by Knut Hamsun
by KNUT HAMSUN
Translated from the Norwegian by GEORGE EGERTON
With an introduction by Edwin Bjorkman
Since the death of Ibsen and Strindberg, Hamsun is undoubtedly the
foremost creative writer of the Scandinavian countries. Those
approaching most nearly to his position are probably Selma Lagerlöf in
Sweden and Henrik Pontoppidan in Denmark. Both these, however, seem to
have less than he of that width of outlook, validity of interpretation
and authority of tone that made the greater masters what they were.
His reputation is not confined to his own country or the two
Scandinavian sister nations. It spread long ago over the rest of
Europe, taking deepest roots in Russia, where several editions of his
collected works have already appeared, and where he is spoken of as the
equal of Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. The enthusiasm of this approval is a
characteristic symptom that throws interesting light on Russia as well
as on Hamsun.
Hearing of it, one might expect him to prove a man of the masses,
full of keen social consciousness. Instead, he must be classed as an
individualistic romanticist and a highly subjective aristocrat, whose
foremost passion in life is violent, defiant deviation from everything
average and ordinary. He fears and flouts the dominance of the many,
and his heroes, who are nothing but slightly varied images of himself,
are invariably marked by an originality of speech and action that
brings them close to, if not across, the borderline of the eccentric.
In all the literature known to me, there is no writer who appears
more ruthlessly and fearlessly himself, and the self thus presented to
us is as paradoxical and rebellious as it is poetic and picturesque.
Such a nature, one would think, must be the final blossoming of
powerful hereditary tendencies, converging silently through numerous
generations to its predestined climax. All we know is that Hamsun's
forebears were sturdy Norwegian peasant folk, said only to be
differentiated from their neighbours by certain artistic preoccupations
that turned one or two of them into skilled craftsmen. More certain it
is that what may or may not have been innate was favoured and fostered
and exaggerated by physical environment and early social experiences.
Hamsun was born on Aug. 4, 1860, in one of the sunny valleys of
central Norway. From there his parents moved when he was only four to
settle in the far northern district of Lofodenthat land of extremes,
where the year, and not the day, is evenly divided between darkness and
light; where winter is a long dreamless sleep, and summer a passionate
dream without sleep; where land and sea meet and intermingle so
gigantically that man is all but crushed between the twoor else
raised to titanic measures by the spectacle of their struggle.
The Northland, with its glaring lights and black shadows, its
unearthly joys and abysmal despairs, is present and dominant in every
line that Hamsun ever wrote. In that country his best tales and dramas
are laid. By that country his heroes are stamped wherever they roam.
Out of that country they draw their principal claims to probability.
Only in that country do they seem quite at home. Today we know,
however, that the pathological case represents nothing but an extension
of perfectly normal tendencies. In the same way we know that the
miraculous atmosphere of the Northland serves merely to develop and
emphasize traits that lie slumbering in men and women everywhere. And
on this basis the fantastic figures created by Hamsun relate themselves
to ordinary humanity as the microscopic enlargement of a cross section
to the living tissues. What we see is true in everything but
The artist and the vagabond seem equally to have been in the blood
of Hamsun from the very start. Apprenticed to a shoemaker, he used his
scant savings to arrange for the private printing of a long poem and a
short novel produced at the age of eighteen, when he was still signing
himself Knud Pedersen Hamsund. This done, he abruptly quit his
apprenticeship and entered on that period of restless roving through
trades and continents which lasted until his first real artistic
achievement with Hunger, In 1888-90. It has often been noted that
practically every one of Hamsun's heroes is of the same age as he was
then, and that their creator takes particular pain to accentuate this
fact. It is almost as if, during those days of feverish literary
struggle, he had risen to heights where he saw things so clearly that
no subsequent experience could add anything but occasional details.
Before he reached those heights, he had tried life as coal-heaver
and school teacher, as road-mender and surveyor's attendant, as farm
hand and streetcar conductor, as lecturer and free-lance journalist, as
tourist and emigrant. Twice he visited this country during the middle
eighties, working chiefly on the plains of North Dakota and in the
streets of Chicago. Twice during that time he returned to his own
country and passed through the experiences pictured in Hunger,
before, at last, he found his own literary self and thus also a hearing
from the world at large. While here, he failed utterly to establish any
sympathetic contact between himself and the new world, and his first
book after his return in 1888 was a volume of studies named The
Spiritual Life of Modern America, which a prominent Norwegian critic
once described as a masterpiece of distorted criticism. But I own a
copy of this book, the fly-leaf of which bears the following
inscription in the author's autograph:
A youthful work. It has ceased to represent my opinion of America.
May 28, 1903. Knut Hamsun.
In its original form, Hunger was merely a sketch, and as such it
appeared in 1888 in a Danish literary periodical, New Earth. It
attracted immediate widespread attention to the author, both on account
of its unusual theme and striking form. It was a new kind of realism
that had nothing to do with photographic reproduction of details. It
was a professedly psychological study that had about as much in common
with the old-fashioned conceptions of man's mental activities as the
delirious utterances of a fever patient. It was life, but presented in
the Impressionistic temper of a Gauguin or Cezanne. On the appearance
of the completed novel in 1890, Hamsun was greeted as one of the chief
heralds of the neo-romantic movement then spreading rapidly through the
Scandinavian north and finding typical expressions not only in the
works of theretofore unknown writers, but in the changed moods of
masters like Ibsen and Bjornson and Strindberg.
It was followed two years later by Mysteries, which pretends to be
a novel, but which may be better described as a delightfully
irresponsible and defiantly subjective roaming through any highway or
byway of life or letters that happened to take the author's fancy at
the moment of writing. Some one has said of that book that in its
abrupt swingings from laughter to tears, from irreverence to awe, from
the ridiculous to the sublime, one finds the spirits of Dostoyevski and
Mark Twain blended.
The novels Editor Lynge and New Earth, both published in 1893,
were social studies of Christiania's Bohemia and chiefly characterized
by their violent attacks on the men and women exercising the profession
which Hamsun had just made his own. Then came Pan in 1894, and the
real Hamsun, the Hamsun who ever since has moved logically and with
increasing authority to The Growth of the Soil, stood finally
revealed. It is a novel of the Northland, almost without a plot, and
having its chief interest in a primitively spontaneous man's reactions
to a nature so overwhelming that it makes mere purposeless existence
seem a sufficient end in itself. One may well question whether Hamsun
has ever surpassed the purely lyrical mood of that book, into which he
poured the ecstatic dreams of the little boy from the south as, for the
first time, he saw the forestclad northern mountains bathing their feet
in the ocean and their crowns in the light of a never-setting sun. It
is a wonderful paean to untamed nature and to the forces let loose by
it within the soul of man.
Like most of the great writers over there, Hamsun has not confined
himself to one poetic mood or form, but has tried all of them. From the
line of novels culminating in Pan, he turned suddenly to the drama,
and in 1895 appeared his first play, At the Gates of the Kingdom. It
was the opening drama of a trilogy and was followed by The Game of
Life in 1896 and Sunset Glow in 1898. The first play is laid in
Christiania, the second in the Northland, and the third in Christiania
again. The hero of all three is Ivar Kareno, a student and thinker who
is first presented to us at the age of 29, then at 39, and finally at
50. His wife and several other characters accompany the central figure
through the trilogy, of which the lesson seems to be that every one is
a rebel at 30 and a renegade at 50. But when Kareno, the irreconcilable
rebel of At the Gates of the Kingdom, the heaven-storming
truth-seeker of The Game of Life, and the acclaimed radical leader in
the first acts of Sunset Glow, surrenders at last to the powers that
be in order to gain a safe and sheltered harbor for his declining
years, then another man of 29 stands ready to denounce him and to take
up the rebel cry of youth to which he has become a traitor. Hamsun's
ironical humor and whimsical manner of expression do more than the plot
itself to knit the plays into an organic unit, and several of the
characters are delightfully drawn, particularly the two women who play
the greatest part in Kareno's life: his wife Eline, and Teresita, who
is one more of his many feminine embodiments of the passionate and
changeable Northland nature. Any attempt to give a political tendency
to the trilogy must be held wasted. Characteristically, Kareno is a
sort of Nietzschean rebel against the victorious majority, and Hamsun's
seemingly cynical conclusions stress man's capacity for action rather
than the purposes toward which that capacity may be directed.
Of three subsequent plays, Vendt the Monk, (1903), Queen Tamara
(1903) and At the Mercy of Life (1910), the first mentioned is by far
the most remarkable. It is a verse drama in eight acts, centred about
one of Hamsun's most typical vagabond heroes. The monk Vendt has much
in common with Peer Gynt without being in any way an imitation or a
duplicate. He is a dreamer in revolt against the world's alleged
injustice, a rebel against the very powers that invisibly move the
universe, and a passionate lover of life who in the end accepts it as a
joyful battle and then dreams of the long peace to come. The vigor and
charm of the verse proved a surprise to the critics when the play was
published, as Hamsun until then had given no proof of any poetic gift
in the narrower sense.
From 1897 to 1912 Hamsun produced a series of volumes that simply
marked a further development of the tendencies shown in his first
novels: Siesta, short stories, 1897; Victoria a novel with a
charming love story that embodies the tenderest note in his production,
1898; In Wonderland, travelling sketches from the Caucasus, 1903;
Brushwood, short stories, 1903; The Wild Choir, a collection of
poems, 1904; Dreamers, a novel, 1904; Struggling Life, short
stories and travelling sketches, 1905; Beneath the Autumn Star a
novel, 1906; Benoni, and Rosa, two novels forming to some extent
sequels to Pan, 1908; A Wanderer Plays with Muted Strings, a novel,
1909; and The Last Joy, a shapeless work, half novel and half mere
uncoordinated reflections, 1912.
The later part of this output seemed to indicate a lack of
development, a failure to open up new vistas, that caused many to fear
that the principal contributions of Hamsun already lay behind him. Then
appeared in 1913 a big novel, Children of the Time, which in many
ways struck a new note, although led up to by Rosa and Benoni. The
horizon is now wider, the picture broader. There is still a central
figure, and still he possesses many of the old Hamsun traits, but he
has crossed the meridian at last and become an observer rather than a
fighter and doer. Nor is he the central figure to the same extent as
Lieutenant Glahn in Pan or Kareno in the trilogy. The life pictured
is the life of a certain spot of groundSegelfoss manor, and later the
town of Segelfossrather than that of one or two isolated individuals.
One might almost say that Hamsun's vision has become social at last,
were it not for his continued accentuation of the irreconcilable
conflict between the individual and the group.
Segelfoss Town in 1915 and The Growth of the Soilthe title
ought to be The Earth's Increasein 1918 continue along the path
Hamsun entered by Children of the Time. The scene is laid in his
beloved Northland, but the old primitive life is goinggoing even in
the outlying districts, where the pioneers are already breaking ground
for new permanent settlements. Business of a modern type has arrived,
and much of the quiet humor displayed in these the latest and maturest
of Hamsun's works springs from the spectacle of its influence on the
natives, whose hands used always to be in their pockets, and whose
credulity in face of the improbable was only surpassed by their
unwillingness to believe anything reasonable. Still the life he
pictures is largely primitive, with nature as man's chief antagonist,
and to us of the crowded cities it brings a charm of novelty rarely
found in books today. With it goes an understanding of human nature
which is no less deep-reaching because it is apt to find expression in
whimsical or flagrantly paradoxical forms.
Hamsun has just celebrated his sixtieth birthday anniversary. He is
as strong and active as ever, burying himself most of the time on his
little estate in the heart of the country that has become to such a
peculiar extent his own. There is every reason to expect from him works
that may not only equal but surpass the best of his production so far.
But even if such expectations should prove false, the body of his work
already accomplished is such, both in quantity and quality, that he
must perforce be placed in the very front rank of the world's living
writers. To the English-speaking world he has so far been made known
only through the casual publication at long intervals of a few of his
books: Hunger, Fictoria and Shallow Soil (rendered in the list
above as New Earth"). There is now reason to believe that this
negligence will be remedied, and that soon the best of Hamsun's work
will be available in English. To the American and English publics it
ought to prove a welcome tonic because of its very divergence from what
they commonly feed on. And they may safely look to Hamsun as a thinker
as well as a poet and laughing dreamer, provided they realize from the
start that his thinking is suggestive rather than conclusive, and that
he never meant it to be anything else.
It was during the time I wandered about and starved in Christiania:
Christiania, this singular city, from which no man departs without
carrying away the traces of his sojourn there.
I was lying awake in my attic and I heard a clock below strike six.
It was already broad daylight, and people had begun to go up and down
the stairs. By the door where the wall of the room was papered with old
numbers of the Morgenbladet, I could distinguish clearly a
notice from the Director of Lighthouses, and a little to the left of
that an inflated advertisement of Fabian Olsens' new-baked bread.
The instant I opened my eyes I began, from sheer force of habit, to
think if I had anything to rejoice over that day. I had been somewhat
hard-up lately, and one after the other of my belongings had been taken
to my Uncle. I had grown nervous and irritable. A few times I had
kept my bed for the day with vertigo. Now and then, when luck had
favoured me, I had managed to get five shillings for a feuilleton from
some newspaper or other.
It grew lighter and lighter, and I took to reading the
advertisements near the door. I could even make out the grinning lean
letters of winding-sheets to be had at Miss Andersen's on the right
of it. That occupied me for a long while. I heard the clock below
strike eight as I got up and put on my clothes.
I opened the window and looked out. From where I was standing I had
a view of a clothes, line and an open field. Farther away lay the ruins
of a burnt-out smithy, which some labourers were busy clearing away. I
leant with my elbows resting on the window-frame and gazed into open
space. It promised to be a clear dayautumn, that tender, cool time of
the year, when all things change their colour, and die, had come to us.
The ever-increasing noise in the streets lured me out. The bare room,
the floor of which rocked up and down with every step I took across it,
seemed like a gasping, sinister coffin. There was no proper fastening
to the door, either, and no stove. I used to lie on my socks at night
to dry them a little by the morning. The only thing I had to divert
myself with was a little red rocking-chair, in which I used to sit in
the evenings and doze and muse on all manner of things. When it blew
hard, and the door below stood open, all kinds of eerie sounds moaned
up through the floor and from out the walls, and the Morgenbladet
near the door was rent in strips a span long.
I stood up and searched through a bundle in the corner by the bed
for a bite for breakfast, but finding nothing, went back to the window.
God knows, thought I, if looking for employment will ever again
avail me aught. The frequent re pulses, half-promises, and curt noes,
the cherished, deluded hopes, and fresh endeavours that always resulted
in nothing had done my courage to death. As a last resource, I had
applied for a place as debt collector, but I was too late, and,
besides, I could not have found the fifty shillings demanded as
security. There was always something or another in my way. I had even
offered to enlist in the Fire Brigade. There we stood and waited in the
vestibule, some half-hundred men, thrusting our chests out to give an
idea of strength and bravery, whilst an inspector walked up and down
and scanned the applicants, felt their arms, and put one question or
another to them. Me, he passed by, merely shaking his head, saying I
was rejected on account of my sight. I applied again without my
glasses, stood there with knitted brows, and made my eyes as sharp as
needles, but the man passed me by again with a smile; he had recognized
me. And, worse than all, I could no longer apply for a situation in the
garb of a respectable man.
How regularly and steadily things had gone downhill with me for a
long time, till, in the end, I was so curiously bared of every
conceivable thing. I had not even a comb left, not even a book to read,
when things grew all too sad with me. All through the summer, up in the
churchyards or parks, where I used to sit and write my articles for the
newspapers, I had thought out column after column on the most
miscellaneous subjects. Strange ideas, quaint fancies, conceits of my
restless brain; in despair I had often chosen the most remote themes,
that cost me long hours of intense effort, and never were accepted.
When one piece was finished I set to work at another. I was not often
discouraged by the editors' no. I used to tell myself constantly that
some day I was bound to succeed; and really occasionally when I was in
luck's way, and made a hit with something, I could get five shillings
for an afternoon's work.
Once again I raised myself from the window, went over to the
washing-stand, and sprinkled some water on the shiny knees of my
trousers to dull them a little and make them look a trifle newer.
Having done this, I pocketed paper and pencil as usual and went out. I
stole very quietly down the stairs in order not to attract my
landlady's attention (a few days had elapsed since my rent had fallen
due, and I had no longer anything wherewith to raise it).
It was nine o'clock. The roll of vehicles and hum of voices filled
the air, a mighty morning-choir mingled with the footsteps of the
pedestrians, and the crack of the hack-drivers' whips. The clamorous
traffic everywhere exhilarated me at once, and I began to feel more and
more contented. Nothing was farther from my intention than to merely
take a morning walk in the open air. What had the air to do with my
lungs? I was strong as a giant; could stop a dray with my shoulders. A
sweet, unwonted mood, a feeling of lightsome happy-go-luckiness took
possession of me. I fell to observing the people I met and who passed
me, to reading the placards on the wall, noted even the impression of a
glance thrown at me from a passing tram-car, let each bagatelle, each
trifling incident that crossed or vanished from my path impress me.
If one only had just a little to eat on such a lightsome day! The
sense of the glad morning overwhelmed me; my satisfaction became
ill-regulated, and for no definite reason I began to hum joyfully.
At a butcher's stall a woman stood speculating on sausage for
dinner. As I passed her she looked up at me. She had but one tooth in
the front of her head. I had become so nervous and easily affected in
the last few days that the woman's face made a loathsome impression
upon me. The long yellow snag looked like a little finger pointing out
of her gum, and her gaze was still full of sausage as she turned it
upon me. I immediately lost all appetite, and a feeling of nausea came
over me. When I reached the market-place I went to the fountain and
drank a little. I looked up; the dial marked ten on Our Saviour's
I went on through the streets, listlessly, without troubling myself
about anything at all, stopped aimlessly at a corner, turned off into a
side street without having any errand there. I simply let myself go,
wandered about in the pleasant morning, swinging myself care-free to
and fro amongst other happy human beings. This air was clear and bright
and my mind too was without a shadow.
For quite ten minutes I had had an old lame man ahead of me. He
carried a bundle in one hand and exerted his whole body, using all his
strength in his endeavours to get along speedily. I could hear how he
panted from the exertion, and it occurred to me that I might offer to
bear his bundle for him, but yet I made no effort to overtake him. Up
in Graendsen I met Hans Pauli, who nodded and hurried past me. Why was
he in such a hurry? I had not the slightest intention of asking him for
a shilling, and, more than that, I intended at the very first
opportunity to return him a blanket which I had borrowed from him some
Just wait until I could get my foot on the ladder, I would be
beholden to no man, not even for a blanket. Perhaps even this very day
I might commence an article on the Crimes of Futurity, Freedom of
Will, or what not, at any rate, something worth reading, something for
which I would at least get ten shillings.... And at the thought of this
article I felt myself fired with a desire to set to work immediately
and to draw from the contents of my overflowing brain. I would find a
suitable place to write in the park and not rest until I had completed
But the old cripple was still making the same sprawling movements
ahead of me up the street. The sight of this infirm creature constantly
in front of me, commenced to irritate mehis journey seemed endless;
perhaps he had made up his mind to go to exactly the same place as I
had, and I must needs have him before my eyes the whole way. In my
irritation it seemed to me that he slackened his pace a little at every
cross street, as if waiting to see which direction I intended to take,
upon which he would again swing his bundle in the air and peg away with
all his might to keep ahead of me. I follow and watch this tiresome
creature and get more and more exasperated with him, I am conscious
that he has, little by little, destroyed my happy mood and dragged the
pure, beautiful morning down to the level of his own ugliness. He looks
like a great sprawling reptile striving with might and main to win a
place in the world and reserve the footpath for himself. When we
reached the top of the hill I determined to put up with it no longer. I
turned to a shop window and stopped in order to give him an opportunity
of getting ahead, but when, after a lapse of some minutes, I again
walked on there was the man still in front of mehe too had stood
stock still,without stopping to reflect I made three or four furious
onward strides, caught him up, and slapped him on the shoulder.
He stopped directly, and we both stared at one another fixedly. A
halfpenny for milk! he whined, twisting his head askew.
So that was how the wind blew. I felt in my pockets and said: For
milk, eh? Hum-mmoney's scarce these times, and I don't really know
how much you are in need of it.
I haven't eaten a morsel since yesterday in Drammen; I haven't got
a farthing, nor have I got any work yet!
Are you an artisan?
Yes; a binder.
A shoe-binder; for that matter, I can make shoes too.
Ah, that alters the case, said I, you wait here for some, minutes
and I shall go and get a little money for you; just a few pence.
I hurried as fast as I could down Pyle Street, where I knew of a
pawnbroker on a second-floor (one, besides, to whom I had never been
before). When I got inside the hall I hastily took off my waistcoat,
rolled it up, and put it under my arm; after which I went upstairs and
knocked at the office door. I bowed on entering, and threw the
waistcoat on the counter.
One-and-six, said the man.
Yes, yes, thanks, I replied. If it weren't that it was beginning
to be a little tight for me, of course I wouldn't part with it.
I got the money and the ticket, and went back. Considering all
things, pawning that waistcoat was a capital notion. I would have money
enough over for a plentiful breakfast, and before evening my thesis on
the Crimes of Futurity would be ready. I began to find existence more
alluring; and I hurried back to the man to get rid of him.
There it is, said I. I am glad you applied to me first.
The man took the money and scrutinized me closely. At what was he
standing there staring? I had a feeling that he particularly examined
the knees of my trousers, and his shameless effrontery bored me. Did
the scoundrel imagine that I really was as poor as I looked? Had I not
as good as begun to write an article for half-a-sovereign? Besides, I
had no fear whatever for the future. I had many irons in the fire. What
on earth business was it of an utter stranger if I chose to stand him a
drink on such a lovely day? The man's look annoyed me, and I made up my
mind to give him a good dressing-down before I left him. I threw back
my shoulders, and said:
My good fellow, you have adopted a most unpleasant habit of staring
at a man's knees when he gives you a shilling.
He leant his head back against the wall and opened his mouth widely;
something was working in that empty pate of his, and he evidently came
to the conclusion that I meant to best him in some way, for he handed
me back the money. I stamped on the pavement, and, swearing at him,
told him to keep it. Did he imagine I was going to all that trouble for
nothing? If all came to all, perhaps I owed him this shilling; I had
just recollected an old debt; he was standing before an honest man,
honourable to his finger-tipsin short, the money was his. Oh, no
thanks were needed; it had been a pleasure to me. Good-bye!
I went on. At last I was freed from this work-ridden plague, and I
could go my way in peace. I turned down Pyle Street again, and stopped
before a grocer's shop. The whole window was filled with eatables, and
I decided to go in and get something to take with me.
A piece of cheese and a French roll, I said, and threw my sixpence
on to the counter.
Bread and cheese for the whole of it? asked the woman ironically,
without looking up at me.
For the whole sixpence? Yes, I answered, unruffled.
I took them up, bade the fat old woman good-morning, with the utmost
politeness, and sped, full tilt, up Castle Hill to the park.
I found a bench to myself, and began to bite greedily into my
provender. It did me good; it was a long time since I had had such a
square meal, and, by degrees, I felt the same sated quiet steal over me
that one feels after a good long cry. My courage rose mightily. I could
no longer be satisfied with writing an article about anything so simple
and straight-ahead as the Crimes of Futurity, that any ass might
arrive at, ay, simply deduct from history. I felt capable of a much
greater effort than that; I was in a fitting mood to overcome
difficulties, and I decided on a treatise, in three sections, on
Philosophical Cognition. This would, naturally, give me an
opportunity of crushing pitiably some of Kant's sophistries ... but, on
taking out my writing materials to commence work, I discovered that I
no longer owned a pencil: I had forgotten it in the pawn-office. My
pencil was lying in my waistcoat pocket.
Good Lord! how everything seems to take a delight in thwarting me
today! I swore a few times, rose from the seat, and took a couple of
turns up and down the path. It was very quiet all around me; down near
the Queen's arbour two nursemaids were trundling their perambulators;
otherwise, there was not a creature anywhere in sight. I was in a
thoroughly embittered temper; I paced up and down before my seat like a
maniac. How strangely awry things seemed to go! To think that an
article in three sections should be downright stranded by the simple
fact of my not having a pennyworth of pencil in my pocket. Supposing I
were to return to Pyle Street and ask to get my pencil back? There
would be still time to get a good piece finished before the promenading
public commenced to fill the parks. So much, too, depended on this
treatise on Philosophical Cognitionmayhap many human beings'
welfare, no one could say; and I told myself it might be of the
greatest possible help to many young people. On second thoughts, I
would not lay violent hands on Kant; I might easily avoid doing that; I
would only need to make an almost imperceptible gliding over when I
came to query Time and Space; but I would not answer for Renan, old
At all events, an article of so-and-so many columns has to be
completed. For the unpaid rent, and the landlady's inquiring look in
the morning when I met her on the stairs, tormented me the whole day;
it rose up and confronted me again and again, even in my pleasant
hours, when I had otherwise not a gloomy thought.
I must put an end to it, so I left the park hurriedly to fetch my
pencil from the pawnbroker's.
As I arrived at the foot of the hill I overtook two ladies, whom I
passed. As I did so, I brushed one of them accidentally on the arm. I
looked up; she had a full, rather pale, face. But she blushes, and,
becomes suddenly surprisingly lovely. I know not why she blushes; maybe
at some word she hears from a passer-by, maybe only at some lurking
thought of her own. Or can it be because I touched her arm? Her high,
full bosom heaves violently several times, and she closes her hand
tightly above the handle of her parasol. What has come to her?
I stopped, and let her pass ahead again. I could, for the moment, go
no further; the whole thing struck me as being so singular. I was in a
tantalizing mood, annoyed with myself on account of the pencil
incident, and in a high degree disturbed by all the food I had taken on
a totally empty stomach. Suddenly my thoughts, as if whimsically
inspired, take a singular direction. I feel myself seized with an odd
desire to make this lady afraid; to follow her, and annoy her in some
way. I overtake her again, pass her by, turn quickly round, and meet
her face-to-face in order to observe her well. I stand and gaze into
her eyes, and hit, on the spur of the moment, on a name which I have
never heard beforea name with a gliding, nervous soundYlajali! When
she is quite close to me I draw myself up and say impressively:
You are losing your book, madam! I could hear my heart beat
audibly as I said it.
My book? she asks her companion, and she walks on.
My devilment waxed apace, and I followed them. At the same time, I
was fully conscious that I was playing a mad prank without being able
to stop myself. My disordered condition ran away with me; I was
inspired with the craziest notions, which I followed blindly as they
came to me. I couldn't help it, no matter how much I told myself that I
was playing the fool. I made the most idiotic grimaces behind the
lady's back, and coughed frantically as I passed her by. Walking on in
this mannervery slowly, and always a few steps in advanceI felt her
eyes on my back, and involuntarily put down my head with shame for
having caused her annoyance. By degrees, a wonderful feeling stole over
me of being far, far away in other places; I had a half-undefined sense
that it was not I who was going along over the gravel hanging my head.
A few minutes later, they reached Pascha's bookshop. I had already
stopped at the first window, and as they go by I step forward and
You are losing your book, madam!
No; what book? she asks affrightedly. Can you make out what book
it is he is talking about? and she comes to a stop.
I hug myself with delight at her confusion; the irresolute
perplexity in her eyes positively fascinates me. Her mind cannot grasp
my short, passionate address. She has no book with her; not a single
page of a book, and yet she fumbles in her pockets, looks down
repeatedly at her hands, turns her head and scrutinizes the streets
behind her, exerts her sensitive little brain to the utmost in trying
to discover what book it is I am talking about. Her face changes
colour, has now one, now another expression, and she is breathing quite
audiblyeven the very buttons on her gown seem to stare at me, like a
row of frightened eyes.
Don't bother about him! says her companion, taking her by the arm.
He is drunk; can't you see that the man is drunk?
Strange as I was at this instant to myself, so absolutely a prey to
peculiar invisible inner influences, nothing occurred around me without
my observing it. A large, brown dog sprang right across the street
towards the shrubbery, and then down towards the Tivoli; he had on a
very narrow collar of German silver. Farther up the street a window
opened on the second floor, and a servant-maid leant out of it, with
her sleeves turned up, and began to clean the panes on the outside.
Nothing escaped my notice; I was clear-headed and ready-witted.
Everything rushed in upon me with a gleaming distinctness, as if I were
suddenly surrounded by a strong light. The ladies before me had each a
blue bird's wing in their hats, and a plaid silk ribbon round their
necks. It struck me that they were sisters.
They turned, stopped at Cisler's music-shop, and spoke together. I
stopped also. Thereupon they both came back, went the same road as they
had come, passed me again, and turned the corner of University Street
and up towards St. Olav's place. I was all the time as close at their
heels as I dared to be. They turned round once, and sent me a
half-fearful, half-questioning look, and I saw no resentment nor any
trace of a frown in it.
This forbearance with my annoyance shamed me thoroughly and made me
lower my eyes. I would no longer be a trouble to them; out of sheer
gratitude I would follow them with my gaze, not lose sight of them
until they entered some place safely and disappeared.
Outside No. 2, a large four-storeyed house, they turned again before
going in. I leant against a lamp-post near the fountain and listened
for their footsteps on the stairs. They died away on the second floor.
I advanced from the lamp-post and looked up at the house. Then
something odd happened. The curtains above were stirred, and a second
after a window opened, a head popped out, and two singular-looking eyes
dwelt on me. Ylajali! I muttered, half-aloud, and I felt I grew red.
Why does she not call for help, or push over one of these
flower-pots and strike me on the head, or send some one down to drive
me away? We stand and look into one another's eyes without moving; it
lasts a minute. Thoughts dart between the window and the street, and
not a word is spoken. She turns round, I feel a wrench in me, a
delicate shock through my senses; I see a shoulder that turns, a back
that disappears across the floor. That reluctant turning from the
window, the accentuation in that movement of the shoulders was like a
nod to me. My blood was sensible of all the delicate, dainty greeting,
and I felt all at once rarely glad. Then I wheeled round and went down
I dared not look back, and knew not if she had returned to the
window. The more I considered this question the more nervous and
restless I became. Probably at this very moment she was standing
watching closely all my movements. It is by no means comfortable to
know that you are being watched from behind your back. I pulled myself
together as well as I could and proceeded on my way; my legs began to
jerk under me, my gait became unsteady just because I purposely tried
to make it look well. In order to appear at ease and indifferent, I
flung my arms about, spat out, and threw my head well backall without
avail, for I continually felt the pursuing eyes on my neck, and a cold
shiver ran down my back. At length I escaped down a side street, from
which I took the road to Pyle Street to get my pencil.
I had no difficulty in recovering it; the man brought me the
waistcoat himself, and as he did so, begged me to search through all
the pockets. I found also a couple of pawn-tickets which I pocketed as
I thanked the obliging little man for his civility. I was more and more
taken with him, and grew all of a sudden extremely anxious to make a
favourable impression on this person. I took a turn towards the door
and then back again to the counter as if I had forgotten something. It
struck me that I owed him an explanation, that I ought to elucidate
matters a little. I began to hum in order to attract his attention.
Then, taking the pencil in my hand, I held it up and said:
It would never have entered my head to come such a long way for any
and every bit of pencil, but with this one it was quite a different
matter; there Was another reason, a special reason. Insignificant as it
looked, this stump of pencil had simply made me what I was in the
world, so to say, placed me in life. I said no more. The man had come
right over to the counter.
Indeed! said he, and he looked inquiringly at me.
It was with this pencil, I continued, in cold blood, that I wrote
my dissertation on 'Philosophical Cognition,' in three volumes. Had he
never heard mention of it?
Well, he did seem to remember having heard the name, rather the
Yes, said I, that was by me, so it was. So he must really not be
astonished that I should be desirous of having the little bit of pencil
back again. I valued it far too highly to lose it; why, it was almost
as much to me as a little human creature. For the rest I was honestly
grateful to him for his civility, and I would bear him in mind for it.
Yes, truly, I really would. A promise was a promise; that was the sort
of man I was, and he really deserved it. Good-bye! I walked to the
door with the bearing of one who had it in his power to place a man in
a high position, say in the fire-office. The honest pawnbroker bowed
twice profoundly to me as I withdrew. I turned again and repeated my
On the stairs I met a woman with a travelling-bag in her hand, who
squeezed diffidently against the wall to make room for me, and I
voluntarily thrust my hand in my pocket for something to give her, and
looked foolish as I found nothing and passed on with my head down. I
heard her knock at the office door; there was an alarm over it, and I
recognized the jingling sound it gave when any one rapped on the door
with his knuckles.
The sun stood in the south; it was about twelve. The whole town
began to get on its legs as it approached the fashionable hour for
promenading. Bowing and laughing folk walked up and down Carl Johann
Street. I stuck my elbows closely to my sides, tried to make myself
look small, and slipped unperceived past some acquaintances who had
taken up their stand at the corner of University Street to gaze at the
passers-by. I wandered up Castle Hill and fell into a reverie.
How gaily and lightly these people I met carried their radiant
heads, and swung themselves through life as through a ball-room! There
was no sorrow in a single look I met, no burden on any shoulder,
perhaps not even a clouded thought, not a little hidden pain in any of
the happy souls. And I, walking in the very midst of these people,
young and newly-fledged as I was, had already forgotten the very look
of happiness. I hugged these thoughts to myself as I went on, and found
that a great injustice had been done me. Why had the last months
pressed so strangely hard on me? I failed to recognize my own happy
temperament, and I met with the most singular annoyances from all
quarters. I could not sit down on a bench by myself or set my foot any
place without being assailed by insignificant accidents, miserable
details, that forced their way into my imagination and scattered my
powers to all the four winds. A dog that dashed by me, a yellow rose in
a man's buttonhole, had the power to set my thoughts vibrating and
occupy me for a length of time.
What was it that ailed me? Was the hand of the Lord turned against
me? But why just against me? Why, for that matter, not just as well
against a man in South America? When I considered the matter over, it
grew more and more incomprehensible to me that I of all others should
be selected as an experiment for a Creator's whims. It was, to say the
least of it, a peculiar mode of procedure to pass over a whole world of
other humans in order to reach me. Why not select just as well
Bookseller Pascha, or Hennechen the steam agent?
As I went my way I sifted this thing, and could not get quit of it.
I found the most weighty arguments against the Creator's arbitrariness
in letting me pay for all the others' sins. Even after I had found a
seat and sat down, the query persisted in occupying me, and prevented
me from thinking of aught else. From the day in May when my ill-luck
began I could so clearly notice my gradually increasing debility; I had
become, as it were, too languid to control or lead myself whither I
would go. A swarm of tiny noxious animals had bored a way into my inner
man and hollowed me out.
Supposing God Almighty simply intended to annihilate me? I got up
and paced backwards and forwards before the seat.
My whole being was at this moment in the highest degree of torture,
I had pains in my arms, and could hardly bear to hold them in the usual
way. I experienced also great discomfort from my last full meal; I was
oversated, and walked backwards and forwards without looking up. The
people who came and went around me glided past me like faint gleams. At
last my seat was taken up by two men, who lit cigars and began to talk
loudly together. I got angry and was on the point of addressing them,
but turned on my heel and went right to the other end of the Park, and
found another seat. I sat down.
The thought of God began to occupy me. It seemed to me in the
highest degree indefensible of Him to interfere every time I sought for
a place, and to upset the whole thing, while all the time I was but
imploring enough for a daily meal.
I had remarked so plainly that, whenever I had been hungry for any
length of time, it was just as if my brains ran quite gently out of my
head and left me with a vacuummy head grew light and far off, I no
longer felt its weight on my shoulders, and I had a consciousness that
my eyes stared far too widely open when I looked at anything.
I sat there on the seat and pondered over all this, and grew more
and more bitter against God for His prolonged inflictions. If He meant
to draw me nearer to Him, and make me better by exhausting me and
placing obstacle after obstacle in my way, I could assure Him He made a
slight mistake. And, almost crying with defiance, I looked up towards
Heaven and told Him so mentally, once and for all.
Fragments of the teachings of my childhood ran through my memory.
The rhythmical sound of Biblical language sang in my ears, and I talked
quite softly to myself, and held my head sneeringly askew. Wherefore
should I sorrow for what I eat, for what I drink, or for what I may
array this miserable food for worms called my earthy body? Hath not my
Heavenly Father provided for me, even as for the sparrow on the
housetop, and hath He not in His graciousness pointed towards His lowly
servitor? The Lord stuck His finger in the net of my nerves
gentlyyea, verily, in desultory fashionand brought slight disorder
among the threads. And then the Lord withdrew His finger, and there
were fibres and delicate root-like filaments adhering to the finger,
and they were the nerve-threads of the filaments. And there was a
gaping hole after the finger, which was God's finger, and a wound in my
brain in the track of His finger. But when God had touched me with His
finger, He let me be, and touched me no more, and let no evil befall
me; but let me depart in peace, and let me depart with the gaping hole.
And no evil hath befallen me from the God who is the Lord God of all
The sound of music was borne up on the wind to me from the Students'
Allée. It was therefore past two o'clock. I took out my writing
materials to try to write something, and at the same time my book of
shaving-tickets [Footnote: Issued by the barbers at cheaper rates, as
few men in Norway shave themselves.] fell out of my pocket. I opened
it, and counted the tickets; there were six. The Lord be praised, I
exclaimed involuntarily; I can still get shaved for a couple of weeks,
and look a little decent; and I immediately fell into a better frame
of mind on account of this little property which still remained to me.
I smoothed the leaves out carefully, and put the book safely into my
But write I could not. After a few lines nothing seemed to occur to
me; my thought ran in other directions, and I could not pull myself
together enough for any special exertion.
Everything influenced and distracted me; everything I saw made a
fresh impression on me. Flies and tiny mosquitoes stick fast to the
paper and disturb me. I blow at them to get rid of themblow harder
and harder; to no purpose, the little pests throw themselves on their
backs, make themselves heavy, and fight against me until their slender
legs bend. They are not to be moved from the spot; they find something
to hook on to, set their heels against a comma or an unevenness in the
paper, or stand immovably still until they themselves think fit to go
These insects continued to busy me for a long time, and I crossed my
legs to observe them at leisure. All at once a couple of high clarionet
notes waved up to me from the bandstand, and gave my thoughts a new
Despondent at not being able to put my article together, I replaced
the paper in my pocket, and leant back in the seat. At this instant my
head is so clear that I can follow the most delicate train of thought
without tiring. As I lie in this position, and let my eyes glide down
my breast and along my legs, I notice the jerking movement my foot
makes each time my pulse beats. I half rise and look down at my feet,
and I experience at this moment a fantastic and singular feeling that I
have never felt beforea delicate, wonderful shock through my nerves,
as if sparks of cold light quivered through themit was as if catching
sight of my shoes I had met with a kind old acquaintance, or got back a
part of myself that had been riven loose. A feeling of recognition
trembles through my senses; the tears well up in my eyes, and I have a
feeling as if my shoes are a soft, murmuring strain rising towards me.
Weakness! I cried harshly to myself, and I clenched my fists and I
repeated Weakness! I laughed at myself, for this ridiculous feeling,
made fun of myself, with a perfect consciousness of doing so, talked
very severely and sensibly, and closed my eyes very tightly to get rid
of the tears.
As if I had never seen my shoes before, I set myself to study their
looks, their characteristics, and, when I stir my foot, their shape and
their worn uppers. I discover that their creases and white seams give
them expressionimpart a physiognomy to them. Something of my own
nature had gone over into these shoes; they affected me, like a ghost
of my other Ia breathing portion of my very self.
I sat and toyed with these fancies a long time, perhaps an entire
hour. A little, old man came and took the other end of the seat; as he
seated himself he panted after his walk, and muttered:
Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay; very true!
As soon as I heard his voice, I felt as if a wind had swept through
my head. I let shoes be shoes, and it seemed to me that the distracted
phase of mind I had just experienced dated from a long-vanished period,
maybe a year or two back, and was about to be quietly effaced from my
memory. I began to observe the old fellow.
Did this little man concern me in any way? Not in the least, not in
the very slightest degree! Only that he held a newspaper in his hand,
an old number (with the advertisement sheet on the outside), in which
something or other seemed to be rolled up; my curiosity was aroused,
and I could not take my eyes away from this paper. The insane idea
entered my head that it might be a quite peculiar newspaperunique of
its kind. My curiosity increased, and I began to move backwards and
forwards on the seat. It might contain deeds, dangerous documents
stolen from some archive or other; something floated before me about a
secret treatya conspiracy.
The man sat quietly, and pondered. Why did he not carry his
newspaper as every other person carries a paper, with its name out?
What species of cunning lurked under that? He did not seem either to
like letting his package out of his hands, not for anything in the
world; perhaps he did not even dare trust it into his own pocket. I
could stake my life there was something at the bottom of that
packageI considered a bit. Just the fact of finding it so impossible
to penetrate this mysterious affair distracted me with curiosity. I
searched my pockets for something to offer the man in order to enter
into conversation with him, took hold of my shaving-book, but put it
back again. Suddenly it entered my head to be utterly audacious; I
slapped my empty breast-pocket, and said:
May I offer you a cigarette?
Thank you! The man did not smoke; he had to give it up to spare
his eyes; he was nearly blind. Thank you very much all the same. Was it
long since his eyes got bad? In that case, perhaps, he could not read
either, not even a paper?
No, not even the newspaper, more's the pity. The man looked at me;
his weak eyes were each covered with a film which gave them a glassy
appearance; his gaze grew bleary, and made a disgusting impression on
You are a stranger here? he said.
Yes. Could he not even read the name of the paper he held in his
Barely. For that matter, he could hear directly that I was a
stranger. There was something in my accent which told him. It did not
need much; he could hear so well. At night, when every one slept, he
could hear people in the next room breathing....
What I was going to say was, 'where do you live?'
On the spur of the moment a lie stood, ready-made, in my head. I
lied involuntarily, without any object, without any arrière pensée, and I answered
St. Olav's Place, No. 2.
Really? He knew every stone in St. Olav's Place. There was a
fountain, some lamp-posts, a few trees; he remembered all of it. What
number do you live in?
Desirous to put an end to this, I got up. But my notion about the
newspaper had driven me to my wit's end; I resolved to clear the thing
up, at no matter what cost.
When you cannot read the paper, why
In No. 2, I think you said, continued the man, without noticing my
disturbance. There was a time I knew every person in No. 2; what is
your landlord's name?
I quickly found a name to get rid of him; invented one on the spur
of the moment, and blurted it out to stop my tormentor.
Happolati! said I.
Happolati, ay! nodded the man; and he never missed a syllable of
this difficult name.
I looked at him with amazement; there he sat, gravely, with a
considering air. Before I had well given utterance to the stupid name
which jumped into my head the man had accommodated himself to it, and
pretended to have heard it before.
In the meantime, he had laid his package on the seat, and I felt my
curiosity quiver through my nerves. I noticed there were a few grease
spots on the paper.
Isn't he a sea-faring man, your landlord? queried he, and there
was not a trace of suppressed irony in his voice; I seem to remember
Sea-faring man? Excuse me, it must be the brother you know; this
man is namely J. A. Happolati, the agent.
I thought this would finish him; but he willingly fell in with
everything I said. If I had found a name like Barrabas Rosebud it would
not have roused his suspicions.
He is an able man, I have heard? he said, feeling his way.
Oh, a clever fellow! answered I; a thorough business head; agent
for every possible thing going. Cranberries from China; feathers and
down from Russia; hides, pulp, writing-ink
He, he! the devil he is? interrupted the old chap, highly excited.
This began to get interesting. The situation ran away with me, and
one lie after another engendered in my head. I sat down again, forgot
the newspaper, and the remarkable documents, grew lively, and cut short
the old fellow's talk.
The little goblin's unsuspecting simplicity made me foolhardy; I
would stuff him recklessly full of lies; rout him out o' field grandly,
and stop his mouth from sheer amazement.
Had he heard of the electric psalm-book that Happolati had invented?
With electric letters that could give light in the dark! a
perfectly extraordinary enterprise. A million crowns to be put in
circulation; foundries and printing-presses at work, and shoals of
regular mechanics to be employed; I had heard as many as seven hundred
Ay, isn't it just what I say? drawled out the man calmly.
He said no more, he believed every word I related, and for all that,
he was not taken aback. This disappointed me a little; I had expected
to see him utterly bewildered by my inventions.
I searched my brain for a couple of desperate lies, went the whole
hog, hinted that Happolati had been Minister of State for nine years in
Persia. You perhaps have no conception of what it means to be Minister
of State in Persia? I asked. It was more than king here, or about the
same as Sultan, if he knew what that meant, but Happolati had managed
the whole thing, and was never at a loss. And I related about his
daughter Ylajali, a fairy, a princess, who had three hundred slaves,
and who reclined on a couch of yellow roses. She was the loveliest
creature I had ever seen; I had, may the Lord strike me, never seen her
match for looks in my life!
Soo; was she so lovely? remarked the old fellow, with an absent
air, as he gazed at the ground.
Lovely? She was beauteous, she was sinfully fascinating. Eyes like
raw silk, arms of amber! Just one glance from her was as seductive as a
kiss; and when she called me, her voice darted like a wine-ray right
into my soul's phosphor. And why shouldn't she be so beautiful? Did he
imagine she was a messenger or something in the fire brigade? She was
simply a Heaven's wonder, I could just inform him, a fairy tale.
Yes, to be sure! said he, not a little bewildered. His quiet bored
me; I was excited by the sound of my own voice and spoke in utter
seriousness; the stolen archives, treaties with some foreign power or
other, no longer occupied my thoughts; the little flat bundle of paper
lay on the seat between us, and I had no longer the smallest desire to
examine it or see what it contained. I was entirely absorbed in stories
of my own which floated in singular visions across my mental eye. The
blood flew to my head, and I roared with laughter.
At this moment the little man seemed about to go. He stretched
himself, and in order not to break off too abruptly, added: He is said
to own much property, this Happolati?
How dared this bleary-eyed, disgusting old man toss about the rare
name I had invented as if it were a common name stuck up over every
huckster-shop in the town? He never stumbled over a letter or forgot a
syllable. The name had bitten fast in his brain and struck root on the
instant. I got annoyed; an inward exasperation surged up in me against
this creature whom nothing had the power to disturb and nothing render
I therefore replied shortly, I know nothing about that! I know
absolutely nothing whatever about that! Let me inform you once for all
that his name is Johann Arendt Happolati, if you go by his own
Johannn Arendt Happolati! repeated the man, a little astonished at
my vehemence; and with that he grew silent.
You should see his wife! I said, beside myself. A fatter creature
... Eh? what? Perhaps you don't even believe she is really fat?
Well, indeed he did not see his way to deny that such a man might
perhaps have a rather stout wife. The old fellow answered quite gently
and meekly to each of my assertions, and sought for words as if he
feared to offend and perhaps make me furious.
Hell and fire, man! Do you imagine that I am sitting here stuffing
you chock-full of lies? I roared furiously. Perhaps you don't even
believe that a man of the name of Happolati exists! I never saw your
match for obstinacy and malice in any old man. What the devil ails you?
Perhaps, too, into the bargain, you have been all this while thinking
to yourself I am a poverty-stricken fellow, sitting here in my
Sunday-best without even a case full of cigarettes in my pocket. Let me
tell you such treatment as yours is a thing I am not accustomed to, and
I won't endure it, the Lord strike me dead if I willneither from you
nor any one else, do you know that?
The man had risen with his mouth agape; he stood tongue-tied and
listened to my outbreak until the end. Then he snatched his parcel from
off the seat and went, ay, nearly ran, down the patch, with the short,
tottering steps of an old man.
I leant back and looked at the retreating figure that seemed to
shrink at each step as it passed away. I do not know from where the
impression came, but it appeared to me that I had never in my life seen
a more vile back than this one, and I did not regret that I had abused
the creature before he left me.
The day began to decline, the sun sank, it commenced to rustle
lightly in the trees around, and the nursemaids who sat in groups near
the parallel bars made ready to wheel their perambulators home. I was
calmed and in good spirit. The excitement I had just laboured under
quieted down little by little, and I grew weaker, more languid, and
began to feel drowsy. Neither did the quantity of bread I had eaten
cause me any longer any particular distress. I leant against the back
of the seat in the best of humours, closed my eyes, and got more and
more sleepy. I dozed, and was just on the point of falling asleep, when
a park-keeper put his hand on my shoulder and said:
You must not sit here and go to sleep!
No? I said, and sprang immediately up, my unfortunate position
rising all at once vividly before my eyes. I must do something; find
some way or another out of it. To look for situations had been of no
avail to me. Even the recommendations I showed had grown a little old,
and were written by people all too little known to be of much use;
besides that, constant refusals all through the summer had somewhat
disheartened me. At all events, my rent was due, and I must raise the
wind for that; the rest would have to wait a little.
Quite involuntarily I had got paper and pencil into my hand again,
and I sat and wrote mechanically the date, 1848, in each corner. If
only now one single effervescing thought would grip me powerfully, and
put words into my mouth. Why, I had known hours when I could write a
long piece, without the least exertion, and turn it off capitally, too.
I am sitting on the seat, and I write, scores of times, 1848. I
write this date criss-cross, in all possible fashions, and wait until a
workable idea shall occur to me. A swarm of loose thoughts flutter
about in my head. The feeling of declining day makes me downcast,
sentimental; autumn is here, and has already begun to hush everything
into sleep and torpor. The flies and insects have received their first
warning. Up in the trees and down in the fields the sounds of
struggling life can be heard rustling, murmuring, restless; labouring
not to perish. The down-trodden existence of the whole insect world is
astir for yet a little while. They poke their yellow heads up from the
turf, lift their legs, feel their way with long feelers and then
collapse suddenly, roll over, and turn their bellies in the air.
Every growing thing has received its peculiar impress: the
delicately blown breath of the first cold. The stubbles straggle wanly
sunwards, and the falling leaves rustle to the earth, with a sound as
of errant silkworms.
It is the reign of Autumn, the height of the Carnival of Decay, the
roses have got inflammation in their blushes, an uncanny hectic tinge,
through their soft damask.
I felt myself like a creeping thing on the verge of destruction,
gripped by ruin in the midst of a whole world ready for lethargic
sleep. I rose, oppressed by weird terrors, and took some furious
strides down the path. No! I cried out, clutching both my hands;
there must be an end to this, and I reseated myself, grasped the
pencil, and set seriously to work at an article.
There was no possible use in giving way, with the unpaid rent
staring me straight in the face.
Slowly, quite slowly, my thoughts collected. I paid attention to
them, and wrote quietly and well; wrote a couple of pages as an
introduction. It would serve as a beginning to anything. A description
of travel, a political leader, just as I thought fitit was a
perfectly splendid commencement for something or anything. So I took to
seeking for some particular subject to handle, a person or a thing,
that I might grapple with, and I could find nothing. Along with this
fruitless exertion, disorder began to hold its sway again in my
thoughts. I felt how my brain positively snapped and my head emptied,
until it sat at last, light, buoyant, and void on my shoulders. I was
conscious of the gaping vacuum in my skull with every fibre of my
being. I seemed to myself to be hollowed out from top and toe.
In my pain I cried: Lord, my God and Father! and repeated this cry
many times at a stretch, without adding one word more.
The wind soughed through the trees; a storm was brewing. I sat a
while longer, and gazed at my paper, lost in thought, then folded it up
and put it slowly into my pocket. It got chilly; and I no longer owned
a waistcoat. I buttoned my coat right up to my throat and thrust my
hands in my pockets; thereupon I rose and went on.
If I had only succeeded this time, just this once. Twice my landlady
had asked me with her eyes for payment, and I was obliged to hang my
head and slink past her with a shamefaced air. I could not do it again:
the very next time I met those eyes I would give warning and account
for myself honestly. Well, any way, things could not last long at this
On coming to the exit of the park I saw the old chap I had put to
flight. The mysterious new paper parcel lay opened on the seat next
him, filled with different sorts of victuals, of which he ate as he
sat. I immediately wanted to go over and ask pardon for my conduct, but
the sight of food repelled me. The decrepit fingers looked like ten
claws as they clutched loathsomely at the greasy bread and butter; I
felt qualmish, and passed by without addressing him. He did not
recognize me; his eyes stared at me, dry as horn, and his face did not
move a muscle.
And so I went on my way.
As customary, I halted before every newspaper placard I came to, to
read the announcements of situations vacant, and was lucky enough to
find one that I might try for.
A grocer in Groenlandsleret wanted a man every week for a couple of
hours' book-keeping; remuneration according to agreement. I noted my
man's address, and prayed to God in silence for this place. I would
demand less than any one else for my work; sixpence was ample, or
perhaps fivepence. That would not matter in the least.
On going home, a slip of paper from my landlady lay on my table, in
which she begged me to pay my rent in advance, or else move as soon as
I could. I must not be offended, it was absolutely a necessary request.
Friendlily Mrs. Gundersen.
I wrote an application to Christy the grocer, No. 13
Groenlandsleret, put it in an envelope, and took it to the pillar at
the corner. Then I returned to my room and sat down in the
rocking-chair to think, whilst the darkness grew closer and closer.
Sitting up late began to be difficult now.
I woke very early in the morning. It was still quite dark as I
opened my eyes, and it was not till long after that I heard five
strokes of the clock down-stairs. I turned round to doze again, but
sleep had down. I grew more and more wakeful, and lay and thought of a
Suddenly a few good sentences fitted for a sketch or story strike
me, delicate linguistic hits of which I have never before found the
equal. I lie and repeat these words over to myself, and find that they
are capital. Little by little others come and fit themselves to the
preceding ones. I grow keenly wakeful. I get up and snatch paper and
pencil from the table behind my bed. It was as if a vein had burst in
me; one word follows another, and they fit themselves together
harmoniously with telling effect. Scene piles on scene, actions and
speeches bubble up in my brain, and a wonderful sense of pleasure
empowers me. I write as one possessed, and fill page after page,
without a moment's pause.
Thoughts come so swiftly to me and continue to flow so richly that I
miss a number of telling bits, that I cannot set down quickly enough,
although I work with all my might. They continue to invade me; I am
full of my subject, and every word I write is inspired.
This strange period lastslasts such a blessedly long time before
it comes to an end. I have fifteentwenty written pages lying on my
knees before me, when at last I cease and lay my pencil aside, So sure
as there is any worth in these pages, so sure am I saved. I jump out of
bed and dress myself, It grows lighter. I can half distinguish the
lighthouse director's announcement down near the door, and near the
window it is already so light that I could, in case of necessity, see
to write. I set to work immediately to make a fair copy of what I have
An intense, peculiar exhalation of light and colour emanates from
these fantasies of mine. I start with surprise as I note one good thing
after another, and tell myself that this is the best thing I have ever
read. My head swims with a sense of satisfaction; delight inflates me;
I grow grandiose.
I weigh my writing in my hand, and value it, at a loose guess, for
five shillings on the spot.
It could never enter any one's head to chaffer about five shillings;
on the contrary, getting it for half-a-sovereign might be considered
dirt-cheap, considering the quality of the thing.
I had no intention of turning off such special work gratis. As far
as I was aware, one did not pick up stories of that kind on the
wayside, and I decided on half-a-sovereign.
The room brightened and brightened. I threw a glance towards the
door, and could distinguish without particular trouble the
skeleton-like letters of Miss Andersen's winding-sheet advertisement to
the right of it. It was also a good while since the clock has struck
I rose and came to a standstill in the middle of the floor.
Everything well considered, Mrs. Gundersen's warning came rather
opportunely. This was, properly speaking, no fit room for me: there
were only common enough green curtains at the windows, and neither were
there any pegs too many on the wall. The poor little rocking-chair over
in the corner was in reality a mere attempt at a rocking-chair; with
the smallest sense of humour, one might easily split one's sides with
laughter at it. It was far too low for a grown man, and besides that,
one needed, so to speak, the aid of a boot-jack to get out of it. To
cut it short, the room was not adopted for the pursuit of things
intellectual, and I did not intend to keep it any longer. On no account
would I keep it. I had held my peace, and endured and lived far too
long in such a den.
Buoyed up by hope and satisfaction, constantly occupied with my
remarkable sketch, which I drew forth every moment from my pocket and
re-read, I determined to set seriously to work with my flitting. I took
out my bundle, a red handkerchief that contained a few clean collars
and some crumpled newspapers, in which I had occasionally carried home
bread. I rolled my blanket up and pocketed my reserve white
writing-paper. Then I ransacked every corner to assure myself that I
had left nothing behind, and as I could not find anything, went over to
the window and looked out.
The morning was gloomy and wet; there was no one about at the
burnt-out smithy, and the clothesline down in the yard stretched
tightly from wall to wall shrunken by the wet. It was all familiar to
me, so I stepped back from the window, took the blanket under my arm,
and made a low bow to the lighthouse director's announcement, bowed
again to Miss Andersen's winding-sheet advertisement, and opened the
door. Suddenly the thought of my land-lady struck me; she really ought
to be informed of my leaving, so that she could see she had had an
honest soul to deal with.
I wanted also to thank her in writing for the few days' overtime in
which I occupied the room. The certainty that I was now saved for some
time to come increased so strongly in me that I even promised her five
shillings. I would call in some day when passing by.
Besides that, I wanted to prove to her what an upright sort of
person her roof had sheltered.
I left the note behind me on the table.
Once again I stopped at the door and turned round; the buoyant
feeling of having risen once again to the surface charmed me, and made
me feel grateful towards God and all creation, and I knelt down at the
bedside and thanked God aloud for His great goodness to me that
I knew it; ah! I knew that the rapture of inspiration I had just
felt and noted down was a miraculous heaven-brew in my spirit in answer
to my yesterday's cry for aid.
It was God! It was God! I cried to myself, and I wept for
enthusiasm over my own words; now and then I had to stop and listen if
any one was on the stairs. At last I rose up and prepared to go. I
stole noiselessly down each flight and reached the door unseen.
The streets were glistening from the rain which had fallen in the
early morning. The sky hung damp and heavy over the town, and there was
no glint of sunlight visible. I wondered what the day would bring
forth? I went as usual in the direction of the Town Hall, and saw that
it was half-past eight. I had yet a few hours to walk about; there was
no use in going to the newspaper office before ten, perhaps eleven. I
must lounge about so long, and think, in the meantime, over some
expedient to raise breakfast. For that matter, I had no fear of going
to bed hungry that day; those times were over, God be praised! That was
a thing of the past, an evil dream. Henceforth, Excelsior!
But, in the meanwhile, the green blanket was a trouble to me.
Neither could I well make myself conspicuous by carrying such a thing
about right under people's eyes. What would any one think of me? And as
I went on I tried to think of a place where I could have it kept till
later on. It occurred to me that I might go into Semb's and get it
wrapped up in paper; not only would it look better, but I need no
longer be ashamed of carrying it.
I entered the shop, and stated my errand to one of the shop boys.
He looked first at the blanket, then at me. It struck me that he
shrugged his shoulders to himself a little contemptuously as he took
it; this annoyed me.
Young man, I cried, do be a little careful! There are two costly
glass vases in that; the parcel has to go to Smyrna.
This had a famous effect. The fellow apologized with every movement
he made for not having guessed that there was something out of the
common in this blanket. When he had finished packing it up I thanked
him with the air of a man who had sent precious goods to Smyrna before
now. He held the door open for me, and bowed twice as I left.
I began to wander about amongst the people in the market place, kept
from choice near the woman who had potted plants for sale. The heavy
crimson rosesthe leaves of which glowed blood-like and moist in the
damp morningmade me envious, and tempted me sinfully to snatch one,
and I inquired the price of them merely as an excuse to approach as
near to them as possible.
If I had any money over I would buy one, no matter how things went;
indeed, I might well save a little now and then out of my way of living
to balance things again.
It was ten o'clock, and I went up to the newspaper office.
Scissors is running through a lot of old papers. The editor has not
come yet. On being asked my business, I delivered my weighty
manuscript, lead him to suppose that it is something of more than
uncommon importance, and impress upon his memory gravely that he is to
give it into we editor's own hands as soon as he arrives.
I would myself call later on in the day for an answer.
All right, replied Scissors, and busied himself again with his
It seemed to me that he treated the matter somewhat too coolly; but
I said nothing, only nodded rather carelessly to him, and left.
I had now time on hand! If it would only clear up! It was perfectly
wretched weather, without either wind or freshness. Ladies carried
their umbrellas, to be on the safe side, and the woollen caps of the
men looked limp and depressing.
I took another turn across the market and looked at the vegetables
and roses. I feel a hand on my shoulder and turn roundMissy bids me
good morning! Good-morning! I say in return, a little questioningly.
I never cared particularly for Missy.
He looks inquisitively at the large brand-new parcel under my arm,
What have you got there?
Oh, I have been down to Semb and got some cloth for a suit, I
reply, in a careless tone. I didn't think I could rub on any longer;
there's such a thing as treating oneself too shabbily.
He looks at me with an amazed start.
By the way, how are you getting on? He asks it slowly.
Oh, beyond all expectation!
Then you have got something to do now?
Something to do? I answer and seem surprised. Rather! Why, I am
book-keeper at Christensen'sa wholesale house.
Oh, indeed! he remarks and draws back a little.
Well, God knows I am the first to be pleased at your success. If
only you don't let people beg the money from you that you earn.
A second after he wheels round and comes back and, pointing with his
cane to my parcel, says:
I would recommend my tailor to you for the suit of clothes. You
won't find a better tailor than Isaksenjust say I sent you, that's
This was really rather more than I could swallow. What did he want
to poke his nose in my affairs for? Was it any concern of his which
tailor I employed? The sight of this empty-headed dandified masher
embittered me, and I reminded him rather brutally of ten shilling he
had borrowed from me. But before he could reply I regretted that I had
asked for it. I got ashamed and avoided meeting his eyes, and, as a
lady came by just then, I stepped hastily aside to let her pass, and
seized the opportunity to proceed on my way.
What should I do with myself whilst I waited? I could not visit a
cafe with empty pockets, and I knew of no acquaintance that I could
call on at this time of day. I wended my way instinctively up town,
killed a good deal of time between the marketplace and the Graendsen,
read the Aftenpost, which was newly posted up on the board
outside the office, took a turn down Carl Johann, wheeled round and
went straight on to Our Saviour's Cemetery, where I found a quiet seat
on the slope near the Mortuary Chapel.
I sat there in complete quietness, dozed in the damp air, mused,
half-slept and shivered.
And time passed. Now, was it certain that the story really was a
little masterpiece of inspired art? God knows if it might not have its
faults here and there. All things well weighed, it was not certain that
it would be accepted; no, simply not even accepted. It was perhaps
mediocre enough in its way, perhaps downright worthless. What security
had I that it was not already at this moment lying in the waste-paper
basket?... My confidence was shaken. I sprang up and stormed out of the
Down in Akersgaden I peeped into a shop window, and saw that it was
only a little past noon. There was no use in looking up the editor
before four. The fate of my story filled me with gloomy forebodings;
the more I thought about it the more absurd it seemed to me that I
could have written anything useable with such suddenness, half-asleep,
with my brain full of fever and dreams. Of course I had deceived myself
and been happy all through the long morning for nothing!... Of
course!... I rushed with hurried strides up Ullavold-sveien, past St.
Han's Hill, until I came to the open fields; on through the narrow
quaint lanes in Sagene, past waste plots and small tilled fields, and
found myself at last on a country road, the end of which I could not
Here I halted and decided to turn.
I was warm from the walk, and returned slowly and very downcast. I
met two hay-carts. The drivers were lying flat upon the top of their
loads, and sang. Both were bare-headed, and both had round, care-free
faces. I passed them and thought to myself that they were sure to
accost me, sure to fling some taunt or other at me, play me some trick;
and as I got near enough, one of them called out and asked what I had
under my arm?
What o'clock is it? he asked then.
I don't know rightly; about three, I think! Whereupon they both
laughed and drove on. I felt at the same moment the lash of a whip curl
round one of my ears, and my hat was jerked off. They couldn't let me
pass without playing me a trick. I raised my hand to my head more or
less confusedly, picked my hat out of the ditch, and continued on my
way. Down at St. Han's Hill I met a man who told me it was past four.
Past four! already past four! I mended my pace, nearly ran down to the
town, turned off towards the news office. Perhaps the editor had been
there hours ago, and had left the office by now. I ran, jostled against
folk, stumbled, knocked against cars, left everybody behind me,
competed with the very horses, struggled like a madman to arrive there
in time. I wrenched through the door, took the stairs in four bounds,
He has left, he has left, I think. I try the door which is open,
knock once again, and enter. The editor is sitting at his table, his
face towards the window, pen in hand, about to write. When he hears my
breathless greeting he turns half round, steals a quick look at me,
shakes his head, and says:
Oh, I haven't found time to read your sketch yet.
I am so delighted, because in that case he has not rejected it, that
Oh, pray, sir, don't mention it. I quite understandthere is no
hurry; in a few days, perhaps
Yes, I shall see; besides, I have your address.
I forgot to inform him that I no longer had an address, and the
interview is over. I bow myself out, and leave. Hope flames up again in
me; as yet, nothing is loston the contrary, I might, for that matter,
yet win all. And my brain began to spin a romance about a great council
in Heaven, in which it had just been resolved that I should winay,
triumphantly win ten shillings for a story.
If I only had some place in which to take refuge for the night! I
consider where I can stow myself away, and am so absorbed in this query
that I come to a standstill in the middle of the street. I forget where
I am, and pose like a solitary beacon on a rock in mid-sea, whilst the
tides rush and roar about it.
A newspaper boy offers me The Viking.
It's real good value, sir!
I look up and start; I am outside Semb's shop again. I quickly turn
to the right-about, holding the parcel in front of me, and hurry down
Kirkegaden, ashamed and afraid that any one might have seen me from the
window. I pass by Ingebret's and the theatre, turn round by the
box-office, and go towards the sea, near the fortress. I find a seat
once more, and begin to consider afresh.
Where in the world shall I find a shelter for the night?
Was there a hole to be found where I could creep in and hide myself
till morning? My pride forbade my returning to my lodgingbesides, it
could never really occur to me to go back on my word; I rejected this
thought with great scorn, and I smiled superciliously as I thought of
the little red rocking-chair. By some association of ideas, I find
myself suddenly transported to a large, double room I once occupied in
Haegdehaugen. I could see a tray on the table, filled with great slices
of bread-and-butter. The vision changed; it was transformed into
beefa seductive piece of beefa snow-white napkin, bread in plenty,
a silver fork. The door opened; enter my landlady, offering me more
Visions; senseless dreams! I tell myself that were I to get food now
my head would become dizzy once more, fever would fill my brain, and I
would have to fight again against many mad fancies. I could not stomach
food, my inclination did not lie that way; that was peculiar to mean
idiosyncrasy of mine.
Maybe as night drew on a way could be found to procure shelter.
There was no hurry; at the worst, I could seek a place out in the
woods. I had the entire environs of the city at my disposal; as yet,
there was no degree of cold worth speaking of in the weather.
And outside there the sea rocked in drowsy rest; ships and clumsy,
broad-nosed prams ploughed graves in its bluish surface, and scattered
rays to the right and left, and glided on, whilst the smoke rolled up
in downy masses from the chimney-stacks, and the stroke of the engine
pistons pierced the clammy air with a dull sound. There was no sun and
no wind; the trees behind me were almost wet, and the seat upon which I
sat was cold and damp.
Time went. I settled down to doze, waxed tired, and a little shiver
ran down my back. A while after I felt that my eyelids began to droop,
and I let them droop....
When I awoke it was dark all around me. I started up, bewildered and
freezing. I seized my parcel and commenced to walk. I went faster and
faster in order to get warm, slapped my arms, chafed my legswhich by
now I could hardly feel under meand thus reached the watch-house of
the fire brigade. It was nine o'clock; I had been asleep for several
Whatever shall I do with myself? I must go to some place. I stand
there and stare up at the watch-house, and query if it would not be
possible to succeed in getting into one of the passages if I were to
watch for a moment when the watchman's back was turned. I ascend the
steps, and prepare to open a conversation with the man. He lifts his ax
in salute, and waits for what I may have to say. The uplifted ax, with
its edge turned against me, darts like a cold slash through my nerves.
I stand dumb with terror before this armed man, and draw involuntarily
back. I say nothing, only glide farther and farther away from him. To
save appearances I draw my hand over my forehead, as if I had forgotten
something or other, and slink away. When I reached the pavement I felt
as much saved as if I had just escaped a great peril, and I hurried
Cold and famished, more and more miserable in spirit, I flew up Carl
Johann. I began to swear out aloud, troubling myself not a whit as to
whether any one heard me or not. Arrived at Parliament House, just near
the first trees, I suddenly, by some association of ideas, bethought
myself of a young artist I knew, a stripling I had once saved from an
assault in the Tivoli, and upon whom I had called later on. I snap my
fingers gleefully, and wend my way to Tordenskjiolds Street, find the
door, on which is fastened a card with C. Zacharias Bartel on it, and
He came out himself, and smelt so fearfully of ale and tobacco that
it was horrible.
Good-evening! I say.
Good-evening! is that you? Now, why the deuce do you come so late?
It doesn't look at all its best by lamplight. I have added a hayrick to
it since, and have made a few other alterations. You must see it by
daylight; there is no use our trying to see it now!
Let me have a look at it now, all the same, said I; though, for
that matter, I did not in the least remember what picture he was
Absolutely impossible, he replied; the whole thing will look
yellow; and, besides, there's another thingand he came towards me,
whispering: I have a little girl inside this evening, so it's clearly
Oh, in that case, of course there's no question about it.
I drew back, said good-night, and went away.
So there was no way out of it but to seek some place out in the
woods. If only the fields were not so damp. I patted my blanket, and
felt more and more at home at the thought of sleeping out. I had
worried myself so long trying to find a shelter in town that I was
wearied and bored with the whole affair. It would be a positive
pleasure to get to rest, to resign myself; so I loaf down the street
without thought in my head. At a place in Haegdehaugen I halted outside
a provision shop where some food was displayed in the window. A cat lay
there and slept beside a round French roll. There was a basin of lard
and several basins of meal in the background. I stood a while and gazed
at these eatables; but as I had no money wherewith to buy, I turned
quickly away and continued my tramp. I went very slowly, passed by
Majorstuen, went on, always onit seemed to me for hours,and came at
length at Bogstad's wood.
I turned off the road here, and sat down to rest. Then I began to
look about for a place to suit me, to gather together heather and
juniper leaves, and make up a bed on a little declivity where it was a
bit dry. I opened the parcel and took out the blanket; I was tired and
exhausted with the long walk, and lay down at once. I turned and
twisted many times before I could get settled. My ear pained me a
littleit was slightly swollen from the whip-lashand I could not lie
on it. I pulled off my shoes and put them under my head, with the paper
from Semb on top.
And the great spirit of darkness spread a shroud over me ...
everything was silenteverything. But up in the heights soughed the
everlasting song, the voice of the air, the distant, toneless humming
which is never silent. I listened so long to this ceaseless faint
murmur that it began to bewilder me; it was surely a symphony from the
rolling spheres above. Stars that intone a song....
I am damned if it is, though, I exclaimed; and I laughed aloud to
collect my wits. They're night-owls hooting in Canaan!
I rose again, pulled on my shoes, and wandered about in the gloom,
only to lay down once more. I fought and wrestled with anger and fear
until nearly dawn, then fell asleep at last.
* * * * *
It was broad daylight when I opened my eyes, and I had a feeling
that it was going on towards noon.
I pulled on my shoes, packed up the blanket again, and set out for
town. There was no sun to be seen today either; I shivered like a dog,
my feet were benumbed, and water commenced to run from my eyes, as if
they could not bear the daylight.
It was three o'clock. Hunger began to assail me downright in
earnest. I was faint, and now and again I had to retch furtively. I
swung round by the Dampkökken, [Footnote: Steam cooking-kitchen and
famous cheap eating-house] read the bill of fare, and shrugged my
shoulders in a way to attract attention, as if corned beef or salt port
was not meet food for me. After that I went towards the railway
A singular sense of confusion suddenly darted through my head. I
stumbled on, determined not to heed it; but I grew worse and worse, and
was forced at last to sit down on a step. My whole being underwent a
change, as if something had slid aside in my inner self, or as if a
curtain or tissue of my brain was rent in two.
I was not unconscious; I felt that my ear was gathering a little,
and, as an acquaintance passed by, I recognized him at once and got up
What sore of fresh, painful perception was this that was being added
to the rest? Was it a consequence of sleeping in the sodden fields, or
did it arise from my not having had any breakfast yet? Looking the
whole thing squarely in the face, there was no meaning in living on in
this manner, by Christ's holy pains, there wasn't. I failed to see
either how I had made myself deserving of this special persecution; and
it suddenly entered my head that I might just as well turn rogue at
once and go to my Uncle's with the blanket. I could pawn it for a
shilling, and get three full meals, and so keep myself going until I
thought of something else. 'Tis true I would have to swindle Hans
Pauli. I was already on my way to the pawn-shop, but stopped outside
the door, shook my head irresolutely, then turned back. The farther
away I got the more gladsome, ay, delighted I became, that I had
conquered this strong temptation. The consciousness that I was yet pure
and honourable rose to my head, filled me with a splendid sense of
having principle, character, of being a shining white beacon in a
muddy, human sea amidst floating wreck.
Pawn another man's property for the sake of a meal, eat and drink
one's self to perdition, brand one's soul with the first little scar,
set the first black mark against one's honour, call one's self a
blackguard to one's own face, and needs must cast one's eyes down
before one's self? Never! never! It could never have been my serious
intentionit had really never seriously taken hold of me; in fact, I
could not be answerable for every loose, fleeting, desultory thought,
particularly with such a headache as I had, and nearly killed carrying
a blanket, too, that belonged to another fellow.
There would surely be some way or another of getting help when the
right time came! Now, there was the grocer in Groenlandsleret. Had I
importuned him every hour in the day since I sent in my application?
Had I rung the bell early and late, and been turned away? Why, I had
not even applied personally to him or sought an answer! It did not
follow, surely, that it must needs be an absolutely vain attempt.
Maybe I had luck with me this time. Luck often took such a devious
course, and I started for Groenlandsleret.
The last spasm that had darted through my head had exhausted me a
little, and I walked very slowly and thought over what I would say to
Perhaps he was a good soul; if the whim seized him he might pay me
for my work a shilling in advance, even without my asking for it.
People of that sort had sometimes the most capital ideas.
I stole into a doorway and blackened the knees of my trousers with
spittle to try and make them look a little respectable, left the parcel
behind me in a dark corner at the back of a chest, and entered the
A man is standing pasting together bags made of old newspaper.
I would like to see Mr. Christie, I said.
That's me! replied the man.
Indeed! Well, my name was so-and-so. I had taken the liberty of
sending him an application, I did not know if it had been of any use.
He repeated my name a couple of times and commenced to laugh.
Well now, you shall see, he said, taking my letter out of his
breast-pocket, if you will just be good enough to see how you deal
with dates, sir. You dated your letter 1848, and the man roared with
Yes, that was rather a mistake, I said, abasheda distraction, a
want of thought; I admitted it.
You see I must have a man who, as a matter of fact, makes no
mistakes in figures, said he. I regret it, your handwriting is clear,
and I like your letter, too, but
I waited a while; this could not possibly be the man's final say. He
busied himself again with the bags.
Yes, it was a pity, I said; really an awful pity, but of course
it would not occur again; and, after all, surely this little error
could not have rendered me quite unfit to keep books?
No, I didn't say that, he answered, but in the meantime it had so
much weight with me that I decided at once upon another man.
So the place is filled?
Ah, well, then there's nothing more to be said about it!
No! I'm sorry, but
Good-evening! said I.
Fury welled up in me, blazing with brutal strength. I fetched my
parcel from the entry, set my teeth together, jostled against the
peaceful folk on the footpath, and never once asked their pardon.
As one man stopped and set me to rights rather sharply for my
behaviour, I turned round and screamed a single meaningless word in his
ear, clenched my fist right under his nose, and stumbled on, hardened
by a blind rage that I could not control.
He called a policeman, and I desired nothing better than to have one
between my hands just for one moment. I slackened my pace intentionally
in order to give him an opportunity of overtaking me; but he did not
come. Was there now any reason whatever that absolutely every one of
one's most earnest and most persevering efforts should fail? Why, too,
had I written 1848? In what way did that infernal date concern me? Here
I was going about starving, so that my entrails wriggle together in me
like worms, and it was, as far as I knew, not decreed in the book of
fate that anything in the shape of food would turn up later on in the
I was becoming mentally and physically more and more prostrate; I
was letting myself down each day to less and less honest actions, so
that I lied on each day without blushing, cheated poor people out of
their rent, struggled with the meanest thoughts of making away with
other men's blanketsall without remorse or prick of conscience.
Foul places began to gather in my inner being, black spores which
spread more and more. And up in Heaven God Almighty sat and kept a
watchful eye on me, and took heed that my destruction proceeded
in accordance with all the rules of art, uniformly and gradually,
without a break in the measure.
But in the abysses of hell the angriest devils bristled with range
because it lasted such a long time until I committed a mortal sin, an
unpardonable offence for which God in His justice must cast
I quickened my pace, hurried faster and faster, turned suddenly to
the left and found myself, excited and angry, in a light ornate
doorway. I did not pause, not for one second, but the whole peculiar
ornamentation of the entrance struck on my perception in a flash; every
detail of the decoration and the tiling of the floor stood clear on my
mental vision as I sprang up the stairs. I rang violently on the second
floor. Why should I stop exactly on the second floor? And why just
seize hold of this bell which was some little way from the stairs?
A young lady in a grey gown with black trimming came out and opened
the door. She looked for a moment in astonishment at me, then shook her
head and said:
No, we have not got anything today, and she made a feint to close
What induced me to thrust myself in this creature's way? She took me
without further ado for a beggar.
I got cool and collected at once. I raised my hat, made a respectful
bow, and, as if I had not caught her words, said, with the utmost
I hope you will excuse me, madam, for ringing so hard, the bell was
new to me. Is it not here that an invalid gentleman lives who has
advertised for a man to wheel him about in a chair?
She stood awhile and digested this mendacious invention and seemed
to be irresolute in her summing up of my person.
No! she said at length; no, there is no invalid gentleman living
Not really? An elderly gentlemantwo hours a daysixpence an
Ah! in that case, I again ask pardon, said I. It is perhaps on
the first floor. I only wanted, in any case, to recommend a man I know,
in whom I am interested; my name is Wedel-Jarlsberg, [Footnote: The
last family bearing title of nobility in Norway.] and I bowed again and
drew back. The young lady blushed crimson, and in her embarrassment
could not stir from the spot, but stood and stared after me as I
descended the stairs.
My calm had returned to me, and my head was clear. The lady's saying
that she had nothing for me today had acted upon me like an icy shower.
So it had gone so far with me that any one might point at me, and say
to himself, There goes a beggarone of those people who get their
food handed out to them at folk's back-doors!
I halted outside an eating-house in Möller Street, and sniffed the
fresh smell of meat roasting inside; my hand was already upon the
door-handle, and I was on the point of entering without any fixed
purpose, when I bethought myself in time, and left the spot. On
reaching the market, and seeking for a place to rest for a little, I
found all the benches occupied, and I sought in vain all round outside
the church for a quiet seat, where I could sit down.
Naturally, I told myself, gloomilynaturally, naturally; and I
commenced to walk again. I took a turn round the fountain at the corner
of the bazaar, and swallowed a mouthful of water. On again, dragging
one foot after the other; stopped for a long time before each shop
window; halted, and watched every vehicle that drove by. I felt a
scorching heat in my head, and something pulsated strangely in my
temples. The water I had drunk disagreed with me fearfully, and I
retched, stopping here and there to escape being noticed in the open
street. In this manner I came up to Our Saviour's Cemetery.
I sat down here, with my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands.
In this cramped position I was more at ease, and I no longer felt the
little gnawing in my chest.
A stone-cutter lay on his stomach on a large slab of granite, at the
side of me, and cut inscriptions. He had blue spectacles on, and
reminded me of an acquaintance of mine, whom I had almost forgotten.
If I could only knock all shame on the head and apply to him. Tell
him the truth right out, that things were getting awfully tight with me
now; ay, that I found it hard enough to keep alive. I could give him my
Zounds! my shaving-tickets; tickets for nearly a shilling. I search
nervously for this precious treasure. As I do not find them quickly
enough, I spring to my feet and search, in a sweat of fear. I discover
them at last in the bottom of my breast-pocket, together with other
paperssome clean, some written onof no value.
I count these six tickets over many times, backwards and forwards; I
had not much use for them; it might pass for a whima notion of
minethat I no longer cared to get shaved.
I was saved to the extent of sixpencea white sixpence of Kongsberg
silver. The bank closed at six; I could watch for my man outside the
Opland Café between seven and eight.
I sat, and was for a long time pleased with this thought. Time went.
The wind blew lustily through the chestnut trees around me, and the day
After all, was it not rather petty to come slinking up with six
shaving-tickets to a young gentleman holding a good position in a bank?
Perhaps, he had already a book, maybe two, quite full of spick and span
tickets, a contrast to the crumpled ones I held.
Who could tell? I felt in all my pockets for anything else I could
let go with them, but found nothing. If I could only offer him my tie?
I could well do without it if I buttoned my coat tightly up, which, by
the way, I was already obliged to do, as I had no waistcoat. I untied
itit was a large overlapping bow which hid half my chest,brushed it
carefully, and folded it up in a piece of clean white writing-paper,
together with the tickets. Then I left the churchyard and took the road
leading to the Opland.
It was seven by the Town Hall clock. I walked up and down hard by
the café, kept close to the iron railings, and kept a sharp watch on
all who went in and came out of the door. At last, about eight o'clock,
I saw the young fellow, fresh, elegantly dressed, coming up the hill
and across to the cafe door. My heart fluttered like a little bird in
my breast as I caught sight of him, and I blurted out, without even a
Sixpence, old friend! I said, putting on cheek; here is the worth
of it, and I thrust the little packet into his hand.
Haven't got it, he exclaimed. God knows if I have! and he turned
his purse inside out right before my eyes. I was out last night and
got totally cleared out! You must believe me, I literally haven't got
No, no, my dear fellow; I suppose it is so, I answered, and I took
his word for it. There was, indeed, no reason why he should lie about
such a trifling matter. It struck me, too, that his blue eyes were
moist whilst he ransacked his pockets and found nothing. I drew back.
Excuse me, I said; it was only just that I was a bit hard up. I was
already a piece down the street, when he called after me about the
little packet. Keep it! keep it, I answered; you are welcome to it.
There are only a few trifles in ita bagatelle; about all I own in the
world, and I became so touched at my own words, they sounded so
pathetic in the twilight, that I fell a-weeping....
The wind freshened, the clouds chased madly across the heavens, and
it grew cooler and cooler as it got darker. I walked, and cried as I
walked, down the whole street; felt more and more commiseration with
myself, and repeated, time after time, a few words, an ejaculation,
which called forth fresh tears whenever they were on the point of
ceasing: Lord God, I feel so wretched! Lord God, I feel so wretched!
An hour passed; passed with such strange slowness, such weariness. I
spent a long time in Market Street; sat on steps, stole into doorways,
and when any one approached, stood and stared absently into the shops
where people bustled about with wares or money. At last I found myself
a sheltered place, behind a deal hoarding, between the church and the
No; I couldn't go out into the woods again this evening. Things must
take their course. I had not strength enough to go, and it was such an
endless way there. I would kill the night as best I could, and remain
where I was; if it got all too cold, well, I could walk round the
church. I would not in any case worry myself any more about that, and I
leant back and dozed.
The noise around me diminished; the shops closed. The steps of the
pedestrians sounded more and more rarely, and in all the windows about
the lights went out. I opened my eyes, and became aware of a figure
standing in front of me. The flash of shining buttons told me it was a
policeman, though I could not see the man's face.
Good-night, he said.
Good-night, I answered and got afraid.
Where do you live? he queried.
I name, from habit, and without thought, my old address, the little
He stood for a while.
Have I done anything wrong? I asked anxiously.
No, not at all! he replied; but you had perhaps better be getting
home now; it's cold lying here.
Ay, that's true; I feel it is a little chilly. I said good-night,
and instinctively took the road to my old abode. If I only set about it
carefully, I might be able to get upstairs without being heard; there
were eight steps in all, and only the two top ones creaked under my
tread. Down at the door I took off my shoes, and ascended. It was quiet
everywhere. I could hear the slow tick-tack of a clock, and a child
crying a little. After that I heard nothing. I found my door, lifted
the latch as I was accustomed to do, entered the room, and shut the
door noiselessly after me.
Everything was as I had left it. The curtains were pulled aside from
the windows, and the bed stood empty. I caught a glimpse of a note
lying on the table; perhaps it was my note to the landladyshe might
never have been up here since I went away.
I fumbled with my hands over the white spot, and felt, to my
astonishment, that it was a letter. I take it over to the window,
examine as well as it is possible in the dark the badly-written letters
of the address, and make out at least my own name. Ah, I thought, an
answer from my landlady, forbidding me to enter the room again if I
were for sneaking back.
Slowly, quite slowly I left the room, carrying my shoes in one hand,
the letter in the other, and the blanket under my arm. I draw myself
up, set my teeth as I tread on the creaking steps, get happily down the
stairs, and stand once more at the door. I put on my shoes, take my
time with the laces, sit a while quietly after I'm ready, and stare
vacantly before me, holding the letter in my hand. Then I get up and
The flickering ray of a gas lamp gleams up the street. I make
straight for the light, lean my parcel against the lamp-post and open
the letter. All this with the utmost deliberation. A stream of light,
as it were, darts through my breast, and I hear that I give a little
crya meaningless sound of joy. The letter was from the editor. My
story was acceptedhad been set in type immediately, straight off! A
few slight alterations.... A couple of errors in writing amended....
Worked out with talent ... be printed tomorrow ... half-a-sovereign.
I laughed and cried, took to jumping and running down the street,
stopped, slapped my thighs, swore loudly and solemnly into space at
nothing in particular. And time went.
All through the night until the bright dawn I jodled about the
streets and repeatedWorked out with talenttherefore a little
masterpiecea stroke of geniusand half-a-sovereign.
A few weeks later I was out one evening. Once more I had sat out in
a churchyard and worked at an article for one of the newspapers. But
whilst I was struggling with it eight o'clock struck, and darkness
closed in, and time for shutting the gates.
I was hungryvery hungry. The ten shillings had, worse luck, lasted
all too short. It was now two, ay, nearly three days since I had eaten
anything, and I felt somewhat faint; holding the pencil even had taxed
me a little. I had half a penknife and a bunch of keys in my pocket,
but not a farthing.
When the churchyard gate shut I meant to have gone straight home,
but, from an instinctive dread of my rooma vacant tinker's workshop,
where all was dark and barren, and which, in fact, I had got permission
to occupy for the presentI stumbled on, passed, not caring where I
went, the Town Hall, right to the sea, and over to a scat near the
At this moment not a sad thought troubled me. I forgot my distress,
and felt calmed by the view of the sea, which lay peaceful and lovely
in the murkiness. For old habit's sake I would please myself by reading
through the bit I had just written, and which seemed to my suffering
head the best thing I had ever done.
I took my manuscript out of my pocket to try and decipher it, held
it close up to my eyes, and ran through it, one line after the other.
At last I got tired, and put the papers back in my pocket. Everything
was still. The sea stretched away in pearly blueness, and little birds
flitted noiselessly by me from place to place.
A policeman patrols in the distance; otherwise there is not a soul
visible, and the whole harbour is hushed in quiet.
I count my belongings once morehalf a penknife, a bunch of keys,
but not a farthing. Suddenly I dive into my pocket and take the papers
out again. It was a mechanical movement, an unconscious nervous twitch.
I selected a white unwritten page, andGod knows where I got the
notion frombut I made a cornet, closed it carefully, so that it
looked as if it were filled with something, and threw it far out on to
the pavement. The breeze blew it onward a little, and then it lay
By this time hunger had begun to assail me in earnest. I sat and
looked at the white paper cornet, which seemed as if it might be
bursting with shining silver pieces, and incited myself to believe that
it really did contain something. I sat and coaxed myself quite audibly
to guess the sum; if I guessed aright, it was to be mine.
I imagined the tiny, pretty penny bits at the bottom and the thick
fluted shillings on topa whole paper cornet full of money! I sat and
gazed at it with wide opened eyes, and urged myself to go and steal it.
Then I hear the constable cough. What puts it into my head to do the
same? I rise up from the seat and repeat the cough three times so that
he may hear it. Won't he jump at the corner when he comes. I sat and
laughed at this trick, rubbed my hands with glee, and swore with
rollicking recklessness. What a disappointment he will get, the dog!
Wouldn't this piece of villainy make him inclined to sink into hell's
hottest pool of torment! I was drunk with starvation; my hunger had
made me tipsy.
A few minutes later the policeman comes by, clinking his iron heels
on the pavement, peering on all sides. He takes his time; he has the
whole night before him; he does not notice the paper bagnot till he
comes quite close to it. Then he stops and stares at it. It looks so
white and so full as it lies there; perhaps a little sumwhat? A
little sum of silver money?... and he picks it up. Hum ... it is
lightvery light; maybe an expensive feather; some hat trimming.... He
opened it carefully with his big hands, and looked in. I laughed,
laughed, slapped my thighs, and laughed, like a maniac. And not a sound
issued from my throat; my laughter was hushed and feverish to the
intensity of tears.
Clink, clink again over the paving-stones, and the policeman took a
turn towards the landing-stage. I sat there, with tears in my eyes, and
hiccoughed for breath, quite beside myself with feverish merriment. I
commenced to talk aloud to myself all about the cornet, imitated the
poor policeman's movements, peeped into my hollow hand, and repeated
over and over again to myself, He coughed as he threw it awayhe
coughed as he threw it away. I added new words to these, gave them
additional point, changed the whole sentence, and made it catching and
piquant. He coughed onceKheu heu!
I exhausted myself in weaving variations on these words, and the
evening was far advanced before my mirth ceased. Then a drowsy quiet
overcame me; a pleasant languor which I did not attempt to resist. The
darkness had intensified, and a slight breeze furrowed the pearl-blue
sea. The ships, the masts of which I could see outlined against the
sky, looked with their black hulls like voiceless monsters that
bristled and lay in wait for me. I had no painmy hunger had taken the
edge off it. In its stead I felt pleasantly empty, untouched by
everything around me, and glad not to be noticed by any one. I put my
feet up on the seat and leant back. Thus I could best appreciate the
well-being of perfect isolation. There was not a cloud on my mind, not
a feeling of discomfort, and so far as my thought reached, I had not a
whim, not a desire unsatisfied. I lay with open eyes, in a state of
utter absence of mind. I felt myself charmed away. Moreover, not a
sound disturbed me. Soft darkness had hidden the whole world from my
sight, and buried me in ideal rest. Only the lonely, crooning voice of
silence strikes in monotones on my ear, and the dark monsters out there
will draw me to them when night comes, and they will bear me far across
the sea, through strange lands where no man dwells, and they will bear
me to Princess Ylajali's palace, where an undreamt-of grandeur awaits
me, greater than that of any other man. And she herself will be sitting
in a dazzling hall where all is amethyst, on a throne of yellow roses,
and will stretch out her hands to me when I alight; will smile and call
as I approach and kneel: Welcome, welcome, knight, to me and my land!
I have waited twenty summers for you, and called for you on all bright
nights. And when you sorrowed I have wept here, and when you slept I
have breathed sweet dreams in you!... And the fair one clasps my hand
and, holding it, leads me through long corridors where great crowds of
people cry, Hurrah! through bright gardens where three hundred tender
maidens laugh and play; and through another hall where all is of
emerald; and here the sun shines.
In the corridors and galleries choirs of musicians march by, and
rills of perfume are wafted towards me.
I clasp her hand in mine; I feel the wild witchery of enchantment
shiver through my blood, and I fold my arms around her, and she
whispers, Not here; come yet farther! and we enter a crimson room,
where all is of ruby, a foaming glory, in which I faint.
Then I feel her arms encircle me; her breath fans my face with a
whispered Welcome, loved one! Kiss me ... more ... more....
I see from my seat stars shooting before my eyes, and my thoughts
are swept away in a hurricane of light....
I had fallen asleep where I lay, and was awakened by the policeman.
There I sat, recalled mercilessly to life and misery. My first feeling
was of stupid amazement at finding myself in the open air; but this was
quickly replaced by a bitter despondency, I was near crying with sorrow
at being still alive. It had rained whilst I slept, and my clothes were
soaked through and through, and I felt a damp cold in my limbs.
The darkness was denser; it was with difficulty that I could
distinguish the policeman's face in front of me.
So, that's right, he said; get up now.
I got up at once; if he had commanded me to lie down again I would
have obeyed too. I was fearfully dejected, and utterly without
strength; added to that, I was almost instantly aware of the pangs of
Hold on there! the policeman shouted after me; why, you're
walking off without your hat, you Juggins! Soh there; now, go on.
I indeed thought there was somethingsomething I had forgotten, I
stammered, absently. Thanks, good-night! and I stumbled away.
If one only had a little bread to eat; one of those delicious little
brown loaves that one could bite into as one walked along the street;
and as I went on I thought over the particular sort of brown bread that
would be so unspeakably good to munch. I was bitterly hungry; wished
myself dead and buried; I got maudlin, and wept.
There never was any end to my misery. Suddenly I stopped in the
street, stamped on the pavement, and cursed loudly. What was it he
called me? A Juggins? I would just show him what calling me a
Juggins means. I turned round and ran back. I felt red-hot with
anger. Down the street I stumbled, and fell, but I paid no heed to it,
jumped up again, and ran on. But by the time I reached the railway
station I had become so tired that I did not feel able to proceed all
the way to the landing-stage; besides, my anger had cooled down with
the run. At length I pulled up and drew breath. Was it not, after all,
a matter of perfect indifference to me what such a policeman said? Yes;
but one couldn't stand everything. Right enough, I interrupted myself;
but he knew no better. And I found this argument satisfactory. I
repeated twice to myself, He knew no better; and with that I returned
Good Lord! thought I, wrathfully, what things you do take into
your head: running about like a madman through the soaking wet streets
on dark nights. My hunger was now tormenting me excruciatingly, and
gave me no rest. Again and again I swallowed saliva to try and satisfy
myself a little; I fancied it helped.
I had been pinched, too, for food for ever so many weeks before this
last period set in, and my strength had diminished considerably of
late. When I had been lucky enough to raise five shillings by some
manoeuvre or another they only lasted any time with difficulty; not
long enough for me to be restored to health before a new hunger period
set in and reduced me again. My back and shoulders caused me the worst
trouble. I could stop the little gnawing I had in my chest by coughing
hard, or bending well forward as I walked, but I had no remedy for back
and shoulders. Whatever was the reason that things would not brighten
up for me? Was I not just as much entitled to live as any one else? for
example, as Bookseller Pascha or Steam Agent Hennechen? Had I not two
shoulders like a giant, and two strong hands to work with? and had I
not, in sooth, even applied for a place as wood-chopper in Möllergaden
in order to earn my daily bread? Was I lazy? Had I not applied for
situations, attended lectures, written articles, and worked day and
night like a man possessed? Had I not lived like a miser, eaten bread
and milk when I had plenty, bread alone when I had little, and starved
when I had nothing? Did I live in an hotel? Had I a suite of rooms on
the first floor? Why, I am living in a loft over a tinker's workshop, a
loft already forsaken by God and man last winter, because the snow blew
in. So I could not understand the whole thing; not a bit of it.
I slouched on, and dwelt upon all this, and there was not as much as
a spark of bitterness or malice or envy in my mind.
I halted at a paint-shop and gazed into the window. I tried to read
the labels on a couple of the tins, but it was too dark. Vexed with
myself over this new whim, and excitedalmost angry at not being able
to make out what these tins held,I rapped twice sharply on the window
and went on.
Up the street I saw a policeman. I quickened my pace, went close up
to him, and said, without the slightest provocation, It is ten
No, it's two, he answered, amazed.
No, it's ten, I persisted; it is ten o'clock! and, groaning with
anger, I stepped yet a pace or two nearer, clenched my fist, and said,
Listen, do you know what, it's ten o'clock!
He stood and considered a while, summed up my appearance, stared
aghast at me, and at last said, quite gently, In any case, it's about
time ye were getting home. Would ye like me to go with ye a bit?
I was completely disarmed by this man's unexpected friendliness. I
felt that tears sprang to my eyes, and I hastened to reply:
No, thank you! I have only been out a little too late in a café.
Thank you very much all the same!
He saluted with his hand to his helmet as I turned away. His
friendliness had overwhelmed me, and I cried weakly, because I had not
even a little coin to give him.
I halted, and looked after him as he went slowly on his way. I
struck my forehead, and, in measure, as he disappeared from my sight, I
cried more violently.
I railed at myself for my poverty, called myself abusive names,
invented furious designationsrich, rough nuggetsin a vein of abuse
with which I overwhelmed myself. I kept on at this until I was nearly
home. On coming to the door I discovered I had dropped my keys.
Oh, of course, I muttered to myself, why shouldn't I lose my
keys? Here I am, living in a yard where there is a stable underneath
and a tinker's workshop up above. The door is locked at night, and no
one, no one can open it; therefore, why should I not lose my keys?
I am as wet as a doga little hungryah, just ever such a little
hungry, and slightly, ay, absurdly tired about my knees; therefore, why
should I not lose them?
Why, for that matter, had not the whole house flitted out to Aker
by the time I came home and wished to enter it? ... and I laughed to
myself, hardened by hunger and exhaustion.
I could hear the horses stamp in the stables, and I could see my
window above, but I could not open the door, and I could not get in.
It had begun to rain again, and I felt the water soak through to my
shoulders. At the Town Hall I was seized by a bright idea. I would ask
the policeman to open the door. I applied at once to a constable, and
earnestly begged him to accompany me and let me in, if he could.
Yes, if he could, yes! But he couldn't; he had no key. The police
keys were not there; they were kept in the Detective Department.
What was I to do then?
Well, I could go to an hotel and get a bed!
But I really couldn't go to an hotel and get a bed; I had not money,
I had been outin a café ... he knew....
We stood a while on the Town Hall steps. He considered and examined
my personal appearance. The rain fell in torrents outside.
Well then, you must go to the guard-house and report yourself as
homeless! said he.
Homeless? I hadn't thought of that. Yes, by Jove, that was a capital
idea; and I thanked the constable on the spot for the suggestion. Could
I simply go in and say I was homeless?
Your name? inquired the guard.
I don't know why I lied; my thoughts fluttered about disconnectedly
and inspired me with many singular whims, more than I knew what to do
with. I hit upon this out-of-the-way name on the spur of the moment,
and blurted it out without any calculation. I lied without any occasion
for doing so.
This was driving me into a corner with a vengeance. Occupation! what
was my occupation? I thought first of turning myself into a tinkerbut
I dared not; firstly, I had given myself a name that was not common to
every and any tinkerbesides, I wore pince-nez. It suddenly
entered my head to be foolhardy. I took a step forward and said firmly,
The guard gave a start before he wrote it down, whilst I stood as
important as a homeless Cabinet Minister before the barrier. It roused
no suspicions. The guard understood quite well why I hesitated a little
before answering. What did it look like to see a journalist in the
night guard-house without a roof over his head?
On what paper, Herr Tangen?
Morgenbladet! said I. I have been out a little too late
this evening, more's the shame!
Oh, we won't mention that, he interrupted, with a smile; when
young people are out ... we understand!
Turning to a policeman, he said, as he rose and bowed politely to
me, Show this gentleman up to the reserved section. Good-night!
I felt ice run down my back at my own boldness, and I clenched my
hands to steady myself a bit. If I only hadn't dragged in the
Morgenbladet. I knew Friele could show his teeth when he liked, and
I was reminded of that by the grinding of the key turning in the lock.
The gas will burn for ten minutes, remarked the policeman at the
And then does it go out?
Then it goes out!
I sat on the bed and listened to the turning of the key. The bright
cell had a friendly air; I felt comfortably and well sheltered; and
listened with pleasure to the rain outsideI couldn't wish myself
anything better than such a cosy cell. My contentment increased.
Sitting on the bed, hat in hand, and with eyes fastened on the gas jet
over in the wall, I gave myself up to thinking over the minutes of my
first interview with the police. This was the first time, and how
hadn't I fooled them? Journalist!Tangen! if you please! and then
Morgenbladet! Didn't I appeal straight to his heart with
Morgenbladet? We won't mention that! Eh? Sat in state in the
Stiftsgaarden till two o'clock; forgot door-key and a pocket-book with
a thousand kroner at home. Show this gentleman up to the reserved
All at once out goes the gas with a strange suddenness, without
diminishing or flickering.
I sit in the deepest darkness; I cannot see my hand, nor the white
wallsnothing. There was nothing for it but to go to bed, and I
But I was not tired from want of sleep, and it would not come to me.
I lay a while gazing into the darkness, this dense mass of gloom that
had no bottommy thoughts could not fathom it.
It seemed beyond all measure dense to me, and I felt its presence
oppress me. I closed my eyes, commenced to sing under my breath, and
tossed to and fro, in order to distract myself, but to no purpose. The
darkness had taken possession of my thoughts and left me not a moment
in peace. Supposing I were myself to be absorbed in darkness; made one
I raise myself up in bed and fling out my arms. My nervous condition
has got the upper hand of me, and nothing availed, no matter how much I
tried to work against it. There I sat, a prey to the most singular
fantasies, listening to myself crooning lullabies, sweating with the
exertion of striving to hush myself to rest. I peered into the gloom,
and I never in all the days of my life felt such darkness. There was no
doubt that I found myself here, in face of a peculiar kind of darkness;
a desperate element to which no one had hitherto paid attention. The
most ludicrous thoughts busied me, and everything made me afraid.
A little hole in the wall at the head of my bed occupies me
greatlya nail hole. I find the marks in the wallI feel it, blow
into it, and try to guess its depth. That was no innocent holenot at
all. It was a downright intricate and mysterious hole, which I must
guard against! Possessed by the thought of this hole, entirely beside
myself with curiosity and fear, I get out of bed and seize hold of my
penknife in order to gauge its depth, and convince myself that it does
not reach right into the next wall.
I lay down once more to try and fall asleep, but in reality to
wrestle again with the darkness. The rain had ceased outside, and I
could not hear a sound. I continued for a long time to listen for
footsteps in the street, and got no peace until I heard a pedestrian go
byto judge from the sound, a constable. Suddenly I snap my fingers
many times and laugh: That was the very deuce! Haha! I imagined I
had discovered a new word. I rise up in bed and say, It is not in the
language; I have discovered it. 'Kuboa.' It has letters as a word has.
By the benign God, man, you have discovered a word!... 'Kuboa' ... a
word of profound import.
I sit with open eyes, amazed at my own find, and laugh for joy. Then
I begin to whisper; some one might spy on me, and I intended to keep my
discovery a secret. I entered into the joyous frenzy of hunger. I was
empty and free from pain, and I gave free rein to my thoughts.
In all calmness I revolve things in my mind. With the most singular
jerks in my chain of ideas I seek to explain the meaning of my new
word. There was no occasion for it to mean either God or the Tivoli;
[Footnote: Theatre of Varieties, etc., and Garden in Christiania.] and
who said that it was to signify cattle show? I clench my hands
fiercely, and repeat once again, Who said that it was to signify
cattle show? No; on second thoughts, it was not absolutely necessary
that it should mean padlock, or sunrise. It was not difficult to find a
meaning for such a word as this. I would wait and see. In the meantime
I could sleep on it.
I lie there on the stretcher-bed and laugh slily, but say nothing;
give vent to no opinion one way or the other. Some minutes pass over,
and I wax nervous; this new word torments me unceasingly, returns again
and again, takes up my thoughts, and makes me serious. I had fully
formed an opinion as to what it should not signify, but had come to no
conclusion as to what it should signify. That is quite a matter of
detail, I said aloud to myself, and I clutched my arm and reiterated:
That is quite a matter of detail. The word was found, God be praised!
and that was the principal thing. But ideas worry me without end and
hinder me from falling asleep. Nothing seemed good enough to me for
this unusually rare word. At length I sit up in bed again, grasp my
head in both hands, and say, No! it is just this, it is impossible to
let it signify emigration or tobacco factory. If it could have meant
anything like that I would have decided upon it long since and taken
the consequences. No; in reality the word is fitted to signify
something psychical, a feeling, a state. Could I not apprehend it? and
I reflect profoundly in order to find something psychical. Then it
seems to me that some one is interposing, interrupting my confab. I
answer angrily, Beg pardon! Your match in idiocy is not to be found;
no, sir! Knitting cotton? Ah! go to hell! Well, really I had to laugh.
Might I ask why should I be forced to let it signify knitting cotton,
when I had a special dislike to its signifying knitting cotton? I had
discovered the word myself, so, for that matter, I was perfectly within
my right in letting it signify whatsoever I pleased. As far as I was
aware, I had not yet expressed an opinion as to....
But my brain got more and more confused. At last I sprang out of bed
to look for the water-tap. I was not thirsty, but my head was in a
fever, and I felt an instinctive longing for water. When I had drunk
some I got into bed again, and determined with all my might to settle
to sleep. I closed my eyes and forced myself to keep quiet. I lay thus
for some minutes without making a movement, sweated and felt my blood
jerk violently through my veins. No, it was really too delicious the
way he thought to find money in the paper cornet! He only coughed once,
too! I wonder if he is pacing up and down there yet! Sitting on my
bench? the pearly blue sea ... the ships....
I opened my eyes; how could I keep them shut when I could not sleep?
The same darkness brooded over me; the same unfathomable black eternity
which my thoughts strove against and could not understand. I made the
most despairing efforts to find a word black enough to characterize
this darkness; a word so horribly black that it would darken my lips if
I named it. Lord! how dark it was! and I am carried back in thought to
the sea and the dark monsters that lay in wait for me. They would draw
me to them, and clutch me tightly and bear me away by land and sea,
through dark realms that no soul has seen. I feel myself on board,
drawn through waters, hovering in clouds, sinkingsinking.
I give a hoarse cry of terror, clutch the bed tightlyI had made
such a perilous journey, whizzing down through space like a bolt. Oh,
did I not feel that I was saved as I struck my hands against the wooden
frame! This is the way one dies! said I to myself. Now you will
die! and I lay for a while and thought over that I was to die.
Then I start up in bed and ask severely, If I found the word, am I
not absolutely within my right to decide myself what it is to
signify?... I could hear myself that I was raving. I could hear it now
whilst I was talking. My madness was a delirium of weakness and
prostration, but I was not out of my senses. All at once the thought
darted through my brain that I was insane. Seized with terror, I spring
out of bed again, I stagger to the door, which I try to open, fling
myself against it a couple of times to burst it, strike my head against
the wall, bewail loudly, bite my fingers, cry and curse....
All was quiet; only my own voice echoed from the walls. I had fallen
to the floor, incapable of stumbling about the cell any longer.
Lying there I catch a glimpse, high up, straight before my eyes, of
a greyish square in the wall, a suggestion of white, a presageit must
be of daylight. I felt it must be daylight, felt it through every pore
in my body. Oh, did I not draw a breath of delighted relief! I flung
myself flat on the floor and cried for very joy over this blessed
glimpse of light, sobbed for very gratitude, blew a kiss to the window,
and conducted myself like a maniac. And at this moment I was perfectly
conscious of what I was doing. All my dejection had vanished; all
despair and pain had ceased, and I had at this moment, at least as far
as my thought reached, not a wish unfilled. I sat up on the floor,
folded my hands, and waited patiently for the dawn.
What a night this had been!
That they had not heard any noise! I thought with astonishment. But
then I was in the reserved section, high above all the prisoners. A
homeless Cabinet Minister, if I might say so.
Still in the best of humours, with eyes turned towards the lighter,
ever lighter square in the wall, I amused myself acting Cabinet
Minister; called myself Von Tangen, and clothed my speech in a dress of
red-tape. My fancies had not ceased, but I was far less nervous. If I
only had not been thoughtless enough to leave my pocket-book at home!
Might I not have the honour of assisting his Right Honourable the Prime
Minister to bed? And in all seriousness, and with much ceremony I went
over to the stretcher and lay down.
By this it was so light that I could distinguish in some degree the
outlines of the cell and, little by little, the heavy handle of the
door. This diverted me; the monotonous darkness so irritating in its
impenetrability that it prevented me from seeing myself was broken; my
blood flowed more quietly; I soon felt my eyes close.
I was aroused by a couple of knocks on my door. I jumped up in all
haste, and clad myself hurriedly; my clothes were still wet through
from last night.
You'll report yourself downstairs to the officer on duty, said the
Were there more formalities to be gone through, then? I thought with
Below I entered a large room, where thirty or forty people sat, all
homeless. They were called up one by one by the registering clerk, and
one by one they received a ticket for breakfast. The officer on duty
repeated constantly to the policeman at his side, Did he get a ticket?
Don't forget to give them tickets; they look as if they wanted a meal!
And I stood and looked at these tickets, and wished I had one.
I advanced and bowed.
But, my dear fellow, how did you come here?
I explained the whole state of the case, repeated the same story as
last night, lied without winking, lied with franknesshad been out
rather late, worse luck ... café ... lost door-key....
Yes, he said, and he smiled; that's the way! Did you sleep well
I answered, Like a Cabinet Ministerlike a Cabinet Minister!
I am glad to hear it, he said, and he stood up. Good-morning.
And I went!
A ticket! a ticket for me too! I have not eaten for more than three
long days and nights. A loaf! But no one offered me a ticket, and I
dared not demand one. It would have roused suspicion at once. They
would begin to poke their noses into my private affairs, and discover
who I really was; they might arrest me for false pretences; and so,
with elevated head, the carriage of a millionaire, and hands thrust
under my coat-tails, I stride out of the guard-house.
The sun shone warmly, early as it was. It was ten o'clock, and the
traffic in Young's Market was in full swing. Which way should I take? I
slapped my pockets and felt for my manuscript. At eleven I would try
and see the editor. I stand a while on the balustrade, and watch the
bustle under me. Meanwhile, my clothes commenced to steam. Hunger put
in its appearance afresh, gnawed at my breast, clutched me, and gave
small, sharp stabs that caused me pain.
Had I not a friendan acquaintance whom I could apply to? I ransack
my memory to find a man good for a penny piece, and fail to find him.
Well, it was a lovely day, anyway! Sunlight bright and warm
surrounded me. The sky stretched away like a beautiful sea over the
Without knowing it, I was on my way home. I hungered sorely. I found
a chip of wood in the street to chewthat helped a bit. To think that
I hadn't thought of that sooner! The door was open; the stable-boy bade
me good-morning as usual.
Fine weather, said he.
Yes, I replied. That was all I found to say. Could I ask for the
loan of a shilling? He would be sure to lend it willingly if he could;
besides that, I had written a letter for him once.
He stood and turned something over in his mind before he ventured on
Fine weather! Ahem! I ought to pay my landlady today; you wouldn't
be so kind as to lend me five shillings, would you? Only for a few
days, sir. You did me a service once before, so you did.
No; I really can't do it, Jens Olaj, I answered. Not nowperhaps
later on, maybe in the afternoon, and I staggered up the stairs to my
I flung myself on my bed, and laughed. How confoundedly lucky it was
that he had forestalled me; my self-respect was saved. Five shillings!
God bless you, man, you might just as well have asked me for five
shares in the Dampkökken, or an estate out in Aker.
And the thought of these five shillings made me laugh louder and
louder. Wasn't I a devil of a fellow, eh? Five shillings! My mirth
increased, and I gave way to it. Ugh! what a shocking smell of cooking
there was herea downright disgustingly strong smell of chops for
dinner, phew! and I flung open the window to let out this beastly
smell. Waiter, a plate of beef! Turning to the tablethis miserable
table that I was forced to support with my knees when I wroteI bowed
profoundly, and said:
May I ask will you take a glass of wine? No? I am TangenTangen,
the Cabinet Minister. Imore's the pityI was out a little late ...
the door-key. Once more my thoughts ran without rein in intricate
paths. I was continually conscious that I talked at random, and yet I
gave utterance to no word without hearing and understanding it. I said
to myself, Now you are talking at random again, and yet I could not
help myself. It was as if one were lying awake, and yet talking in
My head was light, without pain and without pressure, and my mood
was unshadowed. It sailed away with me, and I made no effort.
Come in! Yes, only come right in! As you see everything is of
rubyYlajali, Ylajali! that swelling crimson silken divan! Ah, how
passionately she breathes. Kiss meloved onemoremore! Your arms
are like pale amber, your mouth blushes.... Waiter I asked for a plate
The sun gleamed in through the window, and I could hear the horses
below chewing oats. I sat and mumbled over my chip gaily, glad at heart
as a child.
I kept all the time feeling for my manuscript. It wasn't really in
my thoughts, but instinct told me it was there'twas in my blood to
remember it, and I took it out.
It had got wet, and I spread it out in the sun to dry; then I took
to wandering up and down the room. How depressing everything looked!
Small scraps of tin shavings were trodden into the floor; there was not
a chair to sit upon, not even a nail in the bare walls. Everything had
been brought to my Uncle's, and consumed. A few sheets of paper lying
on the table, covered with thick dust, were my sole possession; the old
green blanket on the bed was lent to me by Hans Pauli some months
ago.... Hans Pauli! I snap my fingers. Hans Pauli Pettersen shall help
me! He would certainly be very angry that I had not appealed to him at
once. I put on my hat in haste, gather up the manuscript, thrust it
into my pocket, and hurry downstairs.
Listen, Jens Olaj! I called into the stable, I am nearly certain
I can help you in the afternoon.
Arrived at the Town Hall I saw that it was past eleven, and I
determined on going to the editor at once. I stopped outside the office
door to see if my sheets were paged rightly, smoothed them carefully
out, put them back in my pocket, and knocked. My heart beat audibly as
Scissors is there as usual. I inquire timorously for the editor.
No answer. The man sits and probes for minor items of news amongst the
I repeat my question, and advance a little farther.
The editor has not come yet! said Scissors at length, without
How soon would he come?
Couldn't saycouldn't say at all!
How long would the office be open?
To this I received no answer, so I was forced to leave. Scissors
had not once looked up at me during all this scene; he had heard my
voice, and recognized me by it. You are in such bad odour here, thought
I, that he doesn't even take the trouble to answer you. I wonder if
that is an order of the editor's. I had, 'tis true enough, right from
the day my celebrated story was accepted for ten shillings, overwhelmed
him with work, rushed to his door nearly every day with unsuitable
things that he was obliged to peruse only to return them to me. Perhaps
he wished to put an end to thistake stringent measures.... I took the
road to Homandsbyen.
Hans Paul! Pettersen was a peasant-farmer's son, a student, living
in the attic of a five-storeyed house; therefore, Hans Pauli Pettersen
was a poor man. But if he had a shilling he wouldn't stint it. I would
get it just as sure as if I already held it in my hand. And I rejoiced
the whole time, as I went, over the shilling, and felt confident I
would get it.
When I got to the street door it was closed and I had to ring.
I want to see Student Pettersen, I said, and was about to step
inside. I know his room.
Student Pettersen, repeats the girl. Was it he who had the
attic? He had moved.
Well, she didn't know the address; but he had asked his letters to
be sent to Hermansen in Tolbod-gaden, and she mentioned the number.
I go, full of trust and hope, all the way to Tolbod-gaden to ask
Hans Pauli's address; being my last chance, I must turn it to account.
On the way I came to a newly-built house, where a couple of joiners
stood planing outside. I picked up a few satiny shavings from the heap,
stuck one in my mouth, and the other in my pocket for by-and-by, and
continued my journey.
I groaned with hunger. I had seen a marvellously large penny loaf at
a baker'sthe largest I could possibly get for the price.
I come to find out Student Pettersen's address!
Bernt Akers Street, No. 10, in the attic. Was I going out there?
Well, would I perhaps be kind enough to take out a couple of letters
that had come for him?
I trudge up town again, along the same road, pass by the
joinerswho are sitting with their cans between their knees, eating
their good warm dinner from the Dampkökkenpass the bakers, where the
loaf is still in its place, and at length reach Bernt Akers Street,
half dead with fatigue. The door is open, and I mount all the weary
stairs to the attic. I take the letters out of my pocket in order to
put Hans Pauli into a good humour on the moment of my entrance.
He would be certain not to refuse to give me a helping hand when I
explained how things were with me; no, certainly not; Hans Pauli had
such a big heartI had always said that of him.... I discovered his
card fastened to the doorH. P. Pettersen, Theological Student, 'gone
I sat down without more adosat down on the bare floor, dulled with
fatigue, fairly beaten with exhaustion. I mechanically mutter, a couple
of times, Gone homegone home! then I keep perfectly quiet. There
was not a tear in my eyes; I had not a thought, not a feeling of any
kind. I sat and stared, with wide-open eyes, at the letters, without
coming to any conclusion. Ten minutes went overperhaps twenty or
more. I sat stolidly on the one spot, and did not move a finger. This
numb feeling of drowsiness was almost like a brief slumber. I hear some
one come up the stairs.
It was Student Pettersen, I ... I have two letters for him.
He has gone home, replies the woman; but he will return after the
holidays. I could take the letters if you like!
Yes, thanks! that was all right, said I. He could get them then
when he came back; they might contain matters of importance.
When I got outside, I came to a standstill and said loudly in the
open street, as I clenched my hands: I will tell you one thing, my
good Lord God, you are a bungler! and I nod furiously, with set teeth,
up to the clouds; I will be hanged if you are not a bungler.
Then I took a few strides, and stopped again. Suddenly, changing my
attitude, I fold my hands, hold my head to one side, and ask, with an
unctuous, sanctimonious tone of voice: Hast thou appealed also to him,
my child? It did not sound right!
With a large H, I say, with an H as big as a cathedral! once again,
Hast thou invoked Him, my child? and I incline my head, and I make my
voice whine, and answer, No!
That didn't sound right either.
You can't play the hypocrite, you idiot! Yes, you should say, I have
invoked God my Father! and you must set your words to the most piteous
tune you have ever heard in your life. Soo! Once again! Come, that
was better! But you must sigh like a horse down with the colic. Soo!
that's right. Thus I go, drilling myself in hypocrisy; stamp
impatiently in the street when I fail to succeed; rail at myself for
being such a blockhead, whilst the astonished passers-by turn round and
stare at me.
I chewed uninterruptedly at my shaving, and proceeded, as steadily
as I could, along the street. Before I realized it, I was at the
railway square. The dock on Our Saviour's pointed to half-past one. I
stood for a bit and considered. A faint sweat forced itself out on my
face, and trickled down my eyelids. Accompany me down to the bridge,
said I to myselfthat is to say, if you have spare time!and I made a
bow to myself, and turned towards the railway bridge near the wharf.
The ships lay there, and the sea rocked in the sunshine. There was
bustle and movement everywhere, shrieking steam-whistles, quay porters
with cases on their shoulders, lively shanties coming from the prams.
An old woman, a vendor of cakes, sits near me, and bends her brown nose
down over her wares. The little table before her is sinfully full of
nice things, and I turn away with distaste. She is filling the whole
quay with her smell of cakesphew! up with the windows!
I accosted a gentleman sitting at my side, and represented forcibly
to him the nuisance of having cake-sellers here, cake-sellers there....
Eh? Yes; but he must really admit that.... But the good man smelt a
rat, and did not give me time to finish speaking, for he got up and
left. I rose, too, and followed him, firmly determined to convince him
of his mistake.
If it was only out of consideration for sanitary conditions, said
I; and I slapped him on the shoulders.
Excuse me, I am a stranger here, and know nothing of the sanitary
conditions, he replied, and stared at me with positive fear.
Oh, that alters the case! if he was a stranger.... Could I not
render him a service in any way? show him about? Really not? because it
would be a pleasure to me, and it would cost him nothing....
But the man wanted absolutely to get rid of me, and he sheered off,
in all haste, to the other side of the street.
I returned to the bench and sat down. I was fearfully disturbed, and
the big street organ that had begun to grind a tune a little farther
away made me still worsea regular metallic music, a fragment of
Weber, to which a little girl is singing a mournful strain. The
flute-like sorrowfulness of the organ thrills through my blood; my
nerves vibrate in responsive echo. A moment later, and I fall back on
the seat, whimpering and crooning in time to it.
Oh, what strange freaks one's thoughts are guilty of when one is
starving. I feel myself lifted up by these notes, dissolved in tones,
and I float out, I feel so clearly. How I float out, soaring high above
the mountains, dancing through zones of light!...
A halfpenny, whines the little organ-girl, reaching forth her
little tin plate; only a halfpenny.
Yes, I said, unthinkingly, and I sprang to my feet and ransacked
all my pockets. But the child thinks I only want to make fun of her,
and she goes away at once without saying a word.
This dumb forbearance was too much for me. If she had abused me, it
would have been more endurable. I was stung with pain, and recalled
I don't possess a farthing; but I will remember you later on, maybe
tomorrow. What is your name? Yes, that is a pretty name; I won't forget
it. Till tomorrow, then....
But I understood quite well that she did not believe me, although
she never said one word; and I cried with despair because this little
street wench would not believe in me.
Once again I called her back, tore open my coat, and was about to
give her my waistcoat. I will make up to you for it, said I; wait
only a moment ... and lo! I had no waistcoat.
What in the world made me look for it? Weeks had gone by since it
was in my possession. What was the matter with me, anyway? The
astonished child waited no longer, but withdrew fearsomely, and I was
compelled to let her go. People throng round me, laugh aloud; a
policeman thrusts his way through to me, and wants to know what is the
Nothing! I reply, nothing at all; I only wanted to give the
little girl over there my waistcoat ... for her father ... you needn't
stand there and laugh at that ... I have only to go home and put on
No disturbance in the street, says the constable; so, march, and
he gives me a shove on.
Is them your papers? he calls after me.
Yes, by Jove! my newspaper leader; many important papers! However
could I be so careless? I snatch up my manuscript, convince myself
that it is lying in order and go, without stopping a second or looking
about me, towards the editor's office.
It was now four by the clock of Our Saviour's Church. The office is
shut. I stead noiselessly down the stairs, frightened as a thief, and
stand irresolutely outside the door. What should I do now? I lean up
against the wall, stare down at the stones, and consider. A pin is
lying glistening at my feet; I stoop and pick it up. Supposing I were
to cut the buttons off my coat, how much could I get for them? Perhaps
it would be no use, though buttons are buttons; but yet, I look and
examine them, and find them as good as newthat was a lucky idea all
the same; I could cut them off with my penknife and take them to the
pawn-office. The hope of being able to sell these five buttons cheered
me immediately, and I cried, See, see; it will all come right! My
delight got the upper hand of me, and I at once set to cut off the
buttons one by one. Whilst thus occupied, I held the following hushed
Yes, you see one has become a little impoverished; a momentary
embarrassment ... worn out, do you say? You must not make slips when
you speak? I would like to see the person who wears out less buttons
than I do, I can tell you! I always go with my coat open; it is a habit
of mine, an idiosyncrasy.... No, no; of course, if you won't,
well! But I must have a penny for them, at least.... No indeed! who
said you were obliged to do it? You can hold your tongue, and leave me
in peace.... Yes, well, you can fetch a policeman, can't you? I'll wait
here whilst you are out looking for him, and I won't steal anything
from you. Well, good-day! Good-day! My name, by the way, is Tangen;
have been out a little late.
Some one comes up the stairs. I am recalled at once to reality. I
recognize Scissors, and put the buttons carefully into my pocket. He
attempts to pass; doesn't even acknowledge my nod; is suddenly intently
busied with his nails. I stop him, and inquire for the editor.
Not in, do you hear.
You lie, I said, and, with a cheek that fairly amazed myself, I
continued, I must have a word with him; it is a necessary
errandcommunications from the Stiftsgaarden. [Footnote: Dwelling of
the civil governor of a Stift or diocese.]
Well, can't you tell me what it is, then?
Tell you? and I looked Scissors up and down. This had the
desired effect. He accompanied me at once, and opened the door. My
heart was in my mouth now; I set my teeth, to try and revive my
courage, knocked, and entered the editor's private office.
Good-day! Is it you? he asked kindly; sit down.
If he had shown me the door it would have been almost as acceptable.
I felt as if I were on the point of crying and said:
I beg you will excuse....
Pray, sit down, he repeated. And I sat down, and explained that I
again had an article which I was extremely anxious to get into his
paper. I had taken such pains with it; it had cost me much effort.
I will read it, said he, and he took it. Everything you write is
certain to cost you effort, but you are far too impetuous; if you could
only be a little more sober. There's too much fever. In the meantime, I
will read it, and he turned to the table again.
There I sat. Dared I ask for a shilling? explain to him why there
was always fever? He would be sure to aid me; it was not the first
I stood up. Hum! But the last time I was with him he had complained
about money, and had sent a messenger out to scrape some together for
me. Maybe it might be the same case now. No; it should not occur! Could
I not see then that he was sitting at work?
Was there otherwise anything? he inquired.
No, I answered, and I compelled my voice to sound steady. About
how soon shall I call in again?
Oh, any time you are passingin a couple of days or so.
I could not get my request over my lips. This man's friendliness
seemed to me beyond bounds, and I ought to know how to appreciate it.
Rather die of hunger! I went. Not even when I was outside the door, and
felt once more the pangs of hunger, did I repent having left the office
without having asked for that shilling. I took the other shaving out of
my pocket and stuck it into my mouth. It helped. Why hadn't I done so
before? You ought to be ashamed of yourself, I said aloud. Could it
really have entered your head to ask the man for a shilling and put him
to inconvenience again? and I got downright angry with myself for the
effrontery of which I had almost been guilty. That is, by God! the
shabbiest thing I ever heard, said I, to rush at a man and nearly
tear the eyes out of his head just because you happen to need a
shilling, you miserable dog! Soo, march! quicker! quicker! you big
thumping lout; I'll teach you. I commenced to run to punish myself,
left one street after the other behind me at a bound, goaded myself on
with suppressed cries, and shrieked dumbly and furiously at myself
whenever I was about to halt. Thus I arrived a long way up Pyle Street,
when at last I stood still, almost ready to cry with vexation at not
being able to run any farther. I was trembling over my whole body, and
I flung myself down on a step. No; stop! I said, and, in order to
torture myself rightly, I arose again, and forced myself to keep
standing. I jeered at myself and hugged myself with pleasure at the
spectacle of my own exhaustion. At length, after the lapse of a few
moments, I gave myself, with a nod, permission to be seated, though,
even then, I chose the most uncomfortable place on the steps.
Lord! how delicious it was to rest! I dried the sweat off my face,
and drew great refreshing breaths. How had I not run! But I was not
sorry; I had richly deserved it. Why did I want to ask for that
shilling? Now I could see the consequences, and I began to talk mildly
to myself, dealing out admonitions as a mother might have done. I grew
more and more moved, and tired and weak as I was, I fell a-crying. A
quiet, heart-felt cry; an inner sobbing without a tear.
I sat for the space of a quarter of an hour, or more, in the same
place. People came and went, and no one molested me. Little children
played about around me, and a little bird sang on a tree on the other
side of the street.
A policeman came towards me. Why do you sit here? said he.
Why do I sit here? I replied; for pleasure.
I have been watching you for the last half-hour. You've sat here
About that, I replied; anything more?
I got up in a temper and walked on. Arrived at the market-place, I
stopped and gazed down the street. For pleasure. Now, was that an
answer to give? For weariness, you should have replied, and made your
voice whining. You are a booby; you will never learn to dissemble. From
exhaustion, and you should have gasped like a horse.
When I got to the fire look-out, I halted afresh, seized by a new
idea. I snapped my fingers, burst into a loud laugh that confounded the
passers-by, and said: Now you shall just go to Levion the parson. You
shall, as sure as deathay, just for a try. What have you got to lose
by it? and it is such glorious weather!
I entered Pascha's book-shop, found Pastor Levion's address in the
directory, and started for it.
Now for it! said I. Play no pranks. Conscience, did you say? No
rubbish, if you please. You are too poor to support a conscience. You
are hungry; you have come on important businessthe first thing
needful. But you shall hold your head askew, and set your words to a
sing-song. You won't! What? Well then, I won't go a step farther. Do
you hear that? Indeed, you are in a sorely tempted condition, fighting
with the powers of darkness and great voiceless monsters at night, so
that it is a horror to think of; you hunger and thirst for wine and
milk, and don't get them. It has gone so far with you. Here you stand
and haven't as much as a halfpenny to bless yourself with. But you
believe in grace, the Lord be praised; you haven't yet lost your faith;
and then you must clasp your hands together, and look a very Satan of a
fellow for believing in grace. As far as Mammon was concerned, why, you
hated Mammon with all its pomps in any form. Now it's quite another
thing with a psalm-booka souvenir to the extent of a few
shillings.... I stopped at the pastor's door, and read, Office hours,
12 to 4.
Mind, no fudge, I said; now we'll go ahead in earnest! So hang your
head a little more, and I rang at the private entrance.
I want to see the pastor, said I to the maid; but it was not
possible for me to get in God's name yet awhile.
He has gone out.
Gone out, gone out! That destroyed my whole plan; scattered all I
intended to say to the four winds. What had I gained then by the long
walk? There I stood.
Was it anything particular? questioned the maid.
Not at all, I replied, not at all. It was only just that it was
such glorious God's weather that I thought I would come out and make a
There I stood, and there she stood. I purposely thrust out my chest
to attract her attention to the pin that held my coat together. I
implored her with a look to see what I had come for, but the poor
creature didn't understand it at all.
Lovely God's weather. Was not the mistress at home either?
Yes; but she had gout, and lay on a sofa without being able to move
herself.... Perhaps I would leave a message or something?
No, not at all; I only just took walks like this now and again, just
for exercise; it was so wholesome after dinner.... I set out on the
road backwhat would gossiping longer lead to? Besides, I commenced to
feel dizzy. There was no mistake about it; I was about to break down in
earnest. Office hours from 12 to 4. I had knocked at the door an hour
too late. The time of grace was over. I sat down on one of the benches
near the church in the market. Lord! how black things began to look for
me now! I did not cry; I was too utterly tired, worn to the last
degree. I sat there without trying to arrive at any conclusion, sad,
motionless, and starving. My chest was much inflamed; it smarted most
strangely and sorelynor would chewing shavings help me much longer.
My jaws were tired of that barren work, and I let them rest. I simply
gave up. A brown orange-peel, too, I had found in the street, and which
I had at once commenced to chew, had given me nausea. I was illthe
veins swelled up bluely on my wrists. What was it I had really sought
after? Run about the whole live-long day for a shilling, that would but
keep life in me for a few hours longer. Considering all, was it not a
matter of indifference if the inevitable took place one day earlier or
one day later? If I had conducted myself like an ordinary being I
should have gone home long ago, and laid myself down to rest, and given
in. My mind was clear for a moment. Now I was to die. It was in the
time of the fall, and all things were hushed to sleep. I had tried
every means, exhausted every resource of which I knew. I fondled this
thought sentimentally, and each time I still hoped for a possible
succour I whispered repudiatingly: You fool, you have already begun to
I ought to write a couple of letters, make all readyprepare
myself. I would wash myself carefully and tidy my bed nicely. I would
lay my head upon the sheets of white paper, the cleanest things I had
left, and the green blanket. I ... The green blanket! Like a shot I was
wide awake. The blood mounted to my head, and I got violent palpitation
of the heart. I arise from the seat, and start to walk. Life stirs
again in all my fibres, and time after time I repeat disconnectedly,
The green blanketthe green blanket. I go faster and faster, as if
it is a case of fetching something, and stand after a little time in my
tinker's workshop. Without pausing a moment, or wavering in my
resolution, I go over to the bed, and roll up Hans Pauli's blanket. It
was a strange thing if this bright idea of mine couldn't save me. I
rose infinitely superior to the stupid scruples which sprang up in
mehalf inward cries about a certain stain on my honour. I bade
good-bye to the whole of them. I was no herono virtuous idiot. I had
my senses left.
So I took the blanket under my arm and went to No. 5 Stener's
Street. I knocked, and entered the big, strange room for the first
time. The bell on the door above my head gave a lot of violent jerks. A
man enters from a side room, chewing, his mouth is full of food, and
stands behind the counter.
Eh, lend me sixpence on my eye-glasses? said I. I shall release
them in a couple of days, without faileh?
No! they're steel, aren't they?
No; can't do it.
Ah, no, I suppose you can't. Well, it was really at best only a
joke. Well, I have a blanket with me for which, properly speaking, I
have no longer any use, and it struck me that you might take it off my
I havemore's the pitya whole store full of bed-clothes, he
replied; and when I had opened it he just cast one glance over it and
said, No, excuse me, but I haven't any use for that either.
I wanted to show you the worse side first, said I; it's much
better on the other side.
Ay, ay; it's no good. I won't own it; and you wouldn't raise a
penny on it anywhere.
No, it's clear it isn't worth anything, I said; but I thought it
might go with another old blanket at an auction.
Well, no; it's no use.
Three pence? said I.
No; I won't have it at all, man! I wouldn't have it in the house!
I took it under my arm and went home.
I acted as if nothing had passed, spread it over the bed again,
smoothed it well out, as was my custom, and tried to wipe away every
trace of my late action. I could not possibly have been in my right
mind at the moment when I came to the conclusion to commit this
rascally trick. The more I thought over it the more unreasonable it
seemed to me. It must have been an attack of weakness; some relaxation
in my inner self that had surprised me when off my guard. Neither had I
fallen straight into the trap. I had half felt that I was going the
wrong road, and I expressly offered my glasses first, and I rejoiced
greatly that I had not had the opportunity of carrying into effect this
fault which would have sullied the last hours I had to live.
I wandered out into the city again. I let myself sink upon one of
the seats by Our Saviour's Church; dozed with my head on my breast,
apathetic after my last excitement, sick and famished with hunger. And
time went by.
I should have to sit out this hour, too. It was a little lighter
outside than in the house, and it seemed to me that my chest did not
pain quite so badly out in the open air. I should get home, too, soon
enoughand I dozed, and thought, and suffered fearfully.
I had found a little pebble; I wiped it clean on my coat sleeve and
put it into my mouth so that I might have something to mumble.
Otherwise I did not stir, and didn't even wink an eyelid. People came
and went; the noise of cars, the tramp of hoofs, and chatter of tongues
filled the air. I might try with the buttons. Of course there would be
no use in trying; and besides, I was now in a rather bad way; but when
I came to consider the matter closely, I would be obliged, as it were,
to pass in the direction of my Uncle's as I went home. At last I got
up, dragging myself slowly to my feet, and reeled down the streets. It
began to burn over my eyebrowsfever was setting in, and I hurried as
fast as I could. Once more I passed the baker's shop where the little
loaf lay. Well, we must stop here! I said, with affected decision.
But supposing I were to go in and beg for a bit of bread? Surely that
was a fleeting thought, a flash; it could never really have occurred to
me seriously. Fie! I whispered to myself, and shook my head, and held
on my way. In Rebslager a pair of lovers stood in a doorway and talked
together softly; a little farther up a girl popped her head out of a
window. I walked so slowly and thoughtfully, that I looked as if I
might be deep in meditation on nothing in particular, and the wench
came out into the street. How is the world treating you, old fellow?
Eh, what, are you ill? Nay, the Lord preserve us, what a face! and she
drew away frightened. I pulled up at once: What's amiss with my face?
Had I really begun to die? I felt over my cheeks with my hand;
thinnaturally, I was thinmy cheeks were like two hollowed bowls;
but Lord ... I reeled along again, but again came to a standstill; I
must be quite inconceivably thin. Who knows but that my eyes were
sinking right into my head? How did I look in reality? It was the very
deuce that one must let oneself turn into a living deformity for sheer
hunger's sake. Once more I was seized by fury, a last flaring up, a
final spasm. Preserve me, what a face. Eh? Here I was, with a head
that couldn't be matched in the whole country, with a pair of fists
that, by the Lord, could grind a navvy into finest dust, and yet I went
and hungered myself into a deformity, right in the town of Christiania.
Was there any rhyme or reason in that? I had sat in saddle, toiled day
and night like a carrier's horse.
I had read my eyes out of their sockets, had starved the brains out
of my head, and what the devil had I gained by it? Even a street hussy
prayed God to deliver her from the sight of me. Well, now, there should
be a stop to it. Do you understand that? Stop it shall, or the devil
take a worse hold of me.
With steadily increasing fury, grinding my teeth under the
consciousness of my impotence, with tears and oaths I raged on, without
looking at the people who passed me by. I commenced once more to martyr
myself, ran my forehead against lamp-posts on purpose, dug my nails
deep into my palms, bit my tongue with frenzy when it didn't articulate
clearly, and laughed insanely each time it hurt much.
Yes; but what shall I do? I asked myself at last, and I stamped many
times on the pavement and repeated, What shall I do? A gentleman just
going by remarks, with a smile, You ought to go and ask to be locked
up. I looked after him. One of our well-known lady's doctors,
nicknamed The Duke. Not even he understood my real conditiona man I
knew; whose hand I had shaken. I grew quiet. Locked up? Yes, I was mad;
he was right. I felt madness in my blood; felt its darting pain through
my brain. So that was to be the end of me! Yes, yes; and I resume my
wearisome, painful walk. There was the haven in which I was to find
Suddenly I stop again. But not locked up! I say, not that; and I
grew almost hoarse with fear. I implored grace for myself; begged to
the wind and weather not to be locked up. I should have to be brought
to the guard-house again, imprisoned in a dark cell which had not a
spark of light in it. Not that! There must be other channels yet open
that I had not tried, and I would try them. I would be so earnestly
painstaking; would take good time for it, and go indefatigably round
from house to house. For example, there was Cisler the music-seller; I
hadn't been to him at all. Some remedy would turn up!.... Thus I
stumbled on, and talked until I brought myself to weep with emotion.
Cisler! Was that perchance a hint from on high? His name had struck me
for no reason, and he lived so far away; but I would look him up all
the same, go slowly, and rest between times. I knew the place well; I
had been there often, when times were good had bought much music from
him. Should I ask him for sixpence? Perhaps that might make him feel
uncomfortable. I would ask him for a shilling. I went into the shop,
and asked for the chief. They showed me into his office; there he
sathandsome, well-dressed in the latest stylerunning down some
accounts. I stammered through an excuse, and set forth my errand.
Compelled by need to apply to him ... it should not be very long till I
could pay it back ... when I got paid for my newspaper article.... He
would confer such a great benefit on me.... Even as I was speaking he
turned about to his desk, and resumed his work. When I had finished, he
glanced sideways at me, shook his handsome head, and said, No; simply
nono explanationnot another word.
My knees trembled fearfully, and I supported myself against the
little polished barrier. I must try once more. Why should just his name
have occurred to me as I stood far away from there in It won't be I
that will do that, he observed; adding, and let me tell you, at the
same time, I've had about enough of this.
I tore myself out, sick with hunger, and boiling with shame. I had
turned myself into a dog for the sake of a miserable bone, and I had
not got it. Nay, now there must be an end of this! It had really gone
all too far with me. I had held myself up for many years, stood erect
through so many hard hours, and now, all at once, I had sunk to the
lowest form of begging. This one day had coarsened my whole mind,
bespattered my soul with shamelessness. I had not been too abashed to
stand and whine in the pettiest huckster's shop, and what had it
But was I not then without the veriest atom of bread to put inside
my mouth? I had succeeded in rendering myself a thing loathsome to
myself. Yes, yes; but it must come to an end. Presently they would lock
the outer door at home? I must hurry unless I wished to lie in the
This gave me strength. Lie in that cell again I would not. With body
bent forward, and my hands pressed hard against my left ribs to deaden
the stings a little, I struggled on, keeping my eyes fastened upon the
paving-stones that I might not be forced to bow to possible
acquaintances, and hastened to the fire look-out. God be praised! it
was only seven o'clock by the dial on Our Saviour's; I had three hours
yet before the door would be locked. What a fright I had been in!
Well, there was not a stone left unturned. I had done all I could.
To think that I really could not succeed once in a whole day! If I told
it no one could believe it; if I were to write it down they would say I
had invented it. Not in a single place! Well, well, there is no help
for it. Before all, don't go and get pathetic again. Bah! how
disgusting! I can assure you, it makes me have a loathing for you. If
all hope is over, why there is an end of it. Couldn't I, for that
matter, steal a handful of oats in the stable? A streak of lighta
rayyet I knew the stable was shut.
I took my ease, and crept home at a slow snail's pace. I felt
thirsty, luckily for the first time through the whole day, and I went
and sought about for a place where I could get a drink. I was a long
distance away from the bazaar, and I would not ask at a private house.
Perhaps, though, I could wait till I got home; it would take a quarter
of an hour. It was not at all so certain that I could keep down a
draught of water, either; my stomach no longer suffered in any wayI
even felt nausea at the spittle I swallowed. But the buttons! I had not
tried the buttons at all yet. There I stood, stock-still, and commenced
to smile. Maybe there was a remedy, in spite of all! I wasn't totally
doomed. I should certainly get a penny for them; tomorrow I might raise
another some place or other, and Thursday I might be paid for my
newspaper article. I should just see it would come out all right. To
think that I could really go and forget the buttons. I took them out of
my pocket, and inspected them as I walked on again. My eyes grew dazed
with joy. I did not see the street; I simply went on. Didn't I know
exactly the big pawn-shopmy refuge in the dark evenings, with my
blood-sucking friend? One by one my possessions had vanished theremy
little things from homemy last book. I liked to go there on auction
days, to look on, and rejoice each time my books seemed likely to fall
into good hands. Magelsen, the actor, had my watch; I was almost proud
of that. A diary, in which I had written my first small poetical
attempt, had been bought by an acquaintance, and my topcoat had found a
haven with a photographer, to be used in the studio. So there was no
cause to grumble about any of them. I held my buttons ready in my hand;
Uncle is sitting at his desk, writing. I am not in a hurry, I say,
afraid of disturbing him, and making him impatient at my application.
My voice sounded so curiously hollow I hardly recognized it again, and
my heart beat like a sledge-hammer.
He came smilingly over to me, as was his wont, laid both his hands
flat on the counter, and looked at my face without saying anything.
Yes, I had brought something of which I would ask him if he could make
any use; something which is only in my way at home, assure you of
itare quite an annoyancesome buttons. Well, what then? what was
there about the buttons? and he thrusts his eyes down close to my hand.
Couldn't he give me a couple of halfpence for them?whatever he
thought himselfquite according to his own judgment. For the
buttons?and Uncle stares astonishedly at mefor these buttons?
Only for a cigar or whatever he liked himself; I was just passing, and
thought I would look in.
Upon this, the old pawnbroker burst out laughing, and returned to
his desk without saying a word. There I stood; I had not hoped for
much, yet, all the same, I had thought of a possibility of being
helped. This laughter was my death-warrant. It couldn't, I suppose, be
of any use trying with my eyeglasses either? Of course, I would let my
glasses go in with them; that was a matter of course, said I, and I
took them off. Only a penny, or if he wished, a halfpenny.
You know quite well I can't lend you anything on your glasses,
said Uncle; I told you that once before.
But I want a stamp, I said, dully. I can't even send off the
letters I have written; a penny or a halfpenny stamp, just as you
Oh, God help you, go your way! he replied, and motioned me off
with his hands.
Yes, yes; well, it must be so, I said to myself. Mechanically, I put
on my glasses again, took the buttons in my hand, and, turning away,
bade him good-night, and closed the door after me as usual. Well, now,
there was nothing more to be done! To think he would not take them at
any price, I muttered. They are almost new buttons; I can't understand
Whilst I stood, lost in thought, a man passed by and entered the
office. He had given me a little shove in his hurry. We both made
excuses, and I turned round and looked after him.
What! is that you? he said, suddenly, when half-way up the steps.
He came back, and I recognized him. God bless me, man, what on earth
do you look like? What were you doing in there?
Oh, I had business. You are going in too, I see.
Yes; what were you in with?
My knees trembled; I supported myself against the wall, and
stretched out my hand with the buttons in it.
What the deuce! he cried. No; this is really going too far.
Good-night! said I, and was about to go; I felt the tears choking
No; wait a minute, he said.
What was I to wait for? Was he not himself on the road to my
Uncle, bringing, perhaps, his engagement ringhad been hungry,
perhaps, for several daysowed his landlady?
Yes, I replied; if you will be out soon....
Of course, he broke in, seizing hold of my arm; but I may as well
tell you I don't believe you. You are such an idiot, that it's better
you come in along with me.
I understood what he meant, suddenly felt a little spark of pride,
I can't; I promised to be in Bernt Akers Street at half-past seven,
Half-past seven, quite so; but it's eight now. Here I am, standing
with the watch in my hand that I'm going to pawn. So, in with you, you
hungry sinner! I'll get you five shillings anyhow, and he pushed me
A week passed in glory and gladness.
I had got over the worst this time, too. I had had food every day,
and my courage rose, and I thrust one iron after the other into the
I was working at three or four articles, that plundered my poor
brain of every spark, every thought that rose in it; and yet I fancied
that I wrote with more facility than before.
The last article with which I had raced about so much, and upon
which I had built such hopes, had already been returned to me by the
editor; and, angry and wounded as I was, I had destroyed it
immediately, without even re-reading it again. In future, I would try
another paper in order to open up more fields for my work.
Supposing that writing were to fail, and the worst were to come to
the worst, I still had the ships to take to. The Nun lay
alongside the wharf, ready to sail, and I might, perhaps, work my way
out to Archangel, or wherever else she might be bound; there was no
lack of openings on many sides. The last crisis had dealt rather
roughly with me. My hair fell out in masses, and I was much troubled
with headaches, particularly in the morning, and my nervousness died a
hard death. I sat and wrote during the day with my hands bound up in
rags, simply because I could not endure the touch of my own breath upon
them. If Jens Olaj banged the stable door underneath me, or if a dog
came into the yard and commenced to bark, it thrilled through my very
marrow like icy stabs piercing me from every side. I was pretty well
Day after day I strove at my work, begrudging myself the short time
it took to swallow my food before I sat down again to write. At this
time both the bed and the little rickety table were strewn over with
notes and written pages, upon which I worked turn about, added any new
ideas which might have occurred to me during the day, erased, or
quickened here and there the dull points by a word of colourfagged
and toiled at sentence after sentence, with the greatest of pains. One
afternoon, one of my articles being at length finished, I thrust it,
contented and happy, into my pocket, and betook myself to the
commandor. It was high time I made some arrangement towards getting a
little money again; I had only a few pence left.
The commandor requested me to sit down for a moment; he would be
disengaged immediately, and he continued writing.
I looked about the little officebusts, prints, cuttings, and an
enormous paper-basket, that looked as if it might swallow a man, bones
and all. I felt sad at heart at the sight of this monstrous chasm, this
dragon's mouth, that always stood open, always ready to receive
rejected work, newly crushed hopes.
What day of the month is it? queried the commandor from the
The 28th, I reply, pleased that I can be of service to him, the
28th, and he continues writing. At last he encloses a couple of
letters in their envelopes, tosses some papers into the basket, and
lays down his pen. Then he swings round on his chair, and looks at me.
Observing that I am still standing near the door, he makes a
half-serious, half-playful motion with his hand, and points to a chair.
I turn aside, so that he may not see that I have no waistcoat on,
when I open my coat to take the manuscript out of my pocket.
It is only a little character sketch of Correggio, I say; but
perhaps it is, worse luck, not written in such a way that....
He takes the papers out of my hand, and commences to go through
them. His face is turned towards me.
And so it is thus he looks at close quarters, this man, whose name I
had already heard in my earliest youth, and whose paper had exercised
the greatest influence upon me as the years advanced? His hair is
curly, and his beautiful brown eyes are a little restless. He has a
habit of tweaking his nose now and then. No Scotch minister could look
milder than this truculent writer, whose pen always left bleeding scars
wherever it attacked. A peculiar feeling of awe and admiration comes
over me in the presence of this man. The tears are on the point of
coming to my eyes, and I advanced a step to tell him how heartily I
appreciated him, for all he had taught me, and to beg him not to hurt
me; I was only a poor bungling wretch, who had had a sorry enough time
of it as it was....
He looked up, and placed my manuscript slowly together, whilst he
sat and considered. To make it easier for him to give me a refusal, I
stretch out my hand a little, and say:
Ah, well, of course, it is not of any use to you, and I smile to
give him the impression that I take it easily.
Everything has to be of such a popular nature to be of any use to
us, he replies; you know the kind of public we have. But can't you
try and write something a little more commonplace, or hit upon
something that people understand better?
His forbearance astonishes me. I understand that my article is
rejected, and yet I could not have received a prettier refusal. Not to
take up his time any longer, I reply:
Oh yes, I daresay I can.
I go towards the door. Hemhe must pray forgive me for having taken
up his time with this ... I bow, and turn the door handle.
If you need it, he says, you are welcome to draw a little in
advance; you can write for it, you know.
Now, as he had just seen that I was not capable of writing, this
offer humiliated me somewhat, and I answered:
No, thanks; I can pull through yet a while, thanking you very much,
all the same. Good-day!
Good-day! replies the commandor, turning at the same time to his
He had none the less treated me with undeserved kindness, and I was
grateful to him for itand I would know how to appreciate it too. I
made a resolution not to return to him until I could take something
with me, that satisfied me perfectly; something that would astonish the
commandor a bit, and make him order me to be paid half-a-sovereign
without a moment's hesitation. I went home, and tackled my writing once
During the following evenings, as soon as it got near eight o'clock
and the gas was lit, the following thing happened regularly to me.
As I come out of my room to take a walk in the streets after the
labour and troubles of the day, a lady, dressed in black, stands under
the lamp-post exactly opposite my door.
She turns her face towards me and follows me with her eyes when I
pass her byI remark that she always has the same dress on, always the
same thick veil that conceals her face and falls over her breast, and
that she carries in her hand a small umbrella with an ivory ring in the
handle. This was already the third evening I had seen her there, always
in the same place. As soon as I have passed her by she turns slowly and
goes down the street away from me. My nervous brain vibrated with
curiosity, and I became at once possessed by the unreasonable feeling
that I was the object of her visit. At last I was almost on the point
of addressing her, of asking her if she was looking for any one, if she
needed my assistance in any way, or if I might accompany her home.
Badly dressed, as I unfortunately was, I might protect her through the
dark streets; but I had an undefined fear that it perhaps might cost me
something; a glass of wine, or a drive, and I had no money left at all.
My distressingly empty pockets acted in a far too depressing way upon
me, and I had not even the courage to scrutinize her sharply as I
passed her by. Hunger had once more taken up its abode in my breast,
and I had not tasted food since yesterday evening. This, 'tis true, was
not a long period; I had often been able to hold out for a couple of
days at a time, but latterly I had commenced to fall off seriously; I
could not go hungry one quarter as well as I used to do. A single day
made me feel dazed, and I suffered from perpetual retching the moment I
tasted water. Added to this was the fact that I lay and shivered all
night, lay fully dressed as I stood and walked in the daytime, lay blue
with cold, lay and froze every night with fits of icy shivering, and
grew stiff during my sleep. The old blanket could not keep out the
draughts, and I woke in the mornings with my nose stopped by the sharp
outside frosty air which forced its way into the dilapidated room.
I go down the street and think over what I am to do to keep myself
alive until I get my next article finished. If I only had a candle I
would try to fag on through the night; it would only take a couple of
hours if I once warmed to my work, and then tomorrow I could call on
I go without further ado into the Opland Cafe and look for my young
acquaintance in the bank, in order to procure a penny for a candle. I
passed unhindered through all the rooms; I passed a dozen tables at
which men sat chatting, eating, and drinking; I passed into the back of
the cafe, ay, even into the red alcove, without succeeding in finding
Crestfallen and annoyed I dragged myself out again into the street
and took the direction to the Palace.
Wasn't it now the very hottest eternal devil existing to think that
my hardships never would come to an end! Taking long, furious strides,
with the collar of my coat hunched savagely up round my ears, and my
hands thrust in my breeches pockets, I strode along, cursing my unlucky
stars the whole way. Not one real untroubled hour in seven or eight
months, not the common food necessary to hold body and soul together
for the space of one short week, before want stared me in the face
again. Here I had, into the bargain, gone and kept straight and
honourable all through my miseryHa! ha! straight and honourable to
the heart's core. God preserve me, what a fool I had been! And I
commenced to tell myself how I had even gone about conscience-stricken
because I had once brought Hans Pauli's blanket to the pawn-broker's. I
laughed sarcastically at my delicate rectitude, spat contemptuously in
the street, and could not find words half strong enough to mock myself
for my stupidity. Let it only happen now! Were I to find at this moment
a schoolgirl's savings or a poor widow's only penny, I would snatch it
up and pocket it; steal it deliberately, and sleep the whole night
through like a top. I had not suffered so unspeakably much for
nothingmy patience was goneI was prepared to do anything.
I walked round the palace three, perhaps four, times, then came to
the conclusion that I would go home, took yet one little turn in the
park and went back down Carl Johann. It was now about eleven. The
streets were fairly dark, and the people roamed about in all
directions, quiet pairs and noisy groups mixed with one another. The
great hour had commenced, the pairing time when the mystic traffic is
in full swingand the hour of merry adventures sets in. Rustling
petticoats, one or two still short, sensual laughter, heaving bosoms,
passionate, panting breaths, and far down near the Grand Hotel, a voice
calling Emma! The whole street was a swamp, from which hot vapours
I feel involuntarily in my pockets for a few shillings. The passion
that thrills through the movements of every one of the passers-by, the
dim light of the gas lamps, the quiet pregnant night, all commence to
affect methis air, that is laden with whispers, embraces, trembling
admissions, concessions, half-uttered words and suppressed cries. A
number of cats are declaring their love with loud yells in Blomquist's
doorway. And I did not possess even a florin! It was a misery, a
wretchedness without parallel to be so impoverished. What humiliation,
too; what disgrace! I began again to think about the poor widow's last
mite, that I would have stolen a schoolboy's cap or handkerchief, or a
beggar's wallet, that I would have brought to a rag-dealer without more
ado, and caroused with the proceeds.
In order to console myselfto indemnify myself in some measureI
take to picking all possible faults in the people who glide by. I shrug
my shoulders contemptuously, and look slightingly at them according as
they pass. These easily-pleased, confectionery-eating students, who
fancy they are sowing their wild oats in truly Continental style if
they tickle a sempstress under the ribs! These young bucks, bank
clerks, merchants, flâneurswho would not disdain a sailor's wife;
blowsy Molls, ready to fall down in the first doorway for a glass of
beer! What sirens! The place at their side still warm from the last
night's embrace of a watch-man or a stable-boy! The throne always
vacant, always open to newcomers! Pray, mount!
I spat out over the pavement, without troubling if it hit any one. I
felt enraged; filled with contempt for these people who scraped
acquaintanceship with one another, and paired off right before my eyes.
I lifted my head, and felt in myself the blessing of being able to keep
my own sty clean. At Stortingsplads (Parliament Place) I met a girl who
looked fixedly at me as I came close to her.
Good-night! said I.
Good-night! She stopped.
Hum! was she out walking so late? Did not a young lady run rather a
risk in being in Carl Johann at this time of night? Really not? Yes;
but was she never spoken to, molested, I meant; to speak plainly, asked
to go along home with any one?
She stared at me with astonishment, scanned my face closely, to see
what I really meant by this, then thrust her hand suddenly under my
arm, and said:
Yes, and we went too!
I walked on with her. But when we had gone a few paces past the
car-stand I came to a standstill, freed my arm, and said:
Listen, my dear, I don't own a farthing! and with that I went on.
At first she would not believe me; but after she had searched all my
pockets, and found nothing, she got vexed, tossed her head, and called
me a dry cod.
Good-night! said I.
Wait a minute, she called; are those eyeglasses that you've got
Then go to blazes with you! and I went.
A few seconds after she came running behind me, and called out to
You can come with me all the same!
I felt humiliated by this offer from an unfortunate street wench,
and I said No. Besides, it was growing late at night, and I was due
at a place. Neither could she afford to make sacrifices of that kind.
Yes; but now I will have you come with me.
But I won't go with you in this way.
Oh, naturally; you are going with some one else.
No, I answered.
But I was conscious that I stood in a sorry plight in face of this
unique street jade, and I made up my mind to save appearances at least.
What is your name? I inquired. Mary, eh? Well, listen to me now,
Mary! and I set about explaining my behaviour. The girl grew more and
more astonished in measure as I proceeded. Had she then believed that
I, too, was one of those who went about the street at night and ran
after little girls? Did she really think so badly of me? Had I perhaps
said anything rude to her from the beginning? Did one behave as I had
done when one was actuated by any bad motive? Briefly, in so many
words, I had accosted her, and accompanied her those few paces, to see
how far she would go on with it. For the rest, my name was
So-and-soPastor So-and-so. Good-night; depart, and sin no more!
With these words I left her.
I rubbed my hands with delight over my happy notion, and
soliloquized aloud, What a joy there is in going about doing good
actions. Perhaps I had given this fallen creature an upward impulse
for her whole life; save her, once for all, from destruction, and she
would appreciate it when she came to think over it; remember me yet in
her hour of death with thankful heart. Ah! in truth, it paid to be
honourable, upright, and righteous!
My spirits were effervescing. I felt fresh and courageous enough to
face anything that might turn up. If I only had a candle, I might
perhaps complete my article. I walked on, jingling my new door-key in
my hand; hummed, and whistled, and speculated as to means of procuring
a candle. There was no other way out of it. I would have to take my
writing materials with me into the street, under a lamp-post. I opened
the door, and went up to get my papers. When I descended once more I
locked the door from the outside, and planted myself under the light.
All around was quiet; I heard the heavy clanking footstep of a
constable down in Taergade, and far away in the direction of St. Han's
Hill a dog barked. There was nothing to disturb me. I pulled my coat
collar up round my ears, and commenced to think with all my might.
It would be such an extraordinary help to me if I were lucky enough
to find a suitable winding up for this little essay. I had stuck just
at a rather difficult point in it, where there ought to be a quite
imperceptible transition to something fresh, then a subdued gliding
finale, a prolonged murmur, ending at last in a climax as bold and as
startling as a shot, or the sound of a mountain avalanchefull stop.
But the words would not come to me. I read over the whole piece from
the commencement; read every sentence aloud, and yet failed absolutely
to crystallize my thoughts, in order to produce this scintillating
climax. And into the bargain, whilst I was standing labouring away at
this, the constable came and, planting himself a little distance away
from me, spoilt my whole mood. Now, what concern was it of his if I
stood and strove for a striking climax to an article for the
Commandor? Lord, how utterly impossible it was for me to keep my
head above water, no matter how much I tried! I stayed there for the
space of an hour. The constable went his way. The cold began to get too
intense for me to keep still. Disheartened and despondent over this
abortive effort, I opened the door again, and went up to my room.
It was cold up there, and I could barely see my window for the
intense darkness. I felt my towards the bed, pulled off my shoes, and
set about warming my feet between my hands. Then I lay down, as I had
done for a long time now, with all my clothes on.
The following morning I sat up in bed as soon as it got light, and
set to work at the essay once more. I sat thus till noon; I had
succeeded by then in getting ten, perhaps twenty lines down, and still
I had not found an ending.
I rose, put on my shoes, and began to walk up and down the floor to
try and warm myself. I looked out; there was rime on the window; it was
snowing. Down in the yard a thick layer of snow covered the
paving-stones and the top of the pump. I bustled about the room, took
aimless turns to and fro, scratched the wall with my nail, leant my
head carefully against the door for a while, tapped with my forefinger
on the floor, and then listened attentively, all without any object,
but quietly and pensively as if it were some matter of importance in
which I was engaged; and all the while I murmured aloud, time upon
time, so that I could hear my own voice.
But, great God, surely this is madness! and yet I kept on just as
before. After a long time, perhaps a couple of hours, I pulled myself
sharply together, bit my lips, and manned myself as well as I could.
There must be an end to this! I found a splinter to chew, and set
myself resolutely to again.
A couple of short sentences formed themselves with much trouble, a
score of poor words which I tortured forth with might and main to try
and advance a little. Then I stopped, my head was barren; I was
incapable of more. And, as I could positively not go on, I set myself
to gaze with wide open eyes at these last words, this unfinished sheet
of paper; I stared at these strange, shaky letters that bristled up
from the paper like small hairy creeping things, till at last I could
neither make head nor tail of any of it. I thought on nothing.
Time went; I heard the traffic in the street, the rattle of cars and
tramp of hoofs. Jens Olaj's voice ascended towards me from the stables
as he chid the horses. I was perfectly stunned. I sat and moistened my
lips a little, but otherwise made no effort to do anything; my chest
was in a pitiful state. The dusk closed in; I sank more and more
together, grew weary, and lay down on the bed again. In order to warm
my fingers a little I stroked them through my hair backwards and
forwards and crosswise. Small loose tufts came away, flakes that got
between my fingers, and scattered over the pillow. I did not think
anything about it just then; it was as if it did not concern me. I had
hair enough left, anyway. I tried afresh to shake myself out of this
strange daze that enveloped my whole being like a mist. I sat up,
struck my knees with my flat hands, laughed as hard as my sore chest
permitted meonly to collapse again. Naught availed; I was dying
helplessly, with my eyes wide openstaring straight up at the roof. At
length I stuck my forefinger in my mouth, and took to sucking it.
Something stirred in my brain, a thought that bored its way in therea
Supposing I were to take a bite? And without a moment's reflection,
I shut my eyes, and clenched my teeth on it.
I sprang up. At last I was thoroughly awake. A little blood trickled
from it, and I licked it as it came. It didn't hurt very much, neither
was the wound large, but I was brought at one bound to my senses. I
shook my head, went to the window, where I found a rag, and wound it
round the sore place. As I stood and busied myself with this, my eyes
filled with tears; I cried softly to myself. This poor thin finger
looked so utterly pitiable. God in Heaven! what a pass it had come to
now with me! The gloom grew closer. It was, maybe, not impossible that
I might work up my finale through the course of the evening, if I only
had a candle. My head was clear once more. Thoughts came and went as
usual, and I did not suffer particularly; I did not even feel hunger so
badly as some hours previously. I could hold out well till the next
day. Perhaps I might be able to get a candle on credit, if I applied to
the provision shop and explained my situationI was so well known in
there; in the good old days, when I had the means to do it, I used to
buy many a loaf there. There was no doubt I could raise a candle on the
strength of my honest name; and for the first time for ages I took to
brushing my clothes a little, got rid as well as the darkness allowed
me of the loose hairs on my collar, and felt my way down the stairs.
When I got outside in the street it occurred to me that I might
perhaps rather ask for a loaf. I grew irresolute, and stopped to
consider. On no account, I replied to myself at last; I was
unfortunately not in a condition to bear food. It would only be a
repetition of the same old storyvisions, and presentiments, and mad
notions. My article would never get finished, and it was a question of
going to the Commandor before he had time to forget me. On no account
whatever! and I decided upon the candle. With that I entered the shop.
A woman is standing at the counter making purchases; several small
parcels in different sorts of paper are lying in front of her. The
shopman, who knows me, and knows what I usually buy, leaves the woman,
and packs without much ado a loaf in a piece of paper and shoves it
over to me.
No, thank you, it was really a candle I wanted this evening, I
say. I say it very quietly and humbly, in order not to vex him and
spoil my chance of getting what I want.
My answer confuses him; he turns quite cross at my unexpected words;
it was the first time I had ever demanded anything but a loaf from him.
Well then, you must wait a while, he says at last, and busies
himself with the woman's parcels again.
She receives her wares and pays for them-gives him a florin, out
of which she gets the change, and goes out. Now the shop-boy and I are
alone. He says:
So it was a candle you wanted, eh? He tears open a package, and
takes one out for me. He looks at me, and I look at him; I can't get my
request over my lips.
Oh yes, that's true; you paid, though! he says suddenly. He simply
asserts that I had paid. I heard every word, and he begins to count
some silver out of the till, coin after coin, shining stout pieces. He
gives me back change for a crown.
Much obliged, he says.
Now I stand and look at these pieces of money for a second. I am
conscious something is wrong somewhere. I do not reflect; do not think
about anything at allI am simply struck of a heap by all this wealth
which is lying glittering before my eyesand I gather up the money
I stand outside the counter, stupid with amazement, dumb, paralyzed.
I take a stride towards the door, and stop again. I turn my eyes upon a
certain spot in the wall, where a little bell is suspended to a leather
collar, and underneath this a bundle of string, and I stand and stare
at these things.
The shop-boy is struck by the idea that I want to have a chat as I
take my time so leisurely, and says, as he tidies a lot of
wrapping-papers strewn over the counter:
It looks as if we were going to have winter snow!
Humph! Yes, I reply; it looks as if we were going to have winter
in earnest now; it looks like it, and a while after, I add: Ah, well,
it is none too soon.
I could hear myself speak, but each word I uttered struck my ear as
if it were coming from another person. I spoke absolutely unwittingly,
involuntarily, without being conscious of myself.
Oh, do you think so? says the boy.
I thrust the hand with the money into my pocket, turned the
door-handle, and left. I could hear that I said good-night, and that
the shop-boy replied to me.
I had gone a few paces away from the shop when the shop-door was
torn open, and the boy called after me. I turned round without any
astonishment, without a trace of fear; I only collected the money into
my hand, and prepared to give it back.
Beg pardon, you've forgotten your candle, says the boy.
Ah, thanks, I answered quietly. Thanks, thanks; and I strolled
on, down the street, bearing it in my hand.
My first sensible thought referred to the money. I went over to a
lamp-post, counted it, weighed it in my hand, and smiled. So, in spite
of all, I was helpedextraordinarily, grandly, incredibly
helpedhelped for a long, long time; and I thrust my hand with the
money into my pocket, and walked on.
Outside an eating-house in Grand Street I stopped, and turned over
in my mind, calmly and quietly, if I should venture so soon to take a
little refreshment. I could hear the rattle of knives and plates
inside, and the sound of meat being pounded. The temptation was too
strong for meI entered.
A helping of beef, I say.
One beef! calls the waitress down through the door to the lift.
I sat down by myself at a little table next to the door, and
prepared to wait. It was somewhat dark where I was sitting, and I felt
tolerably well concealed, and set myself to have a serious think. Every
now and then the waitress glanced over at me inquiringly. My first
downright dishonesty was accomplishedmy first theft. Compared to
this, all my earlier escapades were as nothingmy first great fall....
Well and good! There was no help for it. For that matter, it was open
to me to settle it with the shopkeeper later on, on a more opportune
occasion. It need not go any farther with me. Besides that, I had not
taken upon myself to live more honourably than all the other folk;
there was no contract that....
Do you think that beef will soon be here?
Yes; immediately; the waitress opens the trapdoor, and looks down
into the kitchen.
But suppose the affair did crop up some day? If the shop-boy were to
get suspicious and begin to think over the transaction about the bread,
and the florin of which the woman got the change? It was not impossible
that he would discover it some day, perhaps the next time I went there.
Well, then, Lord!... I shrugged my shoulders unobserved.
If you please, says the waitress, kindly placing the beef on the
table, wouldn't you rather go to another compartment, it's so dark
No, thanks; just let me be here, I reply; her kindliness touches
me at once. I pay for the beef on the spot, put whatever change remains
into her hand, close her fingers over it. She smiles, and I say in fun,
with the tears near my ears, There, you're to have the balance to buy
yourself a farm.... Ah, you're very welcome to it.
I commenced to eat, got more and more greedy I as I did so,
swallowed whole pieces without chewing them, enjoyed myself in an
animal-like way at every mouthful, and tore at the meat like a
The waitress came over to me again.
Will you have anything to drink? she asks, bending down a little
towards me. I looked at her. She spoke very low, almost shyly, and
dropped her eyes. I mean a glass of ale, or whatever you like best ...
from me ... without ... that is, if you will....
No; many thanks, I answer. Not now; I shall come back another
She drew back, and sat down at the desk. I could only see her head.
What a singular creature!
When finished, I made at once for the door. I felt nausea already.
The waitress got up. I was afraid to go near the lightafraid to show
myself too plainly to the young girl, who never for a moment suspected
the depth of my misery; so I wished her a hasty good-night, bowed to
her, and left.
The food commenced to take effect. I suffered much from it, and
could not keep it down for any length of time. I had to empty my mouth
a little at every dark corner I came to. I struggled to master this
nausea which threatened to hollow me out anew, clenched my hands, and
tried to fight it down; stamped on the pavement, and gulped down
furiously whatever sought to come up. All in vain. I sprang at last
into a doorway, doubled up, head foremost, blinded with the water which
gushed from my eyes, and vomited once more. I was seized with
bitterness, and wept as I went along the street.... I cursed the cruel
powers, whoever they might be, that persecuted me so, consigned them to
hell's damnation and eternal torments for their petty persecution.
There was but little chivalry in fate, really little enough chivalry;
one was forced to admit that.
I went over to a man staring into a shop-window, and asked him in
great haste what, according to his opinion, should one give a man who
had been starving for a long time. It was a matter of life and death, I
said; he couldn't even keep beef down.
I have heard say that milk is a good thinghot milk, answered the
man, astonished. Who is it, by the way, you are asking for?
Thanks, thanks, I say; that idea of hot milk might not be half a
bad notion; and I go.
I entered the first café I came to going along, and asked for some
boiled milk. I got the milk, drank it down, hot as it was, swallowed it
greedily, every drop, paid for it, and went out again. I took the road
Now something singular happened. Outside my door, leaning against
the lamp-post, and right under the glare of it, stands a person of whom
I get a glimpse from a long distanceit is the lady dressed in black
again. The same black-clad lady of the other evenings. There could be
no mistake about it; she had turned up at the same spot for the fourth
time. She is standing perfectly motionless. I find this so peculiar
that I involuntarily slacken my pace. At this moment my thoughts are in
good working order, but I am much excited; my nerves are irritated by
my last meal. I pass her by as usual; am almost at the door and on the
point of entering. There I stop. All of a sudden an inspiration seizes
me. Without rendering myself any account of it, I turn round and go
straight up to the lady, look her in the face, and bow.
Good-evening, she answers.
Excuse me, was she looking for anything? I had noticed her before;
could I be of assistance to her in any way? begged pardon, by-the-way,
so earnestly for inquiring.
Yes; she didn't quite know....
No one lived inside that door besides three or four horses and
myself; it was, for that matter, only a stable and a tinker's
workshop.... She was certainly on a wrong track if she was seeking any
At this she turns her head away, and says: I am not seeking for
anybody. I am only standing here; it was really only a whim. I ... she
Indeed, really, she only stood there, just stood there, evening
after evening, just for a whim's sake!
That was a little odd. I stood and pondered over it, and it
perplexed me more and more. I made up my mind to be daring; I jingled
my money in my pocket, and asked her, without further ado, to come and
have a glass of wine some place or another ... in consideration that
winter had come, ha, ha! ... it needn't take very long ... but perhaps
she would scarcely....
Ah, no, thanks; she couldn't well do that. No! she couldn't do that;
but would I be so kind as to accompany her a little way? She ... it was
rather dark to go home now, and she was rather nervous about going up
Carl Johann after it got so late.
We moved on; she walked at my right side. A strange, beautiful
feeling empowered me; the certainty of being near a young girl. I
looked at her the whole way along. The scent of her hair; the warmth
that irradiated from her body; the perfume of woman that accompanied
her; the sweet breath every time she turned her face towards
meeverything penetrated in an ungovernable way through all my senses.
So far, I just caught a glimpse of a full, rather pale, face behind the
veil, and a high bosom that curved out against her cape. The thought of
all the hidden beauty which I surmised lay sheltered under the cloak
and veil bewildered me, making me idiotically happy without any
reasonable grounds. I could not endure it any longer; I touched her
with my hand, passed my fingers over her shoulder, and smiled
How queer you are, said I.
Am I, really; in what way?
Well, in the first place, simply, she had a habit of standing
outside a stable door, evening after evening, without any object
whatever, just for a whim's sake....
Oh, well, she might have her reason for doing so; besides, she liked
staying up late at night; it was a thing she had always had a great
fancy for. Did I care about going to bed before twelve?
I? If there was anything in the world I hated it was to go to bed
before twelve o'clock at night.
Ah, there, you see! She, too, was just the same; she took this
little tour in the evenings when she had nothing to lose by doing so.
She lived up in St. Olav's Place.
Ylajali, I cried.
I beg pardon?
I only said 'Ylajali' ... it's all right. Continue....
She lived up in St. Olav's Place, lonely enough, together with her
mother, to whom one couldn't talk because she was so deaf. Was there
anything odd in her liking to get out for a little?
No, not at all, I replied.
No? well, what then?
I could hear by her voice that she was smiling.
Hadn't she a sister?
Yes; an older sister. But, by-the-way, how did I know that? She had
gone to Hamburg.
Yes; five weeks ago. From where did I learn that she had a sister?
I didn't learn it at all; I only asked.
We kept silence. A man passes us, with a pair of shoes under his
arm; otherwise, the street is empty as far as we can see. Over at the
Tivoli a long row of coloured lamps are burning. It no longer snows;
the sky is clear.
Gracious! don't you freeze without an overcoat? inquires the lady,
suddenly looking at me.
Should I tell her why I had no overcoat; make my sorry condition
known at once, and frighten her away? As well first as last. Still, it
was delightful to walk here at her side and keep her in ignorance yet a
while longer. So I lied. I answered:
No, not at all; and, in order to change the subject, I asked,
Have you seen the menagerie in the Tivoli?
No, she answered; is there really anything to see?
Suppose she were to take it into her head to wish to go there? Into
that blaze of light, with the crowd of people. Why, she would be filled
with shame; I would drive her out again, with my shabby clothes, and
lean face; perhaps she might even notice that I had no waistcoat on....
Ah, no; there is sure to be nothing worth seeing!
And a lot of happy ideas occurred to me, of which I at once made
use; a few sparse words, fragments left in my dessicated brain. What
would one expect from such a small menagerie? On the whole, it did not
interest me in the least to see animals in cases. These animals know
that one is standing staring at them; they feel hundreds of inquisitive
looks upon them; are conscious of them. No; I would prefer to see
animals that didn't know one observed them; shy creatures that nestle
in their lair, and lie with sluggish green eyes, and lick their claws,
and muse, eh?
Yes; I was certainly right in that.
It was only animals in all their peculiar fearfulness and peculiar
savagery that possessed a charm. The soundless, stealthy tread in the
total darkness of night; the hidden monsters of the woods; the shrieks
of a bird flying past; the wind, the smell of blood, the rumbling in
space; in short, the reigning spirit of the kingdom of savage creatures
hovering over savagery ... the unconscious poetry!... But I was afraid
this bored her. The consciousness of my great poverty seized me anew,
and crushed me. If I had only been in any way well-enough dressed to
have given her the pleasure of this little tour in the Tivoli! I could
not make out this creature, who could find pleasure in letting herself
be accompanied up the whole of Carl Johann Street by a half-naked
beggar. What, in the name of God, was she thinking of? And why was I
walking there, giving myself airs, and smiling idiotically at nothing?
Had I any reasonable cause, either, for letting myself be worried into
a long walk by this dainty, silken-clad bird? Mayhap it did not cost me
an effort? Did I not feel the ice of death go right into my heart at
even the gentlest puff of wind that blew against us? Was not madness
running riot in my brain, just for lack of food for many months at a
stretch? Yet she hindered me from going home to get even a little milk
into my parched mouth; a spoonful of sweet milk, that I might perhaps
be able to keep down. Why didn't she turn her back on me, and let me go
to the deuce?...
I became distracted; my despair reduced me to the last extremity. I
Considering all things, you ought not to walk with me. I disgrace
you right under every one's eyes, if only with my clothes. Yes, it is
positively true; I mean it.
She starts, looks up quickly at me, and is silent; then she exclaims
Indeed, though! More she doesn't say.
What do you mean by that? I queried.
Ugh, no; you make me feel ashamed.... We have not got very far
now; and she walked on a little faster.
We turned up University Street, and could already see the lights in
St. Olav's Place. Then she commenced to walk slowly again.
I have no wish to be indiscreet, I say; but won't you tell me
your name before we part? and won't you, just for one second, lift up
your veil so that I can see you? I would be really so grateful.
A pause. I walked on in expectation.
You have seen me before, she replies.
Ylajali, I say again.
Beg pardon. You followed me once for half-a-day, almost right home.
Were you tipsy that time?
I could hear again that she smiled.
Yes, I said. Yes, worse luck, I was tipsy that time.
That was horrid of you!
And I admitted contritely that it was horrid of me.
We reached the fountains; we stop and look up at the many lighted
windows of No. 2.
Now, you mustn't come any farther with me, she says. Thank you
for coming so far.
I bowed; I daren't say anything; I took off my hat and stood
bareheaded. I wonder if she will give me her hand.
Why don't you ask me to go back a little way with you? she asks,
in a low voice, looking down at the toe of her shoe.
Great Heavens! I reply, beside myself, Great Heavens, if you only
Yes; but only a little way.
And we turned round.
I was fearfully confused. I absolutely did not know if I were on my
head or my heels. This creature upset all my chain of reasoning; turned
it topsy-turvy. I was bewitched and extraordinarily happy. It seemed to
me as if I were being dragged enchantingly to destruction. She had
expressly willed to go back; it wasn't my notion, it was her own
desire. I walk on and look at her, and get more and more bold. She
encourages me, draws me to her by each word she speaks. I forget for a
moment my poverty, my humble position, my whole miserable condition. I
feel my blood course madly through my whole body, as in the days before
I caved in, and resolved to feel my way by a little ruse.
By-the-way, it wasn't you I followed that time, said I. It was
Was it my sister? she questions, in the highest degree amazed. She
stands still, looks up at me, and positively waits for an answer. She
puts the question in all sober earnest.
Yes, I replied. Humm, that is to say, it was the younger of the
two ladies who went on in front of me.
The youngest, eh? eh? a-a-ha! she laughed out all at once, loudly,
heartily, like a child. Oh, how sly you are; you only said that just
to get me to raise my veil, didn't you? Ah, I thought so; but you may
just wait till you are blue first ... just for punishment.
We began to laugh and jest; we talked incessantly all the time. I do
not know what I said, I was so happy. She told me that she had seen me
once before, a long time ago, in the theatre. I had then comrades with
me, and I behaved like a madman; I must certainly have been tipsy that
time too, more's the shame.
Why did she think that?
Oh, I had laughed so.
Really, a-ah yes; I used to laugh a lot in those days.
But now not any more?
Oh yes; now too. It is a splendid thing to exist sometimes.
We reached Carl Johann. She said: Now we won't go any farther, and
we returned through University Street. When we arrived at the fountain
once more I slackened my pace a little; I knew that I could not go any
farther with her.
Well, now you must turn back here, she said, and stopped.
Yes, I suppose I must.
But a second after she thought I might as well go as far as the door
with her. Gracious me, there couldn't be anything wrong in that, could
No, I replied.
But when we were standing at the door all my misery confronted me
clearly. How was one to keep up one's courage when one was so broken
down? Here I stood before a young lady, dirty, ragged, torn, disfigured
by hunger, unwashed, and only half-clad; it was enough to make one sink
into the earth. I shrank into myself, bent my head involuntarily, and
May I not meet you any more then?
I had no hope of being permitted to see her again. I almost wished
for a sharp No, that would pull me together a bit and render me
Yes, she whispered softly, almost inaudibly.
I don't know.
Won't you be so kind as to lift your veil, only just for a minute,
I asked. So that I can see whom I have been talking to. Just for one
moment, for indeed I must see whom I have been talking to.
You can meet me outside here on Tuesday evening, she said. Will
Yes, dear lady, if I have permission to.
At eight o'clock.
I stroked down her cloak with my hand, merely to have an excuse for
touching her. It was a delight to me to be so near her.
And you mustn't think all too badly of me, she added; she was
Suddenly she made a resolute movement and drew her veil up over her
forehead; we stood and gazed at one another for a second.
Ylajali! I cried. She stretched herself up, flung her arms round
my neck and kissed me right on the mouthonly once, swiftly,
bewilderingly swiftly, right on the mouth. I could feel how her bosom
heaved; she was breathing violently. She wrenched herself suddenly out
of my clasp, called a good-night, breathlessly, whispering, and turned
and ran up the stairs without a word more....
The hall door shut.
It snowed still more the next day, a heavy snow mingled with rain;
great wet flakes that fell to earth and were turned to mud. The air was
raw and icy. I woke somewhat late, with my head in a strange state of
confusion, my heart intoxicated from the foregone evening by the
agitation of that delightful meeting. In my rapture (I had lain a while
awake and fancied Ylajali at my side) I spread out my arms and embraced
myself and kissed the air. At length I dragged myself out of bed and
procured a fresh cup of milk, and straight on top of that a plate of
beef. I was no longer hungry, but my nerves were in a highly-strung
I went off to the clothes-shop in the bazaar. It occurred to me that
I might pick up a second-hand waistcoat cheaply, something to put on
under my coat; it didn't matter what.
I went up the steps to the bazaar and took hold of one and began to
While I was thus engaged an acquaintance came by; he nodded and
called up to me. I let the waistcoat hang and went down to him. He was
a designer, and was on the way to his office.
Come with me and have a glass of beer, he said. But hurry up, I
haven't much time.... What lady was that you were walking with
Listen here now, said I, jealous of his bare thought. Supposing
it was my fiancée.
By Jove! he exclaimed.
Yes; it was all settled yesterday evening.
This nonplussed him completely. He believed me implicitly. I lied in
the most accomplished manner to get rid of him. We ordered the beer,
drank it, and left.
Well, good-bye! O listen, he said suddenly. I owe you a few
shillings. It is a shame, too, that I haven't paid you long ago, but
now you shall have them during the next few days.
Yes, thanks, I replied; but I knew that he would never pay me back
the few shillings. The beer, I am sorry to say, went almost immediately
to my head. The thought of the previous evening's adventure overwhelmed
memade me delirious. Supposing she were not to meet me on Tuesday!
Supposing she were to begin to think things over, to get suspicious ...
get suspicious of what?... My thoughts gave a jerk and dwelt upon the
money. I grew afraid; deadly afraid of myself. The theft rushed in upon
me in all its details. I saw the little shop, the counter, my lean
hands as I seized the money, and I pictured to myself the line of
action the police would adopt when they would come to arrest me. Irons
on my hands and feet; no, only on my hands; perhaps only on one hand.
The dock, the clerk taking down the evidence, the scratch of his
penperhaps he might take a new one for the occasionhis look, his
threatening look. There, Herr Tangen, to the cell, the eternally
Humph! I clenched my hands tightly to try and summon courage, walked
faster and faster, and came to the market-place. There I sat down.
Now, no child's play. How in the wide world could any one prove that
I had stolen? Besides, the huckster's boy dare not give an alarm, even
if it should occur to him some day how it had all happened. He valued
his situation far too dearly for that. No noise, no scenes, may I beg!
But all the same, this money weighed in my pocket sinfully, and gave
me no peace. I began to question myself, and I became clearly convinced
that I had been happier before, during the period in which I had
suffered in all honour. And Ylajali? Had I, too, not polluted her with
the touch of my sinful hands? Lord, O Lord my God, Ylajali! I felt as
drunk as a bat, jumped up suddenly, and went straight over to the cake
woman who was sitting near the chemist's under the sign of the
elephant. I might even yet lift myself above dishonour; it was far from
being too late; I would show the whole world that I was capable of
On the way over I got the money in readiness, held every farthing of
it in my hand, bent down over the old woman's table as if I wanted
something, clapped the money without further ado into her hands. I
spoke not a word, turned on my heel, and went my way.
What a wonderful savour there was in feeling oneself an honest man
once more! My empty pockets troubled me no longer; it was simply a
delightful feeling to me to be cleaned out. When I weighed the whole
matter thoroughly, this money had in reality cost me much secret
anguish; I had really thought about it with dread and shuddering time
upon time. I was no hardened soul; my honourable nature rebelled
against such a low action. God be praised, I had raised myself in my
own estimation again! Do as I have done! I said to myself, looking
across the thronged market-placeonly just do as I have done! I had
gladdened a poor old cake vendor to such good purpose that she was
perfectly dumbfounded. Tonight her children wouldn't go hungry to
bed.... I buoyed myself up with these reflections and considered that I
had behaved in a most exemplary manner. God be praised! The money was
out of my hands now!
Tipsy and nervous, I wandered down the street, and swelled with
satisfaction. The joy of being able to meet Ylajali cleanly and
honourably, and of feeling I could look her in the face, ran away with
me. I was not conscious of any pain. My head was clear and buoyant; it
was as if it were a head of mere light that rested and gleamed on my
shoulders. I felt inclined to play the wildest pranks, to do something
astounding, to set the whole town in a ferment. All up through
Graendsen I conducted myself like a madman. There was a buzzing in my
ears, and intoxication ran riot in my brains. The whim seized me to go
and tell my age to a commissionaire, who, by-the-way, had not addressed
a word to me; to take hold of his hands, and gaze impressively in his
face, and leave him again without any explanation. I distinguished
every nuance in the voice and laughter of the passers-by, observed some
little birds that hopped before me in the street, took to studying the
expression of the paving-stones, and discovered all sorts of tokens and
signs in them. Thus occupied, I arrive at length at Parliament Place. I
stand all at once stock-still, and look at the droskes; the drivers are
wandering about, chatting and laughing. The horses hang their heads and
cower in the bitter weather. Go ahead! I say, giving myself a dig
with my elbow. I went hurriedly over to the first vehicle, and got in.
Ullevoldsveien, No. 37, I called out, and we rolled off.
On the way the driver looked round, stooped and peeped several times
into the trap, where I sat, sheltered underneath the hood. Had he, too,
grown suspicious? There was no doubt of it; my miserable attire had
attracted his attention.
I want to meet a man, I called to him, in order to be beforehand
with him, and I explained gravely that I must really meet this man. We
stop outside 37, and I jump out, spring up the stairs right to the
third storey, seize a bell, and pull it. It gives six or seven fearful
A maid comes out and opens the door. I notice that she has round,
gold drops in her ears, and black stuff buttons on her grey bodice. She
looks at me with a frightened air.
I inquire for KierulfJoachim Kierulf, if I might add furthera
wool-dealer; in short, not a man one could make a mistake about....
The girl shook her head. No Kierulf lives here, said she.
She stared at me, and held the door ready to close it. She made no
effort to find the man for me. She really looked as if she knew the
person I inquired for, if she would only take the trouble to reflect a
bit. The lazy jade! I got vexed, turned my back on her, and ran
He wasn't there, I called to the driver.
Wasn't he there?
No. Drive to Tomtegaden, No. 11. I was in a state of the most
violent excitement, and imparted something of the same feeling to the
driver. He evidently thought it was a matter of life and death, and he
drove on, without further ado. He whipped up the horse sharply.
What's the man's name? he inquired, turning round on the box.
Kierulf, a dealer in woolKierulf.
And the driver, too, thought this was a man one would not be likely
to make any mistake about.
Didn't he generally wear a light morning, coat?
What! I cried; a light morning-coat? Are you mad? Do you think it
is a tea-cup I am inquiring about? This light morning-coat came most
inopportunely; it spoilt the whole man for me such as I had fancied
What was it you said he was called?Kierulf?
Of course, I replied. Is there anything wonderful in that? The
name doesn't disgrace any one.
Hasn't he red hair?
Well, it was quite possible that he had red hair, and now that the
driver mentioned the matter, I was suddenly convinced that he was
right. I felt grateful to the poor driver, and hastened to inform him
that he had hit the man off to a The really was just as he described
him,and I remarked, in addition, that it would be a phenomenon to see
such a man without red hair.
It must be him I drove a couple of times, said the driver; he had
a knobbed stick.
This brought the man vividly before me, and I said, Ha, ha! I
suppose no one has ever yet seen the man without a knobbed stick in his
hand, of that you can be certain, quite certain.
Yes, it was clear that it was the same man he had driven. He
recognized himand he drove so that the horse's shoes struck sparks as
they touched the stones.
All through this phase of excitement I had not for one second lost
my presence of mind. We pass a policeman, and I notice his number is
69. This number struck me with such vivid clearness that it penetrated
like a splint into my brain69accurately 69. I wouldn't forget it.
I leant back in the vehicle, a prey to the wildest fancies; crouched
under the hood so that no one could see me. I moved my lips and
commenced to I talk idiotically to myself. Madness rages through my
brain, and I let it rage. I am fully conscious that I am succumbing to
influences over which I have no control. I begin to laugh, silently,
passionately, without a trace of cause, still merry and intoxicated
from the couple of glasses of ale I have drunk. Little by little my
excitement abates, my calm returns more and more to me. I feel the cold
in my sore finger, and I stick it down inside my collar to warm it a
little. At length we reach Tomtegaden. The driver pulls up.
I alight, without any haste, absently, listlessly, with my head
heavy. I go through a gateway and come into a yard across which I pass.
I come to a door which I open and pass through; I find myself in a
lobby, a sort of anteroom, with two windows. There are two boxes in it,
one on top of the other, in one corner, and against the wall an old,
painted sofa-bed over which a rug is spread. To the right, in the next
room, I hear voices and the cry of a child, and above me, on the second
floor, the sound of an iron plate being hammered. All this I notice the
moment as I enter.
I step quietly across the room to the opposite door without any
haste, without any thought of flight; open it, too, and come out in
Vognmansgaden. I look up at the house through which I have passed.
Refreshment and lodgings for travellers.
It is not my intention to escape, to steal away from the driver who
is waiting for me. I go very coolly down Vognmansgaden, without fear of
being conscious of doing any wrong. Kierulf, this dealer in wool, who
has spooked in my brain so longthis creature in whose existence I
believe, and whom it was of vital importance that I should meethad
vanished from my memory; was wiped out with many other mad whims which
came and went in turns. I recalled him no longer, except as a
In measure, as I walked on, I become more and more sober; felt
languid and weary, and dragged my legs after me. The snow still fell in
great moist flakes. At last I reached Gronland; far out, near the
church, I sat down to rest on a seat. All the passers-by looked at me
with much astonishment. I fell a-thinking.
Thou good God, what a miserable plight I have come to! I was so
heartily tired and weary of all my miserable life that I did not find
it worth the trouble of fighting any longer to preserve it. Adversity
had gained the upper hand; it had been too strong for me. I had become
so strangely poverty-stricken and broken, a mere shadow of what I once
had been; my shoulders were sunken right down on one side, and I had
contracted a habit of stooping forward fearfully as I walked, in order
to spare my chest what little I could. I had examined my body a few
days ago, one noon up in my room, and I had stood and cried over it the
whole time. I had worn the same shirt for many weeks, and it was quite
stiff with stale sweat, and had chafed my skin. A little blood and
water ran out of the sore place; it did not hurt much, but it was very
tiresome to have this tender place in the middle of my stomach. I had
no remedy for it, and it wouldn't heal of its own accord. I washed it,
dried it carefully, and put on the same shirt. There was no help for
I sit there on the bench and ponder over all this, and am sad
enough. I loathe myself. My very hands seem distasteful to me; the
loose, almost coarse, expression of the backs of them pains me,
disgusts me. I feel myself rudely affected by the sight of my lean
fingers. I hate the whole of my gaunt, shrunken body, and shrink from
bearing it, from feeling it envelop me. Lord, if the whole thing would
come to an end now, I would heartily, gladly die!
Completely worsted, soiled, defiled, and debased in my own
estimation, I rose mechanically and commenced to turn my steps
homewards. On the way I passed a door, upon which the following was to
be read on a plateWinding-sheets to be had at Miss Andersen's, door
to the right. Old memories! I muttered, as my thoughts flew back to my
former room in Hammersborg. The little rocking-chair, the newspapers
near the door, the lighthouse director's announcement, and Fabian
Olsen, the baker's new-baked bread. Ah yes; times were better with me
then than now; one night I had written a tale for ten shillings, now I
couldn't write anything. My head grew light as soon as ever I attempted
it. Yes, I would put an end to it now; and I went on and on.
As I got nearer and nearer to the provision shop, I had the
half-conscious feeling of approaching a danger, but I determined to
stick to my purpose; I would give myself up. I ran quickly up the
steps. At the door I met a little girl who was carrying a cup in her
hands, and I slipped past her and opened the door. The shop boy and I
stand face to face alone for the second time.
Well! he exclaims; fearfully bad weather now, isn't it? What did
this going round the bush signify? Why didn't he seize me at once? I
got furious, and cried:
Oh, I haven't come to prate about the weather.
This violent preliminary takes him aback; his little huckster brain
fails him. It has never even occurred to him that I have cheated him of
Don't you know, then, that I have swindled you? I query
impatiently, and I breathe quickly with the excitement; I tremble and
am ready to use force if he doesn't come to the point.
But the poor man has no misgivings.
Well, bless my soul, what stupid creatures one has to mix with in
this world! I abuse him, explain to him every detail as to how it had
all happened, show him where the fact was accomplished, where the money
had lain; how I had gathered it up in my hand and closed my fingers
over itand he takes it all in and does nothing. He shifts uneasily
from one foot to the other, listens for footsteps in the next room,
make signs to hush me, to try and make me speak lower, and says at
It was a mean enough thing of you to do!
No; hold on, I explained in my desire to contradict himto
aggravate him. It wasn't quite so mean as he imagined it to be, in his
huckster head. Naturally, I didn't keep the money; that could never
have entered my head. I, for my part, scorned to derive any benefit
from itthat was opposed to my thoroughly honest nature.
What did you do with it, then?
I gave it away to a poor old womanevery farthing of it. He must
understand that that was the sort of person I was; I didn't forget the
He stands and thinks over this a while, becomes manifestly very
dubious as to how far I am an honest man or not. At last he says:
Oughtn't you rather to have brought it back again?
Now, listen here, I reply; I didn't want to get you into trouble
in any way; but that is the thanks one gets for being generous. Here I
stand and explain the whole thing to you, and you simply, instead of
being ashamed as a dog, make no effort to settle the dispute with me.
Therefore I wash my hands of you, and as for the rest, I say, 'The
devil take you!' Good-day.
I left, slamming the door behind me. But when I got home to my room,
into the melancholy hole, wet through from the soft snow, trembling in
my knees from the day's wanderings, I dismounted instantly from my high
horse, and sank together once more.
I regretted my attack upon the poor shop-boy, wept, clutched myself
by the throat to punish myself for my miserable trick, and behaved like
a lunatic. He had naturally been in the most deadly terror for the sake
of his situation; he had not dared to make any fuss about the five
shillings that were lost to the business, and I had taken advantage of
his fear, had tortured him with my violent address, stabbed him with
every loud word that I had roared out. And the master himself had
perhaps been sitting inside the inner room, almost within an ace of
feeling called upon to come out and inquire what was the row. No, there
was no longer any limit to the low things I might be tempted to do.
Well, why hadn't I been locked up? then it would have come to an
end. I would almost have stretched out my wrists for the handcuffs. I
would not have offered the slightest resistance; on the contrary, I
would have assisted them. Lord of Heaven and Earth! one day of my life
for one happy second again! My whole life for a mess of lentils! Hear
me only this once!...
I lay down in the wet clothes I had on, with a vague idea that I
might die during the night. And I used my last strength to tidy up my
bed a little, so that it might appear a little orderly about me in the
morning. I folded my hands and chose my position.
All at once I remember Ylajali. To think that I could have forgotten
her the entire evening through! And light forces its way ever so
faintly into my spirit againa little ray of sunshine that makes me so
blessedly warm; and gradually more sun comes, a rare, silken, balmy
light that caresses me with soothing loveliness. And the sun grows
stronger and stronger, burns sharply in my temples, seethes fiercely
and glowingly in my emaciated brain. And at last, a maddening pyre of
rays flames up before my eyes; a heaven and earth in conflagration men
and beasts of fire, mountains of fire, devils of fire, an abyss, a
wilderness, a hurricane, a universe in brazen ignition, a smoking,
smouldering day of doom!
And I saw and heard no more....
I woke in a sweat the next morning, moist all over, my whole body
bathed in dampness. The fever had laid violent hands on me. At first I
had no clear idea of what had happened to me; I looked about me in
amazement, felt a complete transformation of my being, absolutely
failed to recognize myself again. I felt along my own arms and down my
legs, was struck with astonishment that the window was where it was,
and not in the opposite wall; and I could hear the tramp of the horses'
feet in the yard below as if it came from above me. I felt rather sick,
My hair clung wet and cold about my forehead. I raised myself on my
elbow and looked at the pillow; damp hair lay on it, too, in patches.
My feet had swelled up in my shoes during the night, but they caused me
no pain, only I could not move my toes much, they were too stiff.
As the afternoon closed in, and it had already begun to grow a
little dusk, I got up out of bed and commenced to move about the room a
little. I felt my way with short, careful steps, taking care to keep my
balance and spare my feet as much as possible. I did not suffer much,
and I did not cry; neither was I, taking all into consideration, sad.
On the contrary, I was blissfully content. It did not strike me just
then that anything could be otherwise than it was.
Then I went out.
The only thing that troubled me a little, in spite of the nausea
that the thought of food inspired in me, was hunger. I commenced to be
sensible of a shameless appetite again; a ravenous lust of food, which
grew steadily worse and worse. It gnawed unmercifully in my breast;
carrying on a silent, mysterious work in there. It was as if a score of
diminutive gnome-like insects set their heads on one side and gnawed
for a little, then laid their heads on the other side and gnawed a
little more, then lay quite still for a moment's space, and then began
afresh, boring noiselessly in, and without any haste, and left empty
spaces everywhere after them as they went on....
I was not ill, but faint; I broke into a sweat. I thought of going
to the market-place to rest a while, but the way was long and
wearisome; at last I had almost reached it. I stood at the corner of
the market and Market Street; the sweat ran down into my eyes and
blinded me, and I had just stopped in order to wipe it away a little. I
did not notice the place I was standing in; in fact, I did not think
about it; the noise around me was something frightful.
Suddenly a call rings out, a cold, sharp warning. I hear this
cryhear it quite well, and I start nervously to one side, stepping as
quickly as my bad foot allows me to. A monster of a bread-van brushes
past me, and the wheel grazes my coat; I might perhaps have been a
little quicker if I had exerted myself. Well, there was no help for it;
one foot pained me, a couple of toes were crunched. I felt that they,
as it were, curled up in my shoes.
The driver reins in his horse with all his might. He turns round on
the van and inquires in a fright how it fares with me. Oh! it might
have been worse, far worse.... It was perhaps not so dangerous.... I
didn't think any bones were broken. Oh, pray....
I rushed over as quickly as I could to a seat; all these people who
stopped and stared at me abashed me. After all, it was no mortal blow;
comparatively speaking, I had got off luckily enough, as misfortune was
bound to come in my way. The worst thing was that my shoe was crushed
to pieces; the sole was torn loose at the toe. I help up my foot, and
saw blood inside the gap. Well, it wasn't intentional on either side;
it was not the man's purpose to make things worse for me than they
were; he looked much concerned about it. It was quite certain that if I
had begged him for a piece of bread out of his cart he would have given
it to me. He would certainly have given it to me gladly. God bless him
in return, wherever he is!...
I was terribly hungry, and I did not know what to do with myself and
my shameless appetite. I writhed from side to side on the seat, and
bowed my chest right down to my knees; I was almost distracted. When it
got dark I jogged along to the Town HallGod knows how I got
thereand sat on the edge of the balustrade. I tore a pocket out of my
coat and took to chewing it; not with any defined object, but with dour
mien and unseeing eyes, staring straight into space. I could hear a
group of little children playing around near me, and perceive, in an
instinctive sort of way, some pedestrians pass me by; otherwise I
All at once, it enters my head to go to one of the meat bazaars
underneath me, and beg a piece of raw meat. I go straight along the
balustrade to the other side of the bazaar buildings, and descend the
steps. When I had nearly reached the stalls on the lower floor, I
called up the archway leading to the stairs, and made a threatening
backward gesture, as if I were talking to a dog up there, and boldly
addressed the first butcher I met.
Ah, will you be kind enough to give me a bone for my dog? I said;
only a bone. There needn't be anything on it; it's just to give him
something to carry in his mouth.
I got the bone, a capital little bone, on which there still remained
a morsel of meat, and hid it under my coat. I thanked the man so
heartily that he looked at me in amazement.
Oh, no need of thanks, said he.
Oh yes; don't say that, I mumbled; it is kindly done of you, and
I ascended the steps again.
My heart was throbbing violently in my breast. I sneaked into one of
the passages, where the forges are, as far in as I could go, and
stopped outside a dilapidated door leading to a back-yard. There was no
light to be seen anywhere, only blessed darkness all around me; and I
began to gnaw at the bone.
It had no taste; a rank smell of blood oozed from it, and I was
forced to vomit almost immediately. I tried anew. If I could only keep
it down, it would, in spite of all, have some effect. It was simply a
matter of forcing it to remain down there. But I vomited again. I grew
wild, bit angrily into the meat, tore off a morsel, and gulped it down
by sheer strength of will; and yet it was of no use. Just as soon as
the little fragments of meat became warm in my stomach up they came
again, worse luck. I clenched my hands in frenzy, burst into tears from
sheer helplessness, and gnawed away as one possessed. I cried, so that
the bone got wet and dirty with my tears, vomited, cursed and groaned
again, cried as if my heart would break, and vomited anew. I consigned
all the powers that be to the lowermost torture in the loudest voice.
Quietnot a soul aboutno light, no noise; I am in a state of the
most fearful excitement; I breathe hardly and audibly, and I cry with
gnashing teeth, each time that the morsel of meat, which might satisfy
me a little, comes up. As I find that, in spite of all my efforts, it
avails me naught, I cast the bone at the door. I am filled with the
most impotent hate; shriek, and menace with my fists towards Heaven;
yell God's name hoarsely, and bend my fingers like claws, with
I tell you, you Heaven's Holy Baal, you don't exist; but that, if
you did, I would curse you so that your Heaven would quiver with the
fire of hell! I tell you, I have offered you my service, and you
repulsed me; and I turn my back on you for all eternity, because you
did not know your time of visitation! I tell you that I am about to
die, and yet I mock you! You Heaven God and Apis! with death staring me
in the faceI tell you, I would rather be a bondsman in hell than a
freedman in your mansions! I tell you, I am filled with a blissful
contempt for your divine paltriness; and I choose the abyss of
destruction for a perpetual resort, where the devils Judas and Pharaoh
are cast down!
I tell you your Heaven is full of the kingdom of the earth's most
crass-headed idiots and poverty-stricken in spirit! I tell you, you
have filled your Heaven with the grossest and most cherished harlots
from here below, who have bent their knees piteously before you at
their hour of death! I tell you, you have used force against me, and
you know not, you omniscient nullity, that I never bend in opposition!
I tell you, all my life, every cell in my body, every power of my soul,
gasps to mock youyou Gracious Monster on High. I tell you, I would,
if I could, breathe it into every human soul, every flower, every leaf,
every dewdrop in the garden! I tell you, I would scoff you on the day
of doom, and curse the teeth out of my mouth for the sake of your
Deity's boundless miserableness! I tell you from this hour I renounce
all thy works and all thy pomps! I will execrate my thought if it dwell
on you again, and tear out my lips if they ever utter your name! I tell
you, if you exist, my last word in life or in deathI bid you
farewell, for all time and eternityI bid you farewell with heart and
reins. I bid you the last irrevocable farewell, and I am silent, and
turn my back on you and go my way.... Quiet.
I tremble with excitement and exhaustion, and stand on the same
spot, still whispering oaths and abusive epithets, hiccoughing after
the violent crying fit, broken down and apathetic after my frenzied
outburst of rage. I stand there for maybe an hour, hiccough and
whisper, and hold on to the door. Then I hear voicesa conversation
between two men who are coming down the passage. I slink away from the
door, drag myself along the walls of the houses, and come out again
into the light streets. As I jog along Young's Hill my brain begins to
work in a most peculiar direction. It occurs to me that the wretched
hovels down at the corner of the market-place, the stores for loose
materials, the old booths for second-hand clothes, are really a
disgrace to the placethey spoilt the whole appearance of the market,
and were a blot on the town, Fie! away with the rubbish! And I turned
over in my mind as I walked on what it would cost to remove the
Geographical Survey down therethat handsome building which had always
attracted me so much each time I passed it. It would perhaps not be
possible to undertake a removal of that kind under two or three hundred
pounds. A pretty sumthree hundred pounds! One must admit, a tidy
enough little sum for pocket-money! Ha, ha! just to make a start with,
eh? and I nodded my head, and conceded that it was a tidy enough bit of
pocket-money to make a start with. I was still trembling over my whole
body, and hiccoughed now and then violently after my cry. I had a
feeling that there was not much life left in methat I was really
singing my last verse. It was almost a matter of indifference to me; it
did not trouble me in the least. On the contrary, I wended my way down
town, down to the wharf, farther and farther away from my room. I
would, for that matter, have willingly laid myself down flat in the
street to die. My sufferings were rendering me more and more callous.
My sore foot throbbed violently; I had a sensation as if the pain was
creeping up through my whole leg. But not even that caused me any
particular distress. I had endured worse sensations.
In this manner, I reached the railway wharf. There was no traffic,
no noiseonly here and there a person to be seen, a labourer or sailor
slinking round with their hands in their pockets. I took notice of a
lame man, who looked sharply at me as we passed one another. I stopped
him instinctively, touched my hat, and inquired if he knew if the Nun
had sailed. Someway, I couldn't help snapping my fingers right under
the man's nose, and saying, Ay, by Jove, the Nun; yes, the
Nun! which I had totally forgotten. All the same, the thought of
her had been smouldering in me. I had carried it about unconsciously.
Yes, bless me, the Nun had sailed.
He couldn't tell me where she had sailed to?
The man reflects, stands on his long leg, keeps the other up in the
air; it dangles a little.
No, he replies. Do you know what cargo she was taking in here?
No, I answer. But by this time I had already lost interest in the
Nun, and I asked the man how far it might be to Holmestrand,
reckoned in good old geographical miles.
To Holmestrand? I should think...
Or to Voeblungsnaess?
What was I going to say? I should think to Holmestrand...
Oh, never mind; I have just remembered it, I interrupted him
again. You wouldn't perhaps be so kind as to give me a small bit of
tobaccoonly just a tiny scrap?
I received the tobacco, thanked the man heartily, and went on. I
made no use of the tobacco; I put it into my pocket. He still kept his
eye on meperhaps I had aroused his suspicions in some other way or
another. Whether I stood still or walked on, I felt his suspicious look
following me. I had no mind to be persecuted by this creature. I turn
round, and, dragging myself back to him, say:
Binderonly this one word, Binder! no more. I looked fixedly at
him as I say it, indeed I was conscious of staring fearfully at him. It
was as if I saw him with my entire body instead of only with my eyes. I
stare for a while after I give utterance to this word, and then I jog
along again to the railway square. The man does not utter a syllable,
he only keeps his gaze fixed upon me.
Binder! I stood suddenly still. Yes, wasn't that just what I had a
feeling of the moment I met the old chap; a feeling that I had met him
before! One bright morning up in Graendsen, when I pawned my waistcoat.
It seemed to me an eternity since that day.
Whilst I stand and ponder over this, I lean and support myself
against a house wall at the corner of the railway square and Harbour
Street. Suddenly, I start quickly and make an effort to crawl away. As
I do not succeed in it, I stare case-hardened ahead of me and fling all
shame to the winds. There is no help for it. I am standing face to face
with the Commandor. I get devil-may-carebrazen. I take yet a step
farther from the wall in order to make him notice me. I do not do it to
awake his compassion, but to mortify myself, place myself, as it were,
on the pillory. I could have flung myself down in the street and begged
him to walk over me, tread on my face. I don't even bid him
Perhaps the Commandor guesses that something is amiss with me. He
slackens his pace a little, and I say, in order to stop him, I would
have called upon you long ago with something, but nothing has come
Indeed? he replies in an interrogative tone. You haven't got it
No, it didn't get finished.
My eyes by this time are filled with tears at his friendliness, and
I cough with a bitter effort to regain my composure. The Commandor
tweaks his nose and looks at me.
Have you anything to live on in the meantime? he questions.
No, I reply. I haven't that either; I haven't eaten anything
The Lord preserve you, man, it will never do for you to go and
starve yourself to death, he exclaims, feeling in his pocket.
This causes a feeling of shame to awake in me, and I stagger over to
the wall and hold on to it. I see him finger in his purse, and he hands
He makes no fuss about it, simply gives me half-a-sovereign,
reiterating at the same time that it would never do to let me starve to
death. I stammered an objection and did not take it all at once. It is
shameful of me to ... it was really too much....
Hurry up, he says, looking at his watch. I have been waiting for
the train; I hear it coming now.
I took the money; I was dumb with joy, and never said a word; I
didn't even thank him once.
It isn't worth while feeling put out about it, said the
Commandor at last. I know you can write for it.
And so off he went.
When he had gone a few steps, I remembered all at once that I had
not thanked him for this great assistance. I tried to overtake him, but
could not get on quickly enough; my legs failed me, and I came near
tumbling on my face. He went farther and farther away from me. I gave
up the attempt; thought of calling after him, but dared not; and when
after all I did muster up courage enough and called once or twice, he
was already at too great a distance, and my voice had become too weak.
I was left standing on the pavement, gazing after him. I wept
quietly and silently. I never saw the like! I said to myself. He
gave me half-a-sovereign. I walked back and placed myself where he had
stood, imitated all his movements held the half-sovereign up to my
moistened eyes, inspected it on both sides, and began to swearto
swear at the top of my voice, that there was no manner of doubt that
what I held in my hand was half-a-sovereign. An hour after, maybea
very long hour, for it had grown very silent all around meI stood,
singularly enough, outside No. 11 Tomtegaden. After I had stood and
collected my wits for a moment and wondered thereat, I went through the
door for the second time, right into the Entertainment and lodgings
for travellers. Here I asked for shelter and was immediately supplied
with a bed.
Sunshine and quieta strangely bright day. The snow had
disappeared. There was life and joy, and glad faces, smiles, and
laughter everywhere. The fountains threw up sprays of water in jets,
golden-tinted from the sun-light, azure from the sky....
At noon I left my lodgings in Tomtegaden, where I still lived and
found fairly comfortable, and set out for town. I was in the merriest
humour, and lazied about the whole afternoon through the most
frequented streets and looked at the people. Even before seven o'clock
I took a turn up St. Olav's Place and took a furtive look up at the
window of No. 2. In an hour I would see her. I went about the whole
time in a state of tremulous, delicious dread. What would happen? What
should I say when she came down the stairs? Good-evening? or only
smile? I concluded to let it rest with the smile. Of course I would bow
profoundly to her.
I stole away, a little ashamed to be there so early, wandered up
Carl Johann for a while, and kept my eyes on University Street. When
the clocks struck eight I walked once more towards St. Olav's Place. On
the way it struck me that perhaps I might arrive a few minutes too
late, and I quickened my pace as much as I could. My foot was very
sore, otherwise nothing ailed me.
I took up my place at the fountain and drew breath. I stood there a
long while and gazed up at the window of No. 2, but she did not come.
Well, I would wait; I was in no hurry. She might be delayed, and I
waited on. It couldn't well be that I had dreamt the whole thing! Had
my first meeting with her only existed in imagination the night I lay
in delirium? I began in perplexity to think over it, and wasn't at all
Hem! came from behind me. I heard this, and I also heard light
steps near me, but I did not turn round, I only stared up at the wide
staircase before me.
Good-evening, came then. I forget to smile; I don't even take off
my hat at first, I am so taken aback to see her come this way.
Have you been waiting long? she asks. She is breathing a little
quickly after her walk.
No, not at all; I only came a little while ago, I reply. And
besides, would it matter if I had waited long? I expected, by-the-way,
that you would come from another direction.
I accompanied mamma to some people. Mamma is spending the evening
Oh, indeed, I say.
We had begun to walk on involuntarily. A policeman is standing at
the corner, looking at us.
But, after all, where are we going to? she asks, and stops.
Wherever you wish; only where you wish.
Ugh, yes! but it's such a bore to have to decide oneself.
Then I say, merely for the sake of saying something:
I see it's dark up in your windows.
Yes, it is, she replies gaily; the servant has an evening off,
too, so I am all alone at home.
We both stand and look up at the windows of No. 2 as if neither of
us had seen them before.
Can't we go up to your place, then? I say; I shall sit down at
the door the whole time if you like.
But then I trembled with emotion, and regretted greatly that I had
perhaps been too forward. Supposing she were to get angry, and leave
me. Suppose I were never to see her again. Ah, that miserable attire of
mine! I waited despairingly for her reply.
You shall certainly not sit down by the door, she says. She says
it right down tenderly, and says accurately these words: You shall
certainly not sit down by the door.
We went up.
Out on the lobby, where it was dark, she took hold of my hand, and
led me on. There was no necessity for my being so quiet, she said, I
could very well talk. We entered. Whilst she lit the candleit was not
a lamp she lit, but a candlewhilst she lit the candle, she said, with
a little laugh:
But now you mustn't look at me. Ugh! I am so ashamed, but I will
never do it again.
What will you never do again?
I will never ... ugh ... no ... good gracious ... I will never kiss
Won't you? I said, and we both laughed. I stretched out my arms to
her, and she glided away; slipped round to the other side of the table.
We stood a while and gazed at one another; the candle stood right
Try and catch me, she said; and with much laughter I tried to
seize hold of her. Whilst she sprang about, she loosened her veil, and
took off her hat; her sparkling eyes hung on mine, and watched my
movements. I made a fresh sortie, and tripped on the carpet and fell,
my sore foot refusing to bear me up any longer. I rose in extreme
Lord, how red you did get! she said. Well it was awfully awkward
Yes, it was, I agreed, and we began the chase afresh.
It seems to me you limp.
Yes; perhaps I dojust a littleonly just a little, for that
Last time you had a sore finger, now you have got a sore foot; it
is awful the number of afflictions you have.
Ah, yes. I was run over slightly, a few days ago.
Run over! Tipsy again? Why, good heavens! what a life you lead,
young man! and she threatened me with her forefinger, and tried to
appear grave. Well, let us sit down, then; no, not down there by the
door; you are far too reserved! Come hereyou there, and I hereso,
that's it ... ugh, it's such a bore with reticent people! One has to
say and do everything oneself; one gets no help to do anything. Now,
for example, you might just as well put your arm over the back of my
chair; you could easily have thought of that much out of your own head,
couldn't you? But if I say anything like that, you open your eyes as
wide as if you couldn't believe what was being said. Yes, it is really
true; I have noticed it several times; you are doing it now, too; but
you needn't try to persuade me that you are always so modest; it is
only when you don't dare to be otherwise than quiet. You were daring
enough the day you were tipsywhen you followed me straight home and
worried me with your witticisms. 'You are losing your book, madam; you
are quite certainly losing your book, madam!' Ha, ha, ha! it was really
shameless of you.
I sat dejectedly and looked at her; my heart beat violently, my
blood raced quickly through my veins, there was a singular sense of
enjoyment in it!
Why don't you say something?
What a darling you are, I cried. I am simply sitting here getting
thoroughly fascinated by youhere this very moment thoroughly
fascinated.... There is no help for it.... You are the most
extraordinary creature that ... sometimes your eyes gleam so, that I
never saw their match; they look like flowers ... eh? No, well, no,
perhaps, not like flowers, either, but ... I am so desperately in love
with you, and it is so preposterous ... for, great Scott! there is
naturally not an atom of a chance for me.... What is your name? Now,
you really must tell me what you are called.
No; what is your name? Gracious, I was nearly forgetting
that again! I thought about it all yesterday, that I meant to ask
youyes, that is to say, not all yesterday, but
Do you know what I named you? I named you Ylajali. How do you like
that? It has a gliding sound....
Is that a foreign language?
Humphno, it isn't that either!
Well, it isn't ugly!
After a long discussion we told one another our names. She seated
herself close to my side on the sofa, and shoved the chair away with
her foot, and we began to chatter afresh.
You are shaved this evening, too, she said; look on the whole a
little better than the last timethat is to say, only just a scrap
better. Don't imagine ... no; the last time you were really shabby, and
you had a dirty rag round your finger into the bargain; and in that
state you absolutely wanted me to go to some place, and take wine with
youthanks, not me!
So it was, after all, because of my miserable appearance that you
would not go with me? I said.
No, she replied and looked down. No; God knows it wasn't. I
didn't even think about it.
Listen, said I; you are evidently sitting here labouring under
the delusion that I can dress and live exactly as I choose, aren't you?
And that is just what I can't do; I am very, very poor.
She looked at me. Are you? she queried.
Yes, worse luck, I am.
After an interval.
Well, gracious, so am I, too, she said, with a cheerful movement
of her head.
Every one of her words intoxicated me, fell on my heart like drops
of wine. She enchanted me with the trick she had of putting her head a
little on one side, and listening when I said anything, and I could
feel her breath brush my face.
Do you know, I said, that ... but, now, you mustn't get
angrywhen I went to bed last night I settled this arm for you ... so
... as if you lay on it ... and then I went to sleep.
Did you? That was lovely! A pause. But of course it could only be
from a distance that you would venture to do such a thing, for
Don't you believe I could do it otherwise?
No, I don't believe it.
Ah, from me you may expect everything, I said, and I put my arm
around her waist.
Can I? was all she said.
It annoyed me, almost wounded me, that she should look upon me as
being so utterly inoffensive. I braced myself up, steeled my heart, and
seized her hand; but she withdrew it softly, and moved a little away
from me. That just put an end to my courage again; I felt ashamed, and
looked out through the window. I was, in spite of all, in far too
wretched a condition; I must, above all, not try to imagine myself any
one in particular. It would have been another matter if I had met her
during the time that I still looked like a respectable human beingin
my old, well-off days when I had sufficient to make an appearance; and
I felt fearfully downcast!
There now, one can see! she said, now one can just see one can
snub you with just the tiniest frownmake you look sheepish by just
moving a little away from you ... she laughed, tantalizingly,
roguishly, with tightly-closed eyes, as if she could not stand being
looked at, either.
Well, upon my soul! I blurted out, now you shall just see, and I
flung my arms violently around her shoulders. I was mortified. Was the
girl out of her senses? Did she think I was totally inexperienced! Ha!
Then I would, by the living.... No one should say of me that I was
backward on that score. The creature was possessed by the devil
himself! If it were only a matter of going at it, well....
She sat quite quietly, and still kept her eyes closed; neither of us
spoke. I crushed her fiercely to me, pressed her body greedily against
my breast, and she spoke never a word. I heard her heart's beat, both
hers and mine; they sounded like hurrying hoofbeats.
I kissed her.
I no longer knew myself. I uttered some nonsense, that she laughed
at, whispered pet names into her mouth, caressed her cheek, kissed her
She winds her arms about my neck, quite slowly, tenderly, the breath
of her pink quivering nostrils fans me right in the face; she strokes
down my shoulders with her left hand, and says, What a lot of loose
hair there is.
Yes, I reply.
What can be the reason that your hair falls out so?
Ah, of course, because you drink too much, and perhaps ... fie, I
won't say it. You ought to be ashamed. No, I wouldn't have believed
that of you! To think that you, who are so young, already should lose
your hair! Now, do please just tell me what sort of way you really
spend your lifeI am certain it is dreadful! But only the truth, do
you hear; no evasions. Anyway, I shall see by you if you hide
anythingthere, tell now!
Yes; but let me kiss you first, then.
Are you mad?... Humph, ... I want to hear what kind of a man you
are.... Ah, I am sure it is dreadful.
It hurt me that she should believe the worst of me; I was afraid of
thrusting her away entirely, and I could not endure the misgivings she
had as to my way of life. I would clear myself in her eyes, make myself
worthy of her, show her that she was sitting at the side of a person
almost angelically disposed. Why, bless me, I could count my falls up
to date on my fingers. I relatedrelated alland I only related
truth. I made out nothing any worse than it was; it was not my
intention to rouse her compassion. I told her also that I had stolen
five shillings one evening.
She sat and listened, with open mouth, pale, frightened, her shining
eyes completely bewildered. I desired to make it good again, to
disperse the sad impression I had made, and I pulled myself up.
Well, it is all over now! I said; there can be no talk of such a
thing happening again; I am saved now....
But she was much dispirited. The Lord preserve me! was all she
said, then kept silent. She repeated this at short intervals, and kept
silent after each the Lord preserve me.
I began to jest, caught hold of her, tried to tickle her, lifted her
up to my breast. I was irritated not a littleindeed, downright hurt.
Was I more unworthy in her eyes now, than if I had myself been
instrumental in causing the falling out of my hair? Would she have
thought more of me if I had made myself out to be a roué?... No
nonsense now;... it was just a matter of going at it; and if it was
only just a matter of going at it, so, by the living...
No;... what do you want? she queried, and she added these
distressing words, I can't be sure that you are not insane!
I checked myself involuntarily, and I said: You don't mean that!
Indeed, God knows I do! you look so strangely. And the forenoon you
followed meafter all, you weren't tipsy that time?
No; but I wasn't hungry then, either; I had just eaten....
Yes; but that made it so much the worse.
Would you rather I had been tipsy?
Yes ... ugh ... I am afraid of you! Lord, can't you let me be now!
I considered a moment. No, I couldn't let her be.... I happened, as
if inadvertently, to knock over the light, so that it went out. She
made a despairing strugglegave vent at last to a little whimper.
No, not that! If you like, you may rather kiss me, oh, dear,
I stopped instantly. Her words sounded so terrified, so helpless, I
was struck to the heart. She meant to offer me a compensation by giving
me leave to kiss her! How charming, how charmingly naïve. I could have
fallen down and knelt before her.
But, dear pretty one, I said, completely bewildered, I don't
understand.... I really can't conceive what sort of a game this is....
She rose, lit the candle again with trembling hands. I leant back on
the sofa and did nothing. What would happen now? I was in reality very
ill at ease.
She cast a look over at the clock on the wall, and started.
Ugh, the girl will soon come now! she said; this was the first
thing she said. I took the hint, and rose. She took up her jacket as if
to put it on, bethought herself, and let it lie, and went over to the
fireplace. So that it should not appear as if she had shown me the
door, I said:
Was your father in the army? and at the same time I prepared to
Yes; he was an officer. How did you know?
I didn't know; it just came into my head.
That was odd.
Ah, yes; there were some places I came to where I got a kind of
presentiment. Ha, ha!a part of my insanity, eh?
She looked quickly up, but didn't answer. I felt I worried her with
my presence, and determined to make short work of it. I went towards
the door. Would she not kiss me any more now? not even give me her
hand? I stood and waited.
Are you going now, then? she said, and yet she remained quietly
standing over near the fireplace.
I did not reply. I stood humbly in confusion, and looked at her
without saying anything. Why hadn't she left me in peace, when nothing
was to come of it? What was the matter with her now? It didn't seem to
put her out that I stood prepared to leave. She was all at once
completely lost to me, and I searched for something to say to her in
farewella weighty, cutting word that would strike her, and perhaps
impress her a little. And in the face of my first resolve, hurt as I
was, instead of being proud and cold, disturbed and offended, I began
right off to talk of trifles. The telling word would not come; I
conducted myself in an exceedingly aimless fashion. Why couldn't she
just as well tell me plainly and straightly to go my way? I queried.
Yes, indeed, why not? There was no need of feeling embarrassed about
it. Instead of reminding me that the girl would soon come home, she
could have simply said as follows: Now you must run, for I must go and
fetch my mother, and I won't have your escort through the street. So
it was not that she had been thinking about? Ah, yes; it was that all
the same she had thought about; I understood that at once. It did not
require much to put me on the right track; only, just the way she had
taken up her jacket, and left it down again, had convinced me
immediately. As I said before, I had presentiments; and it was not
altogether insanity that was at the root of it....
But, great heavens! do forgive me for that word! It slipped out of
my mouth, she cried; but yet she stood quite quietly, and did not come
over to me.
I was inflexible, and went on. I stood there and prattled, with the
painful consciousness that I bored her, that not one of my words went
home, and all the same I did not cease.
At bottom one might be a fairly sensitive nature, even if one were
not insane, I ventured to say. There were natures that fed on trifles,
and died just for one hard word's sake; and I implied that I had such a
nature. The fact was, that my poverty had in that degree sharpened
certain powers in me, so that they caused me unpleasantness. Yes, I
assure you honestly, unpleasantness; worse luck! But this had also its
advantages. It helped me in certain situations in life. The poor
intelligent man is a far nicer observer than the rich intelligent man.
The poor man looks about him at every step he takes, listens
suspiciously to every word he hears from the people he meets, every
step he takes affords in this way a task for his thoughts and
feelingsan occupation. He is quick of hearing, and sensitive; he is
an experienced man, his soul bears the sears of the fire....
And I talked a long time over these sears my soul had. But the
longer I talked, the more troubled she grew. At last she muttered, My
God! a couple of times in despair, and wrung her hands. I could see
well that I tormented her, and I had no wish to torment herbut did
it, all the same. At last, being of the opinion that I had succeeded in
telling her in rude enough terms the essentials of what I had to say, I
was touched by her heart-stricken expression. I cried:
Now I am going, now I am going. Can't you see that I already have
my hand on the handle of the door? Good-bye, good-bye, I say. You
might answer me when I say good-bye twice, and stand on the point of
going. I don't even ask to meet you again, for it would torment you.
But tell me, why didn't you leave me in peace? What had I done to you?
I didn't get in your way, now, did I? Why did you turn away from me all
at once, as if you didn't know me any longer? You have plucked me now
so thoroughly bare, made me even more wretched than I ever was at any
time before; but, indeed, I am not insane. You know well, if you think
it over, that nothing is the matter with me now. Come over, then, and
give me your handor give me leave to go to you, will you? I won't do
you any harm; I will only kneel before you, only for a minutekneel
down on the floor before you, only for a minute, may I? No, no; there,
I am not to do it then, I see. You are getting afraid. I will not, I
will not do it; do you hear? Lord, why do you get so terrified. I am
standing quite still; I am not moving. I would have knelt down on the
carpet for a momentjust there, upon that patch of red, at your feet;
but you got frightenedI could see it at once in your eyes that you
got frightened; that was why I stood still. I didn't move a step when I
asked you might I, did I? I stood just as immovable as I stand now when
I point out the place to you where I would have knelt before you, over
there on the crimson rose in the carpet. I don't even point with my
finger. I don't point at all; I let it be, not to frighten you. I only
nod and look over at it, like this! and you know perfectly well which
rose I mean, but you won't let me kneel there. You are afraid of me,
and dare not come near to me. I cannot conceive how you could have the
heart to call me insane. It isn't true; you don't believe it, either,
any longer? It was once in the summer, a long time ago, I was mad; I
worked too hard, and forgot to go to dine at the right hour, when I had
too much to think about. That happened day after day. I ought to have
remembered it; but I went on forgetting itby God in Heaven, it is
true! God keep me from ever coming alive from this spot if I lie.
There, you can see, you do me an injustice. It was not out of need I
did it; I can get credit, much credit, at Ingebret's or Gravesen's. I
often, too, had a good deal of money in my pocket, and did not buy food
all the same, because I forgot it. Do you hear? You don't say anything;
you don't answer; you don't stir a bit from the fire; you just stand
and wait for me to go....
She came hurriedly over to me, and stretched out her hand. I looked
at her, full of mistrust. Did she do it with any true heartiness, or
did she only do it to get rid of me? She wound her arms round my neck;
she had tears in her eyes; I only stood and looked at her. She offered
her mouth; I couldn't believe in her; it was quite certain she was
making a sacrifice as a means of putting an end to all this.
She said something; it sounded to me like, I am fond of you, in
spite of all. She said it very lowly and indistinctly; maybe I did not
hear aright. She may not have said just those words; but she cast
herself impetuously against my breast, clasped both her arms about my
neck for a little while, stretched even up a bit on her toes to get a
good hold, and stood so for perhaps a whole minute. I was afraid that
she was forcing herself to show me this tenderness, and I only said:
What a darling you are now!
More I didn't say. I crushed her in my arms, stepped back, rushed to
the door, and went out backwards. She remained in there behind me.
Winter had set ina raw, wet winter, almost without snow. A foggy,
dark, and everlasting night, without a single blast of fresh wind the
whole week through. The gas was lighted almost all the day in the
streets, and yet people jostled one another in the fog. Every sound,
the clang of the church bells, the jingling of the harness of the
droske horses, the people's voices, the beat of the hoofs, everything,
sounded choked and jangling through the close air, that penetrated and
Week followed week, and the weather was, and remained, still the
And I stayed steadily down in Vaterland. I grew more and more
closely bound to this inn, this lodging-house for travellers, where I
had found shelter, in spite of my starving condition. My money was
exhausted long since; and yet I continued to come and go in this place
as if I had a right to it, and was at home there. The landlady had, as
yet, said nothing; but it worried me all the same that I could not pay
her. In this way three weeks went by. I had already, many days ago,
taken to writing again; but I could not succeed in putting anything
together that satisfied me. I had not longer any luck, although I was
very painstaking, and strove early and late; no matter what I
attempted, it was useless. Good fortune had flown; and I exerted myself
It was in a room on the second floor, the best guest-room, that I
sat and made these attempts. I had been undisturbed up there since the
first evening when I had money and was able to settle for what I got.
All the time I was buoyed up by the hope of at last succeeding in
getting together an article on some subject or another, so that I could
pay for my room, and for whatever else I owed. That was the reason I
worked on so persistently. I had, in particular, commenced a piece from
which I expected great thingsan allegory about a firea profound
thought upon which I intended to expend all my energy, and bring it to
the Commander in payment. The Commandor should see that he had
helped a talent this time. I had no doubt but that he would eventually
see that; it only was a matter of waiting till the spirit moved me; and
why shouldn't the spirit move me? Why should it not come over me even
now, at a very early date? There was no longer anything the matter with
me. My landlady gave me a little food every day, some bread and butter,
mornings and evenings, and my nervousness had almost flown. I no longer
used cloths round my hands when I wrote; and I could stare down into
the street from my window on the second floor without getting giddy. I
was much better in every way, and it was becoming a matter of
astonishment to me that I had not already finished my allegory. I
couldn't understand why it was....
But a day came when I was at last to get a clear idea of how weak I
had really become; with what incapacity my dull brain acted. Namely, on
this day my landlady came up to me with a reckoning which she asked me
to look over. There must be something wrong in this reckoning, she
said; it didn't agree with her own book; but she had not been able to
find out the mistake.
I set to work to add up. My landlady sat right opposite and looked
at me. I added up these score of figures first once down, and found the
total right; then once up again, and arrived at the same result. I
looked at the woman sitting opposite me, waiting on my words. I noticed
at the same time that she was pregnant; it did not escape my attention,
and yet I did not stare in any way scrutinizingly at her.
The total is right, said I.
No; go over each figure now, she answered. I am sure it can't be
so much; I am positive of it.
And I commenced to check each line2 loaves at 2 1/2d., 1 lamp
chimney, 3d., soap, 4d., butter, 5d.... It did not require any
particularly shrewd head to run up these rows of figuresthis little
huckster account in which nothing very complex occurred. I tried
honestly to find the error that the woman spoke about, but couldn't
succeed. After I had muddled about with these figures for some minutes
I felt that, unfortunately, everything commenced to dance about in my
head; I could no longer distinguish debit or credit; I mixed the whole
thing up. Finally, I came to a dead stop at the following entry3.
5/16ths of a pound of cheese at 9d. My brain failed me completely; I
stared stupidly down at the cheese, and got no farther.
It is really too confoundedly crabbed writing, I exclaimed in
despair. Why, God bless me, here is 5/16ths of a pound of cheese
enteredha, ha! did any one ever hear the like? Yes, look here; you
can see for yourself.
Yes, she said; it is often put down like that; it is a kind of
Dutch cheese. Yes, that is all rightfive-sixteenths is in this case
Yes, yes; I understand that well enough, I interrupted, although
in truth I understood nothing more whatever.
I tried once more to get this little account right, that I could
have totted up in a second some months ago. I sweated fearfully, and
thought over these enigmatical figures with all my might, and I blinked
my eyes reflectingly, as if I was studying this matter sharply, but I
had to give it up. These five ounces of cheese finished me completely;
it was as if something snapped within my forehead. But yet, to give the
impression that I still worked out my calculation, I moved my lips and
muttered a number aloud, all the while sliding farther and farther down
the reckoning as if I were steadily coming to a result. She sat and
waited. At last I said:
Well, now, I have gone through it from first to last, and there is
no mistake, as far as I can see.
Isn't there? replied the woman, isn't there really? But I saw
well that she did not believe me, and she seemed all at once to throw a
dash of contempt into her words, a slightly careless tone that I had
never heard from her before. She remarked that perhaps I was not
accustomed to reckon in sixteenths; she mentioned also that she must
only apply to some one who had a knowledge of sixteenths, to get the
account properly revised. She said all this, not in any hurtful way to
make me feel ashamed, but thoughtfully and seriously. When she got as
far as the door, she said, without looking at me:
Excuse me for taking up your time then.
Off she went.
A moment after, the door opened again, and she re-entered. She could
hardly have gone much farther than the stairs before she had turned
That's true, said she; you mustn't take it amiss; but there is a
little owing to me from you now, isn't there? Wasn't it three weeks
yesterday since you came? Yes, I thought it was. It isn't so easy to
keep things going with such a big family, so that I can't give lodging
on credit, more's the....
I stopped her. I am working at an article that I think I told you
about before, said I, and as soon as ever that is finished, you shall
have your money; you can make yourself quite easy....
Yes; but you'll never get that article finished, though.
Do you think that? Maybe the spirit will move me tomorrow, or
perhaps already, tonight; it isn't at all impossible but that it may
move me some time tonight, and then my article will be completed in a
quarter of an hour at the outside. You see, it isn't with my work as
with other people's; I can't sit down and get a certain amount finished
in a day. I have just to wait for the right moment, and no one can tell
the day or hour when the spirit may move oneit must have its own
My landlady went, but her confidence in me was evidently much
As soon as I was left alone I jumped up and tore my hair in despair.
No, in spite of all, there was really no salvation for meno
salvation! My brain was bankrupt! Had I then really turned into a
complete dolt since I could not even add up the price of a piece of
Dutch cheese? But could it be possible I had lost my senses when I
could stand and put such questions to myself? Had not I, into the
bargain, right in the midst of my efforts with the reckoning, made the
lucid observation that my landlady was in the family way? I had no
reason for knowing it, no one had told me anything about it, neither
had it occurred to me gratuitously. I sat and saw it with my own eyes,
and I understood it at once, right at a despairing moment where I sat
and added up sixteenths. How could I explain this to myself?
I went to the window and gazed out; it looked out into
Vognmandsgade. Some children were playing down on the pavement; poorly
dressed children in the middle of a poor street. They tossed an empty
bottle between them and screamed shrilly. A load of furniture rolled
slowly by; it must belong to some dislodged family, forced to change
residence between flitting time. [Footnote: In Norway, l4th of March
and October.] This struck me at once. Bed-clothes and furniture were
heaped on the float, moth-eaten beds and chests of drawers, red-painted
chairs with three legs, mats, old iron, and tin-ware. A little girla
mere child, a downright ugly youngster, with a running cold in her
nosesat up on top of the load, and held fast with her poor little
blue hands in order not to tumble off. She sat on a heap of frightfully
stained mattresses, that children must have lain on, and looked down at
the urchins who were tossing the empty bottle to one another....
I stood gazing at all this; I had no difficulty in apprehending
everything that passed before me. Whilst I stood there at the window
and observed this, I could hear my landlady's servant singing in the
kitchen right alongside of my room. I knew the air she was singing, and
I listened to hear if she would sing false, and I said to myself that
an idiot could not have done all this.
I was, God be praised, all right in my senses as any man.
Suddenly, I saw two of the children down in the street fire up and
begin to abuse one another. Two little boys; I recognized one of them;
he was my landlady's son. I open the window to hear what they are
saying to one another, and immediately a flock of children crowded
together under my window, and looked wistfully up. What did they
expect? That something would be thrown down? Withered flowers, bones,
cigar ends, or one thing or another, that they could amuse themselves
with? They looked up with their frost-pinched faces and unspeakably
wistful eyes. In the meantime, the two small foes continued to revile
Words like great buzzing noxious insects swarm out of their childish
mouths; frightful nicknames, thieves' slang, sailors' oaths, that they
perhaps had learnt down on the wharf; and they are both so engaged that
they do not notice my landlady, who rushes out to see what is going on.
Yes, explains her son, he catched me by the throat; I couldn't
breaths for ever so long, and turning upon the little man who is the
cause of the quarrel, and who is standing grinning maliciously at him,
he gets perfectly furious, and yells, Go to hell, Chaldean ass that
you are! To think such vermin as you should catch folk by the throat. I
will, may the Lord....
And the mother, this pregnant woman, who dominates the whole street
with her size, answers the ten-year-old child, as she seizes him by the
arm and tries to drag him in:
Shsh. Hold your jaw! I just like to hear the way you swear, too,
as if you had been in a brothel for years. Now, in with you.
No, I won't.
Yes, you will.
No, I won't.
I stand up in the window and see that the mother's temper is rising;
this disagreeable scene excites me frightfully. I can't endure it any
longer. I call down to the boy to come up to me for a minute; I call
twice, just to distract themto change the scene. The last time I call
very loudly, and the mother turns round flurriedly and looks up at me.
She regains her self-possession at once, looks insolently at me, nay,
downright maliciously, and enters the house with a chiding remark to
her offspring. She talks loudly, so that I may hear it, and says to
him, Fie, you ought to be ashamed of yourself to let people see how
naughty you are.
Of all this that I stood there and observed not one thing, not even
one little accessory detail, was lost on me; my attention was acutely
keen; I absorbed carefully every little thing as I stood and thought
out my own thought, about each thing according as it occurred. So it
was impossible that there could be anything the matter with my brain.
How could there, in this case, be anything the matter with it?
Listen; do you know what, said I all at once to myself, that you
have been worrying yourself long enough about your brain, giving
yourself no end of worry in this matter? Now, there must be an end to
this tomfoolery. Is it a sign of insanity to notice and apprehend
everything as accurately as you do? You make me almost laugh at you, I
reply. To my mind it is not without its humorous side, if I am any
judge of such a case. Why, it happens to every man that he once in a
way sticks fast, and that, too, just with the simplest question. It is
of no significance, it is often a pure accident. As I have remarked
before, I am on the point of having a good laugh at your expense. As
far as that huckster account is concerned, that paltry five-sixteenths
of beggar-man's cheese, I can happily dub it so. Ha, ha!a cheese with
cloves and pepper in it; upon my word, a cheese in which, to put the
matter plainly, one could breed maggots. As far as that ridiculous
cheese is concerned, it might happen to the cleverest fellow in the
world to be puzzled over it! Why, the smell of the cheese was enough to
finish a man; ... and I made the greatest fun of this and all other
Dutch cheeses.... No; set me to reckon up something really eatable,
said Iset me, if you like, at five-sixteenths of good dairy butter.
That is another matter.
I laughed feverishly at my own whim, and found it peculiarly
diverting. There was positively no longer anything the matter with me.
I was in good formwas, so to say, still in the best of form; I had a
level head, nothing was wanting there, God be praised and thanked! My
mirth rose in measure as I paced the floor and communed with myself. I
laughed aloud, and felt amazingly glad. Besides, it really seemed, too,
as if I only needed this little happy hour, this moment of airy
rapture, without a care on any side, to get my head into working order
I seated myself at the table, and set to work at my allegory; it
progressed swimmingly, better than it had done for a long time; not
very fast, 'tis true, but it seemed to me that what I did was
altogether first-rate. I worked, too, for the space of an hour without
I am sitting working at a most crucial point in this Allegory of a
Conflagration in a Bookshop. It appears to me so momentous a point,
that all the rest I have written counted as nothing in comparison. I
was, namely, just about to weave in, in a downright profound way, this
thought. It was not books that were burning, it was brains, human
brains; and I intended to make a perfect Bartholomew's night of these
Suddenly my door was flung open with a jerk and in much haste; my
landlady came sailing in. She came straight over to the middle of the
room, she did not even pause on the threshold.
I gave a little hoarse cry; it was just as if I had received a blow.
What? said she, I thought you said something. We have got a
traveller, and we must have this room for him. You will have to sleep
downstairs with us tonight. Yes; you can have a bed to yourself there
too. And before she got my answer, she began, without further
ceremony, to bundle my papers together on the table, and put the whole
of them into a state of dire confusion.
My happy mood was blown to the winds; I stood up at once, in anger
and despair. I let her tidy the table, and said nothing, never uttered
a syllable. She thrust all the papers into my hand.
There was nothing else for me to do. I was forced to leave the room.
And so this precious moment was spoilt also. I met the new traveller
already on the stairs; a young man with great blue anchors tattooed on
the backs of his hands. A quay porter followed him, bearing a sea-chest
on his shoulders. He was evidently a sailor, a casual traveller for the
night; he would therefore not occupy my room for any lengthened period.
Perhaps, too, I might be lucky tomorrow when the man had left, and have
one of my moments again; I only needed an inspiration for five minutes,
and my essay on the conflagration would be completed. Well, I should
have to submit to fate.
I had not been inside the family rooms before, this one common room
in which they all lived, both day and nightthe husband, wife, wife's
father, and four children. The servant lived in the kitchen, where she
also slept at night. I approached the door with much repugnance, and
knocked. No one answered, yet I heard voices inside.
The husband did not speak as I stepped in, did not acknowledge my
nod even, merely glanced at me carelessly, as if I were no concern of
his. Besides, he was sitting playing cards with a person I had seen
down on the quays, with the by-name of Pane o' glass. An infant lay
and prattled to itself over in the bed, and an old man, the landlady's
father, sat doubled together on a settle-bed, and bent his head down
Over his hands as if his chest or stomach pained him. His hair was
almost white, and he looked in his crouching position like a
poke-necked reptile that sat cocking its ears at something.
I come, worse luck, to beg for house-room down here tonight, I
said to the man.
Did my wife say so? he inquired.
Yes; a new lodger came to my room.
To this the man made no reply, but proceeded to finger the cards.
There this man sat, day after day, and played cards with anybody who
happened to come inplayed for nothing, only just to kill time, and
have something in hand. He never did anything else, only moved just as
much as his lazy limbs felt inclined, whilst his wife bustled up and
down stairs, was occupied on all sides, and took care to draw customers
to the house. She had put herself in connection with quay-porters and
dock-men, to whom she paid a certain sum for every new lodger they
brought her, and she often gave them, in addition, a shelter for the
night. This time it was Pane o' glass that had just brought along the
A couple of the children came intwo little girls, with thin,
freckled, gutter-snipe faces; their clothes were positively wretched. A
while after the landlady herself entered. I asked her where she
intended to put me up for the night, and she replied that I could lie
in here together with the others, or out in the ante-room on the sofa,
as I thought fit. Whilst she answered me she fussed about the room and
busied herself with different things that she set in order, and she
never once looked at me.
My spirits were crushed by her reply.
I stood down near the door, and made myself small, tried to make it
appear as if I were quite content all the same to change my room for
another for one night's sake. I put on a friendly face on purpose not
to irritate her and perhaps be hustled right out of the house.
Ah, yes, I said, there is sure to be some way I . . ., and then
held my tongue.
She still bustled about the room.
For that matter, I may as well just tell you that I can't afford to
give people credit for their board and lodging, said she, and I told
you that before, too.
Yes; but, my dear woman, it is only for these few days, until I get
my article finished, I answered, and I will willingly give you an
extra five shillingswillingly.
But she had evidently no faith in my article, I could see that; and
I could not afford to be proud, and leave the house, just for a slight
mortification; I knew what awaited me if I went out.
A few days passed over.
I still associated with the family below, for it was too cold in the
ante-room where there was no stove. I slept, too, at night on the floor
of the room.
The strange sailor continued to lodge in my room, and did not seem
like moving very quickly. At noon, too, my landlady came in and related
how he had paid her a month in advance, and besides, he was going to
take his first-mate's examination before leaving, that was why he was
staying in town. I stood and listened to this, and understood that my
room was lost to me for ever.
I went out to the ante-room, and sat down. If I were lucky enough to
get anything written, it would have perforce to be here where it was
quiet. It was no longer the allegory that occupied me; I had got a new
idea, a perfectly splendid plot; I would compose a one-act dramaThe
Sign of the Cross. Subject taken from the Middle Ages. I had
especially thought out everything in connection with the principal
characters: a magnificently fanatical harlot who had sinned in the
temple, not from weakness or desire, but for hate against heaven;
sinner right at the foot of the altar, with the altar-cloth under her
head, just out of delicious contempt for heaven.
I grew more and more obsessed by this creation as the hours went on.
She stood at last, palpably, vividly embodied before my eyes, and was
exactly as I wished her to appear. Her body was to be deformed and
repulsive, tall, very lean, and rather dark; and when she walked, her
long limbs should gleam through her draperies at every stride she took.
She was also to have large outstanding ears. Curtly, she was nothing
for the eye to dwell upon, barely endurable to look at. What interested
me in her was her wonderful shamelessness, the desperately full measure
of calculated sin which she had committed. She really occupied me too
much, my brain was absolutely inflated by this singular monstrosity of
a creature, and I worked for two hours, without a pause, at my drama.
When I had finished half-a score of pages, perhaps twelve, often with
much effort, at times with long intervals, in which I wrote in vain and
had to tear the page in two, I had become tired, quite stiff with cold
and fatigue, and I arose and went out into the street. For the last
half-hour, too, I had been disturbed by the crying of the children
inside the family room, so that I could not, in any case, have written
any more just then. So I took a long time up over Drammensveien, and
stayed away till the evening, pondering incessantly, as I walked along,
as to how I would continue my drama. Before I came home in the evening
of this day, the following happened:
I stood outside a shoemaker's shop far down in Carl Johann Street,
almost at the railway square. God knows why I stood just outside this
shoemaker's shop. I looked into the window as I stood there, but did
not, by the way, remember that I needed shoes then; my thoughts were
far away in other parts of the world. A swarm of people talking
together passed behind my back, and I heard nothing of what was said.
Then a voice greeted me loudly:
It was Missy who bade me good-evening! I answered at random, I
looked at him, too, for a while, before I recognized him.
Well, how are you getting along? he inquired.
Oh, always well ... as usual.
By the way, tell me, said he, are you, then, still with
I thought you once said you were book-keeper at Christie's?
Ah, yes. No; that is done with. It was impossible to get along with
that fellow; that came to an end very quickly of its own accord.
Well, I happened to make a mis-entry one day, and so
A false entry, eh?
False entry! There stood Missy, and asked me straight in the face
if I had done this thing. He even asked eagerly, and evidently with
much interest. I looked at him, felt deeply insulted, and made no
Yes, well, Lord! that might happen to the best fellow, he said, as
if to console me. He still believed I had made a false entry
What is it that, 'Yes, well, Lord! indeed might happen to the best
fellow'? I inquired. To do that. Listen, my good man. Do you stand
there and really believe that I could for a moment be guilty of such a
mean trick as that? I!
But, my dear fellow, I thought I heard you distinctly say that.
No; I said that I had made a mis-entry once, a bagatelle; if you
want to know, a false date on a letter, a single stroke of the pen
wrongthat was my whole crime. No, God be praised, I can tell right
from wrong yet a while. How would it fare with me if I were, into the
bargain, to sully my honour? It is simply my sense of honour that keeps
me afloat now. But it is strong enough too; at least, it has kept me up
I threw back my head, turned away from Missy, and looked down the
street. My eyes rested on a red dress that came towards us; on a woman
at a man's side. If I had not had this conversation with Missy, I
would not have been hurt by his coarse suspicion, and I would not have
given this toss of my head, as I turned away in offence; and so perhaps
this red dress would have passed me without my having noticed it. And
at bottom what did it concern me? What was it to me if it were the
dress of the Hon. Miss Nagel, the lady-in-waiting? Missy stood and
talked, and tried to make good his mistake again. I did not listen to
him at all; I stood the whole time and stared at the red dress that was
coming nearer up the street, and a stir thrilled through my breast, a
gliding delicate dart. I whispered in thought without moving my lips:
Now Missy turned round also and noticed the twothe lady and the
man with her,raised his hat to them, and followed them with his eyes.
I did not raise my hat, or perhaps I did unconsciously. The red dress
glided up Carl Johann, and disappeared.
Who was it was with her? asked Missy.
The Duke, didn't you see? The so-called 'Duke.' Did you know the
Yes, in a sort of way. Didn't you know her?
No, I replied.
It appears to me you saluted profoundly enough.
Ha, ha! perhaps you didn't, said Missy. Well, that is odd. Why,
it was only at you she looked, too, the whole time.
When did you get to know her? I asked. He did not really know her.
It dated from an evening in autumn. It was late; they were three jovial
souls together, they came out late from the Grand, and met this being
going along alone past Cammermeyer's, and they addressed her. At first
she answered rebuffingly; but one of the jovial spirits, a man who
neither feared fire nor water, asked her right to her face if he might
not have the civilized enjoyment of accompanying her home? He would, by
the Lord, not hurt a hair on her head, as the saying goesonly go with
her to her door, reassure himself that she reached home in safety,
otherwise he could not rest all night. He talked incessantly as they
went along, hit upon one thing or another, dubbed himself Waldemar
Atterdag, and represented himself as a photographer. At last she was
obliged to laugh at this merry soul who refused to be rebuffed by her
coldness, and it finally ended by his going with her.
Indeed, did it? and what came of it? I inquired; and I held my
breath for his reply.
Came of it? Oh, stop there; there is the lady in question.
We both kept silent a moment, both Missy and I.
Well, I'm hanged, was that 'the Duke'? So that's what he looks
like, he added, reflectively. Well, if she is in contact with that
fellow; well, then, I wouldn't like to answer for her.
I still kept silent. Yes, of course the Duke would make the pace
with her. Well, what odds? How did it concern me? I bade her good-day
with all her wiles: a good-day I bade her; and I tried to console
myself by thinking the worst thoughts about her; took a downright
pleasure in dragging her through the mire. It only annoyed me to think
that I had doffed my hat to the pair, if I really had done so. Why
should I raise my hat to such people? I did not care for her any
longer, certainly not; she was no longer in the very slightest degree
lovely to me; she had fallen off. Ah, the devil knows how soiled I
found her! It might easily have been the case that it was only me she
looked at; I was not in the least astounded at that; it might be regret
that began to stir in her. But that was no reason for me to go and
lower myself and salute, like a fool, especially when she had become so
seriously besmirched of late. The Duke was welcome to her; I wish him
joy! The day might come when I would just take into my head to pass her
haughtily by without glancing once towards her. Ay, it might happen
that I would venture to do this, even if she were to gaze straight into
my eyes, and have a blood-red gown on into the bargain. It might very
easily happen! Ha, ha! that would be a triumph. If I knew myself
aright, I was quite capable of completing my drama during the course of
the night, and, before eight days had flown, I would have brought this
young woman to her kneeswith all her charms, ha, ha! with all her
Good-bye, I muttered, shortly; but Missy held me back. He
But what do you do all day now?
Do? I write, naturally. What else should I do? Is it not that I
live by? For the moment, I am working at a great drama, 'The Sign of
the Cross.' Theme taken from the Middle Ages.
By Jove! exclaimed Missy, seriously. Well, if you succeed with
I have no great anxiety on that score, I replied. In eight days'
time or so, I think you and all the folks will have heard a little more
With that I left him.
When I got home I applied at once to my landlady, and requested a
lamp. It was of the utmost importance to me to get this lamp; I would
not go to bed tonight; my drama was raging in my brain, and I hoped so
surely to be able to write a good portion of it before morning. I put
forward my request very humbly to her, as I had noticed that she made a
dissatisfied face on my re-entering the sitting-room. I said that I had
almost completed a remarkable drama, only a couple of scenes were
wanting; and I hinted that it might be produced in some theatre or
another, in no time. If she would only just render me this great
But madam had no lamp. She considered a bit, but could not call to
mind that she had a lamp in any place. If I liked to wait until twelve
o'clock, I might perhaps get the kitchen lamp. Why didn't I buy myself
I held my tongue. I hadn't a farthing to buy a candle, and knew that
right well. Of course I was foiled again! The servant-girl sat inside
with ussimply sat in the sitting-room, and was not in the kitchen at
all; so that the lamp up there was not even lit. And I stood and
thought over this, but said no more. Suddenly the girl remarked to me:
I thought I saw you come out of the palace a while ago; were you at
a dinner party? and she laughed loudly at this jest.
I sat down, took out my papers, and attempted to write something
here, in the meantime. I held the paper on my knees, and gazed
persistently at the floor to avoid being distracted by anything; but it
helped not a whit; nothing helped me; I got no farther. The landlady's
two little girls came in and made a row with the cata queer, sick cat
that had scarcely a hair on it; they blew into its eyes until water
sprang out of them and trickled down its nose. The landlord and a
couple of others sat at a table and played cent et un. The wife
alone was busy as ever, and sat and sewed at some garment. She saw well
that I could not write anything in the midst of all this disturbance;
but she troubled herself no more about me; she even smiled when the
servant-girl asked me if I had been out to dine. The whole household
had become hostile towards me. It was as if I had only needed disgrace
of being obliged to resign my room to a stranger to be treated as a man
of no account. Even the servant, a little, brown-eyed, street-wench,
with a big fringe over her forehead, and a perfectly flat bosom, poked
fun at me in the evening when I got my ration of bread and butter. She
inquired perpetually where, then, was I in the habit of dining, as she
had never seen me picking my teeth outside the Grand? It was clear that
she was aware of my wretched circumstances, and took a pleasure in
letting me know of it.
I fall suddenly into thought over all this, and am not able to find
a solitary speech for my drama. Time upon time I seek in vain; a
strange buzzing begins inside my head, and I give it up. I thrust the
papers into my pocket, and look up. The girl is sitting straight
opposite me. I look at herlook at her narrow back and drooping
shoulders, that are not yet fully developed. What business was it of
hers to fly at me? Even supposing I did come out of the palace, what
then? Did it harm her in any way? She had laughed insolently in the
past few days at me, when I was a bit awkward and stumbled on the
stairs, or caught fast on a nail and tore my coat. It was not later
than yesterday that she gathered up my rough copy, that I had thrown
aside in the ante-roomstolen these rejected fragments of my drama,
and read them aloud in the room here; made fun of them in every one's
hearing, just to amuse herself at my expense. I had never molested her
in any way, and could not recall that I had ever asked her to do me a
service. On the contrary, I made up my bed on the floor in the
ante-room myself, in order not to give her any trouble with it. She
made fun of me, too, because my hair fell out. Hair lay and floated
about in the basin I washed in the mornings, and she made merry over
it. Then my shoes, too, had grown rather shabby of late, particularly
the one that had been run over by the bread-van, and she found subject
for jesting in them. God bless you and your shoes! said she, looking
at them; they are as wide as a dog's house. And she was right; they
were trodden out. But then I couldn't procure myself any others just at
Whilst I sit and call all this to mind, and marvel over the evident
malice of the servant, the little girls have begun to tease the old man
over in the bed; they are jumping around him, fully bent on this
diversion. They both found a straw, which they poked into his ears. I
looked on at this for a while, and refrained from interfering. The old
fellow did not move a finger to defend himself; he only looked at his
tormentors with furious eyes each time they prodded him, and jerked his
head to escape when the straws were already in his ears. I got more and
more irritated at this sight, and could not keep my eyes away from it.
The father looked up from his cards, and laughed at the youngsters; he
also drew the attention of his comrades at play to what was going on.
Why didn't the old fellow move? Why didn't he fling the children aside
with his arms? I took a stride, and approached the bed.
Let them alone! let them alone! he is paralysed, called the
And out of fear to be shown the door for the night, simply out of
fear of rousing the man's displeasure by interfering with this scene, I
stepped back silently to my old place and kept myself quiet. Why should
I risk my lodging and my portion of bread and butter by poking my nose
into the family squabbles? No idiotic pranks for the sake of a
half-dying old man, and I stood and felt as delightfully hard as a
The little urchins did not cease their plaguing; it amused them that
the old chap could not hold his head quiet, and they aimed at his eyes
and nostrils. He stared at them with a ludicrous expression; he said
nothing, and could not stir his arms. Suddenly he raised the upper part
of his body a little and spat in the face of one of the little girls,
drew himself up again and spat at the other, but did not reach her. I
stood and looked on, saw that the landlord flung the cards on the table
at which he sat, and sprang over towards the bed. His face was flushed,
and he shouted:
Will you sit and spit right into people's eyes, you old boar?
But, good Lord, he got no peace from them! I cried, beside myself.
But all the time I stood in fear of being turned out, and I
certainly did not utter my protest with any particular force; I only
trembled over my whole body with irritation. He turned towards me, and
Eh, listen to him, then. What the devil is it to you? You just keep
your tongue in your jaw, youjust mark what I tell you, 'twill serve
But now the wife's voice made itself heard, and the house was filled
with scolding and railing.
May God help me, but I think you are mad or possessed, the whole
pack of you! she shrieked. If you want to stay in here you'll have to
be quiet, both of you! Humph! it isn't enough that one is to keep open
house and food for vermin, but one is to have sparring and rowing and
the devil's own to-do in the sitting-room as well. But I won't have any
more of it, not if I know it. Shh! Hold your tongues, you brats
there, and wipe your noses, too; if you don't, I'll come and do it. I
never saw the like of such people. Here they walk in out of the street,
without even a penny to buy flea-powder, and begin to kick up rows in
the middle of the night and quarrel with the people who own the house,
I don't mean to have any more of it, do you understand that? and you
can go your way, every one who doesn't belong home here. I am going to
have peace in my own quarters, I am.
I said nothing, I never opened my mouth once. I sat down again next
the door and listened to the noise. They all screamed together, even
the children, and the girl who wanted to explain how the whole
disturbance commenced. If I only kept quiet it would all blow over
sometime; it would surely not come to the worst if I only did not utter
a word; and what word after all could I have to say? Was it not perhaps
winter outside, and far advanced into the night, besides? Was that a
time to strike a blow, and show one could hold one's own? No folly
now!... So I sat still and made no attempt to leave the house; I never
even blushed at keeping silent, never felt ashamed, although I had
almost been shown the door. I stared coolly, case-hardened, at the wall
where Christ hung in an oleograph, and held my tongue obstinately
during all the landlady's attack.
Well, if it is me you want to get quit of, ma'am, there will be
nothing in the way as far as I am concerned, said one of the
card-players as he stood up. The other card-players rose as well.
No, I didn't mean younor you either, replied the landlady to
them. If there's any need to, I will show well enough who I mean, if
there's the least need to, if I know myself rightly. Oh, it will be
shown quick enough who it is....
She talked with pauses, gave me these thrusts at short intervals,
and spun it out to make it clearer and clearer that it was me she
meant. Quiet, said I to myself; only keep quiet! She had not asked
me to gonot expressly, not in plain words. Just no putting on side on
my partno untimely pride! Brave it out!... That was really most
singular green hair on that Christ in the oleograph. It was not too
unlike green grass, or expressed with exquisite exactitude thick meadow
grass. Ha! a perfectly correct remarkunusually thick meadow grass....
A train of fleeting ideas darts at this moment through my head. From
green grass to the text, Each life is like unto grass that is kindled;
from that to the Day of Judgment, when all will be consumed; then a
little detour down to the earthquake in Lisbon, about which something
floated before me in reference to a brass Spanish spittoon and an ebony
pen handle that I had seen down at Ylajali's. Ah, yes, all was
transitory, just like grass that was kindled. It all ended in four
planks and a winding-sheet. Winding-sheets to be had from Miss
Andersen's, on the right of the door.... And all this was tossed about
in my head during the despairing moment when my landlady was about to
thrust me from her door.
He doesn't hear, she yelled. I tell you, you'll quit this house.
Now you know it. I believe God blast me, that the man is mad, I do!
Now, out you go, on the blessed spot, and so no more chat about it.
I looked towards the door, not in order to leaveno, certainly not
in order to leave. An audacious notion seized meif there had been a
key in the door, I would have turned it and locked myself in along with
the rest to escape going. I had a perfectly hysterical dread of going
out into the streets again.
But there was no key in the door.
Then, suddenly my landlord's voice mingled with that of his wife,
and I stood still with amazement. The same man who had threatened me a
while ago took my part, strangely enough now. He said:
No, it won't do to turn folk out at night; do you know one can be
punished for doing that?
I didn't know if there was a punishment for that; I couldn't say,
but perhaps it was so, and the wife bethought herself quickly, grew
quiet, and spoke no more.
She placed two pieces of bread and butter before me for supper, but
I did not touch them, just out of gratitude to the man; so I pretended
that I had had a little food in town.
When at length I took myself off to the anteroom to go to bed, she
came out after me, stopped on the threshold, and said loudly, whilst
her unsightly figure seemed to strut out towards me:
But this is the last night you sleep here, so now you know it.
Yes, yes, I replied.
There would perhaps be some way of finding a shelter tomorrow, if I
tried hard for it. I would surely be able to find some hiding-place.
For the time being I would rejoice that I was not obliged to go out
I slept till between five and six in the morningit was not yet
light when I awokebut all the same I got up at once. I had lain in
all my clothes on account of the cold, and had no dressing to do. When
I had drunk a little cold water and opened the door quietly, I went out
directly, for I was afraid to face my landlady again.
A couple of policemen who had been on watch all night were the only
living beings I saw in the street. A while after, some men began to
extinguish the lamps. I wandered about without aim or end, reached
Kirkegaden and the road down towards the fortress. Cold and still
sleepy, weak in the knees and back after my long walk, and very hungry,
I sat down on a seat and dozed for a long time. For three weeks I had
lived exclusively on the bread and butter that my landlady had given me
morning and evening. Now it was twenty-four hours since I had had my
last meal. Hunger began to gnaw badly at me again; I must seek a help
for it right quickly. With this thought I fell asleep again upon the
I was aroused by the sound of people speaking near me, and when I
had collected myself a little I saw that it was broad day, and that
every one was up and about. I got up and walked away. The sun burst
over the heights, the sky was pale and tender, and in my delight over
the lovely morning, after the many dark gloomy weeks, I forgot all
cares, and it seemed to me as if I had fared worse on other occasions.
I clapped myself on the chest and sang a little snatch for myself. My
voice sounded so wretched, downright exhausted it sounded, and I moved
myself to tears with it. This magnificent day, the white heavens
swimming in light, had far too mighty an effect upon me, and I burst
into loud weeping.
What is the matter with you? inquired a man. I did not answer, but
hurried away, hiding my face from all men. I reached the bridge. A
large barque with the Russian flag lay and discharged coal. I read her
name, Copégoro, on her side. It distracted me for a time to
watch what took place on board this foreign ship. She must be almost
discharged; she lay with IX foot visible on her side, in spite of all
the ballast she had already taken in, and there was a hollow boom
through the whole ship whenever the coal-heavers stamped on the deck
with their heavy boots.
The sun, the light, and the salt breath from the sea, all this busy,
merry life pulled me together a bit, and caused my blood to run
lustily. Suddenly it entered my head that I could work at a few scenes
of my drama whilst I sat here, and I took my papers out of my pocket.
I tried to place a speech into a monk's moutha speech that ought
to swell with pride and intolerance, but it was of no use; so I skipped
over the monk and tried to work out an orationthe Deemster's oration
to the violator of the Temple,and I wrote half-a-page of this
oration, upon which I stopped. The right local colour would not tinge
my words, the bustle about me, the shanties, the noise of the gangways,
and the ceaseless rattle of the iron chains, fitted in so little with
the atmosphere of the musty air of the dim Middle Ages, that was to
envelop my drama as with a mist.
I bundled my papers together and got up.
All the same, I got into a happy veina grand vein,and I felt
convinced that I could effect something if all went well.
If I only had a place to go to. I thought over itstopped right
there in the street and pondered, but I could not bring to mind a
single quiet spot in the town where I could seat myself for an hour.
There was no other way open; I would have to go back to the
lodging-house in Vaterland. I shrank at the thought of it, and I told
myself all the while that it would not do. I went ahead all the same,
and approached nearer and nearer to the forbidden spot. Of course it
was wretched. I admitted to myself that it was degradingdownright
degrading, but there was no help for it. I was not in the least proud;
I dared make the assertion roundly, that I was one of the least
arrogant beings up to date. I went ahead.
I pulled up at the door and weighed it over once more. Yes, no
matter what the result was, I would have to dare it. After all said and
done, what a bagatelle to make such a fuss about. For the first it was
only a matter of a couple of hours; for the second, the Lord forbid
that I should ever seek refuge in such a house again. I entered the
yard. Even whilst I was crossing the uneven stones I was irresolute,
and almost turned round at the very door. I clenched my teeth. No! no
pride! At the worst I could excuse myself by saying I had come to say
good-bye, to make a proper adieu, and come to a clear understanding
about my debt to the house....
I took forth my papers once more, and determined to thrust all
irrelevant impressions aside. I had left off right in the middle of a
sentence in the inquisitor's addressThus dictate God and the law to
me, thus dictates also the counsel of my wise men, thus dictate I and
my own conscience.... I looked out of the window to think over what
his conscience should dictate to him. A little row reached me from the
room inside. Well, it was no affair of mine anyway; it was entirely and
totally indifferent to me what noise arose. Why the devil should I sit
thinking about it? Keep quiet now! Thus dictate I and my own
conscience.... But everything conspired against me. Outside in the
street, something was taking place that disturbed me. A little lad sat
and amused himself in the sun on the opposite side of the pavement. He
was happy and in fear of no dangerjust sat and knotted together a lot
of paper streamers, and injuring no one. Suddenly he jumps up and
begins to curse; he goes backwards to the middle of the street and
catches sight of a man, a grown-up man, with a red beard, who is
leaning out of an open window in the second storey, and who spat down
on his head. The little chap cried with rage, and swore impatiently up
at the window; and the man laughed in his face. Perhaps five minutes
passed in this way. I turned aside to avoid seeing the little lad's
Thus dictate I and my own conscience.... I found it impossible to
get any farther. At last everything began to get confused; it seemed to
me that even that which I had already written was unfit to use, ay,
that the whole idea was contemptible rubbish. How could one possibly
talk of conscience in the Middle Ages? Conscience was first invented by
Dancing-master Shakespeare, consequently my whole address was wrong.
Was there, then, nothing of value in these pages? I ran through them
anew, and solved my doubt at once. I discovered grand piecesdownright
lengthy pieces of remarkable meritand once again the intoxicating
desire to set to work again darted through my breastthe desire to
finish my drama.
I got up and went to the door, without paying any attention to my
landlord's furious signs to go out quietly; I walked out of the room
firmly, and with my mind made up. I went upstairs to the second floor,
and entered my former room. The man was not there, and what was to
hinder me from sitting here for a moment? I would not touch one of his
things. I wouldn't even once use his table; I would just seat myself on
a chair near the door, and be happy. I spread the papers hurriedly out
on my knees. Things went splendidly for a few minutes. Retort upon
retort stood ready in my head, and I wrote uninterruptedly. I filled
one page after the other, dashed ahead over stock and stone, chuckled
softly in ecstasy over my happy vein, and was scarcely conscious of
myself. The only sound I heard in this moment was my own merry chuckle.
A singularly happy idea had just struck me about a church bella
church bell that was to peal out at a certain point in my drama. All
was going ahead with overwhelming rapidity. Then I heard a step on the
stairs. I tremble, and am almost beside myself; sit ready to bolt,
timorous, watchful, full of fear at everything, and excited by hunger.
I listen nervously, just hold the pencil still in my hand, and listen.
I cannot write a word more. The door opens and the pair from below
Even before I had time to make an excuse for what I had done, the
landlady calls out, as if struck of a heap with amazement:
Well, God bless and save us, if he isn't sitting here again!
Excuse me, I said, and I would have added more, but got no
farther; the landlady flung open the door, as far as it would go, and
If you don't go out, now, may God blast me, but I'll fetch the
I got up.
I only wanted to say good-bye to you, I murmured; and I had to
wait for you. I didn't touch anything; I only just sat here on the
Yes, yes; there was no harm in that, said the man. What the devil
does it matter? Let the man alone; he
By this time I had reached the end of the stairs. All at once I got
furious with this fat, swollen woman, who followed close to my heels to
get rid of me quickly, and I stood quiet a moment with the worst
abusive epithets on my tongue ready to sling at her. But I bethought
myself in time, and held my peace, if only out of gratitude to the
stranger man who followed her, and would have to hear them. She trod
close on my heels, railing incessantly, and my anger increased with
every step I took.
We reached the yard below. I walked very slowly, still debating
whether I would not have it out with her. I was at this moment
completely blinded with rage, and I searched for the worst wordan
expression that would strike her dead on the spot, like a kick in her
stomach. A commissionaire passes me at the entrance. He touches his
hat; I take no notice; he applies to her; and I hear that he inquires
for me, but I do not turn round. A couple of steps outside the door he
overtakes and stops me. He hands me an envelope. I tear it open,
roughly and unwillingly. It contains half-a-sovereignno note, not a
word. I look at the man, and ask:
What tomfoolery is this? Who is the letter from?
Oh, that I can't say! he replies; but it was a lady who gave it
I stood still. The commissionaire left.
I put the coin into the envelope again, crumple it up, coin and
envelope, wheel round and go straight towards the landlady, who is
still keeping an eye on me from the doorway, and throw it in her face.
I said nothing; I uttered no syllableonly noticed that she was
examining the crumpled paper as I left her.... Ha! that is what one
might call comporting oneself with dignity. Not to say a word, not to
mention the contents, but crumple together, with perfect calmness, a
large piece of money, and fling it straight in the face of one's
persecutor! One might call that making one's exit with dignity. That
was the way to treat such beasts I....
When I got to the corner of Tomtegaden and the railway place, the
street commenced suddenly to swim around before my eyes; it buzzed
vacantly in my head, and I staggered up against the wall of a house. I
could simply go no farther, couldn't even straighten myself from the
cramped position I was in. As I fell up against it, so I remained
standing, and I felt that I was beginning to lose my senses. My insane
anger had augmented this attack of exhaustion. I lifted my foot, and
stamped on the pavement. I also tried several other things to try and
regain my strength: I clenched my teeth, wrinkled my brows, and rolled
my eyes despairingly; it helped a little. My thoughts grew more lucid.
It was clear to me that I was about to succumb. I stretched out my
hands, and pushed myself back from the wall. The street still danced
wildly round me. I began to hiccough with rage, and I wrestled from my
very inmost soul with my misery; made a right gallant effort not to
sink down. It was not my intention to collapse; no, I would die
standing. A dray rolls slowly by, and I notice there are potatoes in
it; but out of sheer fury and stubbornness, I take it into my head to
assert that they are not potatoes, but cabbages, and I swore frightful
oaths that they were cabbages. I heard quite well what I was saying,
and I swore this lie wittingly; repeating time after time, just to have
the vicious satisfaction of perjuring myself. I got intoxicated with
the thought of this matchless sin of mine. I raised three fingers in
the air, and swore, with trembling lips, in the name of the Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost, that they were cabbages.
Time went. I let myself sink down on the steps near me, and dried
the sweat from my brow and throat, drew a couple of long breaths, and
forced myself into calmness. The sun slid down; it declined towards the
afternoon. I began once more to brood over my condition. My hunger was
really something disgraceful, and, in a few hours more, night would be
here again. The question was, to think of a remedy while there was yet
time. My thoughts flew again to the lodging-house from which I had been
hunted away. I could on no account return there; but yet one could not
help thinking about it. Properly speaking, the woman was acting quite
within her rights in turning me out. How could I expect to get lodging
with any one when I could not pay for it? Besides, she had occasionally
given me a little food; even yesterday evening, after I had annoyed
her, she offered me some bread and butter. She offered it to me out of
sheer good nature, because she knew I needed it, so I had no cause to
complain. I began, even whilst I sat there on the step, to ask her
pardon in my own mind for my behaviour. Particularly, I regretted
bitterly that I had shown myself ungrateful to her at the last, and
thrown half-a-sovereign in her face....
Half-a-sovereign! I gave a whistle. The letter the messenger brought
me, where did it come from? It was only this instant I thought clearly
over this, and I divined at once how the whole thing hung together. I
grew sick with pain and shame. I whispered Ylajali a few times, with
hoarse voice, and flung back my head. Was it not I who, no later than
yesterday, had decided to pass her proudly by if I met her, to treat
her with the greatest indifference? Instead of that, I had only aroused
her compassion, and coaxed an alms from her. No, no, no; there would
never be an end to my degradation! Not even in her presence could I
maintain a decent position. I sank, simply sank, on all sidesevery
way I turned; sank to my knees, sank to my waist, dived under in
ignominy, never to rise againnever! This was the climax! To accept
half-a-sovereign in alms without being able to fling it back to the
secret donor; scramble for half-pence whenever the chance offered, and
keep them, use them for lodging money, in spite of one's intense inner
Could I not regain the half-sovereign in some way or another? To go
back to the landlady and try to get it from her would be of no use.
There must be some way, if I were to considerif I were only to exert
myself right well, and consider it over. It was not, in this case,
great God, sufficient to consider in just an ordinary way! I must
consider so that it penetrated my whole sentient being; consider and
find some way to procure this half-sovereign. And I set to, to consider
the answer to this problem.
It might be about four o'clock; in a few hours' time I could perhaps
meet the manager of the theatre; if only I had my drama completed.
I take out my MSS. there where I am sitting, and resolve, with might
and main, to finish the last few scenes. I think until I sweat, and
re-read from the beginning, but make no progress. No bosh! I sayno
obstinacy, now! and I write away at my dramawrite down everything
that strikes me, just to get finished quickly and be able to go away. I
tried to persuade myself that a new supreme moment had seized me; I
lied right royally to myself, deceived myself knowingly, and wrote on,
as if I had no need to seek for words.
That is capital! That is really a find! whispered I,
interpolatingly; only just write it down! Halt! they sound
questionable; they contrast rather strongly with the speeches in the
first scenes; not a trace of the Middle Ages shone through the monk's
words. I break my pencil between my teeth, jump to my feet, tear my
manuscript in two, tear each page in two, fling my hat down in the
street and trample upon it. I am lost! I whisper to myself. Ladies and
gentlemen, I am lost! I utter no more than these few words as long as I
stand there, and tramp upon my hat.
A policeman is standing a few steps away, watching me. He is
standing in the middle of the street, and he only pays attention to me.
As I lift my head, our eyes meet. Maybe he has been standing there for
a long time watching me. I pick up my hat, put it on, and go over to
Do you know what time it is? I ask. He pauses a bit as he hauls
out his watch, and never takes his eyes off me the whole time.
About four, he replies.
Accurately, I say, about four, perfectly accurate. You know your
business, and I'll bear you in mind. Thereupon I left him. He looked
utterly amazed at me, stood and looked at me, with gaping mouth, still
holding his watch in his hand.
When I got in front of the Royal Hotel I turned and looked back. He
was still standing in the same position, following me with his eyes.
Ha, ha! That is the way to treat brutes! With the most refined
effrontery! That impresses the brutesputs the fear of God into
them.... I was peculiarly satisfied with myself, and began to sing a
little strain. Every nerve was tense with excitement. Without feeling
any more pain, without even being conscious of discomfort of any kind,
I walked, light as a feather, across the whole market, turned round at
the stalls, and came to a haltsat down on a bench near Our Saviour's
Church. Might it not just as well be a matter of indifference whether I
returned the half-sovereign or not? When once I received it, it was
mine; and there was evidently no want where it came from. Besides, I
was obliged to take it when it was sent expressly to me; there could be
no object in letting the messenger keep it. It wouldn't do, either, to
send it backa whole half-sovereign that had been sent to me. So there
was positively no help for it.
I tried to watch the bustle about me in the market, and distract
myself with indifferent things, but I did not succeed; the
half-sovereign still busied my thoughts. At last I clenched my fists
and got angry. It would hurt her if I were to send it back. Why, then,
should I do so? Always ready to consider myself too good for
everythingto toss my head and say, No, thanks! I saw now what it led
to. I was out in the street again. Even when I had the opportunity I
couldn't keep my good warm lodging. No; I must needs be proud, jump up
at the first word, and show I wasn't the man to stand trifling, chuck
half-sovereigns right and left, and go my way.... I took myself sharply
to task for having left my lodging and brought myself into the most
As for the rest, I consigned the whole affair to the keeping of the
yellowest of devils. I hadn't begged for the half-sovereign, and I had
barely had it in my hand, but gave it away at oncepaid it away to
utterly strange people whom I would never see again. That was the sort
of man I was; I always paid out to the last doit whatever I owed. If I
knew Ylajali aright, neither did she regret that she had sent me the
money, therefore why did I sit there working myself into a rage? To put
it plainly, the least she could do was to send me half-a-sovereign now
and then. The poor girl was indeed in love with meha! perhaps even
fatally in love with me; ... and I sat and puffed myself up with this
notion. There was no doubt that she was in love with me, the poor girl.
It struck five o'clock! Again I sank under the weight of my
prolonged nervous excitement. The hollow whirring in my head made
itself felt anew. I stared straight ahead, kept my eyes fixed, and
gazed at the chemist's under the sign of the elephant. Hunger was
waging a fierce battle in me at this moment, and I was suffering
greatly. Whilst I sit thus and look out into space, a figure becomes
little by little clear to my fixed stare. At last I can distinguish it
perfectly plainly, and I recognize it. It is that of the cake-vendor
who sits habitually near the chemist's under the sign of the elephant.
I give a start, sit half-upright on the seat, and begin to consider.
Yes, it was quite correctthe same woman before the same table on the
same spot! I whistle a few times and snap my fingers, rise from my
seat, and make for the chemist's. No nonsense at all! What the devil
was it to me if it was the wages of sin, or well-earned Norwegian
huckster pieces of silver from Kongsberg? I wasn't going to be abused;
one might die of too much pride....
I go on to the corner, take stock of the woman, and come to a
standstill before her. I smile, nod as to an acquaintance, and shape my
words as if it were a foregone conclusion that I would return sometime.
Good-day, say I; perhaps you don't recognize me again.
No, she replied slowly, and looks at me.
I smile still more, as if this were only an excellent joke of hers,
this pretending not to know me again, and say:
Don't you recollect that I gave you a lot of silver once? I did not
say anything on the occasion in question; as far as I can call to mind,
I did not; it is not my way to do so. When one has honest folk to deal
with, it is unnecessary to make an agreement, so to say, draw up a
contract for every trifle. Ha, ha! Yes, it was I who gave you the
No, then, now; was it you? Yes, I remember you, now that I come to
think over it....
I wanted to prevent her from thanking me for the money, so I say,
therefore, hastily, whilst I cast my eye over the table in search of
something to eat:
Yes; I've come now to get the cakes.
She did not seem to take this in.
The cakes, I reiterate; I've come now to get themat any rate,
the first instalment; I don't need all of them today.
You've come to get them?
Yes; of course I've come to get them, I reply, and I laugh
boisterously, as if it ought to have been self-evident to her from the
outset that I came for that purpose. I take, too, a cake up from the
table, a sort of white roll that I commenced to eat.
When the woman sees this, she stirs uneasily inside her bundle of
clothes, makes an involuntary movement as if to protect her wares, and
gives me to understand that she had not expected me to return to rob
her of them.
Really not? I say, indeed, really not? She certainly was an
extraordinary woman. Had she, then, at any time, had the experience
that some one came and gave her a heap of shillings to take care of,
without that person returning and demanding them again? No; just look
at that now! Did she perhaps run away with the idea that it was stolen
money, since I slung it at her in that manner? No; she didn't think
that either. Well, that at least was a good thingreally a good thing.
It was, if I might so say, kind of her, in spite of all, to consider me
an honest man. Ha, ha! yes indeed, she really was good!
But why did I give her the money, then? The woman was exasperated,
and called out loudly about it. I explained why I had given her the
money, explained it temperately and with emphasis. It was my custom to
act in this manner, because I had such a belief in every one's
goodness. Always when any one offered me an agreement, a receipt, I
only shook my head and said: No, thank you! God knows I did.
But still the woman failed to comprehend it. I had recourse to other
expedientsspoke sharply, and bade a truce to all nonsense. Had it
never happened to her before that any one had paid her in advance in
this manner? I inquiredI meant, of course, people who could afford
itfor example, any of the consuls? Never? Well, I could not be
expected to suffer because it happened to be a strange mode of
procedure to her. It was a common practice abroad. She had perhaps
never been outside the boundaries of her own country? No? Just look at
that now! In that case, she could of course have no opinion on the
subject; ... and I took several more cakes from the table.
She grumbled angrily, refused obstinately to give up any more of her
stores from off the table, even snatched a piece of cake out of my hand
and put it back into its place. I got enraged, banked the table, and
threatened to call the police. I wished to be lenient with her, I said.
Were I to take all that was lawfully mine, I would clear her whole
stand, because it was a big sum of money that I had given to her. But I
had no intention of taking so much, I wanted in reality only half the
value of the money, and I would, into the bargain, never come back to
trouble her again. Might God preserve me from it, seeing that that was
the sort of creature she was.... At length she shoved some cakes
towards me, four or five, at an exorbitant price, the highest possible
price she could think of, and bade me take them and begone. I wrangled
still with her, persisted that she had at least cheated me to the
extent of a shilling, besides robbing me with her exorbitant prices.
Do you know there is a penalty for such rascally trickery, said I;
God help you, you might get penal servitude for life, you old fool!
She flung another cake to me, and, with almost gnashing teeth, begged
me to go.
And I left her.
Ha! a match for this dishonest cake-vendor was not to be found. The
whole time, whilst I walked to and fro in the market-place and ate my
cakes, I talked loudly about this creature and her shamelessness,
repeated to myself what we both had said to one another, and it seemed
to me that I had come out of this affair with flying colours, leaving
her nowhere. I ate my cakes in face of everybody and talked this over
The cakes disappeared one by one; they seemed to go no way; no
matter how I ate I was still greedily hungry. Lord, to think they were
of no help! I was so ravenous that I was even about to devour the last
little cake that I had decided to spare, right from the beginning, to
put it aside, in fact, for the little chap down in Vognmandsgadethe
little lad who played with the paper streamers. I thought of him
continuallycouldn't forget his face as he jumped and swore. He had
turned round towards the window when the man spat down on him, and he
had just looked up to see if I was laughing at him. God knows if I
should meet him now, even if I went down that way.
I exerted myself greatly to try and reach Vognmandsgade, passed
quickly by the spot where I had torn my drama into tatters, and where
some scraps of papers still lay about; avoided the policeman whom I had
amazed by my behaviour, and reached the steps upon which the laddie had
He was not there. The street was almost deserteddusk was gathering
in, and I could not see him anywhere. Perhaps he had gone in. I laid
the cake down, stood it upright against the door, knocked hard, and
hurried away directly. He is sure to find it, I said to myself; the
first thing he will do when he comes out will be to find it. And my
eyes grew moist with pleasure at the thought of the little chap finding
I reached the terminus again.
Now I no longer felt hungry, only the sweet stuff I had eaten began
to cause me discomfort. The wildest thoughts, too surged up anew in my
Supposing I were in all secretness to cut the hawser mooring one of
those ships? Supposing I were to suddenly yell out Fire? I walk
farther down the wharf, find a packing-case and sit upon it, fold my
hands, and am conscious that my head is growing more and more confused.
I do not stir; I simply make no effort whatever to keep up any longer.
I just sit there and stare at the Copégoro, the barque flying
the Russian flag.
I catch a glimpse of a man at the rail; the red lantern slung at the
port shines down upon his head, and I get up and talk over to him. I
had no object in talking, as I did not expect to get a reply, either.
Do you sail tonight, Captain?
Yes; in a short time, answered the man. He spoke Swedish.
Hem, I suppose you wouldn't happen to need a man?
I was at this instant utterly indifferent as to whether I was met by
a refusal or not; it was all the same to me what reply the man gave me,
so I stood and waited for it.
Well, no, he replied; unless it chanced to be a young fellow.
A young fellow! I pulled myself together, took off my glasses
furtively and thrust them into my pocket, stepped up the gangway, and
strode on deck.
I have no experience, said I; but I can do anything I am put to.
Where are you bound for?
We are in ballast for Leith, to fetch coal for Cadiz.
All right, said I, forcing myself upon the man; it's all the same
to me where I go; I am prepared to do my work.
Have you never sailed before? he asked.
No; but as I tell you, put me to a task, and I'll do it. I am used
to a little of all sorts.
He bethought himself again.
I had already taken keenly into my head that I was to sail this
voyage, and I began to dread being hounded on shore again.
What do you think about it, Captain? I asked at last. I can
really do anything that turns up. What am I saying? I would be a poor
sort of chap if I couldn't do a little more than just what I was put
to. I can take two watches at a stretch, if it comes to that. It would
only do me good, and I could hold out all the same.
All right, have a try at it. If it doesn't work, well, we can part
Of course, I reply in my delight, and I repeated over again that
we could part in England if it didn't work.
And he set me to work....
Out in the fjord I dragged myself up once, wet with fever and
exhaustion, and gazed landwards, and bade farewell for the present to
the townto Christiania, where the windows gleamed so brightly in all