snow, wreaths of snow, cupolas, arches, garlands,
a fairy architecture against the bluest of skies.

She was very weak that day, and withal she felt a strange sense of
lightness. She knew what was coming, for that morning she had sent for
Bigum and said good-by to him.

Her uncle had come over from Copenhagen, and all that afternoon the
handsome, white-haired man sat by her bedside with his hand folded in
her hands. He did not speak, but once in a while he would move his
hand, and she would press it; she would look up, and he would smile to
her. Her brother, too, was in the room, gave her medicine, and helped
her in other ways.

She lay very still with closed eyes, while familiar pictures from life
over there flitted past her. Sorgenfri with hanging birches, the red
church at Lyngby standing on a foundation of graves, and the white
country house with the bit of sunken road leading down to the sea,
where the paling always was green as if painted by the water,—the
images took shape before her, grew clear, melted away, and vanished.
And other pictures came. There was Bredgade when the sun went down,
and the darkness closed in around the houses. There was the queer
Copenhagen you found when you came in from the country in the forenoon.
It seemed so weird with its hurry and bustle in the sunlight, with the
whitened window-panes and the streets smelling of fruit. There was
something unreal about the houses in the strong light; the noise and
rattle of wheels could not chase away the silence that seemed to enfold
them.... Then came the dim, quiet drawing-room in the autumn evenings,
when she was dressed for the theatre, and the others were not down
yet—the smell of incense, the wood fire from the stove lighting up
the carpet—the rain whipping the windows—the horses stamping at the
door—the melancholy cry of the mussel-venders ... and back of all this
the theatre awaiting her with light and music and festive glow.

With such pictures the afternoon wore away.

Niels and his mother were in the parlor. Niels knelt by the sofa with
his face pressed down against its brown velvet and his hands clasped
over his head. He wept and wailed aloud, giving himself up to his grief
without any attempt at self-control. Mrs. Lyhne sat beside him. The
hymn-book lay on the table in front of her, open at the hymns usually
sung at funerals. Now and then she read a few verses, and sometimes she
would bend down over her son to speak a word of soothing or chiding,
but Niels would not be comforted, and she could not stop his weeping or
the wild prayers born of his despair.

Presently Lyhne appeared in the door of the sick-room. He made no sign,
but looked at them so solemnly that both rose and followed him in to
his sister. He took them by the hand and led them to the bed. Edele
looked up and gazed at each one in turn, while her lips motioned for
words. Then Lyhne took his wife over to the window and sat down there
with her. Niels threw himself on his knees at the foot of the bed.

He wept softly and prayed with clasped hands, eagerly and incessantly,
in a low, passionate whisper. He told God that he would not stop
hoping. “I won’t let You go, Lord, I won’t let You go before You have
said ‘Yes’! You mustn’t take her away from us; for You know how we love
her—You mustn’t, You mustn’t! Oh, I can’t say, ‘Thy will be done;’ for
Your will is to let her die, but, oh, let her live! I will thank You
and obey You. I will do everything I know You want me to do. I’ll be so
good and never offend You, if You will only let her live! Do You hear,
God? Oh, stop, stop, and make her well before it’s too late! I will, I
will, oh, what can I promise You?—Oh, I’ll thank You, never, never,
forget You; oh, but hear me! Don’t You see she’s dying, don’t You see
she’s dying? Do You hear? Take Your hand away! I can’t lose her, God,
I can’t! Let her live, won’t You please, won’t You please? Oh, it’s
wicked of You—”

Outside, beyond the window, the white flowers flushed to pink in the
light of the setting sun. Arch upon arch, the blossoming sprays built
of their gossamer bloom a rose-castle, a vaulted choir of roses, and
through this airy dome the azure sky shone with a softened twilight
blue, while golden lights and lights of gold flaming to crimson shot
like the rays of a nimbus from every garlanded line of the ethereal
temple.

White and still, Edele lay there with the old man’s hand between both
of hers. Slowly she breathed out her life, breath by breath; fainter
and fainter was the rising of her breast; heavier and heavier fell the
eyelids.

“My love to Copenhagen!” was her last low whisper.

But her last message was heard by no one. It did not come from her lips
even as a breath—her message to him, the great artist whom she had
loved secretly with her whole soul, but to whom she had been nothing,
only a name that his ear knew, only one unrecognized figure in the
great admiring public.

The light faded into blue dusk, and her hands fell weakly apart. The
shadows grew—shadows of night and of death.

The old man bent down over her bed and laid his hands on her pulse,
waiting quietly, and when the last throb of life had ebbed away, when
the last feeble pulse-beat was stilled, he lifted the pale hand to his
lips.

“Little Edele!”


                              _Chapter IV_

There are those who can take up their grief and bear it, strong natures
who feel their own powers through the very heaviness of their burden.
Weaker people give themselves up to their sorrow passively, as they
would submit to a sickness; and like a sickness their sorrow pervades
them, drinks itself into their innermost being and becomes a part of
them, is assimilated in them through a slow struggle, and finally loses
itself in them, as they return to perfect health.

But there are yet others to whom sorrow is a violence done them, a
cruelty which they never learn to accept as a trial or chastisement
or as simple fate. It is to them an act of tyranny, an expression of
personal hate, and it always leaves a sting in their hearts.

Children do not often grieve in this way, but Niels Lyhne did. For had
he not been face to face with God in the fervor of his prayers? Had
he not crawled on his knees to the foot of the throne, full of hope,
tremulous with fear, and yet firm in his faith in the omnipotence of
prayer, with courage to plead until he should be heard? And he had been
forced to rise from the dust and go away with his hope put to shame.
His faith had not been able to bring the miracle down from heaven, no
God had answered his cry, death had marched straight on and seized its
prey, as if no sheltering wall of prayers had been lifted toward the
sky.

A stillness fell upon him. His faith had flung itself blindly against
the gates of heaven, and now it lay on Edele’s grave with broken
wings. For he had believed with the crude, implicit fairy-tale faith
that children so often feel. The complex, subtly shaded figure of the
Catechism is not the God children believe in; their God is the mighty
one in the Old Testament, He who loved Adam and Eve so much, and to
whom the whole generation of men, kings, prophets, Pharaohs, are
nothing but good and bad children, this tremendous, fatherly God, Who
is wrathful with the anger of a giant and bountiful with the generosity
of a giant, Who has hardly created life before He lets death loose upon
it, Who drowns His earth in the waters from His heaven, who thunders
down laws too heavy for the race He made, and who, finally, in the days
of the Emperor Augustus, has pity upon men and sends His Son to death
in order that the law may be broken while it is fulfilled. This God,
Who always answers with a miracle, is the one to whom children speak
when they pray. By and by, a day comes when they understand that they
have heard His voice for the last time in the earthquake that shook
Golgotha and opened the graves, and that now, since the veil of His
Holy of Holies has been rent in twain, it is the God Jesus who reigns;
and from that day on they pray differently.

But Niels had not yet attained to this. It is true, he had followed
Jesus on His earthly pilgrimage with a believing heart, but when he
saw Him subjecting Himself to the Father, going about so bereft of
power and suffering so humanly, all this had hidden the godhead from
him. He had seen in Him only the one Who did the will of the Father,
the Son of God, not God Himself: therefore, it was to God the Father
he had prayed, and it was God the Father who had failed him in his
bitter need. But if God had turned from him, he could turn from God. If
God had no ears, he had no lips; if God had no compassion, he had no
worship, and he defied and cast God out of his heart.

On the day Edele was buried, he spurned the earth of the grave with
his foot, whenever the pastor spoke the name of the Lord, and when
he met it afterwards in books or on the lips of people, a rebellious
frown would wrinkle his youthful forehead. When he lay down to sleep at
night, a sense of forsaken greatness came over him, as he thought that
now all the others, children and grown people, were praying to the Lord
and closing their eyes in His name, while he alone held his hands from
clasping in prayer, he alone refused to do God homage. He was shut out
from the sheltering care of Heaven. No angel watched by his side; alone
and unprotected, he drifted on the strangely murmuring waters of
darkness, and loneliness enfolded him, spreading out from his bed in
ever widening and receding circles. Still he did not pray; though he
longed till tears came, he did not call.

And it was so all his life. He had freed himself defiantly from the
point of view imposed upon him by his teachers, and he fled with his
sympathy to the side of those who had wasted their strength in vainly
kicking against the pricks. In the books he had been given to read
and in what he had been taught, God and His chosen people and ideas
marched on in an endless triumphal procession, and he had joined in the
jubilant shouting, had exulted in the sense of being counted with the
proud legions of the conqueror; for is not victory always righteous,
and is not the victor a liberator, a reformer, a light bringer?

But now the shouting had died down. Now he was silent, and he began to
enter into the thoughts of the defeated and feel with the hearts of the
vanquished. He understood that even when that which prevails is good,
that which yields is not therefore bad. He went over to the losing
side and told himself that this was finer and greater. The power of
the victor he called mere brute force and violence. He took sides—as
whole-heartedly as he could—against God, but as a vassal who takes up
arms against his liege lord; for he still believed, and could not drive
out his faith by defiance.

His tutor, Mr. Bigum, was not one who could lead a soul back to
the old paths. Indeed, his temperamental philosophy, by virtue of
which he could be fired and enraptured by each and every side of the
question—to-day, one; to-morrow, another—set all dogmas adrift in
the minds of his pupils. At bottom he was really a man of Christian
principles, and if any one could have pinned him down to saying what
was the fixed point in all this fluid matter, he would most likely have
replied that it was the creed of the Evangelical Lutheran Church or
something akin to that, but he himself had very little inclination to
drive his pupils along the straight road of orthodoxy or to warn them
at every step that the least deviation from the beaten track meant
straying into lies and darkness, likely to end in perdition and hell;
for he had none of the passionate concern of the orthodox for jots and
tittles. He was, in fact, religious in the slightly artistic, superior
manner such talented people affect, not afraid of a little harmonizing,
easily enticed into half unconscious rearrangements and adaptations,
because, whatever they do, they must assert their own personality, and,
in whatever spheres they fly, must hear the whirring of their own wings.

Such people do not guide, but their instruction has a fullness, a
copiousness, and a wobbly many-sidedness which, provided they do not
utterly confuse a pupil, tend to develop his independence in a high
degree, since they almost force him to make up his mind for himself.
For children can never rest upon anything vague or indefinite; their
very instinct of self-preservation demands a plain Yes or a plain No,
a for or against, to show them where to turn with their hate and where
with their love.

Hence there was no firm and immutable authority that might have guided
Niels with its constant clinching of arguments and pointing of ways. He
had taken the bit in his teeth, and plunged headlong on any path that
opened before him, provided only that it led him away from what had
been the home of his feelings and of his thoughts.

He felt a new sense of power in thus seeing with his own eyes and
choosing with his own heart and forming himself by his own will. Many
new things came to his mind; traits of his own nature that he had
never thought of and that seemed unrelated one to the other, fitted
themselves together wonderfully and were fused into a rational whole.
It was a fascinating time of discovery. Little by little, in fear and
uncertain exultation, in incredulous joy, he found himself. He began to
realize that he was not like others, and a new spiritual modesty made
him shy, awkward, and taciturn. He grew suspicious of questions, and
imagined he found hints of his own most hidden thoughts in everything
that was said. Having learned to read in his own heart, he supposed
everybody else could read what was written there, and he shunned
his elders, preferring to roam about alone. It seemed to him that
people had suddenly become very intrusive; he developed a slightly
hostile feeling toward them as to creatures of another race, and in
his loneliness he began to hold them up for scrutiny and judgment.
Formerly the names of father, mother, the pastor, the miller, sufficed
to characterize, and the name had quite hidden the person from him. But
now he saw that the pastor was a jolly little man, who made himself as
meek and demure as he could at home to escape the notice of his wife,
while abroad he tried to forget the domestic yoke by talking himself
into a frenzy of rebellion and loud-voiced thirst for liberty. That was
the pastor as he saw him now.

And Mr. Bigum?

He had seen him ready to throw everything overboard for Edele’s love,
had heard him deny himself and the soul within him in that hour
of passion in the garden, and now he was always talking about the
philosopher rising in Olympic calm above the vague whirlwinds and
mist-born rainbows of life. It roused a painful contempt in the lad
and made his doubts sleep but lightly, ready to wake in a moment. For
how could he know that the very things in human nature which Mr. Bigum
called by belittling names were otherwise christened when they appeared
in himself, and that his Olympic calm toward that which moves common
mortals was but a Titan’s disdainful smile, quick with memories of a
Titan’s longing and a Titan’s passions.


                              _Chapter V_

Six months had passed since Edele’s death, when one of Lyhne’s cousins,
Mrs. Refstrup, became a widow. Her husband had been a potter, but the
business had never been flourishing, and during his long illness it had
quite run to seed, so there was scarcely anything between the widow and
actual want. Seven children were more than she could provide for. The
two youngest and also the oldest, who could help her in the factory,
remained with her, but the others were distributed among the family.
The Lyhnes took the second boy, Erik, who was fourteen, and had been
studying at the Latin school in the nearest town, where he had free
tuition. Now he was to share Mr. Bigum’s instruction with Niels and
Frithjof Petersen, the pastor’s boy.

It was very much against his will that he was kept at his books, for he
wanted to be a sculptor. His father had called this nonsense, but Lyhne
had nothing against it; he said the boy had talent. Still he thought he
ought to take his bachelor’s degree first, in order to have something
to fall back upon; and besides a classical education was necessary to
a sculptor, or was, at least, very desirable. That settled the matter
for the time being. Erik had to console himself with the fairly large
collection of good engravings and neat bronzes that Lönborggaard
had to offer. This meant a great deal to one who had seen nothing
but the rubbish bequeathed the local library by a bone-carver more
freakish than artistic in taste, and Erik was soon busy with pencil
and modelling-stick. No one attracted him as did Guido Reni, who in
those days was more famous than Raphael and the greatest; nor is there
anything that can open young eyes to the beauty of a work of art
better than the certainty that their admiration is authorized up to
the highest pinnacle. Andrea del Sarto, Parmigianino, and Luini, who
were to mean so much to him later when he and his talent had found each
other, left him quite indifferent, while the boldness of Tintoretto and
the bitterness of Salvator Rosa and Caravaggio filled him with delight.
For sweetness in art has no appeal for the very young; the daintiest of
miniature painters begins his career in the footsteps of Buonarotti,
and the pleasantest of lyrists sets out on his first voyage under the
black sail of bloody tragedy.

Still Erik’s art was to him only a game, only a little better than
other games, and he was no more proud of a well-modelled head or a
cleverly carved horse than of hitting the weather vane on the church
steeple with a stone, or of swimming out to Sönderhagen and back again
without resting. These were the games in which he excelled, games
requiring physical prowess, strength, endurance, a sure hand, and a
practised eye. He cared nothing for the kind of sport Niels and
Frithjof liked, where fancy plays the leading rôle, and all the events
and triumphs are imagined. The result was that the other two soon left
their old pastime to follow Erik’s lead. Their romance books were laid
aside, and the interminable story came to a rather violent end one day
at a secret session in the hayloft. Silence brooded over its newly
filled grave. In fact, they shrank from mentioning it to Erik, for he
had not been with them many days before they suspected that he would
make fun of them and their story, that he would shame them and lower
them in their own eyes. He had the power to do this because he himself
was so free from all day-dreams and fancies and enthusiasms. His clear,
boyish common sense was as merciless in its perfect healthfulness and
as contemptuous of mental idiosyncrasies as children generally are of
physical blemishes. For that reason Niels and Frithjof were afraid of
him. They formed themselves after him, denied much and concealed more.
Niels was especially quick to suppress in himself anything that was not
of Erik’s world, and with the burning zeal of the renegade, he scoffed
at Frithjof, whose slower, more faithful nature could not instantly
throw over the old for the new. His unkind mockery really sprang from
jealousy, for he had fallen in love with Erik on the very first day,
while the latter, in shy aloofness, half reluctant, half supercilious,
just barely and grudgingly allowed himself to be loved.

Among all the emotional relations of life is there any that is finer,
more sensitive, and more fervent than the exquisitely modest love of
one boy for another boy? It is a love that never speaks and never
dares to vent itself in a caress or a look, a seeing love that grieves
bitterly over every fault in the loved one, a love made up of longing
and admiration and self-forgetfulness, of pride and humility and calmly
breathing happiness.

Erik stayed at Lönborggaard only a little over a year. It happened that
Lyhne, on a visit to Copenhagen, took occasion to speak about the boy
to one of the leading sculptors there, and showed him some of Erik’s
sketches, whereupon Mikkelsen, the sculptor, declared that this was
talent, and further studying was a waste of time. It did not require
much classical education to find a Greek name for a nude figure. So it
was settled that Erik was to be sent at once to the city to attend the
Academy and work in Mikkelsen’s studio.

On the last afternoon, Niels and Erik were sitting in their room, Niels
looking at the pictures in a penny magazine, Erik deep in Spengler’s
critical catalogue of the art collection at Christiansborg. How often
he had turned the leaves of this book and tried to form a conception of
the pictures from its naïve description! Sometimes he would get almost
sick with longing to behold all this art and beauty with his own eyes,
to grasp it in very truth and make that glory of line and color his
own by the mere strength of his enthusiasm. And how often, too, he had
closed the book, weary of gazing into that drifting, fantastic mist of
words which refused to solidify and take shape, refused to give forth
anything, but went on in a vague and confused shifting—flowing and
slipping away—flowing and slipping away.

But to-day it was all different. Now he had the certainty that the
shapes he read about would not be shadows from dreamland much longer,
and he felt rich in the promise of the book. The pictures rose before
him as never before, flashing out like brilliant, many-colored suns
from a mist that was golden and dancing with gold.

“What are you looking at?” he asked Niels.

Niels pointed to a portrait in his book representing Lassen, the hero
of the Second of April.

“How ugly he is!” commented Erik.

“Ugly! Why, he was a hero—would you call _him_ ugly, too?” Niels
turned the leaves back to the picture of a great poet.

“Awfully ugly!” replied Erik decisively, making a grimace. “What a
nose! And look at the mouth, and the eyes, and those tufts around his
head!”

Then Niels saw that he was ugly, and he was silenced. It had never
occurred to him that greatness was not always cast in a mould of beauty.

“While I think of it,” said Erik, closing his Spengler, “let me give
you the key to the deck-house.”

Niels would have brushed him aside gloomily, but Erik hung a small
padlock key around his friend’s neck on a broad piece of ribbon. “Shall
we go down there?” he asked.

They went. Frithjof they found by the garden fence. He lay there eating
green gooseberries, and had tears in his eyes because of the parting.
Besides he was hurt that the others had not looked him up; for though
he generally came uninvited, he felt that such a day demanded a certain
amount of formality. Without speaking, he held out a handful of berries
to them, but they had had their favorite dishes for dinner, and turned
up their noses.

“Sour!” said Erik with a shudder.

“Indigestible truck!” added Niels, disdainfully looking down at the
proffered berries. “How can you eat it? Chuck the stuff, we’re going
down to the deck-house,” and he pointed with his chin at the key, for
his hands were in his pockets.

At that they all three set forth.

The deck-house was an old green-painted ship’s cabin, which had once
been bought at a beach auction. It had been put up by the fjord, and
had served as a tool-house when the dam was being built, but now it was
no longer in use. So the boys had taken possession of it, and concealed
in it their ships, bows and arrows, leaping-poles, and other treasures,
particularly such forbidden but indispensable things as powder,
tobacco, and matches.

Niels opened the door of the deck-house with an air of gloomy
solemnity. They went in and fumbled till they found their things in the
dark corners of the empty bunks.

“Do you know,” said Erik, with his head deep in a distant corner, “I’m
going to blow mine up.”

“Mine and Frithjof’s too!” cried Niels with a grand, consecrating
gesture.

“Not mine, by Joe!” exclaimed Frithjof; “then what’d we have to sail
with when Erik’s gone?”

“What indeed!” mocked Niels, turning away contemptuously.

Frithjof felt uncomfortable, but when the others had gone outside, he
carefully moved his ship to a safer shelter.

Outside they quickly laid the powder in the ships imbedded in a nest of
tarred oakum, set the sails, fixed the fuses, lighted them, and sprang
back. Running along the beach, they signalled to the crew on board,
loudly explaining to one another every chance turn of the ships as the
result of the good captain’s nautical skill. But the ships ran aground
at the point without the desired explosion having taken place, and this
gave Frithjof an opportunity nobly to sacrifice the wadding of his cap
to the manufacture of new and better fuses.

With all sails set, the ships stood in toward Sjaelland reef; the
Britisher’s huge frigates came heavily lurching in a closed ring,
while the foam blew white around the black bows, and the cannon
mounted at the head filled the air with their harsh clamor. Nearer
and nearer—glowing with red and blue, glittering with gold, the
figure-heads of the _Albion_ and the _Conqueror_ rose fathom-high.
Grayish masses of sails hid the horizon; the smoke rolled out in great
white clouds, and drifted as a veiling mist low over the sun-bright
glitter of the waves. Then the deck of Erik’s ship was splintered with
a feeble little puff; the oakum caught fire, a red blaze burst forth,
and the nimble flames licked the shrouds and ran along the spars, ate
their way smouldering along the bolt-rope, then shot like long flashes
of lightning into the sails, while the burning canvas shrivelled up,
broke, and flew in large black flakes far out to sea. The Danebrog was
still waving high on the slender top of the tall schooner-mast, the
flag-staff was burned in two, the flag fluttered wildly like red wings
eager for battle,—but the flame caught it, and the smoke-blackened
ship drifted without rudder or helmsman, dead and powerless, the sport
of the winds and breakers. Niels’s ship did not burn so well; the
powder had caught fire and some smoke came out, but that was all, and
it was not enough.

“Hey, there!” called Niels from the point, “sink her! Point the
starboard cannon down the aft hatch and give her a volley!” He bent
down and picked up a stone, “Ready, fire!” and the stone flew from his
hand.

Erik and Frithjof followed suit, and soon the hull was in splinters.
Then Erik’s ship shared the same fate. The wreckage was hauled ashore
to make a bonfire. It was piled up with dry seaweed and grass into a
burning heap, from which thick smoke issued, while the crystals that
hung on the seaweed burst and crackled with the intense heat.

For a long time the boys sat quietly around the bonfire, but suddenly
Niels, still gloomy, jumped up and brought all his things from the
deck-house, broke them in little bits, and threw them into the flames.
Then Erik brought his, and Frithjof also brought some. The flames of
the sacrificial pyre leaped so high that Erik was afraid they might
be seen from the pasture, and began to smother them with wet seaweed,
but Niels stood still, gazing sorrowfully after the smoke that drifted
along the beach. Frithjof kept in the background and hummed to himself
a heroic lay, which he accompanied secretly, now and then, with a
sweeping, bard-like gesture, as if he were playing on the strings of an
invisible harp.

At last the fire died down, and Erik and Frithjof went home, while
Niels stayed behind to lock the deck-house. That done, he looked
cautiously after the others, and then threw key and ribbon far out into
the fjord. Erik happened to look around at that moment and saw them
fall, but he quickly turned his head away, and began to run a race with
Frithjof.

The next day he left.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a while they missed him sorely and bitterly, for their life had
been gradually formed on the supposition that they were three to share
it. Three were company, variety, change; two were boredom and nothing
at all.

What in the world could two find to do?

Could two shoot at a target or two play ball? They could play Friday
and Robinson Crusoe, to be sure, but then who would be the savages?

Such Sundays! Niels was so weary of existence that he began first to
review and afterwards, with the aid of Mr. Bigum’s large atlas, to
extend his geographical knowledge far beyond the prescribed bounds.
Finally, he started to read the whole Bible through and to keep a
diary. But Frithjof, in his utter loneliness, stooped so low as to seek
consolation in playing with his sisters.

After a while the past became less vivid to them, the longing less
keen. Sometimes on a quiet evening, when the sun reddened the wall in
the lonely chamber, and the distant, monotonous calling of the cuckoo
died down, making the stillness wider and larger, the longing would
come creeping into Niels’s mind, stealing its power; but it no longer
tortured, it was a vague thing that lay lightly on him and was half
sweet like a pain that is passing.

His letters showed the same trend. In the beginning they were full of
regrets, questions, and wishes loosely strung together, but soon they
grew longer, dealt more with externals, narrated, and were written
throughout in a well-formed style that hid between the lines a certain
conscious pleasure in being able to write so well.

As time passed, many things that had not dared to show themselves while
Erik was there began to raise their heads. Imagination strewed its
bright flowers through the humdrum calm of an eventless life. A dream
atmosphere enveloped Niels’s mind, bringing with it the provocative
fragrance of life, and, hidden in the fragrance, the insidious poison
of life-thirsting fancies.

So Niels grows up, and all the influences of his childhood work on the
plastic clay. Everything helps to shape it; everything is significant,
the real and the dreamed, what is known and what is foreshadowed—all
add their touch, lightly but surely, to that tracery of lines which is
destined to be first hollowed out and deepened and afterwards flattened
out and smoothed away.


                              _Chapter VI_

“Mr. Lyhne—Mrs. Boye; Mr. Frithjof Petersen—Mrs. Boye.”

It was Erik who performed the introduction, and it took place in
Mikkelsen’s studio, a light, spacious room with a floor of stamped clay
and a ceiling twenty-five feet high. At one end of the room two portals
led to the yard; at the other, a series of doors opened into the
smaller studios within. Everything was gray with the dust of clay and
plaster and marble. It had made the cobweb threads overhead as thick
as twine and had drawn river maps on the large window-panes. It filled
eyes and nose and mouth and outlined muscles, hair, and draperies on
the medley of casts that filled the long shelves running round the room
and made them look like a frieze from the destruction of Jerusalem.
Even the laurels, high trees planted in big tubs in a corner near one
of the portals, were powdered till they became grayer than gray olives.

Erik stood at his modelling in the middle of the studio wearing his
blouse and with a paper cap on his dark, wavy hair. He had acquired a
moustache and looked quite manly beside his two friends, who had just
taken their bachelor’s degree and, still pale and tired from their
examinations, looked provincially proper with their too new clothes and
their too closely cropped heads in rather large caps.

At a little distance from Erik’s scaffolding, Mrs. Boye sat in a low
high-backed chair, holding a richly bound book in one hand and a lump
of clay in the other. She was small, quite small, and slightly brunette
in coloring, with clear, light brown eyes. Her skin had a luminous
whiteness, but in the shadows of the rounded cheek and throat it
deepened to a dull golden tone which went well with the burnished hair
of a dusky hue changing to a tawny blondness in the high lights.

She was laughing when they came in, as a child laughs—a long, merry
peal, gleefully loud, delightfully free. Her eyes, too, had the artless
gaze of a child, and the frank smile on her lips seemed all the more
childlike because the shortness of her upper lip left the mouth
slightly open revealing milk-white teeth.

But she was no child.

Was she a little and thirty? The fullness of the chin did not say “No,”
nor the ripe glow of the lower lip. Her figure was well rounded with
firm, luxuriant outlines accentuated by the dark blue dress, which
fitted snugly as a riding-habit around her waist, arms, and bosom. A
dull crimson silk kerchief lay in rich folds around her neck and over
her shoulders, its ends tucked into the low pointed neck of her bodice.
Carnations of the same color were fastened in her hair.

“I am afraid we interrupted a pleasant reading,” said Frithjof with a
glance at the richly bound book.

“No, indeed—not in the least. We had been quarrelling for a full
hour about what we read,” replied Mrs. Boye. “Mr. Refstrup is a great
idealist in everything that has to do with art, while I think it’s
dreadfully tiresome—all this about the crude reality that has to be
purified and clarified and regenerated and what not until there is just
pure nothingness left. Do me the favor of looking at that Bacchante
of Mikkelsen’s—the one which deaf Traffelini over there is cutting
in marble. If I were to enter her in a descriptive catalogue.... Good
heavens! Number 77. A young lady in _negligé_ is standing thoughtfully
on both her feet and doesn’t know what to do with a bunch of grapes.
She should crush those grapes if I had my way—crush them till the red
juice ran down her breast—now shouldn’t she? Don’t you agree with
me?” and she caught Frithjof by the sleeve, almost shaking him in her
childlike eagerness.

“Yes,” Frithjof admitted; “yes, I do think there is something
lacking—something of freshness—of spontaneity—”

“It’s simply naturalness that’s lacking, and good heavens! _why_ can’t
we be natural? Oh, I know perfectly well; it’s because we lack the
courage. Neither the artists nor the poets are brave enough to own up
to human nature as it is. Shakespeare was, though.”

“Well, you know,” came from Erik behind the figure he was modelling,
“I never could get along very well with Shakespeare. It seems to me he
does too much of it; he whirls you round till you don’t know where you
are.”

“I shouldn’t go so far as to say that,” Frithjof demurred; “but on
the other hand,” he added with an indulgent smile, “I cannot call the
berserker ragings of the great English poet by the name of conscious
and intelligent artistic courage.”

“Really? Gracious, how funny you are!” and she laughed long and
heartily, laughed till she was tired. She had risen and was strolling
about the studio, but suddenly she turned, held out her arms toward
Frithjof, and cried, “God bless you!” and laughed again till she was
almost bent double.

Frithjof was on the verge of getting offended, but it seemed too fussy
to go away angry, especially as he knew himself to be in the right, and
moreover the lady was very pretty. So he stayed and began to talk to
Erik, all the while trying for Mrs. Boye’s benefit to infuse a tone of
mature tolerance into his voice.

Meanwhile Mrs. Boye was roaming about at the other end of the studio,
thoughtfully humming a tune, which sometimes rose in a few quick,
laughing trills, then sank again into a slow, solemn recitative.

A head of the young Augustus was standing on a large packing-case.
She began to dust it. Then she found some clay and made moustaches, a
pointed beard, and finally ear-rings, which she fastened on it.

While she was busy with this, Niels managed to stroll in her direction
under cover of examining the casts. She had not glanced toward him
once, but she must have sensed that he was there, for, without turning,
she held out her hand to him and asked him to bring Erik’s hat.

Niels put the hat into her outstretched hand, and she set it on the
head of Augustus.

“Good old Shakespeareson,” she said, patting the cheek of the
travestied bust, “stupid old fellow who didn’t know what he was doing!
Did he just sit there and daub ink till he turned out a Hamlet head
without thinking of it—did he?” She lifted the hat from the bust and
passed her hand over the forehead in a motherly way as if she would
push back its hair. “Lucky old chap, for all that! More than half
lucky old poet boy!—For you must admit that he wasn’t at all bad as a
writer, this Shakespeare?”

“I confess I have my own opinion of that man,” replied Niels, slightly
vexed and blushing.

“Good gracious! Have you too got your own opinion about Shakespeare?
Then what is your opinion? Are you for us or against us?” She struck an
attitude by the side of the bust and stood there, smiling, with her arm
resting on its neck.

“I am unable to say whether the opinion which you are astonished to
learn I possess is so fortunate as to acquire significance from the
fact of agreeing with your own, but I do think I may say that it is
_for_ you and your _protégé_. At any rate I hold the opinion that he
knew what he was doing, weighed what he was doing, and dared it. Many a
time he dared in doubt, and the doubt is still apparent. At other times
he only half dared, and then he blurred over with new features that
which he did not have courage to leave as he first had it.”

And he went on in this strain.

While he was speaking, Mrs. Boye grew more and more restless. She
looked nervously first to one side, then to the other, and drummed
impatiently with her fingers, while her face was clouded by a troubled
look which finally deepened to one of pain.

At last she could contain herself no longer.

“Don’t forget what you were going to say,” she exclaimed, “but I
implore you, Mr. Lyhne, stop doing that with your hand—that gesture as
if you were pulling teeth! Please do, and don’t let me interrupt you!
Now I am all attention again, and I quite agree with you.”

“But then it’s of no use to say any more.”

“Why not?”

“When we agree?”

“When we agree!”

Neither of them meant anything in particular by these last words,
but they said them in a significant tone, as if a world of delicate
meanings were hidden in them, and looked at each other with a subtle
smile, like an afterglow of the wit that had just flashed between them,
while each wondered what the other meant and felt slightly annoyed at
being so slow of comprehension.

They strolled back to the other end of the room, and Mrs. Boye took her
seat on the low chair again.

Erik and Frithjof had talked till they were beginning to be bored
with each other and were glad to be joined by the others. Frithjof
approached Mrs. Boye and made himself agreeable, while Erik, with the
modesty of the host, kept himself in the background.

“If I were curious,” said Frithjof, “I should inquire what the book was
that made you and Refstrup quarrel just as we were coming in.”

“Do you inquire?”

“I do.”

“Ergo?”

“Ergo!” replied Frithjof with a humble, acquiescent bow.

She held up the book and solemnly announced: “_Helge_, Oehlenschläger’s
_Helge_.—And what canto? It was ‘The Mermaid visits King Helge.’—And
what verse? It was the lines telling of how Tangkjaer lay down by
Helge’s side, and how he couldn’t control his curiosity any longer, but
turned

            —_and at his side,
    With white arms soft and round,
    The greatest beauty he espied
    That e’er on earth was found._

   _The maid had doffed her cloak of gray;
    Her lovely limbs were bare,
    Save for the robe like silver spray
    That veiled her form so fair._

That is all he allows us to see of the mermaid’s charms, and that is
what I am dissatisfied with. I want a luxuriant, glowing picture there;
I want to see something so dazzling that it takes my breath away. I
want to be initiated into the mysterious beauty of such a mermaid body,
and I ask of you, what can I make of lovely limbs with a piece of
gauze spread over them? Good heavens! No, she should have been naked
as a wave and with the wild lure of the sea about her. Her skin should
have had something of the phosphorescence of the summer ocean and her
hair something of the black, tangled horror of the seaweed. Am I not
right? Yes, and a thousand tints of the water should come and go in
the changeful glitter of her eyes. Her pale breast must be cool with
a voluptuous coolness, and her limbs have the flowing lines of the
waves. The power of the maelstrom must be in her kiss, and the yielding
softness of the foam in the embrace of her arms.”

She had talked herself into a glow, and stood there still animated
by her theme, looking at her young listeners with large, inquiring
child-eyes.

But they said nothing. Niels had flushed scarlet, and Erik looked
extremely embarrassed. Frithjof was absolutely carried away and stared
at her with the most open admiration, though of the three he was the
one least aware how entrancingly beautiful she was, as she stood there
with the glamor of her words about her.

Not many weeks had passed before Niels and Frithjof were as constant
visitors in Mrs. Boye’s home as Erik Refstrup. Besides her pale niece,
they met a great many young people, coming poets, painters, actors,
and architects, all artists by virtue of their youth rather than their
talent, all full of hope, valiant, lusting for battle, and easily moved
to enthusiasm. It is true, there were among them some of those quiet
dreamers who bleat wistfully toward the faded ideals of the past; but
most of them were full of ideas that were modern at the time, drunk
with the theories of modernity, wild with its powers, dazzled by its
clear morning light. They were modern, belligerently modern, modern
to excess, and perhaps not least because in their inmost hearts there
was a strange, instinctive longing which had to be stifled, a longing
which the new spirit could not satisfy—world-wide, all-embracing,
all-powerful, and all-enlightening though it was.

But, for all that, the exultation of the storm was in their young
souls. They had faith in the light of the great stars of thought; they
had hope fathomless as the ocean. Enthusiasm bore them on the wings of
the eagle, and their hearts expanded with the courage of thousands.

No doubt life would in time wear it all out, lull most of it to sleep;
worldly wisdom would break down much, and cowardice would sweep away
the rest—but what of it? The time that has gone with happiness does
not come back with grief, and nothing the future may bring can wither a
day or wipe out an hour in the life that has been lived.

To Niels the world, in those days, began to wear a different aspect.
He heard his own vaguest, most secret thoughts loudly proclaimed by
ten different mouths. He saw his own unique ideas, which to him had
been a misty landscape, with lines blurred by fog, with unknown depths
and muted notes,—he saw this landscape unveiled in the bright, clear,
sharp colors of day, revealed in every detail, furrowed everywhere
by roads, and with people swarming on the roads. There was something
strangely unreal in the very fact that the creations of his fancy had
become so real.

He was no longer a lonely child-king, reigning over lands that his own
dreams had conjured up. No, he was one of a crowd, a man in an army, a
soldier in the service of modern ideas. A sword had been placed in his
hand, and a banner waved before him.

What a wonderful time full of promise! And how strange to hear with
his ears the indistinct, mysterious whisper of his soul now sounding
through the air of reality like wild, challenging trumpet-blasts, like
the thunder of battering-rams against temple walls, like the whizzing
of David’s pebble against Goliath’s brow, like exultant fanfares. It
was as though he heard himself speaking with strange tongues, with
a clarity and power not his own, about that which belonged to his
deepest, innermost self.

This gospel of modernity, with its message of dissolution and
perfection, did not sound only from the lips of his contemporaries.
There were older men with names that carried weight whose eyes were
likewise open to the glories of new ideas. These men used more pompous
words and had more magnificent conceptions; the names of past centuries
swept along in their train; history was with them—the history of the
world and the human mind, the _Odyssey_ of thought. These were men who
in their youth had been moved by the very things that now thrilled
the young people and had borne witness to the spirit within them; but
when they heard in their own voices the sound which tells a man crying
in the wilderness that he _is_ alone, they were silenced. The young
people, however, remembered only that these men had spoken, not that
they had been silent; they were ready to bring laurel wreaths and
martyr crowns, willing to admire and happy in their admiration. Nor
did the objects of their homage repel this late-born appreciation;
they put on the crowns in good faith, looked at themselves in a large
and historic light, and poetized out of their past the less heroic
features; as for the old conviction, which ill winds had cooled, they
soon talked it into a glow again.

Niels Lyhne’s family in Copenhagen, more particularly the old
Councillor Neergaards, were not at all pleased with the circle their
young relative had entered. It was not the modern ideas that worried
them, but rather the fact that some of the young men found long hair,
great hunting-boots, and a slight slovenliness favorable to the growth
of such ideas, and though Niels himself was not at all fanatical on
this point, it was annoying to meet him, and even more annoying to
have their friends meet him, in company with youths who could be thus
characterized. These things, however, were trifles compared to his
intimacy with Mrs. Boye and his frequenting the theatre in company with
her and her pale niece.

Not that there was anything in particular to be said against Mrs. Boye,
but people talked about her. They said a great many things.

She was well born, a Konneroy, and the Konneroys were among the oldest,
most finely patrician families in town. Yet she had broken with them.
Some said it was on account of a dissipated brother, whom they had sent
off to the colonies to get rid of him. Certain it was that the break
was complete, and there were even whispers that old Konneroy had cursed
her, and afterwards had had an attack of his bad spring asthma.

All this had happened after she became a widow.

Mr. Boye, her husband, had been a pharmaceutist, an _assessor
pharmacia_, and had been knighted. When he died he was sixty and owned
a barrel and a half of gold. So far as any one knew, they had lived
quite happily together. In the first three years of their marriage, the
elderly husband had been very much in love, but later they had each
lived their own life, he busy with his garden and with keeping up his
reputation as a great man at stag parties, she with theatres, romantic
music, and German poetry.

Then he died.

When the year of mourning was over, the widow went to Italy and lived
there for two or three years, spending most of the time in Rome. There
was nothing in the rumor that she had smoked opium in the French club,
nor in the story that she had allowed herself to be modelled in the
same manner as Paulina Borghese; and the little Russian prince who shot
himself while she was in Naples did not commit suicide for her sake. It
was true, however, that German artists never tired of serenading her;
and it was true that one morning she had donned the dress of an
Albanian peasant girl and had seated herself on the steps of a church
high up in the Via Sistina, where a newly arrived artist had engaged
her to stand as a model for him with a pitcher on her head and a little
brown boy holding her hand. At least there was such a picture hanging
on her wall.

On the way home from Italy she met a countryman, a noted clever critic,
who would rather have been a poet. A negative, sceptical nature,
people called him, a keen mind, one who dealt harshly and pitilessly
with others because he dealt harshly and pitilessly with himself and
supposed his brutality to be justified by that fact. Nevertheless, he
was not quite what they believed him to be; he was not so repellently
uncompromising nor so robustly consistent as he appeared. Although he
was always in a state of strife against the idealistic tendencies of
the age and called them by more disparaging names, still he felt drawn
toward these dreamy, ethereal ideals, this blue-blue mysticism, these
unattainable heights and evanescent lights; they appealed to him more
than the earth-born opinions for which he did battle and in which, most
of the time, he believed.

Rather against his will, he fell in love with Mrs. Boye, but he did
not tell her so, for his was not a young and open love, nor a hopeful
one. He loved her as a creature of another, a finer and happier race
than his own, and there was in his love a rancor, an instinctive rage
against everything in her that bore the marks of race.

He looked with hostile, jealous eyes upon her sentiments and opinions,
her tastes and views of life. He fought with every weapon he possessed,
with subtle eloquence, with heartless logic and harsh authority, with
derision wrapped in pity, to bring her over to his side, and he won.
But when truth had conquered, and she had become like him, he saw
that the victory was too complete, that he had loved her as she was,
with her illusions and prejudices, her dreams and her errors, and not
as she had now become. Dissatisfied with himself, with her, and with
everything in his own country, he went away and did not return. But
then she had just begun to love him.

This relationship, of course, gave people food for talk, and they made
the most of it. The Councillor’s wife told Niels about it in the tone
that aged virtue uses in speaking of young error, but Niels took it in
a manner that offended and horrified the old lady. He replied in a high
strain about the tyranny of society and the freedom of the individual,
about the plebeian respectability of the mob and the nobility of
passion.

From that day on he went but seldom to the home of his solicitous
relatives, but Mrs. Boye saw him all the more frequently.


                             _Chapter VII_

It was an evening in spring; the sun threw a red light into the room,
as it sank toward the horizon. The wings of the windmill on the
embankment drew shadows over the window-panes and the walls, coming,
going, in a monotonous swinging from darkness to light: a moment of
darkness, two moments of light.

At the window, Niels Lyhne sat gazing through the darkly burnished
elms on the embankment to the fiery clouds beyond. He had been in the
country, walking under blossoming beeches, past green rye-fields, over
flower-decked meadows. Everything had been so fair and light, the sky
so blue, the Sound so bright, the women he met so wondrously beautiful.
Singing, he had followed the forest path, but soon the words had died
out of his song, then the rhythm was lost, at last the tones were
muted, and silence came over him like a fit of giddiness. He closed his
eyes, and still he felt how his body drank the light, and his nerves
vibrated with it. Every breath he drew of the cool, intoxicating air
sent his blood rushing more wildly through the quivering, helpless
veins. He felt as though all the teeming, budding, growing, germinating
forces of spring were mysteriously striving to vent themselves through
him in a mighty cry, and he thirsted for this cry, listened for it,
till his listening grew into a vague, turgid longing.

Now, as he sat there by the window, the longing awoke in him again.

He yearned for a thousand tremulous dreams, for cool and delicate
images, transparent tints, fleeting scents, and exquisite music from
streams of highly strung, tensely drawn silvery strings—and then
silence, the innermost heart of silence, where the waves of air
never bore a single stray tone, but where all was rest unto death,
steeped in the calm glow of red colors and the languid warmth of fiery
fragrance.—This was not what he longed for, but the images glided
forth from his mood and submerged all else until he turned from them to
follow his own train of thought again.

He was weary of himself, of cold ideas and brain-dreams. Life a poem?
Not when you went about forever poetizing about your own life instead
of living it. How innocuous it all was, and empty, empty, empty!
This chasing after yourself, craftily observing your own tracks—in
a circle, of course. This sham diving into the stream of life while
all the time you sat angling after yourself, fishing yourself up in
one curious disguise or another! If he could only be overwhelmed by
something—life, love, passion—so that he could no longer shape it
into poems, but had to let it shape him!

Involuntarily he made a gesture as if to ward it off with his hand.
After all, he was afraid in his inmost heart of this mighty thing
called passion. This storm-wind sweeping away everything settled and
authorized and acquired in humanity as if it were dead leaves. He
did not like it! This roaring flame squandering itself in its own
smoke—no, _he_ wanted to burn slowly.

And yet this living on at half speed in quiet waters, always in sight
of land, seemed so paltry. Would that the storm and waves would come!
If he only knew how, his sails should fly to the yards for a merry run
over the Spanish Main of life! Farewell to the slowly dripping days,
farewell to the pleasant little hours! Peace be with you, you dull
moods that have to be furbished with poetry before you can shine, you
lukewarm emotions that have to be clothed in warm dreams and yet freeze
to death! May you go to your own place! I am headed for a coast where
sentiments twine themselves like luxuriant vines around every fibre of
the heart—a rank forest; for every vine that withers, twenty are in
blossom; for each one that blossoms, a hundred are in bud.

Oh, that I were there!

He grew tired of his longing and sick of himself. He needed people. But
of course Erik was not in now. Frithjof had been with him all morning,
and it was too late for the theatre. Nevertheless he went out and
strolled dejectedly through the streets.

Perhaps Mrs. Boye would be in. This was not one of her evenings and it
was rather late. Suppose he try, anyway.

Mrs. Boye was in. She was home alone. Too tired from the spring air to
go to a dinner party with her niece, she had preferred to lie on the
sofa, drinking strong tea and reading Heine; but now she was tired of
verses and wanted to play lotto.

So they played lotto. Fifteen, twenty, thirty-seven, a long series of
figures, the rattling of dice in a bag, and an irritating sound of
balls rolling on the floor in the apartment above them....

“This is not amusing,” said Mrs. Boye, when they had played for a long
time without covering any numbers. “Is it?—No!” she answered herself
and shook her head disconsolately. “But what else can we play?”

She folded her hands before her on the disks and looked at Niels with a
hopeless, inquiring gaze.

Niels really did not know.

“Anything but music!” She bent her face down over her hands and touched
her lips to the knuckles, one after the other, the whole row, then back
again. “This is the most wretched existence in the world,” she said,
looking up. “It isn’t possible to have anything like an adventure, and
the small happenings that life has to offer are surely not enough to
keep one’s spirits up. Don’t you feel that, too?”

“Well, I can’t suggest anything better than that we act like the Caliph
in Arabian Nights. With that silk kimono you are wearing, if you would
only wind a white cloth around your head, and let me have your large
Indian shawl, we could easily pass for two merchants from Mossul.”

“And what should we two unfortunate merchants do?”

“Go down to Storm Bridge, hire a boat for twenty pieces of gold, and
sail up the dark river.”

“Past the sand-chests?”

“Yes, with colored lamps on the masthead.”

“Like Ganem, the Slave of Love.—Oh, I know that line of thought so
well! It’s exactly like a man—to get so terribly busy building up
scenery and background, forgetting the action itself for the setting.
Have you never noticed that women live much less in their imagination
than men? We don’t know how to taste pleasure in our fancy or escape
from pain with a fanciful consolation. What is, is. Imagination—it is
so innocuous. When we get as old as I am now, then sometimes we content
ourselves with the poverty-stricken comedy of imagination. But we ought
never to do it—never!”

She settled herself languidly on the sofa, half reclining, her hand
under her chin, her elbow supported by the cushions. She gazed dreamily
out before her, and seemed quite lost in melancholy thoughts.

Niels was silent too, and the room was so quiet that the restless
hopping of the canary bird was plainly heard; the great clock ticked
and ticked its way through the silence, louder and louder, and a string
in the open piano, suddenly vibrating, emitted a long, low, dying note
that blended with the softly singing stillness.

She looked very young as she lay there, flooded from head to foot
in the soft yellow light of the lamp above her. There was something
alluring in the incongruity of her beautiful, strongly moulded throat
and matronly Charlotte Corday cap with the frank child-eyes and the
little mouth opening over milk-white teeth.

Niels looked at her admiringly.

“How strange it is to long for one’s self!” she said; “and yet I often,
so often, long for myself as a young girl. I love her as one whom I had
been very close to and shared life and happiness and everything with,
and then had lost while I stood helpless. What a wonderful time that
was! You cannot conceive the purity and delicacy of such a young girl’s
soul when she is just beginning to love for the first time. It can only
be told in music, but you can think of it as a festival in a fairy
palace, where the air shines like blushing silver. It is filled with
cool flowers, and they change color, their tints are slowly shifting.
Everything is song, jubilant and yet soft. Dim presentiments gleam and
glow like mystic wine in exquisite dream-goblets. It is all song and
fragrance; a thousand scents are wafted through the palace. Oh, I could
weep when I think of it, and when I think that if it could all come
back to me, by a miracle, just as it was, it would no longer bear me
up; I should fall through like a cow trying to dance on cobwebs.”

“No, quite the contrary,” said Niels eagerly, and his voice trembled,
as he went on: “no, the love you could feel now would be much finer,
much more spiritual than that young girl’s.”

“Spiritual! I hate this spiritual love. The flowers growing from that
soil are made of cotton cloth; they don’t even grow, they are taken
from the head and stuck in the heart, because the heart has no flowers
of its own. That is exactly what I envy in the young girl: everything
about her is genuine, she does not fill the goblet of her love with the
makeshift of imagination. Do not suppose, because her love is shot
through and shadowed over by imagined pictures and again pictures in a
great, teeming vagueness, that she cares more for those images than for
the earth she walks upon. It is only that all her senses and instincts
and powers are reaching out for love everywhere—everywhere, without
ever feeling weary. But she does not revel in her fancies, nor even so
much as rest in them; no, she is very much more genuine, so genuine
that in her own unwitting manner she very often becomes innocently
cynical. You have no idea, for instance, of what intoxicating pleasure
a young girl finds in breathing secretly the odor of cigars that clings
to the clothes of the man she loves—that is a thousand times more to
her than a whole conflagration of fancies. I despise imagination. What
good is it, when our whole being yearns toward the heart of another, to
be admitted only to the chilly ante-room of his imagination! And that
is what happens so often. How often we have to submit to letting the
man we love deck us out with his imagination, put a halo around our
head, tie wings on our shoulders, and wrap us in a star-spangled robe!
Then at last he finds us worthy of his love, when we masquerade in this
costume; but then we can’t be ourselves, because we are too dressed up,
and because men confuse us by kneeling in the dust and worshipping us
instead of just taking us as we are and simply loving us.”

Niels was quite bewildered. He had picked up the handkerchief she
dropped and sat there intoxicating himself with its perfume. He was not
at all prepared to have her look at him in that impatient, questioning
way, just as he was absorbed in studying her hand, but he managed to
answer that he thought a man could not give a finer proof of his love
than this—that he had to justify himself to himself for loving a human
being so unutterably, and therefore set her so high and surrounded her
with a nimbus of divinity.

“But that is just what I find so insulting,” said Mrs. Boye, “as if we
were not divine enough in ourselves.”

Niels smiled complacently.

“No, you mustn’t smile, I’m not joking. It is really very serious, for
this adoration is at bottom tyrannical in its fanaticism; it cramps us
in a mould of man’s ideal. Slash a heel and clip a toe! Anything in us
that doesn’t square with man’s conception has to be eliminated, perhaps
not by force, but by ignoring it, systematically relegating it to
oblivion, and never giving it a chance to develop, while the qualities
we don’t possess or that aren’t in the least characteristic of us are
forced to the rankest growth by lauding them to the skies, taking for
granted that we have them in the fullest measure, and making them the
cornerstone on which man builds his love. I say that we are subjected
to a drill; man’s love puts us through a drill. And we submit to it,
even those who love no one submit to it, contemptible minions that we
are!”

She had risen from her reclining posture and looked threateningly at
Niels.

“If I were beautiful!—oh, I mean ravishingly beautiful, more alluring
than any woman who ever lived, so that all who saw me were struck
with unquenchable, agonizing love as by witchcraft—then I would use
the power of my beauty to make them adore _me_, not their traditional
bloodless ideal, but myself, as I am, every inch, every line of _my_
being, every gleam of _my_ nature!”

She had risen now to her full height, and Niels thought he ought to
go, but he stood turning over in his mind a great many audacious
words, which, after all, he did not dare to utter. At last, summoning
all his courage, he seized her hand and kissed it, but she gave him
her other hand to kiss too, and then he could say nothing more than:
“Good-night.”

Niels Lyhne had fallen in love with Mrs. Boye, and he was happy because
of it.

When he went home through the same streets where he had strolled so
dejectedly that same evening, it seemed to him that ages had passed
since he walked there. His bearing had acquired a new poise, a grave
decorum, and when he carefully buttoned his gloves, he did so with a
subconscious sense that he had undergone a great change which somehow
demanded that he should button his gloves—carefully.

Too much absorbed to think of sleep, he went up on the embankment.

It seemed to him that his thoughts flowed very quietly. He was
surprised at his own calm, but he did not have perfect faith in it. He
felt as though something in the very depths of his being were bubbling,
very softly, but persistently: welling up, seething, pressing on, but
far, far away. He was in a mood as one who waits for something that
must come from afar, a distant music that must draw near, little by
little, singing, murmuring, frothing, rushing, roaring, and whirling
down over him, catching him up he knew not how, carrying him he knew
not whither, coming on as a flood, breaking as a surf, and then—

But now he was calm. There was only the tremulous singing in the
distance; otherwise all was peace and tranquillity.

He loved—he said it aloud to himself again and again. The words had
such a strange ring of dignity, and held such deep meanings. They
meant that he was no longer a captive in the imagined world of his
childhood, nor was he the sport of aimless longings and misty dreams.
He had escaped from the elf-land that had grown up with him and around
him, encircling him with a hundred arms, blindfolding him with a
hundred hands. He had broken away from its grasp and had become master
of himself, and though it reached after him, implored him with dumb
appealing eyes, and beckoned him with white fluttering garments, its
power was dead as a dream killed by day, a mist dispelled by the sun.
Was not his young love day and sun and all the world? He had been
strutting about in royal purple not yet spun, and had taken his seat on
a throne not yet built; but now he stood on a high mountain, looking
out over the world that stretched before him like a plain. In this
world thirsting for song he had as yet no existence and was not even
awaited. What a rapturous thought it was that, in all this silent,
wakeful infinity, not a breath of his spirit had stirred a leaf or
raised a ripple. It was all his to win, and he knew that he could win
it. He felt strong and all-conquering as only those can feel whose
songs are still unsung, throbbing in their own breast.

The soft spring air was full of perfumes, not saturated with them as
the summer nights may be, but rather as it were streaked—now with the
pungent aroma from resinous young poplars, now with the cool breath of
late violets, and again with the sweet almond odor of cherry-trees. The
scents came and mingled, were wafted away and dissolved; sometimes one
would quicken and free itself from the others, only to die as suddenly
or to vanish slowly on a breath of wind. Light moods flitted across
his mind like the shadows from this fitful dance of scents, and as the
perfumes mocked his senses by coming and going as they listed, so his
mind was baffled by his vain longing to be borne aloft, calmly resting
in tranquil flight on the slowly gliding wings of a mood. For his moods
were not yet birds with wings strong enough to carry him; they were
down and feathers only, drifting on the wind, falling like snow, and
melting.

He tried to recall the picture of her as she lay on the sofa and
talked to him, but it would not come. He saw her vanishing in a lane
of trees; or sitting and reading with her hat on, holding one of the
large white leaves in her gloved fingers, just on the point of turning
it, then turning leaf after leaf. He saw her entering her carriage
in the evening after the theatre and nodding to him behind the pane;
then the carriage drove away, and he stood looking after it; it kept
on driving, and he still followed it with his eyes. Indifferent faces
came and spoke to him, figures he had not seen for years passed down
the street, turned and looked after him, and still the carriage kept
on driving, and he could not get rid of it, could not think of other
pictures because of that carriage. Then, just as he was getting nervous
with impatience, it came: the yellow light from the lamp, the eyes, the
mouth, the hand under the chin, as plainly as if it were all before him
there in the darkness.

How lovely she was, how mild, how fair! He loved her with a desire that
knelt at her feet, begging for all this seductive beauty. Cast yourself
from your throne down to me! Make yourself my slave! Put the chain
around your neck with your own hands, but not in sport,—I want to pull
the chain, I demand submission in your every limb, bondage in your
eyes! Oh, that I could draw you to me with a love-philtre, but, no, a
love-philtre would compel you, you would yield to its power without
volition, and I want none to be your master but myself. Your will must
be broken in your hands, and you must hold it out humbly to me. You
shall be my queen, and I your slave, but my slave’s foot must be on
your queenly neck. There is no lunacy in this desire, for is it not in
the nature of a woman’s love to be proud and strong and to bend? It is
love, I know, to be weak and to reign.

He felt that he could never draw to himself the part of her soul that
was one with the luxuriant, glowing, sensuous-soft aspect of her
beauty; it would never clasp him in those gleaming Juno arms, never
in passionate weakness give that voluptuous neck to his kisses—never
in all eternity. He saw it all clearly. He could win, perhaps he
already had won, the young girl in her, and he was sure that she, the
full-blooded beauty, felt this fair young creature who had died within
her mysteriously stirring in her living grave to clasp him with slender
maiden arms and meet him with timid maiden lips. But his love was not
that. He loved the very thing in her that he could not win, loved this
neck with its warm, flower-like whiteness gleaming with a dew of gold
under the dusky hair. He sobbed with yearning passion and wrung his
hands with impotent desire, threw his arms around a tree, leaned his
cheek against the bark, and wept.


                             _Chapter VIII_

There was in Niels Lyhne’s nature a lame reflectiveness, child of
an instinctive shrinking from decisive action, grandchild of a
subconscious sense that he lacked personality. He was always struggling
against this reflectiveness, sometimes goading himself by calling it
vile names, then again decking it out as a virtue that was a part
of his inmost self and was bound up with all his possibilities and
powers. But whatever he made of it, and however he looked upon it, he
hated it as a secret infirmity, which he might perhaps hide from the
world, but never from himself; it was always there to humiliate him
whenever he was alone with himself. How he envied the audacity that
rushes confidently into words, never heeding that words bring actions,
and actions bring consequences—until those consequences are at its
heels. People who possessed it always seemed to him like centaurs—man
and horse cast in a single mould. With them impulse and leap were one,
whereas he was divided into rider and horse—impulse one thing, leap
something very different.

Whenever he pictured himself declaring his love for Mrs. Boye—and he
always had to picture everything—he could plainly see himself in the
scene, his attitude, his every motion, his whole figure from the front,
from the side, and from the back. He could see himself falter with
the feverish irresolution that robbed him of his presence of mind and
paralyzed him, while he stood there awaiting her answer as if it were
a blow forcing him to his knees, instead of a shuttlecock to be thrown
back in ever so many ways and returned in as many more.

He thought of speaking, and he thought of writing, but he never managed
simply to blurt it out. It was said only in veiled declarations and in
a half-feigned lyric passion that made a pose of being carried away
into hot words and fantastic hopes. Nevertheless, a certain intimacy
of a strange kind grew up between them, born of a youth’s humble
love, a dreamer’s ardent longing, and a woman’s pleasure in being the
inaccessible object of romantic desire. Their relation took the form of
a myth that arose, neither of them knew how, a pale, still myth bred in
a drawing-room. Its heroine was a fair woman who had loved in her early
youth one of the great men in the world of thought. He had gone away to
die in a strange land, forgotten and forsaken. And the fair woman sat
sorrowing for many long years, though none knew her suffering; solitude
alone was sacred enough to look upon her grief. Then came a youth who
called the departed great one master, who was filled with his spirit
and enthusiastic for his work. And he loved the sorrowing woman. To her
it seemed that the dead happy days rose from their grave and came to
life again. A sweet, strange bewilderment came over her; past and
present were blurred in the silvery mist of a shadowy dream-day, in
which she loved the youth, partly as himself and partly as the image of
another, and gave him the half of her soul. But he must tread softly,
lest the dream-bubble should burst; he must put a stern bar to all hot
earthly longings, lest they should dispel the tender twilight and wake
her to sorrow again.

Sheltered by this myth, their intimacy gradually took on a stable
form. They called each other by their Christian names and were Niels
and Tema to each other when they were alone, while the presence of
the niece was reduced to a minimum. To be sure, Niels sometimes tried
to break through the accepted barriers, but Mrs. Boye was so much the
stronger that she could easily and gently quell all such attempts at
insubordination, and Niels had to submit and fall back for a time on
this fanciful passion with real tableaux. Their relation never ran out
into a platonic flatness; nor did it sink to rest in the monotony of
habit. Rest was the word that least of all described it. Niels Lyhne’s
hope was never weary, and though it was gently suppressed whenever it
would flare up in a demand, that only made it smolder more hotly than
ever in secret. And how Mrs. Boye would feed the fire by her thousand
and one coquetries, her provocative simplicity, and her naked courage
in discussing the most delicate subjects! Besides, the game was not
entirely in her hands, for there were times when her blood would dream
in its idleness of rewarding this half-tamed devotion by lavishing on
it the fullest rapture of love in order to rejoice in its wondering
happiness. But such a dream was not easily extinguished, and the next
time Niels came she would meet him with the nervousness of conscious
sin, a shyness born of wrongdoing, a sweet shame that made the air
strangely tremulous with passion.

There was yet another thing that gave their intimacy a certain tension.
Niels Lyhne’s love possessed so much virility that he chivalrously held
himself back from taking in imagination what the reality denied him,
and even in that separate world where everything did his bidding he
respected Mrs. Boye as if she were actually present.

Hence their relation was well buttressed from both sides, and there was
no immediate danger that it would fall to pieces. Indeed, it seemed
made for a nature at once brooding and athirst for life such as Niels
Lyhne’s, and though it was only a game, it was a game of realities,
sufficient to give him that undercurrent of passion which he needed.

Niels Lyhne was bent upon being a poet, and there was much in the
external circumstances of his life to lead his thoughts in that
direction and stimulate his faculties for the task. So far, however, he
had little but his dreams to write about, and nowhere is there more
sameness and monotony than in the world of imagination; for in that
dreamland, which seems so boundless and so infinitely varied, there
are, in fact, only a few short beaten paths where everybody walks and
from which no one ever strays. People may differ, but in their dreams
they do not differ; there they always attain the three or four things
that they desire—it may be with more or less speed and completeness,
but they always attain them in the end. No one seriously dreams of
himself as empty-handed. Therefore no one ever discovers himself in
his dreams or becomes conscious through them of his individuality. Our
dreams tell nothing of how we are satisfied when we win the treasure,
how we relinquish it when lost, how we feast on it while it is ours,
where we turn when it is taken from us.

Niels Lyhne’s poetry had hitherto been nothing but the expression of
an esthetic personality which, in a general way, found spring teeming,
the ocean wide, love erotic, and death melancholy. He himself was not
in his poems; he merely put the verses together. But now a change came
over him. Now that he wooed a woman and wanted her to love him,—him,
Niels Lyhne of Lönborggaard, who was twenty-three years old, walked
with a slight stoop, had beautiful hands and small ears, and was a
little timid, wanted her to love him and not the idealized Nicolaus of
his dreams, who had a proud bearing and confident manners, and was a
little older,—now he began to take a vital interest in this Niels whom
he had hitherto walked about with as a slightly unpresentable friend.
He had been so busy decking himself with the qualities he lacked
that he had not had time to take note of those he possessed, but now
he began to piece his own self together from scattered memories and
impressions of his childhood and from the most vivid moments of his
life. He saw with pleased surprise how it all fitted together, bit by
bit, and was welded into a much more familiar personality than the one
he had chased after in his dreams. This figure was far more genuine,
far stronger, and more richly endowed. It was no mere dead stump of
an ideal, but a living thing, full of infinite shifting possibilities
playing through it and shaping it to a thousandfold unity. Good God, he
_had_ powers that could be used just as they were! He _was_ Aladdin,
and there was not a thing he had been storming the clouds for but it
had fallen right down into his turban.

Now came a happy time for Niels, the glorious time when the mighty
impulse of growth sweeps us jubilantly past the dead points in our
own nature; when we are filled to bursting with a strength that makes
us eager to put our shoulders to mountains if need be, while we build
away bravely on the Tower of Babel, which is meant to pierce the sky,
but ends in being just a squatty structure that we go on all our lives
adding to—now a timid spire, now a freakish bay window.

Everything was changed; his nature, his faculties, and his work fitted
into one another like cogged wheels. He could never think of stopping
to rejoice in his art, for a thing was no sooner finished than it was
cast aside: he had outgrown it even while he worked on it, and it
became a mere step that led upward to an ever-receding goal, one of
many steps on a road he had left behind him and forgotten even while it
resounded with his footfall.

While he felt himself borne along by new impulses and new thoughts to
greater power and wider vision, he grew more and more solitary. One
after another of his old friends and comrades fell back and vanished
from his ken, for he lost interest in them when he saw less and less
difference between these men of the opposition and that majority which
they attacked. Everything seemed to him to melt together in one great
hostile mass of boredom. What did they write when they gave the call
to battle? Pessimistic verses in which they declared that dogs were
often more faithful than men and jailbirds more honest than those who
walked freely about, eloquent odes to the effect that green woods and
brown heath were preferable to dusty cities, stories of peasant virtue
and rich men’s vice, of red-blooded nature and anemic civilization, the
narrowness of age and the divine right of youth. What modest demands
they made when they wrote! They were at least bolder when they talked
within four safe walls.

No, when his time came, he would give them music—a clarion call!

His older friendships suffered too, especially that with Frithjof.
The fact was that Frithjof, who had a very positive nature, a good
head for systems, and a broad back for dogmas, had read a little too
much Heiberg, and had taken it all for gospel truth, never suspecting
that the makers of systems are clever folk who fashion their systems
from their books and not their books from their systems. It is a
well-known fact that young people who have committed themselves to a
system generally become great dogmatists, because of the praiseworthy
affection youth often bears to what is finished and finite. And
when you have become the possessor of the whole truth, it would be
unpardonable to keep it for yourself alone and to allow less fortunate
fellow creatures to go their own misguided way, instead of leading and
instructing them, pruning away their wild shoots with loving severity,
forcing them up against the wall with gentle coercion, and pointing
out to them the lines along which they must grow, in order that they
may sometime, when they have been formed into correct and artistic
espaliers, thank you, even if tardily, for the trouble you have taken.

Niels was fond of saying that he liked nothing better than criticism,
but the truth was that he preferred admiration, and he certainly
would not brook criticism from Frithjof, whom he had always regarded
as his serf, and who had always been delighted to wear the livery of
his opinions and his principles. And here he was trying to play the
equal and to masquerade in a self-chosen mantle! Of course he must be
snubbed, and Niels first tried, in a tone of good-natured superiority,
to make Frithjof ridiculous in his own eyes, but when that would not
work he had recourse to insolent paradoxes, which he would scorn to
discuss, simply throwing them out in all their grotesque hideousness
and then retiring behind a teasing silence.

In this way they grew apart.

With Erik he got on better. Their boyish friendship had always kept a
certain reserve, a kind of spiritual modesty, and this had saved them
from the too great familiarity that is so dangerous to friendship. They
had been enthusiastic together in the festival hall of their souls and
had chatted intimately in the drawing-room, but they had never made
free with each other’s bed-rooms, bath-rooms, and other private places
in the mansion of their souls.

It was the same now; indeed, the reserve was, if anything, stricter, at
least on Niels’s part, but that did not lessen their friendship, the
cornerstone of which, now as of old, was Niels Lyhne’s admiration for
Erik’s spirit and audacity, his way of seeming at home with life, and
his readiness to grasp and hold. Yet Niels could not conceal from
himself that the friendship was extremely one-sided. Not that Erik was
wanting in real affection or faith in him—far from it. No one could
think more highly of Niels than Erik did; he considered him so vastly
his own superior in intellect that he never dreamed of criticizing, but
this blind admiration led him to place Niels and his work and interests
too far beyond the horizon his own eyes could scan. He was sure that
Niels would go far along the road he had chosen, but he was equally
sure that his own feet had nothing to do on that path, nor did he ever
attempt to set them there.

Niels felt that this was rather hard; for though Erik’s ideals were
not his, and though Erik in his art tried to express a romanticism or
a romantic sentimentalism with which he was not in accord, he could
still feel a broader sympathy by virtue of which he faithfully followed
his friend’s development, rejoiced with him when he gained a step, and
helped him to hope when he stood still.

In this way their friendship was one-sided, and it was not strange that
Niels should have his eyes opened to the lack in it just at the time
when his own mind was struggling with new ideas, and he felt the need
of pouring out his thoughts to a sympathetic listener. It made him
bitter, and he began to examine more closely this friend whom he had
always judged so leniently. A dreary sense of loneliness came over him
as he realized how everything he had brought with him from home and
from the old days seemed to fall away from him and let him go his own
way, forgotten and forsaken. The door to the past was barred, and he
stood outside, empty-handed and alone; whatever he needed and desired
he must win for himself—new friends and new shelter, new affections
and new memories.

       *       *       *       *       *

For more than a year, Mrs. Boye had been Niels’s only real companion,
when a letter from his mother, telling him that his father was
dangerously ill, called him back to Lönborggaard.

When he arrived, his father was dead.

The consciousness that for several years he had longed very little for
his home weighed on Niels almost like a crime. He had often enough
visited it in his thoughts, but always as a guest with the dust of
other lands on his clothes and the memories of other places in his
heart: he had never longed for it in passionate homesickness as for the
fair sanctuary of his life, nor pined to kiss its soil and rest under
its roof. Now he repented that he had been faithless to his home, and,
oppressed as he was by his grief, he felt his remorse darkened by a
sense that in some mysterious way he was an accessory to what had
happened, as though his faithlessness had called death in. He wondered
how he could ever have lived contentedly away from this home which now
drew him with such strange power. With every fibre of his being he
clung to it, in an infinite, desolate longing, uneasy because he could
not become one with it as fully as he would, miserable because the
thousand memories that called from every corner and every bush, from
sounds and myriad scents, from the play of light and from the silence
itself,—because all these things called with such distant voices that
he could not grasp them in the strength and fullness he craved; they
seemed only to whisper in his soul like the rustling of leaves that
fall to the ground and the lapping of waves that flow on and ever on....

Happy in his sorrow is he who at the death of one dear to him can weep
all his tears over the emptiness, the desolation, and the loneliness.
Sorer and bitterer are the tears with which you try to atone for the
past when you have failed in love toward one who is gone and to whom
you can never make amends for what you have sinned. For now they come
back to you: not only the hard words, the subtly poisoned retorts, the
harsh censure, and the unreasoning anger, but even unkind thoughts that
were not put into words, hasty judgments that merely passed through
your mind, unseen shruggings of the shoulder, and hidden smiles full of
contempt and impatience, they all come back like malign arrows, sinking
their barb deep in your own breast, their dull barb, for the point
has been broken off in the heart that is no more. There is nothing
you can expiate any more, nothing. Now there is abundance of love in
your heart, now that it is too late. Go now to the cold grave with
your full heart! Does it bring you any nearer? Plant flowers and bind
wreaths—does that help you?

At Lönborggaard they were binding wreaths; there, too, they were
haunted by memories of hours when love had been silenced by harsher
voices; to them, too, the stern lines about the closed mouth of the
grave spoke of remorse.

It was a dark, sad time, but it held a ray of light in that it brought
mother and son more closely together than they had been for many, many
years; for in spite of the great love they bore to each other, they
had always been, as it were, on their guard each toward the other, and
there had been a certain reserve in their intercourse, from the time
when Niels grew too large to sit on his mother’s knee. He had shrunk
from the excitable and high-strung side of her nature, while she had
felt something alien in the timidity and hesitation of his. But now
life itself, which keys up and tones down and harmonizes, had prepared
their hearts, and would soon give them wholly to each other.

Scarcely two months after the funeral, Mrs. Lyhne fell violently ill,
and for a long time her life was in danger. The anxiety that filled
these weeks seemed to force their earlier grief into the background,
and when Mrs. Lyhne began to get better, it seemed to both her and
Niels that years had been thrust in between them and the freshly made
grave. Especially to Mrs. Lyhne the time seemed long. While she was
ill she had been sure that she was going to die and had been very much
afraid of death. Even now that she had begun to recover, and the doctor
had declared the danger to be past, she could not rid herself of her
gloomy thoughts.

It was a dreary convalescence, in which her strength returned as it
seemed reluctantly, drop by drop. She felt no gentle and healing
drowsiness, but rather a restless languor with a depressing sense of
weakness and an incessant, impotent longing for strength.

After a while there was a change; her recovery was more rapid, and her
strength came back. Still the idea that she and life were soon to part
did not leave her, but lay like a shadow over her and held her captive
in a perturbed and yearning melancholy.

One evening she was sitting alone in the summer parlor, gazing out
through the wide-open doors. The trees of the garden hid the gold and
crimson of the sunset, but in one spot the trunks parted to reveal a
bit of fiery sky, from which a sunburst of long, deep golden rays shot
out, waking green tints and bronze-brown reflections in the dark leafy
masses.

High above the restless tree-tops, the clouds drifted dark against a
smoke-red sky, and as they hurried on, they left behind them little
loosened tufts, tiny little strips of cloud which the sunlight steeped
in a wine-colored glow.

Mrs. Lyhne sat listening to the wind in the trees. Her head moved very
slightly in time with the uneven swelling and sinking of each gust, as
it came rushing, swept on boisterously, and died away. But her eyes
were far away, farther even than the clouds they gazed on. Pale in her
black widow’s garb, she sat there with a piteous expression of unrest
about her faintly colored lips, while her hands fidgeted with the thick
little book on her lap. It was Rousseau’s _Héloïse_. Other books were
piled up around her: Schiller, Staffeldt, Evald, and Novalis, and large
portfolios with prints of old churches and ruins and mountain lakes.

Now she heard doors opening and shutting, then steps that seemed to
seek some one in the inner rooms, and presently Niels came in. He had
been for a long walk by the fjord. His cheeks were ruddy from the fresh
air, and the wind was still in his hair.

Outside, the blue-gray colors had prevailed in the sky, and a few heavy
drops of rain splashed against the windows.

Niels told of how high the waves came rolling in and how they had
washed the seaweed up on the beach, and about what he had seen and whom
he had met. As he talked, he gathered up the books, closed the doors to
the garden, and fastened the windows. Then he sat down on the low stool
at his mother’s feet, took her hand in his, and laid his cheek on her
knee.

It had grown quite black outside; the rain beat like hail and ran in
streams down casements and panes.

“Do you remember,” said Niels after a long silence,—“do you remember
how often we sat like this in the dusk and went out in search of
adventures, while father was talking to Jens Overseer in his office,
and Duysen was rattling the teacups in the dining-room? And when the
lamp was brought in, we both woke up from our strange adventures to
the sheltered comfort around us, yet I can well remember that I always
thought the story did not stop when we did, but went on unfolding
somewhere under the hills on the way to Ringkjöbing.”

He did not see his mother’s wistful smile, but he felt her hand passing
gently over his hair.

“Do you remember,” she said after a while, “how often you promised me
that when you grew up you would sail out in a big ship and bring me
back all the treasures of the world?”

“Do I remember! I was to bring hyacinths, because you loved hyacinths
so much, and a palm like the one that died, and pillars of gold and
marble. There were so many pillars in your stories, always. Do you
remember?”

“I have been waiting for that ship—no, sit still, dear, you don’t
understand me—it was not for myself, it was the ship of your
fortune.... I hoped your life would be full and glorious, that you
would travel on shining paths.... Fame—everything—No, not that, if
you would only be one of those who fight for the greatest. I don’t know
how it is, but I am so tired of commonplace happiness and commonplace
goals. Do you understand me?”

“You wanted me to be a Sunday child, mother dear, one of those who do
not pull in harness with others, but have their own heaven to be saved
in, and their own place of damnation all to themselves, too.—We wanted
to have flowers on board, didn’t we? Gorgeous flowers to strew over a
bleak world; but the ship did not come, and they were poor birds, Niels
and his mother, were they not?”

“Have I hurt you, dear? Why, it was nothing but dreams; don’t mind
them!”

Niels was silent a long time, for he felt a shyness about what he
wanted to say. “Mother,” he said, “we are not so poor as you think.
Some day the ship will come in.—If you would only believe that and
believe in me.... Mother—I am a poet—really—through my whole soul.
Don’t imagine this is childish dreams or dreams fed by vanity. If you
could feel my grateful pride in what’s best in me—my humble joy in
saying this, so little personal, so far from vainglory, you would
believe it just as I want you to believe it. Dearest, dearest! I
_shall_ be one of those who fight for the greatest, and I promise you
that I shall not fail, that I shall always be faithful to myself and my
gift. Nothing but the best shall be good enough. No compromise, mother!
When I weigh what I have done and feel that it isn’t sterling, or when
I hear that it’s got a crack or a flaw—into the melting-pot it goes!
Every single work must be my best! Do you see why I have to promise?
It’s my gratitude for my riches that drives me to make vows, and you
must receive them. Then if I fail, it will be a sin against you, for
it’s all owing to you that my soul is like a high-vaulted room—your
dreams and longings have given me the impulse to growth, and your
sympathies and your unsatisfied thirst for beauty have consecrated me
to my life-work.”

Mrs. Lyhne wept silently. She felt herself growing pale with rapture.
Softly she laid both hands on her son’s head, but he drew them gently
to his lips and kissed them.

“You have made me so happy, Niels! Then my life has not been one long,
useless sigh, if I have helped to lead you on as I hoped and dreamed so
ardently—good heavens! how often I have dreamed it!—And yet there is
so much sadness mixed in my joy, Niels! To think that my fondest wish
should be fulfilled, the thing I have longed for so many years.... Such
things happen only when life is almost done.”

“You mustn’t talk like that, you mustn’t! Why, everything is going on
well, and you are getting stronger every day, mother dear, are you not?”

“It is so hard to die,” she said under her breath. “Do you know what I
was thinking of in those long sleepless nights, when death seemed so
terribly near? I thought the bitterest of all was to know that there
were so many great and beautiful things out in the world which I should
have to leave behind without ever having seen them. I thought of the
thousands and thousands of souls they had lifted up and filled with
life and joy, while for me they had not existed. It seemed to me that
my soul would fly away poverty-stricken on feeble wings, without any
golden memories to carry with it as a reflection from the glories of
its homeland, because it had only been sitting in the chimney-corner
listening to stories about the wonderful world.—Niels, no one can
imagine what agony it is to lie imprisoned in a dull, dark sick-room
and struggle, in your feverish fancies, to call up before you the
beauties of lands you have never seen—snowy Alpine peaks above
blue-black mountain lakes, and sparkling rivers between vine-clad
banks, and long lines of mountains with ruins peeping out of the woods,
and then lofty halls with marble gods—and never to get it quite, but
always to give up and start over again, because it seems so terribly
hard to leave it without having had the slightest part in it.... O God,
Niels, to long for it with your whole soul, while you feel that you are
being slowly carried to the threshold of another world, to stand on the
threshold and look back with a long, long gaze, while all the time you
are being forced through that door where none of your longings have
gone before you.... Niels, take me along in your thoughts, dear, when
the time comes for you to share in all that glory which I shall never,
never see!”

She wept.

Niels tried to comfort her. He laid bold plans for the journey they
would take together as soon as she was quite well. He meant to go
to the city to consult a doctor, and he was sure the doctor would
agree with him that it was the best thing they could do; So-and-so
had travelled and had recovered from his illness completely, simply
through the change; a change often worked wonders. He began to trace
their route in every detail, spoke of how warmly he would wrap her up,
what short trips they would take at first, what a delightful journal
they would keep, how they would notice even the smallest trifles, how
amusing it would be to eat the queerest things in the loveliest spots,
and what awful sins against grammar they would commit in the beginning.

He went on in this strain all that evening and on the days that
followed, never wearying. She entered into his plan as into a pleasant
fancy, but she was plainly convinced that it would never come to pass.

Nevertheless Niels, acting on the doctor’s advice, went on making
all the necessary preparations for the trip, and she let him do as
he pleased, even fix the day of departure—sure that _that_ would
happen which would bring all his plans to naught. But when, finally,
there were only a few days left, and when her youngest brother, who
was to manage the farm in their absence, had really arrived, she grew
uncertain, and now it was she who was most eager to be off, for there
still lurked in her mind a fear that the obstacle would leap out and
stand in their way at the very last moment.

So they set off.

The first day she was still nervous and uneasy with a lingering trace
of her fear, and only when the day was happily ended could she begin
to grasp the fact that she was actually on her way to all the glory
she had longed for so sorely. Then a feverish joy came over her; her
every thought and word was colored by extravagant anticipation, and her
thoughts circled unceasingly around what the coming days would bring,
one after the other.

And it all came to pass, all that she had hoped, but it did not fill
her with rapture nor carry her away with the power or the fervor she
had expected. She had imagined it all different, and had imagined
herself different, too. In dreams and poems everything had been, as
it were, beyond the sea; the haze of distance had mysteriously veiled
all the restless mass of details and had thrown out the large lines
in bold relief, while the silence of distance had lent its spirit of
enchantment. It had been easy then to feel the beauty; but now that
she was in the midst of it all, when every little feature stood out
and spoke boldly with the manifold voices of reality, and beauty was
shattered as light in a prism, she could not gather the rays together
again, could not put the picture back beyond the sea. Despondently
she was obliged to admit to herself that she felt poor, surrounded by
riches that she could not make her own.

She yearned to go on and ever on, still hoping to find a spot she might
recognize as a bit of the world she had dreamed, that world which, with
every step she took to approach it, seemed to extinguish the magic
glamor that had suffused it and to lie spread before her disappointed
eyes in the commonplace light of everybody’s sun and everybody’s moon.
But she sought in vain, and as the year was already far advanced, they
hastened to Clarens, where the doctor had advised them to spend the
winter, and where, moreover, a last faintly gleaming hope lured the
tired, dream-wrapped soul; for was it not the Clarens of Rousseau, the
Paradise of Julie!

There they remained, but it was of no avail that Winter made himself
gentle and held his cold breath from touching her; against the fever in
her blood he had no healing. And Spring, when he came on his triumphal
march through the valley with the miracle of sprouting seeds and the
gospel of budding leaves, he too had to pass her by and let her stand
withering in the midst of all this exuberant renascence. The strength
that welled out to her from light and air and earth and water could
not be transformed to strength within her; it could not make her blood
drunk with health nor force it to sing exultantly in the great hymn
to the omnipotence of Spring. No, she could but wither, for the last
dream that had appeared before her in the dimness of her home as a new
reddening dawn, the dream of the glories of the distant world, had not
been followed by day. Its colors seemed paler the nearer she came, and
she felt that they were pale to her because she had longed for colors
that life does not hold and for a beauty that earth cannot ripen. But
her longing was not quenched; silent and strong it burned in her heart,
hotter in its unstilled thirst, hot and consuming.

Round about her, Spring celebrated his feast pregnant with beauty.
Snowdrops rang it in with their white bells, and crocuses welcomed it
joyfully holding up their veined chalices. Hundreds of tiny mountain
streams tumbled headlong down into the valley to report that Spring
had come, but they were all too late, for when they trickled between
green banks, primroses in yellow and violets in blue stood there and
nodded: We know it, we know it; we knew it before you! The willows
unfurled their yellow banners, and the curly ferns and the velvety moss
hung green garlands over the naked walls of the vineyards, while down
below dry nettles hid the stones with long borders of brown and green
and faint purple. The grass spread its mantle of green far and wide,
and no end of pretty flowers sat down upon it: there were hyacinths
with blossoms like stars and blossoms like pearls, legions of daisies,
gentians, anemones, dandelions, with a hundred others. And high above
this bloom on the ground there floated in the air, borne up by the
hoary trunks of aged cherry-trees, a thousand shining flower islands,
where the light foamed against white shores dotted by blue and red
butterflies bringing a message from the flower continent below.

Every day brought new flowers, forcing them out of the ground in motley
patterns in the gardens by the sea, pouring them out over the branches
of the trees down there—paullinias like giant violets and magnolias
like huge purple-stained tulips. Along the paths the flowers advanced
in blue and white phalanxes. They filled the meadows with yellow
swarms, but nowhere was there such a maze of bloom as in the little
sheltered valleys up among the hills, where the larch stood with
glittering ruby cones amidst pale green needles, for there the
narcissus blossomed in dazzling myriads, filling the air far and wide
with the drowsy fragrance from their white orgies.

With all this beauty round about her, she still sat there with the
old unanswered longing for beauty in her heart. It was only now and
then, when the sun sank behind the gentle slopes of Savoy, and the
mountains beyond the sea seemed made of brown opaque glass, as if
their precipitous sides had drunk the light, that nature could hold
her senses spellbound. Then, when the bright yellow mists of evening
veiled the distant Jura Mountains, and the lake, like a copper mirror
from which tongues of golden flame shot into the red sunset glow,
seemed to melt with the sky into one vast, shining infinity,—then it
would seem, once in a great while, as though the longing were silenced,
and the soul had found the land it sought.

As spring advanced, her strength failed more and more. Soon she did not
leave her bed, but she was no longer afraid of death; she awaited it
eagerly, for she cherished the hope that beyond the grave she would be
face to face with all the glory, be one in soul with the fullness of
beauty which here on earth had drawn her in hope and yearning,—a
yearning which had been clarified and transfigured by the increasing
pain of long empty years and thus prepared to attain its goal. She
dreamed many a gentle, wistful dream of how she would return in memory
to what earth had given her, return from the land of immortality, where
all the beauty of the earth would be always beyond the sea.

So she died, and Niels buried her in the friendly churchyard at
Clarens, where the brown vineyard mould covers the children of so many
lands, and where broken columns and veiled urns repeat the same words
of mourning in so many languages.

They gleam white under dark cypresses and among the winter bloom of the
viburnum; early roses strew their petals over many of them, and often
the ground at their base is blue with violets, but over every mound and
every stone creep the glossy-leaved vines of the gentle periwinkle,
Rousseau’s favorite flower, sky blue as never a sky was blue.


                              _Chapter IX_

Niels Lyhne hurried home. He could not bear his loneliness among so
many strangers, but the nearer he came to Copenhagen, the oftener he
asked himself what he wanted there, and the more he regretted that
he had not stayed abroad. For whom did he have in Copenhagen? Not
Frithjof, and Erik was travelling in Italy on a scholarship, so he was
not there. Mrs. Boye? It was a queer affair, this relation with Mrs.
Boye. Now that he came straight from his mother’s grave, it seemed to
him, not exactly a desecration or anything like that, and yet out of
tune with the key in which his present moods were pitched. It was a
discord. If he had been going to meet his fiancée, his young blushing
bride, now that his soul had so long been bent on filial duties, it
would not have conflicted with his feeling. It was of no use that he
tried to take a superior tone with himself and call the change in his
conception of his intimacy with Mrs. Boye Philistine and provincial.
The word “Bohemian” formed itself subconsciously as an expression of a
distaste that he could not reason away, and it was in line with this
mood that his first visit, after he had engaged his old rooms at the
embankment, was to the Neergaards and not to Mrs. Boye.

The following day he called on her, but did not find her in. The
janitor said she had taken a villa at Emiliekilde, which surprised
Niels, for he knew that her father’s country house was in that
neighborhood.

Well, he would have to go out there in a day or two.

But the very next day he received a note from Mrs. Boye asking him
to meet her in her apartment in town. The pale niece had seen him in
the street. A quarter before one he was to come—he _must_ come. She
would tell him why, _if he did not know it_. Did he know it? He must
not misjudge her, and not be unreasonable. He knew her too well, and
why should he take it as a plebeian nature would? He must not—please!
After all, they were not like other people. Oh, if he only _would_
understand her! Niels, Niels!

This letter made him strangely excited, and he suddenly remembered
with a sense of uneasiness that Mrs. Neergaard had looked at him with
a sarcastic pitying expression and had smiled and said nothing in a
curious meaning way. What could it be? What in the world could have
happened?

The mood that had kept him away from Mrs. Boye had vanished so
completely that he could not understand how he had ever felt it. He was
alarmed. If they had only written to each other like sensible people!
_Why_ had they not written? He certainly had not been so busy. It was
queer how he would allow himself to be so absorbed in the place where
he happened to be that he forgot what was far away, or if he did not
forget it, at least pushed it into the distant background, where it was
buried by the present—as under mountains. No one would think he had
imagination.

At last! Mrs. Boye herself opened the door to the ante-room before he
had time to ring. She said nothing, but gave him her hand in a long,
sympathetic clasp; the newspapers had announced his bereavement.
Niels said nothing either, and so they walked silently through the
parlor, between the two rows of chairs in red-striped covers. The
chandelier was wrapped in paper, and the window-panes were whitened.
In the sitting-room everything was as usual, except that the Venetian
blinds were rolled down before the opened windows, and as they moved
to and fro in the slight breeze, they struck the casement with a
faint, monotonous tapping. Rays of light reflected from the sunlit
canal outside filtered in between the yellow slats and made squares of
tremulous wavy lines in the ceiling, which quivered with the rippling
of the waves outside. Otherwise all was hushed and still, silently
waiting with bated breath....

Mrs. Boye could not make up her mind where she wanted to sit: finally
she decided on the rocking-chair, and dusted it assiduously with her
handkerchief, but instead of sitting down she stood behind the chair,
resting her hands on its back. She still wore her gloves and had only
drawn one arm out of her half-fitting black mantilla. Her dress was
of silk tartan in a very tiny check matching the broad ribbons on the
wide, round Pamela hat of light straw which half hid her face as she
stood looking down and rocking the chair nervously.

Niels seated himself on the piano-stool at a distance from her, as if
he expected something unpleasant.

“Then you know it, Niels?”

“No, but what is it I don’t know?”

The chair stopped. “I am engaged.”

“Are you engaged? But how—why—Mrs. Boye?”

“Oh, don’t call me Mrs. Boye, and don’t begin to be unreasonable
right away!” She leaned against the back of the rocking-chair with a
little air of defiance. “Surely you can understand that it isn’t the
pleasantest thing in the world for me to stand here and explain to you.
I will do it, but you might at least help me.”

“What do you mean? Are you engaged, or are you not?”

“I have just told you that I am,” she replied with gentle impatience,
looking up.

“Then may I be allowed to wish you joy, Mrs. Boye, and to thank you
very much for the time we have known each other.” He had risen to his
feet and bowed sarcastically several times.

“And you can part from me like this, quite calmly? I am engaged, and
then we are done, and everything that has been between us two is just
a stupid old story which mustn’t be brought to mind any more. Past is
past, and that is all—Niels, all the precious days—will the memory of
them be silent from now on? Will you never, never think of me, never
miss me? Won’t you call the dream forth again, on many a quiet evening,
and give it the colors it might have glowed with? Can you keep from
loving it all back to life again in your thoughts and ripening it to
the fullness it might have had? Can you? Can you put your foot on it
and crush it all out of existence, every bit of it? Niels!”

“I hope so; you have shown me that it can be done.—But this is
nonsense, pure, unmitigated nonsense from beginning to end. Why did you
arrange this comedy? I have no shadow of a right to reproach you. You
have never loved me, never said that you loved me. You have given me
leave to love you, that is all, and now you withdraw your permission.
Or perhaps you will allow me to go on, though you have given yourself
to another? I don’t understand you, if you can imagine that to be
possible. We are not children. Or are you afraid I shall forget you too
soon? Never fear. You are not one to be blotted easily out of a man’s
life. But take care! A love like mine does not come to a woman twice in
her life; take care that you do not bring misfortune upon yourself
by casting me off! I don’t wish you any harm, no, no! May you never
know want and sickness, and may you have all the happiness that comes
with wealth, admiration, and social success, in measure full and
overflowing, that is my wish for you. May all the world stand open to
you, all but one little door, one single little door, however much you
knock and try to open it—but otherwise everything as fully and widely
as it is possible to wish it.”

He spoke slowly, almost sadly, not bitterly, but with a strangely
tremulous note in his voice, a note that was new to her and moved her.
She had grown a little pale and stood leaning stiffly against the
chair. “Niels,” she said, “don’t predict misfortune! Remember you were
not here, Niels, and my love—I did not know how real it was; it seemed
more like something that just interested me. It breathed through my
life like a delicate spiritual poem, it never caught me in strong arms;
it had wings—only wings. At least I thought so. I did not know better
until now, or until the moment I had done it—said Yes and all that.
Everything was so difficult, there were so many things all at once and
so many people to consider.... It began with my brother, Hardenskjold,
the one who was in the West Indies, you know. He had been rather wild
when he was here, but over there he settled down and became so sensible
and went into partnership with some one and made a lot of money, and
married a rich widow, a sweet little thing, I assure you, and he and
father made up, for Hardie was so changed, oh, he is so respectable
there is no end to it, and so susceptible to what people say—terribly
bourgeoise, oh! Of course, he thought I ought to be taken up in the
bosom of the family again, and every time he came here he lectured me
and pleaded and palavered, and you see father is an old man now, and so
at last I did it, and everything was just as in the old days.”

She paused for a moment and began to take off first her mantilla and
then her hat and gloves, and, busy with all this, she turned a little
away from Niels, while she went on talking.

“And then Hardie had a friend who is very highly respected—oh,
extremely so, and they all thought I ought to do it and wished it so
much, and then you see I could take my position in society just as
before, or really better than before, because he is so very highly
respected in every way, and after all that is what I have been wishing
for a long time. I suppose you can’t understand that? You would never
have thought it of me? Quite the contrary. Because I was always making
fun of conventional society with its banalities and its stereotyped
morality, its thermometer of virtue and its compass of womanliness—you
remember how witty we were! It is to weep, Niels, for it wasn’t true,
at least not all the time. I will tell you something: we women can
break away for a while, when something in our lives has opened our eyes
to the love of freedom that after all is in us, but we can’t keep it
up. It is in our blood, this passion for the quintessence of propriety
and the pinnacle of gentility up to its most punctilious point. We
can’t bear to be at war with the established order that is accepted
by all commonplace people. In our inmost selves we really think these
people are right, because they are the ones that sit in judgment,
and in our hearts we bow to their judgments and suffer from them, no
matter how brave a face we wear. It is not natural for us women to be
exceptional, not really, Niels, it makes us so queer, more interesting,
perhaps, but still—Can you understand it? It is silly, don’t you think
so? But at least you can comprehend that it made a strange impression
on me to return to the old surroundings. So many things came back to
me, memories of my mother and of her standards. It seemed as though I
had come into a safe haven again; everything was so peaceful and well
ordered, and I had only to bind myself to it to be properly happy ever
after. And so I let them bind me, Niels.”

Niels could not help smiling; he felt so superior, and was so sorry for
her, as she stood there, girlishly unhappy in the midst of all this
confession. He was softened and could not find any hard words.

He went over to her.

Meanwhile she had turned the chair toward her and had sunk down on it,
and now she was sitting there quite forlorn and pathetic, leaning back
with arms hanging and face lifted, gazing out under lowered eyelids
through the darkened parlor with its two rows of chairs into the dim
ante-room.

Niels laid his arm along the back of the chair and rested his hand on
its arm, as he bent over her. “And you had quite forgotten—me?“ he
whispered.

She seemed not to hear him and did not even lift her eyes, but at last
she shook her head, very faintly, and, after another long pause, shook
it again, very faintly.

Round about them everything was very still at first. Then a maid came
clattering along the halls and singing, as she polished the door-locks;
the noise of the knobs turning cut brutally into the silence and made
it seem deeper than before when it suddenly came back. After a while,
nothing was heard except the drowsy, monotonous tapping of the blinds.

The silence seemed to rob them of the power of speech, almost of
thought. She sat as before with her eyes fixed on the dim ante-room,
while he remained standing, bending over her, gazing at the pattern of
her silk dress, and, unconsciously, lured by the enveloping stillness,
he began to rock her in the chair—very—softly—very—softly....

She lifted her eyelids for a look at his shadowed profile, and lowered
them again in quiet content. It was like a long embrace; it was as
though she gave herself into his arms when the chair went back, and
when it swung forward again, and her feet touched the floor, there was
something of him in the pressure of the boards against her foot. He
felt it too; the process began to interest him, and he rocked more and
more vigorously. It was as though he came nearer and nearer to taking
her as he drew the chair farther back; there was anticipation in the
instant when it was about to plunge forward again, and when it came
down there was a strange satisfaction in the soft tap of her passive
feet against the floor; then when he pushed it down yet a little
farther there was complete possession in the action which pressed her
sole gently against the floor and forced her to raise her knee ever so
slightly.

“Let us not dream!” said Niels at last with a sigh and relinquished the
chair.

“Yes, let us!” she said almost pleadingly, and looked innocently at him
with great wistful eyes.

She had risen slowly.

“No dreams!” said Niels nervously, putting his arm around her waist.
“Too many dreams have passed between you and me. Have you never felt
them? Have they never touched you like a light breath caressing your
cheek or stirring your hair? Is it possible that the night has never
been tremulous with sigh upon sigh that dropped and died on your lips?”

He kissed her, and it seemed to him that she grew less young under his
kisses, less young, but lovelier, more glowing in her beauty, more
alluring.

“I want you to know it,” he said. “You don’t know how I love you, how
I have suffered and longed. Oh, if those rooms at the embankment could
speak, Tema!”

He kissed her again and again, and she threw her arms around his neck
with such abandon that her wide silk sleeves fell back above the
billowing lace of the white undersleeves, above the gray elastic that
held them together over the elbow.

“What could those rooms say, Niels?”

“Tema, they could say, ten thousand times and more; they could pray in
that name, rage in that name, sigh and sob in it; they could threaten
Tema, too.”

“Could they?”

From the street below came a conversation floating in through the open
window complete and unabridged, the most commonplace worldly wisdom
drawled in shopworn phrases, welded together by two untemperamental,
gossipy voices. All this prose made it more wonderful yet to stand
there, heart to heart, sheltered in the soft, dim light.

“How I love you, sweetheart, sweetheart—in my arms you are so dear;
are you so dear, so dear? And your hair—I can hardly speak, and all my
memories—so dear—all my memories of how I cried and was wretched and
longed so miserably, they press on and force their way in as if they
too would be happy with me in my happiness—do you understand?—Do you
remember, Tema, the moonlight last year? Are you fond of it?—Oh, you
don’t know how cruel it can be. Such a clear, moonlight night, when the
air seems to have stiffened in cold light, and the clouds lie there in
long layers—Tema, flowers and leaves hold their fragrance so close
around them it is like a frost of scents covering them, and all sounds
seem so far away and die so suddenly and do not linger at all—Such a
night is so merciless, for it makes longing grow so strangely intense;
the silence draws it out from every corner of your soul, sucks it out
with hard lips, and there is no glimmering hope, no slumbering promise
in all that clearness. Oh, how I cried, Tema! Tema, have you never
cried through a moonlight night? Sweetheart, it would be a shame if you
should cry; you shall never cry, there shall always be sunshine for you
and nights of roses—a night of roses—”

She had given herself entirely to his embrace, and with her gaze lost
in his, her lips murmured strangely sweet words of love, half muted by
her breath, words repeated after him, as if she were whispering them to
her own heart.

The cessation of the voices in the street made her stir restlessly.
Then they came back to the firm, rhythmic accompaniment of a cane
striking against the cobble-stones, crossed over to the other side,
lingered long in the distance, sank to a murmur—died away.

And the silence again welled up around them, flamed up around them,
throbbing with heartbeats, heavy with breath, yielding. Speech had been
seared away between them, and lingering kisses fell from their lips
fraught with unspoken questions, but giving no solace nor any present
bliss. They held each other’s gaze and dared not take their eyes away,
but neither did they dare to put meaning into their look; they veiled
it rather; withdrew behind it, silently hiding, brooding over secret
dreams.

A quiver passed through his clasping arms and woke her. She thrust him
from her with both hands and set herself free.

“Go, Niels, go! You must not be here, you must not. Do you hear?”

He tried to draw her to him again, but she broke away, wild and pale.
She was trembling from head to foot and stood holding her arms out from
her body as if she were afraid to touch herself.

Niels would have knelt and caught her hand.

“Don’t touch me!” There was desperation in her look. “Why don’t you go
when I am begging you to? Good heavens, why can’t you go? No, no, don’t
speak to me, go away, you—Can’t you see I am shaking before you? Look,
look! Oh, it’s wicked the way you are treating me! And when I’m begging
you to go!”

It was impossible to say a word; she would not listen. She was quite
beside herself. Tears streamed from her eyes; her face was almost
distorted and seemed to give out light in its pallor.

“Oh, do go! Can’t you see that you are humiliating me by staying? You
are brutal to me, that’s what you are! What have I done to you that you
ill-treat me this way? Do go! Have you no pity?”

Pity? He was cold with rage. This was madness! Still he could do
nothing but go, and he went. He did not like the two rows of chairs,
but he walked slowly between them, looking at them with a fixed gaze of
defiance.

“Exit Niels Lyhne,” he said, when he heard the latch of the hall-door
click behind him.

He walked down the steps thoughtfully, his hat in his hand. On the
landing he stopped and gesticulated to himself: If he could understand
the least bit! Why _this_ and why, again, _that_? Then he walked on.
There were the open windows. He felt like tearing to pieces that sickly
sweet silence up there with a shrill cry. He felt like talking to some
one for hours—mercilessly—talking nonsense into that silence, washing
it cold in nonsense. He could not get it out of his blood; he could see
it, taste it; he walked in it. Suddenly he stopped and blushed fiery
red with angry shame. Had she used him to tempt herself with?

In the room above, Mrs. Boye still was weeping. She had gone over to
the pier-glass and stood resting both hands on the console, weeping
till the tears dripped from her cheeks down into the pink chamber of
a huge sea-shell lying there. She looked at her distorted face as it
appeared above the misty spot her breath had formed on the mirror, and
traced the course of her tears as they welled out over the rim of the
eyes and rolled down. Where did they all come from? She had never cried
like this before—yes, once, in Frascati, after a runaway.

Presently the tears began to come more sparingly, but a nervous
trembling still shook her spasmodically from neck to heel.

The sun now beat directly on the windows. The tremulous reflections
from the waves were drawn aslant under the ceiling, and on the sides
of the Venetian blinds the parallel rays fell in rows, forming perfect
shelves of yellowish light. The heat increased, and mingling with the
ripe smell of hot wood and sun-warmed dust, other scents floated out
from the bright flowers of the sofa-cushions, from the silken curves of
the chair-backs, from books and folded rugs, where the heat released a
hundred forgotten perfumes and wafted them through the air, light as
wraiths.

Very slowly her trembling subsided, leaving a curious dizziness, in
which fantastic emotions that were more than half sensations whirled
around on the tracks of her wondering thoughts. She closed her eyes,
but remained standing with her face turned to the mirror.

Strange how it had come over her, this piercing terror! Had she cried
out? There was the echo of a scream in her ears and a tired feeling
in her throat as if she had emitted a long, anguished cry. If he had
taken her! She allowed herself to be taken and pressed her arms against
her heart as if to ward him off. She struggled, but yet—now: she felt
as if she were sinking naked through the air, blushing, burning with
shame, impudently caressed by all the winds of heaven—He would not go,
and it would soon be too late; all her strength was leaving her like
bubbles that burst; bubble after bubble forced its way between her lips
and burst unceasingly; in another second it would be too late! Had she
begged him on her knees? Too late! She was lifted irresistibly to his
embrace, as a bubble that rises through the water—tremulous, so her
soul rose up naked before him, with every wish bared to his gaze, every
secret dream, every hidden surrender unveiled before his mastering eye.
Again in his arms, lingering, sweetly trembling. There was a statue
of alabaster surrounded by flames; it glowed transparent in the heat
of the fire; little by little its dark centre melted, until all was
luminous light.

Slowly she opened her eyes and looked at her image in the mirror with a
discreet smile as at a fellow conspirator before whom she did not wish
to commit herself too fully. Then she went around the room gathering
together her gloves, hat, and mantilla.

Her dizziness seemed blown away, leaving only a rather pleasant sense
of weakness in her knees. She walked about to feel it better. Secretly,
as if by accident, she gave the rocking-chair a confidential little
push with her elbow.

She rather liked scenes.

With one look she said farewell to some invisible thing. Then she
rolled up the blinds, and it seemed like another room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three weeks later Mrs. Boye was married, and Niels Lyhne was quite
alone with himself. He could not quite keep up his indignation over the
unworthy manner in which she had thrown herself into the arms of that
conventional society at which she had so often scoffed. True, it had
only opened the door and beckoned, and she had come. But it was hardly
for him to throw stones, for had he not himself felt the magnetic
attraction of honest bourgeoisie? If it had not been for that last
meeting! If that really was what he accused her of, if it had been
intended for a madcap farewell to the old life, one last wanton prank
before she withdrew behind “the quintessence of propriety”—could it
be possible? Such boundless self-scorn, such a cynical mockery of
herself and him and all that they had shared of memories and hopes, of
enthusiasm and sacred ideals! It made him blush and rage by turns.—But
was he fair to her? After all, what had she done but tell him frankly
and honestly: Such and such things draw me to the other side and draw
me powerfully, but I recognize your right even more fully than you
ask, and here I am. If you can take me, I am yours; if not, I go where
the power is greatest.—And if it were so, had she not been entirely
within her rights? He had not been able to take her. The final decision
_might_ depend on such a little thing, on the shadow of a thought, the
vibration of a mood.

If he only knew what she must have known for an instant and probably
did not know any longer! He hated to believe that of which he could not
help accusing her. Not only for her sake, but even more for his own,
because it seemed to put a blot on his ’scutcheon, not logically, of
course, and yet—

But, whatever the manner of her leaving him, one thing was certain: he
was now alone, and though he felt the emptiness at first, he was soon
conscious of a sense of relief. So many things were waiting for him. The
year at Lönborggaard and abroad, though absorbing his thoughts, had
been in a sense an involuntary rest, and the very fact that this period
had given him a clearer conception of his own powers and limitations
spurred him on to use his faculties in undisturbed work. He was not
anxious to create yet, but rather to collect; there was such an
infinite mass of material he wanted to make his own that he began
to think dejectedly of the brief span of mortal life. Though he had
never wasted his time, it is not easy to emancipate one’s self from
the paternal book-case, and it seems simplest to seek the goal along
the paths where others have attained it, and therefore he had not
set out to seek his own Vineland in the wide world of books, but had
followed where the fathers led. Loyally he had closed his eyes to much
that lured him, in order to see more clearly in the vast night of the
Eddas and sagas; and he had been deaf to many voices that called him,
in order to listen more closely to the mystic sounds of nature in the
folksongs.

But now he understood, at last, that it was not a law of nature to be
either Old Norse or Romantic, that it was simpler to express his own
doubts than to put them in the mouth of Gorm, Loki-worshipper, that it
was more rational to find words for the mystic stirrings of his own
being than to call to the cloister walls of the Middle Ages and hear
his own voice come back to him as a faint echo.

He had always had an open mind for the new ideas of his time, but he
had been occupied in finding how the New had been foreshadowed in
the Old, rather than in listening to what the New said clearly and
explicitly for itself. In this he was in no wise remarkable; for never
yet has any new gospel been preached but the whole world has become
busy with the old prophets.

Yet this did not suffice, and Niels threw himself enthusiastically into
his new labors. He was seized with that lust of conquest and thirst for
the power of knowledge which every worker in the realm of thought, no
matter how humble a drudge he may later become, has surely felt once
in his life, though for only one brief hour. Which one of us all, whom
a kind fate has given the opportunity to care for the development of
our own minds, has not gazed rapturously out over the boundless sea of
knowledge, and which of us has not gone down to its clear, cool waters
and begun, in the light-hearted arrogance of youth, to dip it out in
our hollow hand as the child in the legend? Do you remember how the
sun could laugh over the fair summer land, yet you saw neither flower
nor sky nor rippling brook? The feasts of life swept past and woke not
even a dream in your young blood; even your home seemed far away—do
you remember? And do you also remember how a structure rose in your
thoughts from the yellowing leaves of books, complete and whole,
reposing in itself as a work of art, and it was yours in every detail,
and your spirit dwelt in it? When the pillars rose slender and with
conscious strength in their bold curves, it was of you that brave
aspiring and of you the bold sustaining. And when the vaulted roof
seemed to be suspended in air, because it had gathered all its weight,
stone upon stone, in mighty drops, and let it down on the neck of
the pillars, it was of you that dream of weightless floating, that
confident bearing down of the arches; it was you planting your foot on
your own.

In this wise your personality grows with your knowledge and is
clarified and unified through it. To learn is as beautiful as to live.
Do not be afraid to lose yourself in minds greater than your own! Do
not sit brooding anxiously over your own individuality or shut yourself
out from influences that draw you powerfully for fear that they may
sweep you along and submerge your innermost pet peculiarities in their
mighty surge! Never fear! The individuality that can be lost in the
sifting and reshaping of a healthy development is only a flaw; it is
a branch grown in the dark, which is distinctive only so long as it
retains its sickly pallor. And it is by the sound growth in yourself
that you must live. Only the sound can grow great.

       *       *       *       *       *

Christmas Eve came upon Niels Lyhne unawares. For the past six months,
he had not visited any one except now and then the Neergaards. They had
invited him to spend the evening with them, but last Christmas Eve had
been the memorable one at Clarens, and therefore he preferred to be
alone.

There was a high wind. A thin covering of snow not yet trodden into
slush spread over the streets and made them seem wider. The layer of
white on roofs and window-sills gave a touch of beauty to the houses at
the same time as it made them appear more isolated. The street-lamps,
flickering in the wind, would now and then, as if absent-mindedly,
send a patch of light up a wall and startle from its dreams a
merchants sign, making it stare out in large-lettered blankness. The
store-windows, too, half lighted as they were and still disarranged
from the Christmas shopping, wore an unusual aspect, a curiously
abstracted look.

He turned into the side streets, where the celebration seemed to be in
full swing. Music sounded from basements and low rooms; sometimes it
was a violin, but more often a hand organ, that droned out dance tunes,
and something in the hearty goodwill of the performers suggested rather
the pleasant toil of the dance than its festive glamor. It brought an
illusion of shuffling feet and steaming air—at least so it seemed to
him who stood outside and, in his solitude, became polemical against
all this sociability. He had much more sympathy for the workingman who
stood with his child outside a tiny shop, discussing one of the cheap
marvels in the dimly lighted window, evidently determined to have
their choice absolutely decided before they ventured into that den of
temptation. And he felt sympathy for the poorly clad old gentlewomen
who passed him, one by one, almost at every hundred steps—all with
the strangest coats and mantillas in the fashion of bygone days, and
all with diffident, timorous movements of their old throats, like
suspicious birds, walking in the uncertain, hesitating manner of those
long unused to the world, as if they had been sitting, day after day,
forgotten in the hidden corners of rear flats and attic rooms and only
that one evening in the year were included and remembered. It saddened
him. His heart shrank with a sick sensation, as he tried to picture to
himself the slowly trickling existence of such a lonely old spinster;
he seemed to hear sounding in his ears a mantel clock, painfully
rhythmic, ticking out its “once-again, once-again,” dropping the empty
seconds, one by one, in the chalice of day and filling it full.

Well, he would have to get this Christmas dinner over with. He retraced
his steps in a half conscious dread that if he chose other streets
they might reveal other kinds of lonely creatures and other forms of
forlornness than those he had encountered, which had already left a
bitter taste in his mouth.

Out there in the wider streets he breathed more freely. He quickened
his pace with a slight sense of defiance, holding himself apart as it
were from what he had just seen by telling himself that his loneliness
was self-chosen.

He entered one of the larger restaurants. While waiting for his dinner,
he observed, from the shelter of an old newspaper supplement, the
people who came in. Most of them were young men. Some had a challenging
air, as if they would forbid all present to appropriate them as fellow
sufferers, while others could not conceal their embarrassment at having
no place to go on such an evening, but all showed a marked preference
for distant corners and secluded tables. Many came in couples, and
most of these were plainly brothers; Niels had never seen so many
brothers all at once. Often they were very much unlike each other
in dress and manner, and their hands testified even more clearly to
their different positions in life. It was almost a rarity to see any
particular intimacy between them, either when they came or after they
had sat and talked for a while. Here, one was superior and the other
full of admiration; there, one was cordial, while the other repelled
advances. Others again betrayed a mutual watchfulness, or, worse yet,
an unexpressed condemnation of each other’s aims and ambitions and
methods. Most of them evidently needed the holiday and a certain amount
of loneliness to make them remember their common origin and bring them
together.

Niels sat thinking of this and marvelling at the patience all these
people exhibited, neither ringing nor calling for the waiters, as if
they had tacitly agreed to banish as much as possible of the restaurant
atmosphere from the place. While he was engrossed in this, he saw just
coming in a man whom he knew, and the sudden sight of a familiar face
among all these strangers startled him so that he rose and met him with
a pleased, though somewhat surprised, “Good evening.”

“Are you waiting for any one?” asked the other, looking for a place to
hang his overcoat.

“No, I am alone.”

“That’s lucky for me!”

The newcomer was a Dr. Hjerrild, a young man whom Niels had met at
the Neergaards, and whom he knew—not from anything he had said, but
from certain innuendos of Mrs. Neergaard’s—to be very liberal in his
religious views, though the political opinions he professed were quite
the reverse. People of that type did not often frequent the home of
the Neergaards, who were at once religious and liberal. The doctor,
however, belonged by inclination as well as through the influence
of his dead mother to one of the circles—rather numerous at that
time—where the new liberal ideas were looked on with sceptical or even
hostile eyes, while in religion their members were rather more than
rationalists and rather less than atheists, when they were not mystics
or indifferentists. These various circles had many shades of opinion,
but, in general, they were agreed in feeling that Holstein was at least
as near to their hearts as Slesvig, while the kinship with Sweden was
ignored, and Danism in its newest forms was not altogether approved.
Moreover, they knew their Molière better than their Holberg, Baggesen
better than Oehlenschläger, and in their artistic taste they tended,
perhaps, to the sentimental.

In such, or at least kindred influences, Hjerrild had developed. He
sat looking a little dubiously at Niels, as the latter recounted his
observations of the other diners and especially dwelt on their apparent
shame at not having part in any home or semblance of home on such an
evening.

“I understand that perfectly,” he said coldly, in a tone almost of
rebuff. “People don’t come here on Christmas Eve because they like it,
and necessarily they must have a sense of humiliation at being left
out, no matter whether it’s other people’s doing or their own. Do you
mind telling me why you are here? Don’t answer if you would rather not.”

Niels replied that it was only because he had spent last Christmas Eve
with his mother, who had since died.

“I beg your pardon,” said Hjerrild; “it was very good of you to answer
me, and you must forgive me for being so suspicious. Do you know, I
could very well imagine that you might come here in order to administer
a youthful kick to Christmas as an institution, but as for myself, I
am really here out of respect for other people’s Christmas. It is the
first Christmas Eve since I came here that I have not spent with a very
kind family from my native town. It occurred to me, somehow, that I was
in the way when they sang their Christmas carols, not that they were
ashamed—they have too much character for that—but it made them uneasy
to have any one there to whom these hymns were as sung into the empty
air. At least that is what I imagined.”

Almost silently they finished their dinner, lighted their cigars, and
agreed to go somewhere else for their toddy. Neither of them felt
inclined, that evening, to gaze upon the same gilded mirror frames and
red sofas that met their eyes on most of the other evenings of the
year, and so they sought refuge in a little café which they did not
usually frequent.

They soon realized that this was no place to stay in.

The host and the waiters, with a few friends, sat in the rear of the
room, playing loo with two trumps. The host’s wife and daughters looked
on and brought the refreshments, but not to the strangers; a waiter
filled their order. They drank hurriedly, for they noticed that their
entrance made an interruption; the conversation was hushed, and the
host, who had been sitting in his shirt-sleeves, seemed embarrassed and
put on his coat.

“We seem to be rather homeless to-night,” said Niels, as they walked
down the street.

“Well, that is as it should be,” was Hjerrild’s rather pathetic answer.

They began to talk about the Christian religion, for the topic was in
the air.

Niels argued vehemently, but in rather general terms, against
Christianity.

Hjerrild was tired of treading again the beaten track of discussions
that were old to him, and suddenly said, without any particular
connection with what had gone before: “Take care, Lyhne; Christianity
is in power. It is foolish to quarrel with the reigning truth by
agitating for a crown prince truth.”

“Foolish or not foolish—what does it matter?”

“Don’t say that so lightly. I did not mean to tell you such a
commonplace as that it is foolish in a material way; morally, too, it
is foolish and worse. Take care; don’t associate yourself too closely
with this particular movement in our time, unless it happens to be
absolutely necessary to your own personality. As a poet you must have
many other interests.”

“I don’t understand you. I can’t treat myself like a hurdy-gurdy
from which I can take out an unpopular piece and put in a tune that
everybody is whistling.”

“Can’t you? Many people can. But you can at least say: ‘We are not
playing that piece just now.’ We can often do more in that line than we
think. A human being is not so closely knit. When you use your right
arm constantly in violent exertion, the blood rushes to it, and it
grows at the expense of the rest of your body, while your legs, which
you are using as little as possible, naturally get a little thin. You
can apply the image for yourself. Have you noticed that most of the
idealistic forces in our country, and probably the best of them, are
entirely absorbed in the cause of political freedom? You can take a
lesson from that. Believe me, there is saving grace in fighting for an
idea that is gaining ground, but it is very demoralizing to a man to
belong to a losing minority, which life, in its inevitable course, puts
in the wrong, point by point, step by step. It cannot be otherwise,
for it is bitterly disheartening to see that which your inmost soul
believes to be right and true, to see this Truth reviled and struck in
the face by the meanest camp-follower in the victorious army, to hear
her called vile names, while you can do nothing at all except to love
her even more faithfully, kneel to her in your heart with even deeper
adoration, and see her beautiful face as radiantly beautiful as ever
and as full of majesty, shining with the same immortal light, no matter
how much dust is whirled up around her white forehead, no matter how
thickly the poisonous fog closes in around her halo. It is bitterly
disheartening, and your soul suffers injury inevitably, for it is so
easy to hate until your heart is weary, or to draw around you the cold
shadows of contempt, or to be dulled by pain and let the world go its
own way.—Of course, if there is _that_ within you which makes you not
choose the easiest way nor evade the whole matter, but walk upright
with all your faculties tense and all your sympathies wide awake,
taking the blows and stings of defeat as the scourge falls on your back
again and again, and still keep your bleeding hope from drooping, while
you listen for the distant rumblings that presage revolution, and look
for the faint, distant dawn that some day—some time, perhaps.... If
you have _that_ within you!—but don’t try it, Lyhne. Imagine what the
life of such a man must be, if he is to be true to himself. Never to
open his mouth without knowing that whatever he says will be met with
scorn and jeers! To have his words distorted, besmirched, wrenched
all out of joint, turned into cunning snares for his own feet, and
then, before he can pick them up from the mud and straighten them out
again, to find all the world suddenly deaf. Then to begin over again at
another point and have the same thing happen over and over again.
And—what hurts most, perhaps—to be misunderstood and despised by
noble men and women, whom he looks up to with admiration and respect in
spite of their different principles. Yet it must be so, it cannot be
otherwise. Those who are in opposition must not expect to be attacked
for what they really are or really want, but for what the party in
power is pleased to think they are and want; and besides, power used
upon the weaker must be misused—how can it be otherwise? Surely no
one can expect the party in power to divest itself of its advantages
in order to meet the opposition on equal terms; but that does not make
the struggle of the opposition less painful and heart-rending. When you
think of all this, Lyhne, do you really suppose a man can fight this
battle, with all these vulture-beaks buried in his flesh, unless he has
the blind, stubborn enthusiasm which we call fanaticism? And how in the
world can he get fanatic about a negation? Fanatic for the idea that
there is no God!—But without fanaticism there is no victory. Hush,
listen!”

They stopped before a house where a curtain had been rolled up,
allowing them to look into a large room, and through the slightly
opened window a song floated out to them, borne on the clear voices of
women and children:

    “_A child is born in Bethlehem,
      In Bethlehem.
    Therefore rejoice, Jerusalem!
      Hallelujah, Hallelujah!_”

They walked on silently. The song and especially the notes of the piano
followed them down the quiet street.

“Did you hear?” said Hjerrild. “Did you hear the enthusiasm in that
old Hebraic shout of triumph? And those two Jewish names of towns!
Jerusalem was not only symbolic: the entire city, Copenhagen, Denmark,
it was _Us_, the Christian people within the people.”

“There is no God, and man is his prophet,” replied Niels bitterly and
rather sadly.

“Exactly,” scoffed Hjerrild. “After all, atheism is unspeakably tame.
Its end and aim is nothing but a disillusioned humanity. The belief in
a God who rules everything and judges everything is humanity’s last
great illusion, and when that is gone, what then? Then you are wiser;
but richer, happier? I can’t see it.”

“But don’t you see,” exclaimed Niels Lyhne, “that on the day when men
are free to exult and say: ‘There is no God!’ on that day a new heaven
and a new earth will be created as if by magic. Then and not till then
will heaven be a free infinite space instead of a spying, threatening
eye. Then the earth will be ours and we the earth’s, when the dim world
of bliss or damnation beyond has burst like a bubble. The earth will be
our true mother country, the home of our hearts, where we dwell, not
as strangers and wayfarers a short time, but all our time. Think what
intensity it will give to life, when everything must be concentrated
within it and nothing left for a hereafter. The immense stream of love
that is now rising up to the God of men’s faith will bend to earth
again and flow lovingly among all those beautiful human virtues with
which we have endowed and embellished the godhead in order to make it
worthy of our love. Goodness, justice, wisdom,—who can name them all?
Don’t you see what nobility it will give men when they are free to live
their life and die their death, without fear of hell or hope of heaven,
but fearing themselves, hoping for themselves? How their consciences
will grow, and what a strength it will give them when inactive
repentance and humility cannot atone any more, when no forgiveness is
possible except to redeem with good what they sinned with evil.”

“You must have a wonderful faith in humanity. Why, then atheism will
make greater demands on men than Christianity has done.”

“Of course!”

“Of course; but where will you get all the strong individuals you will
need to make up your atheistical community?”

“Little by little; atheism itself must develop them. Neither this
generation nor the next and not the next after that will be ripe for
atheism, of that I am quite aware, but in every generation there will
be a few who will honestly struggle to live and die in it and will
win. These people will, in course of time, form a group of spiritual
ancestors to whom their descendants will look back in pride, and from
whom they will gain courage. It will be hardest in the beginning; many
will fail, and those who win will have torn banners, because they will
still be steeped in traditions to the marrow of their bones; it is not
only the brain that has to be convinced, but the blood and nerves,
hopes and longings, even dreams! But it does not matter; some time it
will come, and the few will be the many.”

“You think so?—I am trying to think of a name; could we call it
pietistical atheism?”

“All true atheism—” Niels began, but Hjerrild cut him short.

“Of course,” he said, “of course! By all means, let us have only a
single gate, one needle’s eye for all the camels on the face of the
earth.”


                              _Chapter X_

Early that summer Erik Refstrup came home after his two years in Italy.
He had gone away a sculptor; he returned a painter, and he had already
attracted attention, had sold his pictures, and received orders for
others.

The good fortune coming almost at his first call was due to the sure
instinct for self-limitation which bound his art closely to his own
personality. His gift was not of the large and generous kind that is
instinct with every promise and seems about to grasp every laurel, that
sweeps triumphantly through every realm like a bacchanalian troop,
scattering golden seed on every side, and mounting genii on all its
panthers! He was one of those in whom a dream is buried, making a
peaceful sanctuary in one corner of their souls where they are most,
and yet least, themselves. Through everything these people create there
sounds the same wistful refrain, and every work of art that comes from
their hands bears the same timidly circumscribed stamp of kinship,
as if they were all pictures from the same little homeland, the same
little nook deep among mountains. It was so with Erik; no matter where
he plunged into the ocean of beauty, he always fetched the same pearl
up to the light.

His canvases were small: in the foreground a single figure, clay-blue
with its own shadow, behind it a heathery stretch of moor or campagna,
and in the horizon a reddish yellow afterglow of sunset. There was
one picture of a young girl telling her own fortune in the Italian
fashion. She is kneeling on a spot where the earth shows brown between
tufts of short grass. The heart, cross, and anchor of hammered silver,
which she has taken from her necklace, are scattered on the ground.
Now she is lying on her knees, her eyes closed in good faith with one
hand covering them, the other reaching down, seeking rapture of love
beyond words, bitter sorrow solaced by the cross, or the trusting hope
of a common fate. She has not yet dared to touch the ground. Her hand
shrinks back in the cold, mysterious shadow; her cheeks are flushed,
and her mouth trembles between prayer and tears. There is a solemnity
in the air; the sunset glow threatens, hot and fierce out there in the
distance, but softly melancholy where it steals in over the heather.
“If you only knew—rapture of love beyond words, bitter sorrow solaced
by the cross, or the trusting hope of a common fate?”

There was another in which she stands erect on the brown heath, tense
with longing, her cheek pressed down on her folded hands. She is so
sweet in her naïve longing and a wee bit sad and angered with life for
passing her by. Why does not Eros come with kissing roses? Does he
think she is too young? Ah, if he would only feel her heart, how it
beats! If he would only lay his hand there! A world is in there, a
world of worlds, if it would only awaken. But why does it not call?
It is there like a bud, tightly folded around its own sweetness and
beauty, existing only for itself, oppressed by itself. For it knows
there is something in life that it does not know. It is that which has
warmed the sheltering petals and given light to the innermost heart of
reddest dusk, where the scent lies yet scentless, a foreboding only,
pressed into one tremulous tear!

Will it never be freed and breathe out all its slumbering fragrance,
never be rich in its own wealth? Will it never, never unfold and blush
itself awake with gleaming rays of sunlight darting in under its
petals? She has no patience any more with Eros! Her lips are quivering
with approaching tears; her eyes look out into space with hopeless
defiance, and the little head sinks more and more forlornly, turning
the delicate profile in toward the picture, where a gentle breeze wafts
the reddish dust over dark green broom against a sherry-golden sky.

That was the way Erik painted. What he had to say always found
expression in pictures such as these. He would sometimes dream in other
images and long to break through that narrow circle within which he
created, but when he had strayed beyond his bounds and tried his powers
in other fields, he always returned with a chill sense of
discouragement, feeling that he had been borrowing from others
and producing something not his own. After these unfortunate
excursions—which, however, always taught him more than he was aware
of—he became more intensely Erik Refstrup than ever before. Then
he would abandon himself with more reckless courage and with almost
poignant fervor to the cult of his own individuality, while his whole
manner of associating with himself, to his slightest act, would be
suffused with a religious enthusiasm. He seemed surrounded by shadowy
throngs of beautiful forms, younger sisters of the slender-limbed women
of Parmigianino with their long necks and large, narrow princess hands;
they sat at his table, poured his wine with movements full of noble
grace, and held him in the spell of their fair dreams with Luini’s
mystic, contemplative smile, so inscrutably subtle in its enigmatic
sweetness.

But when he had served the god faithfully for eleven days, it sometimes
happened that other powers gained the ascendancy over him, and he would
be seized with a violent craving for the coarse enjoyment of gross
pleasures. Then he would plunge into dissipations, feverish with that
human thirst for self-destruction which yearns, when the blood burns
as hotly as blood can burn, for degradation, perverseness, filth, and
smut, with precisely the measure of strength possessed by another
equally human longing, the longing to keep one’s self greater than
one’s self and purer.

In these moments there was but little that was rough and coarse enough
for him, and when they had passed, it was long before he could regain
his balance; for in truth these excesses were not natural to him;
he was too healthy for them, too little poisoned by brooding. In a
sense, they came as a rebound from his devotion to the higher spirits
of his art, almost like a revenge, as though his nature had been
violated by the pursuit of those idealistic aims which choice, aided by
circumstances, had made his own.

This twofold struggle, however, was not carried on along such definite
lines that it appeared on the surface of Erik Refstrup’s life; nor did
he feel the need of making his friends understand him in this phase.
No, he was the same simple, happy-go-lucky fellow as of old, slightly
awkward in his shrinking from emotions put into words, a little of
a freebooter in his capacity for seizing and holding. Yet the other
thing was in him and could be sensed sometimes in quiet moments, like
the bells that ring in a sunken city on the bottom of the sea. He and
Niels had never understood each other so well as now; both felt it, and
silently each renewed the old friendship. And when vacation time came,
and Niels felt that he really must make his long-deferred visit to his
Aunt Rosalie, who was married to Consul Claudi in Fjordby, Erik went
with him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The main highway from the richest district above Fjordby enters the
town between two great thorn-hedges, which bound Consul Claudi’s
vegetable garden and his large pleasure garden by the shore. What then
becomes of the road—whether it ends in the Consul’s courtyard, which
is as large as a market-place, or whether it is continued in a bend
running between his hayloft and his lumber yard to form, later, the
main street of the town—is a matter of opinion. Many travellers follow
the bend and drive on, but there are also many who stop and think
the goal reached when they have come within the Consul’s wide tarred
gateway, where the doors are always thrown back and covered with skins
spread for drying.

The buildings on the premises were all old with the exception of
the tall warehouse with its dead-looking slate roof, the newest
architectural feature in Fjordby. The long, low main building appeared
to be forced to its knees by three large gables, and was joined, in a
dim corner, to the wing containing the kitchen and stables; in another
lighter corner, to the warehouse. In the dark corner was the back
door of the store, which formed, with the peasants’ waiting-room, the
office, and the servants’ hall, a rather dingy world of its own, where
the mingled odor of cheap tobacco and moldy floors, of spices and dried
codfish and wet wool, made the air so thick you could almost taste it.
But when you had passed through the office with its pungent smoke of
sealing-wax and had reached the hall which formed the dividing line
between the business and the family, a prevailing perfume of new
millinery prepared you for the delicate scent in the living-rooms. It
was not the fragrance of any nosegay or of any real flower; it was the
intangible, memory-laden atmosphere which pervades a home, though no
one can say whence it comes. Every home has its own, and it may suggest
a thousand things—the smell of old gloves or new playing-cards or
open pianos—but it is always different. It may be stifled by incense,
perfumes, or cigar smoke, but it cannot be killed; it always comes back
unchanged and is there just as before. Here it was of flowers, not
stock or roses or any other flower that can be named, but rather as one
might fancy the scent of those fantastic, pale sapphire lilies that
twine their blossoms around vases of old porcelain. And how well it
went with those wide, low rooms with their heirloom furniture and their
stiff, old-fashioned grace! The floors were white as only grandmothers’
floors can be; the walls were in plain colors with a light tracery
of garlands in delicate tints running under the ceiling, which had
a stucco rose in the centre. The doors were fluted and had knobs of
shining brass in the shape of dolphins. The windows of small square
panes were curtained with filmy net, white as snow, its fullness caught
up and fastened with coquettish bows of colored ribbon, like the
curtains of a bridal bed for Corydon and Phyllis. In the window-sill
the flowers of bygone days bloomed in motley green crocks; there were
blue agapanthus, blue Canterbury bells, fine-leaved myrtles, fiery
red verbenas, and butterfly bright geraniums. But it was, after all,
chiefly the furniture that gave character to the rooms: immovable
tables with wide expanse of darkened mahogany; chairs with backs that
curled round your figure; cabinets of every conceivable form, gigantic
dressers inlaid with mythological scenes in light yellow wood—Daphne,
Arachne, and Narcissus—or small secretaries with thin twisted legs and
on every tiny drawer a mosaic of dendrite marble representing a lovely
square house with a tree near by—all from the time before Napoleon.
There were mirrors, too, the glass painted in white or bronze with
designs of rushes and lotus plants floating on a bright sea. As for
the sofa, it was not one of your trifling things on four legs designed
for two persons; no, solid and massive it rose from the floor to form
a veritable spacious terrace; flanking it on either side and built in
one with the sofa, was a console-cupboard, on top of which a smaller
cabinet rose with architectonic effect to the height of a man and held
a precious old jar above the reach of careless hands. It was no wonder
there were so many old things in the Consul’s house, for his father and
grandfather had rested and enjoyed the good things of life within these
walls in the intervals of their work in lumber yard and office.

The grandfather, Berendt Berendtsen Claudi, whose name the firm still
bore, had built the houses and had interested himself chiefly in the
retail and produce trade. The father had worked up the lumber yard,
bought farmland, built the hayloft, and laid out the two gardens. The
present Claudi had developed the grain trade and built the warehouse.
He united with his mercantile business the activities of the English
and the Hanoverian vice-consulates as well as a Lloyd’s agency; and the
grain and the Western Sea kept him so busy he could give only a very
cursory supervision to the other branches of the work. He therefore
divided the responsibility between an insolvent cousin and an old
unmanageable steward, who would drive the Consul into a corner every
little while by declaring that, whatever happened to the store, the
farm must be attended to, and when he wanted to plough, they could take
horses for hauling lumber wherever they pleased—his they couldn’t
have, so help him. But as the man was capable, there was nothing to be
done but to put up with him.

Consul Claudi was in the early fifties, a man of substantial presence.
His regular features, strong to the point of coarseness, would as
readily harden to an expression of energy and cool astuteness as they
would relax into a look almost lickerish as though relishing a savory
tidbit; and he was, in fact, equally at home whether driving a bargain
with shrewd peasants or arguing with a stubborn salvage gang, or
whether sitting with gray-bearded sinners over the last bottle of port
wine, listening to stories more than salacious or telling them with the
picturesque frankness for which he was noted.

This, however, was not all of the man.

His training naturally made him feel that he was on alien ground
when he ventured outside of purely practical questions, but he never
therefore scoffed at what he did not understand or tried to conceal
his ignorance. Much less did it ever occur to him to give his opinion
and demand that it be respected for the reason that he was a citizen
of mature years and practical experience and a large taxpayer. On
the contrary, he would often listen with a reverence that was almost
touching when ladies and young men discussed such matters; now and then
he would venture a modest question prefaced by elaborate excuses, which
almost always elicited a scrupulously painstaking answer, and then he
would express his thanks with all the courtesy which is so gracious in
an older man thanking his juniors.

At certain favorable moments there could be something surprisingly
fine about Consul Claudi, a wistful look in his clear brown eyes, a
melancholy smile around his strong lips, a seeking, reminiscent note in
his voice, as though he yearned for another and in his own eyes better
world than that to which his friends and acquaintances consigned him,
hide and hair.

The messenger between himself and this better world was his wife.
She was one of those pale, gentle, virginal natures who have not the
courage, or perhaps not the impulse, to give out their love in such
fullness that there is no shred of self left in their innermost soul.
Even in the most fleeting moment they can never be so carried away by
their feeling that they throw themselves in blind rapture under the
chariot wheels of their idol. They cannot do it, but all else they can
do for the beloved; they can fulfil the heaviest duties, are ready for
the most grievous sacrifices, and do not flinch from any humiliation
whatsoever. This is true of the best among them.

Mrs. Claudi was not called on to bear such trials. Nevertheless her
marriage was not without its sorrows; for it was a matter of common
knowledge in Fjordby that the Consul was not, or at least had not been
until a few years ago, the most faithful husband, and that he had
several illegitimate children in the neighborhood. This was, of course,
a bitter grief to her, and it had not been easy to keep her heart
steadfast through the tumult of jealousy, scorn and anger, shame and
sickening fear, which had made her feel as though the ground were
slipping away under her feet. But she stood firm. Not only did she
never allow a reproachful word to pass her lips, but she warded off
any confession on the part of her husband, any direct prayer for
forgiveness, and anything that might seem like a repentant vow. She
felt that if it were ever put into words, they might sweep her along
and away from him. Silently she would bear it, and in the silence
she tried to make herself believe that she was in part to blame for
her husband’s crime, because of the barrier she had built around
herself, which her love had not been strong enough to break down. She
succeeded in magnifying this sin until she felt an indistinct need of
forgiveness, and in course of time she brought herself to the point
where she gave rise to a rumor that the girls whom Consul Claudi had
seduced and their children were taken care of in other ways than with
money; it seemed that a hidden woman’s hand must be sheltering them,
keeping them from harm, supporting and guiding them.

So it came to pass that evil was turned into good, and a sinner and a
saint each made the other better.

The Claudis had two children, a son who was in a merchant’s office in
Hamburg and a nineteen-year-old daughter named Fennimore after the
heroine in _St. Roche_, one of Frau von Palzow’s novels which had been
very popular in the time of Mrs. Claudi’s girlhood.

Fennimore and the Consul came down to meet the steamer on the day it
brought Niels and Erik to Fjordby. Niels was pleasantly surprised to
see that his cousin was pretty, for hitherto he had known her only from
a terrible old family daguerreotype, where she appeared in a misty
atmosphere, forming a group with her brother and her parents, all with
hectic crimson on their cheeks and bright gilding on their jewelry.
And now he found her simply lovely as she stood there in her light
morning dress and her dainty little shoes with their black ribbons
crossing a white-stockinged instep. She was resting one foot on the
plank at the edge of the pier, and bent forward smiling to give him
her parasol-handle for a handshake and a welcome, before the steamer
was made fast. Her lips were so red and her teeth so white, and her
forehead and temples so delicately outlined under the wide brim of
her Eugenie hat, from which shadowing edges of deep black lace fell
weighted with bright jet.

At last the gangplank was let down, and the Consul started off with
Erik. He had already introduced himself with twelve feet of water
between them and, still shouting, had drawn Erik into a humorous
conversation about the agonies of sea-sickness, which he carried on
with a wizened hatter’s widow on board. Now he was calling on him
to admire the large linden trees outside of the revenue collector’s
house and the new schooner standing ready to be launched from Thomas
Rasmussen’s shipyard.

Niels walked with Fennimore. She pointed to the flag flying in the
garden in honor of him and his friend, and then they began to discuss
the Neergaards in Copenhagen. They quickly agreed that Mrs. Neergaard
was a little—a very little—they would not say the word, but
Fennimore smiled primly and made a cat-like movement with her hand.
The characterization was evidently plain enough to them both, for they
smiled and quickly became serious again. Silently they walked on, each
wondering how he or she appeared in the other’s eyes.

Fennimore had imagined Niels Lyhne taller, more distinguished, and
of an individuality more marked—like an underscored word. He, on
the other hand, had found much more than he expected. He thought her
charming, almost alluring, in spite of her dress which savored too
much of small town elegance. When they had entered the hall, and she
stood looking down with a preoccupied air, as she took off her hat
and smoothed her hair with wonderfully soft, languid, graceful turns
of hand and wrist, he felt as grateful as if her movements had been
caresses. This almost puzzling sense of gratitude did not leave him
either that day or the next, and sometimes it welled up so strong and
warm that he felt it would have been the greatest happiness if he might
have thanked her in words for being so pretty and so sweet.

Very soon Erik as well as Niels felt quite at home in the Consul’s
hospitable house. Before many days they had slipped into that
pleasantly arranged idling which is the real vacation life and which
it is so difficult to guard against the friendly encroachments of
well-meaning people. They had to use all their diplomacy to avoid
the stuffy evening parties, large boating excursions, summer balls,
and amateur theatricals which were constantly threatening their
peace. They were ready to wish that the Consul’s house and garden had
been on a desert island; and Robinson Crusoe was not more agitated
by fear on finding the footsteps in the sand than they were at the
sight of strange paletots in the hall or unfamiliar reticules on the
sitting-room table. They much preferred to be by themselves; for they
had scarcely passed the middle of the first week before they were both
in love with Fennimore. It was not the mature passion which must and
will know its fate and longs to have and to hold and to be assured.
As yet it was only the first dawn of love like a hint of spring in
the air, instinct with a longing akin to sadness and with an unrest
that is gently pulsing joy. The heart is so tender and yielding and
easily moved. A light on the water, a rustling in the leaves, a flower
unfolding its petals—all seem to have a strange new power. Vague hopes
without a name burst out, suddenly flooding the earth with sunlight and
as suddenly vanishing again: weak despondency sails like a broad cloud
over the glory, churning the flashes of hope down into its own gray
wake.—Then hopelessness, melting hopelessness; bittersweet resignation
to fate, a heart full of self-pity, renunciation gazing at its own
reflection in quiet elegies and fainting in a sigh that is half
dissembled.... But again there is the whispering of roses: a dreamland
rises from the mist with golden haze over soft beech crowns and with
fragrant summer darkness under leafy boughs arched over paths that lead
no one knows whither.

       *       *       *       *       *

One evening after tea they were all gathered in the sitting-room. The
garden and all outdoor amusements were barred, for the rain was pouring
down; but no one seemed to mind. The sense of being shut in gave the
room something of the snug comfort of a winter evening, and moreover
the rain was a blessing. Everything had been so parched and dry, but
now the water streamed down, and when the heavy drops rattled against
the frame of the reflector in the window the sound called up vague,
fleeting glimpses of luscious green meadows and freshened foliage.
Now and then some one would say under his breath: “How it pours!”
and glance at the window-panes with a little gleam of pleasure and a
half-conscious luxuriating in fellow-feeling with everything out of
doors. Erik had fetched the mandolin he had brought with him from Italy
and sang about Napoli and the bright stars. Then a young lady who had
been to tea sat down at the piano and accompanied her own rendering of
“My little nook among the mountains,” in Swedish, making the _ah’s_
very broad to get the right Swedish effect.

Niels, who was not particularly musical, let himself be soothed into
a gentle melancholy and sat lost in his own thoughts, until Fennimore
began to sing.

Then he awoke, but not pleasantly.

Her song agitated him uncomfortably. She was no longer the little
country girl when she gave herself up to the spell of her own voice.
Strange how she let herself be carried away by the tones, how freely
and unreservedly she poured herself into them! He felt it almost as
something immodest, as though she were singing herself naked before
him. There was a burning around his heart; his temples throbbed, and
he cast his eyes down. Did none of the others see it? No, they saw
nothing. Why, she had flown out of herself, away from Fjordby, from
Fjordby poetry and Fjordby sentiments! She was in another and a bolder
world, where the passions grew on high mountains and flung their red
blossoms to the storm.

Could it be his lack of musical sense that made him read so much
meaning into her song? He could hardly persuade himself that it was so,
and yet he wished it, for he would much rather have her as she usually
appeared. When she sat at her sewing, talking in her quiet, tranquil
voice, or looking up with her clear, kind eyes, his whole being was
drawn to her with the irresistible strength of a deep, calm longing for
home. He wanted to humble himself before her, to bend the knee and call
her holy. He always felt a strange yearning to come close to her, not
only to her present self, but to her childhood and all the days he had
not known her. When they were alone, he would lead her to talk of the
past, of her little troubles and mistakes and the vagaries that every
childhood is full of. He lived in these memories and clung to them with
a restless jealousy and a languishing desire to possess and be one
with these pale foreshadowings of a life which was even now glowing in
richer, riper colors. And then came this song so strangely powerful! It
startled him very much like a wide sweep of horizon suddenly revealed
by a turn of the path, reducing the forest dell which had been his
home to a mere corner in the landscape, and making its little rippling
lines seem insignificant beside the grandeur of the hills and distant
moors.—Oh, but the landscape was a _fata morgana_, and what he thought
he heard in her song only a fantasy; for now she spoke just as she
always did and was her blessed self again. Moreover, he knew from a
thousand little things that she was like still water, without storm or
waves, reflecting the starry blue heavens.

It was thus he loved her, and thus he saw her; and when she was with
him she gradually formed herself upon his image of her, not with any
conscious dissembling, for after all his conception was partly true,
and it was only natural—when his every word and look, his every
thought and dream, appealed to that side of her nature and did homage
to it—that she should assume the guise he almost forced upon her.
Besides, how could she bother about giving each and every one a correct
impression of herself when all her thoughts centred around the one,
Erik, the only one, her chosen lord, whom she loved with a passion
that was not of herself and with an idolatrous worship that terrified
her. She had imagined love to be a sweet dignity, not this consuming
unrest, full of fear and humiliation and doubt. Many a time when the
declaration seemed trembling on Erik’s lips, she had felt as if it were
her duty to put her hand on his mouth and warn him against speaking,
accusing herself and telling him how she had deceived him and how
unworthy of his love she was, how earthly and small and impure, so far
from noble, so wretchedly low and common and wicked! She felt herself
dishonest under his admiring gaze; calculating, when she failed to
avoid him; criminal, when she could not bring herself to beg God in her
evening prayer that He would turn Erik’s heart from her in order that
his life might be all sunlight and honor and glory. For she knew that
her low-born passion would drag him down.

It was almost in spite of himself that Erik loved her. His ideal had
always been high, proud, and noble, with quiet melancholy suffusing her
pale features and coolness of temple air lingering in the severe folds
of her garment. But Fennimore’s sweetness conquered him. He could not
resist her beauty. There was such a fresh, innocent sensuousness about
her whole form. When she walked her gait whispered of her body; there
was a nakedness in her movements and a dreamy eloquence in her repose,
neither of which she could help, for she could not conceal the one or
silence the other, even had she been in the slightest degree conscious
of their existence. No one saw this better than Erik, and he was fully
aware of what a large part her purely physical beauty played in her
attraction for him. He struggled against it, for there were exalted
ideals of love in his soul, ideals which had their source, perhaps, not
only in tradition and poetry, but in deeper strata of his nature than
those that appeared on the surface. But whatever their source, they had
to yield.

He had not yet confessed his love to Fennimore, when it happened that
the good ship _Berendt Claudi_ came in. Inasmuch as it was going to
unload farther up the fjord, it did not enter the harbor, but lay out
in the stream, and as the Consul was very proud of his schooner and
wanted to show it to his guests, they rowed out there one afternoon to
drink tea on board.

It was a glorious day without a breath of wind, and all were intent
on a merry time. The hours passed quickly. They drank English porter,
set their teeth in English hardtack as large as moons, and ate salted
mackerel caught on the voyage across the North Sea. They pumped with
the ship’s pump till the water frothed, tipped the compass, drew water
from the casks with the large tin siphon, and listened to the mate
playing his octagonal hand harmonica.

It was quite dark before they were ready to return.

They separated into two parties. Erik and Fennimore and two of the
older people went in the ship’s yawl, which was to make a detour
around the harbor and then row slowly to land, while the rest of the
party went in the Consul’s own boat, which was to steer directly for
the pier. This arrangement was made in order to hear how the song
would sound over the water on such a quiet night. Erik and Fennimore
therefore sat together in the stern of the yawl and had the mandolin
between them, but the singing was forgotten when the oars were dipped
in the water and revealed an unusually bright phosphorescence which
absorbed their attention.

Silently the boat glided onward, and behind it the dull, glassy surface
was fluted with shifting lines and rings of a tender white light too
faint to penetrate the darkness beyond its own groove, except now and
then when it seemed to give out a luminous mist. It frothed white where
the oars cut into it and slid backward in tremulous rings growing
fainter and fainter; it was scattered from the blades in bright drops
falling like a phosphorescent rain, which was extinguished in the air
but lighted the water drop by drop. There was such quiet over the fjord
that the sound of the oars seemed only to measure the stillness in
pauses of equal length. Hushed and soft, the gray twilight brooded over
the soundless deep; the boat and its occupants melted together in one
dark mass, from which the phosphorescence freed the plying oars and
sometimes a trailing rope’s end, or perhaps the brown impassive face of
the oarsman. No one spoke. Fennimore was cooling her hand in the water;
she and Erik sat turning back to look at the network of light that
trailed silently after the boat and held their thoughts in its fair
meshes.

A call for a song shouted from land roused them, and together they sang
two or three Italian romances to the accompaniment of the mandolin.

Then all was still again.

At last they landed at the little jetty running out from the garden.
The Consul’s empty boat was moored alongside, and the party had already
gone up to the house. Fennimore’s aunt and her companion followed them,
but Erik and Fennimore remained standing and looked after the boat
as it returned to the ship. The latch of the garden gate fell with a
click; the sound of the oars grew fainter and fainter, and the swelling
of the water around the pier died away. Then a breath stirred in the
dark trees around them like a sigh that had hidden itself and now
softly lifted the leaves, flew away, and left them alone.

In the same moment they turned to each other and away from the water.
He caught her hand and slowly, questioningly, drew her close and kissed
her. “Fennimore!” he whispered, and they walked through the dark garden.

“You have known it long!” he said, and she replied, “Yes.” Then they
walked on, and the latch fell once more.

Erik could not sleep when he reached his room at last, after drinking
coffee with the company and saying good-night at the street door.

There was no air in there; he flung the windows wide open, then threw
himself on the couch and listened.

He wanted to get out again.

How everything resounded through the house! He could hear the Consul’s
slippers, and now Mrs. Claudi opened the kitchen door to see if the
fire was out. What in the world could Niels want in his trunk at this
time of night! Ah—there was a mouse behind the wainscoting. Now
some one crossed the attic in stocking-feet—now another—there were
two.—At last! He opened the door to the guest-room within and
listened, then he carefully opened the window, straddled over the
sill, and slid into the courtyard. He knew that he could get down to
the shore through the mangling-room. If any one saw him, he meant to
say that he had forgotten his mandolin down by the jetty and wanted to
rescue it from the dew. Therefore he slung the mandolin on his back.

The garden was a little lighter now; there was a slight breeze and a
bit of moon which laid a tremulous strip of silver from the jetty out
to the _Berendt Claudi_.

He went through the garden out on the stone sloping which protected it
from the water, running in abrupt angles round a large embankment and
all the way out to the end of the harbor mole. Balancing uncomfortably
on the flat, slanting stones, he finally reached the molehead and,
rather out of breath, sat down on the bench.

Above his head the red lantern of the harbor light swung slowly back
and forth with a sound like the sighing of iron, while the flag line
flapped gently against its staff.

The moon had come out a little more and cast a cautious grayish-white
light over the quiet ships in the harbor and over the maze of
rectangular roofs and white dark-eyed gables in the town. Above and
beyond it all the church steeple rose, calm and light.

He leaned back dreaming, while a wave of unutterable joy and exultation
surged through his heart; he felt rich and full of strength and
the warmth of life. It seemed as though Fennimore must hear every
love-thought that grew from his rapture, vine in vine, and blossom on
blossom; and he rose, and quickly striking the strings of the mandolin
sang triumphantly to the town asleep in there:

    “_Wakeful aloft lies my lassie,
      She listens to my song!_”

Again and again, when his heart grew too full, he repeated the words of
the old ballad.

Gradually he became calmer. Memories of the hours in the past when he
had felt weakest, poorest, and most forlorn pressed in on him with a
slight, tense pain like that of the first tears welling up in the eyes.
He sat down on the bench again, and with his hand lying mute on the
mandolin strings, he gazed out over the blue-gray expanse of the fjord,
where the moon bridge formed a glittering way past the dark ship to the
lines of the Morsö hills, drawn in faint, melancholy cloud-blue land
through a haze of white.

And the memories thronged, but they grew gentler, were lifted to fairer
lands, and seemed lighted by a roseate dawn.

              ... _My lassie!_

He sang it to himself:

    “_Wakeful aloft lies my lassie,
      She listens to my song._”


                              _Chapter XI_

Three years had passed; Erik and Fennimore had been married for two
years, and made their home in a little villa at Mariagerfjord. Niels
had not seen Fennimore since that summer at Fjordby. He lived in
Copenhagen and went out a great deal, but had no intimate friends
except Dr. Hjerrild, who called himself old because touches of gray had
begun to appear in his dark hair.

That unexpected engagement had been a hard blow to Niels. It had a
benumbing effect on him. He grew more bitter and less confiding, and
had no longer so much enthusiasm to pit against Hjerrild’s pessimism.
Though he still pursued his studies, their plan was less and less
definite, while his purpose of some time completing them and beginning
his real life-work flickered uncertainly. He lived much among people,
but very little with them. They interested him, but he did not in the
least care to have them be interested in him; for he felt the force
that should have driven him to do his part with the others or against
them slowly ebbing out of him. He could wait, he told himself, even
if he had to wait till it was too late. Whoever has faith is in no
hurry—that was his excuse to himself. For he believed that, when he
came down to the bedrock of his own nature, he did have faith strong
enough to move mountains—the trouble was that he never managed to
set his shoulder to them. Once in a while, the impulse to create
welled up in him, and he longed to see a part of himself freed in work
that should be his very own. For days he would be excited with the
happy, titanic effort of carting the clay for his Adam, but he never
formed it in his own image. The will-power necessary to persistent
self-concentration was not in him. Weeks would pass before he could
make up his mind to abandon the work, but he did abandon it, asking
himself, in a fit of irritation, why he should continue. What more had
he to gain? He had tasted the rapture of conception; there remained the
toil of rearing, cherishing, nourishing, carrying to perfection—Why?
For whom? He was no pelican, he told himself. But argue as he might, he
was dissatisfied with himself and felt that he had not fulfilled his
own expectations; nor did it avail him to carp at these expectations
and ask whether they were well founded. He had reached the point
where he had to choose, for when first youth is past—early or late
in accordance with each person’s individuality—then, early or late,
dawns the day when Resignation comes to us as a temptress, luring us to
forego the impossible and be content. And Resignation has much in her
favor; for how often have not the idealistic aspirations of youth been
beaten back, its enthusiasms been shamed, its hopes laid waste!—The
ideals, the fair and beautiful, have lost nothing of their radiance,
but they no longer walk here among us as in the early days of our
youth. The broad, firmly planted stairway of worldly wisdom has
conveyed them back, step by step, to that heaven whence our simpler
faith once brought them down; and there they sit, radiant but distant,
smiling but weary, in divine quiescence, while the incense of a
slothful adoration rises, puff on puff, in festive convolutions.

Niels Lyhne was tired. These repeated runnings to a leap that was never
leaped had wearied him. Everything seemed to him hollow and worthless,
distorted and confused, and, oh, so petty! He preferred to stop his
ears and stop his mouth and to immerse himself in studies that had
nothing to do with the busy every-day world, but were like an ocean
apart, where he could wander peacefully in silent forests of seaweed
among curious animals.

He was tired, and the root of his weariness sprang from his baffled
hope of love; thence it had spread, quickly and surely, through his
whole being, to all his faculties and all his thoughts. Now he was
cold and passionless enough, but in the beginning, after the blow had
fallen, his love had grown, day by day, with the irresistible power
of a malignant fever. There had been moments when his soul was almost
bursting with insane passion; it swelled like a wave in its infinite
longing and frothing desire; it rose and went on rising and rising,
till every fibre in his brain and every cord in his heart was strung
tense to the breaking-point. Then weariness had come, soothing and
healing, making his nerves dull against pain, his blood too cold for
enthusiasm, and his pulse too weak for action. And more than that, it
had protected him against a relapse by giving him all the prudence and
egoism of the convalescent. When his thoughts went back to those days
in Fjordby, he had a sense of immunity akin to the feeling of a man
who has just passed through a severe illness and knows that now, when
he has endured his allotted agony, and the fever has burned itself to
ashes within him, he will be free for a long, long time.

Then it happened, one summer day, after Erik and Fennimore had been
married for two years, that he received a half-whining, half-boasting
letter from Erik, in which he blamed himself for having wasted his
time of late. He did not know what the matter was, but he had no
ideas. The people he met in the neighborhood were fine, jolly fellows,
no conventionality or nonsense about them, but they were perfect
dromedaries with regard to art. There was not a human being he could
talk with, and he had gotten himself into a slough of laziness and
stagnation which he could not pull out of. He never had a glimmering
of an idea or a mood, and never felt inspired. Sometimes he was afraid
that his power had run out, and that he never would do anything any
more. But this could not possibly go on forever! It must come back;
he had been too rich to end like this, and when it came he would show
them what art was, those fellows who painted away all the time as if
they had learned it by rote. For the present, however, he was as if
bewitched, and it would be an act of friendship if Niels would visit
Mariagerfjord. They would make him as comfortable as circumstances
allowed, and he could just as well spend his vacation there as any
other place. Fennimore sent her love and would be glad to see him.

This letter was so unlike Erik that Niels saw at once there must be
something serious amiss or he would not complain in this fashion.
He was aware, too, of how little volume there was in the wellspring
of Erik’s production—a slender stream only, which unfavorable
circumstances could easily dry out. He would go at once! For all that
had happened, Erik should find him a faithful friend; whatever the
years had loosened of old ties and uprooted of old illusions, he would
at least know how to guard this old friendship of their childhood. He
had helped Erik before, and he would help him now. A fanaticism of
friendship possessed him. He would renounce his future, fame, ambitious
dreams, everything, for Erik’s sake. All that he owned of smoldering
enthusiasm and creative ferment should be Erik’s; he would merge
himself in Erik with his whole self and all his ideas, holding nothing
back, keeping nothing for himself. He dreamed of greatness for the
friend who had torn his life asunder so roughly, and saw himself
blotted out, forgotten, impoverished, deprived of his intellectual
heritage; and he went on dreaming that his gift to Erik should become
no longer a loan, but Erik’s very own, as he coined it into works and
deeds and gave it his stamp. Erik in honor and glory, and he himself
one of the many, many commonplace folk and nothing else; poor, at
last, by necessity, not by choice; a real beggar, not a prince in
disguise.... And it was sweet to dream himself so bitterly humble.

But dreams are dreams, and he laughed at himself, as he thought that
people who neglect their own work always have no end of time to
interest themselves in that of others. It also occurred to him that,
when he came face to face with Erik, the latter would, of course,
disclaim his letter and pass it off as a joke. He certainly would think
it extremely absurd if Niels were actually to present himself with the
announcement that he was ready to help him recover his creative power.
Nevertheless he went. In his inmost heart he believed that he could do
some good, and no matter how much he tried to explain it away or cast
doubts upon it, he could not rid himself of the feeling that it really
was the friendship of their boyhood which had reasserted itself in all
its old simplicity and warmth, in spite of the years and what the years
had brought.

       *       *       *       *       *

The villa at Mariagerfjord belonged to an elderly couple who had been
forced by ill-health to make their home in the south for an indefinite
period. They had not intended to rent the place, as they had started
out with the idea of returning after six months, and therefore had
left everything just as it was. So when Erik leased the house fully
furnished, this was so literally true that he got it with bric-à-brac,
family portraits, and everything else, even to an attic full of
decrepit furniture with old letters in the drawers of the secretaries.

Erik had discovered the villa when he left Fjordby after his
engagement. As it contained everything they needed, and as he hoped
to go to Italy in a year or two, he had persuaded Consul Claudi to
postpone the purchase of household furnishings for a while. They had
moved into Marianelund very much as into a hotel, except that they
brought a few more trunks than travellers usually carry.

The house fronted the fjord, less than twenty feet from the water,
and was rather ordinary in appearance. It had a balcony above, a
veranda below, and at the back a young garden with trees no thicker
than walking-sticks, but from the garden one could step right into a
magnificent bit of beech woods with heathery glades and wide clefts
opening between banks of white clay, and that made up for many
shortcomings.

This was Fennimore’s new home, and for a while it was as bright as
happiness could make it, for they were both young and in love, strong
and healthy, and without a care for their means of subsistence, either
spiritual or material.

But every palace of joy that rises heavenward has sand mixed in the
earth on which it is founded, and the sand will collect and run away,
slowly perhaps, imperceptibly perhaps, but it runs and runs, grain by
grain.... And love? Even love is not a rock, however much we may wish
to believe it.

She loved him with her whole soul, with the hot, tremulous passion born
of fear. He was to her much more than a god, much nearer—he was an
idol, whom she worshipped without reason and without reserve.

His love was strong as hers, but it lacked the fine, manly tenderness
that protects the loved woman against herself and watches over her
dignity. Dimly he felt it as a duty, which called him sometimes in a
faint, low voice, but he would not hear. She was too alluring in her
blind love; her beauty, which had the provocative luxuriance and the
humble seductiveness of the female slave, incited him to a passion that
knew neither bounds nor mercy.

In the old myth about Amor, is it not told somewhere that he puts his
hand over Psyche’s eyes before they fly away, rapturously, into the
glowing night?

Poor Fennimore! if she could have been consumed by the fire of her own
heart, he who should have guarded her would have fanned the flames;
for he was like that drunken monarch who swung the incendiary torch,
shouting with joy to see his imperial city burn, intoxicating himself
with the sight of the leaping flames, until the ashes made him sober.

Poor Fennimore! She did not know that the hymn of joy can be sung so
often that both melody and words are lost, and nothing remains but a
twaddle of triviality. She did not know that the intoxication which
uplifts to-day takes its strength from the wings of to-morrow, and when
at length sobriety dawned, gray and heavy, she realized tremblingly
that they had loved themselves down to a sweet contempt for themselves
and each other—a sweet contempt which day by day lessened in sweetness
and became, at last, utterly bitter. They turned away from each other
as far as they could; he, to dream about his betrayed ideal of lofty
coldness and scornful grace; she, to gaze with longing despair at the
dim, quiet shores of her girlhood days, now so immeasurably far away.
With each day that passed, it seemed harder to bear; shame burned madly
in her veins, and a suffocating disgust with herself made everything
seem wretched and hopeless. There was a small deserted room containing
nothing but the trunks she had brought from home, and there she would
often sit, hour after hour, until the sun sank over the world out there
and filled the room with reddish light. There she tortured herself
with thoughts sharper than thorns and scourged herself with words more
stinging than whips, until she was stupefied by misery and tried to
deaden her pain by throwing herself down on the floor as something
too full of corruption and dregs—a carrion of herself—too foul to
be the seat of a soul. Her husband’s mistress! That thought was never
out of her mind; with that she threw herself in the dust and trampled
on herself; with that she barred every hope of regeneration and turned
every happy memory to stone.

Gradually a hard, brutal indifference came over her, and she ceased to
despair, as she had long ceased to hope. Her heaven had fallen, but she
did not try to raise the vault again in her dreams. The earth was good
enough for her, since she was but of earth, earthy. She did not hate
Erik, nor did she draw away from him. No, she accepted his kisses; she
despised herself too much to repulse them, and besides, was she not his
wife—his woman?

For Erik, too, the awakening was bitter, although his man’s prosaic
common sense had warned him that some time it must come. When it really
came, however, when love no longer gave boot for every bane, and the
veil of gleaming gold in which it had descended to earth for him had
been wafted away, he felt such a sinking of his spirits and such a
sluggishness creeping over all his powers that he was angered and
alarmed. Feverishly he turned to his work to assure himself that he
had lost nothing else besides happiness, but art did not give him the
answer he hoped for. He got hold of some unlucky ideas which he could
not do anything with and yet could not make up his mind to abandon.
Though they refused to take shape, they continued to tease his mind,
and prevented other ideas from breaking through or absorbing his
energy. He grew despondent and dissatisfied and sank into a moody
idleness, since work was so confoundedly perverse, and since, of
course, he had only to wait for the spirit to move him again. But time
passed; his talent was still barren, and here by the quiet fjord there
was nothing that could fructify it; nor were there any fellow artists
whose triumphs could spur him on either to emulation or to creative
opposition.

This inactivity grew unbearable. He was seized with a violent craving
to feel himself, no matter how or in what, and since nothing else
offered, he turned to a crowd of older and younger men about the
neighborhood who enlivened the dulness of country life by such
dissipations as their limited fancy could invent and their rather
one-sided taste could savor. The kernel of their pleasures was always
drinking and cards, no matter whether the shell enclosing them
was called a market-day or a hunt. Nor did it make any particular
difference that the scene was occasionally laid in a small neighboring
town, and certain real or imagined business was transacted with the
tradesmen during the afternoon; for the bargain was always closed at
night in the tavern, where the discriminating landlord always showed
persons of the right stripe into Number Caveat. If there happened to be
strolling players in town, the tradesmen were let go, for the players
were more sociable, did not shy at the bottle, and were usually ready
to undergo the miraculous—though never quite successful—cure of
drinking themselves sober in gin after getting drunk on champagne.

The leader of the crowd was a hunting squire of sixty, and its main
stock was made up of small landowners and country gentlemen in the
neighborhood, though it also included a massive young dandy of a
brandy-distiller and a white-necked tutor, who had not been a tutor for
twenty years or more, but had gone as a vagrant from house to house
with a sealskin bag and an old gray mare, which he used to say he had
bought from a horse-butcher. He was a silent drinker, a virtuoso on
the flute, and was supposed to know Arabic. Among those whom the squire
called his “staff“ were also a solicitor, who always had new stories to
tell, and a doctor, who knew only a single one from the siege of Lübeck
in the year 6.

The members of this band were widely scattered, and it scarcely ever
happened that they were all together at one time, but whenever any one
stayed away from the company too long the squire would issue a summons
to the faithful to inspect the renegade’s oxen, which all understood
to mean that they should quarter themselves upon the unfortunate man
for two or three days and turn his house upside down with drinking,
gambling, and whatever rustic amusements the season afforded. During
such a punitive visit, it once happened that the whole party was
snowbound, and the host’s supply of coffee, rum, and sugar ran out, so
that they were reduced to drinking a coffee punch boiled of chicory,
sweetened with sirup, and strengthened with brandy.

It was a coarse-grained crowd of boon companions that Erik had fallen
in with, but perhaps people of such tremendous animal vitality could
hardly find sufficient outlet in more civilized amusements, and their
unfailing good humor and broad, bruin-like joviality really took away
much of the grossness. If Erik’s talent had been akin to that of
Brouwer or Ostade, this choice band of revellers would have been a
perfect gold mine to him. As it was, he got nothing out of it except
that he enjoyed it very much, too much in fact, for soon this wild
racketing became indispensable to him and took up nearly all his time.
Now and then, he would blame himself for his idling and vow to end it,
but whenever he made an attempt at working, the sense of blankness and
spiritual impotence would come over him again and drive him back to the
old life.

The letter to Niels had been framed one day when his everlasting
barrenness had made him wonder if his talent had been attacked by a
wasting disease. As soon as it was sent, he regretted it, and hoped
that Niels would let his plaint go in at one ear and out at the other.

But Niels he came, the knight-errant of friendship personified, and was
met with that mixture of rebuff and pity which knights-errant in all
times have encountered from those in whose behalf they have dragged
Rosinante out of her snug stable. As Niels was tactful, however, and
bided his time, Erik thawed before long, and the old intimacy was soon
established between them; for Erik’s need of pouring himself out in
complaint and confession had grown into an almost physical craving.

One evening after bedtime, when Fennimore had retired, they sat over
their cognac and water in the dark sitting-room. Only the glow of their
cigars showed where they were, and once in a while, when Niels leaned
far back in his chair, his upturned profile would stand out black
against the dark window-pane. They had been drinking a good deal, Erik
especially, while they sat talking of the time when they were boys at
Lönborggaard. Now Fennimore’s departure had made a pause which neither
of them seemed inclined to break, for their thoughts came stealing upon
them in a pleasant languor, as they listened drowsily to the singing of
their blood, warm from the cognac.

“What fools we were when we were twenty,” came Erik’s voice at last.
“God knows what we expected and how we had got it into our heads that
such things were on earth. We called them by the same names that they
bear in reality, but we meant something entirely above and beyond
comparison with this tame sufficiency that we’ve got. There isn’t much
to life, really. Do you think so?”

“Oh, I don’t know; I take it for what it is worth. We don’t generally
live very much. Most of the time we only exist. If you could get life
handed to you in one whole large, appetizing cake that you could set
your teeth in ... but doled out in bits!—no, it’s not amusing.”

“Tell me, Niels—it’s only to you I can talk of such absurd things; I
don’t know how it is, but you’re so queer. Tell me—is there anything
in your glass? All right!—Have you ever thought of death?”

“Have I? Why, yes. Have you?“

“I don’t mean at funerals or when a man is sick, but sometimes when I’m
just sitting here comfortably it comes over me like—like a despair
simply. When I sit here and mope and don’t do anything and _can’t_ do
anything, then I actually feel the time slipping away from me. Hours
and weeks and months rush past with nothing in them, and I can’t nail
them to the spot with a piece of work. I don’t know if you understand
what I mean, but I want to get hold of it with something achieved.
When I paint a picture, the time I use for it remains mine forever;
it isn’t lost, even though it’s past. I am sick when I think of the
days as they go—incessantly. And I _have_ nothing, or I can’t get at
it. It’s torture! I sometimes get into such a rage that I have to get
up and walk the floor and sing some idiotic thing to keep myself from
crying, and then when I stop I am almost mad to think that the time has
gone meanwhile, and is going while I think, and going and going. There
is nothing more wretched than to be an artist. Here I am, strong and
healthy; I have eyes to see; my blood is warm and red; my heart beats,
and there is nothing the matter with my head, and I _want_ to work,
but I can’t. I am struggling and groping for something that eludes
me, something that I can’t grasp even if I toil and moil till I sweat
blood. What can a man do for inspiration or to get an idea? It is all
one whether I concentrate or whether I go out and pretend I am not
looking for anything, never, never anything except the sense that now
Time is standing up to the waist in eternity and hauling in the hours,
and they rush past, twelve white and twelve black, never stopping,
never stopping. What shall I do? What do people do when they feel like
that? Surely, I can’t be the first. Have you nothing to suggest?”

“Travel.”

“No, anything but that. What made you think of that? You don’t believe
I’m done for, do you?”

“Done for! No, but I thought the new impressions—”

“The new impressions! Exactly. Have you never heard about people who
had plenty of talent in their first youth while they were fresh and
full of hope and plans, but when youth had passed their talent was gone
too—and never came back?”

They were silent for a long time.

“_They_ travelled, Niels, to get new impressions, that was their fixed
idea. The south, the Orient—it was all in vain; it slid off from them
as from a looking-glass. I have seen their graves in Rome—two of them,
but there are many, many others. One of them went mad.”

“I have never heard that about painters before.”

“It’s true. What can it be, do you think? A hidden nerve that’s given
way? Or something we have failed in or sinned against in ourselves,
perhaps—who knows? A soul is such a fragile thing, and no one knows
how far the soul extends in a human being. We ought to be good to
ourselves—Niels!” His voice had grown low and soft. “I have often
longed to travel, because I felt so empty. You have no idea how I have
longed for it, but I simply don’t dare to, for suppose it didn’t help,
and that I was one of those people I was telling you of. What then!
Think of standing face to face with the certainty that I was done for,
didn’t possess anything, couldn’t do anything—think of it—couldn’t
do anything! A paltry wretch, a cursed dog of a cripple, a miserable
eunuch! What do you think would become of me? And after all it is not
impossible. My first youth is past, and as for illusions and that sort
of thing, I can assure you I haven’t many left. It’s terrible how we go
through them, and yet I was never one of those who’re anxious to get
rid of them. I was not like you and the rest of the people who used to
foregather at Mrs. Boye’s—you were always so busy plucking the fine
feathers from one another, and the balder you got, the more you crowed.
Still what’s the difference—sooner or later we all start molting.”

They were silent again. The air was bitter with cigar smoke and heavy
with cognac, and they sighed drearily, oppressed by the stuffiness of
the room and by their own very sad hearts.

Niels had travelled two hundred miles to bring aid, and here he sat
feeling his impulse put to shame, while the colder side of his nature
looked on. For what could he do, when it came to the point? What if
he tried to talk picturesquely to Erik, in many words of purple and
ultramarine, dripping with light and wading in shadow! There had been
a dream of something like that in his brain when he started out.
How utterly absurd! To bring aid! You might perhaps drive away the
goddess with the closed hands from an artist’s door, but that was
certainly the utmost; you could no more help him to create than you
could help him, if he were paralyzed, to lift his little finger by
his own strength. No, not though your heart overflowed with affection
and sympathy and devotion and everything else that was generous....
What you ought to do was to mind your own affairs; that was useful and
healthy, but of course it was easier to let your heart run amuck in a
large and generous way. The only trouble was that it was so lamentably
impracticable and so utterly ineffective. Minding your own affairs and
doing it well did not insure you paradise, but at least you did not
have to cast down your eyes before either God or man.

Opportunity was abundant for Niels to make melancholy reflections on
the impotence of a kind heart, for all that he accomplished was to keep
Erik at home a little more than usual for a month or so. Nevertheless,
he did not care to return to Copenhagen during the hot season, and as
he did not wish to remain a guest indefinitely, he engaged a room with
a family a little above the peasant class, on the opposite shore of
the fjord, so near that he could row over to Marianelund in fifteen
minutes. Now that he was accustomed to the neighborhood, he would
just as lief stay there as any other place, for he was one of the
susceptible people over whom outward surroundings easily acquire a
hold. Besides, his friend and his cousin Fennimore were there, and that
was reason enough, especially as there was not a human being anywhere
else expecting him.

During the trip from Copenhagen, he had carefully thought out his
behavior to Fennimore and how he would show her that he had forgotten
so completely that he did not remember there was anything to forget;
above all, no coldness, but a friendly indifference, a superficial
cordiality, a polite sympathy; that was the proper attitude.

But it was all thrown away.

The Fennimore he met was a different person from the one he had left.
She was still lovely; her form was luxuriant and beautiful as before,
and she had the same slow, languid movements that charmed him in former
days, but there was a dreary thoughtlessness in the expression of her
mouth as of one who had thought too much, and a pitiful, tortured
cruelty in her gentle eyes. He did not understand it at all, but one
fact was at least clear, and that was that she had had other things to
think of than remembering him, and that she was quite callous to any
memories he could awaken. She looked like one who had made her choice
and done the worst she could do with it.

Little by little, he began to spell and put things together, and one
day, when they were walking along the shore, he began to understand.

Erik was cleaning up his studio, and as they were strolling by the
water, the maid came out with an apronful of refuse which she threw
on the beach. There was a litter of old brushes, fragments of casts,
broken palette knives, bits of oil bottles, and empty paint tubes.
Niels poked the heap with his foot, and Fennimore looked on with the
vague curiosity people often feel in turning over old rubbish. Suddenly
Niels drew his foot away as if something had burned it, but caught
himself as quickly, and gave the pile another kick.

“Oh, let me see it,” begged Fennimore, and put her hand on his arm as
if to stop him. He bent down and pulled out a plaster cast of a hand
holding an egg.

“It must be a mistake,” he said.

“Why no, it is broken,” she replied quietly, as she took it from him.
“See, the forefinger is gone,” she added, pointing, but when she
suddenly became aware that the egg had been cut in two and a yolk
painted inside it with chrome yellow, she blushed, and, bending down,
she slowly and deliberately knocked the hand against a stone, until it
was broken into little bits.

“Do you remember the time it was cast?” Niels asked, in order to say
something.

“I remember that my hand was smeared with green soap so the plaster
should not stick to it. Is that what you were thinking of?”

“No, I mean the time when Erik passed the cast around at the tea-table.
Don’t you remember, when it came to your old aunt, how her eyes filled
with tears, and she embraced you with the deepest compassion and kissed
you on the brow, as if some harm had been done to you?”

“Yes, people are so sensitive.”

“No, we all laughed at her, but there was a delicacy in it
nevertheless, although it was so nonsensical.”

“Yes, there is much of that nonsensical delicacy in the world.”

“I believe you want to quarrel with me to-day.”

“No, I don’t, but there is something I want to say to you. You won’t
take offence at a little frankness?—Well, then—suppose a man tells
a story that is not very nice in his wife’s presence and perhaps
otherwise shows what appears to you a lack of consideration for her;
don’t you think it is unnecessary for you then to express your protest
by your emphatic fastidiousness and your exceeding great chivalry? It
is fair to assume that the man knows his own wife best, and knows that
it won’t offend or wound her; otherwise he would not do it. Is not that
true?”

“No, it is not true, generally speaking, but in this case, and on your
authority, I don’t mind saying yes.”

“That’s right. You may be sure that women are not the ethereal
creatures many a good youth fancies; they are really no more delicate
than men, and not very different from them. Take my word for it, there
has been some filthy clay used in the shaping of them both.”

“Dearest Fennimore! Thank God you don’t know what you are saying, but
you are very unjust to women and to yourself. _I_ believe in woman’s
purity.”

“Woman’s purity! What do you mean by woman’s purity?”

“I mean—that is—”

“You mean—I will tell you; you mean nothing, for that is another piece
of nonsensical delicacy. A woman can’t be pure, and isn’t supposed to
be—how could she? It is against nature! And do you think God made her
to be pure? Answer me!—No, and ten thousand times no. Then why this
lunacy! Why fling us up to the stars with one hand, when you have to
pull us down with the other! Can’t you let us walk the earth by your
side, one human being with another, and nothing more at all? It is
impossible for us to step firmly on the prose of life when you blind us
with your poetic will-o’-the-wisps. Let us alone! For God’s sake, let
us alone!”

She sat down and wept.

Niels understood much. Fennimore would have been miserable had she
known how much. Was it not partly the old story of love’s holiday fare
which refuses to turn into daily bread, but goes on being holiday fare,
only more tasteless, more insipid, and less nourishing, day by day? One
can’t perform a miracle, and the other can’t perform it, and there they
sit in their banqueting clothes, careful to smile and to use festive
words, but underneath they feel the agony of hunger and thirst, while
their eyes shrink from each other, and hatred begins to grow in their
hearts. Was not that the first chapter, and was not the other the
equally dreary tale of a woman’s despair at not being able to recover
herself after finding out that the demigod, whose bride she became so
joyously, was only an ordinary mortal? First the despair, the bootless
despair, and then the merciful stupor—that must be the explanation.
It seemed to Niels that he understood everything: the hardness in her,
the dreary humility, and her coarseness, which was the bitterest drop
in the whole goblet. By degrees he came to see also that his delicacy
and deferential homage must oppress and irritate her, because a woman
who has been hurled from the purple couch of her dreams to the pavement
below will quickly resent any attempt to spread carpets over the stones
which she longs to feel in all their hardness. In her first despair she
is not satisfied to tread the path with her feet: she is determined to
crawl it on her knees, choosing the way that is steepest and roughest.
She desires no helping hand and will not lift her head—let it sink
down with its own heaviness, so that she may put her face to the ground
and taste the dust with her tongue!

Niels pitied her with all his heart, but he left her alone as she
desired.

It was hard to look on and not help, to sit apart and dream her happy,
in stupid dreams, or to wait and calculate, with the cold knowledge of
the physician, how long she had to suffer. He told himself, in this
dreary wisdom, that there could be no relief until her old hope in the
fair, gleaming treasures of life had bled to death and a more sluggish
stream had entered her veins, making her dull enough to forget, blunt
enough to accept, and, at last, at last, coarse enough to rejoice in
the thick atmosphere of a bliss many heavens lower than that which
she had meekly hoped and humbly prayed for wings to reach.—He was
full of disgust with all the world when he thought that she, to whom
he had once knelt in adoration, had come to such a pass that she had
been forced to a slave’s estate, and stood at the gate shivering with
cold, while he rode past on his high horse with the large coins of life
jingling in his pocket.

One Sunday afternoon, in the latter part of August, Niels rowed across
the fjord. Fennimore was at home alone when he came; he found her lying
on a sofa in the corner room, and very miserable. Her breath came with
that low, monotonous moaning which seems to afford relief from pain,
and she said that she had a frightful headache. There was no one to
help her, for she had given the maid leave to go home to Hadssund,
and soon afterward some one had come and carried off Erik; she could
not understand where they had gone in the rain. Now she had been
lying there for two hours trying to sleep, but it was impossible,
the pain was so bad. She had never had it before, and it had come on
so suddenly—at dinner-time there had been nothing the matter. First
it was in the temples, and then it seemed to dig deeper and deeper
and deeper in; now it seemed to be behind her eyes—if it only was
not anything dangerous. She was not used to being ill, and was very
frightened and unhappy.

Niels comforted her as well as he could, telling her to lie still,
close her eyes, and not speak. He found a heavy shawl, which he wrapped
around her feet, fetched vinegar from the buffet, and made a cold
compress, which he laid on her brow. Then he sat down quietly by the
window, and looked out at the rain.

From time to time, he stole over to her on tiptoe and changed the
compress without speaking, merely nodding to her, as she looked up at
him gratefully between his hands. Sometimes she wanted to speak, but
he hushed her with a look, shaking his head, and returned to his seat
again.

At last she fell asleep.

One hour passed and another, and she was still sleeping. Slowly one
quarter slipped into the other, while the melancholy daylight faded,
and the shadows in the room waxed larger, as if they were growing out
of the furniture and the walls. Outside the rain fell, evenly and
steadily, blotting out every other sound in its low, incessant patter.

She was still sleeping.

The fumes of the vinegar and the vanilla scent of the heliotrope,
mingling in a pungent odor like wine, filled the room. Warmed by their
breath, the air covered the gray window-panes with a dewy film, which
grew denser with the increasing coolness of the evening.

By this time, he was far away in memories and dreams, though a part
of his consciousness still watched over the sleeper and followed her
sleep. Gradually, as the darkness pressed in, his fancy wearied of
feeding these dreams that flickered up and died down, just as the soil
gets tired of bringing forth the same crop again and again; and the
dreams grew feebler, more sterile, and stiffer, losing the luxuriant
details that had entwined them like long shoots of clinging vines. His
thoughts left the distance and came homing back.—How quiet everything
was! Was it not as if they were together, he and she, on an island
of silence rising above the monotonous sea of sound made by the soft
patter of the rain? And their souls were still, calm and safe, while
the future seemed to slumber in a cradle of peace.

Would that it might never awaken, and that all might remain as now—no
more happiness than that of peace, but neither any misery nor irking
unrest! Would that the present might close as a bud closes around
itself, and that no spring would follow!

Fennimore called. She had been lying awake for some time, too happy in
being free from pain to think of speaking. Now she wanted to get up and
light the lamp, but Niels continued to act as physician, and compelled
her to lie still. It was not good for her to get up yet; he had matches
and could easily find the lamp.

When he had lit it, he put it on the flower stand in the corner, where
its milky white globe shone softly veiled by the delicate, slumbering
leaves of an acacia. The room was just light enough so that they could
see each other’s face.

He sat down in front of her, and they spoke about the rain and said how
lucky it was that Erik had taken his rain-coat, and how wet poor Trine
would be. Then their conversation came to a standstill.

Fennimore’s thoughts were not quite awake yet, and in her weakness it
seemed pleasant to lie thus musing without speaking. Nor was Niels
inclined to talk, for he was still under the spell of the afternoon’s
long silence.

“Do you like this house?” Fennimore asked at last.

“Why yes, fairly well.”

“Really? Do you remember the furniture at home?”

“At Fjordby? Yes indeed, perfectly.”

“You don’t know how I love it, and how I long for it sometimes. The
things we have here don’t belong to us—they are only rented—and have
no association with anything, and we are not going to live with them
any longer than we stay in this place. You may think it queer, but I
assure you, I often feel lonely here among all these strange pieces of
furniture that stand around here so indifferent and stupid and take
me for what I am without caring the least bit about me. And as I know
they are not going with me—that they will just stay here and be rented
by other people—I can’t get fond of them or interested in them as I
should if I knew that my home would always be theirs, and that whatever
came to me of good or ill would come in the midst of them. Do you think
it childish? Perhaps it is, but I can’t help it.”

“I don’t know what it is, but I have felt it too. When I was left alone
abroad, my watch stopped, and when it came back from the watchmaker and
was going as before, it was—just what you mean. I liked the feeling;
there was something peculiar about it, something genuinely good.”

“Yes indeed! Oh, I should have kissed it, if I had been you.”

“Would you?”

“Do you know,” she said suddenly, “you have never told me anything
about Erik as a boy? What was he like?”

“Everything that is good and fine, Fennimore. Splendid, brave—a boy’s
ideal of a boy, not exactly a mother’s or a teacher’s ideal, but the
other, which is so much better.”

“How did you get along together? Were you very fond of each other?”

“Yes, I was in love with him, and he didn’t mind—that is about how it
was. We were very different. I always wanted to be a poet and become
famous, but what do you suppose he said he wanted to be, one day when
I asked him?—An Indian, a real red Indian with war paint and all
the rest! I remember that I couldn’t understand it at all. It was
incomprehensible to me how any one could want to be a savage—civilized
creature that I was!”

“But was it not strange, then, that he should become an artist?” said
Fennimore, and there was something cold and hostile in her tone, as she
asked.

Niels noticed it with a little start. “Not at all,” he answered; “it is
really rare that people become artists with the whole of their nature.
And such strong fellows overflowing with vitality like Erik often have
an unutterable longing for what is fine-grained and delicate: for an
exquisite virginal coldness, a lofty sweetness—I hardly know how to
express it. Outwardly they may be robust and full-blooded enough, even
coarse, and no one suspects what strange, romantic, sentimental secrets
they carry about with them, because they are so bashful—spiritually
bashful, I mean—that no pale little maiden can be more shy about her
soul than are these big, hard-stepping menfolks. Don’t you understand,
Fennimore, that such a secret, which can’t be told in plain words
right out in common every-day air, may dispose a man to be an artist?
And they can’t express it in words, they simply can’t; we have to
believe that it is there and lives its quiet life within them, as the
bulb lives in the earth; for once in a while they do send fragrant,
delicately tinted flowers up to the light. Do you understand?—Don’t
demand anything for yourself of this blossoming strength, believe in
it, be glad to nourish it and to know that it is there.—Forgive me,
Fennimore, but it seems to me that you and Erik are not really good to
each other. Can’t you make a change? Don’t think of who is right or how
great the wrong is, and don’t treat him according to his deserts—how
would even the best of us fare if we got our deserts! No, think of him
as he was in the hour when you loved him most; believe me, he is worthy
of it. You must not measure and weigh. There are moments in love, I
know, full of bright, solemn ecstasy, when we would give our lives for
the beloved if need be. Is not that true? Remember it now, Fennimore,
for his sake and your own.”

He was silent.

She said nothing either, but lay very still with a melancholy smile on
her lips, pale as a flower.

Then she half rose and stretched out her hand to Niels. “Will you be my
friend?” she asked.

“I am your friend, Fennimore,” and he took her hand.

“Will you, Niels?”

“Always,” he replied, lifting the hand to his lips reverently.

When he rose, it seemed to Fennimore that he held himself more erect
than she had ever seen him before.

A little later Trine came in to announce her return, and then there was
tea, and at last the rowing back through the dreary rain.

Toward morning Erik came home, and when Fennimore saw him by the cold,
truthful light of dawn, preparing to go to bed, heavy and unsteady with
drink, his eyes glazed from gambling and his face dirty-pale after the
sleepless night, then all the fair words Niels had spoken seemed to her
quite visionary. The bright promises she had made to her own heart
fainted and paled before the oncoming day—vapory dreams and fumes of
fancy: a fairy flock of lies!

What was the use of struggling with this weight dragging them both
down? It was futile to lighten it by lies; their life would never have
its old buoyancy. The frost had been there, and the wealth of vines and
creepers and clustering roses and blossoms fairer than roses that had
entwined them had shed every tiny leaf, lost every blossom, and nothing
remained but the tough, naked withes binding them together in an
unbreakable tether. What did it avail that she roused the feelings of
former days to an artificial life by the warmth of memories, that she
put her idol up on its pedestal again, that she called back the light
of admiration to her eyes, the words of adoration to her lips, and the
flush of happiness to her cheeks! What did it all avail, when he would
not take upon himself to be the priest of the idol and so help her to
a pious fraud? He! He did not even remember her love. Not one of her
words echoed in his ears, not one of all their days was hidden in his
soul.

No, dead and cold was the ardent love of their hearts. The fragrance,
the glamor, and the tremulous tones—all had been wafted away. There
they sat, from force of habit, he with his arm around her waist, she
with her head resting on his shoulder, drearily sunk in silence,
forgetting each other; she, to remember the glorious hero he had never
been; he, to transform her in his dreams to the ideal which he now
always saw shining in the sky high above her head. Such was their life
together, and the days came and went without bringing any change, and
day after day they gazed out over the desert of their lives, and told
themselves that it was a desert, that there were no flowers nor any
hope of flowers or springs or green palms.

As the autumn advanced, Erik’s drinking-bouts became more frequent.
What was the use, he said to Niels, of sitting at home waiting for
ideas that never came, until his thoughts turned to stone in his head?
Moreover, he did not get much comfort from Niels’s society; he needed
people with some grit in them, people of lusty flesh and blood, not a
whim-wham of delicate nerves. Niels and Fennimore were therefore left
much alone, for Niels came over to Marianelund every day.

The covenant of friendship they had made and the talk they had had
on that Sunday afternoon put them at their ease with each other,
and, lonely as they both were, they drew closer together in a warm
and tender friendship, which soon gained a strong hold over both. It
absorbed them so that their thoughts, whether they were together or
apart, always turned to this bond, as birds building the same nest look
on everything they gather or pass by with the one pleasant goal of
making the nest snug and comfortable for each other and themselves.

If Niels came while Erik was away, they nearly always, even on rainy
and stormy days, took long walks in the woods behind the garden. They
had fallen in love with that forest, and grew fonder of it as they
watched the summer life die out. There were a thousand things to see.
First, how the leaves turned yellow and red and brown, then how they
fell off, whirling on a windy day in yellow swarms, or softly rustling
in still air, single leaf after leaf, down against the stiff boughs and
between the pliant brown twigs. And when the leaves fell from trees
and bushes, the hidden secrets of summer were revealed in nest upon
nest. What treasures on the ground and on the branches, dainty seeds
and bright-colored berries, brown nuts, shining acorns and exquisite
acorn cups, tassels of coral on the barberry, polished black berries
on the buckthorn, and scarlet urns on the dog-rose. The bare beeches
were finely dotted with prickly beechnuts, and the roan bent under the
weight of its red clusters, acid in fragrance like apple cider. Late
brambleberries lay black and brown among the wet leaves at the wayside;
red whortleberries grew among the heather, and the wild raspberries
brought forth their dull crimson fruit for the second time. The ferns
turned all colors as they faded, and the moss was a revelation, not
only the deep, luscious moss in the hollows and on the slopes, but the
faint, delicate growth on the tree-trunks, resembling what one might
imagine the cornfields of the elves to be as it sent forth the finest
of stalks with dark brown buds like ears of corn at the tip.

They scoured the forest from end to end, eager to find all its
treasures and marvels. They had divided it between them as children do;
the part on one side of the road was Fennimore’s property, and that
on the other side was Niels’s, and they would compare their realms
and quarrel about which was the more glorious. Everything there had
names—clefts and hillocks, paths and stiles, ditches and pools; and
when they found a particularly magnificent tree, they gave that too a
name. In this way they took complete possession and created a little
world of their own which no one else knew and no one else was at home
in, and yet they had no secret which all the world might not have heard.

As yet they had not.

But love was in their hearts, and was not there, as the crystals are
present in a saturated solution, and yet are not present, not until a
splinter or the merest particle of the right matter is thrown into the
solution, releasing the slumbering atoms as if by magic, and they rush
to meet one another, joining and riveting themselves together according
to unsearchable laws, and in the same instant there is crystal—crystal.

So it was a trifle that made them feel they loved.

There is nothing to tell. It was a day like all other days, when they
were alone together in the sitting-room, as they had been a hundred
times before; their conversation was about things of no moment, and
that which happened was outwardly as common and as every-day-like
as possible. It was nothing except that Niels stood looking out
of the window, and Fennimore came over to him and looked out too.
That was all, but it was enough, for in a flash like lightning, the
past and present and future were transformed for Niels Lyhne by the
consciousness that he loved the woman standing by his side, not as
anything bright and sweet and happy and beautiful that would lift him
to ecstasy or rapture—such was not the nature of his love—but he
loved her as something he could no more do without than the breath
of life itself, and he reached out, as a drowning man clutches, and
pressed her hand to his heart.

She understood him. With almost a scream, in a voice full of terror
and agony, she cried out to him an answer and a confession: “Oh,
_yes_, Niels!” and snatched away her hand in the same instant. A
moment she stood, pale and shrinking, then sank down with one knee in
an upholstered chair, hiding her face against the harsh velvet of the
back, and sobbed aloud.

Niels stood a few seconds as though blinded, groping around among the
bulb-glasses for support. It was only for a very few seconds; then he
stepped over to the chair where she was lying, and bent over without
touching her, resting one hand on the back of the chair.

“Don’t be so unhappy, Fennimore! Look up and let us talk about it. Will
you, or will you not? Don’t be afraid! Let us bear it together, my own
love! Come, try if you can’t!”

She raised her head slightly and looked up at him. “Oh, God, what shall
we do! Isn’t it terrible, Niels! Why should such a thing happen to me?
And how lovely it all could have been—so happy!” and she sobbed again.

“Should I not have spoken?” he moaned. “Poor Fennimore, would you
rather never have known it?”

She raised her head again and caught his hand. “I wish I knew it
and were dead. I wish I were in my grave and knew it, that would be
good—oh, so peaceful and good!”

“It is bitter for us both, Fennimore, that the first thing our love
brings us should be only misery and tears. Don’t you think so?”

“You must not be hard on me, Niels. I can’t help it. You can’t see it
as I do—I am the one that should be strong, because I am the one that
is bound. I wish I could take my love and force it back into the most
secret depth of my soul and lock it in and be deaf to all its wailing
and its prayers, and then tell you to go far, far away; but I can’t, I
have suffered so much, I can’t suffer that too—I can’t, Niels. I can’t
live without you—see, can I? Do you think I can?”

She rose and flung herself on his breast.

“Here I am, and I won’t let you go; I won’t send you away, while I sit
here alone in the old darkness. It is like a bottomless pit of loathing
and misery. I won’t throw myself into it. I would rather jump into the
fjord, Niels. Even if the new life brings other agonies, at least they
are new agonies, and haven’t the dull sting of the old, and can’t stab
home like the old, which know my heart so cruelly well. Am I talking
wildly? Yes, of course I am, but it is so good to talk to you without
any reserve and without having to be careful not to say what I have no
right to. For now you have the first right of all! I wish you could
take me wholly, so that I could belong to you utterly and not to any
one else at all. I wish you could lift me out of all relations that
hedge me in!”

“We must break through them, Fennimore. I will arrange everything as
well as possible. Don’t be afraid! Some day, before any one suspects
anything, we shall be far away.”

“No, no, we mustn’t run away, anything but that, anything else
rather than have my parents hear their daughter had run away. It is
impossible! I will never do it. By God in heaven, Niels, I will never
do it.”

“Oh, but you must, girlie, you must. Can’t you see all the baseness and
ugliness that will rise and close in around us everywhere, if we stay,
all the lies and deceptions that will entangle us and drag us down? I
won’t have you smooched by all that. I refuse to let it eat into our
love like corroding rust.”

But she was immovable.

“You don’t know what you are condemning us to,” he said sadly. “It
would be far better to crush under iron heels now instead of sparing.
Believe me, Fennimore, we must let our love be everything to us, the
first and only thing in the world, that which must be saved, even at
the cost of stabbing where we would rather heal and bringing sorrow
where we would rather keep every shadow of sorrow far away. If we
don’t do that, you will see that the yoke we bend our necks under now
will weigh on us and at last force us to our knees, unmercifully,
inexorably.—A fight on our knees, you don’t know how hard that
is! Shall we fight the fight anyway, girlie, side by side, against
everything?”

       *       *       *       *       *

For the first few days Niels persisted in his attempts to persuade her
to flight. Then he began to picture to himself what a blow it would be
to Erik if he were to come home one day and find friend and wife gone
away together, and by degrees the whole thing took on an unnaturally
tragic air of the impossible. He accustomed himself not to think of it,
as he did with many other things that he might have wished different,
and threw himself with his whole soul into the situation as it was,
without any conscious attempts to make it over by dreams or cover its
defects with imaginary festoons and garlands. But, oh, how sweet it
was to love for once with the love of real life; for now he knew that
nothing of what he had imagined to be love was real love, neither the
turgid longing of the lonely youth, nor the passionate yearning of
the dreamer, nor yet the nervous foreboding of the child. These were
currents in the ocean of love, single reflections of its full light,
fragments of love as the meteors rushing through space are splinters of
a world—for that was love: a world complete in itself, fully rounded,
vast, and orderly. It was no medley of confused sensations and moods
rushing one upon another! Love was like nature, ever changing, ever
renewing; no feeling died and no emotion withered without giving life
to the seed of something still more perfect which was imbedded in it.
Quietly, sanely, with full, deep breaths—it was good to love so and
love with all his soul. The days fell, bright and new-coined, down from
heaven itself; they no longer followed one upon another as a matter
of course like the hackneyed pictures in a peep-show. Every one was a
revelation. With each day that passed, he felt stronger, greater, and
nobler. He had never known such strength and fullness of feeling; there
were moments when he seemed to himself titanic, much more than man, so
inexhaustible was the wellspring of his soul, so broad-winged the
tenderness that swelled his heart, so wondrous the sweep of his vision,
so infinite the gentleness of his judgments.

This was the beginning of happiness, and they were happy long.

The daily falsehood and deception and the atmosphere of dishonor in
which they lived had not yet gained power over them, and could not
touch them on those ecstatic heights to which Niels had lifted their
relationship and, with it, themselves. For he was not simply a man who
seduced his friend’s wife—or rather, so he told himself defiantly, he
was that man, but he was also the one who saved an innocent woman whom
life had wounded, stoned, and defiled, a woman who had lain down to let
her soul die. This woman he had given back her confidence in life, her
faith in the powers of good; he had lifted her spirit to noble heights,
had given her happiness. What, then, was best, the old blameless misery
or that which he had won for her? He did not ask, he had made his
choice.

He did not quite mean this, if the truth were told. Man often builds
for himself theories in which he refuses to dwell. Thoughts often run
faster than the sense of right and wrong is willing to follow. Yet the
conception was really present in his mind, and it took away some of the
cankerous venom inherent in the craftiness, falseness, and duplicity of
their lives.

Yet the evil effects were soon noticeable. The poison was working on
so many fine nerve filaments that it could not but do harm and cause
suffering, and the time was hastened when Erik, shortly after New Year,
announced that he had caught an idea—something with a green tunic and
a threatening attitude, he told Niels. Did he remember the green in
Salvator Rosa’s Jonah? Something on that order.

Although Erik’s work consisted chiefly in lying on the couch in his
studio, smoking shag and reading Marryat, it had at least the effect
of keeping him at home for the time being, thereby forcing them to use
more caution and necessitating new lies and artifices.

Fennimore’s ingenuity in this direction was what brought the first
cloud to their heaven. It was scarcely perceptible at first, only a
doubt, light as thistle-down, flitting through Niels’s mind as to
whether his love were not nobler than the one he loved. It had not yet
taken shape as a thought, it was only a dim foreboding which pointed in
that direction, a vague giving way in his mind, a leaning to that side.

Yet it came again and brought others in its wake, thoughts at first
vague and indistinct, then clearer and sharper for each time they
appeared. It was astonishing with what furious haste these thoughts
could undermine, debase, and take away the glamor. Their love was not
lessened. On the contrary, it glowed more passionately while it sank,
but these handclasps stolen under table-covers, these kisses snatched
in passages and behind doors, these long looks right under the eyes of
him they deceived, took away all the lofty tenor. Happiness no longer
stood still above their heads; they had to filch her smiles and her
light as best they could, and after a while their wiles and cunning
were no longer necessary evils, but amusing triumphs. Deception became
their natural element and made them contemptible and petty. There
were degrading secrets, too, over which they had hitherto grieved
separately, assuming ignorance in each other’s eyes, but which they now
had to share; for Erik was not bashful, and would often caress his wife
in Niels’s presence, kiss her, take her on his lap, and embrace her,
while Fennimore had neither courage nor dignity sufficient to repel
these caresses; the consciousness of her guilt made her uncertain and
afraid.

So it sank and went on sinking, that lofty castle of their love, from
the pinnacles of which they had gazed so proudly out over the world,
and within which they had felt so strong and noble.

Still they were happy among the ruins.

When they walked in the woods now, it was usually on gloomy days, when
the fog hung under the dark branches and thickened between the wet
trunks, so that none should see how they kissed and embraced, both here
and there, and none should hear how their frivolous talk rang with
peals of wanton laughter.

The melancholy of eternity, which had exalted their love, was gone;
now there was nothing but smiles and jests between them. With feverish
haste they snatched greedily at the fleeting seconds of joy, as though
they must hurry in their love and had not a lifetime before them.

It brought no change when Erik, after a while, grew tired of his idea
and again began his carousing so eagerly that he was rarely at home for
forty-eight hours at a stretch. Where they had fallen, there they lay.
Once in a great while, perhaps, in lonely hours, they gazed regretfully
toward the heights from which they had fallen, or perhaps they only
wondered, and thought what a strain it must have been to stay on that
level, and felt themselves more snugly housed where they were. There
was no change. At least there was no return to the former days, but the
flabby uncleanness of living as they did and not running away together
became more present in their consciousness and linked them together in
a closer and baser union through the common sense of guilt; for neither
of them wished any change in things as they were. Nor did they pretend
to each other that they did, for there had developed a cynical intimacy
between them such as often exists between fellow criminals, and there
was nothing in their relations that they shrank from putting into
words. With sinister frankness, they called things by their right names
and, as they put it to themselves, faced the facts as they were.

       *       *       *       *       *

In February it had seemed that the winter was over, but then Mother
March had come shaking her white mantle with its loose lining, and
snowstorm after snowstorm covered the ground with thick layers. Then
followed calm weather and hard frost, and the fjord settled under a
crust of ice six inches thick, which lay there a long time.

One evening toward the end of the month, Fennimore was sitting alone in
her parlor after tea and waiting.

The room was brightly illumined; the piano stood open with candles lit,
and the silk shade had been taken from the lamp. The gilded moldings
caught the light, and the pictures on the walls seemed to stand out
with a kind of vigilance. The hyacinths had been moved from the windows
to the writing-table, where they made a mass of delicate colors,
filling the air with a penetrating fragrance that seemed cool in its
purity. The fire in the stove burned with a pleasant subdued crackle.

Fennimore was walking up and down the room almost as if she were
balancing on a dark red stripe in the carpet. She wore a somewhat
old-fashioned black silk dress with a heavily embroidered edge that
weighed it down and trailed, first on one side, then on the other, with
every step she took.

She was humming to herself and holding with both hands a string of
large pale yellow amber beads that hung from her neck. Whenever she
wavered on the red stripe, she would stop humming, but still grasped
the necklace. Perhaps she was making an omen for herself: if she could
walk a certain number of times up and down without getting off the red
stripe and without letting go with her hands, Niels would come.

He had been there in the morning, when Erik went away, and had stayed
till late in the afternoon, but he had promised to come again as soon
as the moon was up and it was light enough to see the holes in the ice
on the fjord.

Fennimore had obtained her omen, whatever it was, and stepped over to
the window.

It looked as if there would not be any moon to-night; the sky was very
black, and the darkness must be more intense out there on the gray-blue
fjord than on land where the snow lay. Perhaps it was best that he did
not attempt it. She sat down at the piano with a sigh of resignation,
then got up again to look at the clock. She came back and resolutely
propped up a big book of music before her, but did not play, merely
turning the leaves absent-mindedly, lost in her own thoughts.

Suppose, after all, that he was standing on the opposite shore this
very moment, fastening on his skates. He could be here in an instant!
She saw him plainly, a little bit out of breath after skating, and
blinking with his eyes against the light on coming from the darkness
outside. He would bring a breath of cold air, and his beard would be
full of tiny little bright drops. Then he would say—what would he say?

She smiled and glanced down at herself.

And still the moon did not appear.

She went over to the window again and stood gazing out, till the
darkness seemed to be filled before her eyes with tiny white sparks and
rainbow-colored rings. But they were only a vague glimmer. She wished
they would be transformed into fireworks out there, rockets shooting up
in long, long curves and then turning to tiny snakes that bored their
way into the sky and died in a flicker; or into a great, huge pale
ball that hung tremulous in the sky and slowly sank down in a rain of
myriad-colored stars. Look! Look! Soft and rounded like a curtsy, like
a golden rain that curtsied.—Farewell! Farewell! There went the last
one.—Oh dear, if he would only come! She did not want to play—and at
that she turned to the piano, struck an octave harshly, and held the
keys down till the tones had quite died away, then did the same again,
and again, and yet again. She did not want to play, did not want
to.—She would rather dance! For a moment she closed her eyes, and
in imagination she felt herself whirling through a vast hall of red
and white and gold. How delicious it would be to have danced and to
be hot and tired and drink champagne! Suddenly she remembered how she
and a school friend had concocted champagne from soda water and eau de
cologne, and how sick it had made them when they drank it.

She straightened herself and walked across the room, instinctively
smoothing her dress as after a dance.

“And now let us be sensible!” she said, took her embroidery and settled
herself in a large armchair near the lamp.

Yet she did not work; her hands sank down into her lap, and soon she
snuggled down into the chair with little lazy movements, fitting
herself into its curves, her face resting on her hand, her dress
wrapped around her feet.

She wondered curiously whether other wives were like her, whether they
had made a mistake and been unhappy and then had loved some one else.
She passed in review the ladies at home in Fjordby, one by one. Then
she thought of Mrs. Boye. Niels had told her about Mrs. Boye, and she
had always been a tantalizing riddle to her—this woman whom she hated
and felt humiliated by.

Erik, too, had once told her that he had been madly in love with Mrs.
Boye.

Ah, if one could know everything about her!

She laughed at the thought of Mrs. Boye’s new husband.

All the time, while her thoughts were thus engaged, she was longing and
listening for Niels, and imagined him coming, always coming out there
on the ice. She little guessed that for the last two hours a tiny black
dot had been working its way over the snowy meadows with a message
for her very different from the one she was expecting from across the
fjord. It was only a man in homespun and greased boots, and now he
tapped on the kitchen window, frightening the maid.

It was a letter, Trine said when she came in to her mistress. Fennimore
took it. It was a telegram. Quietly she gave the maid the receipt and
dismissed her; she was not in the least alarmed, for Erik of late had
often telegraphed that he would bring one or two guests home with him
the following day.

Then she read.

Suddenly she turned white and darted wildly from her seat out into the
middle of the room, staring at the door with expectant terror.

She would not let it come into the house, did not dare to, and with one
bound she threw herself against the door, pressing her shoulder against
it, and turned the key till it cut her hand. But it would not turn, no
matter how hard she tried. Her hand dropped. Then she remembered that
the thing was not here at all—it was far away from her in a strange
house.

She began to shake, her knees would no longer support her, and she slid
along the door to the floor.

Erik was dead. The horses had run away, had overturned the carriage at
a street corner, and hurled Erik with his head against the wall. His
skull had been fractured, and now he lay dead at Aalborg. That was the
way it had happened, and most of this story was told in the telegram.
No one had been with him in the carriage except the white-necked tutor
known as the Arab. It was he who had telegraphed.

She crouched on the floor moaning feebly, both palms spread out on
the carpet, her eyes staring with a fixed, empty look, as she swayed
helplessly to and fro.

Only a moment ago everything had been light and fragrance around
her, and, however much she tried, she could not instantly put all
this out of her consciousness to admit the inky black night of grief
and remorse. It was not her fault that her mind was still haunted by
fitful, dazzling gleams of love’s happiness and love’s pleasure; that
intense, foolish desires would force their way out of the whirl,
seeking the bliss of forgetfulness, or trying to stop with a frenzied
wrench the revolving wheel of fortune.

But it soon passed.

In black swarms, from everywhere, dark thoughts came flying like
ravens, lured by the corpse of her happiness, and hacked it beak by
beak, even while the warmth of life still lingered in it. They tore and
slashed and made it hideous and unrecognizable, until the whole thing
was nothing but a carrion of loathing and horror.

She rose and walked about, supporting herself by chairs and tables
like one who is ill. Desperately she looked around for some cobweb of
help, if it were only a comforting glance, a sympathetic pat of the
hand, but her eyes met nothing but the glaring family portraits, all
the strangers who had been witnesses of her fall and her crime—sleepy
old gentlemen, prim-mouthed matrons, and their ever-present gnome
child, the girl with the great round eyes and bulging forehead. It had
acquired memories enough at last, this strange furniture, the table
over there, and that chair, the footstool with the black poodle-dog,
and the portière like a dressing-gown,—she had saturated them all with
memories, adulterous memories, which they now spewed out and flung
after her. Oh, it was terrible to be locked in with all these spectres
of crime and with herself. She shuddered at herself; she pointed
accusing fingers at herself, at this dishonored Fennimore who crouched
at her feet; she pulled her dress away from between her imploring
hands. Mercy? No, there was no mercy! How could there be mercy before
those dead eyes in the strange town, those eyes which had become
seeing, now that they were glazed in death, and saw how she had thrown
his honor in the mud, lied at his lips, been faithless at his heart.

She could feel those dead eyes riveted on her; she did not know whence
they came, but they followed her, gliding down her body like two
ice-cold rays. As she looked down, while every thread of the carpet,
every stitch in the footstools, seemed unnaturally clear in the strong,
sharp light, she felt something walking about her with the footsteps
of dead men, felt it brushing against her dress so distinctly that she
screamed with terror, and darted to one side. But it came in front of
her like hands and yet not like hands, something that clutched at her
slowly, clutched derisively and triumphantly at her heart, that marvel
of treachery, that yellow pearl of deceit! And she retreated till she
backed up against the table, but it was still there, and her bosom gave
no protection against it; it clutched through her skin and flesh....
She almost died of terror, as she stood there, helplessly bending back
over the table, while every nerve contracted with fear, and her eyes
stared as if they were being murdered in their sockets.

Then that passed.

She looked around with a haunted look, then sank down on her knees
and prayed a long time. She repented and confessed, wildly and
unrestrainedly, in growing passion, with the same fanatic self-loathing
that drives the nun to scourge her naked body. She sought fervently
after the most grovelling expressions, intoxicating herself with
self-abasement and with a humility that thirsted for degradation.

At last she rose. Her bosom heaved violently, and there was a faint
light in the pale cheeks, which seemed to have grown fuller during her
prayer.

She looked around the room as if she were taking a silent vow. Then she
went into the adjoining room, closed the door after her, stood still a
moment as though to accustom herself to the darkness, groped her way to
the door which opened on the glass-enclosed veranda, and went out.

It was lighter there. The moon had risen, and shone through the
close-packed frozen crystals on the glass; the light came yellowish
through the panes, blue and red through the squares of colored glass
that framed them.

She melted a hole in the ice with her hand and carefully wiped away the
moisture with her handkerchief.

As yet there was no one in sight out on the fjord.

She began to walk up and down in her glass cage. There was no furniture
out there except a settee of cane and bent wood, covered with withered
ivy leaves from the vines overhead. Every time she passed it, the
leaves rustled faintly with the stirring of the air, and now and
then her dress caught a leaf on the floor, drawing it along with a
scratching sound over the boards.

Back and forth she walked on her dreary watch, her arms folded over her
breast, hardening herself against the cold.

He came.

She opened the door with a quick wrench, and stepped out into the
frozen snow in her thin shoes. She had no pity on herself, she could
have gone bare-footed to that meeting.

Niels had slowed up at the sight of the black figure against the snow
and was skating toward land with hesitating, tentative strokes.

That stealthy figure seemed to burn into her eyes. Every familiar
movement and feature struck her as a shameless insult, as a boast
of degrading secrets. She shook with hatred; her heart swelled with
curses, and she could scarcely control her anger.

“It is I!” she cried out to him jeeringly, “the harlot, Fennimore!”

“But for God’s sake, sweetheart?” he asked, astonished, as he came
within a few feet of her.

“Erik is dead.”

“Dead! When?” He had to step out into the snow with his skates to keep
from falling. “Oh, but tell me!” Eagerly he took a step nearer.

They were now standing close together, and she had to restrain herself
from striking that pale, distorted face with her clenched fist.

“I will tell you, never fear,” she cried. “He is dead, as I said.
He had a runaway in Aalborg and got his head crushed, while we were
deceiving him here.”

“It is terrible!” Niels moaned, pressing his hands to his temples. “Who
could have dreamed—Oh, I wish we had been faithful to him, Fennimore!
Erik, poor Erik!—I wish I were in his place!“ He sobbed aloud,
writhing with pain.

“I hate you, Niels Lyhne!”

“Oh, what does it matter about us?” Niels groaned; “if we could only
get him back! Poor Fennimore!” he said with a change of feeling. “Never
mind me. You hate me, you say? You may well hate me.” He rose suddenly.
“Let us go in,” he said. “I don’t know what I am saying. Who was it
that telegraphed, did you say?”

“In!” Fennimore screamed, infuriated by his failure to notice her
hostility. “In there! Never shall you set your craven, despicable foot
inside that house again. How dare you think of it, you wretch, you
false dog, who came sneaking in here and stole your friend’s honor,
because it was too poorly hidden! What, did you not steal it under his
very eyes, because he thought you were honest, you house-thief!”

“Hush, hush, are you mad? What is the matter with you! What sort of
language are you using?” He had caught her arm firmly, drawing her to
him, and looked straight into her face in amazement. “You must try to
come to your senses, child,” he said in a gentler tone. “You can’t mend
matters by slinging ugly words.”

She wrenched her arm away with such force that he staggered and almost
lost his uncertain foothold.

“Can’t you hear that I hate you!” she screamed shrilly. “And isn’t
there so much of a decent man’s brain left in you that you can
understand it! How blind I must have been when I loved you, you patched
together with lies, when I had him at my side, who was ten thousand
times better than you. I shall hate and despise you to the end of my
life. Before you came, I was honest, I had never done anything wicked;
but then you came with your poetry and your rubbish and dragged me down
with your lies, into the mud with you. What have I done to you that you
could not leave me alone—I who should have been sacred to you above
all others! Now I have to live day after day with this shameful blot on
my soul, and I shall never meet any one so base but that I know myself
to be baser. All the memories of my girlhood you have poisoned. What
have I to look back on that is clean and good now! You have tainted
everything. It is not only he that is dead, everything bright and good
that has been between us is dead, too, and rotten. Oh, God help me, is
it fair that I can’t get any revenge on you after all you have done?
Make me honest again, Niels Lyhne, make me pure and good again! No,
no—but it ought to be possible to torture you into undoing the wrong
you have done. Can you undo it with lies? Don’t stand there and crouch
under your own helplessness. I want to see you suffer, here before
my eyes, and writhe in pain and despair and be miserable. Let him be
miserable, God, do not let him steal my revenge too! Go, you wretch,
go! I cast you off, but be sure that I drag you with me through all the
agonies my hate can call down over you.”

She had stretched out her arms menacingly. Now she turned and went in,
and the veranda door rattled softly, as she closed it.

Niels stood looking after her in amazement, almost with disbelief. That
pale, vengeful face seemed to be still there before him, so strangely
base-souled and coarse, all its delicate beauty of contour gone, as if
a rough, barbarous hand had ploughed up all its lines.

He stumbled cautiously down to the ice and began to skate slowly toward
the mouth of the fjord, with the moonlight in front of him and the wind
in his back. Gradually he increased his speed, as his thoughts took his
attention from the surroundings, till the ice splinters flew from the
runners of his skates and rattled on the smooth surface, blown along
with him by the rising frost wind.

So that was the end! So that was the way he had saved this woman soul
and lifted it and given it happiness! It was certainly beautiful, his
relation to the dead friend, his childhood friend, for whom he would
have sacrificed his future, his life, his all! He with his sacrificing
and his saving! Let heaven and earth behold in him a man who preserved
his life on the heights of honor without spot or blemish in order not
to cast a shadow over the Idea he served and was called to promulgate.

No doubt that was another of his boastful fancies that his paltry
little life could put spots on the sun of the Idea. Good God, he was
always taking these high and mighty views of himself, it was bred in
his bone. If he could not be anything better, he must at least be
a Judas and call himself Iscariot in grandiose gloom. That sounded
like something. Was he forever going to put on airs as if he were
a responsible minister to the Idea, a member of its privy council,
getting everything concerning humanity at first hand! Would he
never learn to do his duty in barrack service for the Idea with all
simplicity as a private of a very subordinate class?

There were red fires out on the ice, and he skated so near them that a
gigantic shadow shot out for a moment from his feet, turned forward,
and disappeared again.

He thought of Erik and of what kind of a friend he had been to Erik.
He! His childhood memories wrung their hands over him; his youthful
dreams covered their heads and wept over him; his whole past stared
after him with a long look full of reproach. He had betrayed it all for
a love as small and mean as himself. There _had_ been exaltation in
this love, but he had betrayed that too.

Whither could he flee to escape these attempts that always ended in
the ditch? All his life had been nothing else, and it would never
be anything else in the future; he knew that and felt it with such
certainty that he sickened at the thought of all this futile endeavor,
and he wished with all his soul that he could run away and escape this
meaningless fate. If only the ice would break under him now as he
skated, and all would be over with a gasp and a spasm in the cold water!

He stopped, exhausted, and looked back. The moon had gone down, and the
fjord stretched long and dark between the white hills on either side.
Then he turned and worked his way back against the wind. It was very
strong now, and he was tired. He skated closer to the shore to get the
shelter of the hills, but, as he struggled thus, he came on a hole in
the ice made by the winds sweeping down from the hills, and he felt the
thin, elastic crust give way under him with a crackling sound.

Ah, he breathed more easily, in spite of all, when he set foot on the
firm ice again! Under the stimulus of fear, his exhaustion had almost
left him, and he skated on vigorously.

       *       *       *       *       *

While he was struggling out there, Fennimore sat in the lighted room,
baffled and miserable. She felt herself cheated out of her revenge.
She hardly knew what she had expected, but it was something entirely
different; she had had a vision of something mighty and majestic,
something of swords and red flames, or—not that, but something that
would sweep her along and lift her to a throne, but instead it had all
turned out so small and paltry, and she had felt more like a common
scold than like one who utters curses....

After all, she had learned something from Niels.

       *       *       *       *       *

Early in the morning of the following day, while Niels, overcome with
exhaustion, was still asleep, she left the house.


                             _Chapter XII_

For the better part of two years Niels Lyhne had roamed about on the
Continent.

He was very lonely, without kith or kin or any close friend of his
heart. Yet there was another and greater loneliness that encompassed
him; for however desolate and forsaken a man may feel when he has no
single spot on all this vast earth to which his affections can cling,
which he can bless when the heart _will_ overflow and yearn for when
longing _will_ spread its wings, there is no existence so lonely that
he is utterly alone if he can only see the fixed bright star of a life
goal shining overhead. But Niels Lyhne had no star. He did not know
what to do with himself and his gifts. It was all very well to have
talent if he could only have used it, but he went about like a painter
without hands. How he envied the people, great and small, who always,
whenever they reached out into life, found a handle to lay hold of; for
he could never find any handle. It seemed as though he could do nothing
but sing over again the old romantic songs, and in truth he had so far
done nothing else. His talent was like something apart in him, a quiet
Pompeii, or a harp that had to be taken out of its corner. It was not
all-pervading, did not run down the street with him or tingle in his
finger-tips—not in the least. His talent had no grip on him. Sometimes
it seemed to him that he had been born half a century too late,
sometimes that he had come altogether too early. His talent was rooted
in something of the past; it could not draw nourishment from his
opinions, his convictions, and his sympathies, could not absorb them
and give them form. The two elements seemed always to be gliding apart
like water and oil, which can be shaken together, but can never mix,
never become one.

Gradually, as he began to realize this, he sank into a boundless
dejection and grew inclined to take an ironic, suspicious view of
himself and his whole past. There must be something wrong with him,
he told himself, something incurably wrong in the very marrow of his
being; for surely a man could fuse the varying elements in his own
nature—that he firmly believed.

This was the state of his mind when he settled down, in the month of
September, toward the end of the second year of his exile, on the
shores of Lake Garda, in the little town of Riva.

Not long afterward, the region was hedged about by difficulties that
put a stop to travelling and kept all strangers away. Cholera had
broken out round about Venice and down south in Descensano and in the
north by the Trentino. Under these circumstances, Riva was not lively,
for the hotels had been emptied at the first rumor, and tourists bound
for Italy took another route.

Naturally, the few people who remained drew all the more closely
together.

The most remarkable person among them was a famous opera singer, whose
real name was Madame Odéro. Her stage name was far more celebrated. She
and her companion, Niels, and a deaf doctor from Vienna were the only
guests at the Golden Sun, the leading hotel in town.

Niels felt very much attracted to her, and she yielded to that warmth
of manner in him which is often a characteristic of people who are at
strife with themselves and therefore feel the need of establishing
their relations with others on a safe basis.

Madame Odéro had lived there for nearly seven months, trying to
recover, by complete rest, from the after effects of a throat trouble
that had threatened her voice. Her physician had told her to abstain
for a year from singing and, in order to avoid temptation, from all
music. Not until the year was over would he allow her to attempt to
sing, and then, if no weariness followed, she might consider herself
cured.

Niels acquired a kind of civilizing influence over Madame Odéro, who
was a fiery, passionate nature with no fine shades. It had been a
terrible sentence to her when she was condemned to live a whole year
without applause and adoration, and at first she had been in despair,
gazing horror-stricken at the twelve months stretching before her as
upon a deep, black grave into which she was being thrust; but everybody
seemed to think it was unavoidable, and one fine morning she suddenly
fled to Riva. It would have been quite possible for her to have
lived in a livelier and more frequented place, but that was the very
thing she sought to avoid. She felt ashamed, as though she had been
marked with an outward visible blemish, imagining that people pitied
her because of this infirmity, and that they discussed her among
themselves. Therefore she had shunned all society in her new abode
and had lived almost entirely in her rooms, where she sometimes took
revenge on the doors when her voluntary confinement became unbearable.
Now that everybody had left, she appeared again and learned to know
Niels Lyhne, for she was not at all afraid of people individually.

No one needed to be long in Madame Odéro’s presence before finding
out whether she liked him or not, for she showed it with sufficient
plainness. What she gave Niels Lyhne to see was very encouraging, and
they had not been alone for many days in the magnificent hotel garden
with its pomegranates and myrtles, with its arbors of blossoming nerias
and its marvellous view, before they were on very friendly terms.

They were not at all in love with each other, or if they were, it was
not very serious. It was one of the vague, pleasant intimacies that
will sometimes grow up between men and women who are past the time of
early youth when nature flames up and yearns toward an unknown bliss.
It is a kind of waning summer, in which people promenade decorously
side by side, gather themselves into graceful nosegays, each caressing
himself with the other’s hand and admiring himself with the other’s
eyes. They take out all their store of pretty secrets, all the
exquisite useless trifles people accumulate like bric-à-brac of the
soul, pass them from hand to hand, turn them round and hold them up,
seeking the most artistic light-effect, comparing and analyzing.

It is, of course, only when life passes in a leisurely way that such
Sunday friendships are possible, and here by the quiet lake these two
had plenty of time. Niels had made a beginning by draping Madame Odéro
in a becoming robe of melancholy. At first, she was several times on
the point of tearing the whole thing off and revealing herself as the
barbarian she was, but when she found that she could wear the drapery
with patrician effect, she took her melancholy as a rôle, and not only
stopped slamming the doors, but sought out the moods and emotions in
herself that might suit her new pose. It was astonishing how she came
to realize that she had actually known herself very little in the past.
Her life had, in fact, been too eventful and exciting to give her time
for exploring herself, and besides she was only now approaching the age
when women who have lived much in the world and seen much commence to
collect their memories, to look back at themselves and assemble a past.

From this beginning, their intimacy developed quickly and definitely
until they had become quite indispensable to each other. Each led only
a half-hearted existence without the other.

Then it happened one morning, as Niels was starting out for a sail,
that he heard Madame Odéro singing in the garden. His first impulse was
to turn back and scold her, but before he could make up his mind, the
boat had carried him out of hearing; the wind tempted him to a trip to
Limone, and he meant to be back by midday. So he sailed on.

Madame Odéro had descended into the garden earlier than usual. The
fresh fragrance that filled the air, the round waves rising and sinking
clear and bright as glass beneath the garden wall, and all this glory
of color everywhere—blue lake and sun-scorched mountains, white sails
flitting across the lake and red flowers arching over her head—all
this and with it a dream she could not forget, which went on throbbing
against her heart.... She could not be silent, she had to be a part of
all this life.

Therefore she sang.

Fuller and fuller rose the exultant notes of her voice. She was
intoxicated with its beauty, she trembled in a voluptuous sense of
its power; and she went on, she could not stop, for she was borne
blissfully along on wonderful dreams of coming triumphs.

No weariness followed. She could leave, leave at once, shake off the
nothingness of the past months, come out of her hiding and live!

By midday everything was ready for her departure.

Then, just as the carriages drove up to the door, she remembered Niels
Lyhne. She dived down into her pocket for a paltry little note-book,
and scribbled it full of farewells to Niels, for the pages were so
small that each could hold only three or four words. This she enclosed
in an envelope for him and departed.

When Niels came back in the late afternoon, after being detained by the
sanitary police in Limone, she had long since reached Mori and taken
the train.

He was not surprised, only sorry, and not at all angry. He could
even smile resignedly at this new hostile thrust of fate. But in
the evening, when he sat in the empty moonlit garden telling the
innkeeper’s little boy the story about the princess who found her wings
again and flew away from her lover back to the land of fairies, he was
seized with an intolerable longing for Lönborggaard. He yearned to
feel something closing around him like a home and holding him fast, no
matter how. He could not bear the indifference of life any longer, could
not endure being cast off and thrown back on himself again and again.
No home on earth, no God in heaven, no goal out there in the future!
He would at least have a home. He would make it his own by loving
everything there, big and little, every rock, every tree, the animate
and the inanimate; he would portion out his heart to it all so that it
could never cast him off any more.


                             _Chapter XIII_

For about a year, Niels Lyhne had lived at Lönborggaard, managing the
farm as well as he knew how and as much as his old steward would let
him. He had taken down his shield, blotted out his ’scutcheon, and
resigned. Humanity would have to get along without him; he had learned
to know the joy found in purely physical labor, in seeing the pile
growing under his hand, in being able to get through with what he was
doing so that he really _was_ through, in knowing that when he went
away tired the strength that he had used up lay behind him in his work,
and the work would stand and not be eaten up by doubt in the night or
dispersed by the breath of criticism on the morning after. There were
no Sisyphus stones in agriculture.

What a joy it was, too, when he had worked till he was tired, to go to
bed and gather strength in sleep and to spend it again, as regularly as
day and night follow one upon the other, never hindered by the caprices
of his brain, never having to handle himself gingerly like a tuned
guitar with loose pegs.

He was really happy in a quiet way, and often he would sit, as his
father had sat, on a stile or a boundary stone, staring out over the
golden wheat or the top-heavy oats, in a strange, vegetative trance.

As yet he had not begun to seek the society of the neighboring
families, except Councillor Skinnerup’s in Varde, whom he visited quite
frequently.

The Skinnerups had come to town while his father was still living, and
as the Councillor was an old university friend of Lyhne’s, the two
families had seen much of each other. Skinnerup, a mild, bald-headed
man with sharp features and kind eyes, was now a widower, but his house
was more than filled by his four daughters, the eldest seventeen, the
youngest twelve years old.

The Councillor had read much, and Niels enjoyed a chat with him on
various esthetic subjects, for though he had learned to use his
hands, that, of course, did not turn him into a country bumpkin all
at once. He was rather amused sometimes at the almost absurd care
he had to exercise whenever the conversation turned to a comparison
between Danish and foreign literature and, in fact, whenever Denmark
was measured against something not Danish. Caution was absolutely
necessary, however, for the mild-mannered Councillor was one of the
fierce patriots, occasionally met with in those days, who might
grudgingly admit that Denmark was not the greatest of the world powers,
but when so much was said would not subscribe to a jot or a tittle more
that might place his country or anything pertaining to it anywhere but
in the lead.

These conversations had another charm, which Niels felt at first
vaguely and without consciously thinking of it, in the look of
delighted admiration with which seventeen-year-old Gerda’s eyes
followed him as he spoke. She always managed to be present when he
came, and would listen so eagerly that he often saw her flushing with
rapture when he said something that seemed to her especially beautiful.

The truth was, he had unwittingly become this young lady’s ideal, at
first chiefly because he often rode into town wearing a gray mantle of
a very foreign and romantic cut, then because he always said Milano
instead of Milan, and finally because he was alone in the world and
had rather a sad countenance. There were certainly a great many ways
in which he differed from the rest of the people in Varde and in
Ringkjöbing too.

       *       *       *       *       *

On a hot summer day, Niels came through the narrow street behind the
Councillor’s garden. The sun was pouring down over the brick-red little
houses, and the ships lying out on the sound had mats hung over their
sides to prevent the tar from melting and oozing out of the seams.
Round about him everything was open to admit a coolness which did not
exist. Within the open doors, the children were reading their lessons
aloud, and the hum of their voices mingled with that of the bees in the
garden, while a flock of sparrows hopped silently from tree to tree,
all flying up together and coming down together.

Niels entered a little house right behind the garden, and while the
woman went to bring her husband from the neighbor’s, he was left alone
in a spotless little room smelling of gillyflowers and freshly ironed
linen.

When he had examined the pictures on the walls, the two dogs on the
dresser, and the sea-shells on the lid of the work-box, he stepped over
to the open window, whence he heard the sound of Gerda’s voice, and
there were the four Skinnerup girls on the Councillor’s bleaching-green
only a few steps away.

The balsamines and other flowers in the window hid him, and he prepared
himself both to listen and to look.

It was clear that a quarrel was going on, and the three younger
sisters were making common cause against Gerda. All carried whips of
lemon-yellow withes. The youngest had formed three or four of them into
rings wound about with red bark, and had put them on her head like a
turban.

It was she who was speaking.

“She says he looks like Themistocles on the stove in the study,” she
remarked to her fellow conspirators, and turned up her eyes with a rapt
expression.

“Oh, pshaw,” said the middle one, a saucy little lady who had
just been confirmed that spring; “do you suppose Themistocles
was round-shouldered?” She imitated Niels Lyhne’s slight stoop.
“Themistocles! Not much!”

“There is something so manly in his look; he is a real man!” quoted the
twelve-year-old.

“He!” came the voice of the middle one again. “Why, he goes and pours
eau de cologne on himself. The other day his gloves were lying there
and just simply reeking with millefleur.”

“_Every_ perfection!” breathed the twelve-year-old in ecstasy, and
staggered back as though overcome with emotion.

They addressed all these remarks to each other and pretended not to
notice Gerda, who stood at a little distance, blushing furiously, as
she poked the ground with her yellow stick. Suddenly she lifted her
head.

“You’re a pair of naughty hussies,” she said, “to talk like that about
some one who is too good to look at you.”

“And yet you know he is _only_ a mortal,” remonstrated the eldest of
the three mildly, as if to make peace.

“No, he is _nothing_ of the kind.”

“And _surely_ he has his faults,” continued the sister, pretending not
to hear what Gerda said.

“No!”

“But, my dear Gerda, you _know_ he never goes to church.”

“What should he go there for? He knows _ever_ so much more than the
pastor.”

“Yes, but unfortunately he doesn’t believe in any God _at all_, Gerda.”

“Well, you can be mighty sure, my dear, that if he doesn’t, he has
_excellent_ reasons for it.”

“Why, Gerda, how can you say such a thing!”

“You’d almost think—” broke in the middle one.

“What would you almost think?” snapped Gerda.

“Nothing, nothing at all. Please don’t bite me!” replied the sister
with a sudden air of great meekness.

“Now will you tell me this minute what you meant!”

“No, no, no, no, no; I guess I’ve a right to hold my tongue if I want
to.”

She walked off together with the twelve-year-old, each with her arm
around the other’s shoulder in sisterly concord. The eldest followed
them, strutting with indignation.

Gerda, left alone, stood looking defiantly straight ahead, while she
cut the air with her yellow stick.

There was a moment of silence, and then the thin voice of the
twelve-year-old floated up from the other end of the garden, singing:

    “_You ask me, my lad,
      What I want with the withered flower_—”

Niels understood their teasing perfectly, for he had recently made
Gerda a present of a book with a dried vine leaf from the garden
in Verona which contains Juliet’s grave. He could hardly keep from
laughing; but just then the woman returned with her husband, whom she
had at last found, and Niels had to give the order for the carpenter
work he had come to see about.

From that day Niels observed Gerda more closely, and every time he saw
her he felt more keenly how sweet and fine she was. As time went on,
his thoughts turned more and more frequently to this confiding little
girl.

She was very lovely, with the tender, appealing beauty that almost
brings tears to the eyes. Her figure, in its early ripening, retained
something of the child’s roundness, which gave an air of innocence to
her luxuriant womanhood. The small, softly-moulded hands were losing
the rosy color of adolescence, and were without any of the restless,
nervous curiosity often seen at that age. She had a strong little neck,
cheeks that were rounded with a large, full line, and a low, dreamy
little woman’s forehead, where great thoughts were strangers and almost
seemed to hurt when they came, bringing a frown to the thick brows. And
her eye—how deep and blue it lay there, but deep only as a lake where
one can see the bottom; and in the soft corners the smile brooded
happily under lids that were lifted in slow surprise. This was the
way she looked, little Gerda, white and pink and blonde, with all her
short, bright hair demurely gathered into a knot.

They had many a talk, Niels and Gerda, and he fell more and more in
love with her. Open and frank and chivalrous was his regard, until a
certain day there came a change in the air about them, a gleam of that
which is too imponderable to be called sensuousness and yet is of the
senses, that which impels the hand and mouth and eyes to reach out for
what the heart cannot get close enough to its own heart. And another
day, not long after, Niels went to Gerda’s father, because Gerda was so
young, and because he was so sure of her love. And her father said yes,
and Gerda said yes.

In the spring they were married.

       *       *       *       *       *

It seemed to Niels Lyhne that existence had grown wonderfully clear and
uncomplicated, that life was simple to live and happiness as near and
easy to win as the air he drew in with his breath.

He loved her, the young wife he had won, with all the delicacy of
thought and feeling, with all the large, deep tenderness of a man who
knows the tendency of love to sink and believes in the power of love to
rise. How he guarded this young soul which bent toward him with
infinite trust and pressed up against him in caressing faith, in
implicit reliance that he would do her nothing but good, as the ewe
lamb in the parable must have felt toward its shepherd when it ate
from his hand and drank of his cup! He had no heart to take her God
away from her or to banish all those white hosts of angels that fly
singing through the heavens all day and come to earth at eventide and
spread their wings from bed to bed, watching faithfully and filling the
darkness of night with a protecting wall of invisible light. He shrank
from allowing his own heavier, imageless view of life to come between
her and the soft blue of the heavens and make her feel uneasy and
forsaken.

But she would have it otherwise. She wanted to share everything with
him; there must be no place in heaven or on earth where their ways were
parted. Say what he would to hold her back, she met it all, if not with
the words of the Moabite woman, yet with the same obstinate thought
that lay in the words—thy people shall be my people, and thy God my
God.

Then he began to teach her in earnest. He explained to her that all
gods were the work of men and, like everything else made by men, could
not endure eternally, but must pass away, generation after generation
of gods—because humanity is ever-lastingly developing and growing
beyond its own ideals. A god on whom the noblest and greatest of men
could not lavish the richest gifts of their spirit, a god that did not
take his light from men, but had to give light by virtue of his own
being, a god that was not developing but stiffened in the historic
plaster of dogmas, was no longer a god, but an idol. Therefore Judaism
was right against Baal and Astarte, and Christianity was right against
Judaism, for an idol is nothing in the world. Humanity had gone on from
god to god, and therefore Christ could say, on the one hand, looking
toward the old God, that He had not come to destroy the law, but to
fulfil it, while on the other hand He could point beyond Himself to a
yet higher ideal with those mystical words about the sin that shall not
be forgiven, the sin against the Holy Ghost.

He went on to teach her how the belief in a personal God who guides
everything for the best and who punishes and rewards beyond the grave
is a running away from the harsh realities of life, an impotent attempt
to take the sting from its arbitrariness. He showed her that it must
blunt compassion and make people less ready to exert all their powers
in relieving misery, since they could soothe themselves with the
thought that suffering in this brief earthly life paved the way for the
sufferer to an eternity of glory and joy.

He laid stress on the strength and self-reliance mankind would gain
when men had learned faith in themselves, and when the individual
strove to bring his life into harmony with what seemed to him, in
his best moments, the highest that dwelt in him, instead of seeking
it outside of himself in a controlling deity. He made his faith as
beautiful and blessed as he could, but he did not conceal from her how
crushingly sad and comfortless the truth of atheism would seem in the
hour of sorrow compared to the old fair, happy dream of a Heavenly
Father who guides and rules. Yet she was brave. It is true, many of his
doctrines, and often those he had least expected to affect her, would
shake her to the innermost depths of her soul, but her faith knew no
bounds; her love carried her with him away from all heavens, and she
believed because she loved. Then, after a while, when the new ideas
had grown familiar and homelike, she became intolerant in the highest
degree and fanatical, as young disciples always are who love their
master intensely. Niels often reproached her for it, but that was the
one thing she could never understand—that when their belief was true,
that of others should not be horrible and reprehensible.

For three years they lived happily together, and much of this happiness
shone from a baby face, the face of a little boy who had been born to
them in the second year of their marriage.

Happiness usually makes people good, and Niels strove earnestly to make
their lives so beautiful, noble, and useful that there should never be
any pause in the growth of their souls toward the human ideal in which
they both believed. But he no longer thought of carrying the standard
of his ideal out into the world; he was content to follow it. Once
in a while, he would take out some of his old attempts, and then he
would always wonder if it was really he who had written these pretty,
artistic things. His own verses invariably brought tears to his eyes,
but he would not for anything in the world have changed places with the
poor fellow who wrote them.

Suddenly, in the spring, Gerda fell ill and could not recover.

Early one morning—it was the last—Niels was sitting up with her. The
sun was about to rise and cast a red glow on the white shade curtains,
although the light coming in on either side was still blue, making blue
shadows in the folds of the white bed-spread and under Gerda’s pale,
thin hands, which lay clasped before her on the sheet. Her cap had
slipped off, and, as her head lay far back on the pillow, her features,
sharpened and refined by suffering, had an unfamiliar and strangely
distinguished air. She moved her lips as if to moisten them, and Niels
reached for a glass holding a dark red liquid, but she shook her head
faintly. Then suddenly she turned her face to him and gazed anxiously
into his mournful countenance. As she looked at the deep sorrow his
face revealed and the despair it could not hide, her uneasy foreboding
gradually changed to a terrible certainty.

She struggled to rise, but could not.

Niels bent over her quickly, and she caught his hand.

“Is it death?” she asked, lowering her weak voice as if she could not
bear to speak the words.

He could only look at her, while his breath came in a deep, moaning
sigh.

Gerda clutched his hand and threw herself over to him in her fear. “I
don’t dare to,” she said.

He slid down on his knees by the bed and put his arm under the pillow
so that he almost held her to his breast. He could hardly see her for
the tears that blinded him as they coursed down his cheeks one after
another, and he lifted her hand with a corner of the sheet to his eyes.
Then he mastered his voice. “Tell me everything, Gerda dear; never mind
me. Is it the pastor?” He could hardly believe it was that, and there
was a note of doubt in his voice.

She did not answer, but closed her eyes and drew her head back a little
as if to be alone with her thoughts.

A few minutes passed. The soft, long-drawn whistle of a blackbird
sounded underneath the windows; then another whistled and another; a
whole series of flute-like notes shot through the silence of the room.

Then she looked up again. “If you were with me,” she said, and she
leaned more heavily on the pillow that he supported. There was a caress
in her movement, and he felt it. “If you were with me! But alone!”

She drew his hand toward her feebly and dropped it again. “I don’t
dare to.“ Her eyes were full of fear. “You must fetch him, Niels, I
don’t dare to come up there alone like this. We had never thought
that I should die first; it was always you who went before. Yes, I
know—but suppose, after all, we have been mistaken; we _might_ have
been mistaken, Niels, mightn’t we? You don’t think so, but it would be
strange if _everybody_ should be wrong, and if there wasn’t anything
at all—those big churches and the bells when they bury people—I have
always been so fond of the bells.” She lay quite still as if she were
listening for them and could hear them.

“It is impossible, Niels, that it should all be over when we die. You
don’t feel it, you who are well, you think it must kill us quite,
because we are so weak, and everything seems to pass away, but it is
only the world outside, within us there is as much soul as before. It
is there, Niels; I have it all within me, everything that has been
given me, the same infinite world, but more quiet, more alone with
myself, as when you close your eyes. It is just like a candle, Niels,
that is being carried away from you into the darkness, into the
darkness, and it seems to you fainter and fainter and fainter, and you
can’t see it, but still it is shining over there where it is—far away.
I always thought I should live to be such an old, old woman, and that
I should stay here with you all, and now they won’t let me, they are
taking me away from house and home and making me go all alone. I am
afraid, Niels, that where I am going it is God who rules, and He cares
nothing for our cleverness here on earth. He wants His own way and
nothing else, but somehow everything of His is so far away from me. I
have not done anything very wicked, have I? But it isn’t that.... Go
and get the pastor, I want him so much.“

Niels rose and went for the pastor at once; he was grateful that this
had not come at the very last moment.

The pastor came and was left alone with Gerda.

He was a handsome, middle-aged man with finely cut, regular features
and large brown eyes. He knew, of course, Niels Lyhne’s attitude to the
church, and now and then some expressions of hostility that sprang from
the young wife’s fanaticism had been reported to him; but he never for
a moment thought of speaking to her as to a heathen or an apostate,
for he understood perfectly that it was only her love that had led her
astray, and he also understood the feeling that impelled her, now that
love could no longer follow her, to seek reconciliation with the God
she had once known. Therefore he tried in his talk with her to wake her
dormant memories by reading to her the passages from the Gospels and
the hymns that he thought would be most familiar to her.

He was not mistaken.

The words woke intimate and solemn echoes in her soul like the pealing
of bells on Christmas morning. Instantly there was spread before her
eyes the land where our fancy is first of all at home, where Joseph
dreamed and David sang, and where the ladder stands that reaches from
earth to heaven. It lay there with figs and mulberries, and the Jordan
gleamed like clearest silver in the morning mist; Jerusalem stood
red and sombre under the setting sun; but over Bethlehem there was
always glorious night with great stars in the deep blue vault. How her
childhood faith welled up once more! She was again the little girl who
went to church clinging to her mother’s hand and sat there shivering
with cold and wondering why people sinned so much. Then she grew to
full stature again under the lofty words of the Sermon on the Mount,
and she lay there like a prostrate sinner while the pastor spoke of the
sacred mysteries of baptism and of holy communion. At last the true
longing arose in her heart, the meek kneeling before the omnipotent
and judging God, the bitter tears of remorse before the betrayed and
reviled and tortured God, and the humbly audacious desire for the new
covenant of wine and bread with the hidden God.

The pastor left her. Toward noon he came back and gave her the
sacrament.

Her strength waned in a fitful flicker; yet at dusk, when Niels took
her in his arms for the last time to say farewell before the shadows of
death approached too near, she was fully conscious. But the love that
had been the purest joy of his life had died out of her eyes; she was
no longer his; even now her wings were growing, and she yearned only
for her God.

At midnight she died.

They were dreary months that followed. Time seemed to swell up into
something enormous and hostile; every day was an unending desert of
emptiness, every night a hell of memories. The summer was almost over
before the rushing, frothing torrent of his grief had hollowed out a
river-bed in his soul where it could flow in a turgid, murmuring stream
of sadness and longing.

Then it happened one day that he came home from the fields and found
his little boy very ill. The child had been ailing for the last few
days and had been restless in the night, but no one had believed it to
be anything serious; now he lay in his little bed hot and cold with
fever and moaning with pain.

The carriage was instantly sent to Varde for a physician, but none of
the doctors were at home, and it had to wait for hours. At bedtime it
had not yet returned.

Niels sat by the child’s cot. Every half hour or oftener he would send
some one out to listen and look for the carriage. A mounted messenger
was also despatched to meet it, but he failed to see any carriage and
rode all the way to Varde.

This waiting for help that did not come made it all the more agonizing
to watch the suffering of the sick child. The malady made rapid
progress. Toward eleven the first attack of convulsions set in, and
after that they came again and again at shorter and shorter intervals.

A little after one, the mounted messenger returned, saying that the
carriage could not be expected for some hours yet, as none of the
doctors had been at home when he rode out of town.

Then Niels broke down. He had fought against his despair as long as
there was any hope, but now he could fight no more. He went into the
dark parlor adjoining the sick-room and stared out through the dusky
panes, while his nails dug into the wood of the casement. His eyes
seemed to burrow into the darkness for some hope; his brain crouched
for a spring up toward a miracle; then suddenly all was still and clear
for an instant, and in the clearness he turned away from the window to
a table standing there, threw himself over it, and sobbed without tears.

When he came into the sick-room again, the child was in convulsions.
He looked at it as if he would stab himself to death with the sight:
the tiny hands, clenched and white, with bluish nails, the staring eyes
turning in their sockets, the distorted mouth, and the teeth grinding
with a sound like iron on stone—it was terrible, and yet that was not
the worst. No, but when the convulsions ceased and the body grew soft
again, relaxing with the happy relief of lessened pain, then to see the
terror that came into the child’s eyes when it felt the first faint
approach of the convulsions returning, the growing prayer for help when
the pain came nearer and yet nearer—to see this and not be able to
help, not with his heart’s blood, not with all he possessed! He lifted
his clenched hands threateningly to heaven, he caught up his child in a
mad impulse of flight, and then he threw himself down on the floor on
his knees, praying to the Lord Who is in heaven, Who keeps the earth
in fear through trials and chastisements, Who sends want and sickness,
suffering and death, Who demands that every knee shall bend to Him in
trembling, from Whom no flight is possible—either at the uttermost
ends of the ocean or in the depths of the earth—He, the God Who, if it
pleases Him, will tread the one you love best under His foot, torture
him back into the dust from which He himself created him.

With such thoughts, Niels Lyhne sent prayers up to the God; he
threw himself down in utter abandonment before the heavenly throne,
confessing that His was the power and His alone.

Still the child suffered.

Toward morning, when the old family physician drove in through the
gate, Niels was alone.


                             _Chapter XIV_

Autumn had come; there were no flowers any more on the graves up there
in the churchyard, and the fallen leaves lay brown and moldering in the
wet under the trees of Lönborggaard.

Niels Lyhne went about in the empty rooms in bitter despondency.
Something had given way in him the night the child died. He had lost
faith in himself, lost his belief in the power of human beings to
bear the life they had to live. Existence had sprung a leak, and its
contents were seeping out through all the cracks without plan or
purpose.

It was of no avail that he called the prayer he had prayed a father’s
frenzied cry for help for his child, even though he knew none could
hear his cry. He had known well what he did even in the depths of
his despair. He had been tempted and had fallen; for it was a fall,
a betrayal of himself and his ideal. No doubt tradition had been too
strong in his blood. Humanity had cried to heaven in its agony for many
thousands of years, and he had yielded to an inherited instinct. But
he ought to have resisted it, for he knew with the innermost fibres of
his brain that gods were dreams, and he knew that when he prayed he was
taking refuge in a dream, just as surely as he knew in the old days,
when he threw himself into the arms of his fancies, that they _were_
fancies. He had not been able to bear life as it was. He had taken
part in the battle for the highest, and in the stress of the fight he
had deserted the banner to which he had sworn allegiance; for after
all, the new ideal, atheism, the sacred cause of truth—what did it
all mean, what was it all but tinsel names for the one simple thing:
to bear life as it was! To bear life as it was and allow life to shape
itself according to its own laws!

It seemed to him as though his life had ended in that night of agony.
What came after was no more than meaningless scenes tacked on after the
fifth act when the action was already finished. He could, of course,
take up his old principles again, if he felt so inclined, but he had
once fallen the fall, and whether or not he would fall again mattered
absolutely nothing.

This was the mood that possessed him most frequently.

Then came the November day when the King died, and war seemed more and
more imminent.

He soon arranged his affairs in Lönborggaard and enlisted as a
volunteer.

The monotony of training was easy to bear, for it seemed wonderful only
to know that he was no longer superfluous, and when he was assigned
to active service, the everlasting fight against cold, vermin, and
discomforts of every kind drove his thoughts home and kept them from
going farther afield than to what was right before his door. He grew
almost cheerful over it, and his health, which had suffered under the
griefs of the past year, was fully restored.

On a gloomy day in March he was shot in the chest.

Hjerrild, who was a physician in the hospital, had him put into a small
room where there were only four beds. One of the men in there had been
shot in the spine and lay quite still. Another was wounded in the
breast and lay talking deliriously for hours at a time in quick, abrupt
phrases. The third, who lay nearest Niels, was a great, strong peasant
lad with fat, round cheeks; he had been struck in the brain by a
fragment of a shell, and incessantly, hour after hour, about every half
minute, he would lift his right arm and his right leg simultaneously
and then let them fall again, accompanying his movements with a loud
but dull and hollow “Hah-ho!” always in the same measure, always
exactly the same, “Hah” when he lifted his limbs, “ho” when he let them
fall.

There Niels Lyhne lay. The bullet had entered his right lung and had
not come out again. In war not much circumlocution can be used, and he
was told he had but little chance of life.

He was surprised; for he did not feel as though he were dying, and his
wound did not pain him much. But soon a faintness came over him and
warned him that the doctor was right.

So this was the end. He thought of Gerda, he thought of her constantly
the first day, but he was always disturbed by the strange, cool look in
her eyes the last time he had taken her in his arms. How beautiful it
would have been, how poignantly beautiful, if she had clung to him to
the very last and had sought his eye till her own was glazed in death;
if she had been content to breathe out her life upon the heart that
loved her so well instead of turning away from him at the last moment
to save herself over into more life and yet more life!

On the second day in the hospital, Niels felt more and more oppressed
by the heavy atmosphere in the room, and his longing for fresh air was
strangely intertwined in his mind with the desire to live. After all,
there had been so much in life that was beautiful, he thought, as he
remembered the fresh breeze along the shore at home, the cool soughing
of the wind in the beech forests of Sjaelland, the pure mountain air
of Clarens, and the evening zephyrs of Lake Garda. But when he began
to think of human beings, his soul sickened again. He summoned them in
review before him, one by one, and they all passed and left him alone,
and not one stayed with him. But how far had he held fast to them? Had
he been true? He had only been slower in letting go, that was all. No,
it was _not_ that. It was the dreary truth that a soul is always alone.
Every belief in the fusing of soul with soul was a lie. Not your mother
who took you on her lap, nor your friend, nor yet the wife who slept on
your heart....

Toward evening, inflammation set in, and the pain of his wound
increased.

Hjerrild came and sat by him for a few minutes in the evening, and
at midnight he returned and stayed a long time. Niels was suffering
intensely and moaned with pain.

“A word in all seriousness, Lyhne,” said Hjerrild. “Do you want to see
a clergyman?”

“I have no more to do with clergymen than you have,” Niels whispered
angrily.

“Never mind me! I am alive and well. Don’t lie there and torture
yourself with your opinions. People who are about to die have no
opinions, and those they have don’t matter. Opinions are only to live
by—in life they can do some good, but what does it matter whether you
die with one opinion or another? See here, we all have bright, tender
memories from our childhood; I have seen scores of people die, and it
always comforts them to bring back those memories. Let us be honest!
No matter what we call ourselves, we can never quite get that God out
of heaven; our brain has fancied Him up there too often, the picture
has been rung into it and sung into it from the time we were little
children.”

Niels nodded.

Hjerrild bent down to catch his words if he wished to say anything.

“You are very good,” Niels whispered, “but”—and he shook his head
decisively.

The room was still a long time except for the peasant lad’s everlasting
“Hah-ho!” hammering the hours to pieces.

Hjerrild rose. “Good-by, Lyhne,” he said. “After all, it is a noble
death to die for our poor country.”

“Yes,” said Niels, “and yet this is not the way we dreamed of doing our
part that time long, long ago.”

Hjerrild left him. When he came into his own room, he stood a long
while by the window looking up at the stars.

“If I were God,“ he said under his breath, and in his thoughts he
continued, “I would much rather save the man who was not converted at
the last moment.”

The pain in Niels’s wound grew more and more intense; it tore and
clutched at his breast, it persisted without mercy. What a relief it
would have been if he had had a god to whom he could have moaned and
prayed!

Toward morning he grew delirious, the inflammation was progressing
rapidly.

So it went on for two more days and two more nights.

The last time Hjerrild saw Niels Lyhne he was babbling of his armor and
of how he must die standing.

And at last he died the death—the difficult death.

                                THE END



          PUBLICATIONS OF THE AMERICAN-SCANDINAVIAN FOUNDATION


                    _Committee on Publications_

  WILLIAM HENRY SCHOFIELD, Professor of Comparative Literature in
    Harvard University, _Chairman_.

  MAURICE FRANCIS EGAN, late Minister to Denmark.

  WILLIAM WITHERLE LAWRENCE, Professor of English in
    Columbia University.

  CHARLES S. PETERSON, Publisher, Chicago.

  HENRY GODDARD LEACH, Secretary of the Foundation.


                         SCANDINAVIAN CLASSICS

  I. _Comedies by Holberg_: _Jeppe of the Hill_, _The Political Tinker_,
     _Erasmus Montanus_.
     Translated by OSCAR JAMES CAMPBELL, JR., and FREDERIC SCHENCK.

  II. _Poems by Tegnér_: _The Children of the Lord’s Supper_ and
      _Frithiof’s Saga_.
      Translated by HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW and W. LEWERY BLACKLEY.

  III. _Poems and Songs by Björnstjerne Björnson._
      Translated in the original metres, with an Introduction and Notes,
      by ARTHUR HUBBELL PALMER.

  IV. _Master Olof by August Strindberg._
      An historical play, translated, with an Introduction,
      by EDWIN BJÖRKMAN.

  V. _The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson._
     Translated from old Icelandic, with an Introduction and Notes,
     by ARTHUR GILCHRIST BRODEUR.

  VI. _Modern Icelandic Plays by Jóhan Sigurjónsson:
               Eyvind of the Hills_ and _The Hraun Farm_.
      Translated by HENNINGE KROHN SCHANCHE.

  VII. _Marie Grubbe: A Lady of the Seventeenth Century,
       by J. P. Jacobsen._
       An historical romance, translated, with an Introduction,
       by HANNA ASTRUP LARSEN.

  VIII. _Arnljot Gelline by Björnstjerne Björnson._
        A Norse epic, translated by WILLIAM MORTON PAYNE.

  IX. _Anthology of Swedish Lyrics, from 1750 to 1915._
      Selections from the greatest of Swedish lyrists, translated
      by CHARLES WHARTON STORK.

  X and XI. _Gösta Berling’s Saga by Selma Lagerlöf._
            The English translation of LILLIE TUDEER, completed and
            carefully edited.

  XII. _Sara Videbeck_ (_Det går an_), and _The Chapel,
       by C. J. L. Almquist_.
       A Sentimental Journey with a practical ending, and the Tale of a
       Curate, translated, with an Introduction,
       by ADOLPH BURNETT BENSON.

  XIII. _Niels Lyhne by J. P. Jacobsen._
        A psychological novel, translated by HANNA ASTRUP LARSEN.

                         _Price_, $1.50 _each_


                      THE SCANDINAVIAN MONOGRAPHS

  I. _The Voyages of the Norsemen to America._
     A complete exposition, with illustrations and maps,
     by WILLIAM HOVGAARD.

                            _Price_, $4.00

  II. _Ballad Criticism in Scandinavia and Great Britain
      during the Eighteenth Century_.
      A comparative study, by SIGURD BERNARD HUSTVEDT.

                            _Price_, $3.00

  III. _The King’s Mirror._
       A famous treatise, translated from the Norwegian of the
       Thirteenth Century, with an Historical Introduction,
       by LAURENCE MARCELLUS LARSON.

                            _Price_, $3.00

  IV. _The Heroic Legends of Denmark._
      The best book on the subject, revised and expanded specially for
      this edition by the author, the late AXEL OLRIK, in
      collaboration with the translator, LEE M. HOLLANDER.

                            _Price_, $5.00

                           _In Preparation_

  V. _A History of Scandinavian Art._
     In three sections, each by the most competent authority:
     CARL G. LAURIN of Sweden, EMIL HANNOVER of Denmark, and
     JENS THIIS of Norway; with a foreword by CHRISTIAN BRINTON.
     The first general work of this nature in any language.


                    THE AMERICAN-SCANDINAVIAN REVIEW

     An Illustrated Magazine, presenting the progress of life and
     literature in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

                        _Price_, $2.00 _a year_


       For information regarding the above publications, address

         THE SECRETARY OF THE AMERICAN-SCANDINAVIAN FOUNDATION
                   25 West 45th Street, New York City



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

Typographical errors have been silently corrected but other variations
in spelling and punctuation remain unaltered.





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