by August Strindberg
LOVE AND BREAD
SELECTION OR THE
ORIGIN OF RACE
AN ATTEMPT AT
A DOLL'S HOUSE
ROMEO AND JULIA
HIS SERVANT OR
DEBIT AND CREDIT
Strindberg's works in English translation: Plays translated by Edwin
Bjorkman; Master Olof, American Scandinavian Foundation, 1915;
The Dream Play, The Link, The Dance of Death, New York, Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1912; Swanwhite, Simoon, Debit and Credit, Advent,
The Thunderstorm, After the Fire, the same, 1913; There Are
Crimes and Crimes, Miss Julia, The Stronger, Creditors, Pariah, the
same, 1913; Bridal Crown, The Spook Sonata, The First Warning,
Gustavus Vasa, the same, 1916. Plays translated by Edith and Warner
Oland, Boston Luce &Co., Vol. I (1912), The Father, Countess Julie,
The Stronger, The Outlaw; Vol. II (1912), Facing Death, Easter,
Pariah, Comrades; Vol. III (1914), Swanwhite, Advent, The Storm,
Lucky Pehr, tr. by Velma Swanston Howard, Cincinnati, Stewart &Kidd
Co., 1912. The Red Room, tr. by Ellie Schleussner, New York,
Putnam's, 1913; Confession of a Fool, tr. by S. Swift, London,
F. Palmer, 1912; The German Lieutenant and Other Stories,
Chicago, A. C. McClurg &Co., 1915; In Midsummer Days and Other Tales, tr. by Ellie Schleussner, London, H. Latimer, 1913; Motherlove,
tr. by Francis J. Ziegler, Philadelphia, Brown Bros., 2nd ed., 1916,
On the Seaboard, tr. by Elizabeth Clarke Westergren, Cincinnati,
Stewart &Kidd Co., 1913; The Son of a Servant, tr. by. Claud
Field, introduction by Henry Vacher-Burch, New York, Putnam's, 1913;
The Growth of a Soul, tr. by Claud Field, London, W. Rider &Co.,
1913; The Inferno, tr. by Claud Field, New York, Putnam's, 1913;
Legends, Autobiographical Sketches, London, A. Melrose, 1912;
Zones of the Spirit, tr. by Claud Field, introduction by Arthur
Babillotte, London, G. Allen &Co.
These stories originally appeared in two volumes, the first in 1884,
the second in 1886. The latter part of the present edition is thus
separated from the first part by a lapse of two years.
Strindberg's views were continually undergoing changes. Constancy
was never a trait of his. He himself tells us that opinions are but the
reflection of a man's experiences, changing as his experiences change.
In the two years following the publication of the first volume,
Strindberg's experiences were such as to exercise a decisive influence
on his views on the woman question and to transmute his early
predisposition to woman-hating from a passive tendency to a positive,
active force in his character and writing.
Strindberg's art in Married is of the propagandist, of the
fighter for a cause. He has a lesson to convey and he makes frankly for
his goal without attempting to conceal his purpose under the gloss of
“pure” art. He chooses the story form in preference to the treatise as
a more powerful medium to drive home his ideas. That the result has
proved successful is due to the happy admixture in Strindberg of
thinker and artist. His artist's sense never permitted him to distort
or misrepresent the truth for the sake of proving his theories. In
fact, he arrived at his theories not as a scholar through the study of
books, but as an artist through the experience of life. When life had
impressed upon him what seemed to him a truth, he then applied his
intellect to it to bolster up that truth. Hence it is that, however
opinionated Strindberg may at times seem, his writings carry that
conviction which we receive only when the author reproduces' truths he
has obtained first-hand from life. One-sided he may occasionally be in
Married, especially in the later stories, but rarely unfaithful.
His manner is often to throw such a glaring searchlight upon one spot
of life that all the rest of it stays in darkness; but the places he
does show up are never unimportant or trivial. They are well worth
seeing with Strindberg's brilliant illumination thrown upon them.
August Strindberg has left a remarkably rich record of his life in
various works, especially in his autobiographical series of novels. He
was born in 1849 in Stockholm. His was a sad childhood passed in
extreme poverty. He succeeded in entering the University of Upsala in
1867, but was forced for a time on account of lack of means to
interrupt his studies. He tried his fortune as schoolmaster, actor, and
journalist and made an attempt to study medicine. All the while he was
active in a literary way, composing his first plays in 1869. In 1874 he
obtained a position in the Royal Library, where he devoted himself to
scientific studies, learned Chinese in order to catalogue the Chinese
manuscripts, and wrote an erudite monograph which was read at the
Academy of Inscriptions in Paris.
His first important literary productions were the drama Master
Olof (1878) and the novel The Red Room (1879). Disheartened
by the failure of Master Olof, he gave up literature for a long
time. When he returned to it, he displayed an amazing productivity.
Work followed work in quick succession—novels, short stories, dramas,
histories, historical studies, and essays. The Swedish People is
said to be the most popular book in Sweden next to the Bible. The mere
enumeration of his writings would occupy more than two pages. His
versatility led him to make researches in physics and chemistry and
natural science and to write on those subjects.
Through works like The Red Room, Married, and the
dramas The Father and Miss Julia, Strindberg attached
himself to the naturalistic school of literature. Another period of
literary inactivity followed, during which he passed through a mental
crisis akin to insanity. When he returned to the writing of novels and
dramas he was no longer a naturalist, but a symbolist and mystic. Among
the plays he composed in this style are To Damascus, The
Dream Play, and The Great Highway.
Strindberg married three times, divorced his first two wives, but
separated amicably from the third. He died in 1913. The vast
demonstration at his funeral, attended by the laboring classes as well
as by the “upper” classes, proved that, in spite of the antagonisms he
had aroused, Sweden unanimously awarded him the highest place in her
He had just completed his thirteenth year when his mother died. He
felt that he had lost a real friend, for during the twelve months of
her illness he had come to know her personally, as it were, and
established a relationship between them which is rare between parents
and children. He was a clever boy and had developed early; he had read
a great many books besides his schoolbooks, for his father, a professor
of botany at the Academy of Science, possessed a very good library. His
mother, on the other hand, was not a well-educated woman; she had
merely been head housekeeper and children's nurse in her husband's
house. Numerous births and countless vigils (she had not slept through
a single night for the last sixteen years), had exhausted her strength,
and when she became bedridden, at the age of thirty-nine, and was no
longer able to look after her house, she made the acquaintance of her
second son; her eldest boy was at a military school and only at home
during the week ends. Now that her part as mother of the family was
played to the end and nothing remained of her but a poor invalid, the
old-fashioned relationship of strict discipline, that barrier between
parents and children, was superseded. The thirteen-year-old son was
almost constantly at her bedside, reading to her whenever he was not at
school or doing home lessons. She had many questions to ask and he had
a great deal to explain, and therefore all those distinguishing marks
erected by age and position vanished, one after the other: if there was
a superior at all, it was the son. But the mother, too, had much to
teach, for she had learnt her lessons in the school of life; and so
they were alternately teacher and pupil. They discussed all subjects.
With the tact of a mother and the modesty of the other sex she told her
son all he ought to know of the mystery of life. He was still innocent,
but he had heard many things discussed by the boys at school which had
shocked and disgusted him. The mother explained to him all she could
explain; warned him of the greatest danger to a young man, and exacted
a promise from him never to visit a house of ill-fame, not even out of
curiosity, because, as she pointed out, in such a case no man could
ever trust himself. And she implored him to live a temperate life, and
turn to God in prayer whenever temptation assaulted him.
His father was entirely devoted to science, which was a sealed book
to his wife. When the mother was already on the point of death, he made
a discovery which he hoped would make his name immortal in the
scientific world. He discovered, on a rubbish heap, outside the gates
of Stockholm, a new kind of goose-foot with curved hairs on the usually
straight-haired calyx. He was in communication with the Berlin Academy
of Sciences, and the latter was even now considering the advisability
of including the new variety in the “Flora Germanica”; he was daily
expecting to hear whether or not the Academy had decided to immortalise
his name by calling the plant Chenopodium Wennerstroemianium. At his
wife's death-bed he was absentminded, almost unkind, for he had just
received an answer in the affirmative, and he fretted because neither
he nor his wife could enjoy the great news. She thought only of heaven
and her children. He could not help realising that to talk to her now
of a calyx with curved hairs would be the height of absurdity; but, he
justified himself, it was not so much a question of a calyx with
straight or curved hairs, as of a scientific discovery; and, more than
that, it was a question of his future and the future of his children,
for their father's distinction meant bread for them.
When his wife died on the following evening, he cried bitterly; he
had not shed a tear for many years. He was tortured by remorse,
remembered even the tiniest wrong he had ever done her, for he had
been, on the whole, an exemplary husband; his indifference, his
absent-mindedness of the previous day, filled him with shame and
regret, and in a moment of blankness he realised all the pettishness
and selfishness of his science which, he had imagined, was benefiting
mankind. But these emotions were short-lived; if you open a door with a
spring behind it, it will close again immediately. On the following
morning, after he had drawn up an announcement of her death for the
papers, he wrote a letter of thanks to the Berlin Academy of Sciences.
After that he resumed his work.
When he came home to dinner, he longed for his wife, so that he
might tell her of his success, for she had always been his truest
friend, the only human being who had never been jealous or envious. Now
he missed this loyal companion on whose approval he could count as a
matter of course; never once had she contradicted him, for since he
never told her more than the practical result of his researches, there
was no room for argument. For a moment the thought occurred to him that
he might make friends with his son; but they knew each other too
little; their relationship was that of officer and private soldier. His
superior rank did not permit him to make advances; moreover, he
regarded the boy with suspicion, because the latter possessed a keener
intellect and had read a number of new books which were unknown to him;
occasionally it even happened that the father, the professor, plainly
revealed his ignorance to his son, the school-boy. In such cases the
father was either compelled to dismiss the argument, with a few
contemptuous remarks to “these new follies,” or peremptorily order the
school-boy to attend to his lessons. Once or twice, in self-defence,
the son had produced one or other of his school-books; the professor
had lost his temper and wished the new school-books to hell.
And so it came about that the father devoted himself to his
collections of dried plants and the son went his own way.
They lived in a quiet street to the left of the Observatory, in a
small, one-storey house, built of bricks, and surrounded by a large
garden; the garden was once the property of the Horticultural Society,
and had come into the professor's possession by inheritance. But since
he studied descriptive botany, and took no interest in the much more
interesting subjects of the physiology and morphology of plants, a
science which was as good as unknown in his youth, he was practically a
stranger to living nature. He allowed the garden with its many
splendours to become a wilderness, and finally let it to a gardener on
condition that he and his children should be allowed certain
privileges. The son used the garden as a park and enjoyed its beauty as
he found it, without taking the trouble to try and understand it
One might compare the boy's character to an ill-proportioned
compensation pendulum; it contained too much of the soft metal of the
mother, not enough of the hard metal of the father. Friction and
irregular oscillations were the natural consequences. Now he was full
of sentiment, now hard and sceptical. His mother's death affected him
beyond words. He mourned her deeply, and she always lived in his memory
as the personification of all that was good and great and beautiful.
He wasted the summer following her death in brooding and
novel-reading. Grief, and to no small extent idleness, had shaken his
whole nervous system and quickened his imagination. His tears had been
like warm April showers falling on fruit trees, wakening them to a
precocious burgeoning: but alas! only too often the blossoms are doomed
to wither and perish in a frosty May night, before the fruit has had
time to set.
He was fifteen years old and had therefore arrived at the age when
civilised man attains to manhood and is ripe to give life to a new
generation, but is prevented from doing so by his inability to maintain
a family. Consequently he was about to begin the ten years' martyrdom
which a young man is called upon to endure in the struggle against an
overwhelming force of nature, before he is in a position to fulfil her
* * * * *
It is a warm afternoon about Whitsuntide. The appletrees are
gorgeous in their white splendour which nature has showered all over
them with a profuse hand. The breeze shakes the crowns and fills the
air with pollen; a part of it fulfils its destination and creates new
life, a part sinks to the ground and dies. What is a handful of pollen
more or less in the inexhaustible store-house of nature! The fertilised
blossom casts off its delicate petals which flutter to the ground and
wither; they decay in the rain and are ground to dust, to rise again
through the sap and re-appear as blossoms, and this time, perhaps, to
become fruit. But now the struggle begins: those which a kind fate has
placed on the sunny side, thrive and prosper; the seed bud swells, and
if no frost intervenes, the fruit, in due time, will set. But those
which look towards the North, the poor things which grow in the shadow
of the others and never see the sun, are predestined to fade and fall
off; the gardener rakes them together and carts them to the pig-sty.
Behold the apple-tree now, its branches laden with half-ripe fruit,
little, round, golden apples with rosy cheeks. A fresh struggle begins:
if all remain alive, the branches will not be able to bear their
weight, the tree will perish. A gale shakes the branches. It requires
firm stems to hold on. Woe to the weaklings! they are condemned to
A fresh danger! The apple-weevil appears upon the scene. It, too,
has to maintain life and to fulfil a duty towards its progeny. The grub
eats its way through the fruit to the stem and the apple falls to the
ground. But the dainty beetle chooses the strongest and soundest for
its brood, otherwise too many of the strong ones would be allowed to
live, and competition would become over-keen.
The hour of twilight, the gathering dusk, arouses the passionate
instincts of the beast-world. The night-crow crouches on the newly-dug
flower-bed to lure its mate. Which of the eager males shall carry the
prize? Let them decide the question!
The cat, sleek and warm, fresh from her evening milk, steals away
from her corner by the hearth and picks her way carefully among
daffodils and lilies, afraid lest the dew make her coat damp and ragged
before her lover joins her. She sniffs at the young lavender and calls.
Her call is answered by the black tom-cat which appears, broad-backed
like a marten, on the neighbour's fence; but the gardener's
tortoise-shell approaches from the cow-shed and the fight begins.
Handfuls of the rich, black soil are flying about in all directions,
and the newly-planted radishes and spinach plants are roughly awakened
from their quiet sleep and dreams of the future. The stronger of the
two remains in possession of the field, and the female awaits
complacently the frenetic embraces of the victor. The vanquished flies
to engage in a new struggle in which, perhaps, victory will smile on
Nature smiles, content, for she knows of no other sin than the sin
against her law; she is on the side of the strong for her desire is for
strong children, even though she should have to kill the “eternal ego"
of the insignificant individual. And there is no prudery, no
hesitation, no fear of consequences, for nature has plenty of food for
all her children—except mankind.
* * * * *
After supper he went for a walk in the garden while his father sat
down at his bed-room window to smoke a pipe and read the evening paper.
He strolled along the paths, revelling in the delicious odours which a
plant only exhales when it is in full bloom, and which is the finest
and strongest extract of etheric oils, containing in a condensed form
the full strength of the individual, destined to become the
representative of the species. He listened to the nuptial song of the
insects above the lime trees, which rings in our ears like a funeral
dirge: he heard the purring call of the night-crow; the ardent mewing
of the cat, which sounds as if death, and not life, were wooing; the
humming note of the dung-beetle, the fluttering of the large moths, the
thin peeping of the bats.
He stopped before a bed of narcissus, gathered one of the while,
starry flowers, and inhaled its perfume until he felt the blood
hammering in his temples. He had never examined this flower minutely.
But during the last term they had read Ovid's story of Narcissus. He
had not discovered a deeper meaning in the legend. What did it mean,
this story of a youth who, from unrequited love, turned his ardour upon
himself and was consumed by the flame when he fell in love with his own
likeness seen in a well? As he stood, examining the white, cup-shaped
petals, pale as the cheeks of an invalid with fine red lines such as
one may see in the faces of consumptives when a pitiless cough forces
the blood into the extremest and tiniest blood-vessels, he thought of a
school-fellow, a young aristocrat, who was a midshipman now; he looked
When he had inhaled the scent of the flower for some time, the
strong odour of cloves disappeared and left but a disagreeable, soapy
smell which made him feel sick.
He sauntered on to where the path turned to the right and finally
lost itself in an avenue planted on both sides with elm-trees whose
branches had grown together and formed an arch overhead. In the
semi-darkness, far down the perspective, he could see a large green
swing, suspended by ropes, slowly moving backwards and forwards. A girl
stood on the back board, gently swinging herself by bending her knees
and throwing her body forward, while she clung, with arms raised high
above her head, to the ropes at her side. He recognised the gardener's
daughter, a girl who had been confirmed last Easter and had just begun
to wear long skirts. To-night, however, she was dressed in one of her
old dresses which barely reached to her ankles.
The sight of the young man embarrassed her, for she remembered the
shortness of her skirt, but she nevertheless remained on the swing. He
advanced and looked at her.
“Go away, Mr. Theodore,” said the girl, giving the swing a vigorous
“Why should I?” answered the youth, who felt the draught of her
fluttering skirts on his throbbing temples.
“Because I want you to,” said the girl.
“Let me come up, too, and I'll swing you, Gussie,” pleaded Theodore,
springing on to the board.
Now he was standing on the swing, facing her. And when they rose
into the air, he felt her skirts flapping against his legs, and when
they descended, he bent over her and looked into her eyes which were
brilliant with fear and enjoyment. Her thin cotton blouse fitted
tightly and showed every line of her young figure; her smiling lips
were half-open, displaying two rows of sound white teeth, which looked
as if they would like to bite or kiss him.
Higher and higher rose the swing, until it struck the topmost
branches of the maple. The girl screamed and fell forward, into his
arms; he was pushed over, on to the seat. The trembling of the soft
warm body which nestled closely in his arms, sent an electric shock
through his whole nervous system; a black veil descended before his
eyes and he would have let her go if her left shoulder had not been
tightly pressed against his right arm.
The speed of the swing slackened. She rose and sat on the seat
facing him. And thus they remained with downcast eyes, not daring to
look one another in the face.
When the swing stopped, the girl slipped off the seat and ran away
as if she were answering a call. Theodore was left alone. He felt the
blood surging in his veins. It seemed to him that his strength was
redoubled. But he could not grasp what had happened. He vaguely
conceived himself as an electrophor whose positive electricity, in
discharging, had combined with the negative. It had happened during a
quite ordinary, to all appearances chaste, contact with a young woman.
He had never felt the same emotion in wrestling, for instance, with his
school-fellows in the play-ground. He had come into contact with the
opposite polarity of the female sex and now he knew what it meant to be
a man. For he was a man, not a precocious boy, kicking over the traces;
he was a strong, hardy, healthy youth.
As he strolled along, up and down the garden paths, new thoughts
formed in his brain. Life looked at him with graver eyes, he felt
conscious of a sense of duty. But he was only fifteen years old. He was
not yet confirmed and many years would have to elapse before he would
be considered an independent member of the community, before he would
be able to earn a living for himself, let alone maintain a wife and
family. He took life seriously, the thought of light adventures never
occurred to him. Women were to him something sacred, his opposite pole,
the supplement and completion of himself. He was mature now, bodily and
mentally, fit to enter the arena of life and fight his way. What
prevented him from doing so? His education, which had taught him
nothing useful; his social position, which stood between him and a
trade he might have learned. The Church, which had not yet received his
vow of loyalty to her priests; the State, which was still waiting for
his oath of allegiance to Bernadotte and Nassau; the School, which had
not yet trained him sufficiently to consider him ripe for the
University; the secret alliance of the upper against the lower classes.
A whole mountain of follies lay on him and his young strength. Now that
he knew himself to be a man, the whole system of education seemed to
him an institution for the mutilation of body and soul. They must both
be mutilated before he could be allowed to enter the harem of the
world, where manhood is considered a danger; he could find no other
excuse for it. And thus he sank back into his former state of
immaturity. He compared himself to a celery plant, tied up and put
under a flower-pot so as to make it as white and soft as possible,
unable to put forth green leaves in the sunshine, flower, and bear
Wrapped in these thoughts he remained in the garden until the clock
on the nearest church tower struck ten. Then he turned towards the
house, for it was bed-time. But the front door was locked. The
house-maid, a petticoat thrown over her nightgown, let him in. A
glimpse of her bare shoulders roused him from his sentimental reveries;
he tried to put his arm round her and kiss her, for at the moment he
was conscious of nothing but her sex. But the maid had already
disappeared, shutting the door with a bang. Overwhelmed with shame he
opened his window, cooled his head in a basin of cold water and lighted
When he had got into bed, he took up a volume of Arndt's
Spiritual Voices of the Morning, a book which had belonged to his
mother; he read a chapter of it every evening to be on the safe side,
for in the morning his time was short. The book reminded him of the
promise of chastity given to his mother on her death-bed, and he felt a
twinge of conscience. A fly which had singed its wings on his lamp, and
was now buzzing round the little table by his bedside, turned his
thoughts into another channel; he closed the book and lit a cigarette.
He heard his father take off his boots in the room below, knock out his
pipe against the stove, pour out a glass of water and get ready to go
to bed. He thought how lonely he must be since he had become a widower.
In days gone by he had often heard the subdued voices of his parents
through the thin partition, in intimate conversation on matters on
which they always agreed; but now no voice was audible, nothing but the
dead sounds which a man makes in waiting upon himself, sounds which one
must put side by side, like the figures in a rebus, before one can
understand their meaning.
He finished his cigarette, blew out the lamp and said the Lord's
Prayer in an undertone, but he got no farther than the fifth petition.
Then he fell asleep.
He awoke from a dream in the middle of the night. He had dreamt that
he held the gardener's daughter in his arms. He could not remember the
circumstances, for he was quite dazed, and fell asleep again directly.
On the following morning he was depressed and had a headache. He
brooded over the future which loomed before him threateningly and
filled him with dread. He realised with a pang how quickly the summer
was passing, for the end of the summer meant the degradation of
school-life. Every thought of his own would be stifled by the thoughts
of others; there was no advantage in being able to think independently;
it required a fixed number of years before one could reach one's goal.
It was like a journey on a good's train; the engine was bound to remain
for a certain time in the stations, and when the pressure of the steam
became too strong, from want of consumption of energy, a waste-pipe had
to be opened. The Board had drawn up the time-table and the train was
not permitted to arrive at the stations before its appointed time. That
was the principal thing which mattered.
The father noticed the boy's pallor, but he put it down to grief
over his mother's death.
Autumn came and with it the return to school. Theodore, by dint of
much novel-reading during the summer, and coming in this way, as it
were, in constant contact with grown-up people and their problems and
struggles, had come to look upon himself as a grown-up member of
society. Now the masters treated him with familiarity, the boys took
liberties which compelled him to repay them in kind. And this
educational institution, which was to ennoble him and make him fit to
take his place in the community, what did it teach him? How did it
ennoble him? The compendiums, one and all, were written under the
control of the upper classes, for the sole purpose of forcing the lower
classes to look up to their betters. The schoolmasters frequently
reproached their pupils with ingratitude and impressed on them their
utter inability to realise, even faintly, the advantage they enjoyed in
receiving an education which so many of their poorer fellow-creatures
would always lack. No, indeed, the boys were not sophisticated enough
to see through the gigantic fraud and its advantages.
But did they ever find true joy, real pleasure in the subjects of
their studies for their own sakes? Never! Therefore the teachers had to
appeal incessantly to the lower passions of their pupils, to ambition,
self-interest, material advantages.
What a miserable make-believe school was! Not one of the boys
believed that he would reap any benefit from repeating the names and
dates of hated kings in their proper sequence, from learning dead
languages, proving axioms, defining “a matter of course,” and counting
the anthers of plants and the joints on the hindlegs of insects, to
knowing the end no more about them than their Latin names. How many
long hours were wasted in the vain attempt to divide an angle into
three equal sections, a thing which can be done so easily in a minute
in an unscientific (that is to say practical) way by using a
How they scorned everything practical! His sisters, who were taught
French from Ollendorf's grammar, were able to speak the language after
two years' study; but the college boys could not say a single sentence
after six. Ollendorf was a name which they pronounced with pity and
contempt. It was the essence of all that was stupid.
But when his sister asked for an explanation and enquired whether
the purpose of spoken language was not the expression of human thought,
the young sophist replied with a phrase picked up from one of the
masters who in his turn had borrowed it from Talleyrand. Language was
invented to hide one's thoughts. This, of course, was beyond the
horizon of a young girl (how well men know how to hide their
shortcomings), but henceforth she believed her brother to be
tremendously learned, and stopped arguing with him.
And was there not even a worse stumbling-block in aesthetics,
delusive and deceptive, casting a veil of borrowed splendour and sham
beauty over everything? They sang of “The Knights' Vigil of Light.”
What knights' vigil? With patents of nobility and students'
certificates; false testimonials, as they might have told themselves.
Of light? That was to say of the upper classes who had the greatest
interest in keeping the lower classes in darkness, a task in which they
were ably assisted by church and school. “And onward, onward, on the
path of light!”
Things were always called by the wrong name. And if it so happened
that a light-bearer arose from the lower classes, everybody was ready
and prepared to extinguish his torch. Oh! youthful, healthy host of
fighters! How healthy they were, all these young men, enervated by
idleness, unsatisfied desires and ambitions, who scorned every man who
had not the means to pay for a University education! What splendid
liars they were, the poets of the upper classes! Were they the
deceivers or the deceived?
What was the usual subject of the young men's conversation? Their
studies? Never! Once in a way, perhaps, they would talk of
certificates. No, their conversation was of things obscene; of
appointments with women; of billiards and drink; of certain diseases
which they had heard discussed by their elder brothers. They lounged
about in the afternoon and “held the reviews,” and the best informed of
them knew the name of the officer and could tell the others where his
Once two members of the “Knights' Vigil of Light,” had dined in the
company of two women on the terrace of a high-class restaurant in the
Zoological Gardens. For this offence they were expelled from school.
They were punished for their naivete, not because their conduct was
considered vicious, for a year after they passed their examinations and
went to the University, gaining in this way a whole year; and when they
had completed their studies at Upsala, they were attached to the
Embassy in one of the capitals of Europe, to represent the United
Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway.
In these surroundings Theodore spent the best part of his youth. He
had seen through the fraud, but was compelled to acquiesce! Again and
again he asked himself the question: What can I do? There was no
answer. And so he became an accessory and learned to hold his tongue.
His confirmation appeared to him to be very much on a level with his
school experience. A young minister, an ardent pietist, was to teach
him in four months Luther's Catechism, regardless of the fact that he
was well versed in theology, exegesis and dogmatics, besides having
read the New Testament in Greek. Nevertheless the strict pietism, which
demanded absolute truth in thought and action, could not fail to make a
great impression on him.
When the catechumens were assembled for the first time, Theodore
found himself quite unexpectedly surrounded by a totally different
class of boys to whom he had been used at school. When he entered the
assembly-room he was met by the stare of something like a hundred
inimical eyes. There were tobacco binders, chimney sweeps, apprentices
of all trades. They were on bad terms and freely abused one another,
but this enmity between the different trades was only superficial;
however much they quarrelled, they yet held together. He seemed to
breathe a strangely stifling atmosphere; the hatred with which they
greeted him was not unmixed with contempt, the reverse of a certain
respect or envy. He looked in vain for a friend, for a companion,
like-minded, dressed as he was. There was not a single one. The parish
was poor, the rich people sent their children to the German church
which was then the fashion. It was in the company of the children of
the people, the lower classes, that he was to approach the altar, as
their equal. He asked himself what it was that separated him from these
boys? Were they not, bodily, endowed with the same gifts as he? No
doubt, for every one of them earned his living, and some of them helped
to keep their parents. Were they less gifted, mentally? He did not
think so, for their remarks gave evidence of keen powers of
observation; he would have laughed at many of their witty remarks if he
had not been conscious of his superior caste. There was no definite
line of demarcation between him and the fools who were his
school-fellows. But there was a line here Was it the shabby clothes,
the plain faces, the coarse hands, which formed the barrier? Partly, he
thought. Their plainness, especially, repulsed him. But were they worse
than others because they were plain?
He was carrying a foil, as he had a fencing lesson later on. He put
it in a corner of the room, hoping that it would escape attention. But
it had been seen already. Nobody knew what kind of a thing it really
was, but everybody recognised it as a weapon of some sort. Some of the
boldest busied themselves about the corner, so as to have a look at it.
They fingered the covering of the handle, scratched the guard with
their nails, bent the blade, handled the small leather ball. They were
like hares sniffing at a gun which had been lost in the wood. They did
not understand its use, but they knew it for something inimical,
something with a hidden meaning. Presently a belt-maker's apprentice,
whose brother was in the Life Guards, joined the inquisitive throng and
at once decided the question: “Can't you see that it is a sword, you
fools?” he shouted, with a look at Theodore. It was a respectful look,
but a look which also hinted at a secret understanding between them,
which, correctly interpreted, meant: You and I understand these things!
But a young rope-maker, who had once been a trumpeter in a military
band, considered this giving of a verdict without consulting him a
personal slight and declared that he “would be hanged if it wasn't a
rapier!” The consequence was a fight which transformed the place into a
bear-garden, dense with dust and re-echoing with screams and yells.
The door opened and the minister stood on the threshold. He was a
pale young man, very thin, with watery blue eyes and a face disfigured
by a rash. He shouted at the boys. The wild beasts ceased fighting. He
began talking of the precious blood of Christ and the power of the Evil
One over the human heart. After a little while he succeeded in inducing
the hundred boys to sit down on the forms and chairs. But now he was
quite out of breath and the atmosphere was thick with dust. He glanced
at the window and said in a faint voice: “Open the sash!” This request
re-awakened the only half-subdued passions. Twenty-five boys made a
rush for the window and tried to seize the window cord.
“Go to your places at once!” screamed the minister, stretching out
his hand for his cane.
There was a momentary silence during which the minister tried to
think of a way of having the sash raised without a fight.
“You,” he said at last to a timid little fellow, “go and open the
The small boy went to the window and tried to disentangle the window
cord. The others looked on in breathless silence, when suddenly a big
lad, in sailor's clothes, who had just come home on the brig Carl
Johan, lost patience.
“The devil take me if I don't show you what a lad can do,” he
shouted, throwing off his coat and jumping on the window sill; there
was a flash from his cutlass and the rope was cut.
“Cable's cut!” he laughed, as the minister with a hysterical cry,
literally drove him to his seat.
“The rope was so entangled that there was nothing for it but to cut
it,” he assured him, as he sat down.
The minister was furious. He had come from a small town in the
provinces and had never conceived the possibility of so much sin, so
much wickedness and immorality. He had never come into contact with
lads so far advanced on the road to damnation. And he talked at great
length of the precious blood of Christ.
Not one of them understood what he said, for they did not realise
that they had fallen, since they had never bee different. The boys
received his words with coldness and indifference.
The minister rambled on and spoke of Christ's precious wounds, but
not one of them took his words to heart, for not one of them was
conscious of having wounded Christ. He changed the subject and spoke of
the devil, but that was a topic so familiar to them that it made no
impression. At last he hit on the right thing. He began to talk of
their confirmation which was to take place in the coming spring. He
reminded them of their parents, anxious that their children should play
a part in the life of the community; when he went on to speak of
employers who refused to employ lads who had not been confirmed, his
listeners became deeply interested at once, and every one of them
understood the great importance of the coming ceremony. Now he was
sincere, and the young minds grasped what he was talking about; the
noisiest among them became quiet.
The registration began. What a number of marriage certificates were
missing! How could the children come to Christ when their parents had
not been legally married? How could they approach the altar when their
fathers had been in prison? Oh! what sinners they were!
Theodore was deeply moved by the exhibition of so much shame and
disgrace. He longed to tear his thoughts away from the subject, but was
unable to do so. Now it was his turn to hand in his certificates and
the minister read out: son: Theodore, born on such and such a date;
parents: professor and knight ... a faint smile flickered like a feeble
sunbeam over his face, he gave him a friendly nod and asked: “And how
is your dear father?” But when he saw that the mother was dead (a fact
of which he was perfectly well aware) his face clouded over. “She was a
child of God,” he said, as if he were talking to himself, in a gushing,
sympathetic, whining voice, but the remark conveyed at the same time a
certain reproach against the “dear father,” who was only a professor
and knight. After that Theodore could go.
When he left the assembly-room he felt that he had gone through an
almost impossible experience. Were all those lads really depraved
because they used oaths and coarse language, as his companions, his
father, his uncle, and all the upper classes did at times? What did the
minister mean when he talked of immorality? They were more savage than
the spoilt children of the wealthy, but that was because they were more
fully alive. It was unfair to blame them for missing marriage
certificates. True, his father had never committed a theft, but there
was no necessity for a man to steal if he had an income of six thousand
crowns and could please himself. The act would be absurd or abnormal in
such a case.
Theodore went back to school realising what it meant “to have
received an education”; here nobody was badgered for small faults. As
little notice as possible was taken of one's own or one's parent's
weaknesses, one was among equals and understood one another.
After school one “held the reviews,” sneaked into a cafe and drank a
liqueur, and finally went to the fencing-room. He looked at the young
officers who treated him as their equal, observed all those young
bloods with their supple limbs, pleasant manners and smiling faces,
every one of them certain that a good dinner was awaiting him at home,
and became conscious of the existence of two worlds: an upper and an
under-world. He remembered the gloomy assembly-room and the wretched
assembly he had just left with a pang; all their wounds and hidden
defects were mercilessly exposed and examined through a magnifying-glass, so that the lower classes might acquire that true humility
failing which the upper classes cannot enjoy their amiable weaknesses
in peace. And for the first time something jarring had come into this
However much Theodore was tossed about between his natural yearning
for the only half-realised temptations of the world, and his newly
formed desire to turn his back on this world and his mind heavenwards,
he did not break the promise given to his mother. The religious
teaching which he and the other catechumens received from the minister
in the church, did not fail to impress him deeply. He was often gloomy
and wrapped in thought and felt that life was not what it ought to be.
He had a dim notion that once upon a time a terrible crime had been
committed, which it was now everybody's business to hide by practising
countless deceptions; he compared himself to a fly caught in a spider's
web: the more it struggled to regain its freedom, the more it entangled
itself, until at last it died miserably, strangled by the cruel
One evening—the minister scorned no trick likely to produce an
effect on his hard-headed pupils—they were having a lesson in the
choir. It was in January. Two gas jets lighted up the choir,
illuminating and distorting the marble figures on the altar. The whole
of the large church with its two barrel-vaults, which crossed one
another, lay in semi-darkness. In the background the shining organ
pipes faintly reflected the gas flames; above it the angels blowing
their trumpets to summon the sleepers before the judgment seat of their
maker, looked merely like sinister, threatening human figures above
life size; the cloisters were lost in complete darkness.
The minister had explained the seventh commandment. He had spoken of
immorality between married and unmarried people. He could not explain
to his pupils what immorality between husband and wife meant, although
he was a married man himself; but on the subject of immorality in all
its other aspects he was well-informed. He went on to the subject of
self-abuse. As he pronounced the word a rustling sound passed through
the rows of young men; they stared at him, with white cheeks and hollow
eyes, as if a phantom had appeared in their midst. As long as he kept
to the tortures of hell fire, they remained fairly indifferent, but
when he took up a book and read to them accounts of youths who had died
at the age of twenty-five of consumption of the spine, they collapsed
in their seats, and felt as if the floor were giving way beneath them!
He told them the story of a young boy who was committed to an asylum at
the age of twelve, and died at the age of fourteen, having found peace
in the faith of his Redeemer. They saw before their shrinking eyes a
hundred corpses, washed and shrouded. “There is but one remedy against
this evil,” went on the minister, “the precious wounds of Christ.” But
how this remedy was to be used against sexual precocity, he did not
tell them. He admonished them not to go to dances, to shun theatres and
gaming-houses, and above all things, to avoid women; that is to say to
act in exact contradiction to their inclinations. That this vice
contradicts and utterly confounds he pronouncement of the community
that a man is not mature until he is twenty-one, was passed over in
silence. Whether it could be prevented by early marriages (supposing a
means of providing food for all instead of banquets for a few could be
found) remained an open question. The final issue was that one should
throw oneself into the arms of Christ, that is to say, go to church,
and leave the care of temporal things to the upper classes.
After this admonishment the minister requested the first five on the
first form to stay behind. He wished to speak to them in private. The
first five looked as if they had been sentenced to death. Their chests
contracted; they breathed with difficulty, and a careful observer might
have noticed that their hair had risen an inch at the roots and lay
over their skulls in damp strands like the hair of a corpse. Their eyes
stared from their blanched sockets like two round glass bullets set in
leather, motionless, not knowing whether to face the question with a
bold front, or hide behind an impudent lie.
After the prayer the hymn of Christ's wounds was sung; to-night it
sounded like the singing of consumptives; every now and then it died
away altogether, or was interrupted by a dry cough, like the cough of a
man who is dying of thirst. Then they began to file out. One of the
five attempted to steal away, but the minister called him back.
It was a terrible moment. Theodore who sat on the first form was one
of the five. He felt sick at heart. Not because he was guilty of the
offence indicated, but because in his heart he considered it an insult
to a man thus to have to lay bare the most secret places of his soul.
The other four sat down, as far from each other as they could. The
belt-maker's apprentice, who was one of them, tried to make a joke, but
the words refused to come. They saw themselves confronted by the
police-court, the prison, the hospital and, in the background, the
asylum. They did not know what was going to happen, but they felt
instinctively that a species of scourging awaited them. Their only
comfort in their distressing situation was the fact that he, Mr.
Theodore, was one of them. It was not clear to them why that fact
should be a comfort, but they knew intuitively that no evil would
happen to the son of a professor.
“Come along, Wennerstroem,” said the minister, after he had lighted
the gas in the vestry.
Wennerstroem went and the door closed behind him. The four remained
seated on their forms, vainly trying to discover a comfortable position
for their limbs.
After a while Wennerstroem returned, with red eyes, trembling with
excitement; he immediately went down the corridor and out into the
When he stood in the churchyard which lay silent under a heavy cover
of snow, he recapitulated all that had happened in the vestry. The
minister had asked him whether he had sinned? No, he had not. Did he
have dreams? Yes! He was told that dreams were equally sinful, because
they proved that the heart was wicked, and God looked at the heart. “He
trieth the heart and reins, and on the last day he will judge every one
of us for every sinful thought, and dreams are thoughts. Christ has
said: Give me your heart, my son! Go to Him! Pray, pray, pray!
Whatsoever is chaste, whatsoever is pure, whatsoever is lovely—that is
He. The alpha and the omega, life and happiness. Chasten the flesh and
be strong in prayer. Go in the name of the Lord and sin no more!”
He felt indignant, but he was also crushed. In vain did he struggle
to throw off his depression, he had not been taught sufficient
common-sense at school to use it as a weapon against this Jesuitical
sophistry. It was true, his knowledge of psychology enabled him to
modify the statement that dreams are thoughts; dreams are fancies, he
mused, creations of the imagination; but God has no regard for words!
Logic taught him that there was something unnatural in his premature
desires. He could not marry at the age of sixteen, since he was unable
to support a wife; but why he was unable to support a wife, although he
felt himself to be a man, was a problem which he could not solve.
However anxious he might be to get married, the laws of society which
are made by the upper classes and protected by bayonets, would prevent
him. Consequently nature must have been sinned against in some way, for
a man was mature long before he was able to earn a living. It must be
degeneracy. His imagination must be degenerate; it was for him to
purify it by prayer and sacrifice.
When he arrived home, he found his father and sisters at supper. He
was ashamed to sit down with them, for he felt degraded. His father
asked him, as usual, whether the date of the confirmation had been
fixed. Theodore did not know. He touched no food, pretending that he
was not well; the truth was that he did not dare to eat any supper. He
went into his bedroom and read an essay by Schartau which the minister
had lent him. The subject was the vanity of reason. And here, just
here, where all his hopes of arriving at a clear understanding were
centred, the light failed. Reason which he had dared to hope would some
day guide him out of the darkness into the light, reason, too, was sin;
the greatest of all sins, for it questioned God's very existence, tried
to understand what was not meant to be understood. Why it was
not meant to be understood, was not explained; probably it was because
if it had been understood the fraud would have been discovered.
He rebelled no longer, but surrendered himself. Before going to bed
he read two Morning Voices from Arndt, recited the Creed, the
Lord's Prayer and the Blessing. He felt very hungry; a fact which he
realised with a certain spiteful pleasure, for it seemed to him that
his enemy was suffering.
With these thoughts he fell asleep. He awoke in the middle of the
night. He had dreamt of a champagne supper in the company of a girl.
And the whole terrible evening arose fresh in his memory.
He leapt out of bed with a bound, threw his sheets and blankets on
the floor and lay down to sleep on the bare mattress, covering himself
with nothing but a thin coverlet. He was cold and hungry, but he must
subdue the devil. Again he repeated the Lord's Prayer, with additions
of his own. By and by his thoughts grew confused, the strained
expression of his features relaxed, a smile softened the expression of
his mouth; lovely figures appeared before him, serene and smiling, he
heard subdued voices, half-stifled laughter, a few bars from a waltz,
saw sparkling glasses and frank and merry faces with candid eyes, which
met his own unabashed; suddenly a curtain was parted in the middle; a
charming little face peeped through the red silk draperies, with
smiling lips and dancing eyes; the slender throat is bare, the
beautiful sloping shoulders look as if they had been modelled by a
caressing hand; she holds out her arms and he draws her to his thumping
The clock was striking three. Again he had been worsted in the
Determined to win, he picked up the mattress and threw it out of the
bed. Then he knelt on the cold floor and fervently prayed to God for
strength, for he felt that he was indeed wrestling with the devil. When
he had finished his prayer he lay down on the bare frame, and with a
feeling of satisfaction felt the ropes and belting cutting into his
arms and shins.
He awoke in the morning in a high fever.
He was laid up for six weeks. When he arose from his bed of
sickness, he felt better than he had ever felt before. The rest, the
good food and the medicine had increased his strength, and the struggle
was now twice as hard. But he continued to struggle.
His confirmation took place in the spring. The moving scene in which
the lower classes promise on oath never to interfere with these things
which the upper classes consider their privilege, made a lasting
impression on him. It didn't trouble him that the minister offered him
wine bought from the wine-merchant Hogstedt at sixty-five ore the pint,
and wafers from Lettstroem, the baker, at one crown a pound, as the
flesh and blood of the great agitator Jesus of Nazareth, who was done
to death nineteen hundred years ago. He didn't think about it, for one
didn't think in those days, one had emotions.
A year after his confirmation he passed his final examination. The
smart little college cap was a source of great pleasure to him; without
being actually conscious of it, he felt that he, as a member of the
upper classes, had received a charter. They were not a little proud of
their knowledge, too, these young men, for the masters had pronounced
them “mature.” The conceited youths! If at least they had mastered all
the nonsense of which they boasted! If anybody had listened to their
conversation at the banquet given in their honour, it would have been a
revelation to him. They declared openly that they had not acquired five
per cent. of the knowledge which ought to have been in their
possession; they assured everybody who had ears to listen that it was a
miracle that they had passed; the uninitiated would not have believed a
word of it. And some of the young masters, now that the barrier between
pupil and teacher was removed, and simulation was no longer necessary,
swore solemnly, with half-intoxicated gestures, that there was not a
single master in the whole school who would not have been plucked. A
sober person could not help drawing the conclusion that the examination
was like a line which could be drawn at will between upper and lower
classes; and then he saw in the miracle nothing but a gigantic fraud.
It was one of the masters who, sipping a glass of punch, maintained
that only an idiot could imagine that a human brain could remember at
the same time: the three thousand dates mentioned in history; the names
of the five thousand towns situated in all parts of the world; the
names of six hundred plants and seven hundred animals; the bones in the
human body, the stones which form the crust of the earth, all
theological disputes, one thousand French words, one thousand English,
one thousand German, one thousand Latin, one thousand Greek, half a
million rules and exceptions to the rules: five hundred mathematical,
physical, geometrical, chemical formulas. He was willing to prove that
in order to be capable of such a feat the brain would have to be as
large as the cupola of the Observatory at Upsala. Humboldt, he went on
to say, finally forgot his tables, and the professor of astronomy at
Lund had been unable to divide two whole numbers of six figures each.
The newly-fledged under-graduates imagined that they knew six
languages, and yet they knew no more than five thousand words at most
of the twenty thousand which composed their mother tongue. And hadn't
he seen how they cheated? Oh! he knew all their tricks! He had seen the
dates written on their finger nails; he had watched them consulting
books under cover of their desks, he had heard them whispering to one
another! But, he concluded, what is one to do? Unless one closes an eye
to these things, the supply of students is bound to come to an end.
During the summer Theodore remained at home, spending much of his time
in the garden. He brooded over the problem of his future; what
profession was he to choose? He had gained so much insight into the
methods of the huge Jesuitical community which, under the name of the
upper classes, constituted society, that he felt dissatisfied with the
world and decided to enter the Church to save himself from despair. And
yet the world beckoned to him. It lay before him, fair and bright, and
his young, fermenting blood yearned for life. He spent himself in the
struggle and his idleness added to his torments.
Theodore's increasing melancholy and waning health began to alarm
his father. He had no doubt about the cause, but he could not bring
himself to talk to his son on such a delicate subject.
One Sunday afternoon the Professor's brother who was an officer in
the Pioneers, called. They were sitting in the garden, sipping their
“Have you noticed the change in Theodore?” asked the Professor.
“Yes, his time has come,” answered the Captain.
“I believe it has come long ago.”
“I wish you'd talk to him, I can't do it.”
“If I were a bachelor, I should play the part of the uncle,” said
the Captain; “as it is, I'll ask Gustav to do it. The boy must see
something of life, or he'll go wrong. Hot stuff these Wennerstroems,
“Yes,” said the Professor, “I was a man at fifteen, but I had a
school-friend who was never confirmed because he was a father at
“Look at Gustav! Isn't he a fine fellow? I'm hanged if he isn't as
broad across the back as an old captain! He's a handful!”
“Yes,” answered the Professor, “he costs me a lot, but after all,
I'd rather pay than see the boy running any risks. I wish you'd ask
Gustav to take Theodore about with him a little, just to rouse him.”
“Oh! with pleasure!” answered the Captain.
And so the matter was settled.
One evening in July, when the summer is in its prime and all the
blossoms which the spring has fertilised ripen into fruit, Theodore was
sitting in his bed-room, waiting. He had pinned a text against his
wall. “Come to Jesus,” it said, and it was intended as a hint to the
lieutenant not to argue with him when he occasionally came home from
barracks for a few minutes. Gustav was of a lively disposition, “a
handful,” as his uncle had said. He wasted no time in brooding. He had
promised to call for Theodore at seven o'clock; they were going to make
arrangements for the celebration of the professor's birthday.
Theodore's secret plan was to convert his brother, and Gustav's equally
secret intention was to make his younger brother take a more reasonable
view of life.
Punctually at seven o'clock, a cab stopped before the house, (the
lieutenant invariably arrived in a cab) and immediately after Theodore
heard the ringing of his spurs and the rattling of his sword on the
“Good evening, you old mole,” said the elder brother with a laugh.
He was the picture of health and youth. His highly-polished Hessian
boots revealed a pair of fine legs, his tunic outlined the loins of a
cart-horse; the golden bandolier of his cartridge box made his chest
appear broader and his sword-belt showed off a pair of enormous thighs.
He glanced at the text and grinned, but said nothing.
“Come along, old man, let's be off to Bellevue! We'll call on the
gardener there and make arrangements for the old man's birthday. Put on
your hat, and come, old chap!”
Theodore tried to think of an excuse, but the brother took him by
the arm, put a hat on his head, back to front, pushed a cigarette
between his lips and opened the door. Theodore felt like a fish out of
water, but he went with his brother.
“To Bellevue!” said the lieutenant to the cab-driver, “and mind you
make your thoroughbreds fly!”
Theodore could not help being amused. It would never have occurred
to him to address an elderly married man, like the cabman, with so much
On the way the lieutenant talked of everything under the sun and
stared at every pretty girl they passed.
They met a funeral procession on its return from the cemetery.
“Did you notice that devilish pretty girl in the last coach?” asked
Theodore had not seen her and did not want to see her.
They passed an omnibus full of girls of the barmaid type. The
lieutenant stood up, unconcernedly, in the public thoroughfare, and
kissed his hands to them. He really behaved like a madman.
The business at Bellevue was soon settled. On their return the
cab-driver drove them, without waiting for an order, to “The Equerry,”
a restaurant where Gustav was evidently well-known.
“Let's go and have something to eat,” said the lieutenant, pushing
his brother out of the cab.
Theodore was fascinated. He was no abstainer and saw nothing wrong
in entering a public-house, although it never occurred to him to do so.
He followed, though not without a slight feeling of uneasiness.
They were received in the hall by two girls. “Good evening, little
doves,” said the lieutenant, and kissed them both on the lips. “Let me
introduce you to my learned brother; he's very young and innocent, not
at all like me; what do you say, Jossa?”
The girls looked shyly at Theodore, who did not know which way to
turn. His brother's language appeared to him unutterably impudent.
On their way upstairs they met a dark-haired little girl, who had
evidently been crying; she looked quiet and modest and made a good
impression on Theodore.
The lieutenant did not kiss her, but he pulled out his handkerchief
and dried her eyes. Then he ordered an extravagant supper.
They were in a bright and pretty room, hung with mirrors and
containing a piano, a perfect room for banquetting. The lieutenant
opened the piano with his sword, and before Theodore knew where he was,
he was sitting on the music-stool, and his hands were resting on the
“Play us a waltz,” commanded the lieutenant, and Theodore played a
waltz. The lieutenant took off his sword and danced with Jossa;
Theodore heard his spurs knocking against the legs of the chairs and
tables. Then he threw himself on the sofa and shouted:
“Come here, ye slaves, and fan me!”
Theodore began to play softly and presently he was absorbed in the
music of Gounod's Faust. He did not dare to turn round.
“Go and kiss him,” whispered the brother.
But the girls felt shy. They were almost afraid of him and his
The boldest of them, however, went up to the piano.
“You are playing from the Freischutz, aren't you?” she asked.
“No,” said Theodore, politely, “I'm playing Gounod's Faust.”
“Your brother looks frightfully respectable,” said the little dark
one, whose name was Rieke; “he's different to you, you old villain.”
“Oh! well, he's going into the Church,” whispered the lieutenant.
These words made a great impression on the girls, and henceforth
they only kissed the lieutenant when Theodore's back was turned, and
looked at Theodore shyly and apprehensively, like fowls at a chained
Supper appeared, a great number of courses. There were eighteen
dishes, not counting the hot ones.
Gustav poured out the liqueurs.
“Your health, you old hypocrite!” he laughed.
Theodore swallowed the liqueur. A delicious warmth ran through his
limbs, a thin, warm veil fell over his eyes, he felt ravenous like a
starving beast. What a banquet it was! The fresh salmon with its
peculiar flavour, and the dill with its narcotic aroma; the radishes
which seem to scrape the throat and call for beer; the small
beef-steaks and sweet Portuguese onions, which made him think of
dancing girls; the fried lobster which smelt of the sea; the chicken
stuffed with parsley which reminded him of the gardener, and the first
gerkins with their poisonous flavour of verdigris which made such a
jolly, crackling sound between his crunching teeth. The porter flowed
through his veins like hot streams of lava; they drank champagne after
the strawberries; a waitress brought the foaming drink which bubbled in
the glasses like a fountain. They poured out a glass for her. And then
they talked of all sorts of things.
Theodore sat there like a tree in which the sap is rising. He had
eaten a good supper and felt as if a whole volcano was seething in his
inside. New thoughts, new emotions, new ideas, new points of view
fluttered round his brow like butterflies. He went to the piano and
played, he himself knew not what. The ivory keys under his hands were
like a heap of bones from which his spirit drew life and melody.
He did not know how long he had been playing, but when he turned,
round he saw his brother entering the room. He looked like a god,
radiating life and strength. Behind him came Rieke with a bowl of
punch, and immediately after all the girls came upstairs. The
lieutenant drank to each one of them separately; Theodore found that
everything was as it should be and finally became so bold that he
kissed Rieke on the shoulder. But she looked annoyed and drew away from
him, and he felt ashamed.
When Theodore found himself alone in his room, he had a feeling as
if the whole world were turned upside down. He tore the text from the
wall, not because he no longer believed in Jesus, but because its being
pinned against the wall struck him as a species of bragging. He was
amazed to find that religion sat on him as loosely as a Sunday suit,
and he asked himself whether it was not unseemly to go about during the
whole week in Sunday clothes. After all he was but an ordinary,
commonplace person with whom he was well content, and he came to the
conclusion that he had a better chance of living in peace with himself
if he lived a simple, unpretentious, unassuming life.
He slept soundly during the night, undisturbed by dreams.
When he arose on the following morning, his pale cheeks looked
fuller and there was a new gladness in his heart. He went out for a
walk and suddenly found himself in the country. The thought struck him
that he might go to the restaurant and look up the girls. He went into
the large room; there he found Rieke and Jossa alone, in morning
dresses, snubbing gooseberries. Before he knew what he was doing, he
was sitting at the table beside them with a pair of scissors in his
hand, helping them. They talked of Theodore's brother and the pleasant
evening they had spent together. Not a single loose remark was made.
They were just like a happy family; surely he had fallen in good hands,
he was among friends.
When they had finished with the gooseberries, he ordered coffee and
invited the girls to share it with him. Later on the proprietress came
and read the paper to them. He felt at home.
He repeated his visit. One afternoon he went upstairs, to look for
Rieke. She was sewing a seam. Theodore asked her whether he was in her
way. “Not at all,” she replied, “on the contrary.” They talked of his
brother who was away at camp, and would be away for another two months.
Presently he ordered some punch and their intimacy grew.
On another occasion Theodore met her in the Park. She was gathering
flowers. They both sat down in the grass. She was wearing a light
summer dress, the material of which was so thin that it plainly
revealed her slight girlish figure. He put his arms round her waist and
kissed her. She returned his kisses and he drew her to him in a
passionate embrace; but she tore herself away and told him gravely that
if he did not behave himself she would never meet him again.
They went on meeting one another for two months. Theodore had fallen
in love with her. He had long and serious conversations with her on the
most sacred duties of life, on love, on religion, on everything, and
between-whiles he spoke to her of his passion. But she invariably
confounded him with his own arguments. Then he felt ashamed of having
harboured base thoughts of so innocent a girl, and finally his passion
was transformed into admiration for this poor little thing, who had
managed to keep herself unspotted in the midst of temptation.
He had given up the idea of going into the Church; he determined to
take the doctor's degree and—who knows—perhaps marry Rieke. He read
poetry to her while she did needlework. She let him kiss her as much as
he liked, she allowed him to fondle and caress her; but that was the
At last his brother returned from camp. He immediately ordered a
banquet at “The Equerry”; Theodore was invited. But he was made to play
all the time. He was in the middle of a waltz, to which nobody danced,
when he happened to look round; he was alone. He rose and went into the
corridor, passed a long row of doors, and at last came to a bed-room.
There he saw a sight which made him turn round, seize his hat and
disappear into the darkness.
It was dawn when he reached his own bed-room, alone, annihilated,
robbed of his faith in life, in love, and, of course, in women, for to
him there was but one woman in the world, and that was Rieke from “The
Equerry.” On the fifteenth of September he went to Upsala to study
* * * * *
The years passed. His sound common-sense was slowly extinguished by
all the nonsense with which he had to fill his brain daily and hourly.
But at night he was powerless to resist. Nature burst her bonds and
took by force what rebellious man denied her. He lost his health; all
his skull bones were visible in his haggard face, his complexion was
sallow and his skin looked damp and clammy; ugly pimples appeared
between the scanty locks of his beard. His eyes were without lustre,
his hands so emaciated that the joints seemed to poke through the skin.
He looked like the illustration to an essay on human vice, and yet he
lived a perfectly pure life.
One day the professor of Christian Ethics, a married man with very
strict ideas on morality, called on him and asked him pointblank
whether he had anything on his conscience; if so, he advised him to
make a clean breast of it. Theodore answered that he had nothing to
confess, but that he was unhappy. Thereupon the professor exhorted him
to watch and pray and be strong.
His brother had written him a long letter, begging him not to take a
certain stupid matter too much to heart. He told him that it was absurd
to take a girl seriously. His philosophy, and he had always found it
answering admirably, was to pay debts incurred and go; to play while
one was young, for the gravity of life made itself felt quite soon
enough. Marriage was nothing but a civil institution for the protection
of the children. There was plenty of time for it.
Theodore replied at some length in a letter imbued with true
Christian sentiment, which the lieutenant left unanswered.
After passing his first examination in the spring, Theodore was
obliged to spend a summer at Skofde, in order to undergo the cold water
cure. In the autumn he returned to Upsala. His newly-regained strength
was merely so much fresh fuel to the fire.
Matters grew worse and worse. His hair had grown so thin that the
scalp was plainly visible. He walked with dragging footsteps and
whenever his fellow students met him in the street, they cut him as if
he were possessed of all the vices. He noticed it and shunned them in
his turn. He only left his rooms in the evening. He did not dare to go
to bed at night. The iron which he had taken to excess, had ruined his
digestion, and in the following summer the doctors sent him to
On his return to Upsala, in the autumn, a rumour got abroad, an ugly
rumour, which hung over the town like a black cloud. It was as if a
drain had been left open and men were suddenly reminded that the town,
that splendid creation of civilisation, was built over a sea of
corruption, which might at any moment burst its bonds and poison the
inhabitants. It was said that Theodore Wennerstroem, in a paroxysm of
passion had assaulted one of his friends, and the rumour did not lie.
His father went to Upsala and had an interview with the Dean of the
Theological Faculty. The professor of pathology was present. What was
to be done? The doctor remained silent. They pressed him for his
“Since you ask me,” he said, “I must give you an answer; but you
know as well as I do that there is but one remedy.”
“And that is?” asked the theologian.
“Need you ask?” replied the doctor.
“Yes,” said the theologian, who was a married man. “Surely, nature
does not require immorality from a man?”
The father said that he quite understood the case, but that he was
afraid of making recommendations to his son, on account of the risks
the latter would run.
“If he can't take care of himself he must be a fool,” said the
The Dean requested them to continue such an agitating conversation
in a more suitable place.... He himself had nothing more to add.
This ended the matter.
Since Theodore was a member of the upper classes the scandal was
hushed up. A few years later he passed his final, and was sent by the
doctor to Spa. The amount of quinine which he had taken had affected
his knees and he walked with two sticks. At Spa he looked so ill that
he was a conspicuous figure even in a crowd of invalids.
But an unmarried woman of thirty-five, a German, took compassion on
the unhappy man. She spent many hours with him in a lonely summer
arbour in the park, discussing the problems of life. She was a member
of a big evangelical society, whose object was the raising of the moral
standard. She showed him prospectuses for newspapers and magazines, the
principal mission of which was the suppression of prostitution.
“Look at me,” she said, “I am thirty-five years old and enjoy
excellent health! What fools' talk it is to say that immorality is a
necessary evil. I have watched and fought a good fight for Christ's
The young clergyman silently compared her well-developed figure, her
large hips, with his own wasted body.
“What a difference there is between human beings in this world,” was
his unspoken comment.
In the autumn the Rev. Theodore Wennerstroem and Sophia Leidschutz,
spinster, were engaged to be married.
“Saved!” sighed the father, when the news reached him in his house
“I wonder how it will end,” thought the brother in his barracks.
“I'm afraid that my poor Theodore is 'one of those Asra who die when
Theodore Wennerstroem was married. Nine months after the wedding his
wife presented him with a boy who suffered from rickets—another
thirteen months and Theodore Wennerstroem had breathed his last.
The doctor who filled up the certificate of death, looked at the
fine healthy woman, who stood weeping by the small coffin which
contained the skeleton of her young husband of not much over twenty
“The plus was too great, the minus too small,” he thought, “and
therefore the plus devoured the minus.”
But the father, who received the news of his son's death on a
Sunday, sat down to read a sermon. When he had finished, he fell into a
“There must be something very wrong with a world where virtue is
rewarded with death,” he thought.
And the virtuous widow, nee Leidschutz, had two more husbands
and eight children, wrote pamphlets on overpopulation and immorality.
But her brother-in-law called her a cursed woman who killed her
The anything but virtuous lieutenant married and was father of six
children. He got promotion and lived happily to the end of his life.
LOVE AND BREAD
The assistant had not thought of studying the price of wheat before
he called on the major to ask him for the hand of his daughter; but the
major had studied it.
“I love her,” said the assistant.
“What's your salary?” said the old man.
“Well, twelve hundred crowns, at present; but we love one
“That has nothing to do with me; twelve hundred crowns is not
“And then I make a little in addition to my salary, and Louisa knows
that my heart....”
“Don't talk nonsense! How much in addition to your salary?”
He seized paper and pencil.
“And my feelings....”
“How much in addition to your salary?”
And he drew hieroglyphics on the blotting paper.
“Oh! We'll get on well enough, if only....”
“Are you going to answer my question or not? How much in addition to
your salary? Figures! figures, my boy! Facts!”
“I do translations at ten crowns a sheet; I give French lessons, I
am promised proof-correcting....”
“Promises aren't facts! Figures, my boy! Figures! Look here, now,
I'll put it down. What are you translating?”
“What am I translating? I can't tell you straight off.”
“You can't tell me straight off? You are engaged on a translation,
you say; can't you tell me what it is? Don't talk such rubbish!”
“I am translating Guizot's History of Civilisation,
“At ten crowns a sheet makes two hundred and fifty crowns. And
“And then? How can I tell beforehand?”
“Indeed, can't you tell beforehand? But you ought to know. You seem
to imagine that being married simply means living together and amusing
yourselves! No, my dear boy, there will be children, and children
require feeding and clothing.”
“There needn't be babies directly, if one loves as we love
“How the dickens do you love one another?”
“As we love one another.” He put his hand on his waistcoat.
“And won't there be any children if people love as you love? You
must be mad! But you are a decent, respectable member of society, and
therefore I'll give my consent; but make good use of the time, my boy,
and increase your income, for hard times are coming. The price of wheat
The assistant grew red in the face when he heard the last words, but
his joy at the old man's consent was so great that he seized his hand
and kissed it. Heaven knew how happy he was! When he walked for the
first time down the street with his future bride on his arm, they both
radiated light; it seemed to them that the passers-by stood still and
lined the road in honour of their triumphal march; and they walked
along with proud eyes, squared shoulders and elastic steps.
In the evening he called at her house; they sat down in the centre
of the room and read proofs; she helped him. “He's a good sort,”
chuckled the old man. When they had finished, he took her in his arms
and said: “Now we have earned three crowns,” and then he kissed her. On
the following evening they went to the theatre and he took her home in
a cab, and that cost twelve crowns.
Sometimes, when he ought to have given a lesson in the evening, he
(is there anything a man will not do for love's sake?) cancelled his
lesson and took her out for a walk instead.
But the wedding-day approached. They were very busy. They had to
choose the furniture. They began with the most important purchases.
Louisa had not intended to be present when he bought the bedroom
furniture, but when it came to the point she went with him. They bought
two beds, which were, of course, to stand side by side. The furniture
had to be walnut, every single piece real walnut. And they must have
spring mattresses covered with red and white striped tick, and bolsters
filled with down; and two eiderdown quilts, exactly alike. Louisa chose
blue, because she was very fair.
They went to the best stores. They could not do without a red
hanging-lamp and a Venus made of plaster of Paris. Then they bought a
dinner-service; and six dozen differently shaped glasses with cut
edges; and knives and forks, grooved and engraved with their initials.
And then the kitchen utensils! Mama had to accompany them to see to
And what a lot he had to do besides! There were bills to accept,
journeys to the banks and interviews with tradespeople and artisans; a
flat had to be found and curtains had to be put up. He saw to
everything. Of course he had to neglect his work; but once he was
married, he would soon make up for it.
They were only going to take two rooms to begin with, for they were
going to be frightfully economical. And as they were only going to have
two rooms, they could afford to furnish them well. He rented two rooms
and a kitchen on the first floor in Government Street, for six hundred
crowns. When Louisa remarked that they might just as well have taken
three rooms and a kitchen on the fourth floor for five hundred crowns,
he was a little embarrassed; but what did it matter if only they loved
one another? Yes, of course, Louisa agreed, but couldn't they have
loved one another just as well in four rooms at a lower rent, as in
three at a higher? Yes, he admitted that he had been foolish, but what
did it matter so long as they loved one another?
The rooms were furnished. The bed-room looked like a little temple.
The two beds stood side by side, like two carriages. The rays of the
sun fell on the blue eiderdown quilt, the white, white sheets and the
little pillow-slips which an elderly maiden aunt had embroidered with
their monogram; the latter consisted of two huge letters, formed of
flowers, joined together in one single embrace, and kissing here and
there, wherever they touched, at the corners. The bride had her own
little alcove, which was screened off by a Japanese screen. The
drawing-room, which was also dining-room, study and morning-room,
contained her piano, (which had cost twelve hundred crowns) his
writing-table with twelve pigeon-holes, (every single piece of it real
walnut) a pier-glass, armchairs; a sideboard and a dining-table. “It
looks as if nice people lived here,” they said, and they could not
understand why people wanted a separate dining-room, which always
looked so cheerless with its cane chairs.
The wedding took place on a Saturday. Sunday dawned, the first day
of their married life. Oh! what a life it was! Wasn't it lovely to be
married! Wasn't marriage a splendid institution! One was allowed one's
own way in everything, and parents and relations came and congratulated
one into the bargain.
At nine o'clock in the morning their bedroom was still dark. He
wouldn't open the shutters to let in daylight, but re-lighted the red
lamp which threw its bewitching light on the blue eiderdown, the white
sheets, a little crumpled now, and the Venus made of plaster of Paris,
who stood there rosy-red and without shame. And the red light also fell
on his little wife who nestled in her pillows with a look of
contrition, and yet so refreshed as if she had never slept so well in
all her life. There was no traffic in the street to-day for it was
Sunday, and the church-bells were calling people to the morning service
with exulting, eager voices, as if they wanted all the world to come to
church and praise Him who had created men and women.
He whispered to his little bride to shut her eyes so that he might
get up and order breakfast. She buried her head in the pillows, while
he slipped on his dressing-gown and went behind the screen to dress.
A broad radiant path of sunlight lay on the sitting-room floor; he
did not know whether it was spring or summer, autumn or winter; he only
knew that it was Sunday!
His bachelor life was receding into the background like something
ugly and dark; the sight of his little home stirred his heart with a
faint recollection of the home of his childhood, and at the same time
held out a glorious promise for the future.
How strong he felt! The future appeared to him like a mountain
coming to meet him. He would breathe on it and the mountain would fall
down at his feet like sand; he would fly away, far above gables and
chimneys, holding his little wife in his arm.
He collected his clothes which were scattered all over the room; he
found his white neck-tie hanging on a picture frame; it looked like a
big white butterfly.
He went into the kitchen. How the new copper vessels sparkled, the
new tin kettles shone! And all this belonged to him and to her! He
called the maid who came out of her room in her petticoat. But he did
not notice it, nor did he notice that her shoulders were bare. For him
there was but one woman in all the world. He spoke to the girl as a
father would to his daughter. He told her to go to the restaurant and
order breakfast, at once, a first-rate breakfast. Porter and Burgundy!
The manager knew his taste. She was to give him his regards.
He went out of the kitchen and knocked at the bed-room door.
“May I come in?”
There was a little startled scream.
“Oh, no, darling, wait a bit!”
He laid the breakfast table himself. When the breakfast was brought
from the restaurant, he served it on her new breakfast set. He folded
the dinner napkins according to all the rules of art. He wiped the
wine-glasses, and finally took her bridal-bouquet and put it in a vase
before her place.
When she emerged from her bed-room in her embroidered morning gown
and stepped into the brilliant sunlight, she felt just a tiny bit
faint; he helped her into the armchair, made her drink a little liqueur
out of a liqueur glass and eat a caviare sandwich.
What fun it all was! One could please oneself when one was married.
What would Mama have said if she had seen her daughter drinking
liqueurs at this hour of the morning!
He waited on her as if she were still his fiancee. What a breakfast
they were having on the first morning after their wedding! And nobody
had a right to say a word. Everything was perfectly right and proper,
one could enjoy oneself with the very best of consciences, and that was
the most delightful part of it all. It was not for the first time that
he was eating such a breakfast, but what a difference between then and
now! He had been restless and dissatisfied then; he could not bear to
think of it, now. And as he drank a glass of genuine Swedish porter
after the oysters, he felt the deepest contempt for all bachelors.
“How stupid of people not to get married! Such selfishness! They
ought to be taxed like dogs.”
“I'm sorry for those poor men who haven't the means to get married,”
replied his demure little wife kindly, “for I am sure, if they had the
means they would all get married.”
A little pang shot through the assistant's heart; for a moment he
felt afraid, lest he had been a little too venturesome. All his
happiness rested on the solution of a financial problem, and if, if....
Pooh! A glass of Burgundy! Now he would work! They should see!
“Game? With cranberries and cucumbers!” The young wife was a little
startled, but it was really delicious.
“Lewis, darling,” she put a trembling little hand on his arm, “can
we afford it?”
Fortunately she said “we.”
“Pooh! It doesn't matter for once! Later on we can dine on potatoes
“Can you eat potatoes and herrings?”
“I should think so!”
“When you have been drinking more than is good for you, and expect a
beefsteak after the herring?”
“Nonsense! Nothing of the kind! Your health, sweetheart! The game is
excellent! So are these artichokes!”
“No, but you are mad, darling! Artichokes at this time of the year!
What a bill you will have to pay!”
“Bill! Aren't they good? Don't you think that it is glorious to be
alive? Oh! It's splendid, splendid!”
At six o'clock in the afternoon a carriage drove up to the front
door. The young wife would have been angry if it had not been so
pleasant to loll luxuriously on the soft cushions, while they were
being slowly driven to the Deer Park.
“It's just like lying on a couch,” whispered Lewis.
She playfully hit his fingers with her sunshade. Mutual
acquaintances bowed to them from the footpath. Friends waved their
hands to him as if they were saying:
“Hallo! you rascal, you have come into a fortune!”
How small the passers-by looked, how smooth the street was, how
pleasant their ride on springs and cushions!
Life should always be like that.
It went on for a whole month. Balls, visits, dinners, theatres.
Sometimes, of course, they remained at home. And at home it was more
pleasant than anywhere else. How lovely, for instance, to carry off
one's wife from her parents' house, after supper, without saying as
much as “by your leave,” put her into a closed carriage, slam the door,
nod to her people and say: “Now we're off home, to our own four walls!
And there we'll do exactly what we like!”
And then to have a little supper at home and sit over it, talking
and gossiping until the small hours of the morning.
Lewis was always very sensible at home, at least in theory. One day
his wife put him to the test by giving him salt salmon, potatoes boiled
in milk and oatmeal soup for dinner. Oh! how he enjoyed it! He was sick
of elaborate menus.
On the following Friday, when she again suggested salt salmon for
dinner, Lewis came home, carrying two ptarmigans! He called to her from
“Just imagine, Lou, a most extraordinary thing happened! A most
“Well, what is it?”
“You'll hardly believe me when I tell you that I bought a brace of
ptarmigans, bought them myself at the market for—guess!”
His little wife seemed more annoyed than curious.
“Just think! One crown the two!”
“I have bought ptarmigans at eightpence the brace; but—” she added
in a more conciliatory tone, so as not to upset him altogether, “that
was in a very cold winter.”
“Well, but you must admit that I bought them very cheaply.”
Was there anything she would not admit in order to see him happy?
She had ordered boiled groats for dinner, as an experiment. But
after Lewis had eaten a ptarmigan, he regretted that he could not eat
as much of the groats as he would have liked, in order to show her that
he was really very fond of groats. He liked groats very much
indeed—milk did not agree with him after his attack of ague. He
couldn't take milk, but groats he would like to see on his table every
evening, every blessed evening of his life, if only she wouldn't be
angry with him.
And groats never again appeared on his table.
When they had been married for six weeks, the young wife fell ill.
She suffered from headaches and sickness. It could not be anything
serious, just a little cold. But this sickness? Had she eaten anything
which had disagreed with her? Hadn't all the copper vessels new
coatings of tin? He sent for the doctor. The doctor smiled and said it
was all right.
“What was all right? Oh! Nonsense! It wasn't possible. How could it
have been possible? No, surely, the bed-room paper was to blame. It
must contain arsenic. Let us send a piece to the chemist's at once and
have it tested.”
“Entirely free from arsenic,” reported the chemist.
“How strange! No arsenic in the wall papers?”
The young wife was still ill. He consulted a medical book and
whispered a question in her ear. “There now! a hot bath!”
Four weeks later the midwife declared that everything was “as it
“As it should be? Well, of course! Only it was somewhat premature!”
But as it could not, be helped, they were delighted. Fancy, a baby!
They would be papa and mama! What should they call him? For, of course,
it would be a boy. No doubt, it would. But now she had a serious
conversation with her husband! There had been no translating or
proof-correcting since their marriage. And his salary alone was not
“Yes, they had given no thought to the morrow. But, dear me, one was
young only once! Now, however, there would be a change.”
On the following morning the assistant called on an old
schoolfriend, a registrar, to ask him to stand security for a loan.
“You see, my dear fellow, when one is about to become a father, one
has to consider how to meet increasing expenses.”
“Quite so, old man,” answered the registrar, “therefore I have been
unable to get married. But you are fortunate in having the means.”
The assistant hesitated to make his request. How could he have the
audacity to ask this poor bachelor to help him to provide the expenses
for the coming event? This bachelor, who had not the means to found a
family of his own? He could not bring himself to do it.
When he came home to dinner, his wife told him that two gentlemen
had called to see him.
“What did they look like? Were they young? Did they wear
eye-glasses? Then there was no doubt, they were two lieutenants, old
friends of his whom he had met at Vaxholm.”
“No, they couldn't have been lieutenants; they were too old for
“Then he knew; they were old college friends from Upsala, probably
P. who was a lecturer, and O. who was a curate, now. They had come to
see how their old pal was shaping as a husband.”
“No, they didn't come from Upsala, they came from Stockholm.”
The maid was called in and cross-examined. She thought the callers
had been shabbily dressed and had carried sticks.
“Sticks! I can't make out what sort of people they can have been.
Well, we'll know soon enough, as they said they would call again. But
to change the subject, I happened to see a basket of hothouse
strawberries at a really ridiculous price; it really is absurd! Just
imagine, hothouse strawberries at one and sixpence a basket! And at
this time of the year!”
“But, my darling, what is this extravagance to lead to?”
“It'll be all right. I have got an order for a translation this very
“But you are in debt, Lewis?”
“Trifles! Mere nothings! It'll be all right when I take up a big
“A loan! But that'll be a new debt!”
“True! But there'll be easy terms! Don't let's talk business now!
Aren't these strawberries delicious? What? A glass of sherry with them
would be tip-top. Don't you think so? Lina, run round to the stores and
fetch a bottle of sherry, the best they have.”
After his afternoon nap, his wife insisted on a serious
“You won't be angry, dear, will you?”
“Angry? I! Good heavens, no! Is it about household expenses?”
“Yes! We owe money at the stores! The butcher is pressing for
payment; the man from the livery stables has called for his money; it's
“Is that all? I shall pay them to the last farthing to-morrow. How
dare they worry you about such trifles? They shall be paid to-morrow,
but they shall lose a customer. Now, don't let's talk about it any
more. Come out for a walk. No carriage! Well, we'll take the car to the
Deer Park, it will cheer us up.”
They went to the Deer Park. They asked for a private room at the
restaurant, and people stared at them and whispered.
“They think we are out on a spree,” he laughed. “What fun! What
But his wife did not like it.
They had a big bill to pay.
“If only we had stayed at home! We might have bought such a lot of
things for the money.”
Months elapsed. The great event was coming nearer and nearer. A
cradle had to be bought and baby-clothes. A number of things were
wanted. The young husband was out on business all day long. The price
of wheat had risen. Hard times were at hand. He could get no
translations, no proof-correcting. Men had become materialists. They
didn't spend money on books, they bought food. What a prosaic period we
were living in! Ideals were melting away, one after the other, and
ptarmigans were not to be had under two crowns the brace. The livery
stables would not provide carriages for nothing for the cab-proprietors
had wives and families to support, just as everybody else; at the
stores cash had to be paid for goods, Oh! what realists they all were!
The great day had come at last. It was evening. He must run for the
midwife. And while his wife suffered all the pangs of childbirth, he
had to go down into the hall and pacify the creditors.
At last he held a daughter in his arms. His tears fell on the baby,
for now he realised his responsibility, a responsibility which he was
unable to shoulder. He made new resolutions. But his nerves were
unstrung. He was working at a translation which he seemed unable to
finish, for he had to be constantly out on business.
He rushed to his father-in-law, who was staying in town, to bring
him the glad news.
“We have a little daughter!”
“Well and good,” replied his father-in-law; “can you support a
“Not at present; for heaven's sake, help us, father!”
“I'll tide you over your present difficulties. I can't do more. My
means are only sufficient to support my own family.”
The patient required chickens which he bought himself at the market,
and wine at six crowns the bottle. It had to be the very best.
The midwife expected a hundred crowns.
“Why should we pay her less than others? Hasn't she just received a
cheque for a hundred crowns from the captain?”
Very soon the young wife was up again. She looked like a girl, as
slender as a willow, a little pale, it was true, but the pallor suited
The old man called and had a private conversation with his
“No more children, for the present,” he said, “or you'll be ruined.”
“What language from a father! Aren't we married! Don't we love one
another? Aren't we to have a family?”
“Yes, but not until you can provide for them. It's all very fine to
love one another, but you musn't forget that you have
His father-in-law, too, had become a materialist. Oh! what a
miserable world it was! A world without ideals!
The home was undermined, but love survived, for love was strong, and
the hearts of the young couple were soft. The bailiff, on the contrary,
was anything but soft. Distraint was imminent, and bankruptcy
threatened. Well, let them distrain then!
The father-in-law arrived with a large travelling coach to fetch his
daughter and grand-child. He warned his son-in-law not to show his face
at his house until he could pay his debts and make a home for his wife
and child. He said nothing to his daughter, but it seemed to him that
he was bringing home a girl who had been led astray. It was as if he
had lent his innocent child to a casual admirer and now received her
back “dishonoured.” She would have preferred to stay with her husband,
but he had no home to offer her.
And so the husband of one year's standing was left behind to watch
the pillaging of his home, if he could call it his home, for he had
paid for nothing. The two men with spectacles carted away the beds and
bedclothes; the copper kettles and tin vessels; the dinner set, the
chandelier and the candlesticks; everything, everything!
He was left alone in the two empty, wretched rooms! If only she
had been left to him! But what should she do here, in these empty
rooms? No, she was better off where she was! She was being taken care
Now the struggle for a livelihood began in bitter earnest. He found
work at a daily paper as a proof-corrector. He had to be at the office
at midnight; at three in the morning his work was done. He did not lose
his berth, for bankruptcy had been avoided, but he had lost all chance
Later on he is permitted to visit wife and child once a week, but he
is never allowed to see her alone. He spends Saturday night in a tiny
room, close to his father-in-law's bedroom. On Sunday morning he has to
return to town, for the paper appears on Monday morning.... He says
good-bye to his wife and child who are allowed to accompany him as far
as the garden gate, he waves his hand to them once more from the
furthest hillock, and succumbs to his wretchedness, his misery, his
humiliation. And she is no less unhappy.
He has calculated that it will take him twenty years to pay his
debts. And then? Even then he cannot maintain a wife and child. And his
prospects? He has none! If his father-in-law should die, his wife and
child would be thrown on the street; he cannot venture to look forward
to the death of their only support.
Oh! How cruel it is of nature to provide food for all her creatures,
leaving the children of men alone to starve! Oh! How cruel, how cruel!
that life has not ptarmigans and strawberries to give to all men. How
cruel! How cruel!
Punctually at half past nine on a winter evening he appears at the
door leading to the glass-roofed verandah of the restaurant. While,
with mathematical precision, he takes off his gloves, he peers over his
dim spectacles, first to the right, then to the left, to find out
whether any of his acquaintances are present. Then he hangs up his
overcoat on its special hook, the one to the right of the fireplace.
Gustav, the waiter, an old pupil of his, flies to his table and,
without waiting for an order, brushes the crumbs off the tablecloth,
stirs up the mustard, smooths the salt in the salt-cellar and turns
over the dinner napkin. Then he fetches, still without any order, a
bottle of Medhamra, opens half a bottle of Union beer and, merely for
appearance sake, hands the schoolmaster the bill of fare.
“Crabs?” he asks, more as a matter of form than because there is any
need of the question.
“Female crabs,” answers the schoolmaster.
“Large, female crabs,” repeats Gustav, walks to the speaking tube
which communicates with the kitchen, and shouts: “Large female crabs
for Mr. Blom, and plenty of dill.”
He fetches butter and cheese, cuts two very thin slices of
rye-bread, and places them on the schoolmaster's table. The latter has
in the meantime searched the verandah for the evening papers, but has
only found the official Post. To make up for this very poor
success, he takes the Daily Journal, which he had not had time
to finish at lunch, and after first opening and refolding the Post, and putting it on the top of the bread basket on his left, sits down
to read it. He ornaments the rye-bread with geometrical butter
hieroglyphics, cuts off a piece of cheese in the shape of a rectangle,
fills his liqueur glass three quarters full and raises it to his lips,
hesitates as if the little glass contained physic, throws back his head
and says: Ugh!
He has done this for twelve years and will continue doing it until
the day of his death.
As soon as the crabs, six of them, have been put before him, he
examines them as to their sex, and everything being as it should be,
makes ready to enjoy himself. He tucks a corner of his dinner napkin
into his collar, places two slices of thin bread and cheese by the side
of his plate and pours out a glass of beer and half a glass of liqueur.
Then he takes the little crab-knife and business begins. He is the only
man in Sweden who knows how to eat a crab, and whenever he sees anybody
else engaged in the same pursuit, he tells him that he has no idea how
to do it. He makes an incision all round the head, and a hole against
which he presses his lips and begins to suck.
“This,” he says, “is the best part of the whole animal.”
He severs the thorax from the lower part, puts his teeth to the body
and drinks deep draughts; he sucks the little legs as if they were
asparagus, eats a bit of dill, and takes a drink of beer and a mouthful
of rye-bread. When he has carefully taken the shell off the claws and
sucked even the tiniest tubes, he eats the flesh; last of all he
attacks the lower part of the body. When he has eaten three crabs, he
drinks half a glass of liqueur and reads the promotions in the Post.
He has done this for twelve years and will continue doing it until
He was just twenty years old when he first began to patronise the
restaurant, now he is thirty-two, and Gustav has been a waiter for ten
years in the same place. Not one of its frequenters has known the
restaurant longer than the school-master, not even the proprietor who
took it over eight years ago. He has watched generations of diners come
and go; some came for a year, some for two, some for five years; then
they disappeared, went to another restaurant, left the town or got
married. He feels very old, although he is only thirty-two! The
restaurant is his home, for his furnished room is nothing but the place
where he sleeps.
It is ten o'clock. He leaves his table and goes to the back room
where his grog awaits him. This is the time when the bookseller
arrives. They play a game of chess or talk about books. At half-past
ten the second violin from the Dramatic Theatre drops in. He is an old
Pole who, after 1864, escaped to Sweden, and now makes a living by his
former hobby. Both the Pole and the bookseller are over fifty, but they
get on with the schoolmaster as if he were a contemporary.
The proprietor has his place behind the counter. He is an old sea
captain who fell in love with the proprietress and married her. She
rules in the kitchen, but the sliding panel is always open, so that she
can keep an eye on the old man, lest he should take a glass too much
before closing time. Not until the gas has been turned out, and the old
man is ready to go to bed, is he allowed a nightcap in the shape of a
stiff glass of rum and water.
At eleven o'clock the young bloods begin to arrive; they approach
the counter diffidently and ask the proprietor in a whisper whether any
of the private rooms upstairs are disengaged, and then there is a
rustling of skirts in the hall and cautious footsteps are creeping
“Well,” says the bookseller, who has suddenly found a topic of
conversation, “when are you going to be married, Blom, old man?”
“I haven't the means to get married,” answered the school-master.
“Why don't you take a wife to your bosom yourself?”
“No woman would have me, now that my head looks like an old,
leather-covered trunk,” says the bookseller. “And, moreover, there's my
old Stafva, you know.”
Stafva was a legendary person in whom nobody believed. She was the
incarnation of the bookseller's unrealised dreams.
“But you, Mr. Potocki?” suggested the schoolmaster.
“He's been married once, that's enough,” replies the bookseller.
The Pole nods his head like a metrometer.
“Yes, I was married very happily. Ugh!” he says and finishes his
“Well,” continues the schoolmaster, “if women weren't such fools,
one might consider the matter; but they are infernal fools.”
The Pole nods again and smiles; being a Pole, he doesn't understand
what the word fool means.
“I have been married very happily, ugh!”
“And then there is the noise of the children, and children's clothes
always drying near the stove; and servants, and all day long the smells
from the kitchen. No, thank you! And, perhaps, sleepless nights into
“Ugh!” added the Pole, completing the sentence.
“Mr. Potocki says 'ugh' with the malice of the bachelor who listens
to the complaints of the married man,” remarked the bookseller.
“What did I say?” asks the astonished widower. “Ugh!” says the
bookseller, mimicking him, and the conversation degenerates into a
universal grinning and a cloud of tobacco smoke.
It is midnight. The piano upstairs, which has accompanied a mixed
choir of male and female voices, is silent. The waiter has finished his
countless journeys from the speaking tube to the verandah; the
proprietor enters into his daybook the last few bottles of champagne
which have been ordered upstairs. The three friends rise from their
chairs and go home, two to their “virgin couches,” and the bookseller
to his Stafva.
When schoolmaster Blom had reached his twentieth year, he was
compelled to interrupt his studies at Upsala and accept a post as
assistant teacher at Stockholm. As he, in addition, gave private
lessons, he made quite a good income. He did not ask much of life. All
he wanted was peace and cleanliness. An elderly lady let him a
furnished room and there he found more than a bachelor finds as a rule.
She looked after him and was kind to him; she gave him all the
tenderness which nature had intended her to bestow on the new
generation that was to spring from her. She mended his clothes and
looked after him generally. He had lost his mother when he was a little
boy and had never been accustomed to gratuitous kindness; therefore he
was inclined to look upon her services as an interference with his
liberty, but he accepted them nevertheless. But all the same the public
house was his real home. There he paid for everything and ran up no
He was born in a small town in the interior of Sweden; consequently
he was a stranger in Stockholm. He knew nobody; was not on visiting
terms with any of the families and met his acquaintances nowhere but at
the public-house. He talked to them freely, but never gave them his
confidence, in fact he had no confidence to give. At school he taught
the third class and this gave him a feeling of having been stunted in
his growth. A very long time ago he had been in the third class
himself, had gradually crept up to the seventh, and had spent a few
terms at the University; now he had returned to the third; he had been
there for twelve years without being moved. He taught the second and
third books of Euclid; this was the course of instruction for the whole
year. He saw only a fragment of life; a fragment without beginning or
end; the second and third books. In his spare time he read the
newspapers and books on archaeology. Archaeology is a modern science,
one might almost say a disease of the time. And there is danger in it,
for it proves over and over again that human folly has pretty nearly
always been the same.
Politics was to him nothing but an interesting game of chess—played
for the king, for he was brought up like everybody else; it was an
article of faith with him that nothing which happened in the world,
concerned him, personally; let those look to it whom God had placed in
a position of power. This way of looking at things filled his soul with
peace and tranquillity; he troubled nobody and nothing troubled him.
When he found, as he did occasionally, that an unusually foolish event
had occurred, he consoled himself with the conviction that it could not
have been helped. His education had made him selfish, and the catechism
had taught him that if everybody did his duty, all things would be
well, whatever happened. He did his duty towards his pupils in an
exemplary fashion; he was never late; never ill. In his private life,
too, he was above reproach; he paid his rent on the day it fell due,
never ran up bills at his restaurant, and spent only one evening a week
on pleasure. His life glided along like a railway train
to the second and, being a clever man, he managed to avoid
collisions. He gave no thought to the future; a truly selfish man never
does, for the simple reason that the future belongs to him for no
longer than twenty or thirty years at the most.
And thus his days passed.
* * * * *
Midsummer morning dawned—radiant and sunny as mid-summer morning
should be. The schoolmaster was still in bed, reading a book on the Art
of Warfare in ancient Egypt, when Miss Augusta came into his room with
his breakfast. She had put on his tray some slices of saffron bread, in
honour of the festival, and on his dinner-napkin lay a spray of elder
blossoms. On the previous night she had decorated his room with
branches of the birch-tree, put clean sand and some cowslips in the
spittoon, and a bunch of lilies-of-the-valley on the dressing table.
“Aren't you going to make an excursion to-day, sir?” she asked,
glancing at the decorations, anxious for a word of thanks or approval.
But Mr. Blom had not even noticed the decorations, and therefore he
“Haven't you realised yet that I never make excursions? I hate
elbowing my way through a crowd, and the noise of the children gets on
“But surely you won't stay in town on such a lovely day! You'll at
least go to the Deer Park?”
“That would be the very last place I should go to, especially
to-day, when it will be crowded. Oh! no, I'm better off in town, and I
wish to goodness that this holiday nuisance would be stopped.”
“There are plenty of people who say that there aren't half enough
holidays these days when everybody has to work so hard,” said the old
woman in a conciliatory tone. “But is there anything else you wish,
sir? My sister and I are making an excursion by steamer, and we shan't
be back until ten o'clock to-night.”
“I hope you'll enjoy yourselves, Miss Augusta. I want nothing, and
am quite able to look after myself. The caretaker can do my room when I
have gone out.”
Miss Augusta left him alone with his breakfast. When he had eaten
it, he lit a cigar and remained in bed with his Egyptian Warfare. The open window shook softly in the southern breeze. At eight o'clock
the bells, large and small, of the nearest church began to ring, and
those of the other churches of Stockholm, St. Catherine's, St. Mary's
and St. Jacob's, joined in; they tinkled and jingled, enough to make a
heathen tear his hair in despair. When the church bells stopped, a
military band on the bridge of a steamer began to play a set of
quadrilles from The Weak Point. The schoolmaster writhed between
his sheets, and would have got out of bed and shut the window if it had
not been so hot. Next there came a rolling of drums, which was
interrupted by the strains of a brass quintet which played, on another
steamer, the Hunter's Chorus from the Freischutz. But the cursed
rolling of drums approached. They were marching at the head of the
Riflemen on their way to camp. Now he was subjected to a medley of
sounds: the Riflemen's march, the signals, the bells and the brass
bands on the steamers, until at last the whole crash and din was
drowned by the throbbing of the screw.
At ten o'clock he lit his spirit lamp and boiled his shaving water.
His starched shirt lay on his chest of drawers, white and stiff as a
board. It took him a quarter of an hour to push the studs through the
button-holes. He spent half-an-hour in shaving himself. He brushed his
hair as if it were a matter of the utmost importance. When he put on
his trousers, he was careful that the lower ends should not touch the
floor and become dusty.
His room was simply furnished, extremely plain and tidy. It was
impersonal, neutral, like the room in a hotel. And yet he had spent in
it twelve years of his life. Most people collect no end of trifles
during such a period; presents, little superfluous nothings, ornaments.
Not a single engraving, not a supplement to an illustrated magazine
even, which at some time or other had appealed to him, hung on the
walls; no antimacassar, no rug worked by a loving sister, lay on the
chairs; no photograph of a beloved face stood on his writing-table, no
embroidered pen-wiper lay by the side of the ink-stand. Everything had
been bought as cheaply as possible with a view to avoiding unnecessary
expense which might have hampered the owner's independence.
He leaned out of the window which gave him a view of the street and,
across Artillery Place, of the harbour. In the house opposite a woman
was dressing. He turned away as if something ugly had met his gaze, or
something which might disturb his peace of mind. The harbour was gay
with the fluttering flags on the steamers and sailing-ships, and the
water glittered in the sunshine. A few old women, prayer-book in hand,
passed his window on their way to church. A sentinel with drawn sword
was walking up and down before the Artillery Barracks, glancing
discontentedly at the clock on the tower every now and then to see how
much longer he would have to wait until the relieving guard arrived.
Otherwise the street lay empty and grey in the hot sunshine. His eyes
wandered back to the woman opposite. She was standing before her
looking-glass, powder puff in hand, intent on powdering the corners of
her nose, with a grimace which made her look like a monkey. He left the
window and sat down in his rocking chair.
He made his programme for the day, for he had a vague dread of
solitude. On week days he was surrounded by the school-boys, and
although he had no love for those wild beasts whose taming, or rather
whose efficient acquisition of the difficult art of dissembling, was
his life task, yet he felt a certain void when he was not with them.
Now, during the long summer vacations, he had established a holiday
school, but even so he had been compelled to give the boys short summer
holidays, and, with the exception of meal times when he could always
count on the bookseller and the second violin, he had been alone for
“At two o'clock,” he mused, “when the guard has been relieved, and
the crowds have dispersed, I'll go to my restaurant to dine; then I'll
invite the bookseller to Stromsborg; there won't be a soul to-day; we
can have coffee there and punch, and stay till the evening when we'll
return to town and to Rejner's.” (Rejner's was the name of his
restaurant in Berzelius Place.)
Punctually at two o'clock he took his hat, brushed himself carefully
and went out.
“I wonder whether there'll be stewed perch to-day,” he thought. “And
mightn't one treat oneself to asparagus, as it's midsummer-day?”
He strolled past the high wall of the Government Bakery. In
Berzelius Park the seats which were usually occupied by the nursemaids
of the rich and their charges, were crowded with the families of the
labourers who had appeared in great numbers with their perambulators.
He saw a mother feeding her baby. She was a large, full-breasted woman,
and the baby's dimpled hand almost disappeared in her bosom. The
schoolmaster turned away with a feeling of loathing. He was annoyed to
see these strangers in his park. It was very much like the
servants using the drawing-room when their master and mistress had gone
out; moreover, he couldn't forgive them their plainness.
He arrived at the glass verandah, and put his hand on the door
handle, thinking once more of the stewed perch “with lots of parsley,”
when his eyes fell on a notice on the door. There was no necessity to
read it, he knew its purport: the restaurant was closed on
midsummer-day; he had forgotten it. He felt as if he had run with his
head into a lamp-post. He was furious; first of all with the proprietor
for closing, then with himself for having forgotten that the restaurant
would be closed. It seemed to him so monstrous that he could have
forgotten an incident of such importance, that he couldn't believe it
and racked his brain to find someone on whom he could lay the blame. Of
course, it was the fault of the proprietor. He had run off the lines,
come into collision. He was done. He sat down on the seat and almost
shed tears of rage.
Thump! a ball hit him right in the middle of his starched shirt
front. Like an infuriated wasp he rose from his seat to find the
criminal; a plain little girl's face laughed into his; a labourer in
his Sunday clothes and straw hat appeared, took her by the hand and
smilingly expressed a hope that the child had not hurt him; a laughing
crowd of soldiers and servant girls stared at him. He looked round for
a constable for he felt that his rights as a human being had been
encroached upon. But when he saw the constable in familiar conversation
with the child's mother, he dropped the idea of making a scene, went
straight to the nearest cab-stand, hired a cab, and told the driver to
drive him to the bookseller's; he could not bear to be alone any
In the safe shelter of the cab he took out his handkerchief and
flicked the dust from his shirt front.
He dismissed the cab in Goten Street, for he felt sure that he would
find his friend at home. But as he walked upstairs his assurance left
him. Supposing he were out after all!
He was out. Not one of the tenants was at home. His knock sounded
through an empty house; his footsteps re-echoed on the deserted stairs.
When he was again in the street he was at a loss to know what to do.
He did not know Potocki's address, and where was he to find an address
book on a day when all the shops were closed?
Without knowing where he was going, he went down the street, past
the harbour, across the bridge. He did not meet a single man he knew.
The presence of the crowd which occupied the town during the absence of
their betters annoyed him, for, like the rest of us, the education
which he had received at school had made an aristocrat of him.
In his first anger he had forgotten his hunger, but now it
re-asserted itself. A new, terrible thought occurred to him, a thought
which up to now he had put away from him out of sheer cowardice: Where
was he to dine? He had started out with plenty of vouchers in his
pocket, but only one crown and fifty ore in coin. The vouchers were
only used at Rejner's, for convenience sake, and he had spent a crown
on his cabfare.
He found himself again in Berzelius Park. Everywhere he met
labourers and their families, eating what they had brought with them in
baskets; hard-boiled eggs, crabs, pancakes. And the police did not
interfere. On the contrary, he saw a policeman with a sandwich in one
hand and a glass of beer in the other. But what irritated him more than
anything else was the fact that these people whom he despised had the
advantage of him. But why couldn't he go into a dairy and appease his
hunger? Yes, why not? The very thought of it made him shudder.
After some little reflection he went down to the harbour, intending
to cross over to the Deer Park. He was bound to find acquaintances
there from whom he could borrow money (hateful thought!) for his
dinner. And if so, he would dine at “Hazelmount,” the best restaurant.
The steamer was so crowded that schoolmaster Blom had to stand close
to the engine; the heat at his back was intolerable; his morning coat
was being covered with grease spots, while he stood, with his gaze
rivetted on the untidy head of a servant girl and endured the rancid
smell of the hair-oil. But he did not see a single face he knew.
When he entered the restaurant in the Deer Park, he squared his
shoulders and tried to look as distinguished as possible.
The space before the restaurant was like the auditorium of a theatre
and seemed to serve the same purpose: that is to say, it was a place
where one met one's friends and showed off. The verandah was occupied
by officers, blue in the face with eating and drinking; with them were
representatives of the foreign Powers, grown old and grey in their
strenuous efforts to protect fellow-countrymen who had got mixed up
with sailors and fishermen in drunken brawls, or assist at Gala
performances, christenings, weddings and funerals. So much for the
aristocracy. In the centre of a large space Mr. Blom suddenly
discovered the chimney sweep of his quarter, the proprietor of a small
inn, the chemist's assistant and others of the same standing. He
watched the game-keeper in his green coat and silver lace, with his
gilt staff, walking up and down and casting contemptuous glances at the
assembled crowd, as if he were wondering why they were here? The
schoolmaster felt self-conscious under the stare of all those eyes
which seemed to say: “Look at him! there he goes, wondering how to get
dinner!” But there was nothing else for it. He went on to the verandah
where the people sat eating perch and asparagus, and drinking Sauternes
All of a sudden he felt the pressure of a friendly hand on his
shoulder, and as he turned round, he found himself face to face with
Gustav, the waiter, who seized his hand and exclaimed with undisguised
“Is that really you, Mr. Blom? How are you?”
But Gustav, the waiter, who was so pleased to find himself for a few
moments the equal of his master, held a piece of wood in his warm hand
and met a pair of eyes which pierced his soul like gimlets. And yet
this same hand had given him ten crowns only yesterday, and the owner
of it had thanked him for six months' service and attention in the way
one thanks a friend. The waiter went back to his companions and sat
down amongst them, embarrassed and snubbed. But Mr. Blom left the
verandah with bitter thoughts and pushed his way through the crowd; he
fancied that he could hear a mocking: “He hasn't been able to get
dinner, after all!”
He came to a large open space. There was a puppet-show, and Jasper
was being beaten by his wife. A little further off a sailor was showing
servant girls, soldiers and apprentices their future husband or wife in
a wheel of fortune. They all had had dinner and were enjoying
themselves; for a moment he believed himself their inferior, but only
for a moment; then he remembered that they had not the vaguest idea of
how an Egyptian camp was fortified. The thought gave him back his
self-respect, and he wondered how it was possible that people could be
so degraded as to find pleasure in such childishness.
In the meantime he had lost all inclination to try the other
restaurants; he passed the Tivoli and went further into the heart of
the park. Young men and women were dancing on the grass to the strains
of a violin: a little further off a whole family was camping under an
old oak; the head of the family was kneeling down, in his shirt
sleeves, with bare head, a glass of beer in one hand, a sandwich in the
other; his fat, jolly, clean-shaven face beamed with pleasure and
good-nature as he invited his guests, who were evidently his wife,
parents-in-law, brothers, shop-assistants and servants, to eat, drink
and be merry, for to-day was Midsummer day, all day long. And the
jovial fellow made such droll remarks that the whole party writhed on
the grass with amusement. After the pancake had been produced and eaten
with the fingers, and the port bottle been round, the senior
shop-assistant made a speech which was at once so moving and so witty
that the ladies at one moment pressed their handkerchiefs to their
eyes, while the head of the family bit his lips, and at the next
interrupted the speaker with loud laughter and cheers.
The schoolmaster's mood became more and more morose, but instead of
going away he sat down on a stone under a pinetree and watched “the
When the speech was finished and father and mother had been toasted
with cheers and a flourish of trumpets, executed on a concertina,
accompanied by the rattling of all cups and saucers that happened to be
empty, the party rose to play “Third Man,” while mother and
mother-in-law attended to the babies.
“Just like the beasts in the field,” thought the schoolmaster,
turning away, for all that was natural was ugly in his eyes, and only
that which was unnatural could lay any claim to beauty in his opinion,
except, of course, the paintings of “well-known” masters in the
He watched the young men taking off their coats, the young girls
slipping off their cuffs and hanging them on the blackthorn bushes;
then they took up their positions and the game began.
The girls picked up their skirts and threw up their legs so that
their garters, made of blue and red braid such as the grocers sell for
tying up pots, were plainly visible, and whenever the cavalier caught
his lady, he took her in his arms and swung her round so that her
skirts flew; and young and old shrieked so with laughter that the park
“Is this innocence or corruption?” wondered the schoolmaster.
But evidently the party did not know what the learned word
“corruption” meant, and that was the reason why they were so merry.
By the time they were tired of playing “Third Man” tea was ready.
The schoolmaster was puzzled to know where the cavaliers had learnt
their fine manners, for they moved about on all fours to offer the
girls sugar and cake; and the straps of their waistcoats stood out like
“The males showing off before the females!” thought the
schoolmaster. “They don't know what they are in for.”
He noticed how the head of the family, the jolly fellow, waited on
father and mother-in-law, wife, shop-assistants and servant girls: and
whenever one of them begged him to help himself first, he invariably
answered that there was plenty of time for that.
He watched the father-in-law peeling a willow branch to make a flute
for the little boy; he watched the mother-in-law wash up as if she had
been one of the servants. And he thought that there was something
strange about selfishness, since it could be so cleverly disguised that
it looked as if no one gave more than he received; for it must be
selfishness, it couldn't be anything else.
They played at forfeits and redeemed every forfeit with kisses,
true, genuine, resounding kisses on the lips; and when the jolly
book-keeper was made to kiss the old oak-tree, his conduct was too
absurd for anything; he embraced and caressed the gnarled trunk as if
it had been a girl whom he had met secretly; everybody shouted with
laughter, for all knew how to do it, although none of them would have
liked to be caught doing it.
The schoolmaster who had begun by watching the spectacle with
critical eyes, fell more and more under the spell of it; he almost
believed himself to be one of the party. He smiled at the sallies of
the shop-assistants, and before an hour was gone the head of the family
had won his whole sympathy. No one could deny that the man was a
comedian of the first rank. He could play “Skin-the-cat”; he could
“walk backwards,” “lie” on the tree-trunks, swallow coins, eat fire,
and imitate all sorts of birds. And when he extracted a saffron cake
from the dress of one of the girls and made it disappear in his right
ear, the schoolmaster laughed until his empty inside ached.
Then the dancing began. The schoolmaster had read in Rabe's grammar:
Nemo saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit, and had always looked upon
dancing as a species of insanity. True, he had watched puppies and
calves dancing when they felt frisky, but he did not believe that
Cicero's maxim applied to the animal world, and he was in the habit of
drawing a sharp line between men and animals. Now, as he sat watching
these young people who were quite sober, and neither hungry nor
thirsty, moving round and round to the slow measures of the concertina,
he felt as if his soul were in a swing which was being kept going by
his eyes and ears, and his right foot beat time gently on the springy
He spent three hours musing and watching, then he rose. He found it
almost difficult to tear himself away; it was just as if he were
leaving a merry party to which he had been invited; but his mood had
changed; he felt more reconciled. He was at peace with the world and
pleasantly tired, as if he had been enjoying himself.
It was evening. Smart carriages passed him, the lady-occupants
lolling on the back seats and looking in their long, white theatre
wraps like corpses in their shrouds; it was fashionable then to look as
if one had been exhumed. The schoolmaster, whose thoughts were running
in another direction, was sure that the ladies must be bored to death
and felt no trace of envy. Below the dusty highroad, far out on the
sea, the steamers with their flags and brass bands were returning from
their pleasure trips; cheers, strains of music and snatches of song
were wafted by the sea breezes to the mountains and the Deer Park.
The schoolmaster had never felt so lonely in his life as he did this
evening in the moving throng. He fancied that everybody was looking at
him compassionately as he made his solitary way through the crowd, and
almost gave way to self-pity. He would have liked to talk to the first
comer, for the mere pleasure of hearing his voice, for in his
loneliness he felt as if he were walking by the side of a stranger. And
now his conscience smote him. He remembered the waiter Gustav, who had
been unable to hide his pleasure at meeting him. Now he had arrived at
a point when he would have given worlds if anybody had met him and
shown any pleasure at the fact. But nobody came.
Yes, somebody did, after all. As he was sitting by himself on the
steamer, a setter, who had lost his master, came to him and put its
head on his knee. The schoolmaster was not particularly fond of dogs,
but he allowed it to stay; he felt it pressing its soft warm body
against his leg, he saw the eyes of the forsaken brute looking at him
in dumb appeal, as if it were asking him to find its master.
But as soon as they landed, the setter ran away. “It needed me no
longer,” thought the schoolmaster, and he walked home and went to bed.
These trifling incidents of Midsummer day had robbed the
schoolmaster of his assurance. They taught him that all foresight, all
precautions, all the clever calculations in the world availed nothing.
He felt a certain instability in his surroundings. Even the public
house, his home, was not to be counted on. It might be closed any day.
Moreover, a certain reserve on the part of Gustav troubled him. The
waiter was as civil as before, more attentive even, but his friendship
was gone; he had lost confidence. It afforded the schoolmaster food for
thought, and whenever a tough piece of meat, or too small a dish of
potatoes was set before him he thought:
“Haha! He's paying me out!”
It was a bad summer for the schoolmaster: the second violin was out
of town and the book-seller frequented “Mosesheight,” a garden
restaurant in his own district, situated on a hill.
On an evening in autumn the bookseller and the second violin were
sitting at their favourite table, drinking a glass of punch, when the
schoolmaster entered, carrying under his arm a parcel which he
carefully hid in an empty hamper in a cupboard used for all sorts of
lumber. He was ill-tempered and unusually irritable.
“Well, old boy,” the bookseller began for the hundredth time, “and
when are you going to be married?”
“Confound your 'when are you going to be married!' As if a man
hadn't enough trouble without it! Why don't you get married yourself?”
growled the schoolmaster.
“Oh! because I have my old Stafva,” answered the bookseller, who
always had a number of stereotyped answers in readiness.
“I was married very happily,” said the Pole, “but my wife is dead,
“Is she?” mimicked the schoolmaster; “and the gentleman is a
widower? How am I to reconcile these facts?”
The Pole nodded, for he did not in the least understand what the
schoolmaster was driving at.
The latter felt bored by his friends; their topic of conversation
was always the same; he knew their replies by heart.
Presently he went into the corridor for a few moments to fetch his
cigar-case which he had left in the pocket of his overcoat. The
bookseller instantly raided the cupboard and returned with the
mysterious parcel. As it was not sealed, he opened it quickly; it
contained a beautiful American sleeping-suit; he hung it carefully over
the back of the schoolmaster's chair.
“Ugh!” said the Pole, grinning, as if he were looking at something
The proprietor of the restaurant who loved a practical joke, bent
over the counter, laughing loudly; the waiter stood rooted to the spot,
and one of the cooks peeped through the door which communicated with
When the schoolmaster came back and realised the trick played on
him, he grew pale with anger; he immediately suspected the bookseller;
but when his eyes fell on Gustav who was standing in a corner of the
room, laughing, his old obsession returned to him: “He's paying me
out!” Without a word he seized his property, threw a few coins on the
counter and left the restaurant.
Henceforth the schoolmaster avoided Rejner's. The bookseller had
heard that he dined at a restaurant in his own district. This was true.
But he was very discontented! The food was not actually bad, but it was
not cooked to his liking. The waiters were not attentive. He often
thought of returning to Rejner's, but his pride would not let him. He
had been turned out of his home; in five minutes a bond of many years'
standing had been severed.
A short time after fate struck him a fresh blow. Miss Augusta had
inherited a little fortune in the provinces and had decided to leave
Stockholm on the first of October. The schoolmaster had to look out for
But he had been spoilt, and there was no pleasing him. He changed
his room every month. There was nothing wrong with the rooms, but they
were not like his old room. It had become such a habit with him to walk
through certain streets, that he often found himself before his old
front door before he realised his mistake. He was like a lost child.
Eventually he went to live in a boarding house, a solution which he
had always loathed and dreaded. And then his friends lost sight of him
One evening, as the Pole was sitting alone over his grog, smoking,
drinking, and nodding with the capacity of the oriental to lapse into
complete stupor, the bookseller burst in on him like a thunderstorm,
flung his hat on the table, and shouted:
“Confound him! Has anybody ever heard anything like it?”
The Pole roused himself from his brandy-and-tobacco Nirvana, and
rolled his eyes.
“I say, confound it! Has anybody ever heard anything like it? He's
going to be married!”
“Who's going to be married?” asked the Pole, startled by the
bookseller's violence and emphatic language.
The bookseller expected a glass of grog in exchange for his news.
The proprietor left the counter and came to their table to listen.
“Has she any money?” he asked acutely.
“I don't think so,” replied the bookseller, conscious of his
temporary importance and selling his wares one by one.
“Is she beautiful?” asked the Pole. “My wife was very beautiful.
“No, she's not beautiful either,” answered the bookseller, “but
“Have you seen her?” enquired the proprietor. “Is she old?” His eyes
wandered towards the kitchen door.
“No, she's young!”
“And her parents?” continued the proprietor.
“I heard that her father was a brass founder in Orebro.”
“The rascal! Well, I never!” said the proprietor.
“Haven't I always said so? The man is a born husband,” said the
“We all of us are,” said the proprietor, “and take my word for it,
no one escapes his fate!”
With this philosophical remark he closed the subject and returned to
When they had settled that the schoolmaster was not marrying for
money, they discussed the problem of “what the young people were going
to live on.” The bookseller made a guess at the schoolmaster's salary
and “what he might earn besides by giving private lessons.” When that
question, too, had been settled, the proprietor, who had returned to
the table, asked for details.
“Where had he met her? Was she fair or dark? Was she in love with
The last question was by no means out of the way; the bookseller
“thought she was,” for he had seen them together, arm in arm, looking
into shop windows.
“But that he, who was such a stick, could fall in love! It was
“And what a husband he would make!” The proprietor knew that he was
devilish particular about his food, and that, he said, was a
mistake when one was married.
“And he likes a glass of punch in the evening, and surely a married
man can't drink punch every evening of his life. And he doesn't like
children! It won't turn out well,” he whispered. “Take my word for it,
it won't turn out well. And, gentlemen, there's another thing,” (he
rose from his seat, looked round and continued in a whisper), “I
believe, I'm hanged if I don't, that the old hypocrite has had a love
affair of some sort. Do you remember that incident, gentlemen, with
the—hihihi —sleeping suit? He's one of those whom you don't find
where you leave them! Take care, Mrs. Blom! Mind what you are about!
I'll say no more!”
It was certainly a fact that the schoolmaster was engaged to be
married and that the wedding was to take place within two months.
What happened after, does not belong to this story, and, moreover,
it is difficult to know what goes on behind the convent walls of
domesticity when the vow of silence is being kept.
It was also a fact that the schoolmaster, after his marriage, was
never again seen at a public house.
The bookseller, who met him by himself in the street one evening,
had to listen to a long exhortation on getting married. The
schoolmaster had inveighed against all bachelors; he had called them
egotists, who refused to do their duty by the State; in his opinion
they ought to be heavily taxed, for all indirect taxes weighed most
cruelly on the father of a family. He went so far as to say that he
wished to see bachelorhood punished by the law of the land as a “crime
The bookseller had a good memory. He said that he doubted the
advisability of taking a fool into one's house, permanently. But
the schoolmaster replied that his wife was the most intelligent
woman he had ever met.
Two years after the wedding the Pole saw the schoolmaster and his
wife in the theatre; he thought that they looked happy; “ugh!”
Another three years went by. On a Midsummer day the proprietor of
the restaurant made a pleasure trip on the Lake of Malar to Mariafred.
There, before Castle Cripsholm, he saw the schoolmaster, pushing a
perambulator over a green field, and carrying in his disengaged hand a
basket containing food, while a whole crowd of young men and women,
“who looked like country folk,” followed in the rear. After dinner the
schoolmaster sang songs and turned somersaults with the youngsters. He
looked ten years younger and had all the ways of a ladies' man.
The proprietor, who was quite close to the party while they were
having dinner, overheard a little conversation between Mr. and Mrs.
Blom. When the young wife took a dish of crabs from the basket, she
apologised to Albert, because she had not been able to buy a single
female crab in the whole market. Thereupon the schoolmaster put his arm
round her, kissed her and said that it didn't matter in the least,
because male or female crabs, it was all the same to him. And when one
of the babies in the perambulator began to cry, the schoolmaster lifted
it out and hushed it to sleep again.
Well, all these things are mere details, but how people can get
married and bring up a family when they have not enough for themselves
while they are bachelors, is a riddle to me. It almost looks as if
babies brought their food with them when they come into this world; it
really almost does look as if they did.
He was considered a genius at College, and no one doubted that he
would one day distinguish himself. But after passing his examinations,
he was obliged to go to Stockholm and look out for a berth. His
dissertation, which was to win him the doctor's degree, had to be
postponed. As he was very ambitious, but had no private means, he
resolved to marry money, and with this object in view, he visited only
the very best families, both at Upsala where he studied for the bar,
and later on at Stockholm. At Upsala he always fraternised with the new
arrivals, that is to say, when they were members of aristocratic
families, and the freshers felt flattered by the advances made by the
older man. In this way he formed many useful ties, which meant
invitations to his friends' country houses during the summer.
The country houses were his happy hunting ground. He possessed
social talents, he could sing and play and amuse the ladies, and
consequently he was a great favourite. He dressed beyond his means; but
he never borrowed money from any of his friends or aristocratic
acquaintances. He even went to the length of buying two worthless
shares and mentioning on every possible occasion that he had to attend
a General Meeting of the shareholders.
For two summers he had paid a great deal of attention to a titled
lady who owned some property, and his prospects were the general topic,
when he suddenly disappeared from high life and became engaged to a
poor girl, the daughter of a cooper, who owned no property whatever.
His friends were puzzled and could not understand how he could thus
stand in his own light. He had laid his plans so well, he “had but to
stretch out his hand and success was in his grasp”; he had the morsel
firmly stuck on his fork, it was only necessary for him to open his
mouth and swallow it. He himself was at a loss to understand how it was
that the face of a little girl whom he had met but once on a steamer
could have upset all his plans of many years' standing. He was
He asked his friends whether they didn't think her beautiful?
Frankly speaking they didn't.
“But she is so clever! Just look into her eyes! What expressive eyes
His friends could see nothing and hear less, for the girl never
opened her lips.
But he spent evening after evening with the cooper's family; to be
sure, the cooper was a very intelligent man! On his knees before her (a
trick often practised at the country houses) he held her skeins of
wool; he played and sang to her, talked about religion and the drama,
and he always read acquiescence in her eyes. He wrote poetry about her,
and sacrificed at her shrine his laurels, his ambitious dreams, even
And then he married her.
The cooper drank too much at the wedding and made an improper speech
about girls in general. But the son-in-law found the old man so
unsophisticated, so amiable, that he egged him on instead of shutting
him up. He felt at his ease among these simple folk; in their midst he
could be quite himself.
“That's being in love,” said his friends. “Love is a wonderful
And now they were married. One month—two months. He was unspeakably
happy. Every evening they spent together and he sang a song to her
about the Rose in the Wood, her favourite song. And he talked about
religion and the drama, and she sat and listened eagerly. But she never
expressed an opinion; she listened in silence and went on with her
In the third month he relapsed into his old habit of taking an
afternoon nap. His wife, who hated being by herself, insisted on
sitting by him. It irritated him, for he felt an overwhelming need to
be alone with his thoughts.
Sometimes she met him on his way home from his office, and her heart
swelled with pride when he left his colleagues and crossed the street
to join her. She took him home in triumph: he was her husband!
In the fourth month he grew tired of her favourite song. It was
stale now! He took up a book and read, and neither of them spoke.
One evening he had to attend a meeting which was followed by a
banquet. It was his first night away from home. He had persuaded his
wife to invite a friend to spend the evening with her, and to go to bed
early, for he did not expect to be home until late.
The friend came and stayed until nine o'clock. The young wife sat in
the drawing-room, waiting, for she was determined not to go to bed
until her husband had returned. She felt too restless to go to sleep.
She sat alone in the drawing-room. What could she do to make the
time pass more quickly? The maid had gone to bed; the grandfather's
clock ticked and ticked. But it was only ten o'clock when she put away
her crochet work. She fidgeted, moved the furniture about and felt a
So that was what being married meant! One was torn from one's early
surroundings, and shut up in three solitary rooms to wait until one's
husband came home, half intoxicated.—Nonsense! he loved her, and he
was out on business. She was a fool to forget that. But did he
love her still? Hadn't he refused a day or two ago to hold a skein of
wool for her?—a thing he loved to do before they were married. Didn't
he look rather annoyed yesterday when she met him before lunch?
And—after all—if he had to attend a business meeting to-night, there
was no necessity for him to be present at the banquet.
It was half-past ten when her musing had reached this point. She was
surprised that she hadn't thought of these things before. She relapsed
into her dark mood and the dismal thoughts again passed through her
mind, one by one. But now reinforcements had arrived. He never talked
to her now! He never sang to her, never opened the piano! He had told
her a lie when he had said that he couldn't do without his afternoon
nap, for he was reading French novels all the time.
He had told her a lie!
It was only half-past eleven. The silence was oppressive. She opened
the window and looked out into the street. Two men were standing down
below, bargaining with two women. That was men's way! If he should ever
do anything like that! She should drown herself if he did.
She shut the window and lighted the chandelier in the bedroom. “One
ought to be able to see what one is about,” he had once said to her on
a certain occasion.—Everything was still so bright and new! The green
coverlet looked like a mown lawn, and the little pillows reminded her
of two white kittens curled up on the grass. The polish of her
dressing-table reflected the light: the mirror had as yet none of those
ugly stains which are made by the splashing of water. The silver on the
back of her hair-brush, her powder-box, her tooth-brush, all shone and
sparkled. Her bedroom slippers were still so new and pretty that it was
impossible to picture them down-at-heel. Everything looked new, and yet
everything seemed to have lost some of its freshness. She knew all his
songs, all his drawing-room pieces, all his words, all his thoughts.
She knew before-hand what he would say when he sat down to lunch, what
he would talk about when they were alone in the evening.
She was sick of it all. Had she been in love with him? Oh, yes!
Certainly! But was this all then? Was she realising all the dreams of
her girlhood? Were things to go on like this until she died? Yes!
But—but—but—surely they would have children! though there was no
sign of it as yet. Then she would no longer be alone! Then he might go
out as often as he liked, for she would always have somebody to talk
to, to play with. Perhaps it was a baby which she wanted to make her
happy. Perhaps matrimony really meant something more than being a man's
legitimate mistress. That must be it! But then, he would have to love
her, and he didn't do that. And she began to cry.
When her husband came home at one o'clock, he was quite sober. But
he was almost angry with her when he found her still up.
“Why didn't you go to bed?” were the words with which he greeted
“How can I go to sleep when I am waiting for you?”
“A fine look out for me! Am I never to go out then? I believe you
have been crying, too?”
“Yes, I have, and how can I help it if
“Do you mean to say I don't love you because I had to go out on
“A banquet isn't business!”
“Good God! Am I not to be allowed to go out? How can women be so
“Obtrusive? Yes, I noticed that yesterday, when I met you. I'll
never meet you again.”
“But, darling, I was with my chief—”
She burst into tears, her body moved convulsively.
He had to call the maid and ask her to fetch the hot-water bottle.
He, too, was weeping. Scalding tears! He wept over himself, his
hardness of heart, his wickedness, his illusions over everything.
Surely his love for her wasn't an illusion? He did love her! Didn't
he? And she said she loved him, too, as he was kneeling before her
prostrate figure, kissing her eyes. Yes, they loved one another! It was
merely a dark cloud which had passed, now. Ugly thoughts, born of
solitude and loneliness. She would never, never again stay alone. They
fell asleep in each other's arms, her face dimpled with smiles.
But she did not go to meet him on the following day. He asked no
questions at lunch. He talked a lot, but more for the sake of talking
than to amuse her; it seemed as if he were talking to himself.
In the evening he entertained her with long descriptions of the life
at Castle Sjostaholm; he mimicked the young ladies talking to the
Baron, and told her the names of the Count's horses. And on the
following day he mentioned his dissertation.
One afternoon he came home very tired. She was sitting in the
drawing-room, waiting for him. Her ball of cotton had fallen on the
floor. In passing, his foot got entangled in the cotton; at his next
step he pulled her crochet work out of her hand and dragged it along;
then he lost his temper and kicked it aside.
She exclaimed at his rudeness.
He retorted that he had no time to bother about her rubbish, and
advised her to spend her time more profitably. He had to think of his
dissertation, if he was to have a career at all. And she ought to
consider the question of how to limit their household expenses.
Things had gone far indeed!
On the next day the young wife, her eyes swollen with weeping, was
knitting socks for her husband. He told her he could buy them cheaper
ready-made. She burst into tears. What was she to do? The maid did all
the work of the house, there was not enough work in the kitchen for
two. She always dusted the rooms. Did he want her to send the maid
“What did he want, then?”
He didn't know himself, but he was sure that something was wrong.
Their expenses were too high. That was all. They couldn't go on living
at their present rate, and then—somehow he could never find time to
work at his dissertation.
Tears, kisses, and a grand reconciliation! But now he started
staying away from home in the evening several times a week. Business! A
man must show himself! If he stays at home, he will be overlooked and
A year had passed; there were no signs of the arrival of a baby.
“How like a little liaison I once had in the old days,” he thought;
“there is only one difference: this one is duller and costs more.”
There was no more conversation, now; they merely talked of household
matters. “She has no brain,” he thought. “I am listening to myself when
I am talking to her, and the apparent depths of her eyes is a delusion,
due to the size of her pupils—the unusual size of her pupils.—”
He talked openly about his former love for her as of something that
was over and done with. And yet, whenever he did so, he felt a pain in
his heart, an irritating, cruel pain, a remorseless pain that could
“Everything on earth withers and dies,” he mused, “why should her
favourite song alone be an exception to this? When one has heard it
three hundred and sixty-five times, it becomes stale; it can't be
helped. But is my wife right when she says that our love, also, has
died? No, and yet—perhaps she is. Our marriage is no better than a
vulgar liaison, for we have no child.”
One day he made up his mind to talk the matter over with a married
friend, for were they not both members of the “Order of the Married”?
“How long have you been married?”
“And does matrimony bore you?”
“At first it did; but when the children came, matters improved.”
“Was that so? It's strange that we have no child.”
“Not your fault, old man! Tell your wife to go and see a doctor
He had an intimate conversation with her and she went.
Six weeks after what a change!
What a bustle and commotion in the house! The drawing-room table was
littered with baby-clothes which were quickly hidden if anybody entered
unexpectedly, and reappeared as quickly if it was only he who had come
in. A name had to be thought of. It would surely be a boy. The midwife
had to be interviewed, medical books had to be bought, and a cradle and
a baby's outfit.
The baby arrived and it really was a boy! And when he saw the
“little monkey that smelled of butter” clasped to her bosom, which
until then had but been his plaything, he reverently discovered the
mother in his little wife; and “when he saw the big pupils looking at
the baby so intently that they seemed to be looking into the future",
he realised that there were depths in her eyes after all; depths more
profound than he could fathom for all his drama and religion. And now
all his old love, his dear old love, burst into fresh flames, and there
was something new added to it, which he had dimly divined, but never
How beautiful she was when she busied herself about the house again!
And how intelligent in all matters concerning the baby!
As for him, he felt a man. Instead of talking of the Baron's horses
and the Count's cricket matches, he now talked, too much almost, of his
And when occasionally he was obliged to be out of an evening, he
always longed for his own fireside; not because his wife sat there
waiting for him, like an evil conscience, but because he knew that she
was not alone. And when he came home, both mother and child were
asleep. He was almost jealous of the baby, for there had been a certain
charm in the thought that while he was out, somebody was sitting alone
at home, eagerly awaiting his return.
Now he was allowed his afternoon nap. And as soon as he had gone
back to town, the piano was opened and the favourite song of the
Rose in the Wood was sung, for it was quite new to Harold, and had
regained all its freshness for poor little Laura who hadn't heard it
for so many days.
She had no time now for crochet work, but there were plenty of
antimacassars in the house. He, on his part, could not spare the time
for his dissertation.
“Harold shall write it,” said the father, for he knew now that his
life would not be over when he came to die.
Many an evening they sat together, as before, and gossiped, but now
both took a share in the conversation, for now she understood what they
were talking about.
She confessed that she was a silly girl who knew nothing about
religion and the drama; but she said that she had always told him so,
and that he had refused to believe it.
But now he believed it less than ever.
They sang the old favourite song, and Harold crowed, they danced to
the tune and rocked the baby's cradle to it, and the song always
retained its freshness and charm.
His eyes had been opened. He realised the perversity of the world,
but he lacked the power to penetrate the darkness and discover the
cause of this perversity; therefore he gave himself up to despair, a
disillusioned man. Then he fell in love with a girl who married
somebody else. He complained of her conduct to his friends, male and
female, but they only laughed at him. For a little while longer he trod
his solitary path alone and misunderstood. He belonged to “society,”
and joined in its pursuits, because it distracted him; but at the
bottom of his heart he had nothing but contempt for its amusements,
which he took no pains to conceal.
One evening he was present at a ball. He danced with a young woman
of unusual beauty and animation. When the band ceased playing, he
remained standing by her side. He knew he ought to talk to her but he
did not know what to say. After a while the girl broke the silence.
“You are fond of dancing, Baron?” she said with a cold, smile.
“Oh no! not at all,” he answered. “Are you?”
“I can't imagine anything more foolish,” she replied.
He had met his man, or rather his woman.
“Why do you dance, then?” he asked.
“For the same reason that you do.”
“Can you read my mind?”
“Easily enough; if two people think alike, the other always knows.”
“H'm! You're a strange woman! Do you believe in love?”
“Nor do I! You and I ought to get married.”
“I'm beginning to think so myself.”
“Would you marry me?”
“Why not? At any rate, we shouldn't fight.”
“Horrible idea! But how can you be so sure?”
“Because we think alike.”
“Yes, but that might become monotonous. We should have nothing to
talk about, because the one would always know what the other is
“True; but wouldn't it be even more monotonous if we remained
unmarried and misunderstood?”
“You are right! Would you like to think it over?”
“Yes, until the cotillon.”
“Why any longer?”
He took her back to the drawing-room and left her there, drank
several glasses of champagne and watched her during supper. She allowed
two young members of the Diplomatic Corps to wait on her, but made fun
of them all the time and treated them as if they were footmen.
As soon as the cotillon began, he went to her and offered her a
“Do you accept me?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
And so they were engaged.
It's a splendid match, said the world. They are made for one
another. They are equals as far as social position and money are
concerned. They hold the same blase views of life. By blase the world
meant that they cared very little for dances, theatres, bazaars, and
other noble sports without which life is not really worth living.
They were like carefully wiped twin slates, exactly alike; but
utterly unable to surmise whether or not life would write the same
legend on both. They never asked one another during the tender moments
of their engagement: Do you love me? They knew quite well that it was
impossible, because they did not believe in love. They talked little,
but they understood one another perfectly.
And they married.
He was always attentive, always polite, and they were good friends.
When the baby was born, it had but one effect on their relationship;
they had something to talk about now.
But by-and-by the husband began to reveal a certain energy. He had a
sense of duty, and moreover, he was sick of being idle. He had a
private income, but was in no way connected with politics or the
Government. Now he looked round for some occupation which would fill
the void in his life. He had heard the first morning call of the
awakening spirits and felt it his duty to do his share of the great
work of research into the causes of human misery. He read much, made a
careful study of politics and eventually wrote an article and sent it
to a paper. The consequence was that he was elected a member of the
Board of Education. This necessitated hard reading in future, for all
questions were to be threshed out thoroughly.
The Baroness lay on the sofa and read Chateaubriand and Musset. She
had no faith in the improvement of humanity, and this stirring up of
the dust and mould which the centuries had deposited on human
institutions irritated her. Yet she noticed that she did not keep pace
with her husband. They were like two horses at a race. They had been
weighed before the start and been found to be of the same weight; they
had promised to keep side by side during the run; everything was
calculated to make them finish the race and leave the course at the
same time. But already the husband had gained by the length of a neck.
Unless she hurried up, she was bound to be left behind.
And the latter really happened. In the following year he was made
controller of the budget. He was away for two months. His absence made
the Baroness realise that she loved him; a fact which was brought home
to her by her fear of losing him.
When he returned home, she was all eagerness; but his mind was
filled with the things he had seen and heard abroad. He realised that
they had come to the parting of the ways, but he would have liked to
delay it, prevent it, if possible. He showed her in great living
pictures the functioning of the colossal gigantic machinery of the
State, he tried to explain to her the working of the wheels, the
multifarious transmissions, regulators and detents, unreliable
pendulums and untrustworthy safety valves.
She was interested at first, but after a while her interest waned.
Conscious of her mental inferiority, her insignificance, she devoted
herself entirely to her baby, anxious to demonstrate to her husband
that she yet had a value as a model mother. But her husband did not
appreciate this value. He had married her for the sake of
companionship, and he found in her an excellent nurse for his child.
But how could it be helped now? Who could have foreseen such a thing?
The house was always full of members of Parliament, and politics was
the subject of conversation at dinner. The hostess merely took care
that no fault could be found with the cooking. The Baron never omitted
to have one or two men amongst his guests who could talk to his wife
about music and the drama, but the Baroness wanted to discuss nothing
but the nursery and the bringing up of children. After dessert, as soon
as the health of the hostess was drunk, there was a general stampede to
the smoking-room where the political discussions were continued. The
Baroness left her guests and went to the nursery with a feeling of
bitterness in her heart; she realised that her husband had so far
outdistanced her that she could never again hope to come up with him.
He worked much at home in the evening; frequently he was busy at his
writing-table until the small hours of the morning, but always behind
locked doors. When he noticed afterwards, as he sometimes did, that his
wife went about with red eyes, he felt a pain in his heart; but they
had nothing to say to each other.
Occasionally however, at those times when his work palled, when he
realised that his inner life was growing poorer and poorer, he felt a
void within him, a longing for warmth, for something intimate,
something he had dreamed of long ago, in the early days of his youth.
But every feeling of that sort he suppressed at once as unfaithfulness
to his wife, for he had a very high conception of the duty of a
To bring a little more variety into her daily life, he suggested one
day that she should invite a cousin of whom she had often spoken, but
whom he had never seen, to spend the winter with them in town.
This had always been a great wish of the Baroness's, but now that
the realisation of it was within her power, she changed her mind. She
did not want her in the least now. Her husband pressed her for reasons,
but she could not give him any. It roused his curiosity and finally she
confessed that she was afraid of her cousin; afraid that she might win
his heart, that he might fall in love with her.
“She must be a queer girl, we really must have her here!”
The Baroness wept and warned, but the Baron laughed and the cousin
One afternoon the Baron came home, tired as usual; he had forgotten
all about the cousin and his curiosity in regard to her. They sat down
to dinner. The Baron asked the cousin if she was fond of the theatre.
She replied that she was not. She preferred reality to make-believe. At
home she had founded a school for black sheep and a society for the
care of discharged prisoners. Indeed! The Baron was much interested in
the administration of prisons. The cousin was able to give him a good
deal of information, and during the rest of the dinner the conversation
was exclusively about prisons. Eventually the cousin promised to treat
the whole question in a paper which the Baron was going to read and
What the Baroness had foreseen, happened. The Baron contracted a
spiritual marriage with the cousin, and his wife was left out in the
cold. But the cousin was also beautiful, and when she leaned over the
Baron at his writing-desk, and he felt her soft arm on his shoulder and
her warm breath against his cheek, he could not suppress a sensation of
supreme well-being. Needless to say, their conversation was not always
of prisons. They also discussed love. She believed in the love of the
souls, and she stated as plainly as she could, that marriage without
love was prostitution. The Baron had not taken much interest in the
development of modern ideas on love, and found that her views on the
subject were rather hard, but after all she was probably quite right.
But the cousin possessed other qualities, too, invaluable
qualifications for a true spiritual marriage. She had no objection to
tobacco smoke for instance, in fact, she was very fond of a cigarette
herself. There was no reason, therefore, why she should not go into the
smoking-room with the men after dinner and talk about politics. And
then she was charming.
Tortured by little twinges of conscience, the Baron would every now
and then disappear from the smoking-room, go into the nursery, kiss his
wife and child, and ask her how she was getting on? The Baroness was
grateful, but she was not happy. After these little journeys the Baron
always returned to his friends in the best of tempers; one might have
thought that he had faithfully performed a sacred duty. At other times
it irritated and distressed him that his wife did not join the party in
the smoking-room, too, as his wife; this thought was a burden
which weighed quite heavily on him.
The cousin did not go home in the spring, but accompanied the couple
to a watering-place. There she organised little performances for the
benefit of the poor, in which she and the Baron played the parts of the
lovers. This had the inevitable result that the fire burst into flames.
But the flames were only spiritual flames; mutual interests, like
views, and, perhaps, similar dispositions.
The Baroness had ample time to consider her position. The day
arrived when she told her husband that since everything was over
between them, the only decent thing to do was to part. But that was
more than he had bargained for; he was miserable; the cousin had better
return to her parents, and he would prove to his wife that he was a man
The cousin left. A correspondence between her and the Baron began.
He made the Baroness read every letter, however much she hated doing
it. After a while, however, he gave in and read the letters without
showing them to his wife.
Finally the cousin returned. Then matters came to a crisis. The
Baron discovered that he could not live without her.
What were they to do? Separate? It would be death. Go on as at
present? Impossible! Annul the marriage which the Baron had come to
look upon as legal prostitution and marry his beloved? However painful
it might be, it was the only honest course to take.
But that was against the wishes of the cousin. She did not want it
said of her that she had stolen another woman's husband. And then the
scandal! the scandal!
“But it was dishonest not to tell his wife everything; it was
dishonest to allow things to go on; one could never tell how the matter
“What did he mean? How could it end?”
“Nobody could tell!”
“Oh! How dared he! What did he think of her?”
“That she was a woman!”
And he fell on his knees and worshipped her; he said that he did not
care if the administration of prisons and the school for black sheep
went to the devil; he did not know what manner of woman she was; he
only knew that he loved her.
She replied that she had nothing but contempt for him, and went
helter skelter to Paris. He followed at her heels. At Hamburg he wrote
a letter to his wife in which he said that they had made a mistake and
that it was immoral not to rectify it. He asked her to divorce him.
And she divorced him.
A year after these events the Baron and the cousin were married.
They had a child. But that was a fact which did not interfere with
their happiness. On the contrary! What a wealth of new ideas germinated
in their minds in their voluntary exile! How strong were the winds
which blew here!
He encouraged her to write a book on “young criminals.” The press
tore it to pieces. She was furious and swore that she would never write
another book. He asked her whether she wrote for praise, whether she
was ambitious?—She replied by a question: Why did he write?—A little
quarrel arose. He said it was refreshing to hear her express views
which did not echo his own—always his own.—Always his own? What did
he mean? Didn't she have views of her own? She henceforth made
it her business to prove to him on every occasion that she was capable
of forming her own opinions; and to prevent any errors on his part she
took good care that they always differed from his. He told her he did
not care what views she held as long as she loved him.—Love? What
about it? He was no better than other men and, moreover, he had
betrayed her. He did not love her soul, but her body.—No, he loved
both, he loved her, every bit of her!—Oh! How deceitful he had
been!—No, he had not been deceitful, he had merely deceived himself
when he believed that he loved her soul only.
They were tired of strolling up and down the boulevard, and sat down
before a cafe. She lighted a cigarette. A waiter requested her rather
uncivilly, not to smoke. The Baron demanded an explanation and the
waiter said that the cafe was a first-class establishment and the
management was anxious not to drive away respectable people by serving
these ladies. They rose from their seats, paid and went away. The
Baron was furious, the young Baroness had tears in her eyes.
“There they had a demonstration of the power of prejudice! Smoking
was a foolish act as far as a man was concerned, but in a woman it was
a crime! Let him who was able to do so, destroy this prejudice! Or, let
us say, him who would care to do so! The Baron had no wish that his
wife should be the first victim, even if it were to win for her the
doubtful honour of having cast aside a prejudice. For it was nothing
else. In Russia, ladies belonging to the best society smoked at the
dinner-table during the courses. Customs changed with the latitudes.
And yet those trifles were not without importance, for life consisted
of trifles. If men and women shared bad habits, intercourse between
them would be less stiff and formal: they would make friends more
easily and keep pace with one another. If they had the same education,
they would have the same interests, and cling together more closely
during the whole of their lives.”
The Baron was silent as if he had said something foolish. But she
had not been listening to him; her thoughts had been far away.
“She had been insulted by a waiter, told that she was not fit to
associate with respectable people. There was more behind that, than
appeared on the surface. She had been recognised. Yes, she was sure of
it, it was not the first time that she had noticed it.”
“What had she noticed?”
“That she had been treated with little respect at the restaurants.
The people evidently did not think that they were married; because they
were affectionate and civil to one another. She had borne it in silence
for a long time, but now she had come to the end of her tether. And yet
this was nothing compared to what they were saying at home!”
“Well, what were they saying? And why had she never told him
anything about it before?”
“Oh! horrible things! The letters she had received! Leaving the
anonymous ones quite out of the question.
“Well, and what about him? Was he not being treated as if he were a
criminal? And yet he had not committed a crime! He had acted according
to all legal requirements, he had not broken his marriage vows. He had
left the country in compliance with the dictates of the law; the Royal
Consistory has granted his appeal for a divorce; the clergy, Holy
Church, had given him his release from the bonds of his first marriage
on stamped paper; therefore he had not broken them! When a country was
conquered, a whole nation was absolved from its oath of loyalty to its
monarch; why did society look askance at the release from a promise?
Had it not conferred the right on the Consistory to dissolve a
marriage? How could it dare to assume the character of a judge now and
condemn its own laws? Society was at war with itself! He was being
treated like a criminal! Hadn't the secretary of the Embassy, his old
friend, on whom he had left his and his wife's cards, acknowledged them
by simply returning one card only? And was he not overlooked at all
“Oh! She had had to put up with worse things! One of her friends in
Paris had closed her door to her, and several had cut her in the
“Only the wearer of a boot knew where it pinched. The boots which
they were wearing now were real Spanish boots, and they were at war
with society. The upper classes had cut them. The upper classes! This
community of semi-imbeciles, who secretly lived like dogs, but showed
one another respect as long as there was no public scandal; that was to
say as long as one did not honestly revoke an agreement and wait until
it had lapsed before one made use of one's newly-regained freedom! And
these vicious upper classes were the awarders of social position and
respect, according to a scale on which honesty ranked far below zero.
Society was nothing but a tissue of lies! It was inexplicable that it
hadn't been found out long ago! It was high time to examine this fine
structure and inquire into the condition of its foundations.”
They were on friendlier terms on arriving home than they had been
for many years. The Baroness stayed at home with her baby, and was soon
expecting a second one. This struggle against the tide was too hard for
her, and she was already growing tired of it. She was tired of
everything! To write in an elegantly furnished, well-heated room on the
subject of discharged prisoners, offering them, at a proper distance, a
well-gloved hand, was a proceeding society approved of; but to hold out
the hand of friendship to a woman who had married a legally divorced
man was quite another thing. Why should it be so? It was difficult to
find an answer.
The Baron fought in the thick of the battle. He visited the Chamber
of Deputies, was present at meetings, and everywhere he listened to
passionate diatribes against society. He read papers and magazines,
kept a keen eye on literature, studied the subject deeply. His wife was
threatened by the same fate which had overtaken the first one; to be
left behind! It was strange. She seemed unable to take in all the
details of his investigations, she disapproved of much of the new
doctrine, but she felt that he was right and fighting for a good cause.
He knew that he could always count on her never-flagging sympathy; that
he had a friend at home who would always stand by him. Their common
fate drove them into each other's arms like frightened birds at the
approach of a storm. All the womanliness in her,—however little it may
be appreciated now-a-days,—which is after all nothing but a memory of
the great mother, the force of nature which is woman's endowment, was
roused. It fell on the children like the warm glow of a fire at
eventide; it fell on the husband like a ray of sunshine; it brought
peace to the home. He often wondered how it was that he did not miss
his old comrade, with whom he was wont to discuss everything; he
discovered that his thoughts had gained force and vigour since he
stopped pouring them out as soon as he conceived them; it seemed to him
that he was profiting more by the silent approval, the kindly nod, the
unwavering sympathy. He felt that his strength had increased, that his
views were less under outside control; he was a solitary man, now, and
yet he was less solitary than he had been in the past, for he was no
longer constantly met by contradictions which merely filled his heart
It was Christmas Eve in Paris. A large Christmas tree, grown in the
wood of St. Germain, stood in their little chalet on the Cours de la
Reine. They were going out after breakfast to buy Christmas presents
for the children. The Baron was pre-occupied, for he had just published
a little pamphlet, entitled: “Do the Upper Classes constitute Society?”
They were sitting at breakfast in their cosy dining-room, and the doors
which led to the nursery stood wide open. They listened to the nurse
playing with the children, and the Baroness smiled with contentment and
happiness. She had grown very gentle and her happiness was a quiet one.
One of the children suddenly screamed and she rose from the table to
see what was the matter. At the same moment the footman came into the
dining-room with the morning post. The Baron opened two packets of
printed matter. The first was a “big respectable” newspaper. He opened
it and his eyes fell on a headline in fat type: “A Blasphemer!”
He began to read: “Christmas is upon us again! This festival dear to
all pure hearts, this festival sacred to all Christian nations, which
has brought a message of peace and good-will to all men, which makes
even the murderer sheathe his knife, and the thief respect the sacred
law of property; this festival, which is not only of very ancient
origin, but which is also, especially in the countries of the North,
surrounded by a host of historic associations, etc., etc. And then like
foul fumes arising from a drain, an individual suddenly confronts us
who does not scruple to tear asunder the most sacred bonds, who vomits
malice on all respectable members of society; malice, dictated by the
pettiest vengeance....” He refolded the paper and put it into the
pocket of his dressing-gown. Then he opened the second parcel. It
contained caricatures of himself and his wife. It went the same way as
the first, but he had to be quick, for his wife was re-entering the
dining-room. He finished his breakfast and went into his bed-room to
get ready to go out. They left the house together.
The sunlight fell on the frosted plane-trees of the Champs Elysees,
and in the heart of the stony desert the Place de la Concorde opened
out like a large oasis. He felt her arm on his, and yet he had the
feeling as if she were supporting him. She talked of the presents which
they were going to buy for the children, and he tried to force himself
to take an interest in the subject. But all at once he interrupted her
conversation and asked her, a-propos of nothing:
“Do you know the difference between vengeance and punishment?”
“No, I've never thought about it.”
“I wonder whether it isn't this: When an anonymous journalist
revenges himself, it is punishment; but when a well-known writer, who
is not a pressman, fights with an open visor, meting out punishment,
then it is revenge! Let us join the new prophets!”
She begged him not to spoil Christmas by talking of the newspapers.
“This festival,” he muttered, “on which peace and good-will....”
They passed through the arcades of the Rue de Rivoli, turned into
the boulevards and made their purchases. They dined at the Grand Hotel.
She was in a sunny frame of mind and tried to cheer him up. But he
remained preoccupied. Suddenly he asked,
“How is it possible that one can have a bad conscience when one has
She did not know.
“Is it because the upper classes have so trained us, that our
conscience troubles us whenever we rebel against them? Probably it is
so. Why shouldn't he who has been hurt unjustly, have the right to
attack injustice? Because only he who has been hurt will attack, and
the upper classes hate being attacked. Why did I not strike at the
upper classes in the past, when I belonged to them? Because, of course,
I didn't know them then. One must look at a picture from a distance in
order to find the correct visual point!”
“One shouldn't talk about such things on Christmas Eve!”
“True, it is Christmas. This festival of....”
They returned home. They lit the candles on the Christmas tree; it
radiated peace and happiness; but its dark branches smelt of a funeral
and looked sinister, like the Baron's face. The nurse came in with the
little ones. His face lighted up, for, he thought, when they are grown
up they will reap in joy what we have sown in tears; then their
conscience will only trouble them when they have sinned against the
laws of nature; they won't have to suffer from whims which have been
caned into us at school, drummed into us by the parsons, invented by
the upper classes for their own benefit.
The Baroness sat down at the piano when the maids and the footmen
entered. She played melancholy old dances, dear to the heart of the
people of the North, while the servants danced gravely with the
children. It was very much like the penitential part of divine service.
After that the presents were distributed among the children, and the
servants received their gifts. And then the children were put to bed.
The Baroness went into the drawing-room and sat down in an
arm-chair. The Baron threw himself on a footstool at her feet. He
rested his head on her knees. It was so heavy—so heavy. She silently
stroked his forehead. “What! was he weeping?”
She had never before seen a man weep. It was a terrible sight. His
big strong frame shook, but he made no sound.
“Why was he weeping?”
“Because he was unhappy.”
“Unhappy with her?”
“No, no, not with her, but still, unhappy.”
“Had anybody treated him badly?”
“Couldn't he tell her all about it?”
“No, he only wanted to sit at her knees, as he used to sit long ago,
at his mother's.”
She talked to him as if he had been a child. She kissed his eyes and
wiped his face with her handkerchief. She felt so proud, so strong,
there were no tears in her eyes. The sight of her inspired him with new
“How weak he had been! That he should have found the machine-made
attacks of his opponents so hard to bear! Did his enemies really
believe what they said?”
“Terrible thought! Probably they did. One often found stones firmly
grown into pine-trees, why should not opinions grow into the brain in
the same way? But she believed in him, she knew that he was fighting
for a good cause?”
“Yes, she believed it! But—he must not be angry with her for asking
him such a question—but—did he not miss his child, the first one?”
“Yes, certainly, but it could not be helped. At least, not yet! But
he and the others who were working for the future would have to find a
remedy for that, too. He did not know, yet, what form that remedy would
take, but stronger brains than his, and many together, would surely one
day solve this problem which at present seemed insolvable.”
“Yes, she hoped it would be so.”
“But their marriage? Was it a marriage in the true sense of the
word, seeing that he couldn't tell her what troubled him? Wasn't it,
“No, it was a true marriage, for they loved one another. There had
been no love between him and his first wife. But he and she did love
one another, could she deny it?”
“She couldn't, he was her dear love.” Then their marriage was a true
marriage before God and before Nature.
UNNATURAL SELECTION OR THE ORIGIN OF
The Baron had read in The Slaves of Life with disgust and
indignation that the children of the aristocracy were bound to perish
unless they took the mothers' milk from the children of the lower
classes. He had read Darwin and believed that the gist of his teaching
was that through selection the children of the aristocracy had come to
be more highly developed representatives of the genus “Man.” But the
doctrine of heredity made him look upon the employment of a
foster-mother with aversion; for might not, with the blood of the lower
classes, certain conceptions, ideas and desires be introduced and
propagated in the aristocratic nursling? He was therefore determined
that his wife should nurse her baby herself, and if she should prove
incapable of doing so, the child should be brought up with the bottle.
He had a right to the cows' milk, for they fed on his hay; without it
they would starve, or would not have come into existence at all. The
baby was born. It was a son! The father had been somewhat anxious
before he became certain of his wife's condition, for he was,
personally, a poor man; his wife, on the other hand, was very wealthy,
but he had no claim to her fortune unless their union was blest with a
legal heir, (in accordance with the law of entail chap. 00 par. 00).
His joy was therefore great and genuine. The baby was a transparent
little thoroughbred, with blue veins shining through his waxen skin.
Nevertheless his blood was poor. His mother who possessed the figure of
an angel, was brought up on choice food, protected by rich furs from
all the eccentricities of the climate, and had that aristocratic pallor
which denotes the woman of noble descent.
She nursed the baby herself. There was consequently no need to
become indebted to peasant women for the privilege of enjoying life on
this planet. Nothing but fables, all he had read about it! The baby
sucked and screamed for a fortnight. But all babies scream. It meant
nothing. But it lost flesh. It became terribly emaciated. The doctor
was sent for. He had a private conversation with the father, during
which he declared that the baby would die if the Baroness continued to
nurse him, because she was firstly too highly strung, and secondly had
nothing with which to feed him. He took the trouble to make a
quantitative analysis of the milk, and proved (by equations) that the
child was bound to starve unless there was a change in the method of
What was to be done? On no account could the baby be allowed to die.
Bottle or foster mother? The latter was out of the question. Let us
try the bottle! The doctor, however, prescribed a foster mother.
The best Dutch cow, which had received the gold medal for the
district, was isolated and fed with hay; with dry hay of the finest
quality. The doctor analysed the milk, everything was all right. How
simple the system was! How strange that they had not thought of it
before! After all, one need not engage a foster mother a tyrant before
whom one had to cringe, a loafer one had to fatten; not to mention the
fact that she might have an infectious disease.
But the baby continued to lose flesh and to scream. It screamed
night and day. There was no doubt it suffered from colic. A new cow was
procured and a fresh analysis made. The milk was mixed with Karlsbad
water, genuine Sprudel, but the baby went on screaming.
“There's no remedy but to engage a foster mother,” said the doctor.
“Oh! anything but that! One did not want to rob other children, it
was against nature, and, moreover, what about heredity?”
When the Baron began to talk of things natural and unnatural, the
doctor explained to him that if nature were allowed her own way, all
noble families would die out and their estates fall to the crown. This
was the wisdom of nature, and human civilization was nothing but a
foolish struggle against nature, in which man was bound to be beaten.
The Baron's race was doomed; this was proved by the fact that his wife
was unable to feed the fruit of her womb; in order to live they were
bound to buy or steal the milk of other women. Consequently the race
lived on robbery, down to the smallest detail.
“Could the purchase of the milk be called robbery? The purchase of
“Yes, because the money with which it was bought was produced by
labour. Whose labour? The people's! For the aristocracy didn't work.”
“The doctor was a socialist!”
“No, a follower of Darwin. However, he didn't care in the least if
they called him a socialist. It made no difference to him.”
“But surely, purchase was not robbery! That was too strong a word!”
“Well, but if one paid with money one hadn't earned!”
“That was to say, earned by manual labour?”
“But in that case the doctor was a robber too!”
“Quite so! Nevertheless he would not hold back with the truth!
Didn't the Baron remember the repenting thief who had spoken such true
The conversation was interrupted; the Baron sent for a famous
professor. The latter called him a murderer straight out, because he
had not engaged a nurse long ago.
The Baron had to persuade his wife. He had to retract all his former
arguments and emphasize the one simple fact, namely, the love for his
child, (regulated by the law of entail).
But where was a foster mother to come from? It was no use thinking
of looking for one in town, for there all people were corrupt. No, it
would have to be a country girl. But the Baroness objected to a girl
because, she argued, a girl with a baby was an immoral person; and her
son might contract a hereditary tendency.
The doctor retorted that all foster mothers were unmarried women and
that if the young Baron inherited from her a preference for the other
sex, he would grow into a good fellow; tendencies of that sort ought to
be encouraged. It was not likely that any of the farmers' wives would
accept the position, because a farmer who owned land, would certainly
prefer to keep his wife and children with him.
“But supposing they married a girl to a farm labourer?”
“It would mean a delay of nine months.”
“But supposing they found a husband for a girl who had a baby?”
“That wasn't a bad idea!”
The Baron knew a girl who had a baby just three months old. He knew
her only too well, for he had been engaged for three years and had been
unfaithful to his fiancee by “doctor's orders.” He went to her himself
and made his suggestion. She should have a farm of her own if she would
consent to marry Anders, a farm labourer, and come to the Manor as
foster mother to the young Baron. Well, was it strange that she should
accept the proffered settlement in preference to her bearing her
disgrace alone? It was arranged there and then that on the following
Sunday the banns should be read for the first, second and third time,
and that Anders should go home to his own village for two months.
The Baron looked at her baby with a strange feeling of envy. He was
a big, strong boy. He was not beautiful, but he looked like a guarantee
of many generations to come. The child was born to live but it was not
his fate to fulfil his destination.
Anna wept when he was taken to the orphanage, but the good food at
the Manor (her dinner was sent up to her from the dining-room, and she
had as much porter and wine as she wanted) consoled her. She was also
allowed to go out driving in the big carriage, with a footman by the
side of the coachman. And she read A Thousand and One Nights.
Never in all her life had she been so well off.
After an absence of two months Anders returned. He had done nothing
but eat, drink, and rest. He took possession of the farm, but he also
wanted his Anna. Couldn't she, at least, come and see him sometimes?
No, the Baroness objected. No nonsense of that sort!
Anna lost flesh and the little Baron screamed. The doctor was
“Let her go and see her husband,” he said.
“But supposing it did the baby harm?”
But Anders must be “analysed” first. Anders objected.
Anders received a present of a few sheep and was “analysed.”
The little Baron stopped screaming.
But now news came from the orphanage that Anna's boy had died of
Anna fretted, and the little Baron screamed louder than ever. She
was discharged and sent back to Anders and a new foster mother was
Anders was glad to have his wife with him at last, but she had
contracted expensive habits. She couldn't drink Brazilian coffee, for
instance, it had to be Java. And her health did not permit her to eat
fish six times a week, nor could she work in the fields. Food at the
farm grew scarce.
Anders would have been obliged to give up the farm after twelve
months, but the Baron had a kindly feeling for him and allowed him to
stay on as a tenant.
Anna worked daily at the Manor and frequently saw the little Baron;
but he did not recognise her and it was just as well that he did not.
And yet he had lain at her breast! And she had saved his life by
sacrificing the life of her own child. But she was prolific and had
several sons, who grew up and were labourers and railway men; one of
them was a convict.
But the old Baron looked forward with anxiety to the day on which
his son should marry and have children in his turn. He did not look
strong! He would have been far more reassured if the other little
Baron, the one who had died at the orphanage, had been the heir to the
estates. And when he read The Slaves of Life a second time, he
had to admit that the upper classes live at the mercy of the lower
classes, and when he read Darwin again he could not deny that natural
selection, in our time, was anything but natural. But facts were facts
and remained unalterable, in spite of all the doctor and the socialists
might say to the contrary.
AN ATTEMPT AT REFORM
She had noticed with indignation that girls were solely brought up
to be housekeepers for their future husbands. Therefore she had learnt
a trade which would enable her to keep herself in all circumstances of
life. She made artificial flowers.
He had noticed with regret that girls simply waited for a husband
who should keep them; he resolved to marry a free and independent woman
who could earn her own living; such a woman would be his equal and a
companion for life, not a housekeeper.
Fate ordained that they should meet. He was an artist and she, as I
already mentioned, made flowers; they were both living in Paris at the
time when they conceived these ideas.
There was style in their marriage. They took three rooms at Passy.
In the centre was the studio, to the right of it his room, to the left
hers. This did away with the common bed-room and double bed, that
abomination which has no counterpart in nature and is responsible for a
great deal of dissipation and immorality. It moreover did away with the
inconvenience of having to dress and undress in the same room. It was
far better that each of them should have a separate room and that the
studio should be a neutral, common meeting-place.
They required no servant; they were going to do the cooking
themselves and employ an old charwoman in the mornings and evenings. It
was all very well thought out and excellent in theory.
“But supposing you had children?” asked the sceptics.
“Nonsense, there won't be any!”
It worked splendidly. He went to the market in the morning and did
the catering. Then he made the coffee. She made the beds and put the
rooms in order. And then they sat down and worked.
When they were tired of working they gossiped, gave one another good
advice, laughed and were very jolly.
At twelve o'clock he lit the kitchen fire and she prepared the
vegetables. He cooked the beef, while she ran across the street to the
grocer's; then she laid the table and he dished up the dinner.
Of course, they loved one another as husbands and wives do. They
said good-night to each other and went into their own rooms, but there
was no lock to keep him out when he knocked at her door; but the
accommodation was small and the morning found them in their own
quarters. Then he knocked at the wall:
“Good morning, little girlie, how are you to-day?”
“Very well, darling, and you?”
Their meeting at breakfast was always like a new experience which
never grew stale.
They often went out together in the evening and frequently met their
countrymen. She had no objection to the smell of tobacco, and was never
in the way. Everybody said that it was an ideal marriage; no one had
ever known a happier couple.
But the young wife's parents, who lived a long way off, were always
writing and asking all sorts of indelicate questions; they were longing
to have a grandchild. Louisa ought to remember that the institution of
marriage existed for the benefit of the children, not the parents.
Louisa held that this view was an old-fashioned one. Mama asked her
whether she did not think that the result of the new ideas would be the
complete extirpation of mankind? Louisa had never looked at it in that
light, and moreover the question did not interest her. Both she and her
husband were happy; at last the spectacle of a happy married couple was
presented to the world, and the world was envious.
Life was very pleasant. Neither of them was master and they shared
expenses. Now he earned more, now she did, but in the end their
contributions to the common fund amounted to the same figure.
Then she had a birthday! She was awakened in the morning by the
entrance of the charwoman with a bunch of flowers and a letter painted
all over with flowers, and containing the following words:
“To the lady flower-bud from her dauber, who wishes her many happy
returns of the day and begs her to honour him with her company at
excellent little breakfast—at once.”
She knocked at his door—come in!
And they breakfasted, sitting on the bed—his bed; and the charwoman
was kept the whole day to do all the work. It was a lovely birthday!
Their happiness never palled. It lasted two years. All the prophets
had prophesied falsely.
It was a model marriage!
But when two years had passed, the young wife fell ill. She put it
down to some poison contained in the wall-paper; he suggested germs of
some sort. Yes, certainly, germs. But something was wrong. Something
was not as it should be. She must have caught cold. Then she grew
stout. Was she suffering from tumour? Yes, they were afraid she was.
She consulted a doctor—and came home crying. It was indeed a
growth, but one which would one day see daylight, grow into a flower
and bear fruit.
The husband did anything but cry. He found style in it, and then the
wretch went to his club and boasted about it to his friends. But the
wife still wept. What would her position be now? She would soon not be
able to earn money with her work and then she would have to live on
him. And they would have to have a servant! Ugh! those servants!
All their care, their caution, their wariness had been wrecked on
the rock of the inevitable.
But the mother-in-law wrote enthusiastic letters and repeated over
and over again that marriage was instituted by God for the protection
of the children; the parents' pleasure counted for very little.
Hugo implored her to forget the fact that she would not be able to
earn anything in future. Didn't she do her full share of the work by
mothering the baby? Wasn't that as good as money? Money was, rightly
understood, nothing but work. Therefore she paid her share in full.
It took her a long time to get over the fact that he had to keep
her. But when the baby came, she forgot all about it. She remained his
wife and companion as before in addition to being the mother of his
child, and he found that this was worth more than anything else.
A NATURAL OBSTACLE
Her father had insisted on her learning book-keeping, so that she
might escape the common lot of young womanhood; to sit there and wait
for a husband.
She was now employed as book-keeper in the goods department of the
Railways, and was universally looked upon as a very capable young
woman. She had a way of getting on with people, and her prospects were
Then she met the green forester from the School of Forestry and
married him. They had made up their minds not to have any children;
theirs was to be a true, spiritual marriage, and the world was to be
made to realise that a woman, too, has a soul, and is not merely sex.
Husband and wife met at dinner in the evening. It really was a true
marriage, the union of two souls; it was, of course, also the union of
two bodies, but this is a point one does not discuss.
One day the wife came home and told her husband that her office
hours had been changed. The directors had decided to run a new night
train to Malmo, and in future she would have to be at her office from
six to nine in the evening. It was a nuisance, for he could not come
home before six. That was quite impossible.
Henceforth they had to dine separately and meet only at night. He
was dissatisfied. He hated the long evenings.
He fell into the habit of calling for her. But he found it dull to
sit on a chair in the goods department and have the porters knocking
against him. He was always in the way. And when he tried to talk to her
as she sat at her desk with the penholder behind her ear, she
interrupted him with a curt:
“Oh! do be quiet until I've done!”
Then the porters turned away their faces and he could see by their
backs that they were laughing.
Sometimes one or the other of her colleagues announced him with a:
“Your husband is waiting for you, Mrs. X.”
“Your husband!” There was something scornful in the very way in
which they pronounced the word.
But what irritated him more than anything else was the fact that the
desk nearest to her was occupied by a “young ass” who was always gazing
into her eyes and everlastingly consulting the ledger, bending over her
shoulders so that he almost touched her with his chin. And they talked
of invoices and certificates, of things which might have meant anything
for all he knew. And they compared papers and figures and seemed to be
on more familiar terms with one another than husband and wife were. And
that was quite natural, for she saw more of the young ass than of her
husband. It struck him that their marriage was not a true spiritual
marriage after all; in order to be that he, too, would have had to be
employed in the goods department. But as it happened he was at the
School of Forestry.
One day, or rather one night, she told him that on the following
Saturday a meeting of railway employes, which was to conclude with a
dinner, would be held, and that she would have to be present. Her
husband received the communication with a little air of constraint.
“Do you want to go?” he asked naively.
“Of course, I do!”
“But you will be the only woman amongst so many men, and when men
have had too much to drink, they are apt to become coarse.”
“Don't you attend the meetings of the School of Forestry without
“Certainly, but I am not the only man amongst a lot of women.”
“Men and women were equals, she was amazed that he, who had always
preached the emancipation of women could have any objection to her
attending the meeting.”
“He admitted that it was nothing but prejudice on his part. He
admitted that she was right and that he was wrong, but all the same he
begged her not to go; he hated the idea. He couldn't get over the
“He was inconsequent.”
“He admitted that he was inconsequent, but it would take ten
generations to get used to the new conditions.”
“Then he must not go to meetings either?”
“That was quite a different matter, for his meetings were attended
by men only. He didn't mind her going out without him; what he didn't
like was that she went out alone with so many men.”
“She wouldn't be alone, for the cashier's wife would be present
“As the cashier's wife.”
“Then couldn't he be present as her husband?”
“Why did he want to make himself so cheap by being in the way?”
“He didn't mind making himself cheap.”
“Was he jealous?”
“Yes! Why not? He was afraid that something might come between
“What a shame to be jealous! What an insult! What distrust! What did
he think of her?”
“That she was perfect. He would prove it. She could go alone!”
“Could she really? How condescending of him!”
She went. She did not come home until the early hours of the
morning. She awakened her husband and told him how well it had all gone
off. He was delighted to hear it. Somebody had made a speech about her;
they had sung quartets and ended with a dance.
“And how had she come home?”
“The young ass had accompanied her to the front door.”
“Supposing anybody who knew them had seen her at three o'clock in
the morning in the company of the young ass?”
“Well, and what then? She was a respectable woman.”
“Yes, but she might easily lose her reputation.”
“Ah! He was jealous, and what was even worse, he was envious. He
grudged her every little bit of fun. That was what being married meant!
To be scolded if one dared to go out and enjoy oneself a little. What a
stupid institution marriage was! But was their union a true marriage?
They met one another at night, just as other married couples did. Men
were all alike. Civil enough until they were married, but afterwards,
oh! Afterwards.... Her husband was no better than other men: he looked
upon her as his property, he thought he had a right to order her
“It was true. There was a time when he had believed that they
belonged to one another, but he had made a mistake. He belonged to her
as a dog belonged to its master. What was he but her footman, who
called for her at night to see her home? He was 'her husband.' But did
she want to be 'his wife'? Were they equals?”
“She hadn't come home to quarrel with him. She wanted to be nothing
but his wife, and she did not want him to be anything but her husband.”
The effect of the champagne, he thought, and turned to the wall.
She cried and begged him not to be unjust, but to—forgive her.
He pulled the blankets over his ears.
She asked him again if he—if he didn't want her to be his wife any
“Yes, of course, he wanted her! But he had been so dreadfully bored
all the evening, he could never live through another evening like it.”
“Let them forget all about it then!”
And they forgot all about it and continued loving one another.
On the following evening, when the green forester came for his wife,
he was told that she had gone to the store rooms. He was alone in the
counting-house and sat down on a chair. Presently a glass door was
opened and the young ass put in his head: “Are you here, Annie?”
No, it was only her husband!
He rose and went away. The young ass called his wife Annie, and was
evidently on very familiar terms with her. It was more than he could
When she came home they had a scene. She reproached him with the
fact that he did not take his views on the emancipation of women
seriously, otherwise he could not be annoyed at her being on familiar
terms with her fellow-clerks. He made matters worse by admitting that
his views were not to be taken seriously.
“Surely he didn't mean what he was saying! Had he changed his mind?
How could he!”
“Yes, he had changed his mind. One could not help modifying one's
views almost daily, because one had to adapt them to the conditions of
life which were always changing. And if he had believed in spiritual
marriages in the days gone by, he had now come to lose faith in
marriages of any sort whatever. That was progress in the direction of
radicalism. And as to the spiritual, she was spiritually married to the
young ass rather than to him, for they exchanged views on the
management of the goods department daily and hourly, while she took no
interest at all in the cultivation of forests. Was there anything
spiritual in their marriage? Was there?”
“No, not any longer! Her love was dead! He had killed it when he
renounced his splendid faith in—the emancipation of women.”
Matters became more and more unbearable. The green forester began to
look to his fellow-foresters for companionship and gave up thinking of
the goods department and its way of conducting business, matters which
he never understood.
“You don't understand me,” she kept on saying over and over again.
“No, I don't understand the goods department,” he said.
One night, or rather one morning, he told her that he was going
botanising with a girls' class. He was teaching botany in a girls'
“Oh! indeed! Why had he never mentioned it before? Big girls?”
“Oh! very big ones. From sixteen to twenty.”
“H'm! In the morning?”
“No! In the afternoon! And they would have supper in one of the
outlying little villages.”
“Would they? The head-mistress would be there of course?”
“Oh! no, she had every confidence in him, since he was a married
man. It was an advantage, sometimes, to be married.”
On the next day she was ill.
“Surely he hadn't the heart to leave her!”
“He must consider his work before anything else. Was she very ill?”
“Oh! terribly ill!”
In spite of her objections he sent for a doctor. The doctor declared
that there was nothing much the matter; it was quite unnecessary for
the husband to stay at home. The green forester returned towards
morning. He was in high spirits. He had enjoyed himself immensely! He
had not had such a day for a long, long time.
The storm burst. Huhuhu! This struggle was too much for her! He must
swear a solemn oath never to love any woman but her. Never!
She had convulsions; he ran for the smelling salts.
He was too generous to give her details of the supper with the
schoolgirls, but he could not forego the pleasure of mentioning his
former simile anent dogs and possession, and he took the occasion to
draw her attention to the fact that love without the conception of a
right to possession—on both sides—was not thinkable. What was making
her cry? The same thing which had made him swear, when she went out
with twenty men. The fear of losing him! But one can lose only that
which one possesses! Possesses!
Thus the rent was repaired. But goods department and girls' school
were ready with their scissors to undo the laborious mending.
The harmony was disturbed.
The wife fell ill. She was sure that she had hurt herself in lifting
a case which was too heavy for her. She was so keen on her work that
she could not bear to wait while the porters stood about and did
nothing. She was compelled to lend a hand. Now she must have ruptured
Yes, indeed, there was something the matter!
How angry she was! Angry with her husband who alone was to blame.
What were they going to do with the baby? It would have to be boarded
out! Rousseau had done that. It was true, he was a fool, but on this
particular point he was right.
She was full of fads and fancies. The forester had to resign his
lessons at the girls' school at once.
She chafed and fretted because she was no longer able to go into the
store rooms, but compelled to stay in the counting-house all day long
and make entries. But the worst blow which befell her was the arrival
of an assistant whose secret mission it was to take her place when she
would be laid up.
The manner of her colleagues had changed, too. The porters grinned.
She felt ashamed and longed to hide herself. It would be better to stay
at home and cook her husband's dinner than sit here and be stared at.
Oh! What black chasms of prejudice lay concealed in the deceitful
hearts of men!
She stayed at home for the last month, for the walk to and from her
office four times a day was too much for her. And she was always so
hungry! She had to send out for sandwiches in the morning. And every
now and then she felt faint and had to take a rest. What a life! A
woman's lot was indeed a miserable one.
The baby was born.
“Shall we board it out?” asked the father.
“Had he no heart?”
“Oh! yes, of course he had!”
And the baby remained at home.
Then a very polite letter arrived from the head office, enquiring
after the young mother's health.
“She was very well and would be back at the office on the day after
She was still a little weak and had to take a cab; but she soon
picked up her strength. However, a new difficulty now presented itself.
She must be kept informed of the baby's condition; a messenger boy was
despatched to her home, at first twice a day, then every two hours.
And when she was told that the baby had been crying, she put on her
hat and rushed home at once. But the assistant was there, ready to take
her place. The head clerk was very civil and made no comment.
One day the young mother discovered accidentally that the nurse was
unable to feed the baby, but had concealed the fact for fear of losing
her place. She had to take a day off in order to find a new foster
mother. But they were all alike; brutal egoists every one of them, who
took no interest in the children of strangers. No one could ever depend
“No,” agreed the husband, “in a case of this sort one can only
depend on oneself.”
“Do you mean to insinuate that I ought to give up my work?”
“Oh! You must do as you like about that!”
“And become your slave!”
“No, I don't mean that at all!”
The little one was not at all well; all children are ill
occasionally. He was teething! One day's leave after another! The poor
baby suffered from toothache. She had to soothe him at night, work at
the office during the day, sleepy, tired, anxious, and again take a day
The green forester did his best and carried the baby about in his
arms half the night, but he never said a word about his wife's work at
the goods department.
Nevertheless she knew what was in his mind. He was waiting for her
to give in; but he was deceitful and so he said nothing! How
treacherous men were! She hated him; she would sooner kill herself than
throw up her work and “be his slave.”
The forester saw quite clearly now that it was impossible for any
woman to emancipate herself from the laws of nature; under present
circumstances, he was shrewd enough to add.
When the baby was five months old, it was plainly evident that the
whole thing would before very long repeat itself.
What a catastrophe!
But when that sort of thing once begins....
The forester was obliged to resume his lessons at the girls' school
to augment their income, and now—she laid down her arms.
“I am your slave, now,” she groaned, when she came home with her
Nevertheless she is the head of the house, and he gives her every
penny he earns. When he wants to buy a cigar he makes a long speech
before he ventures to ask for the money. She never refuses it to him,
but all the same he finds the asking for it unpleasant. He is allowed
to attend meetings, but no dinners, and all botanising with girls is
strictly forbidden. He does not miss it much, for he prefers playing
with his children.
His colleagues call him henpecked; but he smiles, and tells them
that he is happy in spite of it, because he has in his wife a very
sweet and sensible companion.
She, on her part, obstinately maintains that she is nothing but his
slave, whatever he might say to the contrary. It is her one comfort,
poor, little woman!
A DOLL'S HOUSE
They had been married for six years, but they were still more like
lovers than husband and wife. He was a captain in the navy, and every
summer he was obliged to leave her for a few months; twice he had been
away on a long voyage. But his short absences were a blessing in
disguise, for if their relations had grown a little stale during the
winter, the summer trip invariably restored them to their former
freshness and delightfulness.
During the first summer he wrote veritable love-letters to her and
never passed a sailing ship without signalling: “Will you take
letters?” And when he came in sight of the landmarks of the Stockholm
Archipelago, he did not know how to get to her quickly enough. But she
found a way. She wired him to Landsort that she would meet him at
Dalaro. When he anchored, he saw a little blue scarf fluttering on the
verandah of the hotel: then he knew that it was she. But there was so
much to do aboard that it was evening before he could go ashore. He saw
her from his gig on the landing-stage as the bow held out his oar to
fend off; she was every bit as young, as pretty and as strong as she
had been when he left her; it was exactly as if they were re-living the
first spring days of their love. A delicious little supper waited for
him in the two little rooms she had engaged. What a lot they had to
talk about! The voyage, the children, the future! The wine sparkled in
the glasses and his kisses brought the blood to her cheeks.
Tattoo went on the ship, but he took no notice of it, for he did not
intend to leave her before one o'clock.
“What? He was going?”
“Yes; he must get back aboard, but it would do if he was there for
the morning watch.”
“When did the morning watch begin?”
“At five o'clock.”
“Oh!... As early as that!”
“But where was she going to stay the night?”
“That was her business!”
He guessed it and wanted to have a look at her room; but she planted
herself firmly on the threshold. He covered her face with kisses, took
her in his arms as if she were a baby and opened the door.
“What an enormous bed! It was like the long boat. Where did the
people get it from?”
She blushed crimson.
“Of course, she had understood from his letter that they would stay
at the hotel together.”
Well, and so they would, in spite of his having to be back aboard
for the morning watch. What did he care for the stupid morning
“How could he say such a thing!”
“Hadn't they better have some coffee and a fire? The sheets felt
damp! What a sensible little rogue she was to provide for his staying,
too! Who would have thought that she had so much sense? Where did she
get it from?”
“She didn't get it from anywhere!”
“No? Well, he might have known! He might have known everything!”
“Oh! But he was so stupid!”
“Indeed, he was stupid, was he?”
And he slipped his arm round her waist.
“But he ought to behave himself!”
“Behave himself? It was easy to talk!”
“The girl was coming with the wood!”
When it struck two, and sea and Skerries were flaming in the east,
they were sitting at the open window.
“They were lovers still, weren't they? And now he must go. But he
would be back at ten, for breakfast, and after that they would go for a
He made some coffee on her spirit lamp, and they drank it while the
sun was rising and the seagulls screamed. The gunboat was lying far out
at sea and every now and then he saw the cutlasses of the watch
glinting in the sunlight. It was hard to part, but the certainty of
meeting again in a few hours' time helped them to bear it. He kissed
her for the last time, buckled on his sword and left her.
When he arrived at the bridge and shouted: “boat ahoy!” she hid
herself behind the window curtains as if she were ashamed to be seen.
He blew kisses to her until the sailors came with the gig. Then a last:
“Sleep well and dream of me” and the gig put off. He watched her
through his glasses, and for a long time he could distinguish a little
figure with black hair. The sunbeams fell on her nightdress and bare
throat and made her look like a mermaid.
The reveille went. The longdrawn bugle notes rolled out between the
green islands over the shining water and returned from behind the pine
woods. The whole crew assembled on deck and the Lord's Prayer and
“Jesus, at the day's beginning” were read. The little church tower of
Dalaro answered with a faint ringing of bells, for it was Sunday.
Cutters came up in the morning breeze: flags were flying, shots
resounded, light summer dresses gleamed on the bridge, the steamer,
leaving a crimson track behind her, steamed up, the fishers hauled in
their nets, and the sun shone on the blue, billowy water and the green
At ten o'clock six pairs rowed the gig ashore from the gunboat. They
were together again. And as they sat at breakfast in the large
dining-room, the hotel guests watched and whispered: “Is she his wife?”
He talked to her in an undertone like a lover, and she cast down her
eyes and smiled; or hit his fingers with her dinner napkin.
The boat lay alongside the bridge; she sat at the helm, he looked
after the foresail. But he could not take his eyes off her finely
shaped figure in the light summer dress, her determined little face and
proud eyes, as she sat looking to windward, while her little hand in
its strong leather glove held the mainsheet. He wanted to talk to her
and was purposely clumsy in tacking; then she scolded him as if he were
a cabin boy, which amused him immensely.
“Why didn't you bring the baby with you?” he asked her teasingly.
“Where should I have put it to sleep?”
“In the long boat, of course?”
She smiled at him in a way which filled his heart with happiness.
“Well, and what did the proprietress say this morning?”
“What should she say?”
“Did she sleep well last night?”
“Why shouldn't she sleep well?”
“I don't know; she might have been kept awake by rats, or perhaps by
the rattling of a window; who can tell what might not disturb the
gentle sleep of an old maid!”
“If you don't stop talking nonsense, I shall make the sheet fast and
sail you to the bottom of the sea.”
They landed at a small island and ate their luncheon which they had
brought with them in a little basket. After lunch they shot at a target
with a revolver. Then they pretended to fish with rods, but they caught
nothing and sailed out again into the open sea where the eidergeese
were, through a strait where they watched the carp playing about the
rushes. He never tired of looking at her, talking to her, kissing her.
In this manner they met for six summers, and always they were just
as young, just as mad and just as happy as before. They spent the
winter in Stockholm in their little cabins. He amused himself by
rigging boats for his little boys or telling them stories of his
adventures in China and the South Sea Islands, while his wife sat by
him, listening and laughing at his funny tales. It was a charming room,
that could not be equalled in the whole world. It was crammed full of
Japanese sunshades and armour, miniature pagodas from India, bows and
lances from Australia, nigger drums and dried flying fish, sugar cane
and opium pipes. Papa, whose hair was growing thin at the top, did not
feel very happy outside his own four walls. Occasionally he played at
draughts with his friend, the auditor, and sometimes they had a game at
Boston and drank a glass of grog. At first his wife had joined in the
game, but now that she had four children, she was too busy;
nevertheless, she liked to sit with the players for a little and look
at their cards, and whenever she passed Papa's chair he caught her
round the waist and asked her whether she thought he ought to be
pleased with his hand.
This time the corvette was to be away for six months. The captain
did not feel easy about it, for the children were growing up and the
responsibility of the big establishment was too much for Mama. The
captain himself was not quite so young and vigorous as he had been,
but—it could not be helped and so he left.
Directly he arrived at Kronborg he posted a letter to her.
“My darling Topmast,” it began.
“Wind moderate, S.S.E. by E. + 10 C. 6 bells, watch below. I
express in words what I feel on this voyage during which I shall
see you. When we kedged out (at 6 p.m. while a strong gale blew
N.E. by N.) I felt as if a belaying pin were suddenly being
into my chest and I actually had a sensation as if a chain had
drawn through the hawsepipes of my ears. They say that sailors
feel the approach of misfortune. I don't know whether this is
but I shall not feel easy until I have had a letter from you.
has happened on board, simply because nothing must happen. How
all at home? Has Bob had his new boots, and do they fit? I am a
wretched correspondent as you know, so 111 stop now. With a big
right on this x.
“Your old Pal.
“P.S. You ought to find a friend (female, of course) and don't
to ask the proprietress at Dalaro to take care of the long boat
my return. The wind is getting up; it will blow from the North
Off Portsmouth the captain received the following letter from his
“Dear old Pal,
“It's horrible here without you, believe me. I have had a lot of
worry, too, for little Alice has got a new tooth. The doctor said
was unusually early, which was a sign of (but I'm not going to
you that). Bob's boots fit him very well and he is very proud of
“You say in your letter that I ought to find a friend of my own
Well, I have found one, or, rather, she has found me. Her name is
Ottilia Sandegren, and she was educated at the seminary. She is
grave and takes life very seriously, therefore you need not be
Pal, that your Topmast will be led astray. Moreover, she is
We really ought to take religion a little more seriously, both of
She is a splendid woman. She has just arrived and sends you her
The captain was not overpleased with this letter. It was too short
and not half as bright as her letters generally were. Seminary,
religion, grave, Ottilia: Ottilia twice! And then Gurli! Why not Gulla
as before? H'm!
A week later he received a second letter from Bordeaux, a letter
which was accompanied by a book, sent under separate cover.
“Dear William!”—“H'm! William! No longer Pal!”—“Life is a
struggle” —“What the deuce does she mean? What has that to do with
us?”—“from beginning to end. Gently as a river in Kedron”—“Kedron!
she's quoting the Bible!”—“our life has glided along. Like
sleepwalkers we have been walking on the edge of precipices without
being aware of them”—“The seminary, oh! the seminary!”—“Suddenly we
find ourselves face to face with the ethical”—“The ethical?
Ablative!”—“asserting itself in its higher
potencies!”—“Potencies?”—“Now that I am awake from my long sleep and
ask myself: has our marriage been a marriage in the true sense of the
word? I must admit with shame and remorse that this has not been the
case. For love is of divine origin. (St. Matthew xi. 22, 24.)”
The captain had to mix himself a glass of rum and water before he
felt able to continue his reading.—“How earthly, how material our love
has been! Have our souls lived in that harmony of which Plato speaks?
(Phaidon, Book vi. Chap. ii. Par. 9). Our answer is bound to be in the
negative. What have I been to you? A housekeeper and, oh! The disgrace!
your mistress! Have our souls understood one another? Again we are
bound to answer 'No.'”—“To Hell with all Ottilias and seminaries! Has
she been my housekeeper? She has been my wife and the mother of my
children!”—“Read the book I have sent you! It will answer all your
questions. It voices that which for centuries has lain hidden in the
hearts of all women! Read it, and then tell me if you think that our
union has been a true marriage. Your Gurli.”
His presentiment of evil had not deceived him. The captain was
beside himself; he could not understand what had happened to his wife.
It was worse than religious hypocrisy.
He tore off the wrapper and read on the title page of a book in a
paper cover: Et Dukkehjem af Henrik Ibsen. A Doll's House? Well,
and—? His home had been a charming doll's house; his wife had been his
little doll and he had been her big doll. They had danced along the
stony path of life and had been happy. What more did they want? What
was wrong? He must read the book at once and find out.
He finished it in three hours. His brain reeled. How did it concern
him and his wife? Had they forged bills? No! Hadn't they loved one
another? Of course they had!
He locked himself into his cabin and read the book a second time; he
underlined passages in red and blue, and when the dawn broke, he took
“A well-meant little ablative on the play A Doll's House,
written by the old Pal on board the Vanadis in the Atlantic off
Bordeaux. (Lat. 45 Long. 16 .)
“1. She married him because he was in love with her and that was a
deuced clever thing to do. For if she had waited until she had
in love with someone, it might have happened that he would
fallen in love with her, and then there would have been the devil
pay. For it happens very rarely that both parties are equally in
“2. She forges a bill. That was foolish, but it is not true that
was done for the husband's sake only, for she has never loved
would have been the truth if she had said that she had done it
herself and the children. Is that clear?”
“3. That he wants to embrace her after the ball is only a proof of
love for her, and there is no wrong in that; but it should not be
on the stage. “Il y a des choses qui se font mais que ne se
point,' as the French say, Moreover, if the poet had been
would also save shown an opposite case. 'La petite chienne
le grand chien ne veut pas,' says Ollendorf. (Vide the long
“4. That she, when she discovers that her husband is a fool (and
he is when he offers to condone her offence because it has not
out) decides to leave her children 'not considering herself
bringing them up,' is a not very clever trick of coquetry. If
both been fools (and surely they don't teach at the seminary that
is right to forge bills) they should pull well together in future
“Least of all is she justified in leaving her children's education
the hands of the father whom she despises.”
“5. Nora has consequently every reason for staying with her
when she discovers what an imbecile her husband is.”
“6. The husband cannot be blamed for not sufficiently appreciating
her, for she doesn't reveal her true character until after the
“7. Nora has undoubtedly been a fool; she herself does not deny
“8. There is every guarantee of their pulling together more
in future; he has repented and promised to turn over a new leaf.
has she. Very well! Here's my hand, let's begin again at the
Birds of a feather flock together. There's nothing lost, we've
been fools! You, little Nora, were badly brought up. I, old
didn't know any better. We are both to be pitied. Pelt our
with rotten eggs, but don't hit me alone on the head. I, though a
am every bit as innocent as you are! Perhaps even a little more
for I married for love, you for a home. Let us be friends,
and together teach our children the valuable lesson we have
in the school of life.”
Is that clear? All right then!
This was written by Captain Pal with his stiff fingers and slow
And now, my darling dolly, I have read your book and given you my
opinion. But what have we to do with it? Didn't we love one
Haven't we educated one another and helped one another to rub off
sharp corners? Surely you'll remember that we had many a little
encounter in the beginning! What fads of yours are those? To hell
all Ottilias and seminaries!
The book you sent me is a queer book. It is like a watercourse
an insufficient number of buoys, so that one might run aground at
moment. But I pricked the chart and found calm waters. Only, I
couldn't do it again. The devil may crack these nuts which are
inside when one has managed to break the shell. I wish you peace
happiness and the recovery of your sound common sense.
“How are the little ones? You forgot to mention them. Probably you
were thinking too much of Nora's unfortunate kiddies, (which
only in a play of that sort). Is my little boy crying? My
singing, my dolly dancing? She must always do that if she wants
make her old pal happy. And now may God bless you and prevent
thoughts from rising between us. My heart is sadder than I can
And I am expected to sit down and write a critique on a play. God
bless you and the babies; kiss their rosy cheeks for your
When the captain had sent off his letter, he went into the officers'
mess and drank a glass of punch. The doctor was there, too.
“Have you noticed a smell of old black breeches?” he asked. “I
should like to hoist myself up to the cat block and let a good old N.W.
by N. blow right through me.”
But the doctor did not understand what he was driving at.
“Ottilia, Ottilia!... What she wants is a taste of the handspike.
Send the witch to the quarterdeck and let the second mess loose on her
behind closed hatches. One knows what is good for an old maid.”
“What's the matter with you, old chap?” asked the doctor.
“Plato! Plato! To the devil with Plato! To be six months at sea
makes one sick of Plato. That teaches one ethics! Ethics? I bet a
marlinspike to a large rifle: if Ottilia were married she would cease
talking of Plato.”
“What on earth is the matter?”
“Nothing. Do you hear? You're a doctor. What's the matter with those
women? Isn't it bad for them to remain unmarried? Doesn't it make
The doctor gave him his candid opinion and added that he was sorry
that there were not enough men to go round.
“In a state of nature the male is mostly polygamous; in most cases
there is no obstacle to this, as there is plenty of food for the young
ones (beasts of prey excepted): abnormalities like unmated females do
not exist in nature. But in civilised countries, where a man is lucky
if he earns enough bread, it is a common occurrence, especially as the
females are in preponderance. One ought to treat unmarried women with
kindness, for their lot is a melancholy one.”
“With kindness! That's all very well; but supposing they are
anything but kind themselves!”
And he told the doctor the whole story, even confessing that he had
written a critique on a play.
“Oh! well, no end of nonsense is written,” said the doctor, putting
his hand on the lid of the jug which contained the punch. “In the end
science decides all great questions! Science, and nothing else.”
When the six months were over and the captain, who had been in
constant, but not very pleasant, correspondence with his wife, (she had
sharply criticised his critique), at last landed at Dalaro, he was
received by his wife, all the children, two servants and Ottilia. His
wife was affectionate, but not cordial. She held up her brow to be
kissed. Ottilia was as tall as a stay, and wore her hair short; seen
from the back she looked like a swab. The supper was dull and they
drank only tea. The long boat took in a cargo of children and the
captain was lodged in one of the attics.
What a change! Poor old Pal looked old and felt puzzled.
“To be married and yet not have a wife,” he thought, “it's
On the following morning he wanted to take his wife for a sail. But
the sea did not agree with Ottilia. She had been ill on the steamer.
And, moreover, it was Sunday. Sunday? That was it! Well, they would go
for a walk. They had a lot to talk about. Of course, they had a lot to
say to each other. But Ottilia was not to come with them!
They went out together, arm in arm. But they did not talk much; and
what they said were words uttered for the sake of concealing their
thoughts more than for the sake of exchanging ideas.
They passed the little cholera cemetery and took the road leading to
the Swiss Valley. A faint breeze rustled through the pine trees and
glimpses of the blue sea flashed through the dark branches.
They sat down on a stone. He threw himself on the turf at her feet.
Now the storm is going to burst, he thought, and it did.
“Have you thought at all about our marriage?” she began.
“No,” he replied, with every appearance of having fully considered
the matter, “I have merely felt about it. In my opinion love is a
matter of sentiment; one steers by landmarks and makes port; take
compass and chart and you are sure to founder.”
“Yes, but our home has been nothing but a doll's house.”
“Excuse me, but this is not quite true. You have never forged a
bill; you have never shown your ankles to a syphilitic doctor of whom
you wanted to borrow money against security in natura; you have
never been so romantically silly as to expect your husband to give
himself up for a crime which his wife had committed from ignorance, and
which was not a crime because there was no plaintiff; and you have
never lied to me. I have treated you every bit as honestly as Helmer
treated his wife when he took her into his full confidence and allowed
her to have a voice in the banking business; tolerated her interference
with the appointment of an employee. We have therefore been husband and
wife according to all conceptions, old and new-fashioned.”
“Yes, but I have been your housekeeper!”
“Pardon me, you are wrong. You have never had a meal in the kitchen,
you have never received wages, you have never had to account for money
spent. I have never scolded you because one thing or the other was not
to my liking. And do you consider my work: to reckon and to brace, to
ease off and call out 'Present arms,' count herrings and measure rum,
weigh peas and examine flour, more honourable than yours: to look after
the servants, cater for the house and bring up the children?”
“No, but you are paid for your work! You are your own master! You
are a man!”
“My dear child, do you want me to give you wages? Do you want to be
my housekeeper in real earnest? That I was born a man is an accident. I
might almost say a pity, for it's very nearly a crime to be a man
now-a-days, but it isn't my fault. The devil take him who has stirred
up the two halves of humanity, one against the other! He has much to
answer for. Am I the master? Don't we both rule? Have I ever decided
any important matter without asking for your advice? What? But you—you
bring up the children exactly as you like! Don't you remember that I
wanted you to stop rocking them to sleep because I said it produced a
sort of intoxication? But you had your own way! Another time I had
mine, and then it was your turn again. There was no compromise
possible, because there was no middle course to steer between rocking
and not rocking. We got on very well until now. But you have thrown me
over for Ottilia's sake!”
“Ottilia! always Ottilia! Didn't you yourself send her to me?”
“No, not her personally! But there can be no doubt that it is she
who rules now.”
“You want to separate me from all I care for!”
“Is Ottilia all you care for? It almost looks like it!”
“But I can't send her away now that I have engaged her to teach the
girls pedagogics and Latin.”
“Latin! Great Scott! Are the girls to be ruined?”
“They are to know everything a man knows, so that when the time
comes, their marriage will be a true marriage.”
“But, my love, all husbands don't know Latin! I don't know more than
one single word, and that is 'ablative.' And we have been happy in
spite of it. Moreover, there is a movement to strike off Latin from the
plan of instruction for boys, as a superfluous accomplishment. Doesn't
this teach you a lot? Isn't it enough that the men are ruined, are the
women to be ruined, too? Ottilia, Ottilia, what have I done to you,
that you should treat me like this!”
“Supposing we dropped that matter.—Our love, William, has not been
what it should be. It has been sensual!”
“But, my darling, how could we have had children, if it hadn't? And
it has not been sensual only.”
“Can a thing be both black and white? Tell me that!”
“Of course, it can. There's your sunshade for instance, it is black
outside and white inside.”
“Listen to me, sweetheart, tell me in your own way the thoughts
which are in your heart; don't talk like Ottilia's books. Don't let
your head run away with you; be yourself again, my sweet, darling
“Yours, your property, bought with your labour.”
“Just as I am your property, your husband, at whom no other woman is
allowed to look if she wants to keep her eyes in her head; your
husband, who made a present of himself to you, or rather, gave himself
to you in exchange. Are we not quits?”
“But we have trifled away our lives! Have we ever had any higher
“Yes, the very highest, Gurli; we have not always been playing, we
have had grave hours, too. Have we not called into being generations to
come? Have we not both bravely worked and striven for the little ones,
who are to grow up into men and women? Have you not faced death four
times for their sakes? Have you not robbed yourself of your nights'
rest in order to rock their cradle, and of your days' pleasures, in
order to attend to them? Couldn't we now have a large six-roomed flat
in the main street, and a footman to open the door, if it were not for
the children? Wouldn't you be able to wear silk dresses and pearls? And
I, your old Pal, wouldn't have crows' nests in my knees, if it
hadn't been for the kiddies. Are we really no better than dolls? Are we
as selfish as old maids say? Old maids, rejected by men as no good. Why
are so many girls unmarried? They all boast of proposals and yet they
pose as martyrs! Higher interests! Latin! To dress in low neck dresses
for charitable purposes and leave the children at home, neglected! I
believe that my interests are higher than Ottilia's, when I want strong
and healthy children, who will succeed where we have failed. But Latin
won't help them! Goodbye, Gurli! I have to go back on board. Are you
But she remained sitting on the stone and made no answer. He went
with heavy footsteps, very heavy footsteps. And the blue sea grew dark
and the sun ceased shining.
“Pal, Pal, where is this to lead to?” he sighed, as he stepped over
the fence of the cemetery. “I wish I lay there, with a wooden cross to
mark my place, among the roots of the trees. But I am sure I couldn't
rest, if I were there without her! Oh! Gurli! Gurli!
“Everything has gone wrong, now, mother,” said the captain on a
chilly autumn day to his mother-in-law, to whom he was paying a visit.
“What's the matter, Willy, dear?”
“Yesterday they met at our house. On the day before yesterday at the
Princess's. Little Alice was suddenly taken ill. It was unfortunate, of
course, but I didn't dare to send for Gurli, for fear she might think
that it was done on purpose to annoy her! Oh! when once one has lost
faith.... I asked a friend at the Admiralty yesterday whether it was
legal in Sweden to kill one's wife's friends with tobacco smoke. I was
told it wasn't, and that even if it were it was better not to do it,
for fear of doing more harm than good. If only it happened to be an
admirer! I should take him by the neck and throw him out of the window.
What am I to do?”
“It's a difficult matter, Willy, dear, but we shall be able to think
of a way out of it. You can't go on living like a bachelor.”
“No, of course, I can't.”
“I spoke very plainly to her, a day or two ago. I told her that she
would lose you if she didn't mend her ways.”
“And what did she say?”
“She said you had a right to do as you liked with your body.”
“Indeed! And she, too? A fine theory! My hair is fast turning grey,
“It's a good old scheme to make a wife jealous. It's generally kill
or cure, for if there is any love left, it brings it out.”
“There is, I know, there is!”
“Of course, there is. Love doesn't die suddenly; it gets used up in
the course of the years, perhaps. Have a flirtation with Ottilia, and
we shall see!”
“Flirt with Ottilia? With Ottilia?”
“Try it. Aren't you up in any of the subjects which interest her?”
“Well, yes! They are deep in statistics, now. Fallen women,
infectious diseases. If I could lead the conversation to mathematics! I
am well up in that!”
“There you are! Begin with mathematics—by and by put her shawl
round her shoulders and button her overshoes. Take her home in the
evening. Drink her health and kiss her when Gurli is sure to see it. If
necessary, be a little officious. She won't be angry, believe me. And
give her a big dose of mathematics, so big that Gurli has no option but
to sit and listen to it quietly. Come again in a week's time and tell
me the result.”
The captain went home, read the latest pamphlets on immorality and
at once started to carry out his scheme.
A week later he called on his mother-in-law, serene and smiling, and
greatly enjoying a glass of good sherry. He was in high spirits.
“Now tell me all about it,” said the old woman, pushing her
spectacles up on her forehead.
“It was difficult work at first,” he began, “for she distrusted me.
She thought I was making fun of her. Then I mentioned the effect which
the computation of probabilities had had on the statistics of morality
in America. I told her that it had simply been epoch-making. She knew
nothing about it, but the subject attracted her. I gave her examples
and proved in figures that it was possible to calculate with a certain
amount of probability the percentage of women who are bound to fall.
She was amazed. I saw that her curiosity was aroused and that she was
eager to provide herself with a trump-card for the next meeting. Gurli
was pleased to see that Ottilia and I were making friends, and did
everything to further my scheme. She pushed her into my room and closed
the door; and there we sat all afternoon, making calculations. The old
witch was happy, for she felt that she was making use of me, and after
three hours' work we were fast friends. At supper my wife found that
such old friends as Ottilia and I ought to call one another by their
Christian names. I brought out my good old sherry to celebrate the
occasion. And then I kissed her on the lips, may God forgive me for my
sins! Gurli looked a little startled, but did not seem to mind. She was
radiant with happiness. The sherry was strong and Ottilia was weak. I
wrapped her in her cloak and took her home. I gently squeezed her arm
and told her the names of the stars. She became enthusiastic! She had
always loved the stars, but had never been able to remember their
names. The poor women were not allowed to acquire any knowledge. Her
enthusiasm grew and we parted as the very best of friends who had been
kept apart through misunderstanding each other for such a long, long
“On the next day more mathematics. We worked until supper time.
Gurli came in once or twice and gave us an encouraging nod. At supper
we talked of nothing but stars and mathematics, and Gurli sat there,
silently, listening to us. Again I took her home. On my way back I met
a friend. We went to the Grand Hotel and drank a glass of punch. It was
one o'clock when I came home. Gurli was still up waiting for me.
“'Where have you been all this time, William?' she asked.
“Then the devil entered into my soul and I replied:
“'We had such a lot to talk about that I forgot all about the time.'
“That blow struck home.
“'I don't think it's nice to run about half the night with a young
woman,' she said.
“I pretended to be embarrassed and stammered:
“'If one has so much to say to one another, one forgets sometimes
what is nice and what is not.'
“'What on earth did you talk about?' asked Gurli, pouting. “'I
really can't remember.'
“You managed very well, my boy,” said the old woman. “Go on!”
“On the third day,” continued the captain, “Gurli came in with her
needlework and remained in the room until the lesson in mathematics was
over. Supper was not quite as merry as usual, but on the other hand,
very astronomical. I assisted the old witch with her overshoes, a fact
which made a great impression on Gurli. When Ottilia said good-night,
she only offered her cheek to be kissed. On the way home I pressed her
arm and talked of the sympathy of souls and of the stars as the home of
the souls. I went to the Grand Hotel, had some punch and arrived home
at two o'clock. Gurli was still up; I saw it, but I went straight to my
room, like the bachelor I was, and Gurli did not like to follow me and
ply me with questions.
“On the following day I gave Ottilia a lesson in astronomy. Gurli
declared that she was much interested and would like to be present; but
Ottilia said we were already too far advanced and she would instruct
her in the rudiments later on. This annoyed Gurli and she went away. We
had a great deal of sherry for supper. When Ottilia thanked me for a
jolly evening, I put my arm round her waist and kissed her. Gurli grew
pale. When I buttoned her overshoes, I ... I....”
“Never mind me,” said the old lady, “I am an old woman.”
He laughed. “All the same, mother, she's not so bad, really she
isn't. But when I was going to put on my overcoat, I found to my
astonishment the maid waiting in the hall, ready to accompany Ottilia
home. Gurli made excuses for me; she said I had caught a cold on the
previous evening, and that she was afraid the night air might do me
harm. Ottilia looked self-conscious and left without kissing Gurli.
“I had promised to show Ottilia some astronomical instruments at the
College at twelve o'clock on the following day. She kept her
appointment, but she was much depressed. She had been to see Gurli, who
had treated her very unkindly, so she said. She could not imagine why.
When I came home to dinner I found a great change in Gurli. She was
cold and mute as a fish. I could see that she was suffering. Now was
the time to apply the knife.
“'What did you say to Ottilia?' I commenced. 'She was so unhappy.'
'What did I say to her? Well, I said to her that she was a flirt.
That's what I said.'
'How could you say such a thing?' I replied. 'Surely, you're not
'I! Jealous of her!' she burst out.
'Yes, that's what puzzles me, for I am sure an intelligent and
sensible person like Ottilia could never have designs on another
'No,' (she was coming to the point) 'but another woman's husband
might have designs on her.'
'Huhuhu!' she went for me tooth and nail. I took Ottilia's part;
Gurli called her an old maid; I continued to champion her. On this
afternoon Ottilia did not turn up. She wrote a chilly letter, making
excuses and winding up by saying she could see that she was not wanted.
I protested and suggested that I should go and fetch her. That made
Gurli wild! She was sure that I was in love with Ottilia and cared no
more for herself. She knew that she was only a silly girl, who didn't
know anything, was no good at anything, and—huhuhu!—could never
understand mathematics. I sent for a sleigh and we went for a ride. In
a hotel, overlooking the sea, we drank mulled wine and had an excellent
little supper. It was just as if we were having our wedding day over
again, and then we drove home.”
“And then—?” asked the old woman, looking at him over her
“And then? H'm! May God forgive me for my sins! I seduced my own
little wife. What do you say now, granny?”
“I say that you did very well, my boy! And then?”
“And then? Since then everything has been all right, and now we
discuss the education of the children and the emancipation of women
from superstition and old-maidishness, from sentimentality and the
devil and his ablative, but we talk when we are alone together and that
is the best way of avoiding misunderstandings. Don't you think so, old
“Yes, Willy, dear, and now I shall come and pay you a call.”
“Do come! And you will see the dolls dance and the larks and the
woodpeckers sing and chirrup; you will see a home filled with happiness
up to the roof, for there is no one there waiting for miracles which
only happen in fairy tales. You will see a real doll's house.”
The wild strawberries were getting ripe when he met her for the
first time at the vicarage. He had met many girls before, but when he
saw her he knew; this was she! But he did not dare to tell her
so, and she only teased him for he was still at school.
He was an undergraduate when he met her for the second time. And as
he put his arms round her and kissed her, he saw showers of rockets,
heard the ringing of bells and bugle calls, and felt the earth
trembling under his feet.
She was a woman at the age of fourteen. Her young bosom seemed to be
waiting for hungry little mouths and eager baby fists. With her firm
and elastic step, her round and swelling hips, she looked fit to bear
at any moment a baby under her heart. Her hair was of a pale gold, like
clarified honey, and surrounded her face like an aureole; her eyes were
two flames and her skin was as soft as a glove.
They were engaged to be married and billed and cooed in the wood
like the birds in the garden under the lime trees; life lay before them
like a sunny meadow which the scythe had not yet touched. But he had to
pass his examinations in mining first, and that would take
him,—including the journey abroad—ten years. Ten years!
He returned to the University. In the summer he came back to the
vicarage and found her every bit as beautiful. Three summers he
came—and the fourth time she was pale. There were tiny red lines in
the corners of her nose and her shoulders drooped a little. When the
summer returned for the sixth time, she was taking iron. In the seventh
she went to a watering-place. In the eighth she suffered from
tooth-ache and her nerves were out of order. Her hair had lost its
gloss, her voice had grown shrill, her nose was covered with little
black specks; she had lost her figure, dragged her feet, and her cheeks
were hollow. In the winter she had an attack of nervous fever, and her
hair had to be cut off. When it grew again, it was a dull brown. He had
fallen in love with a golden-haired girl of fourteen —brunettes did
not attract him—and he married a woman of twenty-four, with dull brown
hair, who refused to wear her dresses open at the throat.
But in spite of all this he loved her. His love was less passionate
than it had been; it had become calm and steadfast. And there was
nothing in the little mining-town which could disturb their happiness.
She bore him two boys, but he was always wishing for a girl. And at
last a fair-haired baby girl arrived.
She was the apple of his eye, and as she grew up she resembled her
mother more and more. When she was eight years old, she was just what
her mother had been. And the father devoted all his spare time to his
The housework had coarsened the mother's hands. Her nose had lost
its shape and her temples had fallen in. Constant stooping over the
kitchen range had made her a little round-shouldered. Father and mother
met only at meals and at night. They did not complain, but things had
But the daughter was the father's delight. It was almost as if he
were in love with her. He saw in her the re-incarnation of her mother,
his first impression of her, as beautiful as it had been fleeting. He
was almost self-conscious in her company and never went into her room
when she was dressing. He worshipped her.
But one morning the child remained in bed and refused to get up.
Mama put it down to laziness, but papa sent for the doctor. The shadow
of the angel of death lay over the house: the child was suffering from
diphtheria. Either father or mother must take the other children away.
He refused. The mother took them to a little house in one of the
suburbs and the father remained at home to nurse the invalid. There she
lay! The house was disinfected with sulphur which turned the gilded
picture frames black and tarnished the silver on the dressing-table. He
walked through the empty rooms in silent anguish, and at night, alone
in his big bed, he felt like a widower. He bought toys for the little
girl, and she smiled at him as he sat on the edge of the bed trying to
amuse her with a Punch and Judy show, and asked after mama and her
little brothers. And the father had to go and stand in the street
before the house in the suburbs, and nod to his wife who was looking at
him from the window, and blow kisses to the children. And his wife
signalled to him with sheets of blue and red paper.
But a day came when the little girl took no more pleasure in Punch
and Judy, and ceased smiling; and ceased talking too, for Death had
stretched out his long bony arm and suffocated her. It had been a hard
Then the mother returned, full of remorse because she had deserted
her little daughter. There was great misery in the home, and great
wretchedness. When the doctor wanted to make a post mortem examination,
the father objected. No knife should touch her, for she was not dead to
him; but his resistance was overborne. Then he flew into a passion and
tried to kick and bite the doctor.
When they had bedded her into the earth, he built a monument over
her grave, and for a whole year he visited it every day. In the second
year he did not go quite so often. His work was heavy and he had little
spare time. He began to feel the burden of the years; his step was less
elastic; his wound was healing. Sometimes he felt ashamed when he
realised that he was mourning less and less for his child as time went
by; and finally he forgot all about it.
Two more girls were born to him, but it was not the same thing; the
void left by the one who had passed away could never be filled.
Life was a hard struggle. The young wife who had once been
like—like no other woman on earth, had gradually lost her glamour; the
gilding had worn off the home which had once been so bright and
beautiful. The children had bruised and dented their mother's wedding
presents, spoiled the beds and kicked the legs of the furniture. The
stuffing of the sofa was plainly visible here and there, and the piano
had not been opened for years. The noise made by the children had
drowned the music and the voices had become harsh. The words of
endearment had been cast off with the baby clothes, caresses had
deteriorated into a sort of massage. They were growing old and weary.
Papa was no longer on his knees before mama, he sat in his shabby
armchair and asked her for a match when he wanted to light his pipe.
Yes, they were growing old.
When papa had reached his fiftieth year, mama died. Then the past
awoke and knocked at his heart. When her broken body, which the last
agony had robbed of its few remaining charms, had been laid in its
grave, the picture of his fourteen-year-old sweetheart arose in his
memory. It was for her, whom he had lost so long ago that he mourned
now, and with his yearning for her came remorse. But he had never been
unkind to the old mama; he had been faithful to the fourteen-year-old
vicar's daughter whom he had worshipped on his knees but had never led
to the altar, for he had married an anaemic young woman of twenty-four.
If he were to be quite candid, he would have to confess that it was she
for whom he mourned; it was true, he also missed the good cooking and
unremitting care of the old mama, but that was a different thing.
He was on more intimate terms with his children, now; some of them
had left the old nest, but others were still at home.
When he had bored his friends for a whole year with anecdotes of the
deceased, an extraordinary coincidence happened. He met a young girl of
eighteen, with fair hair, and a striking resemblance to his late wife,
as she had been at fourteen. He saw in this coincidence the finger of a
bountiful providence, willing to bestow on him at last the first one,
the well-beloved. He fell in love with her because she resembled the
first one. And he married her. He had got her at last.
But his children, especially the girls, resented his second
marriage. They found the relationship between their father and
step-mother improper; in their opinion he had been unfaithful to their
mother. And they left his house and went out into the world.
He was happy! And his pride in his young wife exceeded even his
“Only the aftermath!” said his old friends.
When a year had gone by, the young wife presented him with a baby.
Papa, of course, was no longer used to a baby's crying, and wanted his
night's rest. He insisted on a separate bed-room for himself, heedless
of his wife's tears; really, women were a nuisance sometimes. And,
moreover, she was jealous of his first wife. He had been fool enough to
tell her of the extraordinary likeness which existed between the two
and had let her read his first wife's love-letters. She brooded over
these facts now that he neglected her. She realised that she had
inherited all the first one's pet names, that she was only her
understudy, as it were. It irritated her and the attempt to win him for
herself led her into all sorts of mischief. But she only succeeded in
boring him, and in silently comparing the two women, his verdict was
entirely in favour of the first one. She had been so much more gentle
than the second who exasperated him. The longing for his children, whom
he had driven from their home increased his regret, and his sleep was
disturbed by bad dreams for he was haunted by the idea that he had been
unfaithful to his first wife.
His home was no longer a happy one. He had done a deed, which he
would much better have left undone.
He began to spend a good deal of time at his club. But now his wife
was furious. He had deceived her. He was an old man and he had better
look out! An old man who left his young wife so much alone ran a
certain risk. He might regret it some day!
“Old? She called him old? He would show her that he was not old!”
They shared the same room again. But now matters were seven times
worse. He did not want to be bothered with the baby at night. The
proper place for babies was the nursery. No! he hadn't thought so in
the case of the first wife.
He had to submit to the torture.
Twice he had believed in the miracle of Phoenix rising from the
ashes of his fourteen year old love, first in his daughter, then in his
second wife. But in his memory lived the first one only, the little one
from the vicarage, whom he had met when the wild strawberries were
ripe, and kissed under the lime trees in the wood, but whom he had
But now, as his sun was setting and his days grew short, he saw in
his dark hours only the picture of the old mama, who had been kind to
him and his children, who had never scolded, who was plain, who cooked
the meals and patched the little boys' knickers and the skirts of the
little girls. His flush of victory being over, he was able to see facts
clearly. He wondered whether it was not, after all, the old mama who
had been the real true Phoenix, rising, calm and beautiful, from the
ashes of the fourteen year old bird of paradise, laying its eggs,
plucking the feathers from its breast to line the nest for the young
ones, and nourishing them with its life-blood until it died.
He wondered ... but when at last he laid his weary head on the
pillow, never again to lift it up, he was convinced that it was so.
ROMEO AND JULIA
One evening the husband came home with a roll of music under his arm
and said to his wife:
“Let us play duets after supper!”
“What have you got there?” asked his wife.
“Romeo and Julia, arranged for the piano. Do you know it?”
“Yes, of course I do,” she replied, “but I don't remember ever
having seen it on the stage.”
“Oh! It's splendid! To me it is like a dream of my youth, but I've
only heard it once, and that was about twenty years ago.”
After supper, when the children had been put to bed and the house
lay silent, the husband lighted the candles on the piano. He looked at
the lithographed title-page and read the title: Romeo and Julia.
“This is Gounod's most beautiful composition,” he said, “and I don't
believe that it will be too difficult for us.”
As usual his wife undertook to play the treble and they began. D
major, common time, allegro giusto.
“It is beautiful, isn't it?” asked the husband, when they had
finished the overture.
“Y—es,” admitted the wife, reluctantly.
“Now the martial music,” said the husband; “it is exceptionally
fine. I can remember the splendid choruses at the Royal Theatre.”
They played a march.
“Well, wasn't I right?” asked the husband, triumphantly, as if he
had composed “Romeo and Julia” himself.
“I don't know; it rather sounds like a brass band,” answered the
The husband's honour and good taste were involved; he looked for the
Moonshine Aria in the fourth act. After a little searching he came
across an aria for soprano. That must be it.
And he began again.
Tram-tramtram, tram-tramtram, went the bass; it was very easy to
“Do you know,” said his wife, when it was over, “I don't think very
much of it.”
The husband, quite depressed, admitted that it reminded him of a
“I thought so all along,” confessed the wife.
“And I find it antiquated, too. I am surprised that Gounod should be
out of date, already,” he added dejectedly. “Would you like to go on
playing? Let's try the Cavatina and the Trio; I particularly remember
the soprano; she was divine.”
When they stopped playing, the husband looked crestfallen and put
the music away, as if he wanted to shut the door on the past.
“Let's have a glass of beer,” he said. They sat down at the table
and had a glass of beer.
“It's extraordinary,” he began, after a little while, “I never
realised before that we've grown old, for we really must have vied with
Romeo and Julia as to who should age faster. It's twenty years ago
since I heard the opera for the first time. I was a newly fledged
undergraduate then, I had many friends and the future smiled at me. I
was immensely proud of the first down on my upper lip and my little
college cap, and I remember as if it were to-day, the evening when
Fritz, Phil and myself went to hear this opera. We had heard 'Faust'
some years before and were great admirers of Gounod's genius. But Romeo
beat all our expectations. The music roused our wildest enthusiasm. Now
both my friends are dead. Fritz, who was ambitious, was a private
secretary when he died, Phil a medical student; I who aspired to the
position of a minister of state have to content myself with that of a
regimental judge. The years have passed by quickly and imperceptibly.
Of course I have noticed that the lines under my eyes have grown deeper
and that my hair has turned grey at the temples, but I should never
have thought that we had travelled so far on the road to the grave.”
“Yes, my dear, we've grown old; our children could teach us that.
And you must see it in me too, although you don't say anything.”
“How can you say that!”
“Oh! I know only too well, my dear,” continued the wife, sadly; “I
know that I am beginning to lose my good looks, that my hair is growing
thin, that I shall soon lose my front teeth....”
“Just consider how quickly everything passes away”—interrupted her
husband. “It seems to me that one grows old much more rapidly
now-a-days, than one used to do. In my father's house Haydn and Mozart
were played a great deal, although they were dead long before he was
born. And now —now Gounod has grown old-fashioned already! How
distressing it is to meet again the ideals of one's youth under these
altered circumstances! And how horrible it is to feel old age
He got up and sat down again at the piano; he took the music and
turned over the pages as if he were looking for keepsakes, locks of
hair, dried flowers and ends of ribbon in the drawer of a
writing-table. His eyes were riveted on the black notes which looked
like little birds climbing up and down a wire fencing; but where were
the spring songs, the passionate protestations, the jubilant avowals of
the rosy days of first love? The notes stared back at him like
strangers; as if the memory of life's spring-time were grown over with
Yes, that was it; the strings were covered with dust, the sounding
board was dried up, the felt worn away.
A heavy sigh echoed through the room, heavy as if it came from a
hollow chest, and then silence fell.
“But all the same, it is strange,” the husband said suddenly, “that
the glorious prologue is missing in this arrangement. I remember
distinctly that there was a prologue with an accompaniment of harps and
a chorus which went like this.”
He softly hummed the tune, which bubbled up like a stream in a
mountain glen; note succeeded note, his face cleared, his lips smiled,
the lines disappeared, his fingers touched the keys, and drew from them
melodies, powerful, caressing and full of eternal youth, while with a
strong and ringing voice he sang the part of the bass.
His wife started from her melancholy reverie and listened with tears
in her eyes.
“What are you singing?” she asked, full of amazement.
“Romeo and Julia! Our Romeo and our Julia!”
He jumped up from the music stool and pushed the music towards his
“Look! This was the Romeo of our uncles and aunts, this was—read
it—Bellini! Oh! We are not old, after all!”
The wife looked at the thick, glossy hair of her husband, his smooth
brow and flashing eyes, with joy.
“And you? You look like a young girl. We have allowed old Bellini to
make fools of us. I felt that something was wrong.”
“No, darling, I thought so first.”
“Probably you did; that is because you are younger than I am.”
And husband and wife, like a couple of children, laughingly quarrel
over the question of which of them is the elder of the two, and cannot
understand how they could have discovered lines and grey hairs where
there are none.
He was a supernumerary at the Board of Trade and drew a salary of
twelve hundred crowns. He had married a young girl without a penny; for
love, as he himself said, to be no longer compelled to go to dances and
run about the streets, as his friends maintained. But be that as it
may, the life of the newly-wedded couple was happy enough to begin
“How cheaply married people can live,” he said one day, after the
wedding was a thing of the past. The same sum which had been barely
enough to cover the wants of the bachelor now sufficed for husband and
wife. Really, marriage was an excellent institution. One had all one's
requirements within one's four walls: club, cafe, everything; no more
bills of fare, no tips, no inquisitive porter watching one as one went
out with one's wife in the morning.
Life smiled at him, his strength increased and he worked for two.
Never in all his life had he felt so full of overflowing energy; he
jumped out of bed as soon as he woke up in the morning, buoyantly, and
in the highest spirits, he was rejuvenated.
When two months had elapsed, long before his new circumstances had
begun to pall, his wife whispered a certain piece of information into
his ear. New joys! New cares! But cares so pleasant to bear! It was
necessary, however, to increase their income at once, so as to receive
the unknown world-citizen in a manner befitting his dignity. He managed
to obtain an order for a translation.
Baby-clothes lay scattered about all over the furniture, a cradle
stood waiting in the hall, and at last a splendid boy arrived in this
world of sorrows.
The father was delighted. And yet he could not help a vague feeling
of uneasiness whenever he thought of the future. Income and expenditure
did not balance. Nothing remained but to reduce his dress allowance.
His frock coat began to look threadbare at the seams; his shirt
front was hidden underneath a large tie, his trousers were frayed. It
was an undeniable fact that the porters at the office looked down on
him on account of his shabbiness.
In addition to this he was compelled to lengthen his working day.
“It must be the first and last,” he said. But how was it to be done?
He was at a loss to know.
Three months later his wife prepared him in carefully chosen words
that his paternal joys would soon be doubled. It would not be true to
say that he rejoiced greatly at the news. But there was no alternative
now; he must travel along the road he had chosen, even if married life
should prove to be anything but cheap.
“It's true,” he thought, his face brightening, “the younger one will
inherit the baby-clothes of his elder brother. This will save a good
deal of expense, and there will be food enough for them—I shall be
able to feed them just as well as others.”
And the second baby was born.
“You are going it,” said a friend of his, who was a married man
himself, but father of one child only.
“What is a man to do?”
“Use his common-sense.”
“Use his common-sense? But, my dear fellow, a man gets married in
order to ... I mean to say, not only in order to ... but yet in order
to.... Well, anyhow, we are married and that settles the matter.”
“Not at all. Let me tell you something, my dear boy; if you are at
all hoping for promotion it is absolutely necessary that you should
wear clean linen, trousers which are not frayed at the bottom, and a
hat which is not of a rusty brown.”
And the sensible man whispered sensible words into his ear. As the
result, the poor husband was put on short commons in the midst of
But now his troubles began.
To start with his nerves went to pieces, he suffered from insomnia
and did his work badly. He consulted a doctor. The prescription cost
him three crowns; and such a prescription! He was to stop working; he
had worked too hard, his brain was overtaxed. To stop work would mean
starvation for all of them, and to work spelt death, too!
He went on working.
One day, as he was sitting at his desk, stooping over endless rows
of figures, he had an attack of faintness, slipped off his chair and
fell to the ground.
A visit to a specialist—eighteen crowns. A new prescription; he
must ask for sick leave at once, take riding exercise every morning and
have steak and a glass of port for breakfast.
Riding exercise and port!
But the worst feature of the whole business was a feeling of
alienation from his wife which had sprung up in his heart—he did not
know whence it came. He was afraid to go near her and at the same time
he longed for her presence. He loved her, loved her still, but a
certain bitterness was mingled with his love.
“You are growing thin,” said a friend.
“Yes, I believe I've grown thinner,” said the poor husband.
“You are playing a dangerous game, old boy!”
“I don't know what you mean!”
“A married man in half mourning! Take care, my friend!”
“I really don't know what you're driving at.”.
“It's impossible to go against the wind for any length of time. Set
all sails and run, old chap, and you will see that everything will come
right. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about. You understand me.”
He took no notice of the advice for a time, fully aware of the fact
that a man's income does not increase in proportion to his family; at
the same time he had no longer any doubt about the cause of his malady.
It was summer again. The family had gone into the country. On a
beautiful evening husband and wife were strolling along the steep
shore, in the shade of the alder trees, resplendent in their young
green. They sat down on the turf, silent and depressed. He was morose
and disheartened; gloomy thoughts revolved behind his aching brow. Life
seemed a great chasm which had opened to engulf all he loved.
They talked of the probable loss of his appointment; his chief had
been annoyed at his second application for sick leave. He complained of
the conduct of his colleagues, he felt himself deserted by everyone;
but the fact which hurt him more than anything else was the knowledge
that she, too, had grown tired of him.
“Oh! but she hadn't! She loved him every bit as much as she did in
those happy days when they were first engaged. How could he doubt it?”
“No, he didn't doubt it; but he had suffered so much, he wasn't
master of his own thoughts.”
He pressed his burning cheek against hers, put his arm round her and
covered her eyes with passionate kisses.
The gnats danced their nuptial dance above the birch tree without a
thought of the thousands of young ones which their ecstasy would call
into being; the carp laid their eggs in the reed grass, careless of the
millions of their kind to which they gave birth; the swallow made love
in broad daylight, not in the least afraid of the consequences of their
All of a sudden he sprang to his feet and stretched himself like a
sleeper awakening from a long sleep, which had been haunted by evil
dreams, he drank in the balmy air in deep draughts.
“What's the matter?” whispered his wife, while a crimson blush
spread over her face.
“I don't know. All I know is that I live, that I breathe again.”
And radiant, with laughing face and shining eyes, he held out his
arms to her, picked her up as if she were a baby and pressed his lips
to her forehead. The muscles of his legs swelled until they looked like
the muscles of the leg of an antique god, he held his body erect like a
young tree and intoxicated with strength and happiness, he carried his
beloved burden as far as the footpath where he put her down.
“You will strain yourself, sweetheart,” she said, making a vain
attempt to free herself from his encircling arms.
“Never, you darling! I could carry you to the end of the earth, and
I shall carry you, all of you, no matter how many you are now, or how
many you may yet become.”
And they returned home, arm in arm, their hearts singing with
“If the worst comes to the worst, sweet love, one must admit that it
is very easy to jump that abyss which separates body and soul!”
“What a thing to say!”
“If I had only realised it before, I should have been less unhappy.
Oh! those idealists!”
And they entered their cottage.
The good old times had returned and had, apparently, come to stay.
The husband went to work to his office as before. They lived again
through love's spring time. No doctor was required and the high spirits
After the third christening, however, he came to the conclusion that
matters were serious and started playing his old game with the
inevitable results: doctor, sick-leave, riding-exercise, port! But
there must be an end of it, at all costs. Every time the balance-sheet
showed a deficit.
But when, finally, his whole nervous system went out of joint, he
let nature have her own way. Immediately expenses went up and he was
beset with difficulties.
He was not a poor man, it is true, but on the other hand he was not
blest with too many of this world's riches.
“To tell you the truth, old girl,” he said to his wife, “it will be
the same old story over again.”
“I am afraid it will, my dear,” replied the poor woman, who, in
addition to her duties as a mother, had to do the whole work of the
After the birth of her fourth child, the work grew too hard for her
and a nursemaid had to be engaged.
“Now it must stop,” avowed the disconsolate husband. “This must be
Poverty looked in at the door. The foundations on which the house
was built were tottering.
And thus, at the age of thirty, in the very prime of their life, the
young husband and wife found themselves condemned to celibacy. He grew
moody, his complexion became grey and his eyes lost their lustre. Her
rich beauty faded, her fine figure wasted away, and she suffered all
the sorrows of a mother who sees her children growing up in poverty and
One day, as she was standing in the kitchen, frying herrings, a
neighbour called in for a friendly chat.
“How are you?” she began.
“Thank you, I'm not up to very much. How are you?”
“Oh! I'm not at all well. Married life is a misery if one has to be
constantly on one's guard.”
“Do you think you are the only one?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you know what my husband said to me the other day? One ought to
spare the draught cattle! And I suffer under it all, I can tell you.
No, there's no happiness in marriage. Either husband or wife is bound
to suffer. It's one or the other!”
“But what about the men of science who grow fat at the expense of
“They have to think of so many things, and moreover, it is improper
to write about such problems; they must not be discussed openly.”
“But that would be the first necessity!” And the two women fell to
discussing their bitter experiences.
In the following summer they were compelled to remain in town; they
were living in a basement with a view of the gutter, the smell of which
was so objectionable that it was impossible to keep the windows open.
The wife did needlework in the same room in which the children were
playing; the husband, who had lost his appointment on account of his
extreme shabbiness, was copying a manuscript in the adjoining room, and
grumbling at the children's noise. Hard words were bandied through the
It was Whitsuntide. In the afternoon the husband was lying on the
ragged leather sofa, gazing at a window on the other side of the
street. He was watching a woman of evil reputation who was dressing for
her evening stroll. A spray of lilac and two oranges were lying by the
side of her looking-glass.
She was fastening her dress without taking the least notice of his
“She's not having a bad time,” mused the celibate, suddenly kindled
into passion. “One lives but once in this world, and one must live
one's life, happen what will!”
His wife entered the room and caught sight of the object of his
scrutiny. Her eyes blazed; the last feeble sparks of her dead love
glowed under the ashes and revealed themselves in a temporary flash of
“Hadn't we better take the children to the Zoo?” she asked.
“To make a public show of our misery? No, thank you!”
“But it's so hot in here. I shall have to pull down the blinds.”
“You had better open a window!”
He divined his wife's thoughts and rose to do it himself. Out there,
on the edge of the pavement, his four little ones were sitting, in
close proximity of the waste pipes. Their feet were in the dry gutter,
and they were playing with orange peels which they had found in the
sweepings of the road. The sight stabbed his heart, and he felt a lump
rising in his throat. But poverty had so blunted his feelings that he
remained standing at the window with his arms crossed.
All at once two filthy streams gushed from the waste pipes,
inundated the gutter and saturated the feet of the children who
screamed, half suffocated by the stench.
“Get the children ready as quickly as you can,” he called, giving
way at the heart-rending scene.
The father pushed the perambulator with the baby, the other children
clung to the hands and skirts of the mother.
They arrived at the cemetery with its dark-stemmed lime-trees, their
usual place of refuge; here the trees grew luxuriantly, as if the soil
were enriched by the bodies which lay buried underneath it.
The bells were ringing for evening prayers. The inmates of the
poorhouse flocked to the church and sat down in the pews left vacant by
their wealthy owners, who had attended to their souls at the principal
service of the day, and were now driving in their carriages to the
Royal Deer Park.
The children climbed about the shallow graves, most of which were
decorated with armorial bearings and inscriptions.
Husband and wife sat down on a seat and placed the perambulator, in
which the baby lay sucking at its bottle, by their side. Two puppies
were disporting themselves on a grave close by, half hidden by the high
A young and well dressed couple, leading by the hand a little girl
clothed in silk and velvet, passed the seat on which they sat. The poor
copyist raised his eyes to the young dandy and recognised a former
colleague from the Board of Trade who, however, did not seem to see
him. A feeling of bitter envy seized him with such intensity that he
felt more humiliated by this “ignoble sentiment” than by his deplorable
condition. Was he angry with the other man because he filled a position
which he himself had coveted? Surely not. But of a sense of justice,
and his suffering was all the deeper because it was shared by the whole
class of the disinherited. He was convinced that the inmates of the
poorhouse, bowed down under the yoke of public charity, envied his
wife; and he was quite sure that many of the aristocrats who slept all
around him in their graves, under their coats of arms, would have
envied him his children if it had been their lot to die without leaving
an heir to their estates. Certainly, nobody under the sun enjoyed
complete happiness, but why did the plums always fall to the lot of
those who were already sitting in the lap of luxury? And how was it
that the prizes always fell to the organisers of the great lottery? The
disinherited had to be content with the mass said at evening prayers;
to their share fell morality and those virtues which the others
despised and of which they had no need because the gates of heaven
opened readily enough to their wealth. But what about the good and just
God who had distributed His gifts so unevenly? It would be better,
indeed, to live one's life without this unjust God, who had, moreover,
candidly admitted that the “wind blew where it listed”; had He not
himself confessed, in these words, that He did not interfere in the
concerns of man? But failing the church, where should we look for
comfort? And yet, why ask for comfort? Wouldn't it be far better to
strive to make such arrangements that no comfort was needed? Wouldn't
His speculations were interrupted by his eldest daughter who asked
him for a leaf of the lime-tree, which she wanted for a sunshade for
her doll. He stepped on the seat and raised his hand to break off a
little twig, when a constable appeared and rudely ordered him not to
touch the trees. A fresh humiliation. At the same time the constable
requested him not to allow his children to play on the graves, which
was against the regulations.
“We'd better go home,” said the distressed father. “How carefully
they guard the interests of the dead, and how indifferent they are to
the interests of the living.”
And they returned home.
He sat down and began to work. He had to copy the manuscript of an
academical treatise on over-population.
The subject interested him and he read the contents of the whole
The young author who belonged to what was called the ethical school,
was preaching against vice.
“What vice?” mused the copyist. “That which is responsible for our
existence? Which the priest orders us to indulge in at every wedding
when he says: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth?”
The manuscript ran on: Propagation, without holy matrimony, is a
destructive vice, because the fate of the children, who do not receive
proper care and nursing, is a sad one. In the case of married couples,
on the other hand, it becomes a sacred duty to indulge one's desires.
This is proved, among other things, by the fact that the law protects
even the female ovum, and it is right that it should be so.
“Consequently,” thought the copyist, “there is a providence for
legitimate children, but not for illegitimate ones Oh! this young
philosopher! And the law which protects the female ovum! What business,
then, have those microscopic things to detach themselves at every
change of the moon? Those sacred objects ought to be most carefully
guarded by the police!”
All these futilities he had to copy in his best handwriting.
They overflowed with morality, but contained not a single word of
The moral or rather the immoral gist of the whole argument was:
There is a God who feeds and clothes all children born in wedlock; a
God in His heaven, probably, but what about the earth? Certainly, it
was said that He came to earth once and allowed himself to be
crucified, after vainly trying to establish something like order in the
confused affairs of mankind; He did not succeed.
The philosopher wound up by screaming himself hoarse in trying to
convince his audience that the abundant supply of wheat was an
irrefutable proof that the problem of over-population did not exist;
that the doctrine of Malthus was not only false, but criminal, socially
as well as morally.
And the poor father of a family who had not tasted wheaten bread for
years, laid down the manuscript and urged his little ones to fill
themselves with gruel made of rye flour and bluish milk, a dish which
satisfied their craving, but contained no nourishment.
He was wretched, not because he considered water gruel
objectionable, but because he had lost his precious sense of humour,
that magician who can transform the dark rye into golden wheat;
almighty love, emptying his horn of plenty over his poor home, had
vanished. The children had become burdens, and the once beloved wife a
secret enemy despised and despising him.
And the cause of all this unhappiness? The want of bread! And yet
the large store houses of the new world were breaking down under the
weight of the over-abundant supply of wheat. What a world of
contradictions! The manner in which bread was distributed must be at
Science, which has replaced religion, has no answer to give; it
merely states facts and allows the children to die of hunger and the
parents of thirst.
They had been married for ten years. Happily? Well, as happily as
circumstances permitted. They had been running in double harness, like
two young oxen of equal strength, each of which is conscientiously
doing his own share.
During the first year of their marriage they buried many illusions
and realised that marriage was not perfect bliss. In the second year
the babies began to arrive, and the daily toil left them no time for
He was very domesticated, perhaps too much so; his family was his
world, the centre and pivot of which he was. The children were the
radii. His wife attempted to be a centre, too, but never in the middle
of the circle, for that was exclusively occupied by him, and therefore
the radii fell now on the top of one another, now far apart, and their
life lacked harmony.
In the tenth year of their marriage he obtained the post of
secretary to the Board of Prisons, and in that capacity he was obliged
to travel about the country. This interfered seriously with his daily
routine; the thought of leaving his world for a whole month upset him.
He wondered whom he would miss more, his wife or his children, and he
was sure he would miss them both.
On the eve of his departure he sat in the corner of the sofa and
watched his portmanteau being packed. His wife was kneeling on the She
brushed his black suit and folded it carefully, so that it should take
up as little space as possible. He had no idea how to do these things.
She had never looked upon herself as his housekeeper, hardly as his
wife, she was above all things mother: a mother to the children, a
mother to him. She darned his socks without the slightest feeling of
degradation, and asked for no thanks. She never even considered him
indebted to her for it, for did he not give her and the children new
stockings whenever they wanted them, and a great many other things into
the bargain? But for him, she would have to go out and earn her own
living, and the children would be left alone all day.
He sat in the sofa corner and looked at her. Now that the parting
was imminent, he began to feel premature little twinges of longing. He
gazed at her figure. Her shoulders were a little rounded; much bending
over the cradle, ironing board and kitchen range had robbed her back of
its straightness. He, too, stooped a little, the result of his toil at
the writing-table, and he was obliged to wear spectacles. But at the
moment he really was not thinking of himself. He noticed that her
plaits were thinner than they had been and that a faint suggestion of
silver lay on her hair. Had she sacrificed her beauty to him, to him
alone? No, surely not to him, but to the little community which they
formed; for, after all, she had also worked for herself. His hair, too,
had grown thin in the struggle to provide for all of them. He might
have retained his youth a little longer, if there hadn't been so many
mouths to fill, if he had remained a bachelor; but he didn't regret his
marriage for one second.
“It will be a good thing for you to get away for a bit,” said his
wife; “you have been too much at home.”
“I suppose you are glad to get rid of me,” he replied, not without
bitterness; “but I—I shall miss you very much.”
“You are like a cat, you'll miss your cosy fireside, but not me; you
know you won't.”
“And the kiddies?”
“Oh, yes! I daresay you'll miss them when you are away, for all your
scolding when you are with them. No, no, I don't mean that you are
unkind to them, but you do grumble a lot! All the same I won't be
unjust, and I know that you love them.”
At supper he was very tired and depressed. He didn't read the
evening paper, he wanted to talk to his wife. But she was too busy to
pay much attention to him; she had no time to waste; moreover, her ten
years' campaign in kitchen and nursery had taught her self-control.
He felt more sentimental than he cared to show, and the
topsy-turvydom of the room made him fidgety. Scraps of his daily life
lay scattered all over chairs and chests of drawers; his black
portmanteau yawned wide-open like a coffin; his white linen was
carefully laid on the top of his black suit, which showed slight traces
of wear and tear at the knees and elbows. It seemed to him that he
himself was lying there, wearing a white shirt with a starched front.
Presently they would close the coffin and carry it away.
On the following morning—it was in August—he rose early and
dressed hurriedly. His nerves were unstrung. He went into the nursery
and kissed the children who stared at him with sleepy eyes. Then he
kissed his wife, got into a cab, and told the driver to drive him to
The journey, which he made in the company of his Board, did him
good; it really was a good thing for him to get out of his groove;
domesticity lay behind him like a stuffy bedroom, and on the arrival of
the train at Linkoping he was in high spirits.
An excellent dinner had been ordered at the best hotel and the
remainder of the day was spent in eating it. They drank the health of
the Lord Lieutenant; no one thought of the prisoners on whose behalf
the journey had been undertaken.
Dinner over, he had to face a lonely evening in his solitary room. A
bed, two chairs, a table, a washing-stand and a wax candle, which threw
its dim light on bare walls. He couldn't suppress a feeling of
nervousness. He missed all his little comforts,—slippers,
dressing-gown, pipe rack and writing table; all the little details
which played an important part in his daily life. And the kiddies? And
his wife? What were they doing? Were they all right? He became restless
and depressed. When he wanted to wind up his watch, he found that he
had left his watch-key at home. It was hanging on the watch-stand which
his wife had given him before they were married. He went to bed and lit
a cigar. Then he wanted a book out of his portmanteau and he had to get
up again. Everything was packed so beautifully, it was a pity to
disturb it. In looking for the book, he came across his slippers. She
had forgotten nothing. Then he found the book. But he couldn't read. He
lay in bed and thought of the past, of his wife, as she had been ten
years ago. He saw her as she had been then; the picture of her, as she
now was, disappeared in the blue-grey clouds of smoke which rose in
rings and wreaths to the rain-stained ceiling. An infinite yearning
came over him. Every harsh word he had ever spoken to her now grated on
his ears; he thought remorsefully of every hour of anguish he had
caused her. At last he fell asleep.
The following day brought much work and another banquet with a toast
to the Prison-Governor—the prisoners were still unremembered. In the
evening solitude, emptiness, coldness. He felt a pressing need to talk
to her. He fetched some notepaper and sat down to write. But at the
very outset he was confronted by a difficulty. How was he to address
her? Whenever he had sent her a few lines to say that he would not be
home for dinner, he had always called her “Dear Mother.” But now he was
not going to write to the mother, but to his fiancee, to his beloved
one. At last he made up his mind and commenced his letter with “My
Darling Lily,” as he had done in the old days. At first he wrote slowly
and with difficulty, for so many beautiful words and phrases seemed to
have disappeared from the clumsy, dry language of every-day life; but
as he warmed to his work, they awakened in his memory like forgotten
melodies, valse tunes, fragments of poems, elder-blossoms, and
swallows, sunsets on a mirror-like sea. All his memories of the
springtime of life came dancing along in clouds of gossamer and
enveloped her. He drew a cross at the bottom of the page, as lovers do,
and by the side of it he wrote the words: “Kiss here.”
When the letter was finished and he read it through, his cheeks
burnt and he became self-conscious. He couldn't account for the reason.
But somehow he felt that he had shown his naked soul to a stranger.
In spite of this feeling he posted the letter.
A few days elapsed before he received a reply. While he was waiting
for it, he was a prey to an almost childish bashfulness and
At last the answer came. He had struck the right note, and from the
din and clamour of the nursery, and the fumes and smell of the kitchen,
a song arose, clear and beautiful, tender and pure, like first love.
Now an exchange of love-letters began. He wrote to her every night,
and sometimes he sent her a postcard as well during the day. His
colleagues didn't know what to think of him. He was so fastidious about
his dress and personal appearance, that they suspected him of a love
affair. And he was in love—in love again. He sent her his photograph,
without the spectacles, and she sent him a lock of her hair.
Their language was simple like a child's, and he wrote on coloured
paper ornamented with little doves. Why shouldn't they? They were a
long way off forty yet, even though the struggle for an existence had
made them feel that they were getting old. He had neglected her during
the last twelvemonth, not so much from indifference as from respect—he
always saw in her the mother of his children.
The tour of inspection was approaching its end. He was conscious of
a certain feeling of apprehension when he thought of their meeting. He
had corresponded with his sweetheart; should he find her in the mother
and housewife? He dreaded a disappointment. He shrank at the thought of
finding her with a kitchen towel in her hand, or the children clinging
to her skirts. Their first meeting must be somewhere else, and they
must meet alone. Should he ask her to join him at Waxholm, in the
Stockholm Archipelago, at the hotel where they had spent so many happy
hours during the period of their engagement? Splendid idea! There they
could, for two whole days, re-live in memory the first beautiful spring
days of their lives, which had flown, never to return again.
He sat down and made the suggestion in an impassioned love-letter.
She answered by return agreeing to his proposal, happy that the same
idea had occurred to both of them.
* * * * *
Two days later he arrived at Waxholm and engaged rooms at the hotel.
It was a beautiful September day. He dined alone, in the great
dining-room, drank a glass of wine and felt young again. Everything was
so bright and beautiful. There was the blue sea outside; only the birch
trees on the shore had changed their tints. In the garden the dahlias
were still in full splendour, and the perfume of the mignonette rose
from the borders of the flower beds. A few bees still visited the dying
calyces but returned disappointed to their hives. The fishing boats
sailed up the Sound before a faint breeze, and in tacking the sails
fluttered and the sheets shook; the startled seagulls rose into the air
screaming, and circled round the fishermen who were fishing from their
boats for small herring.
He drank his coffee on the verandah, and began to look out for the
steamer which was due at six o'clock.
Restlessly, apprehensively, he paced the verandah, anxiously
watching fiord and Sound on the side where Stockholm lay, so as to
sight the steamer as soon as she came into view.
At last a little cloud of smoke showed like a dark patch on the
horizon. His heart thumped against his ribs and he drank a liqueur.
Then he went down to the shore.
Now he could see the funnel right in the centre of the Sound, and
soon after he noticed the flag on the fore-topmast.... Was she really
on the steamer, or had she been prevented from keeping the tryst? It
was only necessary for one of the children to be ill, and she wouldn't
be there, and he would have to spend a solitary night at the hotel. The
children, who during the last few weeks had receded into the
background, now stepped between her and him. They had hardly mentioned
them in their last letters, just as if they had been anxious to be rid
of all eyewitnesses and spoil-sports.
He stamped on the creaking landing-stage and then remained standing
motionless near a bollard staring straight at the steamer which
increased in size as she approached, followed in her wake by a river of
molten gold that spread over the blue, faintly rippled expanse. Now he
could distinguish people on the upper deck, a moving crowd, and sailors
busy with the ropes, now a fluttering speck of white near the
wheel-house. There was no one besides him on the landing-stage, the
moving white speck could only be meant for him, and no one would wave
to him but her. He pulled out his handkerchief and answered her
greeting, and in doing so he noticed that his handkerchief was not a
white one; he had been using coloured ones for years for the sake of
The steamer whistled, signalled, the engines stopped, she came
alongside, and now he recognised her. Their eyes met in greeting; the
distance was still too great for words. Now he could see her being
pushed slowly by the crowd across the little bridge. It was she, and
yet it wasn't.
Ten years stretched between her and the picture of her which he had
had in his mind. Fashion had changed, the cut of the clothes was
different. Ten years ago her delicate face with its olive complexion
was framed by the cap which was then worn, and which left the forehead
free; now her forehead was hidden by a wicked imitation of a bowler
hat. Ten years ago the beautiful lines of her figure were clearly
definable under the artistic draperies of her cloak which playfully now
hid, now emphasised the curve of her shoulders and the movement of her
arms; now her figure was completely disguised by a long driving coat
which followed the lines of her dress but completely concealed her
figure. As she stepped off the landing-bridge, he caught sight of her
little foot with which he had fallen in love, when it was encased in a
buttoned boot, shaped on natural lines; the shoe which she was now
wearing resembled a pointed Chinese slipper, and did not allow her foot
to move in those dancing rhythms which had bewitched him.
It was she and yet it was not she! He embraced and kissed her. She
enquired after his health and he asked after the children. Then they
walked up the strand.
Words came slowly and sounded dry and forced. How strange! They were
almost shy in each other's presence, and neither of them mentioned the
In the end he took heart of grace and asked:
“Would you like to go for a walk before sunset?”
“I should love to,” she replied, taking his arm.
They went along the high-road in the direction of the little town.
The shutters of all the summer residences were closed; the gardens
plundered. Here and there an apple, hidden among the foliage, might
still be found hanging on the trees, but there wasn't a single flower
in the flower beds. The verandahs, stripped of their sunblinds, looked
like skeletons; where there had been bright eyes and gay laughter,
“How autumnal!” she said.
“Yes, the forsaken villas look horrible.”
They walked on.
“Let us go and look at the house where we used to live.”
“Oh, yes! It will be fun.”
They passed the bathing vans.
Over there, squeezed in between the pilot's and the gardener's
cottages, stood the little house with its red fence, its verandah and
its little garden.
Memories of past days awoke. There was the bedroom where their first
baby had been born. What rejoicing! What laughter! Oh! youth and
gaiety! The rose-tree which they had planted was still there. And the
strawberry-bed which they had made—no, it existed no longer, grass had
grown over it. In the little plantation traces of the swing which they
had put up were still visible, but the swing itself had disappeared.
“Thank you so much for your beautiful letters,” she said, gently
pressing his arm.
He blushed and made no reply.
Then they returned to the hotel, and he told her anecdotes, in
connection with his tour.
He had ordered dinner to be served in the large dining-room at the
table where they used to sit. They sat down without saying grace.
It was a tete-a-tete dinner. He took the bread-basket and offered
her the bread. She smiled. It was a long time since he had been so
attentive. But dinner at a seaside hotel was a pleasant change and soon
they were engaged in a lively conversation. It was a duet in which one
of them extolled the days that had gone, and the other revived memories
of “once upon a time.” They were re-living the past. Their eyes shone
and the little lines in their faces disappeared. Oh! golden days! Oh!
time of roses which comes but once, if it comes at all, and which is
denied to so many of us—so many of us.
At dessert he whispered a few words into the ear of the waitress;
she disappeared and returned a few seconds later with a bottle of
“My dear Axel, what are you thinking of?”
“I am thinking of the spring that has past, but will return again.”
But he wasn't thinking of it exclusively, for at his wife's
reproachful words there glided through the room, catlike, a dim vision
of the nursery and the porridge bowl.
However—the atmosphere cleared again; the golden wine stirred their
memories, and again they lost themselves in the intoxicating rapture of
He leaned his elbow on the table and shaded his eyes with his hand,
as if he were determined to shut out the present—this very present
which, —after all, had been of his own seeking.
The hours passed. They left the dining-room and went into the
drawing-room which boasted a piano, ordering their coffee to be brought
“I wonder how the kiddies are?” said she, awakening to the hard
facts of real life.
“Sit down and sing to me,” he answered, opening the instrument.
“What would you like me to sing? You know I haven't sung a note for
He was well aware of it, but he did want a song.
She sat down before the piano and began to play. It was a squeaking
instrument that reminded one of the rattling of loose teeth.
“What shall I sing?” she asked, turning round on the music-stool.
“You know, darling,” he replied, not daring to meet her eyes.
“Your song! Very well, if I can remember it.” And she sang: “Where
is the blessed country where my beloved dwells?”
But alas! Her voice was thin and shrill and emotion made her sing
out of tune. At times it sounded like a cry from the bottom of a soul
which feels that noon is past and evening approaching. The fingers
which had done hard work strayed on the wrong keys. The instrument,
too, had seen its best days; the cloth on the hammers had worn away; it
sounded as if the springs touched the bare wood.
When she had finished her song, she sat for a while without turning
round, as if she expected him to come and speak to her. But he didn't
move; not a sound broke the deep silence. When she turned round at
last, she saw him sitting on the sofa, his cheeks wet with tears. She
felt a strong impulse to jump up, take his head between her hands and
kiss him as she had done in days gone by, but she remained where she
was, immovable, with downcast eyes.
He held a cigar between his thumb and first finger. When the song
was finished, he bit off the end and struck a match.
“Thank you, Lily,” he said, puffing at his cigar, “will you have
your coffee now?”
They drank their coffee, talked of summer holidays in general and
suggested two or three places where they might go next summer. But
their conversation languished and they repeated themselves.
At last he yawned openly and said: “I'm off to bed.”
“I'm going, too,” she said, getting up. “But I'll get a breath of
fresh air first, on the balcony.”
He went into the bed-room. She lingered for a few moments in the
dining-room, and then talked to the landlady for about half an hour of
spring-onions and woollen underwear.
When the landlady had left her she went into the bedroom and stood
for a few minutes at the door, listening. No sound came from within.
His boots stood in the corridor. She opened the door gently and went
in. He was asleep.
He was asleep!
* * * * *
At breakfast on the following morning he had a headache, and she
“What horrible coffee,” he said, with a grimace.
“Brazilian,” she said, shortly.
“What shall we do to-day?” he asked, looking at his watch.
“Hadn't you better eat some bread and butter, instead of grumbling
at the coffee?” she said.
“Perhaps you're right,” he answered, “and I'll have a liqueur at the
same time. That champagne last night, ugh!”
He asked for bread and butter and a liqueur and his temper improved.
“Let's go to the Pilot's Hill and look at the view.”
They rose from the breakfast table and went out.
The weather was splendid and the walk did them good. But they walked
slowly; she panted, and his knees were stiff; they drew no more
parallels with the past.
They walked across the fields. The grass had been cut long ago,
there wasn't a single flower anywhere. They sat down on some large
He talked of the Board of Prisons and his office. She talked of the
Then they walked on in silence. He looked at his watch.
“Three hours yet till dinner time,” he said. And he wondered how
they could kill time on the next day.
They returned to the hotel. He asked for the papers. She sat down by
the side of him with a smile on her lips.
They talked little during dinner. After dinner she mentioned the
“For heaven's sake, leave the servants alone!” he exclaimed.
“Surely we haven't come here to quarrel!”
“Am I quarrelling?”
“Well, I'm not!”
An awkward pause followed. He wished somebody would come. The
children! Yes! This tete-a-tete embarrassed him, but he felt a pain in
his heart when he thought of the bright hours of yesterday.
“Let's go to Oak Hill,” she said, “and gather wild strawberries.”
“There are no wild strawberries at this time of the year, it's
“Let's go all the same.”
And they went. But conversation was difficult. His eyes searched for
some object on the roadside which would serve for a peg on which to
hang a remark, but there was nothing. There was no subject which they
hadn't discussed. She knew all his views on everything and disagreed
with most of them. She longed to go home, to the children, to her own
fireside. She found it absurd to make a spectacle of herself in this
place and be on the verge of a quarrel with her husband all the time.
After a while they stopped, for they were tired. He sat down and
began to write in the sand with his walking stick. He hoped she would
provoke a scene.
“What are you thinking of?” she asked at last.
“I?” he replied, feeling as if a burden were falling off his
shoulders, “I am thinking that we are getting old, mother: our innings
are over, and we have to be content with what has been. If you are of
the same mind, we'll go home by the night boat.”
“I have thought so all along, old man, but I wanted to please you.”
“Then come along, we'll go home. It's no longer summer, autumn is
They returned to the hotel, much relieved.
He was a little embarrassed on account of the prosaic ending of the
adventure, and felt an irresistible longing to justify it from a
“You see, mother,” he said, “my lo—h'm” (the word was too strong)
“my affection for you has undergone a change in the course of time. It
has developed, broadened; at first it was centred on the individual,
but later on, on the family as a whole. It is not now you, personally,
that I love, nor is it the children, but it is the whole....
“Yes, as my uncle used to say, children are lightning conductors!”
After his philosophical explanation he became his old self again. It
was pleasant to take off his frock coat; he felt, as if he were getting
into his dressing-gown.
When they entered the hotel, she began at once to pack, and there
she was in her element.
They went downstairs into the saloon as soon as they got on board.
For appearance sake, however, he asked her whether she would like to
watch the sunset; but she declined.
At supper he helped himself first, and she asked the waitress the
price of black bread.
When he had finished his supper, he remained sitting at the table,
lingering over a glass of porter. A thought which had amused him for
some time, would no longer be suppressed.
“Old fool, what?” he said, lifting his glass and smiling at his wife
who happened to look at him at the moment.
She did not return his smile but her eyes, which had flashed for a
second, assumed so withering an expression of dignity that he felt
The spell was broken, the last trace of his old love had vanished;
he was sitting opposite the mother of his children; he felt small.
“No need to look down upon me because I have made a fool of myself
for a moment,” she said gravely. “But in a man's love there is always a
good deal of contempt; it is strange.”
“And in the love of a woman?”
“Even more, it is true! But then, she has every cause.”
“It's the same thing—with a difference. Probably both of them are
wrong. That which one values too highly, because it is difficult of
attainment, is easily underrated when one has obtained it.”
“Why does one value it too highly?”
“Why is it so difficult of attainment?”
The steam whistle above their heads interrupted their conversation.
When they had arrived home, and he saw her again among her children,
he realised that his affection for her had undergone a change, and that
her affection for him had been transferred to and divided amongst all
these little screamers. Perhaps her love for him had only been a means
to an end. His part had been a short one, and he felt deposed. If he
had not been required to earn bread and butter, he would probably have
been cast off long ago.
He went into his study, put on his dressing-gown and slippers,
lighted his pipe and felt at home.
Outside the wind lashed the rain against the window panes, and
whistled in the chimney.
When the children had been put to bed, his wife came and sat by him.
“No weather to gather wild strawberries,” she said.
“No, my dear, the summer is over and autumn is here.”
“Yes, it is autumn,” she replied, “but it is not yet winter, there
is comfort in that.”
“Very poor comfort if we consider that we live but once.”
“Twice when one has children; three times if one lives to see one's
“And after that, the end.”
“Unless there is a life after death.”
“We cannot be sure of that! Who knows? I believe it, but my faith is
“But it is good to believe it. Let us have faith! Let us believe
that spring will come again! Let us believe it!”
“Yes, let us believe it,” he said, gathering her to his breast.
His father died early and from that time forth he was in the hands
of a mother, two sisters and several aunts. He had no brother. They
lived on an estate in the Swedish province, Soedermanland, and had no
neighbours with whom they could be on friendly terms. When he
was seven years old, a governess was engaged to teach him and his
sisters, and about the same time a girl cousin came to live with them.
He shared his sisters' bedroom, played their games and went bathing
with them; nobody looked upon him as a member of the other sex. Before
long his sisters took him in hand and became his schoolmasters and
He was a strong boy to start with, but left to the mercy of so many
doting women, he gradually became a helpless molly-coddle.
Once he made an attempt to emancipate himself and went to play with
the boys of the cottagers. They spent the day in the woods, climbed the
trees, robbed the birds' nests and threw stones at the squirrels.
Frithiof was as happy as a released prisoner, and did not come home to
dinner. The boys gathered whortle-berries, and bathed in the lake. It
was the first really enjoyable day of his life.
When he came home in the evening, he found the whole house in great
commotion. His mother though anxious and upset, did not conceal her joy
at his return; Aunt Agatha, however, a spinster, and his mother's
eldest sister, who ruled the house, was furious. She maintained that it
would be a positive crime not to punish him. Frithiof could not
understand why it should be a crime, but his aunt told him that
disobedience was a sin. He protested that he had never been forbidden
to play with the children of the cottagers. She admitted it but said
that, of course, there could never have been two questions about it.
And she remained firm, and regardless of his mother's pleading eyes,
took him away to give him a whipping in her own room. He was eight
years old and fairly big for his age.
When the aunt touched his waist-belt to unbutton his knickers, a
cold shiver ran down his back; he gasped and his heart thumped against
his ribs. He made no sound, but stared, horror-struck, at the old woman
who asked him, almost caressingly, to be obedient and not to offer any
resistance. But when she laid hands on his shirt, he grew hot with
shame and fury. He sprang from the sofa on which she had pushed him,
hitting out right and left. Something unclean, something dark and
repulsive, seemed to emanate from this woman, and the shame of his sex
rose up in him as against an assailant.
But the aunt, mad with passion, seized him, threw him on a chair and
beat him. He screamed with rage, pain he did not feel, and with
convulsive kicks tried to release himself; but all of a sudden he lay
still and was silent.
When the old woman let him go, he remained where he was, motionless.
“Get up!” she said, in a broken voice.
He stood up and looked at her. One of her cheeks was pale, the other
crimson. Her eyes glowed strangely and she trembled all over. He looked
at her curiously, as one might examine a wild beast, and all of a
sudden a supercilious smile raised his upper lip; it seemed to him as
if his contempt gave him an advantage over her. “She-devil!” He flung
the word, newly acquired from the children of the cottagers, into her
face, defiantly and scornfully, seized his clothes and flew downstairs
to his mother, who was sitting in the dining-room, weeping.
He wanted to open his heart to her and complain of his aunt's
treatment, but she had not the courage to comfort him. So he went into
the kitchen where the maids consoled him with a handful of currants.
From this day on he was no longer allowed to sleep in the nursery
with his sisters, but his mother had his bed removed to her own
bedroom. He found his mother's room stuffy and the new arrangement
dull; she frequently disturbed his sleep by getting up and coming to
his bed in the night to see whether he was covered up; then he flew
into a rage and answered her questions peevishly.
He was never allowed to go out without being carefully wrapped up by
someone, and he had so many mufflers that he never knew which one to
put on. Whenever he tried to steal out of the house, someone was sure
to see him from the window and call him back to put on an overcoat.
By and by his sisters' games began to bore him. His strong arms no
longer wanted to play battledore and shuttlecock, they longed to throw
stones. The squabbles over a petty game of croquet, which demanded
neither muscle nor brain, irritated him.
The governess was another one of his trials. She always spoke to him
in French and he invariably answered her in Swedish. A vague disgust
with his whole life and surroundings began to stir in him.
The free and easy manner in which everybody behaved in his presence
offended him, and he retaliated by heartily loathing all with whom he
came in contact. His mother was the only one who considered his
feelings to a certain extent: she had a big screen put round his bed.
Ultimately the kitchen and the servants' hall became his refuge;
there everything he did was approved of. Occasionally, of course,
matters were discussed there which might have aroused a boy's
curiosity, but for him there were no secrets. On one occasion, for
instance, he had accidentally come to the maids' bathing-place. The
governess, who was with him, screamed, he could not understand why, but
he stopped and talked to the girls who were standing or lying about in
the water. Their nudity made no impression upon him.
He grew up into a youth. An inspector was engaged to teach him
farming for he was, of course, to take over the management of the
estate in due time. They chose an old man who held the orthodox faith.
The old man's society was not exactly calculated to stimulate a young
man's brain, but it was an improvement on the old conditions. It opened
new points of view to him and roused him to activity. But the inspector
received daily and hourly so many instructions from the ladies, that he
ended by being nothing but their mouth-piece.
At the age of fifteen Frithiof was confirmed, received a present of
a gold watch and was allowed to go out on horseback; he was not
permitted, however, to realise his greatest ambition, namely to go
shooting. True, there was no longer any fear of a whipping from his
arch-enemy, but he dreaded his mother's tears. He always remained a
child, and never managed to throw off the habit of giving way to the
judgment of other people.
The years passed; he had attained his twentieth year. One day he was
standing in the kitchen watching the cook, who was busy scaling a
perch. She was a pretty young woman with a delicate complexion. He was
teasing her and finally put his hand down her back.
“Do behave yourself, now, Mr. Frithiof,” said the girl.
“But I am behaving myself,” he replied, becoming more and more
“If mistress should see you!”
“Well supposing she did?”
At this moment his mother passed the open kitchen door; she
instantly turned away and walked across the yard.
Frithiof found the situation awkward and slunk away to his bed-room.
A new gardener entered their service. In their wisdom, anxious to
avoid trouble with the maids, the ladies had chosen a married man. But,
as misfortune would have it, the gardener had been married long enough
to be the father of an exceedingly pretty young daughter.
Frithiof quickly discovered the sweet blossom among the other roses
in the garden, and poured out all the good-will which lay stored up in
his heart for that half of humanity to which he did not belong,
on this young girl, who was rather well developed and not without
He spent a good deal of his time in the garden and stopped to talk
to her whenever he found her working at one of the flower-beds or
cutting flowers. She did not respond to his advances, but this only had
the effect of stimulating his passion.
One day he was riding through the wood, haunted, as usual, by
visions of her loveliness which, in his opinion, reached the very
pinnacle of perfection. He was sick with longing to meet her alone,
freed from all fear of incurring some watcher's displeasure. In his
heated imagination the desire of being near her had assumed such
enormous proportions, that he felt that life without her would be
He held the reins loosely in his hand, and the horse picked his way
leisurely while its rider sat on its back wrapped in deep thought. All
of a sudden something light appeared between the trees and the
gardener's daughter emerged from the underwood and stepped out on the
Frithiof dismounted and took off his hat. They walked on, side by
side, talking, while he dragged his horse behind him. He spoke in vague
words of his love for her; but she rejected all his advances.
“Why should we talk of the impossible?” she asked.
“What is impossible?” he exclaimed.
“That a wealthy gentleman like you should marry a poor girl like
There was no denying the aptitude of her remark, and Frithiof felt
that he was worsted. His love for her was boundless, but he could see
no possibility of bringing his doe safely through the pack which
guarded house and home; they would tear her to pieces.
After this conversation he gave himself up to mute despair.
In the autumn the gardener gave notice and left the estate without
giving a reason. For six weeks Frithiof was inconsolable, for he had
lost his first and only love; he would never love again.
In this way the autumn slowly passed and winter stood before the
door. At Christmas a new officer of health came into the neighbourhood.
He had grown-up children, and as the aunts were always ill, friendly
relations were soon established between the two families. Among the
doctor's children was a young girl and before long Frithiof was head
over ears in love with her. He was at first ashamed of his infidelity
to his first love, but he soon came to the conclusion that love was
something impersonal, because it was possible to change the object of
one's tenderness; it was almost like a power of attorney made out on
As soon as his guardians got wind of this new attachment, the mother
asked her son for a private interview.
“You have now arrived at that age,” she began, “when a man begins to
look out for a wife.”
“I have already done that, my dear mother,” he replied.
“I'm afraid you've been too hasty,” she said. “The girl of whom, I
suppose, you are thinking, doesn't possess the moral principles which
an educated man should demand.”
“What? Amy's moral principles! Who has anything to say against
“I won't say a word against the girl herself, but her father, as you
know, is a freethinker.”
“I shall be proud to be related to a man who can think freely,
without considering his material interests.”
“Well, let's leave him out of the question; you are forgetting, my
dear Frithiof, that you are already bound elsewhere.”
“What? Do you mean....”
“Yes; you have played with Louisa's heart.”
“Are you talking of cousin Louisa?”
“I am. Haven't you looked upon yourselves as fiances since your
earliest childhood? Don't you realise that she has put all her faith
and trust in you?”
“It's you who have played with us, driven us together, not I!”
answered the son.
“Think of your old mother, think of your sisters, Frithiof. Do you
want to bring a stranger into this house which has always been our
home, a stranger who will have the right to order us about?”
“Oh! I see; Louisa is the chosen mistress!”
“There's no chosen mistress, but a mother always has a right to
choose the future wife of her son; nobody is so well fitted to
undertake such a task. Do you doubt my good faith? Can you possibly
suspect me, your mother, of a wish to injure you?” “No, no! but I—I
don't love Louisa; I like her as a sister, but....”
“Love? Nothing in all the world is so inconstant as love! It's folly
to rely on it, it passes away like a breath; but friendship, conformity
of views and habits, similar interests and a long acquaintanceship,
these are the surest guarantees of a happy marriage. Louisa is a
capable girl, domesticated and methodical, she will make your home as
happy as you could wish.”
Frithiof's only way of escape was to beg his mother for time to
consider the matter.
Meanwhile all the ladies of the household had recovered their
health, so that the doctor was no longer required. Still he called one
day, but he was treated like a burglar who had come to spy out the
land. He was a sharp man and saw at once how matters stood. Frithiof
returned his call but was received coldly. This was the end of their
Frithiof came of age.
Frantic attempts were now made to carry the fortress by storm. The
aunts cringed before the new master and tried to prove to him that they
could not be dispensed with, by treating him as if he were a child. His
sisters mothered him more than ever, and Louisa began to devote a great
deal of attention to her dress. She laced herself tightly and curled
her hair. She was by no means a plain girl, but she had cold eyes and a
Frithiof remained indifferent; as far as he was concerned she was
sexless; he had never looked at her with the eyes of a man. But now,
after the conversation with his mother, he could not help a certain
feeling of embarrassment in her presence, especially as she seemed to
seek his society. He met her everywhere; on the stairs, in the garden,
in the stables even. One morning, when he was still in bed, she came
into his room to ask him for a pin; she was wearing a dressing-jacket
and pretended to be very shy.
He took a dislike to her, but nevertheless she was always in his
In the meantime the mother had one conversation after another with
her son, and aunt and sisters never ceased hinting at the anticipated
Life was made a burden to him. He saw no way of escape from the net
in which he had been caught. Louisa was no longer his sister and
friend, though he did not like her any the better for it; his constant
dwelling on the thought of marrying her had had the result of making
him realise that she was a woman, an unsympathetic woman, it was true,
but still a woman. His marriage would mean a change in his position,
and, perhaps, delivery from bondage. There were no other girls in the
neighbourhood, and, after all, she was probably as good as any other
And so he went one day to his mother and told her that he had made
up his mind. He would marry Louisa on condition that he should have an
establishment of his own in one of the wings of the house, and his own
table. He also insisted that his mother should propose for him, for he
could not bring himself to do it.
The compromise was accepted and Louisa was called in to receive
Frithiof's embrace and timid kiss. They both wept for reasons which
neither of them understood. They felt ashamed of themselves for the
rest of the day. Afterwards everything went on as before, but the
motherliness of aunts and sisters knew no bounds. They furnished the
wing, arranged the rooms, settled everything; Frithiof was never
consulted in the matter.
The preparations for the wedding were completed. Old friends, buried
in the provinces, were hunted up and invited to be present at the
The wedding took place.
On the morning after his wedding day Frithiof was up early. He left
his bed-room as quickly as possible, pretending that his presence was
necessary in the fields.
Louisa, who was still sleepy, made no objection. But as he was going
out she called after him:
“You won't forget breakfast at eleven!”
It sounded like a command.
He went to his den, put on a shooting coat and waterproof boots and
took his gun, which he kept concealed in his wardrobe. Then he went out
into the wood.
It was a beautiful October morning. Everything was covered with hoar
frost. He walked quickly as if he were afraid of being called back, or
as if he were trying to escape from something. The fresh air had the
effect of a bath. He felt a free man, at last, and he used his freedom
to go out for a morning stroll with his gun. But this exhilarating
feeling of bodily freedom soon passed. Up to now he had at least had a
bedroom of his own. He had been master of his thoughts during the day
and his dreams at night. That was over. The thought of that common
bedroom tormented him; there was something unclean about it. Shame was
cast aside like a mask, all delicacy of feeling was dispensed with,
every illusion of the “high origin” of man destroyed; to come into such
close contact with nothing but the beast in man had been too much for
him, for he had been brought up by idealists. He was staggered by the
enormity of the hypocrisy displayed in the intercourse between men and
women; it was a revelation to him to find that the inmost substance of
that indescribable womanliness was nothing but the fear of
consequences. But supposing he had married the doctor's daughter, or
the gardener's little girl? Then to be alone with her would be bliss,
while to be alone with his wife was depressing and unlovely; then the
coarse desire to satisfy a curiosity and a want would be transformed
into an ecstasy more spiritual than carnal.
He wandered through the wood without a purpose, without an idea of
what he wanted to shoot; be only felt a vague desire to hear a shot and
to kill something; but nothing came before his gun. The birds had
already migrated. Only a squirrel was climbing about the branches of a
pine-tree, staring at him with brilliant eyes. He raised the gun and
pulled the trigger; but the nimble little beast was already on the
other side of the trunk when the shot hit the tree. But the sound
impressed his nerves pleasantly.
He left the footpath and went through the undergrowth. He stamped on
every fungus that grew on his way. He was in a destructive mood. He
looked for a snake so as to trample on it or kill it with a shot.
Suddenly he remembered that he ought to go home and that it was the
morning after his wedding day. The mere thought of the curious glances
to which he would be exposed had the effect of making him feel like a
criminal, about to be unmasked and shown up for having committed a
crime against good manners and, what was worse, against nature. Oh!
that he could have left this world behind him! But how was he to do
His thoughts grew tired at last of revolving round and round the
same problem and he felt a craving for food.
He decided to return home and have some breakfast.
On entering the gate which led to the court yard, he saw the whole
house-party standing before the entrance hall. As soon as they caught
sight of him they began to cheer. He crossed the yard with uncertain
footsteps and listened with ill-concealed irritation to the sly
questions after his health. Then he turned away and went into the
house, never noticing his wife, who was standing amongst the group
waiting for him to go up to her and kiss her.
At the breakfast table he suffered tortures; tortures which he knew
would be burnt into his memory for all times. The insinuations of his
guests offended him and his wife's caresses stung him. His day of
rejoicing was the most miserable day of his life.
In the course of a few months the young wife, with the assistance of
aunts and sisters, had established her over-rule in the house. Frithiof
remained, what he had always been, the youngest and dullest member of
the household. His advice was sometimes asked for, but never acted
upon; he was looked after as if he were still a child. His wife soon
found it unbearable to dine with him alone, for he kept an obstinate
silence during the meal. Louisa could not stand it; she must have a
lightning conductor; one of the sisters removed into the wing.
Frithiof made more than one attempt to emancipate himself, but his
attempts were always frustrated by the enemy; they were too many for
him, and they talked and preached until he fled into the wood.
The evenings held terror for him. He hated the bedroom, and went to
it as to a place of execution. He became morose and avoided everybody.
They had been married for a year now, and still there was no promise
of a child; his mother took him aside one day to have a talk to him.
“Wouldn't you like to have a son?” she asked.
“Of course, I would,” he replied.
“You aren't treating your wife very kindly,” said the mother as
gently as possible.
He lost his temper.
“What? What do you say? Are you finding fault with me? Do you want
me to toil all day long? H'm! You don't know Louisa! But whose business
is it but mine? Bring your charge against me in such a way that I can
But the mother was not disposed to do that.
Lonely and miserable, he made friends with the inspector, a young
man, addicted to wine and cards. He sought his company and spent the
evenings in his room; he went to bed late, as late as possible.
On coming home one night, he found his wife still awake and waiting
“Where have you been?” she asked sharply.
“That's my business,” he replied.
“To be married and have no husband is anything but pleasant,” she
rejoined. “If we had a child, at least!”
“It isn't my fault that we haven't!”
“It isn't mine!”
A quarrel arose as to whose fault it was, and the quarrel lasted for
As both of them were too obstinate to take medical advice, the usual
thing happened. The husband cut a ridiculous figure, and the wife a
tragic one. He was told that a childless woman was sacred because, for
some reason or other, “God's” curse rested on her. That “God” could
also stoop to curse a man was beyond the women's comprehension.
But Frithiof had no doubt that a curse rested on him for his life
was dreary and unhealthy. Nature has created two sexes, which are now
friends, now enemies. He had met the enemy, an overwhelming enemy.
“What is a capon?” he was asked by one of his sisters one day. She
was busy with her needlework and asked the question a propos of
He looked at her suspiciously. No, she did not know the meaning of
the word; she had probably listened to a conversation and her curiosity
But the iron had entered his soul. He was being laughed at. He grew
suspicious. Everything he heard and saw he connected with that charge.
Beside himself with rage, he seduced one of the maids.
His act had the desired result. In due time he was a father.
Now Louisa was looked upon as a martyr and he as a blackguard. The
abuse left him indifferent, for he had vindicated his honour—if it was
an honour and not merely a lucky chance to be born without defects.
But the incident roused Louisa's jealousy and—it was a strange
thing—awakened in her a sort of love for her husband. It was a love
which irritated him, for it showed itself in unremitting watchfulness
and nervous obtrusiveness; sometimes even in maternal tenderness and
solicitude which knew no bounds. She wanted to look after his gun, see
whether it was charged; she begged him on her knees to wear his
overcoat when he went out.... She kept his home with scrupulous care,
tidied and dusted all day long; every Saturday the rooms were turned
inside out, the carpets beaten and his clothes aired. He had no peace
and never knew when he would be turned out of his room so that it could
There was not sufficient to do to occupy him during the day, for the
women looked after everything. He studied agriculture and attempted to
make improvements, but all his efforts were frustrated. He was not
master in his own house.
Finally he lost heart. He had grown taciturn because he was always
contradicted. The want of congenial company and fellows-in-misfortune
gradually dulled his brain; his nerves went to pieces; he neglected his
appearance and took to drink.
He was hardly ever at home now. Frequently he could be found,
intoxicated, at the public house or in the cottages of the farm
labourers. He drank with everybody and all day long. He stimulated his
brain with alcohol for the sake of the relief he found in talking. It
was difficult to decide whether he drank in order to be able to talk to
somebody who did not contradict him, or whether he drank merely in
order to get drunk.
He sold privileges and farm produce to the cottagers to provide
himself with money, for the women held the cash. Finally he burgled his
own safe and stole the contents.
There was an orthodox, church-going inspector on the premises now;
the previous one had been dismissed on account of his intemperate
habits. When at last, through the clergyman's influence, the proprietor
of the inn lost his license Frithiof took to drinking with his own farm
labourers. Scandal followed on scandal.
He developed into a heavy drinker who had epileptic fits whenever he
was deprived of alcohol.
He was ultimately committed to an institution where he remained as
an incurable patient.
At lucid intervals, when he was capable of surveying his life, his
heart was filled with compassion for all women who are compelled to
marry without love; his compassion was all the deeper because he had
suffered in his own flesh the curse which lies on every violation of
nature; and yet he was only a man.
He saw the cause of his unhappiness in the family—the family as a
social institution, which does not permit the child to become an
independent individual at the proper time.
He brought no charge against his wife, for was she not equally
unhappy, a victim of the same unfortunate conditions which are honoured
by the sacred name of Law?
Her father was a general, her mother died when she was still a baby.
After her mother's death few ladies visited the house; the callers were
mostly men. And her father took her education into his own hands.
She went out riding with him, was present at the manoeuvres, took an
interest in gymnastics and attended the musters of the reserves.
Since her father occupied the highest rank in their circle of
friends, everybody treated him with an amount of respect which is
rarely shown to equals, and as she was the general's daughter, she was
treated in the same way. She held the rank of a general and she knew
There was always an orderly sitting in the hall who rose with much
clanking and clashing of steel and stood at attention whenever she went
in or out. At the balls none but the majors dared to ask her for a
dance; she looked upon a captain as a representative of an inferior
race, and a lieutenant as a naughty boy.
She fell into the habit of appreciating people entirely according to
their rank. She called all civilians “fishes,” poorly-clad people
“rascals,” and the very poor “the mob.”
The ladies, however, were altogether outside this scale. Her father,
who occupied a position above all men, and who was saluted respectfully
wherever he went, always stood up before a lady, regardless of her age,
kissed the hands of those he knew, and was at the beck and call of
every pretty woman. The result of this was that very early in life she
became very firmly convinced of the superiority of her own sex, and
accustomed herself to look upon a man as a lower being.
Whenever she went out on horseback, a groom invariably rode behind
her. When she stopped to admire the landscape, he stopped too. He was
her shadow. But she had no idea what he looked like, or whether he was
young or old. If she had been asked about his sex, she would not have
known how to reply; it had never occurred to her that the shadow could
have a sex; when, in mounting, she placed her little riding-boot in his
hand, she remained quite indifferent, and even occasionally raised her
habit a little as if nobody were present.
These inbred conceptions of the surpassing importance of rank
influenced her whole life. She found it impossible to make friends with
the daughters of a major or a captain, because their fathers were her
father's social inferiors. Once a lieutenant asked her for a dance. To
punish him for his impudence, she refused to talk to him in the
intervals. But when she heard later on that her partner had been one of
the royal princes, she was inconsolable. She who knew every order and
title, and the rank of every officer, had failed to recognise a prince!
It was too terrible!
She was beautiful, but pride gave her features a certain rigidity
which scared her admirers away. The thought of marriage had never
occurred to her. The young men were not fully qualified, and those to
whose social position there was no objection, were too old. If she, the
daughter of a general, had married a captain, then a major's wife would
have taken precedence of her. Such a degradation would have killed her.
Moreover, she had no wish to be a man's chattel, or an ornament for his
drawing-room. She was accustomed to command, accustomed to be obeyed;
she could obey no man. The freedom and independence of a man's life
appealed to her; it had fostered in her a loathing for all womanly
Her sexual instinct awoke late. As she belonged to an old family
which on her father's side, had squandered its strength in a soulless
militarism, drink and dissipation, and on her mother's had suppressed
fertility to prevent the splitting up of property, Nature seemed to
have hesitated about her sex at the eleventh hour; or perhaps had
lacked strength to determine on the continuation of the race. Her
figure possessed none of those essentially feminine characteristics,
which Nature requires for her purposes, and she scorned to hide her
defects by artificial means.
The few women friends she had, found her cold and indifferent
towards everything connected with the sex problem. She treated it with
contempt, considered the relationship between the sexes disgusting, and
could not understand how a woman could give herself to a man. In her
opinion Nature was unclean; to wear clean underlinen, starched
petticoats and stockings without holes was to be virtuous; poor was
merely another term for dirt and vice.
Every summer she spent with her father on their estate in the
She was no great lover of the country. Nature made her feel small;
she found the woods uncanny, the lake made her shudder, there was
danger hidden in the tall meadow-grass. She regarded the peasants as
cunning and rather filthy beasts. They had so many children, and she
had no doubt that both boys and girls were full of vice. Nevertheless
they were always invited to the manor house on Midsummer day and on the
general's birthday, to play the part of the chorus of grand opera, that
is to say, to cheer and dance, and look like the figures in a painting.
It was springtime. Helena, on her thoroughbred mare, had penetrated
into the depths of the country. She felt tired and dismounted; she
fastened her mare to a birchtree which grew near an enclosure. Then she
strolled along by the side of a ditch and began to gather wild orchids.
The air was soft and balmy, steam was rising from the ground. She could
hear the frogs jumping into the ditch which was half-full of water.
All at once the mare neighed and, stretching her slender neck over
the fence, drew in the air with wide-open nostrils.
“Alice!” she called out, “be quiet, old girl!”
And she continued to gather the modest flowers which so cleverly
hide their secrets behind the prettiest and neatest curtains that for
all the world look like printed calico.
But the mare neighed again. From behind the hazel bushes on the
other side of the enclosure came an answer, a second neighing, deeper
and fuller. The swampy ground of the enclosure shook, powerful hoofs
scattered the stones, to right and left and a black stallion appeared
at full gallop. The tense neck carried a magnificent head, the muscles
lay like ropes under the glossy skin. As he caught sight of the mare,
his eyes began to flash. He stopped and stretched out his neck as if he
were going to yawn, raised his upper lip and showed his teeth. Then he
galloped across the grass and approached the railings.
Helena picked up her skirt and ran to her mare; she raised her hand
to seize the bridle, but the mare broke away and took the fence. Then
the wooing began.
She stood at the fence and called, but the excited mare paid no
heed. Inside the enclosure the horses chased one another; the situation
was a critical one. The breath of the stallion came like smoke from his
nostrils and white foam flecked his shoulders.
Helena longed to escape, for the scene filled her with horror. She
had never witnessed the raging of a natural instinct in a living body.
This uncontrolled outbreak terrified her.
She wanted to run after her mare and drag her away by force, but she
was afraid of the savage stallion. She wanted to call for help, but she
was loath to attract other eyewitnesses. She turned her back to the
scene and decided to wait.
The sound of horses' hoofs came from the direction of the highroad;
a carriage appeared in sight.
There was no escape; although she was ashamed to stay where she was,
it was too late now to run away, for the horses were slowing down and
the carriage stopped a few yards in front of her.
“How beautiful!” exclaimed one of the occupants of the carriage, a
lady, and raised her golden lorgnette so as to get a better view of the
“But why are we stopping?” retorted the other, irritably. “Drive
“Don't you think it beautiful?” asked the elder lady.
The coachman's smile was lost in his great beard, as he urged the
“You are such a prude, my dear Milly,” said the first voice. “To me
this kind of thing is like a thunderstorm, or a heavy sea....”
Helena could hear no more. She felt crushed with vexation, shame and
A farm labourer came shuffling along the highroad. Helena ran to
meet him, so as to prevent him from witnessing the scene, and at the
same time ask his help. But he was already too near.
“I believe it's the miller's black stallion,” he said gravely. “In
that case it will be better to wait until it's all over, for he won't
brook interference. If the lady will leave it to me, I will bring her
mare home later on.”
Glad to have done with the matter, Helena hurried away.
When she arrived home, she was ill.
She refused to ride her mare again, for in her eyes the beast had
This pretty adventure had a greater influence on Helena's psychic
development than might have been expected. The brutal outbreak of a
natural instinct, the undisguised exhibition of which in the community
of men is punished with a term of imprisonment, haunted her as if she
had been present at an execution. It distressed her during the day and
disturbed her dreams at night. It increased her fear of nature and made
her give up her former amazon's life. She remained at home and gave
herself up to study.
The house boasted a library. But as misfortune would have it, no
additions had been made since her grandfather's death. All books were
therefore a generation too old, and Helena found antiquated ideals. The
first book which fell into her hands was Madame de Stael's Corinna
The way in which the volume lay on the shelf indicated that it had
served a special purpose. Bound in green and gold, a little shabby at
the edges, full of marginal notes and underlined passages, the work of
her late mother, it became a bridge, as it were, between mother and
daughter, which enabled the now grown-up daughter to make the
acquaintance of the dead mother. These pencil notes were the story of a
soul. Displeasure with the prose of life and the brutality of nature,
had inflamed the writer's imagination and inspired it to construct a
dreamworld in which the souls dwelled, disincarnate. It was essentially
an aristocratic world, this dreamworld, for it required financial
independence from its denizens, so that the soul might be fed with
thoughts. This brain-fever, called romance, was therefore the gospel of
the wealthy, and became absurd and pitiful as soon as it penetrated to
the lower classes.
Corinna became Helena's ideal: the divinely inspired poetess who
like the nun of the middle-ages, had vowed a vow of chastity, so that
she might lead a life of purity, who was, of course, admired by a
brilliant throng, rose to immeasurable heights above the heads of the
petty every-day mortals. It was the old ideal all over again,
transposed: salutes, standing at attention, rolling of drums, the first
place everywhere. Helena was quite ignorant of the fact that Madame de
Stael outlived the Corinna ideal, and did not become a real influence
until she came out of her dreamworld into the world of facts.
She ceased to take an interest in everyday affairs, she communed
with herself and brooded over her ego. The inheritance which her mother
had left her in posthumous notes began to germinate. She identified
herself with both Corinna and her mother, and spent much time in
meditating on her mission in life. That nature had intended her to
become a mother and do her share in the propagation of the human race,
she refused to admit her mission was to explain to humanity what Madame
de Stael's Corinna had thought fifty years ago; but she imagined the
thoughts were her own, striving to find expression.
She began to write. One day she attempted verse. She succeeded. The
lines were of equal length and the last words rhymed. A great light
dawned on her: she was a poetess. One thing more remained: she wanted
ideas; well she could take them from Corinna.
In this way quite a number of poems originated.
But they had also to be bestowed on the world, and this could not be
done unless they were printed. One day she sent a poem entitled
Sappho and signed Corinna to the Illustrated Newspaper. With a beating heart she went out to post the letter herself, and as
it dropped into the pillarbox, she prayed softly to “God.”
A trying fortnight ensued. She ate nothing, hardly closed her eyes,
and spent her days in solitude.
When Saturday came and the paper was delivered, she trembled as if
she were fever-stricken, and when she found that her verses were
neither printed nor mentioned in “Letters to Correspondents,” she
almost broke down.
On the following Saturday, when she could count on an answer with
some certainty, she slipped the paper into her pocket without unfolding
it, and went into the woods. When she had arrived at a secluded spot
and made sure that no one was watching her, she unfolded the paper and
hastily glanced at the contents. One poem only was printed, entitled
Bellman's-day. She turned to “Letters to Correspondents.” Her first
glance at the small print made her start violently. Her fingers
clutched the paper, rolled it into a ball and flung it into the
underwood. Then she stared, fascinated, at the ball of white,
glimmering through the green undergrowth. For the first time in her
life she had received an insult. She was completely unnerved. This
unknown journalist had dared what nobody had dared before: he had been
rude to her. She had come out from behind her trenches into the arena
where high birth counts for nothing, but where victory belongs to that
wonderful natural endowment which we call talent, and before which all
powers bow when it can no longer be denied. But the unknown had also
offended the woman in her, for he had said:
“The Corinna of 1807 would have cooked dinners and rocked cradles if
she had lived after 1870. But you are no Corinna.”
For the first time she had heard the voice of the enemy, the
arch-enemy, man. Cook dinners and rock cradles! They should see!
She went home. She felt so crushed that her muscles hardly obeyed
her relaxed nerves.
When she had gone a little way, she suddenly turned round and
retraced her footsteps. Supposing anybody found that paper! It would
give her away.
She returned to the spot, and breaking off a hazel switch, dragged
the paper out from where it lay and carefully smoothed it. Then she
raised a piece of turf, hid the paper underneath and rolled a stone on
the top. It was a hope that lay buried there, and also a proof—of
what? That she had committed a crime? She felt that she had. She had
done a wrong, she had shown herself naked before the other sex.
From this day on a struggle went on in her heart. Ambition and fear
of publicity strove within her, and she was unable to come to a
In the following autumn her father died. As he had been addicted to
gambling, and more often lost than won, he left debts behind him. But
in smart society these things are of no account. There was no necessity
for Helena to earn her living in a shop, for a hitherto unknown aunt
came forward and offered her a home.
But her father's death wrought a complete change in her position. No
more salutes; the officers of the regiment nodded to her in a friendly
fashion, the lieutenants asked her to dance. She saw plainly that the
respect shown to her had not been shown to her personally, but merely
to her rank. She felt degraded and a lively sympathy for all subalterns
was born in her; she even felt a sort of hatred for all those who
enjoyed her former privileges. Side by side with this feeling grew up a
yearning for personal appreciation, a desire to win a position
surpassing all others, although it might not figure in the Army list.
She longed to distinguish herself, to win fame, and, (why not?) to
rule. She possessed one talent which she had cultivated to some extent,
although she had never risen above the average; she played the piano.
She began to study harmony and talked of the sonata in G minor and the
symphony in F major as if she had written them herself. And forthwith
she began to patronise musicians.
Six months after her father's death, the post of a lady-in-waiting
was offered to her. She accepted it. The rolling of drums and military
salutes recommenced, and Helena gradually lost her sympathy with
subalterns. But the mind is as inconstant as fortune, and fresh
experiences again brought about a change of her views.
She discovered one day, and the day was not long in coming, that she
was nothing but a servant. She was sitting in the Park with the
Duchess. The Duchess was crocheting.
“I consider those blue stockings perfectly idiotic,” said the
Helena turned pale; she stared at her mistress.
“I don't,” she replied.
“I didn't ask your opinion,” replied the Duchess, letting her ball
of wool roll into the dust.
Helena's knees trembled; her future, her position passed away before
her eyes like a flash of lightning. She went to pick up the wool. It
seemed to her that her back was breaking as she stooped, and her cheeks
flamed when the Duchess took the ball without a word of thanks.
“You are not angry?” asked the Duchess, staring impertinently at her
“Oh, no, Your Royal Highness,” was Helena's untruthful reply.
“They say that you are a blue-stocking yourself,” continued the
Duchess. “Is it true?”
Helena had a feeling as if she were standing nude before her
tormentor and made no reply.
For the second time the ball rolled into the dust. Helena pretended
not to notice it, and bit her lips to hold back the angry tears which
were welling up in her eyes. “Pick up my wool, please,” said the
Helena drew herself up, looked the autocrat full in the face and
And with these words she turned and fled. The sand gritted under her
feet, and little clouds of dust followed in the wake of her train. She
almost ran down the stone steps and disappeared.
Her career at court was ended; but a sting remained. Helena was made
to feel what it means to be in disgrace, and above all things what it
means to throw up one's post. Society does not approve of changes and
nobody would believe that she had voluntarily renounced the sunshine of
the court. No doubt she had been sent away. Yes, it must be so, she had
been sent away. Never before had she felt so humiliated, so insulted.
It seemed to her that she had lost caste; her relations treated her
with coldness, as if they were afraid that her disgrace might be
infectious; her former friends gave her the cold shoulder when they met
her, and limited their conversation to a minimum.
On the other hand, as she stooped from her former height, the
middle-classes received her with open arms. It was true, at first their
friendliness offended her more than the coldness of her own class, but
in the end she preferred being first down below to being last up above.
She joined a group of Government officials and professors who hailed
her with acclamations. Animated by the superstitious awe with which the
middle classes regard everybody connected with the court, they at once
began to pay her homage. She became their chosen leader and hastened to
form a regiment. A number of young professors enlisted at once and she
arranged lectures for women. Old academic rubbish was brought out from
the lumber-room, dusted and sold for new wares. In a dining-room,
denuded of its furniture, lectures on Plato and Aristotle were given to
an audience which unfortunately held no key to this shrine of wisdom.
Helena, in conquering these pseudo-mysteries felt the intellectual
superior of the ignorant aristocracy. This feeling gave her an
assurance which impressed people. The men worshipped her beauty and
aloofness; but she never felt in the least moved in their company. She
accepted their homage as a tribute due to women and found it impossible
to respect these lackeys who jumped up and stood at attention whenever
But in the long run her position as an unmarried woman failed to
satisfy her, and she noted with envious eyes the freedom enjoyed by her
married sisters. They were at liberty to go wherever they liked, talk
to whom they liked, and always had a footman in their husband to meet
them and accompany them on their way home. In addition, married women
had a better social position, and a great deal more influence. With
what condescension for instance, they treated the spinsters! But
whenever she thought of getting married, the incident with her mare
flashed into her mind and terror made her ill.
In the second year the wife of a professor from Upsala, who combined
with her official position great personal charm, appeared on the scene.
Helena's star paled; all her worshippers left her to worship the new
sun. As she no longer possessed her former social position, and the
savour of the court had vanished like the scent on a handkerchief, she
was beaten in the fight. One single vassal remained faithful to her, a
lecturer on ethics, who had hitherto not dared to push himself forward.
His attentions were well received, for the severity of his ethics
filled her with unlimited confidence. He wooed her so assiduously that
people began to gossip; Helena, however, took no notice, she was above
One evening, after a lecture on “The Ethical Moment in Conjugal
Love” or “Marriage as a Manifestation of Absolute Identity,” for which
the lecturer received nothing but his expenses and a grateful pressure
of hands, they were sitting in the denuded dining-room on their
uncomfortable cane chairs, discussing the subject.
“You mean to say then,” said Helena, “that marriage is a
relationship of co-existence between two identical Egos?”
“I mean what I said already in my lecture, that only if there exists
such a relationship between two congruous identities, being can
conflow into becoming of higher potentiality.”
“What do you mean by becoming?” asked Helena, blushing.
“The post-existence of two egos in a new ego.”
“What? You mean that the continuity of the ego, which through the
cohabitation of two analogous beings will necessarily incorporate
itself into a becoming....”
“No, my dear lady, I only meant to say that marriage, in profane
parlance, can only produce a new spiritual ego, which cannot be
differentiated as to sex, when there is compatibility of souls. I mean
to say that the new being born under those conditions will be a
conglomerate of male and female; a new creature to whom both will have
yielded their personality, a unity in multiplicity, to use a well-known
term, an 'hommefemme.' The man will cease to be man, the woman will
cease to be woman.”
“That is the union of souls!” exclaimed Helena, glad to have
successfullly navigated the dangerous cliffs.
“It is the harmony of souls of which Plato speaks. It is true
marriage as I have sometimes visualised it in my dreams, but which,
unfortunately, I shall hardly be able to realise in actuality.”
Helena stared at the ceiling and whispered:
“Why shouldn't you, one of the elect, realise this dream?”
“Because she to whom my soul is drawn with irresistible longing does
not believe in—h'm—love.”
“You cannot be sure of that.”
“Even if she did, she would always be tormented by the suspicion
that the feeling was not sincere. Moreover, there is no woman in the
world who would fall in love with me, no, not one.”
“Yes, there is,” said Helena, gazing into his glass eye. (He had a
glass eye, but it was so well made, it was impossible to detect it.)
“Are you sure?”
“Quite sure,” replied Helena. “For you are different to other men.
You realise what spiritual love means, the love of the souls!”
“Even if the woman did exist, I could never marry her.”
“Share a room with her!”
“That needn't be the case. Madame de Stael merely lived in the same
house as her husband.”
“What interesting topic are you two discussing?” asked the
professor's wife, coming out of the drawing-room.
“We were talking of Laocoon,” answered Helena, rising, from
her chair. She was offended by the note of condescension in the lady's
voice. And she made up her mind.
A week later her engagement to the lecturer was publicly announced.
They decided to be married in the autumn and take up their abode at
A brilliant banquet, in celebration of the close of his bachelor
life, was given to the lecturer on ethics. A great deal of wine had
been consumed and the only artist the town boasted, the professor of
drawing at the Cathedral School, had depicted in bold outlines the
victim's career up to date. It was the great feature of the whole
entertainment. Ethics was a subject of teaching and a milch cow, like
many others, and need not necessarily influence either the life of the
community, or the life of the individual. The lecturer had not been a
saint, but had had his adventures like everybody else; these were
public property, for he had had no reason to keep them dark. With a
careless smile he watched his career, pictured in chalk and colours,
accompanied by witty verses, unfolding itself before his eyes, but when
at last his approaching bliss was portrayed in simple but powerful
sketches, he became deeply embarrassed, and the thought “If Helena were
to see that!” flashed like lightning through his brain.
After the banquet, at which according to an old, time-honoured
custom, he had drunk eight glasses of brandy, he was so intoxicated
that he could no longer suppress his fears and apprehensions. Among his
hosts was a married man and to him the victim turned for counsel and
advice. Since neither of them was sober, they chose, as the most
secluded spot in the whole room, two chairs right in the centre,
immediately under the chandelier. Consequently they were soon
surrounded by an eagerly listening crowd.
“Look here! You are a married man,” said the lecturer at the top of
his voice, so as not to be heard by the assembly, as he fondly
imagined. “You must give me a word of advice, just one, only one little
word of advice, for I am extremely sensitive to-night, especially in
regard to this particular point.”
“I will, brother,” shouted his friend, “just one word, as you say,”
and he put his arm round his shoulders that he might whisper to him;
then he continued, screaming loudly: “Every act consists of three
parts, my brother: Progresses, culmen, regressus. I will speak
to you of the first, the second is never mentioned. Well, the
initiative, so to speak, that is the man's privilege—your part! You
must take the initiative, you must attack, do you understand?”
“But supposing the other party does not approve of the initiative?”
The friend stared at the novice, taken aback; then he rose and
contemptuously turned his back on him.
“Fool!” he muttered.
“Thank you!” was all the grateful pupil could reply.
Now he understood.
On the following day he was on fire with all the strong drink he had
consumed; he went and took a hot bath, for on the third day was to be
The wedding guests had departed; the servant had cleared the table;
they were alone.
Helena was comparatively calm, but he felt exceedingly nervous. The
period of their engagement had been enhanced by conversations on
serious subjects. They had never behaved liked ordinary, every-day
fiances, had never embraced or kissed. Whenever he had attempted the
smallest familiarity, her cold looks had chilled his ardour. But he
loved her as a man loves a woman, with body and soul.
They fidgeted about the drawing-room and tried to make conversation.
But an obstinate silence again and again reasserted itself. The candles
in the chandelier had burnt low and the wax fell in greasy drops on the
carpet. The atmosphere was heavy with the smell of food and the fumes
of the wines which mingled with the voluptuous perfume of carnations
and heliotrope, exhaled by Helena's bridal bouquet that lay on a
At last he went up to her, held out his arms, and said in a voice
which he hoped sounded natural:
“And now you are my wife!”
“What do you mean?” was Helena's brusque reply.
Completely taken aback, he allowed his arms to drop to his sides.
But he pulled himself together again, almost immediately, and said with
a self-conscious smile:
“I mean to say that we are husband and wife.”
Helena looked at him as if she thought that he had taken leave of
“Explain your words!” she said.
That was just what he couldn't do. Philosophy and ethics failed him;
he was faced by a cold and exceedingly unpleasant reality.
“It's modesty,” he thought. “She's quite right, but I must attack
and do my duty.”
“Have you misunderstood me?” asked Helena and her voice trembled.
“No, of course not, but, my dear child, h'm—we—h'm....”
“What language is that? Dear child? What do you take me for? What do
you mean? Albert, Albert!”—she rushed on without waiting for a reply,
which she didn't want—“Be great, be noble, and learn to see in women
something more than sex. Do that, and you will be happy and great!”
Albert was beaten. Crushed with shame and furious with his false
friend who had counselled him wrongly, he threw himself on his knees
before her and stammered:
“Forgive me, Helena, you are nobler, purer, better than I; you are
made of finer fibre and you will lift me up when I threaten to perish
in coarse matter.”
“Arise and be strong, Albert,” said Helena, with the manner of a
prophetess. “Go in peace and show to the world that love and base
animal passion are two very different things. Good-night!”
Albert rose from his knees and stared irresolutely after his wife
who went into her room and shut the door behind her.
Full of the noblest and purest sentiments he also went into his
room. He took off his coat and lighted a cigar. His room was furnished
like a bachelor's room: a bed-sofa, a writing table, some book shelves,
When he had undressed, he dipped a towel into his ewer and rubbed
himself all over. Then he lay down on his sofa and opened the evening
paper. He wanted to read while he smoked his cigar. He read an article
on Protection. His thoughts began to flow in a more normal channel, and
he considered his position.
Was he married or was he still a bachelor? He was a bachelor as
before, but there was a difference—he now had a female boarder who
paid nothing for her board. The thought was anything but pleasant, but
it was the truth. The cook kept house, the housemaid attended to the
rooms. Where did Helena come in? She was to develop her individuality!
Oh, rubbish! he thought, I am a fool! Supposing his friend had been
right? Supposing women always behaved in this silly way under these
circumstances? She could not very well come to him—he must go to her.
If he didn't go, she would probably laugh at him to-morrow, or, worse
still, be offended. Women were indeed incomprehensible. He must make
He jumped up, put on his dressing-gown and went into the
drawing-room. With trembling knees he listened outside Helena's door.
Not a sound. He took heart of grace, and approached a step or two.
Blue flashes of lightning darted before his eyes as he knocked.
No answer. He trembled violently and beads of perspiration stood on
He knocked again. And in a falsetto voice, proceeding from a parched
throat, he said:
“It's only I.”
No answer. Overwhelmed with shame, he returned to his room, puzzled
She was in earnest, then.
He crept between the sheets and again took up the paper.
He hadn't been reading long when he heard footsteps in the street
which gradually approached and then stopped. Soft music fell on his
ear, deep, strong voices set in:
“Integer vitae sclerisque purus....”
He was touched. How beautiful it was!
Purus! He felt lifted above matter. It was in accordance with the
spirit of the age then, this higher conception of marriage. The current
of ethics which penetrated the epoch was flowing through the youth of
Supposing Helena had opened her door!
He gently beat time and felt himself as great and noble as Helena
desired him to be.
Should he open the window and thank the undergraduates in the name
of his wife?
He got out of bed.
A fourfold peal of laughter crashed against the windowpanes at the
very moment he lifted his hand to draw up the blind.
There could be no doubt, they were making fun of him!
Beside himself with anger he staggered back from the window and
knocked against the writing-table. He was a laughing-stock. A faint
hatred against the woman whom he had to thank for this humiliating
scene, began to stir within him, but his love acquitted her. He was
incensed against the jesters down below, and swore to bring them before
But again and again he reverted to his unpleasant position, furious
that he had allowed himself to be led by the nose. He paced his room
until dawn broke in the East. Then he threw himself on his bed and fell
asleep, in bitter grief over the dismal ending of his wedding-day,
which ought to have been the happiest day of his life.
On the following morning he met Helena at the breakfast table. She
was cold and self-possessed as usual. Albert, of course, did not
mention the serenade. Helena made great plans for the future and talked
volumes about the abolition of prostitution. Albert met her half-way
and promised to do all in his power to assist her. Humanity must become
chaste, for only the beasts were unchaste.
Breakfast over, he went to his lecture. The serenade had roused his
suspicions, and as he watched his audience, he fancied that they were
making signs to each other; his colleagues, too, seemed to congratulate
him in a way which offended him.
A big, stout colleague, who radiated vigour and joie de vivre, stopped him in the corridor which led to the library, seized him by
the collar and said with a colossal grin on his broad face,
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” was the indignant reply with
which he tore himself away and rushed down stairs.
When he arrived home, his flat was crowded with his wife's friends.
Women's skirts brushed against his legs, and when he sat down in an
armchair, he seemed to sink out of sight into piles and piles of
“I've heard rumours of a serenade last night,” said the professor's
Albert grew pale, but Helena took up the gauntlet.
“It was well meant, but they really might have been sober. This
excessive drinking among students is terrible.”
“What did they sing?” asked the professor's wife.
“Oh! the usual songs: 'My life a sea,' and so on,” replied Helena.
Albert stared at her in amazement, but he couldn't help admiring
The day went with gossip and discussions. Albert felt tired. Been
joyed spending a few hours, after the daily toil was over, in pleasant
conversation with women, but this was really too much. And moreover, he
had to agree to everything they said, for whenever he attempted to
express a contradictory opinion, they were down on him in a minute.
Night fell; it was bedtime. Husband and wife wished one another good
night and retired to their separate rooms.
Again he was attacked by doubt and restlessness. He fancied that he
had seen a tender look on Helena's face, and he wasn't quite sure
whether she hadn't squeezed his hand. He lit a cigar and unfolded his
paper. As soon as he began to read of every-day matters, he seemed to
“It's sheer madness,” he said aloud, throwing the paper aside.
He slipped on his dressing-gown and went into the drawing-room.
Somebody was moving in Helena's room.
“Is that you, Louise?” asked a voice from inside.
“No, it's only I,” he whispered, hardly able to speak.
“What's the matter? What do you want?”
“I want to speak to you, Helena,” he answered, hardly knowing what
he was saying.
The key turned in the lock. Albert could hardly trust his ears. The
door flew open. Helena stood on the threshold, still fully dressed.
“What is it you want?” she asked. Then she noticed that he was in
his dressing-gown and that his eyes shone strangely.
She stretched out her hand, pushed him away and slammed the door.
He heard a thud on the floor and almost simultaneously loud sobs.
Furious, but abashed, he returned to his room. She was in earnest,
then! But this was certainly anything but normal.
He lay awake all night, brooding, and on the following morning he
When he came home for lunch, Helena received him with an expression
of pained resignation.
“Why do you treat me like that?” she asked.
He apologised, with as few words as possible. Then he repented his
curtness and climbed down.
Thus matters stood for six months. He was tossed between doubt, rage
and love, but his chain held.
His face grew pale and his eyes lost their lustre. His temper had
become uncertain; a sullen fury smouldered beneath his outward calm.
Helena found him changed, despotic, because he was beginning to
oppose her, and often left the meetings to seek amusement elsewhere.
One day he was asked to become a candidate for a professorial chair.
He refused, believing that he had no chance, but Helena gave him no
peace until he complied with the conditions. He was elected. He never
knew the reason why, but Helena did.
A short time after there was a by-election.
The new professor, who had never dreamed of taking an active
interest in public affairs, was nonplussed when he found himself
nominated. His surprise was even greater when he was elected. He
intended to decline, but Helena's entreaties and her argument that life
in a big city was preferable to an existence in a small provincial town
induced him to accept the mandate.
They removed to Stockholm.
During these six months the newly-made professor and member of
Parliament had made himself acquainted with the new ideas which came
from England and purposed to recreate society and the old standards of
morality. At the same time he felt that the moment was not far off when
he would have to break with his “boarder.” He recovered his strength
and vigour in Stockholm, where fearless thinkers encouraged him to
profess openly the views which he had long held in secret.
Helena, on the other hand, scented a favourable opportunity in the
counter-current and threw herself into the arms of the Church Party.
This was too much for Albert and he rebelled. His love had grown cold;
he found compensation elsewhere. He didn't consider himself unfaithful
to his wife for she had never claimed constancy in a relationship which
His friendly intercourse with the other sex aroused his manliness
and made him realise his degradation.
His growing estrangement did not escape Helena. Their home-life
became unpleasant and every moment threatened to bring a catastrophe.
The opening of Parliament was imminent. Helena became restless and
seemed to have changed her tactics. Her voice was more gentle and she
appeared anxious to please him. She looked after the servants and saw
that the meals were served punctually.
He grew suspicious and wondered, watched her movements and prepared
for coming events.
One morning, at breakfast, Helena looked embarrassed and
self-conscious. She played with her dinner napkin and cleared her
throat several times. Then she took her courage in both her hands and
made a plunge.
“Albert,” she began, “I can count on you, can't I? You will serve
the Cause to which I have devoted my life?”
“What cause is that?” he asked curtly, for now he had the upper
“You will do something for the oppressed women, won't you?”
“Where are the oppressed women?”
“What? Have you deserted our great cause? Are you leaving us in the
“What cause are you talking about?”
“The Women's Cause!”
“I know nothing about it.”
“You know nothing about it? Oh, come! You must admit that the
position of the women of the lower classes is deplorable.”
“No, I can't see that their position is any worse than the position
of the men. Deliver the men from their exploiters and the women too
will be free.”
“But the unfortunates who have to sell themselves, and the
“The scoundrels who pay! Has ever a man taken payment for a pleasure
which both enjoy?”
“That is not the question! The question is whether it is just that
the law of the land should punish the one and let the other go
“There is no injustice in that. The one has degraded herself until
she has become a source of infection, and therefore the State treats
her as it treats a mad dog. Whenever you find a man, degraded to that
degree, well, put him under police control, too. Oh, you pure angels,
who despise men and look upon them as unclean beasts!...”
“Well, what is it? What do you want me to do?”
He noticed that she had taken a manuscript from the sideboard and
held it in her hand. Without waiting for a reply, he took it from her
and began to examine it. “A bill to be introduced into Parliament! I'm
to be the man of straw who introduces it! Is that moral? Strictly
speaking, is it honest?”
Helena rose from her chair, threw herself on the sofa and burst into
He, too, rose and went to her. He took her hand in his and felt her
pulse, afraid lest her attack might be serious. She seized his hand
convulsively, and pressed it against her bosom.
“Don't leave me,” she sobbed, “don't go. Stay, and let me keep faith
For the first time in his life he saw her giving way to her
emotions. This delicate body, which he had loved and admired so much,
could be warmed into life! Red, warm blood flowed in those blue veins.
Blood which could distil tears. He gently stroked her brow.
“Oh!” she sighed, “why aren't you always good to me like that? Why
hasn't it always been so?”
“Well,” he answered, “why hasn't it? Tell me, why not?”
Helena's eyelids drooped. “Why not?” she breathed, softly.
She did not withdraw her hand and he felt a gentle warmth radiating
from her velvety skin; his love for her burst into fresh flames, but
this time he felt that there was hope.
At last she rose to her feet.
“Don't despise me,” she said, “don't despise me, dear.”
And she went into her room.
What was the matter with her? Albert wondered as he went up to town.
Was she passing through a crisis of some sort? Was she only just
beginning to realise that she was his wife?
He spent the whole day in town. In the evening he went to the
theatre. They played Le monde ou l'on s'ennuit. As he sat and
watched platonic love, the union of souls, unmasked and ridiculed, he
felt as if a veil of close meshed lies were being drawn from his
reason; he smiled as he saw the head of the charming beast peeping from
underneath the card-board wings of the stage-angel; he almost shed
tears of amusement at his long, long self-deception; he laughed at his
folly. What filth and corruption lay behind this hypocritical morality,
this insane desire for emancipation from healthy, natural instincts. It
was the ascetic teaching of idealism and Christianity which had
implanted this germ into the nineteenth century.
He felt ashamed! How could he have allowed himself to be duped all
There was still light in Helena's room as he passed her door on
tip-toe so as not to wake her. He heard her cough.
He went straight to bed, smoked his cigar and read his paper. He was
absorbed in an article on conscription, when all of a sudden Helena's
door was flung open, and footsteps and screams from the drawing-room
fell on his ears. He jumped up and rushed out of his room, believing
that the house was on fire.
Helena was standing in the drawing-room in her nightgown.
She screamed when she saw her husband and ran to her room; on the
threshold she hesitated and turned her head.
“Forgive me, Albert,” she stammered, “it's you. I didn't know that
you were still up. I thought there were burglars in the house. Please,
And she closed her door.
What did it all mean? Was she in love with him?
He went into his room and stood before the looking-glass. Could any
woman fall in love with him? He was plain. But one loves with one's
soul and many a plain man had married a beautiful woman. It was true,
though, that in such cases the man had nearly always possessed wealth
and influence.—Was Helena realising that she had placed herself in a
false position? Or had she become aware of his intention to leave her
and was anxious to win him back?
When they met at the breakfast table on the following morning,
Helena was unusually gentle, and the professor noticed that she was
wearing a new morning-gown trimmed with lace, which suited her
As he was helping himself to sugar, his hand accidentally touched
“I beg your pardon, dear,” she said with an expression on her face
he had never seen before. She looked like a young girl.
They talked about indifferent things.
On the same day Parliament opened.
Helena's yielding mood lasted and she grew more and more
The period allowed for the introduction of new bills drew to a
One evening the professor came home from his club in an unusually
gay frame of mind. He went to bed with his paper and his cigar. After a
while he heard Helena's door creak. Silence, lasting for a few minutes,
followed. Then there came a knock at his door.
“Who is there?” he shouted.
“It's I, Albert, do dress and come into the drawing-room, I want to
speak to you.”
He dressed and went into the drawing-room.
Helena had lighted the chandelier and was sitting on the sofa,
dressed in her lace morning-gown.
“Do forgive me,” she said, “but I can't sleep. My head feels so
strange. Come here and talk to me.”
“You are all unstrung, little girl,” said Albert, taking her hand in
his own. “You ought to take some wine.”
He went into the dining-room and returned with a decanter and two
“Your health, darling,” he said.
Helena drank and her cheeks caught fire.
“What's wrong?” he asked, putting his arm round her waist.
“I'm not happy,” she replied.
He was conscious that the words sounded dry and artificial, but his
passion was roused and he didn't care.
“Do you know why you are unhappy?” he asked.
“No. I only know one thing, and that is that I love you.”
Albert caught her in his arms and kissed her face.
“Are you my wife, or aren't you?” he whispered hoarsely.
“I am your wife,” breathed Helena, collapsing, as if every nerve in
her body had snapped.
“Altogether?” he whispered paralysing her with his kisses.
“Altogether,” she moaned, moving convulsively, like a sleeper
struggling with the horrors of a nightmare.
When Albert awoke, he felt refreshed, his head was clear and he was
fully conscious of what had happened in the night. He could think
vigorously and logically like a man after a deep and restful sleep. The
whole scene stood vividly before his mind. He saw the full significance
of it, unvarnished, undisguised, in the sober light of the morning.
She had sold herself!
At three o'clock in the morning, intoxicated with love, blind to
everything, half insane, he had promised to introduce her bill.
And the price! She had given herself to him calmly, coldly, unmoved.
Who was the first woman who found out that she could sell her
favour? And who was the woman who discovered that man is a buyer?
Whoever she was, she was the founder of marriage and prostitution. And
they say that marriages are made in heaven!
He realised his degradation and hers. She wanted to triumph over her
friends, to be the first woman who had taken an active share in the
making of her country's laws; for the sake of this triumph she had sold
Well, he would tear the mask from her face. He would show her what
she really was. He would tell her that prostitution could never be
abolished while women found an advantage in selling themselves.
With his mind firmly made up, he got out of bed and dressed.
He had to wait a little for her in the dining-room. He rehearsed the
scene which would follow and pulled himself together to meet her.
She came in calm, smiling, triumphant, but more beautiful than he
had ever seen her before. A sombre fire burnt in her eyes, and he, who
had expected that she would meet him with blushes and down-cast eyes,
was crushed. She was the triumphant seducer, and he the bashful victim.
The words he had meant to say refused to come. Disarmed and humble
he went to meet her and kissed her hand.
She talked as usual without the slightest indication that a new
factor had entered her life.
He went to the House, fuming, with her bill in his pocket, and only
the vision of the bliss in store for him, calmed his excited nerves.
But when, in the evening, he knocked quite boldly at her door, it
It remained closed for three weeks. He cringed before her like a
dog, obeyed every hint, fulfilled all her wishes—it was all in vain.
Then his indignation got the better of him and he overwhelmed her
with a flood of angry words. She answered him sharply. But when she
realised that she had gone too far, that his chain was wearing thin,
she gave herself to him.
And he wore his chain. He bit it, strained every nerve to break it,
but it held.
She soon learned how far she could go, and whenever he became
restive, she yielded.
He was seized with a fanatical longing to make her a mother. He
thought it might make a woman of her, bring out all that was good and
wholesome in her. But the future seemed to hold no promise on that
Had ambition, the selfish passion of the individual, destroyed the
source of life? He wondered....
One morning she informed him that she was going away for a few days
to stay with her friends.
When he came home on the evening of the day of her departure and
found the house empty, his soul was tormented by a cruel feeling of
loss and longing. All of a sudden it became clear to him that he loved
her with every fibre of his being. The house seemed desolate; it was
just as if a funeral had taken place. When dinner was served he stared
at her vacant chair and hardly touched his food.
After supper he lit the chandelier in the drawing-room. He sat down
in her corner of the sofa. He fingered her needlework which she had
left behind—it was a tiny jacket for a stranger's baby in a
newly-founded creche. There was the needle, still sticking in the
calico, just as she had left it. He pricked his finger with it as if to
find solace in the ecstasy of pain.
Presently he lighted a candle and went into her bedroom. As he stood
on the threshold, he shaded the flame with his hand and looked round
like a man who is about to commit a crime. The room did not betray the
slightest trace of femininity. A narrow bed without curtains; a
writing-table, bookshelves, a smaller table by the side of her bed, a
sofa. Just like his own room. There was no dressing-table, but a little
mirror hung on the wall.
Her dress was hanging on a nail. The lines of her body were clearly
defined on the thick, heavy serge. He caressed the material and hid his
face in the lace which trimmed the neck; he put his arm round the
waist, but the dress collapsed like a phantom. “They say the soul is a
spirit,” he mused, “but then, it ought to be a tangible spirit, at
least.” He approached the bed as if he expected to see an apparition.
He touched everything, took everything in his hand.
At last, as if he were looking for something, something which should
help him to solve the problem, he began to tug at the handles which
ornamented the drawers of her writing-table; all the drawers were
locked. As if by accident he opened the drawer of the little table by
her bedside, and hastily closed it again, but not before he had read
the title on the paper-cover of a small book and caught sight of a few
strange-looking objects, the purpose of which he could guess.
That was it then! Facultative Sterility! What was intended
for a remedy for the lower classes, who have been robbed of the means
of existence, had become an instrument in the service of selfishness,
the last consequence of idealism. Were the upper classes so degenerate
that they refused to reproduce their species, or were they morally
corrupt? They must be both, for they considered it immoral to bring
illegitimate children into the world, and degrading to bear children in
But he wanted children! He could afford to have them, and he
considered it a duty as well as a glorious privilege to pour his
individuality into a new being. It was Nature's way from a true and
healthy egoism towards altruism. But she travelled on another road and
made jackets for the babies of strangers. Was that a better, a nobler
thing to do? It stood for so much, and yet was nothing but fear of the
burden of motherhood, and it was cheaper and less fatiguing to sit in
the corner of a comfortable sofa and make little jackets than to bear
the toil and broil of a nursery. It was looked upon as a disgrace to be
a woman, to have a sex, to become a mother.
That was it. They called it working for Heaven, for higher
interests, for humanity, but it was merely a pandering to vanity, to
selfishness, to a desire for fame or notoriety.
And he had pitied her, he had suffered remorse because her sterility
had made him angry. She had told him once that he deserved “the
contempt of all good and honest men” because he had failed to speak of
sterile women with the respect due to misfortune; she had told him that
they were sacred, because their sorrow was the bitterest sorrow a woman
could have to bear.
What, after all, was this woman working for? For progress? For the
salvation of humanity? No, she was working against progress, against
freedom and enlightenment. Hadn't she recently brought forward a motion
to limit religious liberty? Wasn't she the author of a pamphlet on the
intractability of servants? Wasn't she advocating greater severity in
the administration of the military laws? Was she not a supporter of the
party which strives to ruin our girls by giving them the same miserable
education which our boys receive?
He hated her soul, for he hated her ideas. And yet he loved her?
What was it then that he loved?
Probably, he reflected, compelled to take refuge in philosophy,
probably the germ of a new being, which she carries in her womb, but
which she is bent on killing.
What else could it be?
But what did she love in him? His title, his position, his
How could these old and worn-out men and women rebuild society?
He meant to tell her all this when she returned home; but in his
inmost soul he knew all the time that the words would never be said. He
knew that he would grovel before her and whine for her favour; that he
would remain her slave and sell her his soul again and again, just as
she sold him her body. He knew that that was what he would do, for he
was head over ears in love with her.
UNMARRIED AND MARRIED
The young barrister was strolling on a lovely spring evening through
the old Stockholm Hop-Garden. Snatches of song and music came from the
pavilion; light streamed through the large windows and lit up the
shadows cast by the great lime trees which were just bursting into
He went in, sat down at a vacant table near the platform and asked
for a glass of punch.
A young comedian was singing a pathetic ballad of a Dead Rat.
Then a young girl, dressed in pink, appeared and sang the Danish song:
There is nothing so charming as a moonshine ride. She was
comparatively innocent looking and she addressed her song to our
innocent barrister. He felt flattered by this mark of distinction, and
at once started negotiations which began with a bottle of wine and
ended in a furnished flat, containing two rooms, a kitchen and all the
It is not within the scope of this little story to analyse the
feelings of the young man, or give a description of the furniture and
the other conveniences. It must suffice if I say that they were very
But, imbued with the socialistic tendencies of our time, and
desirous of having his lady-love always under his eyes, the young man
decided to live in the flat himself and make his little friend his
house keeper. She was delighted at the suggestion.
But the young man had a family, that is to say, his family looked
upon him as one of its members, and since in their opinion he was
committing an offence against morality, and casting a slur on their
good name, he was summoned to appear before the assembled parents,
brothers and sisters in order to be censured. He considered that he was
too old for such treatment and the family tie was ruptured.
This made him all the more fond of his own little home, and he
developed into a very domesticated husband, excuse me, lover. They were
happy, for they loved one another, and no fetters bound them. They
lived in the happy dread of losing one another and therefore they did
their utmost to keep each other's love. They were indeed one.
But there was one thing which they lacked: they had no friends.
Society displayed no wish to know them, and the young man was not asked
to the houses of the “Upper Ten.”
It was Christmas Eve, a day of sadness for all those who once had a
family. As he was sitting at breakfast, he received a letter. It was
from his sister, who implored him to spend Christmas at home, with his
parents. The letter touched upon the strings of old feelings and put
him in a bad temper. Was he to leave his little friend alone on
Christmas Eve? Certainly not! Should his place in the house of his
parents remain vacant for the first time on a Christmas Eve? H'm! This
was the position of affairs when he went to the Law Courts.
During the interval for lunch a colleague came up to him and asked
him as discreetly as possible:
“Are you going to spend Christmas Eve with your family?”
He flared up at once. Was his friend aware of his position? Or what
did he mean?
The other man saw that he had stepped on a corn, and added hastily,
without waiting for a reply:
“Because if you are not, you might spend it with us. You know,
perhaps, that I have a little friend, a dear little soul.”
It sounded all right and he accepted the invitation on condition
that they should both be invited. Well, but of course, what else did he
think? And this settled the problem of friends and Christmas Eve.
They met at six o'clock at the friend's flat, and while the two “old
men” had a glass of punch, the women went into the kitchen.
All four helped to lay the table. The two “old men” knelt on the
floor and tried to lengthen the table by means of boards and wedges.
The women were on the best of terms at once, for they felt bound
together by that very obvious tie which bears the great name of “public
opinion.” They respected one another and saved one another's feelings.
They avoided those innuendoes in which husbands and wives are so fond
of indulging when their children are not listening, just as if they
wanted to say: “We have a right to say these things now we are
When they had eaten the pudding, the barrister made a speech
praising the delights of one's own fireside, that refuge from the world
and from all men: that harbour where one spends one's happiest hours in
the company of one's real friends.
Mary-Louisa began to cry, and when he urged her to tell him the
cause of her distress, and the reason of her unhappiness, she told him
in a voice broken by sobs that she could see that he was missing his
mother and sisters.
He replied that he did not miss them in the least, and that he
should wish them far away if they happened to turn up now.
“But why couldn't he marry her?”
“Weren't they as good as married?”
“No, they weren't married properly.”
“By a clergyman? In his opinion a clergyman was nothing but a
student who had passed his examinations, and his incantations were pure
“That was beyond her, but she knew that something was wrong, and the
other people in the house pointed their fingers at her.”
“Let them point!”
Sophy joined in the conversation. She said she knew that they were
not good enough for his relations; but she didn't mind. Let everybody
keep his own place and be content.
Anyhow, they had friends now, and lived together in harmony, which
is more than could be said of many properly constituted families. The
tie which held them together remained intact, but they were otherwise
unfettered. They continued being lovers without contracting any bad
matrimonial habits, as, for example, the habit of being rude to one
After a year or two their union was blest with a son. The mistress
had thereby risen to the rank of a mother, and everything else was
forgotten. The pangs which she had endured at the birth of the baby,
and her care for the newly born infant, had purged her of her old
selfish claims to all the good things of the earth, including the
monopoly of her husband's love.
In her new role as mother she gave herself superior little airs with
her friend, and showed a little more assurance in her intercourse with
One day the latter came home with a great piece of news. He had met
his eldest sister in the street and had found her well informed on all
their private affairs. She was very anxious to see her little nephew
and had promised to pay them a call.
Mary-Louisa was surprised, and at once began to sweep and dust the
flat; in addition she insisted on a new dress for the occasion. And
then she waited for a whole week. The curtains were sent to the
laundry, the brass knobs on the doors of the stoves were made to shine,
the furniture was polished. The sister should see that her brother was
living with a decent person.
And then she made coffee, one morning at eleven o'clock, the time
when the sister would call.
She came, straight as if she had swallowed a poker, and gave
Mary-Louisa a hand which was as stiff as a batting staff. She examined
the bed-room furniture, but refused to drink coffee, and never once
looked her sister-in-law in the face. But she showed a faint, though
genuine, interest in the baby. Then she went away again.
Mary-Louisa in the meantime had carefully examined her coat, priced
the material of her dress and conceived a new idea of doing her hair.
She had not expected any great display of cordiality. As a start, the
fact of the visit was quite sufficient in itself, and she soon let the
house know that her sister-in-law had called.
The boy grew up and by and by a baby sister arrived. Now Mary-Louisa
began to show the most tender solicitude for the future of the
children, and not a day passed but she tried to convince their father
that nothing but a legal marriage with her would safeguard their
In addition to this his sister gave him a very plain hint to the
effect that a reconciliation with his parents was within the scope of
possibility, if he would but legalise his liaison.
After having fought against it day and night for two years, he
consented at last, and resolved that for the children's sake the
mythological ceremony should be allowed to take place.
But whom should they ask to the wedding? Mary-Louisa insisted on
being married in church. In this case Sophy could not be invited. That
was an impossibility. A girl like her! Mary-Louisa had already learnt
to pronounce the word “girl” with a decidedly moral accent. He reminded
her that Sophy had been a good friend to her, and that ingratitude was
not a very fine quality. Mary-Louisa, however, pointed out that parents
must be prepared to sacrifice private sympathies at the altar of their
children's prospects; and she carried the day.
The wedding took place.
The wedding was over. No invitation arrived from his parents, but a
furious letter from Sophy which resulted in a complete rupture.
Mary-Louisa was a wedded wife, now. But she was more lonely than she
had been before. Embittered by her disappointment, sure of her husband
who was now legally tied to her, she began to take all those liberties
which married people look upon as their right. What she had once
regarded in the light of a voluntary gift, she now considered a tribute
due to her. She entrenched herself behind the honourable title of “the
mother of his children,” and from there she made her sallies.
Simple-minded, as all duped husbands are, he could never grasp what
constituted the sacredness in the fact that she was the mother of
his children. Why his children should be different from other
children, and from himself, was a riddle to him.
But, with an easy conscience, because his children had a legal
mother now, he commenced to take again an interest in the world which
he had to a certain extent forgotten in the first ecstasy of his
love-dream, and which later on he had neglected because he hated to
leave his wife and children alone.
These liberties displeased his wife, and since there was no
necessity for her to mince matters now, and she was of an outspoken
disposition, she made no secrets of her thoughts.
But he had all the lawyer's tricks at his fingers' ends, and was
never at a loss for a reply.
“Do you think it right,” she asked, “to leave the mother of your
children alone at home with them, while you spend your time at a public
“I don't believe you missed me,” he answered by way of a
“Missed you? If the husband spends the housekeeping money on drink,
the wife will miss a great many things in the house.”
“To start with I don't drink, for I merely have a mouthful of food
and drink a cup of coffee; secondly, I don't spend the housekeeping
money on drink, for you keep it locked up: I have other funds which I
spend 'on drink.'“
Unfortunately women cannot stand satire, and the noose, made in fun,
was at once thrown round his neck.
“You do admit, then, that you drink?”
“No, I don't, I used your expression in fun.”
“In fun? You are making fun of your wife? You never used to do
“You wanted the marriage ceremony. Why are things so different now?”
“Because we are married, of course.”
“Partly because of that, and partly because intoxication has the
quality of passing off.”
“It was only intoxication in your case, then?”
“Not only in my case; in your case, too, and in all others as well.
It passes off more or less quickly.”
“And so love is nothing but intoxication as far as a man is
“As far as a woman is concerned too!”
“Nothing but intoxication!”
“Quite so! But there is no reason why one shouldn't remain friends.”
“One need not get married for that!”
“No; and that's exactly what I meant to point out.”
“You? Wasn't it you who insisted on our marriage?”
“Only because you worried me about it day and night three long
“But it was your wish, too!”
“Only because you wished it. Be grateful to me now that you've got
“Shall I be grateful because you leave the mother of your children
alone with them while you spend your time at the public-house?”
“No, not for that, but because I married you!” “You really think I
ought to be grateful for that?”
“Yes, like all decent people who have got their way!”
“Well, there is no happiness in a marriage like ours. Your family
doesn't acknowledge me!”
“What have you got to do with my family? I haven't married yours?”
“Because you didn't think it good enough!”
“But mine was good enough for you. If they had been shoemakers, you
wouldn't mind so much.”
“You talk of shoemakers as if they were beneath your notice. Aren't
they human beings like everybody else?”
“Of course they are, but I don't think you would have run after
“All right! Have your own way.”
But it was not all right, and it was never again all right. Was it
due to the fact of their being married, or was it due to something
else? Mary-Louisa could not help admitting in her heart that the old
times had been better times; they had been “jollier” she said.
He did not think that it was only owing to the fact that their
marriage had been legalised for he had observed that other marriages,
too, were not happy. And the worst of it all was this: when one day he
went to see his old friend and Sophy, as he sometimes did, behind his
wife's back, he was told that there was an end to that matter. And they
had not been married. So it could not have been marriage which was to
She was plain and therefore the coarse young men who don't know how
to appreciate a beautiful soul in an ugly body took no notice of her.
But she was wealthy, and she knew that men run after women for the sake
of their wealth; whether they do it because all wealth has been created
by men and they therefore claim the capital for their sex, or on other
grounds, was not quite clear to her. As she was a rich woman, she
learned a good many things, and as she distrusted and despised men, she
was considered an intellectual young woman.
She had reached the age of twenty. Her mother was still alive, but
she had no intention to wait for another five years before she became
her own mistress. Therefore she quite suddenly surprised her friends
with an announcement of her engagement.
“She is marrying because she wants a husband,” said some.
“She is marrying because she wants a footman and her liberty,” said
“How stupid of her to get married,” said the third; “she doesn't
know that she will be even less her own mistress than she is now.”
“Don't be afraid,” said the fourth, “she'll hold her own in spite of
What was he like? Who was he? Where had she found him?
He was a young lawyer, rather effeminate in appearance, with broad
hips and a shy manner. He was an only son, brought up by his mother and
aunt. He had always been very much afraid of girls, and he detested the
officers on account of their assurance, and because they were the
favourites at all entertainments. That is what he was like.
They were staying at a watering place and met at a dance. He had
come late and all the girls' programmes were full. A laughing,
triumphant “No!” was flung into his face wherever he asked for a dance,
and a movement of the programme brushed him away as if he were a
Offended and humiliated he left the ball-room and sat down on the
verandah to smoke a cigar. The moon threw her light on the lime-trees
in the Park and the perfume of the mignonette rose from the flower
He watched the dancing couples through the windows with the impotent
yearning of the cripple; the voluptuous rhythm of the waltz thrilled
him through and through.
“All alone and lost in dreams?” said a voice suddenly. “Why aren't
“Why aren't you?” he replied, looking up.
“Because I am plain and nobody asked me to,” she answered.
He looked at her. They had known each other for some time, but he
had never studied her features. She was exquisitely dressed, and in her
eyes lay an expression of infinite pain, the pain of despair and vain
revolt against the injustice of nature; he felt a lively sympathy for
“I, too, am scorned by everybody,” he said. “All the rights belong
to the officers. Whenever it is a question of natural selection, right
is on the side of the strong and the beautiful. Look at their shoulders
“How can you talk like that!”
“I beg your pardon! To have to play a losing game makes a man
bitter! Will you give me a dance?”
“For pity's sake?”
“Yes! Out of compassion for me!”
He threw away his cigar.
“Have you ever known what it means to be marked by the hand of fate,
and rejected? To be always the last?” he began again, passionately.
“I have known all that! But the last do not always remain the last,”
she added, emphatically. “There are other qualities, besides beauty,
“What quality do you appreciate most in a man?”
“Kindness,” she exclaimed, without the slightest hesitation. “For
this is a quality very rarely found in a man.”
“Kindness and weakness usually go hand in hand; women admire
“What sort of women are you talking about? Rude strength has had its
day; our civilisation has reached a sufficiently high standard to make
us value muscles and rude strength no more highly than a kind heart.”
“It ought to have! And yet—watch the dancing couples!”
“To my mind true manliness is shown in loftiness of sentiment and
intelligence of the heart.”
“Consequently a man whom the whole world calls weak and
“What do I care for the world and its opinion!”
“Do you know that you are a very remarkable woman?” said the young
lawyer, feeling more and more interested.
“Not in the least remarkable! But you men are accustomed to regard
women as dolls....”
“What sort of men do you mean? I, dear lady, have from my childhood
looked up to woman as a higher manifestation of the species man, and
from the day on which I fell in love with a woman, and she returned my
love, I should be her slave.”
Adeline looked at him long and searchingly.
“You are a remarkable man,” she said, after a pause.
After each of the two had declared the other to be a remarkable
specimen of the species man, and made a good many remarks on the
futility of dancing, they began to talk of the melancholy influence of
the moon. Then they returned to the ball-room and took their place in a
set of quadrilles.
Adeline was a perfect dancer and the lawyer won her heart completely
because he “danced like an innocent girl.”
When the set was over, they went out again on the verandah and sat
“What is love?” asked Adeline, looking at the moon as if she
expected an answer from heaven.
“The sympathy of the souls,” he replied, and his voice sounded like
the whispering breeze.
“But sympathy may turn to antipathy; it has happened frequently,”
“Then it wasn't genuine! There are materialists who say that there
would be no such thing as love if there weren't two sexes, and they
dare to maintain that sensual love is more lasting than the love of the
soul. Don't you think it low and bestial to see nothing but sex in the
“Don't speak of the materialists!”
“Yes, I must, so that you may realise the loftiness of my feelings
for a woman, if ever I fell in love. She need not be beautiful; beauty
soon fades. I should look upon her as a dear friend, a chum. I should
never feel shy in her company, as with any ordinary girl. I should
approach her without fear, as I am approaching you, and I should say:
'Will you be my friend for life?' I should be able to speak to her
without the slightest tremor of that nervousness which a lover is
supposed to feel when he proposes to the object of his tenderness,
because his thoughts are not pure.”
Adeline looked at the young man, who had taken her hand in his, with
“You are an idealist,” she said, “and I agree with you from the very
bottom of my heart. You are asking for my friendship, if I understand
you rightly. It shall be yours, but I must put you to the test first.
Will you prove to me that you can pocket your pride for the sake of a
“Speak and I shall obey!”
Adeline took off a golden chain with a locket which she had been
wearing round her neck.
“Wear this as a symbol of our friendship.”
“I will wear it,” he said, in an uncertain voice; “but it might make
the people think that we are engaged.”
“And do you object?”
“No, not if you don't! Will you be my wife?”
“Yes, Axel! I will! For the world looks askance at friendship
between man and woman; the world is so base that it refuses to believe
in the possibility of such a thing.”
And he wore the chain.
The world, which is very materialistic at heart, repeated the
verdict of her friends:
“She marries him in order to be married; he marries her because he
wants a wife.”
The world made nasty remarks, too. It said that he was marrying her
for the sake of her money; for hadn't he himself declared that anything
so degrading as love did not exist between them? There was no need for
friends to live together like married couples.
The wedding took place. The world had received a hint that they
would live together like brother and sister, and the world awaited with
a malicious grin the result of the great reform which should put
matrimony on another basis altogether.
The newly married couple went abroad.
When they returned, the young wife was pale and ill-tempered. She
began at once to take riding-lessons. The world scented mischief and
waited. The man looked as if he were guilty of a base act and was
ashamed of himself. It all came out at last.
“They have not been living like brother and sister,” said the
“What? Without loving one another? But that is—well, what is it?”
“A forbidden relationship!” said the materialists.
“It is a spiritual marriage!”
“Or incest,” suggested an anarchist.
Facts remained facts, but the sympathy was on the wane. Real life,
stripped of All make-believe, confronted them and began to take
The lawyer practised his profession, but the wife's profession was
practised by a maid and a nurse. Therefore she had no occupation. The
want of occupation encouraged brooding, and she brooded a great deal
over her position. She found it unsatisfactory. Was it right that an
intellectual woman like her should spend her days in idleness? Once her
husband had ventured to remark that no one compelled her to live in
idleness. He never did it again.
“She had no profession.”
“True; to be idle was no profession. Why didn't she nurse the baby?”
“Nurse the baby? She wanted a profession which brought in money.”
“Was she such a miser, then? She had already more than she knew how
to spend; why should she want to earn money?”
“To be on an equal footing with him.”
“That could never be, for she would always be in a position to which
he could never hope to attain. It was nature's will that the woman was
to be the mother, not the man.”
“A very stupid arrangement!”
“Very likely! The opposite might have been the case, but that would
have been equally stupid.”
“Yes; but her life was unbearable. It didn't satisfy her to live for
the family only, she wanted to live for others as well.”
“Hadn't she better begin with the family? There was plenty of time
to think of the others.”
The conversation might have continued through all eternity; as it
was it only lasted an hour.
The lawyer was, of course, away almost all day long, and even when
he was at home he had his consulting hours. It drove Adeline nearly
mad. He was always locked in his consulting-room with other women who
confided information to him which he was bound to keep secret. These
secrets formed a barrier between them, and made her feel that he was
more than a match for her.
It roused a sullen hatred in her heart; she resented the injustice
of their mutual relationship; she sought for a means to drag him down.
Come down he must, so that they should be on the same level.
One day she proposed the foundation of a sanatorium. He said all he
could against it, for he was very busy with his practice. But on
further consideration he thought that occupation of some sort might be
the saving of her; perhaps it would help her to settle down.
The sanatorium was founded; he was one of the directors.
She was on the Committee and ruled. When she had ruled for six
months, she imagined herself so well up in the art of healing that she
interviewed patients and gave them advice.
“It's easy enough,” she said.
Then it happened that the house-surgeon made a mistake, and she
straightway lost all confidence in him. It further happened that one
day, in the full consciousness of her superior wisdom, she prescribed
for a patient herself, in the doctor's absence. The patient had the
prescription made up, took it and died.
This necessitated a removal to another centre of activity. But it
disturbed the equilibrium. A second child, which was born about the
same time, disturbed it still more and, to make matters worse, a rumour
of the fatal accident was spreading through the town.
The relations between husband and wife were unlovely and sad, for
there had never been any love between them. The healthy, powerful
natural instinct, which does not reflect, was absent; what remained was
an unpleasant liaison founded on the uncertain calculations of a
She never voiced the thoughts hatched behind her burning brow after
she had discovered that she was mistaken in believing that she had a
higher mission, but she made her husband suffer for it.
Her health failed; she lost her appetite and refused to go out. She
grew thin and seemed to be suffering from a chronic cough. The husband
made her repeatedly undergo medical examinations, but the doctors were
unable to discover the cause of her malady. In the end he became so
accustomed to her constant complaints that he paid no more attention to
“I know it's unpleasant to have an invalid wife,” she said.
He admitted in his heart that it was anything but pleasant; had he
loved her, he would neither have felt nor admitted it.
Her emaciation became so alarming, that he could not shut his eyes
to it any longer, and had to consent to her suggestion that she should
consult a famous professor.
Adeline was examined by the celebrity. “How long have you been ill?”
“I have never been very strong since I left the country,” she
replied. “I was born in the country.”
“Then you don't feel well in town?”
“Well? Who cares whether I feel well or not?” And her face assumed
an expression which left no room for doubt: she was a martyr.
“Do you think that country air would do you good?” continued the
“Candidly, I believe that it is the only thing which could save my
“Then why don't you live in the country?”
“My husband couldn't give up his profession for my sake.”
“He has a wealthy wife and we have plenty of lawyers.”
“You think, then, that we ought to live in the country?”
“Certainly, if you believe that it would do you good. You are not
suffering from any organic disease, but your nerves are unstrung;
country air would no doubt benefit you.”
Adeline returned home to her husband very depressed.
“The professor had sentenced her to death if she remained in town.”
The lawyer was much upset. But since the fact that his distress was
mainly caused by the thought of giving up his practice was very
apparent, she held that she had absolute proof that the question of her
health was a matter of no importance to him.
“What? He didn't believe that it was a matter of life and death?
Didn't he think the professor knew better than he? Was he going to let
He was not going to let her die. He bought an estate in the country
and engaged an inspector to look after it.
As a sheriff and a district-judge were living on the spot, the
lawyer had no occupation. The days seemed to him as endless as they
were unpleasant. Since his income had stopped with his practice, he was
compelled to live on his wife's money. In the first six months he read
a great deal and played “Fortuna.” In the second six months he gave up
reading, as it served no object. In the third he amused himself by
His wife, on the other hand, devoted herself to the farm, pinned up
her skirts to the knees and went into the stables. She came into the
house dirty, and smelling of the cow-shed. She felt well and ordered
the labourers about that it was a pleasure to hear her, for she had
grown up in the country and knew what she was about.
When her husband complained of having nothing to do, she laughed at
“Find some occupation in the house. No one need ever be idle in a
house like this.”
He would have liked to suggest some outside occupation, but he had
not the courage.
He ate, slept, and went for walks. If he happened to enter the barn
or the stables, he was sure to be in the way and be scolded by his
One day, when he had grumbled more than usual, while the children
had been running about, neglected by the nurse, she said:
“Why don't you look after the children? That would give you
something to do.”
He stared at her. Did she really mean it?
“Well, why shouldn't he look after the children? Was there anything
strange in her suggestion?”
He thought the matter over and found nothing strange in it.
Henceforth he took the children for a walk every day.
One morning, when he was ready to go out, the children were not
dressed. The lawyer felt angry and went grumbling to his wife; of the
servants he was afraid.
“Why aren't the children dressed?” he asked.
“Because Mary is busy with other things. Why don't you dress them?
You've nothing else to do. Do you consider it degrading to dress your
He considered the matter for a while, but could see nothing
degrading in it. He dressed them.
One day he felt inclined to take his gun and go out by himself,
although he never shot anything.
His wife met him on his return.
“Why didn't you take the children for a walk this morning?” she
asked sharply and reproachfully.
“Because I didn't feel inclined to do so.” “You didn't feel
inclined? Do you think I want to work all day long in stable and barn?
One ought to do something useful during the day, even if it does
go against one's inclination.”
“So as to pay for one's dinner, you mean?”
“If you like to put it that way! If I were a big man like you, I
should be ashamed to be lying all day long on a sofa, doing nothing.”
He really felt ashamed, and henceforth he established himself the
children's nurse. He never failed in his duties. He saw no disgrace in
it, yet he was unhappy. Something was wrong, somewhere, he thought, but
his wife always managed to carry her point.
She sat in the office and interviewed inspector and overseer; she
stood in the store-room and weighed out stores for the cottagers.
Everybody who came on the estate asked for the mistress, nobody ever
wanted to see the master.
One day he took the children past a field in which cattle were
grazing. He wanted to show them the cows and cautiously took them up to
the grazing herd. All at once a black head, raised above the backs of
the other animals, stared at the visitors, bellowing softly.
The lawyer picked up the children and ran back to the fence as hard
as he could. He threw them over and tried to jump it himself, but was
caught on the top. Noticing some women on the other side, he shouted:
“The bull! the bull!”
But the women merely laughed, and went to pull the children, whose
clothes were covered with mud, out of the ditch.
“Don't you see the bull?” he screamed.
“It's no bull, sir,” replied the eldest of the women, “the bull was
killed a fortnight ago.”
He came home, angry and ashamed and complained of the women to his
wife. But she only laughed.
In the afternoon, as husband and wife were together in the
drawing-room, there was a knock at the door.
“Come in!” she called out.
One of the women who had witnessed the adventure with the bull came
in, holding in her hand the lawyer's gold chain.
“I believe this belongs to you, M'm,” she said hesitatingly.
Adeline looked first at the woman and then at her husband, who
stared at the chain with wide-open eyes.
“No, it belongs to your master,” she said, taking the proffered
chain. “Thank you! Your master will give you something for finding it.”
He was sitting there, pale and motionless.
“I have no money, ask my wife to give you something,” he said,
taking the necklet.
Adeline took a crown out of her big purse and handed it to the
woman, who went away, apparently without understanding the scene.
“You might have spared me this humiliation!” he said, and his voice
plainly betrayed the pain he felt.
“Are you not man enough to take the responsibility for your words
and actions on your own shoulders? Are you ashamed to wear a present I
gave you, while you expect me to wear yours? You're a coward! And you
imagine yourself to be a man!”
Henceforth the poor lawyer had no peace. Wherever he went, he met
grinning faces, and farm-labourers and maid-servants from the safe
retreat of sheltered nooks, shouted “the bull! the bull!” whenever he
Adeline had resolved to attend an auction and stay away for a week.
She asked her husband to look after the servants in her absence.
On the first day the cook came and asked him for money for sugar and
coffee. He gave it to her. Three days later she came again and asked
him for the same thing. He expressed surprise at her having already
spent what he had given her.
“I don't want it all for myself,” she replied, “and mistress doesn't
He gave her the money. But, wondering whether he had made a mistake,
he opened his wife's account book and began to add up the columns.
He arrived at a strange result. When he had added up all the pounds
for a month, he found it came to a lispound.
He continued checking her figures, and the result was everywhere the
same. He took the principal ledger and found that, leaving the high
figures out of the question, very stupid mistakes in the additions had
been made. Evidently his wife knew nothing of denominate quantities or
decimal fractions. This unheard of cheating of the servants must
certainly lead to ruin.
His wife came home. After having listened to a detailed account of
the auction, he cleared his throat, intending to tell his tale, but his
wife anticipated his report:
“Well, and how did you get on with the servants?”
“Oh! very well, but I am certain that they cheat you.”
“Yes; for instance the amount spent on coffee and sugar is too
“How do you know?”
“I saw it in your account book.”
“Indeed! You poked your nose into my books?”
“Poked my nose into your books? No, but I took it upon me to check
“What business was it of yours?”
“And I found that you keep books without having the slightest
knowledge of denominate quantities or decimal fractions.”
“What? You think I don't know?”
“No, you don't! And therefore the foundations of the establishment
are shaky. Your book-keeping is all humbug, old girl!”
“My book-keeping concerns no one but myself.”
“Incorrect book-keeping is an offence punishable by law; if you are
not liable, then I am.”
“The law? I care a fig for the law!”
“I daresay! But we shall get into its clutches, if not you, then
most certainly I! And therefore I am going to be book-keeper in the
“We can engage a man to do it.”
“No, that's not necessary! I have nothing else to do.”
And that settled the matter.
But once the husband occupied the chair at the desk and the people
came to see him, the wife lost all interest in farming and
A violent reaction set in; she no longer attended to the cows and
calves, but remained in the house. There she sat, hatching fresh plots.
But the husband had regained a fresh hold on life. He took an eager
interest in the estate and woke up the people. Now he held the reins;
managed everything, gave orders and paid the bills.
One day his wife came into the office and asked him for a thousand
crowns to buy a piano.
“What are you thinking of?” said the husband. “Just when we are
going to re-build the stables! We haven't the means to buy a piano.”
“What do you mean?” she replied. “Why haven't we got the means?
Isn't my money sufficient?”
“Yes, my money, my dowry.”
“That has now become the property of the family.”
“That is to say yours?”
“No, the family's. The family is a small community, the only one
which possesses common property which, as a rule, is administered by
“Why should he administer it and not the wife?”
“Because he has more time to give to it, since he does not bear
“Why couldn't they administer it jointly?”
“For the same reason that a joint stock company has only one
managing director. If the wife administered as well, the children would
claim the same right, for it is their property, too.”
“This is mere hair-splitting. I think it's hard that I should have
to ask your permission to buy a piano out of my own money.”
“It's no longer your money.”
“No, not mine either, but the family's. And you are wrong when you
say that you 'have to ask for my permission'; it's merely wise that you
should consult with the administrator as to whether the position of
affairs warrants your spending such a large sum on a luxury.”
“Do you call a piano a luxury?”
“A new piano, when there is an old one, must be termed a luxury. The
position of our affairs is anything but satisfactory, and therefore it
doesn't permit you to buy a new piano at present, but I,
personally, can or will have nothing to say against it.”
“An expenditure of a thousand crowns doesn't mean ruin.”
“To incur a debt of a thousand crowns at the wrong time may be the
first step towards ruin.”
“All this means that you refuse to buy me a new piano?”
“No, I won't say that. The uncertain position of affairs....”
“When, oh! when will the day dawn on which the wife will manage her
own affairs and have no need to go begging to her husband?”
“When she works herself. A man, your father, has earned your money.
The men have gained all the wealth there is in the world; therefore it
is but just that a sister should inherit less than her brother,
especially as the brother is born with the duty to provide for a woman,
while the sister need not provide for a man. Do you understand?”
“And you call that justice? Can you honestly maintain that it is?
Ought we not all to share and share alike?”
“No, not always. One ought to share according to circumstances and
merit. The idler who lies in the grass and watches the mason building a
house, should have a smaller share than the mason.”
“Do you mean to insinuate that I am lazy?”
“H'm! I'd rather not say anything about that. But when I used to lie
on the sofa, reading, you considered me a loafer, and I well remember
that you said something to that effect in very plain language.”
“But what am I to do?”
“Take the children out for walks.”
“I'm not constituted to look after the children.”
“But there was a time when I had to do it. Let me tell you that a
woman who says that she is not constituted to look after children,
isn't a woman. But that fact doesn't make a man of her, by any means.
What is she, then?”
“Shame on you that you should speak like that of the mother of your
“What does the world call a man who will have nothing to do with
women? Isn't it something very ugly?”
“I won't hear another word!”
And she left him and locked herself into her room.
She fell ill. The doctor, the almighty man, who took over the care
of the body when the priest lost the care of the soul, pronounced
country air and solitude to be harmful.
They were obliged to return to town so that the wife could have
proper medical treatment.
Town had a splendid effect on her health; the air of the slums gave
colour to her cheeks.
The lawyer practised his profession and so husband and wife had
found safety-valves for their temperaments which refused to blend.
HIS SERVANT OR DEBIT AND CREDIT
Mr. Blackwood was a wharfinger at Brooklyn and had married Miss
Dankward, who brought him a dowry of modern ideas. To avoid seeing his
beloved wife playing the part of his servant, Mr. Blackwood had taken
rooms in a boarding house.
The wife, who had nothing whatever to do, spent the day in playing
billiards and practising the piano, and half the night in discussing
Women's Rights and drinking whiskies and sodas.
The husband had a salary of five thousand dollars. He handed over
his money regularly to his wife who took charge of it. She had,
moreover, a dress allowance of five hundred dollars with which she did
as she liked.
Then a baby arrived. A nurse was engaged who, for a hundred dollars,
took upon her shoulders the sacred duties of the mother.
Two more children were born.
They grew up and the two eldest went to school. But Mrs. Blackwood
was bored and had nothing with which to occupy her mind.
One morning she appeared at the breakfast table, slightly
The husband ventured to tell her that her behaviour was unseemly.
She had hysterics and went to bed, and all the other ladies in the
house called on her and brought her flowers.
“Why do you drink so much whisky?” asked her husband, as kindly as
possible. “Is there anything which troubles you?”
“How could I be happy when my whole life is wasted!”
“What do you mean by wasted? You are the mother of three children
and you might spend your time in educating them.”
“I can't be bothered with children.”
“Then you ought to be bothered with them! You would be benefiting
the whole community and have a splendid object in life, a far more
honourable one, for instance, than that of being a wharfinger.”
“Yes, if I were free!”
“You are freer than I am. I am under your rule. You decide how my
earnings are to be spent. You have five hundred dollars pin money to
spend as you like; but I have no pin money. I have to make an
application to the cash-box, in other words, to you, whenever I want to
buy tobacco. Don't you think that you are freer than I am?”
She made no reply; she tried to think the question out.
The upshot of it was that they decided to have a home of their own.
And they set up house-keeping.
“My dear friend,” Mrs. Blackwood wrote a little later on to a friend
of hers, “I am ill and tired to death. But I must go on suffering, for
there is no solace for an unhappy woman who has no object in life. I
will show the world that I am not the sort of woman who is content to
live on her husband's bounty, and therefore I shall work myself to
On the first day she rose at nine o'clock and turned out her
husband's room. Then she dismissed the cook and at eleven o'clock she
went out to do the catering for the day.
When the husband came home at one o'clock, lunch was not ready. It
was the maid's fault.
Mrs. Blackwood was dreadfully tired and in tears. The husband could
not find it in his heart to complain. He ate a burnt cutlet and went
back to his work.
“Don't work so hard, darling,” he said, as he was leaving.
In the evening his wife was so tired that she could not finish her
work and went to bed at ten o'clock.
On the following morning, as Mr. Blackwood went into his wife's room
to say good morning to her, he was amazed at her healthy complexion.
“Have you slept well?” he asked.
“Why do you ask?”
“Because you are looking so well.”
“Yes, a little occupation seems to agree with you.”
“A little occupation? You call it little? I should like to know what
you would call much.”
“Never mind, I didn't mean to annoy you.”
“Yes, you did. You meant to imply that I wasn't working hard enough.
And yet I turned out your room yesterday, just as if I were a
house-maid, and stood in the kitchen like a cook. Can you deny that I
am your servant?”
In going out the husband said to the maid:
“You had better get up at seven in future and do my room. Your
mistress shouldn't have to do your work.”
In the evening Mr. Blackwood came home in high spirits but his wife
was angry with him.
“Why am I not to do your room?” she asked.
“Because I object to your being my servant.”
“Why do you object?”
“The thought of it makes me unhappy.”
“But it doesn't make you unhappy to think of me cooking your dinner
and attending to your children?”
This remark set him thinking.
He pondered the question during the whole of his tram journey to
When he came home in the evening, he had done a good deal of
“Now, listen to me, my love,” he began, “I've thought a lot about
your position in the house and, of course, I am far from wishing that
you should be my servant. I think the best thing to do is this: You
must look upon me as your boarder and I'll pay for myself. Then you'll
be mistress in the house, and I'll pay you for my dinner.”
“What do you mean?” asked his wife, a little uneasy.
“What I say. Let's pretend that you keep a boarding-house and that
I'm your boarder. We'll only pretend it, of course.”
“Very well! And what are you going to pay me?”
“Enough to prevent me from being under an obligation to you. It will
improve my position, too, for then I shall not feel that I am kept out
“Out of kindness?”
“Yes; you give me a dinner which is only half-cooked, and then you
go on repeating that you are my servant, that is to say, that you are
working yourself to death for me.”
“What are you driving at?”
“Is three dollars a day enough for my board? Any boarding-house will
take me for two.”
“Three dollars ought to be plenty.”
“Very well! Let's say a thousand dollars per annum. Here's the money
He laid a bill on the table.
It was made out as follows:
Rent 500 dollars
Nurse's wages 100 “
Cook's wages 150 “
Wife's maintenance 500 “
Wife's pin money 500 “
Nurse's maintenance 300 “
Cook's maintenance 300 “
Children's maintenance 700 “
Children's clothes 500 “
Wood, light, assistance 500 “
“Divide this sum by two, since we share expenses equally, that
leaves 2025 dollars. Deduct my thousand dollars and give me 1025
dollars. If you have got the money by you, all the better.”
“Share expenses equally?” was all the wife could say. “Do you expect
me to pay you, then?”
“Yes, of course, if we are to be on a footing of equality. I pay for
half of your and the children's support. Or do you want me to pay the
whole? Very well, that would mean that I should have to pay you 4050
dollars plus 1000 dollars for my board. But I pay separately for rent,
food, light, wood and servants' wages. What do I get for my three
dollars a day for board? The preparation of the food? Nothing else but
that for 4050 dollars? Now, if I subtract really half of this sum, that
is to say, my share of the expenses, 2025 dollars, then the preparation
of my food costs me 2025 dollars. But I have already paid the cook for
doing it; how, then, can I be expected to pay 2025 dollars, plus 1000
dollars for food?”
“I don't know.”
“Neither do I. But I know that I owe you nothing after paying for
the whole of your support, the children's support and the servants'
support; the servants who do your work, which, in your opinion, is
equal, or superior, to mine. But even if your work should really be
worth more, you must remember that you have another five hundred
dollars in addition to the household expenses, while I have nothing.”
“I repeat that I don't understand your figures!”
“Neither do I. Perhaps we had better abandon the idea of the
boarding-house. Let's put down the debit and credit of the
establishment. Here's the account, if you'd like to see it.”
To Mrs. Blackwood for assistance in the house, and to Mrs.
cook and nursemaid:
Rent and maintenance 1000 dollars
Clothes 500 “
Amusements 100 “
Pin money (by cash) 500 “
Her children's maintenance 1200 “
Her children's education 600 “
On account of the maids who do her
work 850 “
Paid M. Blackwood, Wharfinger
“Oh! It's too bad of you to worry your wife with bills!”
“With counter-bills! And even that one you need not pay, for I pay
The wife crumpled up the paper.
“Am I to pay for your children's education, too?”
“No, I will, and I shall, and I will also pay for your children's
education. You shall not pay one single farthing for mine. Is that
being on a footing of equality? But I shall deduct the sum for the
maintenance of my children and servants: then you will still have 2100
dollars for the assistance you give to my servants. Do you want any
She wanted no more; never again.
He wakes up in the morning from evil dreams of bills which have
become due and copy which has not been delivered. His hair is damp with
cold perspiration, and his cheeks tremble as he dresses himself. He
listens to the chirruping of the children in the next room and plunges
his burning face into cold water. He drinks the coffee which he has
made himself, so as not to disturb the nursery maid at the early hour
of eight o'clock. Then he makes his bed, brushes his clothes, and sits
down to write.
The fever attacks him, the fever which is to create hallucinations
of rooms he has never seen, landscapes which never existed, people
whose names cannot be found in the directory. He sits at his writing
table in mortal anguish. His thoughts must be clear, pregnant and
picturesque, his writing legible, the story dramatic; the interest must
never abate, the metaphors must be striking, the dialogue brilliant.
The faces of those automata, the public, whose brains he is to wind up,
are grinning at him; the critics whose good-will he must enlist, stare
at him through the spectacles of envy; he is haunted by the gloomy face
of the publisher, which it is his task to brighten. He sees the jurymen
sitting round the black table in the centre of which lies a Bible; he
hears the sound of the opening of prison doors behind which
free-thinkers are suffering for the crime of having thought bold
thoughts for the benefit of the sluggards; he listens to the noiseless
footfall of the hotel porter who is coming with the bill....
And all the while the fever is raging and his pen flies, flies over
the paper without a moment's delay at the vision of publisher or
jurymen, leaving in its track red lines as of congealed blood which
slowly turn to black.
When he rises from his chair, after a couple of hours, he has only
enough strength left to stumble across the room. He sinks down on his
bed and lies there as if Death held him in his clutches. It is not
invigorating sleep which has closed his eyes, but a stupor, a long
fainting fit during which he remains conscious, tortured by the
horrible thought that his strength is gone, his nervous system
shattered, his brain empty.
A ring at the bell of the private hotel! Voila le facteur!
The mail has arrived.
He rouses himself and staggers out of his room. A pile of letters is
handed to him. Proofs which must be read at once; a book from a young
author, begging for a candid criticism: a paper containing a
controversial article to which he must reply without delay, a request
for a contribution to an almanac, an admonishing letter from his
publisher. How can an invalid cope with it all?
In the meantime the children's nurse has got up and dressed the
children, drunk the coffee made for her in the hotel kitchen, and eaten
the rolls spread with honey which have been sent up for her. After
breakfast she takes a stroll in the park.
At one o'clock the bell rings for luncheon. All the guests are
assembled in the dining-room. He, too, is there, sitting at the table
“Where is your wife?” he is asked on all sides.
“I don't know,” he replies.
“What a brute!” is the comment of the ladies, who are still in their
The entrance of his wife interrupts the progress of the meal, and
the hungry guests who have been punctual are kept waiting for the
The ladies enquire anxiously whether his, wife has slept well and
feels refreshed? Nobody asks him how he feels. There is no need to
“He looks like a corpse,” says one of the ladies.
And she is right.
“Dissipation,” says another.
But that is anything but true. He takes no part in the conversation,
for he has nothing to say to these women. But his wife talks for two.
While he swallows his food, his ears are made to listen to rich praise
of all that is base, and vile abuse of all that is noble and good.
When luncheon is over he takes his wife aside.
“I wish you would send Louisa to the tailor's with my coat; a seam
has come undone and I haven't the time to sew it up myself.”
She makes no reply, but instead of sending the coat by Louisa, she
takes it herself and walks to the village where the tailor lives.
In the garden she meets some of her emancipated friends who ask her
where she is going.
She replies, truthfully enough, that she is going to the tailor's
for her husband.
“Fancy sending her to the tailor's! And she allows him to treat her
like a servant!”
“While he is lying on the bed, taking an after-dinner nap! A nice
It is quite true, he is taking an after dinner nap, for he is
suffering from anaemia.
At three o'clock the postman rings again; he is expected to answer a
letter from Berlin in German, one from Paris in French, and one from
London in English.
His wife, who has returned from the tailor's and refreshed herself
with a cognac, asks him whether he feels inclined to make an excursion
with the children. No, he has letters to write.
When he has finished his letters, he goes out for a stroll before
dinner. He is longing for somebody to talk to. But he is alone. He goes
into the garden and looks for the children.
The stout nurse is sitting on a garden seat, reading Mrs. Leffler's
True Women which his wife has lent her. The children are bored,
they want to run about or go for a walk.
“Why don't you take the children for a walk, Louisa?” he asks.
“Mistress said it was too hot.”
His wife's orders!
He calls to the children and walks with them towards the high road;
suddenly he notices that their hands and faces are dirty and their
boots in holes.
“Why are the children allowed to wear such boots?” he asks Louisa.
His wife said!
He goes for a walk by himself.
It is seven o'clock and dinner-time. The ladies have not yet
returned to the hotel. The two first courses have been served when they
arrive with flushed faces, talking and laughing loudly.
His wife and her friend are in high spirits and smell of cognac.
“What have you been doing with yourself all day, daddy?” she asks
“I went for a walk with the children.”
“Wasn't Louisa there?”
“Oh! yes, but she was otherwise engaged.”
“Well, I don't think it's too much to ask of a man to keep an eye on
his own children,” says the friend.
“No, of course not,” answers the husband. “And therefore I scolded
Louisa for allowing the children to run about with dirty faces and
“I never come home but I am scolded,” says the wife; “You spoil
every little pleasure I have with your fault-finding.”
And a tiny tear moistens her reddened eyelids. The friend and all
the rest of the ladies cast indignant glances at the husband.
An attack is imminent and the friend sharpens her tongue.
“Has anybody here present read Luther's views on the right of a
“What right is that?” asks his wife.
“To look out for another partner if she is dissatisfied with the one
There is a pause.
“A very risky doctrine as far as a woman's interests are concerned,”
says the husband, “for it follows that in similar circumstances a man
is justified in doing the same thing. The latter happens much more
frequently than the former.”
“I don't understand what you mean,” says the wife.
“That's neither Luther's fault nor mine,” answers the husband. “Just
as it is not necessarily the husband's fault if he doesn't get on with
his wife. Possibly he would get on excellently with another woman.”
A dead silence follows; the diners rise from their chairs.
The husband retires to his own room. His wife and her friend leave
the dining-room together and sit down in the pavilion.
“What brutality!” exclaims the friend. “How can you, a sensitive,
intelligent woman, consent to be the servant of that selfish brute?”
“He has never understood me,” sighs the wife. Her satisfaction in
being able to pronounce these damning words is so great, that it drowns
the memory of a reply which her husband has given her again and again:
“Do you imagine that your thoughts are so profound that I, a man
with a subtle brain, am unable to fathom them? Has it never occurred to
you that it may be your shallowness which prevents you from
He sits down in his room, alone. He suffers from remorse, as if he
had struck his mother. But she struck the first blow; she has struck
him blow after blow, for many years, and never once before has he
This coarse, heartless, cynical woman, in whose keeping he confided
his whole soul with all its thoughts and emotions, was conscious of his
superiority, and therefore she humiliated him, dragged him down, pulled
him by the hair, covered him with abuse. Was it a crime that he struck
back when she publicly taunted him? Yes—he felt as guilty as if he had
murdered his dearest friend.
The twilight of the warm summer night deepens and the moon rises.
The sound of music from the drawing-room floats through his window.
He goes into the garden and sits down under a walnut tree. Alone! The
chords of the piano blend with the words of the song:
When the veil of night was drawn
And crowded earth, mysterious sea
Became one sweet, enchanted ground
For us, until the starless dawn
Dissolved the failing moon—then we
In one long ecstasy were bound.
Now, I, alone in silence and in pain
Weep for the ache of well-remembered bliss,
For you who never can return again,
For you, my spring time, for your love, your kiss.
He strolls through the garden and looks through the window. There
she sits, his living poem, which he has composed for his own delight.
She sings with tears in her voice. The ladies on the sofas look at one
But behind the laurel bushes on a garden seat two men are sitting,
smoking, and chatting. He can hear what they say.
“Nothing but the effect of the cognac.”
“Yes, they say that she drinks.”
“And blame the husband for it.”
“That's a shame! She took to drinking in Julian's studio. She was
going to be an artist, you know, but she didn't succeed. When they
rejected her picture at the exhibition, she threw herself at the head
of this poor devil and married him to hide her defeat.”
“Yes, I know, and made his life a burden until he is but the shadow
of his former self. They started with a home of their own in Paris, and
he kept two maids for her; still she called herself his servant.
Although she was mistress over everything, she insisted that she was
but his slave She neglected the house, the servants robbed them right
and left, and he saw their home threatened with ruin without being able
to move a finger to avert it. She opposed every suggestion he made; if
he wanted black, she wanted white. In this way she broke his will and
shattered, his nerves. He broke up his home and took her to a
boarding-house to save her the trouble of housekeeping and enable her
to devote herself entirely to her art. But she won't touch a brush and
goes out all day long with her friend. She has tried to come between
him and his work, too, and drive him to drink, but she has not managed
it; therefore she hates him, for he is the better of the two.”
“But the husband must be a fool,” remarks the other man.
“He is a fool wherever his wife is concerned, but he is no exception
to the rule. They have been married for twelve years and he is still in
love with her. The worst of it is that he is a strong man, who
commanded the respect of Parliament and Press, is breaking up. I talked
to him this morning; he is ill, to say the least.”
“Yes; I heard that she tried to have him locked up in a asylum, and
that her friend did everything in her power to assist her.”
“And he works himself to death, so that she can enjoy herself.”
“Do you know why she treats him so contemptuously? Because he cannot
give her all the luxury she wants. 'A man who cannot give his wife all
she wants,' she said the other day at dinner, 'ce n'est pas grand'
chose.' I believe that she counted on his booming her as an artist.
Unfortunately his political views prevent him from being on good terms
with the leading papers, and, moreover, he has no friends in artistic
circles; his interests lie elsewhere.”
“I see; she wanted to make use of him for her own ends; when he
resisted she threw him over; but he serves his purpose as a
Now, I, alone in silence and in pain,
Weep for the ache of well-remembered bliss....
comes her voice from the drawing-room.
“Bang!” the sound came from behind the walnut tree. It was followed
by a snapping of branches and a crunching of sand.
The talkers jumped to their feet.
The body of a well-dressed man lay across the road, with his head
against the leg of a chair.
The song stopped abruptly. The ladies rushed into the garden. The
friend poured a few drops of eau de Cologne which she held in her hand,
on the face of the prostrate man.
When she realised that it was no fainting fit, she started back.
“Horrible!” she exclaimed, putting her hand up to her face.
The elder of the two men, who was stooping over; the dead body,
“Be silent, woman!” he exclaimed.
“What a brute!” said the friend.
The dead man's wife fainted, but was caught in the arms of her
friend and tenderly nursed by the rest of the women.
“Send for a doctor!” shouted the elder of the two men. “Run!”
Nobody took any notice; everybody was busy with the unconscious
“To bring such grief on his wife! Oh! what a man! What a man!”
sobbed the friend.
“Has no one a thought for the dying man? All this' fuss because a
woman has fainted! Give her some brandy, that will revive her!”
“The wretched man has deserved his fate!” said the friend
“He indeed deserved a better fate than to fall into your, hands
alive. Shame on you, woman, and all honour to the breadwinner!”
He let the hand of the dead man go and rose to his, feet.
“It's all over!” he said.