Edwin Bjoerkman. Between "Hunger" and "Growth of the Soil" lies the time generally allotted to a generation, but at first glance the two books seem much farther apart. One expresses the passionate revolt of a homeless wanderer against the conventional routine of modern life. The other celebrates a root-fast existence bounded in every direction by monotonous chores. The issuance of two such books from the same pen suggests to the superficial view a complete reversal of position. The truth, however, is that Hamsun stands today where he has always stood. His objective is the same. If he has changed, it is only in the intensity of his feeling and the mode of his attack. What, above all, he hates and combats is the artificial uselessness of existence which to him has become embodied in the life of the city as opposed to that of the country.
Problems do not enter into the novels of Hamsun in the same manner as
they did into the plays of Ibsen. Hamsun would seem to take life as it
is, not with any pretense at its complete acceptability, but without
hope or avowed intention of making it over. If his tolerance be never
free from satire, his satire is on the other hand always easily
tolerant. One might almost suspect him of viewing life as something
static against which all fight would be futile. Even life’s worst
brutalities are related with an offhandedness of manner that makes you
look for the joke that must be at the bottom of them. The word
_reform_ would seem to be strangely eliminated from his dictionary,
or, if present, it might be found defined as a humorous conception of
something intrinsically unachievable.
Hamsun would not be the artist he is if he were less deceptive. He has
his problems no less than Ibsen had, and he is much preoccupied with
them even when he appears lost in ribald laughter. They are different
from Ibsen’s, however, and in that difference lies one of the chief
explanations of Hamsun’s position as an artist. All of Ibsen’s problems
became in the last instance reducible to a single relationship–that
between the individual and his own self. To be himself was his cry and
his task. With this consummation in view, he plumbed every depth of
human nature. This one thing achieved, all else became insignificant.
Hamsun begins where Ibsen ended, one might say. The one problem never
consciously raised by him as a problem is that of man’s duty or ability
to express his own nature. That is taken for granted. The figures
populating the works of Hamsun, whether centrally placed or moving
shadowlike in the periphery, are first of all themselves–agressively,
inevitably, unconsciously so, In other words, they are like their
creator. They may perish tragically or ridiculously as a result of their
common inability to lay violent hand on their own natures. They may go
through life warped and dwarfed for lack of an adjustment that to most
of us might seem both easy and natural. Their own selves may become
more clearly revealed to them by harsh or happy contacts with life, and
they may change their surfaces accordingly. The one thing never
occurring to them is that they might, for the sake of something or some
one outside of themselves, be anything but what they are.
There are interferences, however, and it is from these that Hamsun’s
problems spring. A man may prosper or suffer by being himself, and in
neither case is the fault his own. There are factors that more or less
fatally influence and circumscribe the supremely important factor that
is his own self. Roughly these fall into three groups suggestive of
three classes of relationships: (1) between man and his general
environment; (2) between man and that ever-present force of life which
we call love; and (3) between man and life in its entirety, as an
omnipotence that some of us call God and others leave unnamed. Hamsun’s
deceptive preference for indirectness is shown by the fact that, while
he tries to make us believe that his work is chiefly preoccupied with
problems of the second class, his mind is really busy with those of the
first class. The explanation is simple. Nothing helps like love to
bring out the unique qualities of a man’s nature. On the other hand,
there is nothing that does more to prevent a man from being himself than
the ruts of habit into which his environment always tends to drive him.
There are two kinds of environment, natural and human. Hamsun appears to
think that the less you have of one and the more of the other, the
better for yourself and for humanity as a whole. The city to him is
primarily concentrated human environment, and as such bad. This phase of
his attitude toward life almost amounts to a phobia. It must be
connected with personal experiences of unusual depth and intensity.
Perhaps it offers a key that may be well worth searching for. Hamsun was
born in the country, of and among peasants. In such surroundings he
grew up. The removal of his parents from the central inland part of
Norway to the rocky northern coast meant a change of natural setting,
but not a human contact. The sea must have come into his life as a
revelation, and yet it plays an astonishingly small part in his work. It
is always present, but always in the distance. You hear of it, but you
are never taken to it.
At about fifteen, Hamsun had an experience which is rarely mentioned as
part of the scant biographical material made available by his reserve
concerning his own personality. He returned to the old home of his
parents in the Gudbrand Valley and worked for a few months as clerk in a
country store–a store just like any one of those that figure so
conspicuously in almost every one of his novels. The place and the work
must have made a revolutionary impression on him. It apparently aroused
longings, and it probably laid the basis for resistances and resentments
that later blossomed into weedlike abundance as he came in contact with
real city life. There runs through his work a strange sense of sympathy
for the little store on the border of the wilderness, but it is also
stamped as the forerunner and panderer of the lures of the city.
As a boy of eighteen, when working in a tiny coast town as a cobbler’s
apprentice, he ventured upon his first literary endeavors and actually
managed to get two volumes printed at his own cost. The art of writing
was in his blood, exercising a call and a command that must have been
felt as a pain at times, and as a consecration at other times. Books
and writing were connected with the city. Perhaps the hatred that later
days developed, had its roots in a thwarted passion. Even in the little
community where his first scribblings reached print he must have felt
himself in urban surroundings, and perhaps those first crude volumes
drew upon him laughter and scorn that his sensitive soul never forgot.
If something of the kind happened, the seed thus sown was nourished
plentifully afterwards, when, as a young man, Hamsun pitted his
ambitions against the indifference first of Christiania and then of
Chicago. The result was a defeat that seemed the more bitter because it
looked like punishment incurred by straying after false gods.
Others have suffered in the same way, although, being less rigidly
themselves, they may not, like Hamsun, have taken a perverse pleasure in
driving home the point of the agony. Others have thought and said harsh
things of the cities. But no one that I can recall has equalled Hamsun
in his merciless denunciation of the very principle of urbanity. The
truth of it seems to be that Hamsun’s pilgrimage to the bee hives where
modern humanity clusters typically, was an essential violation of
something within himself that mattered even more than his literary
ambition to his soul’s integrity. Perhaps, if I am right, he is the
first genuine peasant who has risen to such artistic mastery, reaching
its ultimate heights through a belated recognition of his own proper
settings. Hamsun was sixty when he wrote “Growth of the Soil.” It is the
first work in which he celebrates the life of the open country for its
own sake, and not merely as a contrast to the artificiality and
selfishness of the cities. It was written, too, after he had definitely
withdrawn himself from the gathering places of the writers and the
artists to give an equal share of his time and attention to the tilling
of the soil that was at last his own. It is the harvest of his ultimate
The various phases of his campaign against city life are also
interesting and illuminating. Early in his career as a writer he tried
an open attack in full force by a couple of novels, “Shallow Soil” and
“Editor Lynge”, dealing sarcastically with the literary Bohemia of the
Norwegian capital. They were, on the whole, failures–artistically
rather than commercially. They are among his poorest books. The attack
was never repeated in that form. He retired to the country, so to speak,
and tried from there to strike at what he could reach of the ever
expanding, ever devouring city. After that the city, like the sea, is
always found in the distance. One feels it without ever seeing it.
There is fear as well as hatred in his treatment of it.
In the country it is represented not so much by the store, which, after
all, fills an unmistakable need on the part of the rural population, as
by the representatives of the various professions. For these Hamsun
entertains a hostile feeling hardly less marked than that bestowed on
their place of origin, whither, to his openly declared disgust, they are
always longing. It does not matter whether they are ministers or actors,
lawyers or doctors–they are all tarred with the same brush. Their
common characteristic is their rootlessness. They have no real home,
because to Hamsun a home is unthinkable apart from a space of soil
possessed in continuity by successive generations. They are always
despising the surroundings in which they find themselves temporarily,
and their chief claim to distinction is a genuine or pretended knowledge
of life on a large scale. Greatness is to them inseparably connected
with crowdedness, and what they call sophistication is at bottom nothing
but a wallowing in that herd instinct which takes the place of mankind’s
ancient antagonist in Hamsun’s books. Above all, their standards of
judgment are not their own.
From what has just been said one might conclude that the spirit of
Hamsun is fundamentally unsocial. So it is, in a way, but only in so far
as we have come to think of social and urban as more or less
interchangeable terms. He has a social consciousness and a social
passion of his own, but it is decentralized, one might say. He knows of
no greater man than his own Isak of “Growth of the Soil”–a simple
pioneer in whose wake new homes spring up, an inarticulate and uncouth
personification of man’s mastery of nature. When Hamsun speaks of Isak
passing across the yearning, spring-stirred fields, “with the grain
flung in fructifying waves from his reverent hands,” he pictures it
deliberately in the light of a religious rite–the oldest and most
significant known to man. It is as if the man who starved in
Christiania and the western cities of the United States–not
figuratively, but literally–had once for all conceived a respect for
man’s principal food that has colored all subsequent life for him and
determined his own attitude toward everything by a reference to its
connection or lack of connection with that substance.
Taking it all in all, one may well call Hamsun old-fashioned. The
virtues winning his praise and the conditions that stir his longings are
not of the present day. There is in him something primitive that forms a
sharp contrast to the modernity of his own style. Even in his most
romantic exaggerations, as in “Hunger” and “Mysteries,” he is a realist,
dealing unrelentingly with life as it appears to us. It would hardly be
too much to call his method scientific. But he uses it to aim tremendous
explosive charges at those human concentrations that made possible the
forging of the weapons he wields so skilfully. Nor does he stop at a
wish to see those concentrations scattered. The very ambitions and
Utopias bred within them are anathema to his soul, that places
simplicity above cleanliness in divine proximity. Characteristically we
find that the one art treated with constant sympathy in his writings is
that of music, which probably is the earliest and certainly the one
least dependent on the herding of men in barracks. In place of what he
wishes to take away he offers nothing but peace and the sense of genuine
creation that comes to the man who has just garnered the harvests of his
own fields into his bulging barns. He is a prophet of plenty, but he has
no answer ready when we ask him what we are going to do with it after we
have got it. Like a true son of the brooding North, he wishes to set us
thinking, but he has no final solutions to offer.
These last few days I have been thinking and thinking of the Nordland
summer, with its endless day. Sitting here thinking of that, and of a
hut I lived in, and of the woods behind the hut. And writing things
down, by way of passing the time; to amuse myself, no more. The time
goes very slowly; I cannot get it to pass as quickly as I would, though
I have nothing to sorrow for, and live as pleasantly as could be. I am
well content withal, and my thirty years are no age to speak of.
A few days back someone sent me two feathers. Two bird’s feathers in a
sheet of note-paper with a coronet, and fastened with a seal. Sent from
a place a long way off; from one who need not have sent them back at
all. That amused me too, those devilish green feathers.
And for the rest I have no troubles, unless for a touch of gout now and
again in my left foot, from an old bullet-wound, healed long since.
Two years ago, I remember, the time passed quickly–beyond all
comparison more quickly than time now. A summer was gone before I knew.
Two years ago it was, in 1855. I will write of it just to amuse
myself–of something that happened to me, or something I dreamed. Now, I
have forgotten many things belonging to that time, by having scarcely
thought of them since. But I remember that the nights were very light.
And many things seemed curious and unnatural. Twelve months to the
year–but night was like day, and never a star to be seen in the sky.
And the people I met were strange, and of a different nature from those
I had known before; sometimes a single night was enough to make them
blossom out from childhood into the full of their glory, ripe and fully
grown. No witchery in this; only I had never seen the like before. No.
In a white, roomy home down by the sea I met with one who busied my
thoughts for a little time. I do not always think of her now; not any
more. No; I have forgotten her. But I think of all the other things: the
cry of the sea-birds, my hunting in the woods, my nights, and all the
warm hours of that summer. After all, it was only by the merest accident
I happened to meet her; save for that, she would never have been in my
thoughts for a day.
From the hut where I lived, I could see a confusion of rocks and reefs
and islets, and a little of the sea, and a bluish mountain peak or so;
behind the hut was the forest. A huge forest it was; and I was glad and
grateful beyond measure for the scent of roots and leaves, the thick
smell of the fir-sap, that is like the smell of marrow. Only the forest
could bring all things to calm within me; my mind was strong and at
ease. Day after day I tramped over the wooded hills with AEsop at my
side, and asked no more than leave to keep on going there day after day,
though most of the ground was covered still with snow and soft slush. I
had no company but AEsop; now it is Cora, but at that time it was AEsop,
my dog that I afterwards shot.
Often in the evening, when I came back to the hut after being out
shooting all day, I could feel that kindly, homely feeling trickling
through me from head to foot–a pleasant little inward shivering. And I
would talk to AEsop about it, saying how comfortable we were. “There, now
we’ll get a fire going, and roast a bird on the hearth,” I would say;
“what do you say to that?” And when it was done, and we had both fed,
AEsop would slip away to his place behind the hearth, while I lit a pipe
and lay down on the bench for a while, listening to the dead soughing of
the trees. There was a slight breeze bearing down towards the hut, and I
could hear quite clearly the clutter of a grouse far away on the ridge
behind. Save for that, all was still.
And many a time I fell asleep there as I lay, just as I was, fully
dressed and all, and did not wake till the seabirds began calling. And
then, looking out of the window, I could see the big white buildings of
the trading station, the landing stage at Girilund, the store where I
used to get my bread. And I would lie there a while, wondering how I
came to be there, in a hut on the fringe of a forest, away up in
Then AEsop over by the hearth would shake out his long, slender body,
rattling his collar, and yawning and wagging his tail, and I would jump
up, after those three or four hours of sleep, fully rested and full of
joy in everything … everything.
Many a night passed just that way.
Rain and storm–’tis not such things that count. Many a time some little
joy can come along on a rainy day, and make a man turn off somewhere to
be alone with his happiness–stand up somewhere and look out straight
ahead, laughing quietly now and again, and looking round. What is there
to think of? One clear pane in a window, a ray of sunlight in the pane,
the sight of a little brook, or maybe a blue strip of sky between the
clouds. It needs no more than that.
At other times, even quite unusual happenings cannot avail to lift a man
from dulness and poverty of mind; one can sit in the middle of a
ballroom and be cool, indifferent, unaffected by anything. Sorrow and
joy are from within oneself.
One day I remember now. I had gone down to the coast. The rain came on
suddenly, and I slipped into an open boathouse to sit down for a while.
I was humming a little, but not for any joy or pleasure, only to pass
the time. AEsop was with me; he sat up listening, and I stopped humming
and listened as well. Voices outside; people coming nearer. A mere
chance–nothing more natural. A little party, two men and a girl, came
tumbling in suddenly to where I sat, calling to one another and
“Quick! Get in here till it stops!”
I got up.
One of the men had a white shirt front, soft, and now soaked with rain
into the bargain, and all bagging down; and in that wet shirt front a
diamond clasp. Long, pointed shoes he wore, too, that looked somewhat
affected. I gave him good-day. It was Mack, the trader; I knew him
because he was from the store where I used to get my bread. He had asked
me to look in at the house any time, but I had not been there yet.
“Aha, it’s you, is it?” said Mack at sight of me. “We were going up to
the mill, but had to turn back. Ever see such weather–what? And when
are you coming up to see us at Sirilund, Lieutenant?”
He introduced the little black-bearded man who was with him; a doctor,
staying down near the church.
The girl lifted her veil the least little bit, to her nose, and started
talking to AEsop in a whisper. I noticed her jacket; I could see from
the lining and the buttonholes that it had been dyed. Mack introduced me
to her as well; his daughter, Edwarda.
Edwarda gave me one glance through her veil, and went on whispering to
the dog, and reading on its collar:
“So you’re called AEsop, are you? Doctor, who was AEsop? All I can
remember is that he wrote fables. Wasn’t he a Phrygian? I can’t
A child, a schoolgirl. I looked at her–she was tall, but with no figure
to speak of, about fifteen or sixteen, with long, dark hands and no
gloves. Like as not she had looked up AEsop in the dictionary that
afternoon, to have it ready.
Mack asked me what sport I was having. What did I shoot mostly? I could
have one of his boats at any time if I wanted–only let him know. The
Doctor said nothing at all. When they went off again, I noticed that the
Doctor limped a little, and walked with a stick.
I walked home as empty in mind as before, humming all indifferently.
That meeting in the boathouse had made no difference either way to me;
the one thing I remembered best of all was Mack’s wet shirt front, with
a diamond clasp–the diamond all wet, too, and no great brilliance about
There was a stone outside my hut, a tall grey stone. It looked as if it
had a sort of friendly feeling towards me; as if it noticed me when I
came by, and knew me again. I liked to go round that way past the
stone, when I went out in the morning; it was like leaving a good friend
there, who I knew would be still waiting for me when I came back.
Then up in the woods hunting, sometimes finding game, sometimes none…
Out beyond the islands, the sea lay heavily calm. Many a time I have
stood and looked at it from the hills, far up above. On a calm day, the
ships seemed hardly to move at all; I could see the same sail for three
days, small and white, like a gull on the water. Then, perhaps, if the
wind veered round, the peaks in the distance would almost disappear, and
there came a storm, the south-westerly gale; a play for me to stand and
watch. All things in a seething mist. Earth and sky mingled together,
the sea flung up into fantastic dancing figures of men and horses and
fluttering banners on the air. I stood in the shelter of an overhanging
rock, thinking many things; my soul was tense. Heaven knows, I thought
to myself, what it is I am watching here, and why the sea should open
before my eyes. Maybe I am seeing now the inner brain of earth, how
things are at work there, boiling and foaming. AEsop was restless; now
and again he would thrust up his muzzle and sniff, in a troubled way,
with legs quivering uneasily; when I took no notice, he lay down between
my feet and stared out to sea as I was doing. And never a cry, never a
word of human voice to be heard anywhere; nothing; only the heavy rush
of the wind about my head. There was a reef of rocks far out, lying all
apart; when the sea raged up over it the water towered like a crazy
screw; nay, like a sea-god rising wet in the air, and snorting, till
hair and beard stood out like a wheel about his head. Then he plunged
down into the breakers once more.
And in the midst of the storm, a little coal-black steamer fighting its
When I went down to the quay in the afternoon, the little coal-black
steamer had come in; it was the mail-packet. Many people had gathered on
the quayside to see the rare visitor; I noticed that all without
exception had blue eyes, however different they might be in other ways.
A young girl with a white woolen kerchief over her head stood a little
apart; she had very dark hair, and the white kerchief showed up
strangely against it. She looked at me curiously, at my leather suit, my
gun; when I spoke to her, she was embarrassed, and turned her head away.
“You should always wear a white kerchief like that; it suits you well.”
Just then a burly man in an Iceland jersey came up and joined her; he
called her Eva. Evidently she was his daughter. I knew the burly man; he
was the local smith, the blacksmith. Only a few days back he had mended
the nipple of one of my guns…
And rain and wind did their work, and thawed away the snow. For some
days a cheerless cold hovered over the earth; rotten branches snapped,
and the crows gathered in flocks, complaining. But it was not for long;
the sun was near, and one day it rose up behind the forest.
It sends a strip of sweetness through me from head to foot when the sun
comes up; I shoulder my gun with quiet delight.
I was never short of game those days, but shot all I cared to–a hare, a
grouse, a ptarmigan–and when I happened to be down near the shore and
came within range of some seabird or other, I shot it too. It was a
pleasant time; the days grew longer and the air clearer; I packed up
things for a couple of days and set off up into the hills, up to the
mountain peaks. I met reindeer Lapps, and they gave me cheese–rich
little cheeses tasting of herbs. I went up that way more than once.
Then, going home again, I always shot some bird or other to put in my
bag. I sat down and put AEsop on the lead. Miles below me was the sea;
the mountainsides were wet and black with the water running down them,
dripping and trickling always with the same little sound. That little
sound of the water far up on the hills has shortened many an hour for me
when I sat looking about. Here, I thought to myself, is a little endless
song trickling away all to itself, and no one ever hears it, and no one
ever thinks of it, and still it trickles on nevertheless, to itself, all
the time, all the time! And I felt that the mountains were no longer
quite deserted, as long as I could hear that little trickling song. Now
and again something would happen: a clap of thunder shaking the earth, a
mass of rock slipping loose and rushing down towards the sea, leaving a
trail of smoking dust behind. AEsop turned his nose to the wind at once,
sniffing in surprise at the smell of burning that he could not
understand. When the melting of the snow had made rifts in the hillside,
a shot, or even a sharp cry, was enough to loosen a great block and send
it tumbling down…
An hour might pass, or perhaps more–the time went so quickly. I let
AEsop loose, slung my bag over the other shoulder, and set off towards
home. It was getting late. Lower down in the forest, I came unfailingly
upon my old, well-known path, a narrow ribbon of a path, with the
strangest bends and turns. I followed each one of them, taking my
time–there was no hurry. No one waiting for me at home. Free as a
lord, a ruler, I could ramble about there in the peaceful woods, just as
idly as I pleased. All the birds were silent; only the grouse was
calling far away–it was always calling.
I came out of the wood and saw two figures ahead, two persons moving. I
came up with them. One was Edwarda, and I recognized her, and gave a
greeting; the Doctor was with her. I had to show them my gun; they
looked at my compass, my bag; I invited them to my hut, and they
promised to come some day.
It was evening now. I went home and lit a fire, roasted a bird, and had
a meal. To-morrow there would be another day…
All things quiet and still. I lay that evening looking out the window.
There was a fairy glimmer at that hour over wood and field; the sun had
gone down, and dyed the horizon with a rich red light that stood there
still as oil. The sky all open and clean; I stared into that clear sea,
and it seemed as if I were lying face to face with the uttermost depth
of the world; my heart beating tensely against it, and at home there.
God knows, I thought to myself, God knows why the sky is dressed in gold
and mauve to-night, if there is not some festival going on up there in
the world, some great feast with music from the stars, and boats gliding
along river ways. It looks so!–And I closed my eyes, and followed the
boats, and thoughts and thoughts floated through my mind…
So more than one day passed.
I wandered about, noting how the snow turned to water, how the ice
loosed its hold. Many a day I did not even fire a shot, when I had food
enough in the hut–only wandered about in my freedom, and let the time
pass. Whichever way I turned, there was always just as much to see
and hear–all things changing a little every day. Even the osier
thickets and the juniper stood waiting for the spring. One day I went
out to the mill; it was still icebound, but the earth around it had been
trampled through many and many a year, showing how men and more men had
come that way with sacks of corn on their shoulders, to be ground. It
was like walking among human beings to go there; and there were many
dates and letters cut in the walls.
Shall I write more? No, no. Only a little for my own amusement’s sake,
and because it passes the time for me to tell of how the spring came two
years back, and how everything looked then. Earth and sea began to smell
a little; there was a sweetish, rotting smell from the dead leaves in
the wood, and the magpies flew with twigs in their beaks, building their
nests. A couple of days more, and the brooks began to swell and foam;
here and there a butterfly was to be seen, and the fishermen came home
from their stations. The trader’s two boats came in laden deep with
fish, and anchored off the drying grounds; there was life and commotion
all of a sudden out on the biggest of the islands, where the fish were
to be spread on the rocks to dry. I could see it all from my window.
But no noise reached the hut; I was alone, and remained so. Now and
again someone would pass. I saw Eva, the blacksmith’s girl; she had got
a couple of freckles on her nose.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Out for firewood,” she answered quietly. She had a rope in her hand to
carry the wood, and her white kerchief on her head. I stood watching
her, but she did not turn round.
After that I saw no one for days.
The spring was urging, and the forest listened; it was a great delight
to watch the thrushes sitting in the tree-tops staring at the sun and
crying; sometimes I would get up as early as two in the morning, just
for a share of the joy that went out from bird and beast at sunrise.
The spring had reached me too, maybe, and my blood beat at times as if
it were footsteps. I sat in the hut, and thought of overhauling my
fishing rods and lines and gear, but moved never a finger to any work at
all, for a glad, mysterious restlessness that was in and out of my heart
all the while. Then suddenly AEsop sprang up, stood and stiffened, and
gave a short bark. Someone coming to the hut! I pulled off my cap
quickly, and heard Edwarda’s voice already at the door. Kindly and
without ceremony she and the Doctor had come to pay me a visit, as they
“Yes,” I heard her say, “he is at home.” And she stepped forward, and
gave me her hand in her simple girlish way. “We were here yesterday, but
you were out,” she said.
She sat down on the rug over my wooden bedstead and looked round the
hut; the Doctor sat down beside me on the long bench. We talked, chatted
away at ease; I told them things, such as what kinds of animals there
were in the woods, and what game I could not shoot because of the closed
season. It was the closed season for grouse just now.
The Doctor did not say much this time either, but catching sight of my
powder-horn, with a figure of Pan carved on it, he started to explain
the myth of Pan.
“But,” said Edwarda suddenly, “what do you live on when it’s closed
season for all game?”
“Fish,” I said. “Fish mostly. But there’s always something to eat.”
“But you might come up to us for your meals,” she said. “There was an
Englishman here last year–he had taken the hut–and he often came to us
Edwarda looked at me and I at her. I felt at the moment something
touching my heart like a little fleeting welcome. It must have been the
spring, and the bright day; I have thought it over since. Also, I
admired the curve of her eyebrows.
She said something about my place; how I had arranged things in the hut.
I had hung up skins of several sorts on the walls, and birds’ wings; it
looked like a shaggy den on the inside. She liked it. “Yes, a den,” she
I had nothing to offer my visitors that they would care about; I thought
of it, and would have roasted a bird for them, just for amusement–let
them eat it hunter’s fashion, with their fingers. It might amuse them.
And I cooked the bird.
Edwarda told about the Englishman. An old man, an eccentric, who talked
aloud to himself. He was a Roman Catholic, and always carried a little
prayer-book, with red and black letters, about with him wherever he
“Was he an Irishman then?” asked the Doctor.
“Yes–since he was a Roman Catholic.”
Edwarda blushed, and stammered and looked away.
“Well, yes, perhaps he was an Irishman.”
After that she lost her liveliness. I felt sorry for her, and tried to
put matters straight again. I said:
“No, of course you are right: he was an Englishman. Irishmen don’t go
travelling about in Norway.”
We agreed to row over one day and see the fish-drying grounds…
When I had seen my visitors a few steps on their way, I walked home
again and sat down to work at my fishing gear. My hand-net had been hung
from a nail by the door, and several of the meshes were damaged by rust;
I sharpened up some hooks, knotted them to lengths of line, and looked
to the other nets. How hard it seemed to do any work at all to-day!
Thoughts that had nothing to do with the business in hand kept coming
and going; it occurred to me that I had done wrong in letting Edwarda
sit on the bed all the time, instead of offering her a seat on the
bench. I saw before me suddenly her brown face and neck; she had
fastened her apron a little low down in front, to be long-waisted, as
was the fashion; the girlish contour of her thumb affected me tenderly,
and the little wrinkles above the knuckle were full of kindliness. Her
mouth was large and rich.
I rose up and opened the door and looked out. I could hear nothing, and
indeed there was nothing to listen for. I closed the door again; AEsop
came up from his resting-place and noticed that I was restless about
something. Then it struck me that I might run after Edwarda and ask her
for a little silk thread to mend my net with. It would not be any
pretence–I could take down the net and show her where the meshes were
spoiled by rust. I was already outside the door when I remembered that I
had silk thread myself in my fly-book; more indeed than I wanted. And I
went back slowly, discouraged–to think that I had silk thread myself.
A breath of something strange met me as I entered the hut again; it
seemed as if I were no longer alone there.
A man asked me if I had given up shooting; he had not heard me fire a
shot up in the hills, though he had been out fishing for two days. No, I
had shot nothing; I had stayed at home in the hut until I had no more
food in the place.
On the third day I went out with my gun. The woods were getting green;
there was a smell of earth and trees. The young grass was already
springing up from the frozen moss. I was in a thoughtful mood, and sat
down several times. For three days I had not seen a soul except the one
fisherman I had met the day before. I thought to myself, “Perhaps I may
meet someone this evening on the way home, at the edge of the wood,
where I met the Doctor and Edwarda before. Perhaps they may be going
for a walk that way again–perhaps, perhaps not.” But why should I think
of those two in particular? I shot a couple of ptarmigan, and cooked one
of them at once; then I tied up the dog.
I lay down on the dry ground to eat. The earth was quiet–only a little
breath of wind and the sound of a bird here and there. I lay and watched
the branches waving gently in the breeze; the little wind was at its
work, carrying pollen from branch to branch and filling every innocent
bloom; all the forest seemed filled with delight. A green worm thing, a
caterpillar, dragged itself end by end along a branch, dragging along
unceasingly, as if it could not rest. It saw hardly anything, for all it
had eyes; often it stood straight up in the air, feeling about for
something to take hold of; it looked like a stump of green thread sewing
a seam with long stitches along the branch. By evening, perhaps, it
would have reached its goal.
Quiet as ever. I get up and move on, sit down and get up again. It is
about four o’clock; about six I can start for home, and see if I happen
to meet anyone. Two hours to wait; a little restless already, I brush
the dust and heather from my clothes. I know the places I pass by, trees
and stones stand there as before in their solitude; the leaves rustle
underfoot as I walk. The monotonous breathing and the familiar trees and
stones mean much to me; I am filled with a strange thankfulness;
everything seems well disposed towards me, mingles with my being; I love
it all. I pick up a little dry twig and hold it in my hand and sit
looking at it, and think my own thoughts; the twig is almost rotten, its
poor bark touches me, pity fills my heart. And when I get up again, I do
not throw the twig far away, but lay it down, and stand liking it; at
last I look at it once more with wet eyes before I go away and leave it
Five o’clock. The sun tells me false time today; I have been walking
westward the whole day, and come perhaps half an hour ahead of my sun
marks at the hut. I am quite aware of all this, but none the less there
is an hour yet before six o’clock, so I get up again and go on a little.
And the leaves rustle under foot. An hour goes that way.
I look down at the little stream and the little mill that has been
icebound all the winter, and I stop. The mill is working; the noise of
it wakes me, and I stop suddenly, there and then. “I have stayed out
too long,” I say aloud. A pang goes through me; I turn at once and begin
walking homewards, but all the time I know I have stayed out too long. I
walk faster, then run; AEsop understands there is something the matter,
and pulls at the leash, drags me along, sniffs at the ground, and is all
haste. The dry leaves crackle about us.
But when we come to the edge of the wood there was no one there. No, all
was quiet; there was no one there.
“There is no one here,” I said to myself. And yet it was no worse than I
I did not stay long, but walked on, drawn by all my thoughts, passed by
my hut, and went down to Sirilund with AEsop and my bag and gun–with all
Herr Mack received me with the greatest friendliness, and asked me to
stay to supper.
I fancy I can read a little in the souls of those about me–but perhaps
it is not so. Oh, when my good days come, I feel as if I could see far
into others’ souls, though I am no great or clever head. We sit in a
room, some men, some women, and I, and I seem to see what is passing
within them, and what they think of me. I find something in every swift
little change of light in their eyes; sometimes the blood rises to their
cheeks and reddens them; at other times they pretend to be looking
another way, and yet they watch me covertly from the side. There I sit,
marking all this, and no one dreams that I see through every soul. For
years past I have felt that I could read the souls of all I met. But
perhaps it is not so…
I stayed at Herr Mack’s house all that evening. I might have gone off
again at once–it did not interest me to stay sitting there–but had I
not come because all my thoughts were drawing me that way? And how could
I go again at once? We played whist and drank toddy after supper; I sat
with my back turned to the rest of the room, and my head bent down;
behind me Edwarda went in and out. The Doctor had gone home.
Herr Mack showed me the design of his new lamps–the first paraffin
lamps to be seen so far north. They were splendid things, with a heavy
leaden base, and he lit them himself every evening–to prevent any
accident. He spoke once or twice of his grandfather, the Consul.
“This brooch was given to my grandfather, Consul Mack, by Carl Johan
with his own hands,” he said, pointing one finger at the diamond in his
shirt. His wife was dead; he showed me a painted portrait of her in one
of the other rooms–a distinguished looking woman with a lace cap and a
winsome smile. In the same room, also, there was a bookcase, and some
old French books, no less, that might have been an heirloom. The
bindings were rich and gilded, and many owners had marked their names in
them. Among the books were several educational works; Herr Mack was a
man of some intelligence.
His two assistants from the store were called in to make up the party at
whist. They played slowly and doubtfully, counted carefully, and made
mistakes all the same. Edwarda helped one of them with his hand.
I upset my glass, and felt ashamed, and stood up.
“There–I have upset my glass,” I said.
Edwarda burst out laughing, and answered:
“Well, we can see that.”
Everyone assured me laughingly that it did not matter. They gave me a
towel to wipe myself with, and we went on with the game. Soon it was
I felt a vague displeasure at Edwarda’s laugh. I looked at her, and
found that her face had become insignificant, hardly even pretty. At
last Herr Mack broke off the game, saying that his assistants must go to
bed; then he leaned back on the sofa and began talking about putting up
a sign in front of his place. He asked my advice about it. What colour
did I think would be best? I was not interested, and answered “black,”
without thinking at all. And Herr Mack at once agreed:
“Black, yes–exactly what I had been thinking myself. ‘Salt and barrels’
in heavy black letters–that ought to look as nice as anything…
Edwarda, isn’t it time you were going to bed?”
Edwarda rose, shook hands with us both, said good-night, and left the
room. We sat on. We talked of the railway that had been finished last
year, and of the first telegraph line. “Wonder when we shall have the
telegraph up here.”
“It’s like this,” said Herr Mack. “Time goes on, and here am I,
six-and-forty, and hair and beard gone grey. You might see me in the
daytime and say I was a young man, but when the evening comes along, and
I’m all alone, I feel it a good deal. I sit here mostly playing
patience. It works out all right as a rule, if you fudge a little.
“If you fudge a little?” I asked.
I felt as if I could read in his eyes…
He got up from his seat, walked over to the window, and looked out; he
stooped a little, and the back of his neck was hairy. I rose in my turn.
He looked round and walked towards me in his long, pointed shoes, stuck
both thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, waved his arms a little, as if
they were wings, and smiled. Then he offered me his boat again if ever I
wanted one, and held out his hand.
“Wait a minute–I’ll go with you,” he said, and blew out the lamps.
“Yes, yes, I feel like a little walk. It’s not so late.”
We went out.
He pointed up the road towards the blacksmith’s and said:
“This way–it’s the shortest.”
“No,” I said. “Round by the quay is the shortest way.”
We argued the point a little, and did not agree. I was convinced that I
was right, and could not understand why he insisted. At last he
suggested that we should each go his own way; the one who got there
first could wait at the hut.
We set off, and he was soon lost to sight in the wood.
I walked at my usual pace, and reckoned to be there a good five minutes
ahead. But when I got to the hut he was there already. He called out as
I came up:
“What did I say? I always go this way–it is the shortest.”
I looked at him in surprise; he was not heated, and did not appear to
have been running. He did not stay now, but said good-night in a
friendly way, and went back the way he had come.
I stood there and thought to myself: This is strange! I ought to be some
judge of distance, and I’ve walked both those ways several times. My
good man, you’ve been fudging again. Was the whole thing a pretence?
I saw his back as he disappeared into the wood again.
Next moment I started off in track of him, going quickly and cautiously;
I could see him wiping his face all the way, and I was not so sure now
that he had not been running before. I walked very slowly now, and
watched him carefully; he stopped at the blacksmith’s. I stepped into
hiding, and saw the door open, and Herr Mack enter the house.
It was one o’clock; I could tell by the look of the sea and the grass.
A few days passed as best they could; my only friend was the forest and
the great loneliness. Dear God! I had never before known what it was to
be so alone as on the first of those days. It was full spring now; I had
found wintergreen and milfoil already, and the chaffinches had come (I
knew all the birds). Now and again I took a couple of coins from my
pocket and rattled them, to break the loneliness. I thought to myself:
“What if Diderik and Iselin were to appear!”
Night was coming on again; the sun just dipped into the sea and rose
again, red, refreshed, as if it had been down to drink. I could feel
more strangely on those nights than anyone would believe. Was Pan
himself there, sitting in a tree, watching me to see what I might do?
Was his belly open, and he sitting there bent over as if drinking from
his own belly? But all that he did only that he might look up under his
brows and watch me; and the whole tree shook with his silent laughter
when he saw how all my thoughts were running away with me. There was a
rustling everywhere in the woods, beasts sniffing, birds calling one to
another; their signals filled the air. And it was flying year for the
Maybug; its humming mingled with the buzz of the night moths, sounded
like a whispering here and a whispering there, all about in the woods.
So much there was to hear! For three nights I did not sleep; I thought
of Diderik and Iselin.
“See now,” I thought, “they might come.” And Iselin would lead Diderik
away to a tree and say:
“Stand here, Diderik, and keep guard; keep watch; I will let this
huntsman tie my shoestring.”
And the huntsman is myself, and she will give me a glance of her eyes
that I may understand. And when she comes, my heart knows all, and no
longer beats like a heart, but rings as a bell. I lay my hand on her.
“Tie my shoe-string,” she says, with flushed cheeks. …
The sun dips down into the sea and rises again, red and refreshed, as if
it had been to drink. And the air is full of whisperings.
An hour after, she speaks, close to my mouth:
“Now I must leave you.”
And she turns and waves her hand to me as she goes, and her face is
flushed still; her face is tender and full of delight. And again she
turns and waves to me.
But Diderik steps out from under the tree and says:
“Iselin, what have you done? I saw you.”
“Diderik, what did you see? I have done nothing.”
“Iselin, I saw what you did,” he says again; “I saw you.”
And then her rich, glad laughter rings through the wood, and she goes
off with him, full of rejoicing from top to toe. And whither does she
go? To the next mortal man; to a huntsman in the woods.
* * * * *
It was midnight. AEsop had broken loose and been out hunting by himself;
I heard him baying up in the hills, and when at last I got him back it
was one o’clock. A girl came from herding goats; she fastened her
stocking and hummed a tune and looked around. But where was her flock?
And what was she doing in the woods at midnight? Ah, nothing, nothing.
Walking there for restlessness, perhaps, for joy; ’twas her affair. I
thought to myself, she had heard AEsop in the woods, and knew that I was
As she came up I rose and stood and looked at her, and I saw how slight
and young she was. AEsop, too, stood looking at her.
“Where do you come from?” I asked.
“From the mill,” she answered.
But what could she have been doing at the mill so late at night?
“How can you venture into the woods so late?” I said–“you so slight and
She laughed, and said:
“I am not so young–I am nineteen.”
But she could not be nineteen; I am certain she was lying by at least
two years, and was only seventeen. But why should she lie to seem older?
“Sit down,” I said, “and tell me your name.”
And she sat down, blushing, by my side, and told me her name was
Then I asked her:
“Have you a lover, Henriette, and has he ever taken you in his arms?”
“Yes,” she said, smiling shyly.
“How many times?”
She was silent.
“How many times?” I asked her again.
“Twice,” she answered softly.
I drew her to me and said:
“How did he do it? Was it like this?”
“Yes,” she whispered, trembling.
I had some talk with Edwarda.
“We shall have rain before long,” I said.
“What time is it?” she asked.
I looked at the sun and answered:
“Can you tell so nearly by the sun?”
“Yes,” I answered; “I can.”
“But when you can’t see the sun, how do you tell the time then?”
“Then I can tell by other things. There’s high tide and low tide, and
the grass that lies over at certain hours, and the song of the birds
that changes; some birds begin to sing when others leave off. Then, I
can tell the time by flowers that close in the afternoon, and leaves
that are bright green at some times and dull green at others–and then,
besides, I can feel it.”
Now I was expecting rain, and for Edwarda’s sake I would not keep her
there any longer on the road; I raised my cap. But she stopped me
suddenly with a new question, and I stayed. She blushed, and asked me
why I had come to the place at all? Why I went out shooting, and why
this and why that? For I never shot more than I needed for food, and
left my dog idle…
She looked flushed and humble. I understood that someone had been
talking about me, and she had heard it; she was not speaking for
herself. And something about her called up a feeling of tenderness in
me; she looked so helpless, I remembered that she had no mother; her
thin arms gave her an ill-cared-for appearance. I could not help feeling
Well, I did not go out shooting just to murder things, but to live. I
had need of one grouse to-day, and so I did not shoot two, but would
shoot the other to-morrow. Why kill more? I lived in the woods, as a son
of the woods. And from the first of June it was closed time for hare and
ptarmigan; there was but little left for me to shoot at all now. Well
and good: then I could go fishing, and live on fish. I would borrow her
father’s boat and row out in that. No, indeed, I did no go out shooting
for the lust of killing things, but only to live in the woods. It was a
good place for me; I could lie down on the ground at meals, instead of
sitting upright on a chair; I did not upset my glass there. In the woods
I could do as I pleased; I could lie down flat on my back and close my
eyes if I pleased, and I could say whatever I liked to say. Often one
might feel a wish to say something, to speak aloud, and in the woods it
sounded like speech from the very heart…
When I asked her if she understood all this, she said, “Yes.”
And I went on, and told her more, because her eyes were on me. “If you
only knew all that I see out in the wilds!” I said. “In winter, I come
walking along, and see, perhaps, the tracks of ptarmigan in the snow.
Suddenly the track disappears; the bird has taken wing. But from the
marks of the wings I can see which way the game has flown, and before
long I have tracked it down again. There is always a touch of newness in
that for me. In autumn, many a time there are shooting stars to watch.
Then I think to myself, being all alone, What was that? A world seized
with convulsions all of a sudden? A world going all to pieces before my
eyes? To think that I–that I should be granted the sight of shooting
stars in my life! And when summer comes, then perhaps there may be a
little living creature on every leaf; I can see that some of them have
no wings; they can make no great way in the world, but must live and die
on that one little leaf where they came into the world.
“Then sometimes I see the blue flies. But it all seems such a little
thing to talk about–I don’t know if you understand?”
“Yes, yes, I understand.”
“Good. Well, then sometimes I look at the grass, and perhaps the grass
is looking at me again–who can say? I look at a single blade of grass;
it quivers a little, maybe, and thinks me something. And I think to
myself: Here is a little blade of grass all a-quivering. Or if it
happens to be a fir tree I look at, then maybe the tree has one branch
that makes me think of it a little, too. And sometimes I meet people up
on the moors; it happens at times.”
I looked at her; she stood bending forward, listening. I hardly knew
her. So lost in attention she was that she took no heed of herself, but
was ugly, foolish looking; her underlip hung far down.
“Yes, yes,” she said, and drew herself up.
The first drops of rain began to fall.
“It is raining,” said I.
“Oh! Yes, it is raining,” she said, and went away on the instant.
I did not see her home; she went on her way alone; I hurried up to the
hut. A few minutes passed. It began to rain heavily. Suddenly I heard
someone running after me. I stopped short, and there was Edwarda.
“I forgot,” she said breathlessly. “We were going over to the
islands–the drying grounds, you know. The Doctor is coming to-morrow;
will you have time then?”
“To-morrow? Yes, indeed. I shall have time enough.”
“I forgot it,” she said again, and smiled.
As she went, I noticed her thin, pretty calves; they were wet far above
the ankle. Her shoes were worn through.
There was another day which I remember well. It was the day my summer
came. The sun began shining while it was still night, and dried up the
wet ground for the morning. The air was soft and fine after the last
In the afternoon I went down to the quay. The water was perfectly
still; we could hear talking and laughter away over at the island, where
men and girls were at work on the fish. It was a happy afternoon.
Ay, was it not a happy afternoon? We took hampers of food and wine with
us; a big party we were, in two boats, with young women in light
dresses. I was so happy that I hummed a tune.
And when we were in the boat, I fell to thinking where all these young
people came from. There were the daughters of the Lensmand and the
district surgeon, a governess or so, and the ladies from the vicarage. I
had not seen them before; they were strangers to me; and yet, for all
that, they were as friendly as if we had known each other for years. I
made some mistakes! I had grown unaccustomed to being in society, and
often said “Du” [Footnote: “Du”=thou, the familiar form of address
(tutoyer), instead of “De”=you.] to the young ladies, but they did not
seem offended. And once I said “dear,” or “my dear,” but they forgave me
that as well, and took no notice of it.
Herr Mack had his unstarched shirt front on as usual, with the diamond
stud. He seemed in excellent spirits, and called across to the other
“Hi, look after the hamper with the bottles, you madcaps there. Doctor,
I shall hold you responsible for the wine.”
“Right!” cried the Doctor. And just those few words from one boat to
another seemed to me pleasant and merry to hear.
Edwarda was wearing the same dress she had, worn the day before, as if
she had no other or did not care to put on another. Her shoes, too, were
the same. I fancied her hands were not quite clean; but she wore a brand
new hat, with feathers. She had taken her dyed jacket with her, and used
it to sit on.
At Herr Mack’s request I fired a shot just as we were about to land, in
fact, two shots, both barrels–and they cheered. We rambled up over the
island, the workers greeted us all, and Herr Mack stopped to speak to
his folk. We found daisies and corn marigolds and put them in our
button-holes; some found harebells.
And there was a host of seabirds chattering and screaming, in the air
and on the shore.
We camped out on a patch of grass where there were a few stunted birches
with white stems. The hampers were opened, and Herr Mack saw to the
bottles. Light dresses, blue eyes, the ring of glasses, the sea, the
white sails. And we sang a little.
And cheeks were flushed.
* * * * *
An hour later, my whole being was joy; even little things affected me. A
veil fluttering from a hat, a girl’s hair coming down, a pair of eyes
closing in a laugh–and it touched me. That day, that day!
“I’ve heard you’ve such a queer little hut up there, Lieutenant?”
“Yes, a nest. And the very thing for me. Come and see me there one day;
there’s no such hut anywhere else. And the great forest behind it.”
Another came up and said kindly:
“You have not been up here in the north before?”
“No,” I answered. “But I know all about it already, ladies. At night I
am face to face with the mountains, the earth, and the sun. But I will
not try to use fine words. What a summer you have here! It bursts forth
one night when everyone is asleep, and in the morning there it is. I
looked out of my window and saw it myself. I have two little windows.”
A third came up. She was charming by reason of her voice and her small
hands. How charming they all were! This one said:
“Shall we change flowers? It brings luck, they say.”
“Yes,” I answered, holding out my hand, “let us change flowers, and I
thank you for it. How pretty you are! You have a lovely voice; I have
been listening to it all the time.”
But she drew back her harebells and said curtly:
“What are you thinking about? It was not you I meant.”
It was not me she meant! It hurt me to feel that I had been mistaken; I
wished myself at home again, far away in my hut, where only the wind
could speak to me. “I beg your pardon,” I said; “forgive me.” The other
ladies looked at one another and moved away, so as not to humiliate me.
Just at that moment someone came quickly over towards us. All could see
her–it was Edwarda. She came straight to me. She said something, and
threw her arms round my neck; clasped her arms round my neck and kissed
me again and again on the lips. Each time she said something, but I did
not hear what it was. I could not understand it all; my heart stood
still; I had only a feeling of her burning look. Then she slipped away
from me; her little breast beat up and down. She stood there still, with
her brown face and brown neck, tall and slender, with flashing eyes,
altogether heedless. They were all looking at her. For the second time I
was fascinated by her dark eyebrows, that curved high up into her
But, Heavens–the girl had kissed me openly in sight of them all!
“What is it, Edwarda?” I asked, and I could hear my blood beating; hear
it as it were from down in my throat, so that I could not speak
“Nothing,” she answered. “Only–that I wanted to. It doesn’t matter.”
I took off my cap and brushed back my hair mechanically as I stood
looking at her. “Doesn’t matter…?”
Herr Mack was saying something, a good way off; we could not hear his
words from where we were. But I was glad to think that Herr Mack had
seen nothing, that he knew nothing of this. It was well indeed that he
had been away from the party just then. I felt relieved at that, and I
stepped over to the others and said with a laugh, and seeming quite
“I would ask you all to forgive my unseemly behavior a moment ago; I am
myself extremely sorry about it. Edwarda kindly offered to change
flowers with me, and I forgot myself. I beg her pardon and yours. Put
yourself in my place; I live all alone, and am not accustomed to the
society of ladies; besides which, I have been drinking wine, and am not
used to that either. You must make allowances for that.”
And I laughed, and showed great indifference to such a trifle, that it
might be forgotten; but, inwardly, I was serious. Moreover, what I had
said made no impression on Edwarda. She did not try to hide anything, to
smooth over the effect of her hasty action: on the contrary, she sat
down close to me and kept looking at me fixedly. Now and again she spoke
to me. And afterwards, when we were playing “Enke,” she said:
“I shall have Lieutenant Glahn. I don’t care to run after anyone else.”
“Saa for Satan, [Footnote: Expletive, equivalent to “The Devil!” or
“Damnation!”] girl, be quiet!” I whispered, stamping my foot.
She gave me a look of surprise, made a wry face as if it hurt, and then
smiled bashfully. I was deeply moved at that; the helpless look in her
eyes and her little thin figure were more than I could resist; I was
drawn to her in that moment, and I took her long, slight hand in mine.
“Afterwards,” I said, “No more now. We can meet again to-morrow.”
In the night I heard AEsop get up from his corner and growl; I heard it
through my sleep, but I was dreaming just then of shooting, the growl of
the dog fitted into the dream, and it did not wake me, quite. When I
stepped out of the hut next morning there were tracks in the grass of a
pair of human feet; someone had been there–had gone first to one of my
windows, then to the other. The tracks were lost again down on the road.
She came towards me with hot cheeks, with a face all beaming.
“Have you been waiting?” she said. “I was afraid you would have to
I had not been waiting; she was on the way before me.
“Have you slept well?” I asked. I hardly knew what to say.
“No, I haven’t. I have been awake,” she answered. And she told me she
had not slept that night, but had sat in a chair with her eyes closed.
And she had been out of the house for a little walk.
“Someone was outside my hut last night,” I said. “I saw tracks in the
grass this morning.”
And her face colored; she took my hand there, on the road, and made no
answer. I looked at her, and said:
“Was it you, I wonder?”
“Yes,” she answered, pressing close to me. “It was I. I hope I didn’t
wake you–I stepped as quietly as I could. Yes, it was I. I was near you
again. I am fond of you!”
Every day, every day I met her. I will tell the truth: I was glad to
meet her; aye, my heart flew. It is two years ago this year; now, I
think of it only when I please, the whole story just amuses and
distracts me. And as for the two green feathers, I will tell about them
in good time.
There were several places where we could meet–at the mill, on the road,
even in my hut. She came wherever I would. “Goddag!” she cried, always
first, and I answered “Goddag!”
“You are happy to-day,” she says, and her eyes sparkle.
“Yes, I am happy,” I answer. “There is a speck there on your shoulder;
it is dust, perhaps, a speck of mud from the road; I must kiss that
little spot. No–let me–I will. Everything about you stirs me so! I am
half out of my senses. I did not sleep last night.”
And that was true. Many a night I lay and could not sleep.
We walk side by side along the road.
“What do you think–am I as you like me to be?” she asks. “Perhaps I
talk too much. No? Oh, but you must say what you really think.
Sometimes I think to myself this can never come to any good…”
“What can never come to any good?” I ask.
“This between us. That it cannot come to any good. You may believe it or
not, but I am shivering now with cold; I feel icy cold the moment I come
to you. Just out of happiness.”
“It is the same with me,” I answer. “I feel a shiver, too, when I see
you. But it will come to some good all the same. And, anyhow, let me pat
you on the back, to warm you.”
And she lets me, half unwillingly, and then I hit a little harder, for a
jest, and laugh, and ask if that doesn’t make her feel better.
“Oh, please, don’t when I ask you; please,” says she.
Those few words! There was something so helpless about her saying it so,
the wrong way round: “Please don’t when I ask you.”…
Then we went on along the road again. Was she displeased with me for my
jest, I wondered? And thought to myself: Well, let us see. And I said:
“I just happened to think of something. Once when I was out on a sledge
party, there was a young lady who took a silk kerchief from her neck and
fastened it round mine. In the evening, I said to her: ‘You shall have
your kerchief again to-morrow; I will have it washed.’ ‘No,’ she said,
‘give it to me now; I will keep it just as it is, after you have worn
it.’ And I gave it to her. Three years after, I met the same young lady
again. ‘The kerchief,’ I said. And she brought it out. It lay in a
paper, just as before; I saw it myself.”
Edwarda glanced up at me.
“Yes? And what then?”
“That is all,” I said. “There was nothing more. But I thought it was
nice of her.”
“Where is that lady now?”
We spoke no more of that. But when it was time for her to go home, she
“Well, good-night. But you won’t go thinking of that lady any more, will
you? I don’t think of anyone but you.”
I believed her. I saw that she meant what she said, and it was more than
enough for me that she thought of no one else. I walked after her.
“Thank you, Edwarda,” I said. And then I added with all my heart: “You
are all too good for me, but I am thankful that you will have me; God
will reward you for that. I’m not so fine as many you could have, no
doubt, but I am all yours–so endlessly yours, by my eternal
soul.—-What are you thinking of now, to bring tears to your eyes?”
“It was nothing,” she answered. “It sounded so strange–that God would
reward me for that. You say things that I … Oh, I love you so!”
And all at once she threw her arms round my neck, there in the middle of
the road, and kissed me.
When she had gone, I stepped aside into the woods to hide, to be alone
with my happiness. And then I hurried eagerly back to the road to see
if anyone had noticed that I had gone in there. But I saw no one.
Summer nights and still water, and the woods endlessly still. No cry, no
footsteps from the road. My heart seemed full as with dark wine.
Moths and night-flies came flying noiselessly in through my window,
lured by the glow from the hearth and the smell of the bird I had just
cooked. They dashed against the roof with a dull sound, fluttered past
my ears, sending a cold shiver through me, and settled on my white
powder-horn on the wall. I watched them; they sat trembling and looked
at me–moths and spinners and burrowing things. Some of them looked like
pansies on the wing.
I stepped outside the hut and listened. Nothing, no noise; all was
asleep. The air was alight with flying insects, myriads of buzzing
wings. Out at the edge of the wood were ferns and aconite, the trailing
arbutus was in bloom, and I loved its tiny flowers… Thanks, my God,
for every heather bloom I have ever seen; they have been like small
roses on my way, and I weep for love of them… Somewhere near were
wild carnations; I could not see them, but I could mark their scent.
But now, in the night hours, great white flowers have opened suddenly;
their chalices are spread wide; they are breathing. And furry twilight
moths slip down into their petals, making the whole plant quiver. I go
from one flower to another. They are drunken flowers. I mark the stages
of their intoxication.
Light footsteps, a human breathing, a happy “Godaften.”
And I answer, and throw myself down on the road.
“Godaften, Edwarda,” I say again, worn out with joy.
“That you should care for me so!” she whispers.
And I answered her: “If you knew how grateful I can be! You are mine,
and my heart lies still within me all the day, thinking of you. You are
the loveliest girl on earth, and I have kissed you. Often I go red with
joy, only to think that I have kissed you.”
“Why are you so fond of me this evening?” she asks.
I was that for endless reasons; I needed only to think of her to feel
so. That look of hers, from under the high-arched brows, and her rich,
“Should I not be fond of you?” I say again. “I thank every tree in my
path because you are well and strong. Once at a dance there was a young
lady who sat out dance after dance, and they let her sit there alone. I
didn’t know her, but her face touched me, and I bowed to her. Well? But
no, she shook her head. Would she not dance, I asked her? ‘Can you
imagine it?’ she said. ‘My father was a handsome man, and my mother a
perfect beauty, and my father won her by storm. But I was born lame.'”
Edwarda looked at me.
“Let us sit down,” she said.
And we sat down in the heather.
“Do you know what my friend says about you?” she began. “Your eyes are
like an animal’s, she says, and when you look at her, it makes her mad.
It is just as if you touched her, she says.”
A strange joy thrilled me when I heard that, not for my own sake, but
for Edwarda’s, and I thought to myself: There is only one whom I care
for: what does that one say of the look in my eyes? And I asked her:
“Who was that, your friend?”
“I will not tell you,” she said. “But it was one of those that were out
on the island that day.”
“Very well, then.”
And then we spoke of other things.
“My father is going to Russia in a few days,” she said. “And I am going
to have a party. Have you been out to Korholmerne? We must have two
hampers of wine; the ladies from the vicarage are coming again, and
father has already given me the wine. And you won’t look at her again,
will you? My friend, I mean. Please, you won’t, will you? Or I
shall not ask her at all.”
And with no more words she threw herself passionately about my neck, and
looked at me, gazing into my face and breathing heavily. Her glance was
I got up abruptly, and, in my confusion, could only say:
“So your father is going to Russia?”
“What did you get up like that for, so quickly?” she asked.
“Because it is late, Edwarda,” I said. “Now the white flowers are
closing again. The sun is getting up; it will soon be day.”
I went with her through the woodland and stood watching her as long as I
could; far down, she turned round and softly called good-night. Then
At the same moment the door of the blacksmith’s house opened. A man with
a white shirt front came out, looked round, pulled his hat down farther
over his forehead, and took the road down to Sirilund.
Edwarda’s good-night was still in my ears.
A man can be drunk with joy. I fire off my gun, and an unforgettable
echo answers from hill to hill, floats out over the sea and rings in
some sleepy helmsman’s ears. And what have I to be joyful about? A
thought that came to me, a memory; a sound in the woods, a human being.
I think of her, I close my eyes and stand still there on the road, and
think of her; I count the minutes.
Now I am thirsty, and drink from the stream; now I walk a hundred paces
forward and a hundred paces back; it must be late by now, I say to
Can there be anything wrong? A month has passed, and a month is no long
time; there is nothing wrong. Heaven knows this month has been short.
But the nights are often long, and I am driven to wet my cap in the
stream and let it dry, only to pass the time, while I am waiting.
I reckoned my time by nights. Sometimes there would be an evening when
Edwarda did not come–once she stayed away two evenings. Nothing wrong,
no. But I felt then that perhaps my happiness had reached and passed its
And had it not?
“Can you hear, Edwarda, how restless it is in the woods to-night?
Rustling incessantly in the undergrowth, and the big leaves trembling.
Something brewing, maybe–but it was not that I had in mind to say. I
hear a bird away up on the hill–only a tomtit, but it has sat there
calling in the same place two nights now. Can you hear–the same, same
“Yes, I hear it. Why do you ask me that?”
“Oh, for no reason at all. It has been there two nights now. That was
all… Thanks, thanks for coming this evening, love. I sat here,
expecting you this evening, or the next, looking forward to it, when you
“And I have been waiting too. I think of you, and I have picked up the
pieces of the glass you upset once, and kept them–do you remember?
Father went away last night. I could not come, there was so much to do
with the packing, and reminding him of things. I knew you were waiting
here in the woods, and I cried, and went on packing.”
But it is two evenings, I thought to myself. What was she doing the
first evening? And why is there less joy in her eyes now than before?
An hour passed. The bird up in the hills was silent, the woods lay dead.
No, no, nothing wrong; all as before; she gave me her hand to say
good-night, and looked at me with love in her eyes.
“To-morrow?” I said.
“No, not to-morrow,” she answered.
I did not ask her why.
“To-morrow is our party,” she said with a laugh. “I was only going to
surprise you, but you looked so miserable, I had to tell you at once. I
was going to send you an invitation all on paper.”
And my heart was lightened unspeakably.
She went off, nodding farewell.
“One thing more,” said I, standing where I was. “How long is it since
you gathered up the pieces of that glass and put them away?”
“Why–a week ago, perhaps, or a fortnight. Yes, perhaps a fortnight.
But why do you ask? Well, I will tell you the truth–it was yesterday.”
Yesterday! No longer ago than yesterday she had thought of me. All was
well again now.
The two boats lay ready, and we stepped on board. Talking and singing.
The place, Korholmerne, lay out beyond the islands; it took a good while
to row across, and on the way we talked, one party with another, from
boat to boat. The Doctor wore light things, as the ladies did; I had
never seen him so pleased before; he talked with the rest, instead of
listening in silence. I had an idea he had been drinking a little, and
so was in good humor to-day. When we landed, he craved the attention of
the party for a moment, and bade us welcome. I thought to myself: This
means that Edwarda has asked him to act as host.
He fell to entertaining the ladies in the most amiable manner. To
Edwarda he was polite and kind, often fatherly, and pedantically
instructive, as he had been so many times before. She spoke of some date
or other, saying: “I was born in ’38,” and he asked, “Eighteen hundred
and thirty-eight, I suppose you mean?” And if she had answered, “No, in
nineteen hundred and thirty-eight,” he would have shown no
embarrassment, but only corrected her again, and said, “I think you must
be mistaken.” When I said anything myself, he listened politely and
attentively, and did not ignore me.
A young girl came up to me with a greeting. I did not recognize her; I
could not remember her at all, and I said a few words in surprise, and
she laughed. It was one of the Dean’s daughters. I had met her the day
we went to the island before, and had invited her to my hut. We talked
together a little.
An hour or so passed by. I was feeling dull, and drank from the wine
poured out for me, and mixed with the others, chatting with them all.
Again I made a mistake here and there: I was on doubtful ground, and
could not tell at the moment how to answer any little civility; now and
then I talked incoherently, or even found nothing at all to say, and
this troubled me. Over by the big rock which we were using as a table
sat the Doctor, gesticulating.
“Soul–what is the soul?” he was saying. The Dean’s daughter had accused
him of being a free-thinker–well, and should not a man think freely?
People imagined hell as a sort of house down under the ground, with the
devil as host–or rather as sovereign lord. Then he spoke of the altar
picture in the chapel, a figure of the Christ, with a few Jews and
Jewesses; water into wine–well and good. But Christ had a halo round
His head. And what was a halo? Simply a yellow hoop fixed on three
Two of the ladies clasped their hands aghast, but the Doctor extricated
himself, and said jestingly:
“Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? I admit it. But if you repeat it and
repeat it again to yourself seven or eight times, and then think it over
a little, it soon sounds easier… Ladies, your very good health!”
And he knelt on the grass before the two ladies, and instead of taking
his hat off and laying it before him he held it straight up in the air
with one hand, and emptied his glass with his head bent back. I was
altogether carried away by his wonderful ease of manner, and would have
drunk with him myself but that his glass was empty.
Edwarda was following him with her eyes. I placed myself near her, and
“Shall we play ‘Enke‘ to-day?”
She started slightly, and got up.
“Be careful not to say ‘Du‘ to each other now,” she whispered.
Now I had not said “Du” at all. I walked away.
Another hour passed. The day was getting long; I would have rowed home
alone long before if there had been a third boat; AEsop lay tied up in
the hut, and perhaps he was thinking of me. Edwarda’s thoughts must
surely be far away from me; she talked of how lovely it would be to
travel, and see strange places; her cheeks flushed at the thought, and
she even stumbled in her speech:
“No one could be more happier than I the day …”
“‘More happier’…?” said the Doctor.
“What?” said she.
“I don’t understand.”
“You said ‘more happier,’ I think.”
“Did I? I’m sorry. No one could be happier than I the day I stood on
board the ship. Sometimes I long for places I do not know myself.”
She longed to be away; she did not think of me. I stood there, and read
in her face that she had forgotten me. Well, there was nothing to be
said–but I stood there myself and saw it in her face. And the minutes
dragged so miserably slowly by! I asked several of the others if we
ought not to row back now; it was getting late, I said, and AEsop was
tied up in the hut. But none of them wanted to go back.
I went over again to the Dean’s daughter, for the third time; I thought
she must be the one that had said I had eyes like an animal’s. We drank
together; she had quivering eyes, they were never still; she kept
looking at me and then looking away, all the time.
“Froeken,” I said, “do you not think people here in these parts are like
the short summer itself? In their feeling, I mean? Beautiful, but
lasting only a little while?”
I spoke loudly, very loudly, and I did so on purpose. And I went on
speaking loudly, and asked that young lady once more if she would not
like to come up one day and see my hut. “Heaven bless you for it,” I
said in my distress, and I was already thinking to myself how, perhaps,
I might find something to give her as a present if she came. Perhaps I
had nothing to give her but my powder-horn, I thought.
And she promised to come.
Edwarda sat with her face turned away and let me talk as much as I
pleased. She listened to what the others said, putting in a word herself
now and again. The Doctor told the young ladies’ fortunes by their
hands, and talked a lot; he himself had small, delicate hands, with a
ring on one finger. I felt myself unwanted, and sat down by myself
awhile on a stone. It was getting late in the afternoon. Here I am, I
said to myself, sitting all alone on a stone, and the only creature that
could make me move, she lets me sit. Well, then, I care no more than
A great feeling of forsakenness came over me. I could hear them talking
behind me, and I heard how Edwarda laughed; and at that I got up
suddenly and went over to the party. My excitement ran away with me.
“Just a moment,” I said. “It occurred to me while I was sitting there
that perhaps you might like to see my fly-book.” And I took it out. “I
am sorry I did not think of it before. Just look through it, if you
please; I should be only too delighted. You must all see it; there are
both red and yellow flies in it.” And I held my cap in my hand as I
spoke. I was myself aware that I had taken off my cap, and I knew that
this was wrong, so I put it on again at once.
There was deep silence for a moment, and no one offered to take the
book. At last the Doctor reached out his hand for it and said politely:
“Thanks very much; let us look at the things. It’s always been a marvel
to me how those flies were put together.”
“I make them myself,” I said, full of gratitude. And I went on at once
to explain how it was done. It was simple enough: I bought the feathers
and the hooks. They were not well made, but they were only for my own
use. One could get ready-made flies in the shops, and they were
Edwarda cast one careless glance at me and my book, and went on talking
with her girl friends.
“Ah, here are some of the feathers,” said the Doctor. “Look, these are
Edwarda looked up.
“The green ones are pretty,” she said; “let me look, Doctor.”
“Keep them,” I cried. “Yes, do, I beg you, now. Two green feathers. Do,
as a kindness, let them be a keepsake.”
She looked at them and said:
“They are green and gold, as you turn them in the sun. Thank you, if you
will give me them.”
“I should be glad to,” I said.
And she took the feathers.
A little later the Doctor handed me the book and thanked me. Then he got
up and asked if it were not nearly time to be getting back.
I said: “Yes, for Heaven’s sake. I have a dog tied up at home; look you,
I have a dog, and he is my friend; he lies there thinking of me, and
when I come home he stands with his forepaws at the window to greet me.
It has been a lovely day, and now it is nearly over; let us go back. I
am grateful to you all.”
I waited on the shore to see which boat Edwarda chose, and made up my
mind to go in the other one myself. Suddenly she called me. I looked at
her in surprise; her face was flushed. Then she came up to me, held out
her hand, and said tenderly:
“Thank you for the feathers. You will come in the boat with me, won’t
“If you wish it,” I said.
We got into the boat, and she sat down beside me on the same seat, her
knee touching mine. I looked at her, and she glanced at me for a moment
in return. I began to feel myself repaid for that bitter day, and was
growing happy again, when she suddenly changed her position, turned her
back to me, and began talking to the Doctor, who was sitting at the
For a full quarter of an hour I did not exist for her. Then I did
something I repent of, and have not yet forgotten. Her shoe fell off: I
snatched it up and flung it far out into the water, for pure joy that
she was near, or from some impulse to make myself remarked, to remind
her of my existence–I do not know. It all happened so suddenly I did
not think, only felt that impulse.
The ladies set up a cry. I myself was as if paralyzed by what I had
done, but what was the good of that? It was done. The Doctor came to my
help; he cried “Row,” and steered towards the shoe. And the next moment
the boatman had caught hold of the shoe just as it had filled with water
and was sinking; the man’s arm was wet up to the elbow. Then there was a
shout of “Hurra” from many in the boats, because the shoe was saved.
I was deeply ashamed, and felt that my face changed color and winced, as
I wiped the shoe with my handkerchief. Edwarda took it without a word.
Not till a little while after did she say:
“I never saw such a thing!”
“No, did you ever?” I said. And I smiled and pulled myself together,
making as if I had played that trick for some particular reason–as if
there were something behind it. But what could there be? The Doctor
looked at me, for the first time, contemptuously.
A little time passed; the boats glided homeward; the feeling of
awkwardness among the party disappeared; we sang; we were nearing the
land. Edwarda said:
“Oh, we haven’t finished the wine: there is ever so much left. We must
have another party, a new party later on; we must have a dance, a ball
in the big room.”
When we went ashore I made an apology to Edwarda.
“If you knew how I wished myself back in my hut!” I said. “This has been
a long and painful day.”
“Has it been a painful day for you, Lieutenant?”
“I mean,” said I, trying to pass it off, “I mean, I have caused
unpleasantness both to myself and others. I threw your shoe into the
“Yes–an extraordinary thing to do.”
“Forgive me,” I said.
What worse things might still happen? I resolved to keep calm, whatever
might come; Heaven is my witness. Was it I who had forced myself on her
from the first? No, no; never! I was but standing in her way one
week-day as she passed. What a summer it was here in the north! Already
the cockchafers had ceased to fly, and people were grown more and more
difficult to understand, for all that the sun shone on them day and
night. What were their blue eyes looking for, and what were they
thinking behind their mysterious lashes? Well, after all, they were all
equally indifferent to me. I took out my lines and went fishing for two
days, four days; but at night I lay with open eyes in the hut…
“Edwarda, I have not seen you for four days.”
“Four days, yes–so it is. Oh, but I have been so busy. Come and look.”
She led me into the big room. The tables had been moved out, the chairs
set round the walls, everything shifted; the chandelier, the stove, and
the walls were fantastically decorated with heather and black stuff from
the store. The piano stood in one corner.
These were her preparations for “the ball.”
“What do you think of it?” she asked.
“Wonderful,” I said.
We went out of the room.
I said: “Listen, Edwarda–have you quite forgotten me?”
“I can’t understand you,” she answered in surprise. “You saw all I had
been doing–how could I come and see you at the same time?”
“No,” I agreed; “perhaps you couldn’t.” I was sick and exhausted with
want of sleep, my speech grew meaningless and uncontrolled; I had been
miserable the whole day. “No, of course you could not come. But I was
going to say … in a word, something has changed; there is something
wrong. Yes. But I cannot read in your face what it is. There is
something very strange about your brow, Edwarda. Yes, I can see it now.”
“But I have not forgotten you,” she cried, blushing, and slipped her arm
suddenly into mine.
“No? Well, perhaps you have not forgotten me. But if so, then I do not
know what I am saying. One or the other.”
“You shall have an invitation to-morrow. You must dance with me. Oh, how
we will dance!”
“Will you go a little way with me?” I asked.
“Now? No, I can’t,” she answered. “The Doctor will be here presently.
He’s going to help me with something; there is a good deal still to be
done. And you think the room will look all right as it is? But don’t you
A carriage stops outside.
“Is the Doctor driving to-day?” I ask.
“Yes, I sent a horse for him. I wanted to …”
“Spare his bad foot, yes. Well, I must be off. Goddag, Goddag, Doctor.
Pleased to see you again. Well and fit, I hope? Excuse my running
Once down the steps outside, I turned round. Edwarda was standing at
the window watching me; she stood holding the curtains aside with both
hands, to see; and her look was thoughtful. A foolish joy thrilled me; I
hurried away from the house light-footed, with a darkness shading my
eyes; my gun was light as a walking-stick in my hand. If I could win
her, I should become a good man, I thought. I reached the woods and
thought again: If I might win her, I would serve her more untiringly
than any other; and even if she proved unworthy, if she took a fancy to
demand impossibilities, I would yet do all that I could, and be glad
that she was mine… I stopped, fell on my knees, and in humility and
hope licked a few blades of grass by the roadside, and then got up
At last I began to feel almost sure. Her altered behavior of late–it
was only her manner. She had stood looking after me when I went; stood
at the window following with her eyes till I disappeared. What more
could she do? My delight upset me altogether; I was hungry, and no
longer felt it.
AEsop ran on ahead; a moment afterward he began to bark. I looked up; a
woman with a white kerchief on her head was standing by the corner of
the hut. It was Eva, the blacksmith’s daughter.
“Goddag, Eva!” I called to her.
She stood by the big grey stone, her face all red, sucking one finger.
“Is it you, Eva? What is the matter?” I asked.
“AEsop has bitten me,” she answered, with some awkwardness, and cast down
I looked at her finger. She had bitten it herself. A thought flashed
into my mind, and I asked her:
“Have you been waiting here long?”
“No, not very long,” she answered.
And without a word more from either of us, I took her by the hand and
let her into the hut.
I came from my fishing as usual, and appeared at the “ball” with the gun
and bag–only I had put on my best leather suit. It was late when I got
to Sirilund; I heard them dancing inside. Someone called out: “Here’s
the hunter, the Lieutenant.” A few of the young people crowded round me
and wanted to see my catch; I had shot a brace of seabirds and caught a
few haddock. Edwarda bade me welcome with a smile; she had been dancing,
and was flushed.
“The first dance with me,” she said.
And we danced. Nothing awkward happened; I turned giddy, but did not
fall. My heavy boots made a certain amount of noise; I could hear it
myself, the noise, and resolved not to dance any more; I had even
scratched their painted floor. But how glad I was that I had done
Herr Mack’s two assistants from the store were there, laboriously and
with a solemn concentration. The Doctor took part eagerly in the set
dances. Besides these gentlemen, there were four other youngish men,
sons of families belonging to the parish, the Dean, and the district
surgeons. A stranger, a commercial traveller, was there too; he made
himself remarked by his fine voice, and tralala’ed to the music; now and
again he relieved the ladies at the piano.
I cannot remember now what happened the first few hours, but I remember
everything from the latter part of the night. The sun shone redly in
through the windows all the time, and the seabirds slept. We had wine
and cakes, we talked loud and sang, Edwarda’s laugh sounded fresh and
careless through the room. But why had she never a word for me now? I
went towards where she was sitting, and would have said something polite
to her, as best I could; she was wearing a black dress, her confirmation
dress, perhaps, and it was grown too short for her, but it suited her
when she danced, and I thought to tell her so.
“That black dress…” I began.
But she stood up, put her arm round one of her girl friends, and walked
off with her. This happened two or three times. Well, I thought to
myself, if it’s like that… But then why should she stand looking
sorrowfully after me from the window when I go? Well, ’tis her affair!
A lady asked me to dance. Edwarda was sitting near, and I answered
“No; I am going home directly.”
Edwarda threw a questioning glance at me, and said: “Going? Oh, no, you
I started, and felt that I was biting my lip. I got up.
“What you said then seemed very significant to me, Edwarda,” I said
darkly, and made a few steps towards the door.
The Doctor put himself in my way, and Edwarda herself came hurrying up.
“Don’t misunderstand me,” she said warmly. “I meant to say I hoped you
would be the last to go, the very last. And besides, it’s only one
o’clock… Listen,” she went on with sparkling eyes, “you gave our
boatmen five daler for saving my shoe. It was too much.” And she
laughed heartily and turned round to the rest.
I stood with open mouth, disarmed and confused.
“You are pleased to be witty,” I said. “I never gave your boatman five
daler at all.”
“Oh, didn’t you?” She opened the door to the kitchen, and called the
boatmen in. “Jakob, you remember the day you rowed us out to
Korholmerne, and you picked up my shoe when it fell into the water?”
“Yes,” answered Jakob.
“And you were given five daler for saving it?”
“Yes, you gave me…”
“Thanks, that will do, you can go.”
Now what did she mean by that trick? I thought she was trying to shame
me. She should not succeed; I was not going to have that to blush for.
And I said loudly and distinctly:
“I must point out to all here that this is either a mistake or a lie. I
have never so much as thought of giving the boatman five daler
for your shoe. I ought to have done so, perhaps, but up to now it has
not been done.”
“Whereupon we shall continue the dance,” she said, frowning. “Why aren’t
“She owes me an explanation of this,” I said to myself, and watched for
an opportunity to speak with her. She went into a side room, and I
“Skaal,” I said, and lifted a glass to drink with her.
“I have nothing in my glass,” she answered shortly.
But her glass was standing in front of her, quite full.
“I thought that was your glass.”
“No, it is not mine,” she answered, and turned away, and was in deep
conversation with someone else.
“I beg your pardon then,” said I.
Several of the guests had noticed this little scene.
My heart was hissing within me. I said offendedly: “But at least you owe
me an explanation…”
She rose, took both my hands, and said earnestly:
“But not to-day; not now. I am so miserable. Heavens, how you look at
me. We were friends once…”
Overwhelmed, I turned right about, and went in to the dancers again.
A little after, Edwarda herself came in and took up her place by the
piano, at which the travelling man was seated, playing a dance; her face
at that moment was full of inward pain.
“I have never learned to play,” she said, looking at me with dark eyes.
“If I only could!”
I could make no answer to this. But my heart flew out towards her once
more, and I asked:
“Why are you so unhappy all at once, Edwarda? If you knew how it hurts
me to see–”
“I don’t know what it is,” she said. “Everything, perhaps. I wish all
these people would go away at once, all of them. No, not you–remember,
you must stay till the last.”
And again her words revived me, and my eyes saw the light in the
sun-filled room. The Dean’s daughter came over, and began talking to me;
I wished her ever so far away, and gave her short answers. And I
purposely kept from looking at her, for she had said that about my eyes
being like an animal’s. She turned to Edwarda and told her that once,
somewhere abroad–in Riga I think it was–a man had followed her along
“Kept walking after me, street after street, and smiling across at me,”
“Why, was he blind, then?” I broke in, thinking to please Edwarda. And I
shrugged my shoulders as well.
The young lady understood my coarseness at once, and answered:
“He must have been blind indeed, to run after any one so old and ugly as
But I gained no thanks from Edwarda for that: she drew her friend away;
they whispered together and shook their heads. After that, I was left
altogether to myself.
Another hour passed. The seabirds began to wake out on the reefs; their
cries sounded in through the open windows. A spasm of joy went through
me at this first calling of the birds, and I longed to be out there on
the islands myself…
The Doctor, once more in good humor, drew the attention of all present.
The ladies were never tired of his society. Is that thing there my
rival? I thought, noting his lame leg and miserable figure. He had taken
to a new and amusing oath: he said Doed og Pinsel, [Footnote: A
slight variation of the usual Doed og Pine (death and torture).] and
every time he used that comical expression I laughed aloud. In my misery
I wished to give the fellow every advantage I could, since he was my
rival. I let it be “Doctor” here and “Doctor” there, and called out
myself: “Listen to the Doctor!” and laughed aloud at the things he said.
“I love this world,” said the Doctor. “I cling to life tooth and nail.
And when I come to die, then I hope to find a corner somewhere straight
up over London and Paris, where I can hear the rumble of the human
cancan all the time, all the time.”
“Splendid!” I cried, and choked with laughter, though I was not in the
least bit drunk.
Edwarda too seemed delighted.
When the guests began to go, I slipped away into the little room at the
side and sat down to wait. I heard one after another saying good-bye on
the stairs; the Doctor also took his leave and went. Soon all the voices
had died away. My heart beat violently as I waited.
Edwarda came in again. At sight of me she stood a moment in surprise;
then she said with a smile:
“Oh, are you there? It was kind of you to wait till the last. I am tired
She remained standing.
I got up then, and said: “You will be wanting rest now. I hope you are
not displeased any more, Edwarda. You were so unhappy a while back, and
it hurt me.”
“It will be all right when I have slept.”
I had no more to add. I went towards the door.
“Thank you,” she said, offering her hand. “It was a pleasant evening.”
She would have seen me to the door, but I tried to prevent her.
“No need,” I said; “do not trouble, I can find my way…”
But she went with me all the same. She stood in the passage waiting
patiently while I found my cap, my gun, and my bag. There was a
walking-stick in the corner; I saw it well enough; I stared at it, and
recognized it–it was the Doctor’s. When she marked what I was looking
at, she blushed in confusion; it was plain to see from her face that she
was innocent, that she knew nothing of the stick. A whole minute passed.
At last she turned, furiously impatient, and said tremblingly:
“Your stick–do not forget your stick.”
And there before my eyes she handed me the Doctor’s stick.
I looked at her. She was still holding out the stick; her hand trembled.
To make an end of it, I took the thing, and set it back in the corner.
“It is the Doctor’s stick. I cannot understand how a lame man could
forget his stick.” “You and your lame man!” she cried bitterly, and took
a step forward towards me. “You are not lame–no; but even if you were,
you could not compare with him; no, you could never compare with him.
I sought for some answer, but my mind was suddenly empty; I was silent.
With a deep bow, I stepped backwards out of the door, and down on to the
steps. There I stood a moment looking straight before me; then I moved
“So, he has forgotten his stick,” I thought to myself. “And he will come
back this way to fetch it. He would not let me be the last man to
leave the house…” I walked up the road very slowly, keeping a
lookout either way, and stopped at the edge of the wood. At last, after
half an hour’s waiting, the Doctor came walking towards me; he had seen
me, and was walking quickly. Before he had time to speak I lifted my
cap, to try him. He raised his hat in return. I went straight up to him
“I gave you no greeting.”
He came a step nearer and stared at me.
“You gave me no greeting…?”
“No,” said I.
“Why, it is all the same to me what you did,” he said, turning pale. “I
was going to fetch my stick; I left it behind.” I could say nothing in
answer to this, but I took my revenge another way; I stretched out my
gun before him, as if he were a dog, and said:
And I whistled, as if coaxing him to jump over.
For a moment he struggled with himself; his face took on the strangest
play of expression as he pressed his lips together and held his eyes
fixed on the ground. Suddenly he looked at me sharply; a half smile lit
up his features, and he said:
“What do you really mean by all this?”
I did not answer, but his words affected me.
Suddenly he held out his hand to me, and said gently:
“There is something wrong with you. If you will tell me what it is, then
I was overwhelmed now with shame and despair; his calm words made me
lose my balance. I wished to show him some kindness in return, and I
put my arm round him, and said:
“Forgive me this! No, what could be wrong with me? There is nothing
wrong; I have no need of your help. You are looking for Edwarda,
perhaps? You will find her at home. But make haste, or she will have
gone to bed before you come; she was very tired, I could see it myself.
I tell you the best news I can, now; it is true. You will find her at
home–go, then!” And I turned and hurried away from him, striking out
with a long stride up through the woods and back to the hut.
For a while I sat there on the bed just as I had come in, with my bag
over my shoulder and my gun in my hand. Strange thoughts passed through
my mind. Why ever had I given myself away so to that Doctor? The thought
that I had put my arm round him and looked at him with wet eyes angered
me; he would chuckle over it, I thought; perhaps at that very moment he
might be sitting laughing over it, with Edwarda. He had set his stick
aside in the hall. Yes, even if I were lame, I could not compare with
the Doctor. I could never compare with him–those were her words…
I stepped out into the middle of the floor, cocked my gun, set the
muzzle against my left instep, and pulled the trigger. The shot passed
through the middle of the foot and pierced the floor. AEsop gave a short
A little after there came a knock at the door.
It was the Doctor.
“Sorry to disturb you,” he began. “You went off so suddenly, I thought
it might do no harm if we had a little talk together. Smell of powder,
He was perfectly sober. “Did you see Edwarda? Did you get your stick?”
“I found my stick. But Edwarda had gone to bed… What’s that? Heavens,
man, you’re bleeding!”
“No, nothing to speak of. I was just putting the gun away, and it went
off; it’s nothing. Devil take you, am I obliged to sit here and give you
all sorts of information about that…? You found your stick?”
But he did not heed my words; he was staring at my torn boot and the
trickle of blood. With a quick movement he laid down his stick and took
off his gloves.
“Sit still–I must get that boot off. I thought it was a shot I
How I repented of it afterward–that business with the gun. It was a mad
thing to do. It was not worth while any way, and it served no purpose,
only kept me tied down to the hut for weeks. I remember distinctly even
now all the discomfort and annoyance it caused; my washerwoman had to
come every day and stay there nearly all the time, making purchases of
food, looking after my housekeeping, for several weeks. Well, and
One day the Doctor began talking about Edwarda. I heard her name, heard
what she had said and done, and it was no longer of any great importance
to me; it was as if he spoke of some distant, irrelevant thing. So
quickly one can forget, I thought to myself, and wondered at it.
“Well, and what do you think of Edwarda yourself, since you ask? I have
not thought of her for weeks, to tell the truth. Wait a bit–it seems to
me there must have been something between you and her, you were so often
together. You acted host one day at a picnic on the island, and she was
hostess. Don’t deny it, Doctor, there was something–a sort of
understanding. No, for Heaven’s sake don’t answer me. You owe me no
explanation, I am not asking to be told anything at all–let us talk of
something else if you like. How long before I can get about again?”
I sat there thinking of what I had said. Why was I inwardly afraid lest
the Doctor should speak out? What was Edwarda to me? I had forgotten
And later the talk turned on her again, and I interrupted him once
more–God knows what it was I dreaded to hear.
“What do you break off like that for?” he asked. “Is it that you can’t
bear to hear me speak her name?”
“Tell me,” I said, “what is your honest opinion of Edwarda? I should be
interested to know.”
He looked at me suspiciously.
“My honest opinion?”
“Perhaps you may have something new to tell me to-day. Perhaps you have
proposed, and been accepted. May I congratulate you? No? Ah, the devil
“So that was what you were afraid of?”
“Afraid of? My dear Doctor!”
“No,” he said, “I have not proposed and been accepted. But you have,
perhaps. There’s no proposing to Edwarda–she will take whomever she has
a fancy for. Did you take her for a peasant girl? You have met her, and
seen for yourself. She is a child that’s had too little whipping in her
time, and a woman of many moods. Cold? No fear of that! Warm? Ice, I
say. What is she, then? A slip of a girl, sixteen or seventeen–exactly.
But try to make an impression on that slip of a girl, and she
will laugh you to scorn for your trouble. Even her father can do nothing
with her; she obeys him outwardly, but, in point of fact, ’tis she
herself that rules. She says you have eyes like an animal…”
“You’re wrong there–it was someone else said I had eyes like an
“Someone else? Who?”
“I don’t know. One of her girl friends. No, it was not Edwarda said
that. Wait a bit though; perhaps, after all, it was Edwarda…”
“When you look at her, it makes her feel so and so, she says. But do you
think that brings you a hairbreadth nearer? Hardly. Look at her, use
your eyes as much as you please–but as soon as she marks what you are
doing, she will say to herself–‘Ho, here’s this man looking at me with
his eyes, and thinks to win me that way.’ And with a single glance, or a
word, she’ll have you ten leagues away. Do you think I don’t know her?
How old do you reckon her to be?” “She was born in ’38, she said.”
“A lie. I looked it up, out of curiosity. She’s twenty, though she might
well pass for fifteen. She is not happy; there’s a deal of conflict in
that little head of hers. When she stands looking out at the hills and
the sea, and her mouth gives that little twitch, that little spasm of
pain, then she is suffering; but she is too proud, too obstinate for
tears. She is more than a bit romantic; a powerful imagination; she is
waiting for a prince. What was that about a certain five-daler note
you were supposed to have given someone?”
“A jest. It was nothing…”
“It was something all the same. She did something of the same sort with
me once. It’s a year ago now. We were on board the mail-packet while it
was lying here in the harbour. It was raining, and very cold. A woman
with a child in her arms was sitting on deck, shivering. Edwarda asked
her: ‘Don’t you feel cold?’ Yes, she did. ‘And the little one too?’ Yes,
the little one was cold as well. ‘Why don’t you go into the cabin?’ asks
Edwarda. ‘I’ve only a steerage ticket,’ says the woman. Edwarda looks at
me. ‘The woman here has only a steerage ticket,’ she says. ‘Well, and
what then?’ I say to myself. But I understand her look. I’m not a rich
man; what I have I’ve worked to earn, and I think twice before I spend
it; so I move away. If Edwarda wants someone to pay for the woman, let
her do it herself; she and her father can better afford it than I. And
sure enough, Edwarda paid. She’s splendid in that way–no one can say
she hasn’t a heart. But as true as I’m sitting here she expected me to
pay for a saloon passage for the woman and child; I could see it in her
eyes. And what then, do you think? The woman gets up and thanks her for
her kindness. ‘Don’t thank me–it was that gentleman there,’ says
Edwarda, pointing to me as calmly as could be. What do you think of
that? The woman thanks me too; and what can I say? Simply had to leave
it as it was. That’s just one thing about her. But I could tell you many
more. And as for the five daler to the boatman–she gave him the money
herself. If you had done it, she would have flung her arms round you and
kissed you on the spot. You should have been the lordly cavalier that
paid an extravagant sum for a worn-out shoe–that would have suited her
ideas; she expected it. And as you didn’t–she did it herself in your
name. That’s her way–reckless and calculating at the same time.”
“Is there no one, then, that can win her?” I asked.
“Severity’s what she wants,” said the Doctor, evading the question.
“There’s something wrong about it all; she has too free a hand; she can
do as she pleases, and have her own way all the time. People take
notice of her; no one ever disregards her; there is always something at
hand for her to work on with effect. Have you noticed the way I treat
her myself? Like a schoolgirl, a child; I order her about, criticise her
way of speaking, watch her carefully, and show her up now and again. Do
you think she doesn’t understand it? Oh, she’s stiff and proud, it hurts
her every time; but then again she is too proud to show it. But that’s
the way she should be handled. When you came up here I had been at her
for a year like that, and it was beginning to tell; she cried with pain
and vexation; she was growing more reasonable. Then you came along and
upset it all. That’s the way it goes–one lets go of her and another
takes her up again. After you, there’ll be a third, I suppose–you never
“Oho,” thought I to myself, “the Doctor has something to revenge.” And I
“Doctor, what made you trouble to tell me all that long story? What was
it for? Am I to help you with her upbringing?”
“And then she’s fiery as a volcano,” he went on, never heeding my
question. “You asked if no one could ever win her? I don’t see why not.
She is waiting for her prince, and he hasn’t come yet. Again and again
she thinks she’s found him, and finds out she’s wrong; she thought you
were the one, especially because you had eyes like an animal. Haha! I
say, though, Herr Lieutenant, you ought at least to have brought your
uniform with you. It would have been useful now. Why shouldn’t she be
won? I have seen her wringing her hands with longing for someone to come
and take her, carry her away, rule over her, body and soul. Yes … but
he must come from somewhere–turn up suddenly one day, and be something
out of the ordinary. I have an idea that Herr Mack is out on an
expedition; there’s something behind this journey of his. He went off
like that once before, and brought a man back with him.”
“Brought a man back with him?”
“Oh, but he was no good,” said the Doctor, with a wry laugh. “He was a
man about my own age, and lame, too, like myself. He wouldn’t do for the
“And he went away again? Where did he go?” I asked, looking fixedly at
“Where? Went away? Oh, I don’t know,” he answered confusedly. “Well,
well, we’ve been talking too long about this already. That foot of
yours–oh, you can begin to walk in a week’s time. Au revoir.”
A woman’s voice outside the hut. The blood rushed to my head–it was
Edwarda. “Glahn–Glahn is ill, so I have heard.”
And my washerwoman answered outside the door:
“He’s nearly well again now.”
That “Glahn–Glahn” went through me to the marrow of my bones; she said
my name twice, and it touched me; her voice was clear and ringing.
She opened my door without knocking, stepped hastily in, and looked at
me. And suddenly all seemed as in the old days. There she was in her
dyed jacket and her apron tied low in front, to give a longer waist. I
saw it all at once; and her look, her brown face with the eyebrows
high-arched into the forehead, the strangely tender expression of her
hands, all came on me so strongly that my brain was in a whirl. I have
kissed her! I thought to myself.
I got up and remained standing.
“And you get up, you stand, when I come?” she said. “Oh, but sit down.
Your foot is bad, you shot yourself. Heavens, how did it happen? I did
not know of it till just now. And I was thinking all the time: What can
have happened to Glahn? He never comes now. I knew nothing of it all.
And you had shot yourself, and it was weeks ago, they tell me, and I
knew never a word. How are you now? You are very pale: I should hardly
recognize you. And your foot–will you be lame now? The Doctor says you
will not be lame. Oh, I am so fond of you because you are not going to
be lame! I thank God for that. I hope you will forgive me for coming up
like this without letting you know; I ran nearly all the way…”
She bent over me, she was close to me, I felt her breath on my face; I
reached out my hands to hold her. Then she moved away a little. Her eyes
were still dewy.
“It happened this way,” I stammered out. “I was putting the gun away in
the corner, but I held it awkwardly–up and down, like that; then
suddenly I heard the shot. It was an accident.”
“An accident,” she said thoughtfully, nodding her head. “Let me see–it
is the left foot–but why the left more than the right? Yes, of course,
“Yes, an accident,” I broke in. “How should I know why it just happened
to be the left foot? You can see for yourself–that’s how I was holding
the gun–it couldn’t be the right foot that way. It was a nuisance, of
course.” She looked at me curiously.
“Well, and so you are getting on nicely,” she said, looking around the
hut. “Why didn’t you send the woman down to us for food? What have you
been living on?”
We went on talking for a few minutes. I asked her:
“When you came in, your face was moved, and your eyes sparkled; you gave
me your hand. But now your eyes are cold again. Am I wrong?”
“One cannot always be the same…”
“Tell me this one thing,” I said. “What is it this time that I have said
or done to displease you? Then, perhaps, I might manage better in
She looked out the window, towards the far horizon; stood looking out
thoughtfully and answered me as I sat there behind her:
“Nothing, Glahn. Just thoughts that come at times. Are you angry now?
Remember, some give a little, but it is much for them to give; others
can give much, and it costs them nothing–and which has given more? You
have grown melancholy in your illness. How did we come to talk of all
this?” And suddenly she looked at me, her face flushed with joy. “But
you must get well soon, now. We shall meet again.”
And she held out her hand. Then it came into my head not to take her
hand. I stood up, put my hands behind my back, and bowed deeply; that
was to thank her for her kindness in coming to pay me a visit.
“You must excuse me if I cannot see you home,” I said.
When she had gone, I sat down again to think it all over. I wrote a
letter, and asked to have my uniform sent.
The first day in the woods.
I was happy and weary; all the creatures came up close and looked at me;
there were insects on the trees and oil-beetles crawling on the road.
Well met! I said to myself. The feeling of the woods went through and
through my senses; I cried for love of it all, and was utterly happy; I
was dissolved in thanksgiving. Dear woods, my home, God’s peace with
you from my heart… I stopped and turned all ways, named the things
with tears. Birds and trees and stones and grass and ants, I called them
all by name, looked round and called them all in their order. I looked
up to the hills and thought: Now, now I am coming, as if in answer to
their calling. Far above, the dwarf falcon was hacking away–I knew
where its nests were. But the sound of those falcons up in the hills
sent my thoughts far away.
About noon I rowed out and landed on a little island, an islet outside
the harbour. There were mauve-coloured flowers with long stalks reaching
to my knees; I waded in strange growths, raspberry and coarse grass;
there were no animals, and perhaps there had never been any human being
there. The sea foamed gently against the rocks and wrapped me in a veil
of murmuring; far up on the egg-cliffs, all the birds of the coast were
flying and screaming. But the sea wrapped me round on all sides as in an
embrace. Blessed be life and earth and sky, blessed be my enemies; in
this hour I will be gracious to my bitterest enemy, and bind the latchet
of his shoe…
“Hiv … ohoi…” Sounds from one of Herr Mack’s craft. My heart
was filled with sunshine at the well-known song. I rowed to the quay,
walked up past the fishers’ huts and home. The day was at an end. I had
my meal, sharing it with AEsop, and set out into the woods once more.
Soft winds breathed silently in my face. And I blessed the winds
because they touched my face; I told them that I blessed them; my very
blood sang in my veins for thankfulness. AEsop laid one paw on my knee.
Weariness came over me; I fell asleep.
* * * * *
Lul! lul! Bells ringing! Some leagues out at sea rose a mountain.
I said two prayers, one for my dog and one for myself, and we entered
into the mountain there. The gate closed behind us; I started at its
clang, and woke.
Flaming red sky, the sun there stamping before my eyes; the night, the
horizon, echoing with light. AEsop and I moved into the shade. All quiet
around us. “No, we will not sleep now,” I said to the dog, “we will go
out hunting tomorrow; the red sun is shining on us, we will not go into
the mountain.” … And strange thoughts woke to life in me, and the
blood rose to my head.
Excited, yet still weak, I felt someone kissing me, and the kiss lay on
my lips. I looked round: there was nothing visible. “Iselin!” A sound in
the grass–it might be a leaf falling to the ground, or it might be
footsteps. A shiver through the woods–and I told myself it might be
Iselin’s breathing. Here in these woods she has moved, Iselin; here she
has listened to the prayers of yellow-booted, green-cloaked huntsmen.
She lived out on my farm, two miles away; four generations ago she sat
at her window, and heard the echo of horns in the forest. There were
reindeer and wolf and bear, and the hunters were many, and all of them
had seen her grow up from a child, and each and all of them had waited
for her. One had seen her eyes, another heard her voice. When she was
twelve years old came Dundas. He was a Scotsman, and traded in fish, and
had many ships. He had a son. When she was sixteen, she saw young Dundas
for the first time. He was her first love…
And such strange fancies flowed through me, and my head grew very heavy
as I sat there; I closed my eyes and felt for Iselin’s kiss. Iselin, are
you here, lover of life? And have you Diderik there? … But my head
grew heavier still, and I floated off on the waves of sleep.
Lul! lul! A voice speaking, as if the Seven Stars themselves were
singing through my blood; Iselin’s voice:
“Sleep, sleep! I will tell you of my love while you sleep. I was
sixteen, and it was springtime, with warm winds; Dundas came. It was
like the rushing of an eagle’s flight. I met him one morning before the
hunt set out; he was twenty-five, and came from far lands; he walked by
my side in the garden, and when he touched me with his arm I began to
love him. Two red spots showed in his forehead, and I could have kissed
those two red spots.
“In the evening after the hunt I went to seek him in the garden, and I
was afraid lest I should find him. I spoke his name softly to myself,
and feared lest he should hear. Then he came out from the bushes and
whispered: ‘An hour after midnight!’ And then he was gone.
“‘An hour after midnight,’ I said to myself–‘what did he mean by that?
I cannot understand. He must have meant he was going away to far lands
again; an hour after midnight he was going away–but what was it to me?’
“An hour after midnight he came back.”
“‘May I sit there by you?’ he said.
“‘Yes,’ I told him. ‘Yes.’
“We sat there on the sofa; I moved away. I looked down.
“‘You are cold,’ he said, and took my hand. A little after he said:
‘How cold you are!’ and put his arm round me.
“And I was warmed with his arm. So we sat a little while. Then a cock
“‘Did you hear,’ he said, ‘a cock crow? It is nearly dawn.’
“‘Are you quite sure it was the cock crow?’ I stammered.
“Then the day came–already it was morning. Something was thrilling all
through me. What hour was it that struck just now?
“My maid came in.
“‘Your flowers have not been watered,’ she said.
“I had forgotten my flowers.
“A carriage drove up to the gate.
“‘Your cat has had no milk,’ said the maid.
“But I had no thought for my flowers, or my cat; I asked:
“‘Is that Dundas outside there? Ask him to come in here to me at once; I
am expecting him; there was something…’
“He knocked. I opened the door.
“‘Iselin!’ he cried, and kissed my lips a whole minute long.
“‘I did not send for you,’ I whispered to him.
“‘Did you not?’ he asked.
“Then I answered:
“‘Yes, I did–I sent for you. I was longing so unspeakably for you
again. Stay here with me a little.’
“And I covered my eyes for love of him. He did not loose me; I sank
forward and hid myself close to him.
“‘Surely that was something crowing again,’ he said, listening.
“But when I heard what he said, I cut off his words as swiftly as I
could, and answered:
“‘No, how can you imagine it? There was nothing crowing then.’
“He kissed me.
“Then it was evening again, and Dundas was gone. Something golden
thrilling through me. I stood before the glass, and two eyes all alight
with love looked out at me; I felt something moving in me at my own
glance, and always that something thrilling and thrilling round my
heart. Dear God! I had never seen myself with those eyes before, and I
kissed my own lips, all love and desire, in the glass…
“And now I have told you. Another time I will tell you of Svend
Herlufsen. I loved him too; he lived a league away, on the island you
can see out there, and I rowed out to him myself on calm summer
evenings, because I loved him. And I will tell you of Stamer. He was a
priest, and I loved him. I love all…”
Through my helf-sleep I heard a cock crowing down at Sirilund.
“Iselin, hear! A cock is crowing for us too!” I cried joyfully, and
reached out my arms. I woke. AEsop was already moving. “Gone!” I said in
burning sorrow, and looked round. There was no one–no one there. It was
morning now; the cock was still crowing down at Sirilund.
By the hut stood a woman–Eva. She had a rope in her hand; she was going
to fetch wood. There was the morning of life in the young girl’s figure
as she stood there, all golden in the sun.
“You must not think…” she stammered out.
“What is it I must not think, Eva?”
“I–I did not come this way to meet you; I was just passing…”
And her face darkened in a blush.
My foot continued to trouble me a good deal. It often itched at nights,
and kept me awake; a sudden spasm would shoot through it, and in
changeable weather it was full of gout. It was like that for many days.
But it did not make me lame, after all.
The days went on.
Herr Mack had returned, and I knew it soon enough. He took my boat away
from me, and left me in difficulties, for it was still the closed
season, and there was nothing I could shoot. But why did he take the
boat away from me like that? Two of Herr Mack’s folk from the quay had
rowed out with a stranger in the morning.
I met the Doctor.
“They have taken my boat away,” I said.
“There’s a new man come,” he said. “They have to row him out every day
and back in the evening. He’s investigating the sea-floor.”
The newcomer was a Finn. Herr Mack had met him accidentally on board the
steamer; he had come from Spitzbergen with some collections of scales
and small sea-creatures; they called him Baron. He had been given a big
room and another smaller one in Herr Mack’s house. He caused quite a
stir in the place.
“I am in difficulties about meat; I might ask Edwarda for something for
this evening,” I thought. I walked down to Sirilund. I noticed at once
that Edwarda was wearing a new dress. She seemed to have grown; her
dress was much longer now.
“Excuse my not getting up,” she said, quite shortly, and offered her
“My daughter is not very well, I’m sorry to say,” said Herr Mack. “A
chill–she has not been taking care of herself… You came to ask about
your boat, I suppose? I shall have to lend you another one instead. It’s
not a new one, but as long as you bail it out every now and then …
We’ve a scientist come to stay with us, you see, and with a man like
that, of course, you understand… He has no time to spare; works all
day and comes home in the evening. Don’t go now till he comes; you will
be interested in meeting him. Here’s his card, with coronet and all;
he’s a Baron. A very nice man. I met him quite by accident.”
Aha, I thought, so they don’t ask you to supper. Well, thank Heaven, I
only came down by way of a trial; I can go home again–I’ve still some
fish left in the hut. Enough for a meal, I daresay. Basta!
The Baron came in. A little man, about forty, with a long, narrow face,
prominent cheek bones, and a thinnish black beard. His glance was sharp
and penetrating, but he wore strong glasses. His shirt studs, too, were
ornamented with a little five-pointed coronet, like the one on his card.
He stooped a little, and his thin hands were blue-veined, but the nails
were like yellow metal.
“Delighted, Herr Lieutenant. Have you been here long, may I ask?”
“A few months.”
A pleasant man. Herr Mack asked him to tell us about his scales and
sea-things, and he did so willingly–told us what kind of clay there was
round Korholmerne–went into his room and fetched a sample of weed from
the White Sea. He was constantly lifting up his right forefinger and
shifting his thick gold spectacles back and forward on his nose. Herr
Mack was most interested. An hour passed.
The Baron spoke of my accident–that unfortunate shot. Was I well again
now? Pleased to hear it.
Now who had told him of that? I asked:
“And how did you hear of that, Baron?”
“Oh, who was it, now? Froeken Mack, I think. Was it not you, Froeken
Edwarda flushed hotly.
I had come so poor! for days past, a dark misery had weighed me down.
But at the stranger’s last words a joy fluttered through me on the
instant. I did not look at Edwarda, but in my mind I thanked her:
Thanks, for having spoken of me, named my name with your tongue, though
it be all valueless to you. Godnat.
I took my leave. Edwarda still kept her seat, excusing herself, for
politeness’ sake, by saying she was unwell. Indifferently she gave me
And Herr Mack stood chatting eagerly with the Baron. He was talking of
his grandfather, Consul Mack:
“I don’t know if I told you before, Baron; this diamond here was a gift
from King Carl Johan, who pinned it to my grandfather’s breast with his
I went out to the front steps; no one saw me to the door. I glanced in
passing through the windows of the sitting-room; and there stood
Edwarda, tall, upright, holding the curtains apart with both hands,
looking out. I did not bow to her: I forgot everything; a swirl of
confusion overwhelmed me and drew me hurriedly away.
“Halt! Stop a moment!” I said to myself, when I reached the woods. God
in Heaven, but there must be an end of this! I felt all hot within on a
sudden, and I groaned. Alas, I had no longer any pride in my heart; I
had enjoyed Edwarda’s favour for a week, at the outside, but that was
over long since, and I had not ordered my ways accordingly. From now on,
my heart should cry to her: Dust, air, earth on my way; God in Heaven,
I reached the hut, found my fish, and had a meal.
Here are you burning out your life for the sake of a worthless
schoolgirl, and your nights are full of desolate dreams. And a hot wind
stands still about your head, a close, foul wind of last year’s breath.
Yet the sky is quivering with the most wonderful blue, and the hills are
calling. Come, AEsop, Hei…
A week passed. I hired the blacksmith’s boat and fished for my meals.
Edwarda and the Baron were always together in the evening when he came
home from his sea trips. I saw them once at the mill. One evening they
both came by my hut; I drew away from the window and barred the door. It
made no impression on me whatever to see them together; I shrugged my
shoulders. Another evening I met them on the road, and exchanged
greetings; I left it to the Baron to notice me first, and merely put up
two fingers to my cap, to be discourteous. I walked slowly past them,
and looked carelessly at them as I did so.
Another day passed.
How many long days had not passed already? I was downcast, dispirited;
my heart pondered idly over things; even the kindly grey stone by the
hut seemed to wear an expression of sorrow and despair when I went by.
There was rain in the air; the heat seemed gasping before me wherever I
went, and I felt the gout in my left foot; I had seen one of Herr Mack’s
horses shivering in its harness in the morning; all these things were
significant to me as signs of the weather. Best to furnish the house
well with food while the weather holds, I thought.
I tied up AEsop, took my fishing tackle and my gun, and went down to the
quay. I was quite unusually troubled in mind.
“When will the mail-packet be in?” I asked a fisherman there.
“The mail-packet? In three weeks’ time,” he answered.
“I am expecting my uniform,” I said.
Then I met one of Herr Mack’s assistants from the store. I shook hands
with him, and said:
“Tell me, do you never play whist now at Sirilund?”
“Yes, often,” he answered.
“I have not been there lately,” I said.
I rowed out to my fishing grounds. The weather was mild, but oppressive.
The gnats gathered in swarms, and I had to smoke all the time to keep
them off. The haddock were biting; I fished with two hooks and made a
good haul. On the way back I shot a brace of guillemots.
When I came in to the quay the blacksmith was there at work. A thought
occurred to me; I asked him:
“Going up my way?”
“No,” said he, “Herr Mack’s given me a bit of work to do here that’ll
keep me till midnight.”
I nodded, and thought to myself that it was well.
I took my fish and went off, going round by way of the blacksmith’s
house. Eva was there alone.
“I have been longing for you with all my heart,” I told her. And I was
moved at the sight of her. She could hardly look me in the face for
wonder. “I love your youth and your good eyes,” I said. “Punish me
to-day because I have thought more of another than of you. I tell you, I
have come here only to see you; you make me happy, I am fond of you. Did
you hear me calling for you last night?”
“No,” she answered, frightened.
“I called Edwarda, but it was you I meant. I woke up and heard myself.
Yes, it was you I meant; it was only a mistake; I said ‘Edwarda,’ but it
was only by accident. By Heaven, you are my dearest, Eva! Your lips are
so red to-day. Your feet are prettier than Edwarda’s–just look
yourself and see.”
Joy such as I had never seen in her lit up her face; she made as if to
turn away, but hesitated, and put one arm round my neck.
We talked together, sitting all the time on a long bench, talking to
each other of many things. I said:
“Would you believe it? Edwarda has not learnt to speak properly yet; she
talks like a child, and says ‘more happier.’ I heard her myself. Would
you say she had a lovely forehead? I do not think so. She has a devilish
forehead. And she does not wash her hands.”
“But we weren’t going to talk of her any more.”
“Quite right. I forgot.”
A little pause. I was thinking of something, and fell silent.
“Why are your eyes wet?” asked Eva.
“She has a lovely forehead, though,” I said, “and her hands are always
clean. It was only an accident that they were dirty once. I did not mean
to say what I did.” But then I went on angrily, with clenched teeth: “I
sit thinking of you all the time, Eva; but it occurs to me that perhaps
you have not heard what I am going to tell you now. The first time
Edwarda saw AEsop, she said: ‘AEsop–that was the name of a wise man–a
Phrygian, he was.’ Now wasn’t that simply silly? She had read it in a
book the same day, I’m sure of it.”
“Yes,” says Eva; “but what of it?”
“And as far as I remember, she said, too, that AEsop had Xanthus for his
“Well, what the devil is the sense of telling a crowd of people that
AEsop had Xanthus for his teacher? I ask you. Oh, you are not in the mood
to-day, Eva, or you would laugh till your sides ached at that.”
“Yes, I think it is funny,” said Eva, and began laughing forcedly and in
wonder. “But I don’t understand it as well as you do.”
I sit silent and thoughtful, silent and thoughtful.
“Do you like best to sit still and not talk?” asked Eva softly. Goodness
shone in her eyes; she passed her hand over my hair.
“You good, good soul,” I broke out, and pressed her close to me. “I know
for certain I am perishing for love of you; I love you more and more;
the end of it will be that you must go with me when I go away. You shall
see. Could you go with me?”
“Yes,” she answered.
I hardly heard that yes, but I felt it in her breath and all through
her. We held each other fiercely.
An hour later I kissed Eva good-bye and went away. At the door I meet
Herr Mack himself.
He started–stared into the house–stopped there on the doorstep,
staring in. “Ho!” said he, and could say no more; he seemed thrown
altogether off his balance.
“You did not expect to find me here,” I said, raising my cap.
Eva did not move.
Herr Mack regained his composure; a curious confidence appeared in his
manner, and he answered:
“You are mistaken: I came on purpose to find you. I wish to point out to
you that from the 1st of April it is forbidden to fire a shot within
half a mile of the bird-cliffs. You shot two birds out at the island
to-day; you were seen doing so.”
“I shot two guillemots,” I said helplessly. I saw at once that the man
was in the right.
“Two guillemots or two eiderducks–it is all the same. You were within
the prohibited limit.”
“I admit it,” I said. “It had not occurred to me before.”
“But it ought to have occurred to you.”
“I also fired off both barrels once in May, at very nearly the same
spot. It was on a picnic one day. And it was done at your own request.”
“That is another matter,” answered Herr Mack shortly.
“Well, then, devil take it, you know what you have to do, I suppose?”
“Perfectly well,” he answered.
Eva held herself in readiness; when I went out, she followed me; she had
put on a kerchief, and walked away from the house; I saw her going down
towards the quay. Herr Mack walked back home.
I thought it over. What a mind, to hit on that all at once, and save
himself! And those piercing eyes of his. A shot, two shots, a brace of
guillemots–a fine, a payment. And then everything, everything, would
be settled with Herr Mack and his house. After all, it was going off so
beautifully quickly and neatly…
The rain was coming down already, in great soft drops. The magpies flew
low along the ground, and when I came home and turned AEsop loose he
began eating the grass. The wind was beginning to rustle.
A league below me is the sea. It is raining, and I am up in the hills.
An overhanging rock shelters me from the rain. I smoke my pipe, smoke
one pipe after another; and every time I light it, the tobacco curls up
like little worms crawling from the ash. So also with the thoughts that
twirl in my head. Before me, on the ground, lies a bundle of dry twigs,
from the ruin of a bird’s nest. And as with that nest, so also with my
I remember every trifle of that day and the next. Hoho! I was hard put
to it then! …
I sit here up in the hills and the sea and the air are voiceful, a
seething and moaning of the wind and weather, cruel to listen to.
Fishing boats and small craft show far out with reefed sails, human
beings on board–making for somewhere, no doubt, and Heaven knows where
all those lives are making for, think I. The sea flings itself up in
foam, and rolls and rolls, as if inhabited by great fierce figures that
fling their limbs about and roar at one another; nay, a festival of ten
thousand piping devils that duck their heads down between their
shoulders and circle about, lashing the sea white with the tips of their
wings. Far, far out lies a hidden reef, and from that hidden reef rises
a white merman, shaking his head after a leaky sailboat making out to
sea before the wind. Hoho! out to sea, out to the desolate sea…
I am glad to be alone, that none may see my eyes. I lean securely
against the wall of rock, knowing that no one can observe me from
behind. A bird swoops over the crest with a broken cry; at the same
moment a boulder close by breaks loose and rolls down towards the sea.
And I sit there still for a while, I sink into restfulness; a warm sense
of comfort quivers in me because I can sit so pleasantly under shelter
while the rain pours down outside. I button up my jacket, thanking God
for the warmth of it. A little while more. And I fall asleep.
It was afternoon. I went home; it was still raining. Then–an unexpected
encounter. Edwarda stood there before me on the path. She was wet
through, as if she had been out in the rain a long time, but she smiled.
Ho! I thought to myself, and my anger rose; I gripped my gun and walked
fiercely although she herself was smiling.
“Goddag!” she called, speaking first.
I waited till I had come some paces nearer, and said:
“Fair one, I give you greeting.”
She started in surprise at my jesting tone. Alas, I knew not what I was
saying. She smiled timidly, and looked at me.
“Have you been up in the hills to-day?” she asked. “Then you must be
wet. I have a kerchief here, if you care for it; I can spare it… Oh,
you don’t know me.” And she cast down her eyes and shook her head when I
did not take her kerchief.
“A kerchief?” I answer, grinning in anger and surprise. “But I have a
jacket here–won’t you borrow it? I can spare it–I would have lent it
to anyone. You need not be afraid to take it. I would have lent it to a
fishwife, and gladly.”
I could see that she was eager to hear what I would say. She listened
with such attention that it made her look ugly; she forgot to hold her
lips together. There she stood with the kerchief in her hand–a white
silk kerchief which she had taken from her neck. I tore off my jacket in
“For Heaven’s sake put it on again,” she cried. “Don’t do that! Are you
so angry with me? Herregud! put your jacket on, do, before you get wet
I put on my jacket again.
“Where are you going?” I asked sullenly.
“No–nowhere … I can’t understand what made you take off your jacket
like that …”
“What have you done with the Baron to-day?” I went on. “The Count can’t
be out at sea on a day like this.”
“Glahn, I just wanted to tell you something …”
I interrupted her:
“May I beg you to convey my respects to the Duke?”
We looked at each other. I was ready to break in with further
interruptions as soon as she opened her mouth. At last a twinge of pain
passed over her face; I turned away and said:
“Seriously, you should send His Highness packing, Edwarda. He is not the
man for you. I assure you, he has been wondering these last few days
whether to make you his wife or not–and that is not good enough for
“No, don’t let us talk about that, please. Glahn, I have been thinking
of you; you could take off your jacket and get wet through for another’s
sake; I come to you …”
I shrugged my shoulders and went on:
“I should advise you to take the Doctor instead. What have you against
him? A man in the prime of life, and a clever head–you should think it
“Oh, but do listen a minute …”
AEsop, my dog, was waiting for me in the hut. I took off my cap, bowed
to her again, and said:
“Fair one, I give you farewell.”
And I started off.
She gave a cry:
“Oh, you are tearing my heart out. I came to you to-day; I waited for
you here, and I smiled when you came. I was nearly out of my mind
yesterday, because of something I had been thinking of all the time; my
head was in a whirl, and I thought of you all the time. To-day I was
sitting at home, and someone came in; I did not look up, but I knew who
it was. ‘I rowed half a mile to-day,’ he said. ‘Weren’t you tired?’ I
asked. ‘Oh yes, very tired, and it blistered my hands,’ he said, and was
very concerned about it. And I thought: Fancy being concerned about
that! A little after he said: ‘I heard someone whispering outside my
window last night; it was your maid and one of the store men talking
very intimately indeed.’ ‘Yes, they are to be married,’ I said. ‘But
this was at two o’clock in the morning!’ ‘Well, what of it?’ said I,
and, after a little: ‘The night is their own.’ Then he shifted his gold
spectacles a little up his nose, and observed: ‘But don’t you think, at
that hour of night, it doesn’t look well?’ Still I didn’t look up, and
we sat like that for ten minutes. ‘Shall I bring you a shawl to put over
your shoulders?’ he asked. ‘No, thank you,’ I answered. ‘If only I dared
take your little hand,’ he said. I did not answer–I was thinking of
something else. He laid a little box in my lap. I opened the box, and
found a brooch in it. There was a coronet on the brooch, and I counted
ten stones in it… Glahn, I have that brooch with me now; will you
look at it? It is trampled to bits–come, come and see how it is
trampled to bits… ‘Well, and what am I to do with this brooch?’ I
asked. ‘Wear it,’ he answered. But I gave him back the brooch, and said,
‘Let me alone–it is another I care for.’ ‘What other?’ he asked. ‘A
hunter in the woods,’ I said. ‘He gave me two lovely feathers once, for
a keepsake. Take back your brooch.’ But he would not. Then I looked at
him for the first time; his eyes were piercing. ‘I will not take back
the brooch. You may do with it as you please; tread on it,’ he said. I
stood up and put the brooch under my heel and trod on it. That was this
morning… For four hours I waited and waited; after dinner I went out.
He came to meet me on the road. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked. ‘To
Glahn,’ I answered,’to ask him not to forget me…’ Since one o’clock I
have been waiting here. I stood by a tree and saw you coming–you were
like a god. I loved your figure, your beard, and your shoulders, loved
everything about you… Now you are impatient; you want to go, only to
go; I am nothing to you, you will not look at me …” I had stopped.
When she had finished speaking I began walking on again. I was worn out
with despair, and I smiled; my heart was hard.
“Yes?” I said, and stopped again. “You had something to say to me?”
But at this scorn of mine she wearied of me.
“Something to say to you? But I have told you–did you not hear? No,
nothing–I have nothing to tell you any more…”
Her voice trembled strangely, but that did not move me.
Next morning Edwarda was standing outside the hut when I went out.
I had thought it all over during the night, and taken my resolve. Why
should I let myself be dazzled any longer by this creature of moods, a
fisher-girl, a thing of no culture? Had not her name fastened for long
enough on my heart, sucking it dry? Enough of that!–though it struck me
that, perhaps, I had come nearer to her by treating her with
indifference and scorn. Oh, how grandly I had scorned her–after she had
made a long speech of several minutes, to say calmly: “Yes? You had
something to say to me…?”
She was standing by the big stone. She was in great excitement, and
would have run towards me; her arms were already opened. But she
stopped, and stood there wringing her hands. I took off my cap and bowed
to her without a word.
“Just one thing I wanted to say to you to-day, Glahn,” she said
entreatingly. And I did not move, but waited, just to hear what she
would say next. “I hear you have been down at the blacksmith’s. One
evening it was. Eva was alone in the house.”
I started at that, and answered:
“Who told you that?”
“I don’t go about spying,” she cried. “I heard it last evening; my
father told me. When I got home all wet through last night, my father
said: ‘You were rude to the Baron to-day.’ ‘No,’ I answered. ‘Where have
you been now?’ he asked again. I answered: ‘With Glahn.’
“And then my father told me.”
I struggled with my despair; I said:
“What is more, Eva has been here.”
“Has she been here? In the hut?”
“More than once. I made her go in. We talked together.”
Pause. “Be firm!” I said to myself; and then, aloud:
“Since you are so kind as to mix yourself up in my affairs, I will not
be behindhand. I suggested yesterday that you should take the Doctor;
have you thought it over? For really, you know, the prince is simply
Her eyes lit with anger. “He is not, I tell you,” she cried
passionately. “No, he is better than you; he can move about in a house
without breaking cups and glasses; he leaves my shoes alone. Yes! He
knows how to move in society; but you are ridiculous–I am ashamed of
you–you are unendurable–do you understand that?”
Her words struck deep; I bowed my head and said:
“You are right; I am not good at moving in society. Be merciful. You do
not understand me; I live in the woods by choice–that is my happiness.
Here, where I am all alone, it can hurt no one that I am as I am; but
when I go among others, I have to use all my will power to be as I
should. For two years now I have been so little among people at all…”
“There’s no saying what mad thing you will do next,” she went on. “And
it is intolerable to be constantly looking after you.”
How mercilessly she said it! A very bitter pain passed through me. I
almost toppled before her violence. Edwarda had not yet done; she went
“You might get Eva to look after you, perhaps. It’s a pity though, that
“Eva! Eva married, did you say?”
“Why, who is her husband?”
“Surely you know that. She is the blacksmith’s wife.”
“I thought she was his daughter.”
“No, she is his wife. Do you think I am lying to you?”
I had not thought about it at all; I was simply astonished. I just stood
there thinking: Is Eva married?
“So you have made a happy choice,” says Edwarda.
Well, there seemed no end to the business. I was trembling with
indignation, and I said:
“But you had better take the Doctor, as I said. Take a friend’s advice;
that prince of yours is an old fool.” And in my excitement I lied about
him, exaggerated his age, declared he was bald, that he was almost
totally blind; I asserted, moreover, that he wore that coronet thing in
his shirt front wholly and solely to show off his nobility. “As for me,
I have not cared to make his acquaintance, there is nothing in him of
mark at all; he lacks the first principles; he is nothing.”
“But he is something, he is something,” she cried, and her voice broke
with anger. “He is far more than you think, you thing of the woods. You
wait. Oh, he shall talk to you–I will ask him myself. You don’t believe
I love him, but you shall see you are mistaken. I will marry him; I will
think of him night and day. Mark what I say: I love him. Let Eva come if
she likes–hahaha! Heavens, let her come–it is less than nothing to me.
And now let me get away from here…”
She began walking down the path from the hut; she took a few small
hurried steps, turned round, her face still pale as death, and moaned:
“And let me never see your face again.”
Leaves were yellowing; the potato-plants had grown to full height and
stood in flower; the shooting season came round again; I shot hare and
ptarmigan and grouse; one day I shot an eagle. Calm, open sky, cool
nights, many clear, clear tones and dear sounds in the woods and fields.
The earth was resting, vast and peaceful…
“I have not heard anything from Herr Mack about the two guillemots I
shot,” I said to the Doctor.
“You can thank Edwarda for that,” he said. “I know. I heard that she
set herself against it.”
“I do not thank her for it,” said I…
Indian summer–Indian summer. The stars lay like belts in through the
yellowing woods; a new star came every day. The moon showed like a
shadow; a shadow of gold dipped in silver…
“Heaven help you, Eva, are you married?”
“Didn’t you know that?”
“No, I didn’t know.”
She pressed my hand silently.
“God help you, child, what are we to do now?” “What you will. Perhaps
you are not going away just yet; I will be happy as long as you are
“Yes, yes–only as long as you are here.”
She looked forsaken, kept pressing my hand.
“No, Eva. Go–never any more!”
* * * * *
Nights pass and days come–three days already since this last talk. Eva
comes by with a load. How much wood has that child carried home from
the forest this summer alone?
“Set the load down, Eva, and let me see if your eyes are as blue as
Her eyes were red.
“No–smile again, Eva! I can resist no more; I am your, I am yours…”
Evening. Eva sings, I hear her singing, and a warmth goes through me.
“You are singing this evening, child?”
“Yes, I am happy.”
And being smaller than I, she jumps up a little to put her arms round my
“But, Eva, you have scratched your hands. Herregud! oh, if you had not
scratched them so!”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Her face beams wonderfully.
“Eva, have you spoken to Herr Mack?”
“What did he say, and what did you?”
“He is so hard with us now; he makes my husband work day and night down
at the quay, and keeps me at all sorts of jobs as well. He has ordered
me to do man’s work now.”
“Why does he do that?”
Eva looks down.
“Why does he do that, Eva?”
“Because I love you.”
“But how could he know?”
“I told him.”
“Would to Heaven he were not so harsh with you, Eva.”
“But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all now.”
And her voice is like a little tremulous song in the woods.
* * * * *
The woods more yellow still. It is drawing towards autumn now; a few
more stars have come in the sky, and from now on the moon looks like a
shadow of silver dipped in gold. There is no cold; nothing, only a cool
stillness and a flow of life in the woods. Every tree stands in silent
thought. The berries are ripe.
Then–the twenty-second of August and the three iron nights. [Footnote:
Joernnaetter. Used of the nights in August when the first frosts
The first iron night.
At nine the sun sets. A dull darkness settles over the earth, a star or
so can be seen; two hours later there is a glow of the moon. I wander
up in the woods with my gun and my dog. I light a fire, and the light of
the flames shines in between the fir-trunks. There is no frost.
“The first iron night!” I say. And a confused, passionate delight in the
time and the place sends a strange shiver through me…
“Hail, men and beasts and birds, to the lonely night in the woods, in
the woods! Hail to the darkness and God’s murmuring between the trees,
to the sweet, simple melody of silence in my ears, to green leaves and
yellow! Hail to the life-sound I hear; a snout against the grass, a dog
sniffing over the ground! A wild hail to the wildcat lying crouched,
sighting and ready to spring on a sparrow in the dark, in the dark! Hail
to the merciful silence upon earth, to the stars and the half moon; ay,
to them and to it!” …
I rise and listen. No one has heard me. I sit down again.
“Thanks for the lonely night, for the hills, the rush of the darkness
and the sea through my heart! Thanks for my life, for my breath, for the
boon of being alive to-night; thanks from my heart for these! Hear, east
and west, oh, hear. It is the eternal God. This silence murmuring in my
ears is the blood of all Nature seething; it is God weaving through the
world and me. I see a glistening gossamer thread in the light of my
fire; I hear a boat rowing across the harbour; the northern lights flare
over the heavens to the north. By my immortal soul, I am full of thanks
that it is I who am sitting here!”
Silence. A fir cone falls dully to the ground. A fir cone fell! I think
to myself. The moon is high, the fire flickers over the half-burned
brands and is dying. And in the late night I wander home.
The second iron night; the same stillness and mild weather. My soul is
pondering. I walk mechanically over to a tree, pull my cap deep down
over my eyes, and lean against that tree, with hands clasped behind my
neck. I gazed and think; the flame from my fire dazzles my eyes, and I
do not feel it. I stand in that stupor for a while, looking at the fire;
my legs fail me first, and grow tired; thoroughly stiff, I sit down. Not
till then do I think of what I have been doing. Why should I stare so
long at the fire?
AEsop lifts his head and listens; he hears footsteps; Eva appears among
“I am very thoughtful and sad this evening,” I say.
And in sympathy she makes no answer.
“I love three things,” I go on. “I love a dream of love I once had; I
love you; and I love this spot of ground.”
“And which do you love most?”
All still again. AEsop knows Eva; he lays his head on one side and looks
at her. I murmur:
“I saw a girl on the road to-day; she walked arm in arm with her lover.
The girl looked towards me, and could scarcely keep from laughing as I
“What was she laughing at?”
“I don’t know. At me, I suppose. Why do you ask?”
“Did you know her?”
“Yes. I bowed.”
“And didn’t she know you?”
“No, she acted as if she didn’t know me… But why do you sit there
worming things out of me? It is not a nice thing to do. You will not get
me to tell you her name.”
I murmur again:
“What was she laughing at? She is a flirt; but what was she laughing at?
What had I done to harm her?”
“It was cruel of her to laugh at you.”
“No, it was not cruel of her,” I cry. “How dare you sit there speaking
ill of her? She never did an unkind thing; it was only right that she
should laugh at me. Be quiet, devil take you, and leave me in peace–do
And Eva, terrified, leaves me in peace. I look at her, and repent my
harsh words at once; I fall down before her; wringing my hands.
“Go home, Eva. It is you I love most; how could I love a dream? It was
only a jest; it is you I love. But go home now; I will come to you
to-morrow; remember, I am yours; yes, do not forget it. Good-night.”
And Eva goes home.
* * * * *
The third iron night, a night of extremes! tension. If only there were
a little frost! Instead, still heat after the sun of the day; the night
is like a lukewarm marsh. I light my fire…
“Eva, it can be a delight at times to be dragged by the hair. So
strangely can the mind of a man be warped. He can be dragged by the hair
over hill and dale, and if asked what is happening, can answer in
ecstasy: ‘I am being dragged by the hair!’ And if anyone asks: ‘But
shall I not help you, release you?’ he answers: ‘No.’ And if they ask:
‘But how can you endure it?’ he answers: ‘I can endure it, for I love
the hand that drags me.’ Eva, do you know what it is to hope?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Look you, Eva, hope is a strange thing, a very strange thing. You can
go out one morning along the road, hoping to meet one whom you are fond
of. And do you? No. Why not? Because that one is busy that morning–is
somewhere else, perhaps… Once I got to know an old blind Lapp up in
the hills. For fifty-eight years he had seen nothing, and now he was
over seventy. It seemed to him that his sight was getting better little
by little; getting on gradually, he thought. If all went well he would
be able to make out the sun in a few years’ time. His hair was still
black, but his eyes were quite white. When we sat in his hut, smoking,
he would tell of all the things he had seen before he went blind. He
was hardy and strong; without feeling, indestructible; and he kept his
hope. When I was going, he came out with me, and began pointing in
different ways. ‘There’s the south,’ he said, ‘and there’s north. Now
you go that way first, and when you get a little way down, turn off that
way.’ ‘Quite right,’ I said. And at that the Lapp laughed contentedly,
and said: ‘There! I did not know that forty or fifty years back, so I
must see better now than I used to–yes, it is improving all the time.’
And then he crouched down and crept into his hut again–the same old
hut, his home on earth. And he sat down by the fire as before, full of
hope that in some few years he would be able to make out the sun…
Eva, ’tis strange about hope. Here am I, for instance, hoping all the
time that I may forget the one I did not meet on the road this
“You talk so strangely.”
“It is the third of the iron nights. I promise you, Eva, to be a
different man to-morrow. Let me be alone now. You will not know me again
to-morrow, I shall laugh and kiss you, my own sweet girl. Just
think–only this one night more, a few hours–and then I shall be a
different man. Godnat, Eva.”
I lie down closer to the fire, and look at the flames. A pine cone falls
from the branch; a dry twig or so falls too. The night is like a
boundless depth. I close my eyes.
After an hour, my senses begin swinging in a certain rhythm. I am
ringing in tune with the great stillness–ringing with it. I look at the
half-moon; it stands in the sky like a white scale, and I have a feeling
of love for it; I can feel myself blushing. “It is the moon!” I say
softly and passionately; “it is the moon!” and my heart strikes toward
it in a soft throbbing. So for some minutes. It is blowing a little; a
stranger wind comes to me a mysterious current of air. What is it? I
look round, but see no one. The wind calls me, and my soul bows
acknowledging the call; and I feel myself lifted into the air, pressed
to an invisible breast; my eyes are dewed, I tremble–God is standing
near, watching me. Again several minutes pass. I turn my head round; the
stranger wind is gone, and I see something like the back of a spirit
wandering silently in through the woods…
I struggle a short while with a heavy melancholy; I was worn out with
emotions; I am deathly tired, and I sleep.
* * * * *
When I awoke the night was past. Alas, I had been going about for a long
time in a sad state, full of fever, on the verge of falling down
stricken with some sickness or other. Often things had seemed upside
down. I had been looking at everything through inflamed eyes. A deep
misery had possessed me.
It was over now.
It was autumn. The summer was gone. It passed as quickly as it had come;
ah, how quickly it was gone! The days were cold now. I went out shooting
and fishing–sang songs in the woods. And there were days with a thick
mist that came floating in from the sea, damming up everything behind a
wall of murk.
One such day something happened. I lost my way, blundered through into
the woods of the annexe, and came to the Doctor’s house. There were
visitors there–the young ladies I had met before–young people dancing,
just like madcap foals.
A carriage came rolling up and stopped outside the gate; Edwarda was in
it. She started at sight of me. “Good-bye,” I said quietly. But the
Doctor held me back. Edwarda was troubled by my presence at first, and
looked down when I spoke; afterwards, she bore with me, and even went so
far as to ask me a question about something or other. She was strikingly
pale; the mist lay grey and cold upon her face. She did not get out of
“I have come on an errand,” she said. “I come from the parish church,
and none of you were there to-day; they said you were here. I have been
driving for hours to find you. We are having a little party
to-morrow–the Baron is going away next week–and I have been told to
invite you all. There will be dancing too. To-morrow evening.”
They all bowed and thanked her.
To me, she went on:
“Now, don’t stay away, will you? Don’t send a note at the last minute
making some excuse.” She did not say that to any of the others. A little
after she drove away.
I was so moved by this unexpected meeting that for a little while I was
secretly mad with joy. Then I took leave of the Doctor and his guests
and set off for home. How gracious she was to me, how gracious she was
to me! What could I do for her in return? My hands felt helpless; a
sweet cold went through my wrists. Herregud! I thought to myself, here
am I with my limbs hanging helpless for joy; I cannot even clench my
hands; I can only find tears in my eyes for my own helplessness. What is
to be done about it?
It was late in the evening when I reached home. I went round by the quay
and asked a fisherman if the post-packet would not be in by to-morrow
evening. Alas, no, the post-packet would not be in till some time next
week. I hurried up to the hut and began looking over my best suit. I
cleaned it up and made it look decent; there were holes in it here and
there, and I wept and darned them.
When I had finished, I lay down on the bed. This rest lasted only a
moment. Then a thought struck me, and I sprang up and stood in the
middle of the floor, dazed. The whole thing was just another trick! I
should not have been invited if I had not happened to be there when the
others were asked. And, moreover, she had given me the plainest possible
hint to stay away–to send a note at the last moment, making some
I did not sleep all that night, and when morning came I went to the
woods cold, sleepless, and feverish. Ho, having a party at Sirilund!
What then? I would neither go nor send any excuse. Herr Mack was a very
thoughtful man; he was giving this party for the Baron; but I was not
going–let them understand that! …
The mist lay thick over valley and hills; a clammy rime gathered on my
clothes and made them heavy, my face was cold and wet. Only now and then
came a breath of wind to make the sleeping mists rise and fall, rise and
It was late in the afternoon, and getting dark; the mist hid everything
from my eyes, and I had no sun to show the way. I drifted about for
hours on the way home, but there was no hurry. I took the wrong road
with the greatest calmness, and came upon unknown places in the woods.
At last I stood my gun against a tree and consulted my compass. I marked
out my way carefully and started off. It would be about eight or nine
Then something happened.
After half an hour, I heard music through the fog, and a few minutes
later I knew where I was: quite close to the main building at Sirilund.
Had my compass misled me to the very place I was trying to avoid? A
well-known voice called me–the Doctor’s. A minute later I was being led
My gun-barrel had perhaps affected the compass and, alas, set it wrong.
The same thing has happened to me since–one day this year. I do not
know what to think. Then, too, it may have been fate.
All the evening I had a bitter feeling that I should not have come to
that party. My coming was hardly noticed at all, they were all so
occupied with one another; Edwarda hardly bade me welcome. I began
drinking hard because I knew I was unwelcome; and yet I did not go away.
Herr Mack smiled a great deal and put on his most amiable expression; he
was in evening dress, and looked well. He was now here, now there,
mingling with his half a hundred guests, dancing one dance now and then,
joking and laughing. There were secrets lurking in his eyes.
A whirl of music and voices sounded through the house. Five of the rooms
were occupied by the guests, besides the big room where they were
dancing. Supper was over when I arrived. Busy maids were running to and
fro with glasses and wines, brightly polished coffee-pots, cigars and
pipes, cakes and fruit. There was no sparing of anything. The
chandeliers in the rooms were filled with extra-thick candles that had
been made for the occasion; the new oil lamps were lit as well. Eva was
helping in the kitchen; I caught a glimpse of her. To think that Eva
should be here too!
The Baron received a great deal of attention, though he was quiet and
modest and did not put himself forward. He, too, was in evening dress;
the tails of his coat were miserably crushed from the packing. He talked
a good deal with Edwarda, followed her with his eyes, drank with her,
and called her Froeken, as he did the daughters of the Dean and of the
district surgeon. I felt the same dislike of him as before, and could
hardly look at him without turning my eyes away with a wretched silly
grimace. When he spoke to me, I answered shortly and pressed my lips
I happen to remember one detail of that evening. I stood talking to a
young lady, a fair-haired girl; and I said something or told some story
that made her laugh. It can hardly have been anything remarkable, but
perhaps, in my excited state, I told it more amusingly than I remember
now–at any rate, I have forgotten it. But when I turned round, there
was Edwarda standing behind me. She gave me a glance of recognition.
Afterwards I noticed that she drew the fair girl aside to find out what
I had said. I cannot say how that look of Edwarda’s cheered me, after I
had been going about from room to room like a sort of outcast all the
evening; I felt better at once, and spoke to several people, and was
entertaining. As far as I am aware, I did nothing awkward or wrong…
I was standing outside on the steps. Eva came carrying some things from
one of the rooms. She saw me, came out, and touched my hands swiftly
with one of hers; then she smiled and went in again. Neither of us had
spoken. When I turned to go in after her, there was Edwarda in the
passage, watching me. She also said nothing. I went into the room.
“Fancy–Lieutenant Glahn amuses himself having meetings with the
servants on the steps!” said Edwarda suddenly, out loud. She was
standing in the doorway. Several heard what she said. She laughed, as
if speaking in jest, but her face was very pale.
I made no answer to this; I only murmured:
“It was accidental; she just came out, and we met in the passage…”
Some time passed–an hour, perhaps. A glass was upset over a lady’s
dress. As soon as Edwarda saw it, she cried:
“What has happened? That was Glahn, of course.”
I had not done it: I was standing at the other end of the room when it
happened. After that I drank pretty hard again, and kept near the door,
to be out of the way of the dancers.
The Baron still had the ladies constantly round him. He regretted that
his collections were packed away, so that he could not show them–that
bunch of weed from the White Sea, the clay from Korholmerne, highly
interesting stone formations from the bottom of the sea. The ladies
peeped curiously at his shirt studs, the five-pointed coronets–they
meant that he was a Baron, of course. All this time the Doctor created
no sensation; even his witty oath, Doed og Pinsel, no longer had any
effect. But when Edwarda was speaking, he was always on the spot,
correcting her language, embarrassing her with little shades of meaning,
keeping her down with calm superiority.
“… until I go over the valley of death.”
And the Doctor asked:
“The valley of death. Isn’t that what it’s called–the valley of death?”
“I have heard of the river of death. I presume that is what you mean.”
Later on, she talked of having something guarded like a …
“Dragon,” put in the Doctor.
“Yes, like a dragon,” she answered.
But the Doctor said:
“You can thank me for saving you there. I am sure you were going to say
The Baron raised his eyebrows and looked at the Doctor in surprise
through his thick glasses, as if he had never heard such ridiculous
things. But the Doctor paid no heed. What did he care for the Baron?
I still lurked by the door. The dancers swept through the room. I
managed to start a conversation with the governess from the vicarage. We
talked about the war, the state of affairs in the Crimea, the happenings
in France, Napoleon as Emperor, his protection of the Turks; the young
lady had read the papers that summer, and could tell me the news. At
last we sat down on a sofa and went on talking.
Edwarda, passing, stopped in front of us. Suddenly she said:
“You must forgive me, Lieutenant, for surprising you outside like that.
I will never do it again.”
And she laughed again, and did not look at me.
“Edwarda,” I said, “do stop.”
She had spoken very formally, which meant no good, and her look was
malicious. I thought of the Doctor, and shrugged my shoulders
carelessly, as he would have done. She said:
“But why don’t you go out in the kitchen? Eva is there. I think you
ought to stay there.”
And there was hate in her eyes.
I had not been to parties often; certainly I had never before heard such
a tone at any of the few I had been to. I said:
“Aren’t you afraid of being misunderstood, Edwarda?”
“Oh, but how? Possibly, of course, but how?”
“You sometimes speak without thinking. Just now, for instance, it
seemed to me as if you were actually telling me to go to the kitchen
and stay there; and that, of course, must be a misunderstanding–I know
quite well that you did not intend to be so rude.”
She walked a few paces away from us. I could see by her manner that she
was thinking all the time of what I had said. She turned round, came
back, and said breathlessly:
“It was no misunderstanding, Lieutenant; you heard correctly–I did tell
you to go to the kitchen.”
“Oh, Edwarda!” broke out the terrified governess.
And I began talking again about the war and the state of affairs in the
Crimea; but my thoughts were far distant. I was no longer intoxicated,
only hopelessly confused. The earth seemed fading from under my feet,
and I lost my composure, as at so many unfortunate times before. I got
up from the sofa and made as if to go out. The Doctor stopped me.
“I have just been hearing your praises,” he said.
“Praises! From whom?”
“From Edwarda. She is still standing away off there in the corner,
looking at you with glowing eyes. I shall never forget it; her eyes were
absolutely in love, and she said out loud that she admired you.”
“Good,” I said with a laugh. Alas, there was not a clear thought in my
I went up to the Baron, bent over him as if to whisper something–and
when I was close enough, I spat in his ear. He sprang up and stared
idiotically at me. Afterwards I saw him telling Edwarda what had
occurred; I saw how disgusted she was. She thought, perhaps, of her shoe
that I had thrown into the water, of the cups and glasses I had so
unfortunately managed to break, and of all the other breaches of good
taste I had committed; doubtless all those things flashed into her mind
again. I was ashamed. It was all over with me; whichever way I turned, I
met frightened and astonished looks. And I stole away from Sirilund,
without a word of leave-taking or of thanks.
The Baron is going away. Well and good: I will load my gun, go up into
the hills, and fire a salvo in his honour and Edwarda’s. I will bore a
deep hole in a rock and blow up a mountain in his honour and Edwarda’s.
And a great boulder shall roll down the hillside and dash mightily into
the sea just as his ship is passing by. I know a spot–a channel down
the hillside–where rocks have rolled before and made a clean road to
the sea. Far below there is a little boat-house.
“Two mining drills,” I say to the smith.
And the smith whets two drills…
Eva has been put to driving back and forth between the mill and the
quay, with one of Herr Mack’s horses. She has to do a man’s work,
transporting sacks of corn and flour. I meet her; her face is
wonderfully fresh and glowing. Dear God, how tender and warm is her
smile! Every evening I meet her.
“You look as if you had no troubles, Eva, my love.”
“You call me your love! I am an ignorant woman, but I will be true to
you. I will be true to you if I should die for it. Herr Mack grows
harsher and harsher every day, but I do not mind it; he is furious, but
I do not answer him. He took hold of my arm and went grey with fury.
One thing troubles me.”
“And what is it that troubles you?” “Herr Mack threatens you. He says to
me: ‘Aha, it’s that lieutenant you’ve got in your head all the time!’ I
answer: ‘Yes, I am his.’ Then he says: ‘Ah, you wait. I’ll soon get rid
of him.’ He said that yesterday.”
“It doesn’t matter; let him threaten…” And with closed eyes she
throws her arms about my neck. A quiver passes through her. The horse
I sit up in the hills, mining. The autumn air is crystal about me. The
strokes of my drill ring steady and even. AEsop looks at me with
wondering eyes. Wave after wave of content swells through my breast. No
one knows that I am here among the lonely hills.
The birds of passage have gone; a happy journey and welcome back again!
Titmouse and blackcap and a hedge-sparrow or so live now alone in the
bush and undergrowth: tuitui! All is so curiously changed–the dwarf
birch bleeds redly against the grey stones, a harebell here and there
shows among the heather, swaying and whispering a little song: sh! But
high above all hovers an eagle with outstretched neck, on his way to the
And the evening comes; I lay my drill and my hammer in under the rock
and stop to rest. All things are glooming now. The moon glides up in the
north; the rocks cast gigantic shadows. The moon is full; it looks like
a glowing island, like a round riddle of brass that I pass by and wonder
at. AEsop gets up and is restless.
“What is it, AEsop? As for me, I am tired of my sorrow; I will forget it,
drown it. Lie still, AEsop, I tell you; I will not be pestered. Eva asks:
‘Do you think of me sometimes?’ I answer: ‘Always.’ Eva asks again: ‘And
is it any joy to you, to think of me?’ I answer: ‘Always a joy, never
anything but a joy.’ Then says Eva: ‘Your hair is turning grey.’ I
answer: ‘Yes, it is beginning to turn grey.’ But Eva says: ‘Is it
something you think about, that is turning it grey?’ And to that I
answer: ‘Maybe.’ At last Eva says: ‘Then you do not think only of me…’
AEsop, lie still; I will tell you about something else instead…”
But AEsop stands sniffing excitedly down towards the valley, pointing,
and dragging at my clothes. When at last I get up and follow, he cannot
get along fast enough. A flush of red shows in the sky above the woods.
I go on faster; and there before my eyes is a glow, a huge fire. I stop
and stare at it, go on a few steps and stare again.
My hut is ablaze.
The fire was Herr Mack’s doing. I saw through it from the first. I lost
my skins and my birds’ wings, I lost my stuffed eagle; everything was
destroyed. What now? I lay out for two nights under the open sky,
without going to Sirilund to ask for shelter. At last I rented a
deserted fisher-hut by the quay. I stopped the cracks with dried moss,
and slept on a load of red horseberry ling from the hills. Once more my
needs were filled.
Edwarda sent me a message to say she had heard of my misfortune and that
she offered me, on her father’s behalf, a room at Sirilund. Edwarda
touched! Edwarda generous! I sent no answer. Thank Heaven, I was no
longer without shelter, and it gave me a proud joy to make no answer to
Edwarda’s offer. I met her on the road, with the Baron; they were
walking arm in arm. I looked them both in the face and bowed as I
passed. She stopped, and asked:
“So you will not come and stay with us, Lieutenant?”
“I am already settled in my new place,” I said, and stopped also.
She looked at me; her bosom was heaving. “You would have lost nothing
by coming to us,” she said.
Thankfulness moved in my heart, but I could not speak.
The Baron walked on slowly.
“Perhaps you do not want to see me any more,” she said.
“I thank you, Edwarda, for offering me shelter when my house was
burned,” I said. “It was the kinder of you, since your father was hardly
willing.” And with bared head I thanked her for her offer.
“In God’s name, will you not see me again, Glahn?” she said suddenly.
The Baron was calling.
“The Baron is calling,” I said, and took off my hat again respectfully.
And I went up into the hills, to my mining. Nothing, nothing should
make me lose my self-possession any more. I met Eva. “There, what did I
say?” I cried. “Herr Mack cannot drive me away. He has burned my hut,
and I already have another hut…” She was carrying a tar-bucket and
brush. “What now, Eva?”
Herr Mack had a boat in a shed under the cliff, and had ordered her to
tar it. He watched her every step–she had to obey.
“But why in the shed there? Why not at the quay?”
“Herr Mack ordered it so..
“Eva, Eva, my love, they make a slave of you and you do not complain.
See! now you are smiling again, and life streams through your smile, for
all that you are a slave.”
When I got up to my mining work, I found a surprise. I could see that
someone had been on the spot. I examined the tracks and recognised the
print of Herr Mack’s long, pointed shoes. What could he be ferreting
about here for? I thought to myself, and looked round. No one to be
seen–I had no suspicion.
And I fell to hammering with my drill, never dreaming what harm I did.
The mail-packet came; it brought my uniform; it was to take the Baron
and all his cases of scales and seaweeds on board. Now it was loading
up barrels of herrings and oil at the quay; towards evening it would be
I took my gun and put a heavy load of powder in each barrel. When I had
done that, I nodded to myself. I went up into the hills and filled my
mine with powder as well; I nodded again. Now everything was ready. I
lay down to wait.
I waited for hours. All the time I could hear the steamer’s winches at
work hoisting and lowering. It was already growing dusk. At last the
whistle sounded: the cargo was on board, the ship was putting off. I
still had some minutes to wait. The moon was not up, and I stared like
a madman through the gloom of the evening.
When the first point of the bow thrust out past the islet, I lit my slow
match and stepped hurriedly away. A minute passed. Suddenly there was a
roar–a spurt of stone fragments in the air–the hillside trembled, and
the rock hurtled crashing down the abyss. The hills all round gave echo.
I picked up my gun and fired off one barrel; the echo answered time and
time again. After a moment I fired the second barrel too; the air
trembled at the salute, and the echo flung the noise out into the wide
world; it was as if all the hills had united in a shout for the vessel
A little time passed; the air grew still, the echoes died away in all
the hills, and earth lay silent again. The ship disappeared in the
I was still trembling with a strange excitement. I took my drills and
my gun under my arm and set off with slack knees down the hillside. I
took the shortest way, marking the smoking track left by my avalanche.
AEsop followed me, shaking his head all the time and sneezing at the
smell of burning.
When I came down to the shed, I found a sight that filled me with
violent emotion. A boat lay there, crushed by the falling rock. And
Eva–Eva lay beside it, mangled and broken, dashed to pieces by the
shock–torn beyond recognition. Eva–lying there, dead.
What more have I to write? I fired no shot for many days; I had no food,
and did not eat at all; I sat in my shed. Eva was carried to the church
in Herr Mack’s white-painted house-boat. I went there overland on
Eva is dead. Do you remember her little girlish head, with hair like a
nun’s? She came so quietly, laid down her head and smiled. And did you
see how full of life that smile was? Be still, AEsop; I remember a
strange saga story, of four generations ago, of Iselin’s time, when
Stamer was a priest.
A girl sat captive in a stone tower. She loved a lord. Why? Ask the
winds and the stars, ask the God of life, for there is none that knows
such things. The lord was her friend and lover; but time went on, and
one fine day he saw another and his liking changed.
Like a youth he loved his maid. Often he called her his blessing and his
dove, and said: “Give me your heart!” And she did so. He said: “May I
ask for something, love?” And, wild with joy, she answered “Yes.” And
she gave him all, and yet he did not thank her.
The other he loved as a slave, as a madman and a beggar. Why? Ask the
dust of the road and the leaves that fall, ask the mysterious God of
life, for there is no other that knows such things. She gave him
nothing–no, nothing did she give him–and yet he thanked her. She said,
“Give me your peace and your understanding!” and he was only sorry that
she did not ask his life.
And his maid was set in the tower…
“What do you there, maiden, sitting and smiling?”
“I think of something ten years back. It was then I met him.”
“You remember him still?”
“I remember him still.”
And time goes on.
“What do you there, maiden? And why do you sit and smile?”
“I am embroidering his name on a cloth.”
“Whose name? His who shut you up here?”
“Yes, the one I met twenty years ago.”
“You remember him still?”
“I remember him as I did before.”
And time goes on…
“What do you there, prisoner?”
“I grow old, and can no longer see to sew; I scrape the plaster from the
walls. And of that I am making an urn to be a little gift for him.”
“Of whom are you speaking?”
“Of my lover, who shut me in the tower.”
“And do you smile at that, because he locked you in the tower?”
“I am thinking of what he will say now. ‘Look, look,’ he will say,’my
maiden has sent me a little urn; she has not forgotten me in thirty
And time goes on…
“What, prisoner! sit you there idle, and smile?”
“I grow old, I grow old, my eyes are blind, I am only thinking.”
“Of him that you met forty years ago?”
“Of him whom I met when I was young. Maybe it was forty years ago.”
“But do you not know, then, that he is dead? … Pale beldam, you do
not answer; your lips are white, you breathe no more…”
There! That was the strange tale of the girl in the tower. Wait, AEsop,
wait a little: there was something I forgot. One day she heard her
lover’s voice in the courtyard, and she fell on her knees and blushed.
And that was when she was forty years…
I bury you, Eva, and in humility kiss the sand above your grave. A
luxuriant, rose-red memory flowers in me when I think of you; I am as if
drenched in blessing at the memory of your smile. You gave all; all did
you give, and it cost you nothing, for you were the wild child of life
itself. But others, the miserly ones who begrudge even a glance, can
have all my thoughts. Why? Ask the twelve months and the ships on the
sea; ask the mysterious God of the heart…
A man said:
“You never go out shooting now? AEsop is running loose in the woods; he
is after a hare.”
“Go and shoot it for me.”
Some days passed. Herr Mack looked me up. He was hollow-eyed; his face
was grey. I thought: Is it true that I can see through my fellows, or is
it not? I do not know, myself.
Herr Mack spoke of the landslip, the catastrophe. It was a misfortune,
a sad accident; I was in no way to blame.
“If it was someone who wished to separate Eva and me at any price, he
has gained his end. God’s curse be on him!”
Herr Mack looked at me suspiciously. He murmured something about the
fine funeral. Nothing had been spared.
I sat admiring the alertness of his mind. He would have no compensation
for the boat that my landslide had crushed.
“Oh, but surely,” I said, “will you not have some payment for the boat
and the tar-bucket and the brush?”
“No, my dear Lieutenant,” he answered. “How could you think of such a
thing?” And he looked at me with hatred in his eyes.
For three weeks I saw nothing of Edwarda. Yes, once I met her at the
store: when I went to buy some bread, she stood inside the counter
looking over some different sorts of cloth stuff. Only the two
assistants were there besides.
I greeted her aloud, and she looked up, but did not answer. It occurred
to me that I could not ask for bread while she was there; I turned to
the assistants and asked for powder and shot. While they were weighing
it out, I watched her.
A grey dress, much too small for her, with the buttonholes worn; her
flat breast heaved restlessly. How she had grown that summer! Her brow
was knit in thought; those strangely curved eyebrows stood in her face
like two riddles; all her movements were grown more mature. I looked at
her hands; the contour of her long, delicate fingers moved me violently,
made me tremble. She was still turning over the stuffs.
I stood wishing that AEsop would run to her behind the counter–then I
could call him back at once and apologise. What would she say then?
“Here you are,” said the storekeeper.
I paid for the things, took up my parcels, and took my leave of her. She
looked up, but again without speaking. Good, I thought to myself. She
is the Baron’s bride already, as like as not. And I went, without my
When I got outside, I looked up at the window. No one was watching me.
Then one night the snow came, and it began to be cold in my hut. There
was a fireplace where I cooked my food, but the wood burned poorly and
it was very draughty, though I had caulked the walls as well as I could.
The autumn was past, and the days were growing shorter. The first snow
was still melting under the rays of the sun. Presently the ground was
bare again, but the nights were cold, and the water froze. And all the
grass and all the insects died.
A secret stillness fell upon people; they pondered and were silent;
their eyes awaited the winter. No more calling from the drying grounds:
the harbour lay quiet. Everything was moving towards the eternal winter
of the northern lights, when the sun sleeps in the sea. Dull came the
sound of the oars from a lonely boat.
A girl came rowing.
“Where have you been, my girl?”
“Nowhere? Look, I recognize you: I met you last summer.”
She brought the boat in, stepped ashore, made fast.
“You were herding goats. You stopped to fasten your stocking. I met you
A little flush rose to her cheeks, and she laughed shyly.
“Little goat-girl, come into the hut and let me look at you. I knew your
name, too–it is Henriette.”
But she walked past me without speaking. The autumn, the winter, had
laid hold of her too; her senses drowsed.
Already the sun had gone to sea.
And I put on my uniform for the first time, and went down to Sirilund.
My heart was beating.
I remembered everything from the day when Edwarda had come hurrying to
me and embraced me before them all. Now she had thrown me hither and
thither for many months, and made my hair turn grey. My own fault? Yes,
my star had led me astray. I thought: How she would chuckle if I were to
throw myself at her feet and tell her the secret of my heart to-day!
She would offer me a chair and have wine brought in, and just as she was
raising the glass to her lips to drink with me, she would say:
“Lieutenant, I thank you for the time we have been together. I shall
never forget it!” But when I grew glad and felt a little hope, she’d
pretend to drink, and set down the glass untouched. And she wouldn’t
hide from me that she’d only been pretending to drink; she’d be careful
to let me see it. That was her way.
Good–it was nearing the last hour now.
And as I walked down the road I thought further: My uniform will impress
her; the trappings are new and handsome. The sword will rattle against
the floor. A nervous joy thrilled me, and I whispered to myself: Who
knows what may happen yet? I raised my head and threw out a hand. No
more humility now–a man’s honour and pride! Whatever came of it, I
would make no more advances now. Pardon me, my fair one, for not asking
Herr Mack met me in the courtyard, greyer still, more hollow-eyed.
“Going away? So? I suppose you’ve not been very comfortable lately, eh?
Your hut burned down…” And Herr Mack smiled.
In a moment it seemed as if the wisest man in the world stood before my
“Go indoors, Lieutenant; Edwarda is there. Well, I will say good-bye.
See you on the quay, I suppose, when the vessel sails.” He walked off,
with head bowed in thought, whistling.
Edwarda was sitting indoors, reading. At the instant of my entering, she
started at my uniform; she looked at me sideways like a bird, and even
blushed. She opened her mouth.
“I have come to say good-bye,” I managed to get out at last.
She rose quickly to her feet, and I saw that my words had had some
“Glahn, are you going away? Now?”
“As soon as the boat comes.” I grasped her hand–both her hands–a
senseless delight took possession of me–I burst out, “Edwarda!” and
stared at her.
And in a moment she was cold–cold and defiant. Her whole being
resisted me; she drew herself up. I found myself standing like a beggar
before her. I loosed her hand and let her go. I remember that from that
moment I stood repeating mechanically: “Edwarda, Edwarda!” again and
again without thinking, and when she asked: “Yes? What were you going to
say?” I explained nothing.
“To think you are going already,” she said again. “Who will come next
year, I wonder?”
“Another,” I answered. “The hut will be built up again, no doubt.”
Pause. She was already reaching for her book.
“I am sorry my father is not in,” she said. “But I will tell him you
I made no answer to this. I stepped forward, took her hand once more,
“Farvel,” she answered.
I opened the door as if to go. Already she was sitting with the book in
her hand, reading–actually reading and turning the page. Nothing
affected, not the least in the world affected by my saying good-bye.
She turned and said in surprise:
“Oh, are you not gone? I thought you were.”
Heaven alone knows, but it struck me that her surprise was too great;
that she was not careful, that she overdid it. And it came into my head
that perhaps she had known all the time that I was standing behind her.
“I am going now,” I said.
Then she rose and came over to me.
“I should like to have something to remember you by when you go,” she
said. “I thought of asking you for something, but perhaps it is too
much. Will you give me AEsop?”
I did not hesitate. I answered “Yes.”
“Then, perhaps, you would come and bring him to-morrow,” she said.
I looked up at the window. No one there.
It was all over now…
* * * * *
The last night in the hut. I sat in thought, I counted the hours; when
the morning came I made ready my last meal. It was a cold day.
Why had she asked me to come myself and bring the dog? Would she tell me
something, speak to me, for the last time? I had nothing more to hope
for. And how would she treat AEsop? AEsop, AEsop, she will torture you! For
my sake she will whip you, caress you too, perhaps, but certainly whip
you, with and without reason; ruin you altogether…
I called AEsop to me, patted him, put our two heads together, and picked
up my gun. He was already whining with pleasure, thinking we were going
out after game. I put our heads together once more; I laid the muzzle of
the gun against AEsop’s neck and fired…
I hired a man to carry AEsop’s body to Edwarda.
The mail-packet was to sail in the afternoon.
I went down to the quay. My things were already on board. Herr Mack
pressed my hand, and said encouragingly that it would be nice weather,
pleasant weather; he would not mind making the trip himself in such
weather. The Doctor came walking down. Edwarda was with him; I felt my
knees beginning to tremble.
“Came to see you safely off,” said the Doctor.
I thanked him.
Edwarda looked me straight in the face and said:
“I must thank you for your dog.” She pressed her lips together; they
were quite white. Again she had called me “Eder.” [Footnote: The
most formal mode of address.]
“When does the boat go?” the Doctor asked a man.
“In half an hour.”
I said nothing.
Edwarda was turning restlessly this way and that.
“Doctor, don’t you think we may as well go home again?” she said. “I
have done what I came for to do.”
“You have done what you came to do,” said the Doctor.
She laughed, humiliated by his everlasting correction, and answered:
“Wasn’t that almost what I said?”
“No,” he answered shortly.
I looked at him. The little man stood there cold and firm; he had made a
plan, and he carried it out to the last. And if he lost after all? In
any case, he would never show it; his face never betrayed him.
It was getting dusk.
“Well, good-bye,” I said. “And thanks for–everything.”
Edwarda looked at me dumbly. Then she turned her head and stood looking
out at the ship.
I got into the boat. Edwarda was still standing on the quay. When I got
on board, the Doctor called out “Good-bye!” I looked over to the shore.
Edwarda turned at the same time and walked hurriedly away from the quay,
the Doctor far behind. That was the last I saw of her.
A wave of sadness went through my heart…
The vessel began to move; I could still see Herr Mack’s sign: “Salt and
Barrels.” But soon it disappeared. The moon and the stars came out; the
hills towered round about, and I saw the endless woods. There is the
mill; there, there stood my hut, that was burned; the big grey stone
stands there all alone on the site of the fire. Iselin, Eva…
The night of the northern lights spreads over valley and hill.
I have written this to pass the time. It has amused me to look back to
that summer in Nordland, when I often counted the hours, but when time
flew nevertheless. All is changed. The days will no longer pass.
I have many a merry hour even yet. But time–it stands still, and I
cannot understand how it can stand so still. I am out of the service,
and free as a prince; all is well; I meet people, drive in carriages;
now and again I shut one eye and write with one finger up in the sky; I
tickle the moon under the chin, and fancy that it laughs–laughs broadly
at being tickled under the chin. All things smile. I pop a cork and
call gay people to me.
As for Edwarda, I do not think of her. Why should I not have forgotten
her altogether, after all this time? I have some pride. And if anyone
asks whether I have any sorrows, then I answer straight out, “No–none.”
Cora lies looking at me. AEsop, it used to be, but now it is Cora that
lies looking at me. The clock ticks on the mantel; outside my open
window sounds the roar of the city. A knock at the door, and the postman
hands me a letter. A letter with a coronet. I know who sent it; I
understand it at once, or maybe I dreamed it one sleepless night. But in
the envelope there is no letter at all–only two green bird’s feathers.
An icy horror thrills me; I turn cold. Two green feathers! I say to
myself: Well, and what of it? But why should I turn cold? Why, there is
a cursed draught from those windows.
And I shut the windows.
There lie two bird’s feathers, I think to myself again. I seem to know
them; they remind me of a little jest up in Nordland, just a little
episode among a host of others. It is amusing to see those two feathers
again. And suddenly I seem to see a face and hear a voice, and the voice
says: “Her, Herr Lieutenant: here are your feathers.”
Cora, lie still–do you hear? I will kill you if you move!
The weather is hot, an intolerable heat is in the room; what was I
thinking of to close the windows? Open them again–open the door too;
open it wide–this way, merry souls, come in! Hey, messenger, an
errand–go out and fetch me a host of people…
And the day passes; but time stands still.
Now I have written this for my own pleasure only, and amused myself with
it as best I could. No sorrow weighs on me, but I long to be
away–where, I do not know, but far away, perhaps in Africa or India.
For my place is in the woods, in solitude…
A DOCUMENT OF 1861
The Glahn family can go on advertising as long as they please for
Lieutenant Thomas Glahn, who disappeared; but he will never come back.
He is dead, and, what is more, I know how he died.
To tell the truth, I am not surprised that his people should still keep
on seeking information; for Thomas Glahn was in many ways an uncommon
and likable man. I admit this, for fairness’ sake, and despite the fact
that Glahn is still repellant to my soul, so that the bare memory of him
arouses hatred. He was a splendidly handsome man, full of youth, and
with an irresistible manner. When he looked at you with his hot animal
eyes, you could not but feel his power; even I felt it so. A woman, they
say, said: “When he looks at me, I am lost; I feel a sensation as if he
were touching me.”
But Thomas Glahn had his faults, and I have no intention of hiding them,
seeing that I hate him. He could at times be full of nonsense like a
child, so kindly natured was he; and perhaps it was that which made him
so irresistible to women. God knows! He could chat with them and laugh
at their senseless twaddle; and so he made an impression. Once, speaking
of a very corpulent man in the place, he said that he looked as if he
went about with his breeches full of lard. And he laughed at that joke
himself, though I should have been ashamed of it. Another time, after we
had come to live in the same house together, he showed his foolishness
in an unmistakable way. My landlady came in one morning and asked what I
would have for breakfast, and in my hurry I happened to answer: “A bread
and a slice of egg.” Thomas Glahn was sitting in my room at the time–he
lived in the attic up above, just under the roof–and he began to
chuckle and laugh childishly over my little slip of the tongue. “A bread
and a slice of egg!” he repeated time over and over, until I looked at
him in surprise and made him stop.
Maybe I shall call to mind other ridiculous traits of his later on. If
so, I will write them down too, and not spare him, seeing that he is
still my enemy. Why should I be generous? But I will admit that he
talked nonsense only when he was drunk. But is it not a great mistake to
be drunk at all?
When I first met him, in the autumn of 1859, he was a man of
two-and-thirty–we were of an age. He wore a full beard at that time,
and affected woolen sports shirts with an exaggerated lowness of neck;
not content with that, he sometimes left the top button undone. His neck
appeared to me at first to be remarkably handsome; but little by little
he made me his deadly enemy, and then I did not consider his neck
handsomer than mine, though I did not show off mine so openly. I met him
first on a river boat, and we were going to the same place, on a hunting
trip; we agreed to go together up-country by ox-wagon when we came to
the end of the railway. I purposely refrained from stating the place we
were going to, not wishing to set anyone on the track. But the Glahns
can safely stop advertising for their relative; for he died at the place
we went to, which I will not name.
I had heard of Thomas Glahn, by the way, before I met him; his name was
not unknown to me. I had heard of some affair of his with a young girl
from Nordland, from a big house there, and that he had compromised her
in some way, after which she broke it off. This he had sworn, in his
foolish obstinacy, to revenge upon himself, and the lady calmly let him
do as he pleased in that respect, considering it no business of hers.
From that time onwards, Thomas Glahn’s name began to be well known; he
turned wild, mad; he drank, created scandal after scandal, and resigned
his commission in the army. A queer way of taking vengeance for a girl’s
There was also another story of his relations with that young lady, to
the effect that he had not compromised her in any way, but that her
people had showed him the door, and that she herself had helped in it,
after a Swedish Count, whose name I will not mention, had proposed to
her. But this account I am less inclined to trust; I regard the first
as true, for after all I hate Thomas Glahn and believe him capable of
the worst. But, however it may have been, he never spoke himself of the
affair with that noble lady, and I did not ask him about it. What
business was it of mine?
As we sat there on the boat, I remember we talked about the little
village we were making for, to which neither of us had been before.
“There’s a sort of hotel there, I believe,” said Glahn, looking at the
map. “Kept by an old half-caste woman, so they say. The chief lives in
the next village, and has a heap of wives, by all accounts–some of them
only ten years old.”
Well, I knew nothing about the chief and his wives, or whether there was
a hotel in the place, so I said nothing. But Glahn smiled, and I thought
his smile was beautiful.
I forgot, by the way, that he could not by any means be called a perfect
man, handsome though he was. He told me himself that he had an old
gunshot wound in his left foot, and that it was full of gout whenever
the weather changed.
A week later we were lodged in the big hut that went by the name of
hotel, with the old English half-caste woman. What a hotel it was! The
walls were of clay, with a little wood, and the wood was eaten through
by the white ants that crawled about everywhere. I lived in a room next
the main parlor, with a green glass window looking on to the street–a
single pane, not very clear at that–and Glahn had chosen a little bit
of a hole up in the attic, much darker, and a poor place to live in. The
sun heated the thatched roof and made his room almost insufferably hot
at night and day; besides which, it was not a stair at all that led up
to it, but a wretched bit of a ladder with four steps. What could I do?
I let him take his choice, and said:
“Here are two rooms, one upstairs and one down; take your choice.”
And Glahn looked at the two rooms and took the upper one, possibly to
give me the better of the two–but was I not grateful for it? I owe him
As long as the worst of the heat lasted, we left the hunting alone and
stayed quietly in the hut, for the heat was extremely uncomfortable. We
lay at night with a mosquito net over the bedplace, to keep off the
insects; but even then it happened sometimes that blind bats would come
flying silently against our nets and tear them. This happened too often
to Glahn, because he was obliged to have a trap in the roof open all the
time, on account of the heat; but it did not happen to me. In the
daytime we lay on mats outside the hut, and smoked and watched the life
about the other huts. The natives were brown, thick-lipped folk, all
with rings in their ears and dead, brown eyes; they were almost naked,
with just a strip of cotton cloth or plaited leaves round the middle,
and the women had also a short petticoat of cotton stuff to cover them.
All the children went about stark naked night and day, with great big
prominent bellies simply glistening with oil.
“The women are too fat,” said Glahn.
And I too thought the women were too fat. Perhaps it was not Glahn at
all, but myself, who thought so first; but I will not dispute his
claim–I am willing to give him the credit. As a matter of fact, not all
the women were ugly, though their faces were fat and swollen. I had met
a girl in the village, a young half-Tamil with long hair and snow-white
teeth; she was the prettiest of them all. I came upon her one evening at
the edge of a rice field. She lay flat on her face in the high grass,
kicking her legs in the air. She could talk to me, and we did talk, too,
as long as I pleased. Glahn sat that evening in the middle of our
village outside a hut with two other girls, very young–not more than
ten years old, perhaps. He sat there talking nonsense to them, and
drinking rice beer; that was the sort of thing he liked.
A couple of days later, we went out shooting. We passed by tea gardens,
rice fields, and grass plains; we left the village behind us and went in
the direction of the river, and came into forests of strange foreign
trees, bamboo and mango, tamarind, teak and salt trees, oil–and
gum-bearing plants–Heaven knows what they all were; we had, between us,
but little knowledge of the things. But there was very little water in
the river, and so it remained until the rainy season. We shot wild
pigeons and partridges, and saw a couple of panthers one afternoon;
parrots, too, flew over our heads. Glahn was a terribly accurate shot;
he never missed. But that was merely because his gun was better than
mine; many times I too shot terribly accurately. I never boasted of it,
but Glahn would often say: “I’ll get that fellow in the tail,” or “that
one in the head.” He would say that before he fired; and when the bird
fell, sure enough, it was hit in the tail or the head as he had said.
When we came upon the two panthers, Glahn was all for attacking them too
with his shot-gun, but I persuaded him to give it up, as it was getting
dusk, and we had no more than two or three cartridges left. He boasted
of that too–of having had the courage to attack panthers with a
“I am sorry I did not fire at them after all,” he said to me. “What do
you want to be so infernally cautious for? Do you want to go on living?”
“I’m glad you consider me wiser than yourself,” I answered.
“Well, don’t let us quarrel over a trifle,” he said.
Those were his words, not mine; if he had wished to quarrel, I for my
part had no wish to prevent him. I was beginning to feel some dislike
for him for his incautious behavior, and for his manner with women. Only
the night before, I had been walking quietly along with Maggie, the
Tamil girl that was my friend, and we were both as happy as could be.
Glahn sits outside his hut, and nods and smiles to us as we pass. It was
then that Maggie saw him for the first time, and she was very
inquisitive about him. So great an impression had he made on her that,
when it was time to go, we went each our own way; she did not go back
home with me.
Glahn would have put this by as of no importance when I spoke to him
about it. But I did not forget it. And it was not to me that he nodded
and smiled as we passed by the hut! it was to Maggie.
“What’s that she chews?” he asked me.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “She chews–I suppose that’s what her teeth
And it was no news to me either that Maggie was always chewing
something; I had noticed it long before. But it was not betel she was
chewing, for her teeth were quite white; she had, however, a habit of
chewing all sorts of other things–putting them in her mouth and chewing
as if they were something nice. Anything would do–a piece of money, a
scrap of paper, feathers–she would chew it all the same. Still, it was
nothing to reproach her for, seeing that she was the prettiest girl in
the village, anyway. Glahn was jealous of me, that was all.
I was friends again with Maggie, though, next evening, and we saw
nothing of Glahn.
A week passed, and we went out shooting every day, and shot a heap of
game. One morning, just as we were entering the forest, Glahn gripped me
by the arm and whispered: “Stop!” At the same moment he threw up his
rifle and fired. It was a young leopard he had shot, I might have fired
myself, but Glahn kept the honour to himself and fired first. Now he’ll
boast of that later on, I said to myself. We went up to the dead beast.
It was stone dead, the left flank all torn up and the bullet in its
Now I do not like being gripped by the arm, so I said:
“I could have managed that shot myself.”
Glahn looked at me.
I said: “You think perhaps I couldn’t have done it?”
Still Glahn made no answer. Instead, he showed his childishness once
more, shooting the dead leopard again, this time through the head. I
looked at him in utter astonishment.
“Well, you know,” he explains, “I shouldn’t like to have it said that I
shot a leopard in the flank.”
“You are very amiable this evening,” I said.
It was too much for his vanity to have made such a poor shot; he must
always be first. What a fool he was! But it was no business of mine,
anyway. I was not going to show him up.
In the evening, when we came back to the village with the dead leopard,
a lot of the natives came out to look at it. Glahn simply said we had
shot it that morning, and made no sort of fuss about it himself at the
time. Maggie came up too.
“Who shot it?” she asked.
And Glahn answered:
“You can see for yourself–twice hit. We shot it this morning when we
went out.” And he turned the beast over and showed her the two bullet
wounds, both that in the flank and that in the head. “That’s where mine
went,” he said, pointing to the side–in his idiotic fashion he wanted
me to have the credit of having shot it in the head. I did not trouble
to correct him; I said nothing. After that, Glahn began treating the
natives with rice beer–gave them any amount of it, as many as cared to
“Both shot it,” said Maggie to herself; but she was looking at Glahn all
I drew her aside with me and said:
“What are you looking at him all the time for? I am here too, I
“Yes,” she said. “And listen: I am coming this evening.”
It was the day after this that Glahn got the letter. There came a letter
for him, sent up by express messenger from the river station, and it had
made a detour of a hundred and eighty miles. The letter was in a
woman’s hand, and I thought to my self that perhaps it was from that
former friend of his, the noble lady. Glahn laughed nervously when he
had read it, and gave the messenger extra money for bringing it. But it
was not long before he turned silent and gloomy, and did nothing but sit
staring straight before him. That evening he got drunk–sat drinking
with an old dwarf of a native and his son, and clung hold of me too, and
did all he could to make me drink as well.
Then he laughed out loud and said:
“Here we are, the two of us, miles away in the middle of all India
shooting game–what? Desperately funny, isn’t it? And hurrah for all the
lands and kingdoms of the earth, and hurrah for all the pretty women,
married or unmarried, far and near. Hoho! Nice thing for a man when a
married woman proposes to him, isn’t it–a married woman?”
“A countess,” I said ironically. I said it very scornfully, and that cut
him. He grinned like a dog because it hurt him. Then suddenly he
wrinkled his forehead and began blinking his eyes, and thinking hard if
he hadn’t said too much–so mighty serious was he about his bit of a
secret. But just then a lot of children came running over to our hut and
crying out: “Tigers, ohoi, the tigers!” A child had been snapped up by a
tiger quite close to the village, in a thicket between it and the river.
That was enough for Glahn, drunk as he was, and cut up about something
into the bargain. He picked up his rifle and raced off at once to the
thicket–didn’t even put on his hat. But why did he take his rifle
instead of a shot-gun, if he was really as plucky as all that? He had to
wade across the river, and that was rather a risky thing in itself–but
then, the river was nearly dry now, till the rains. A little later I
heard two shots, and then, close on them, a third. Three shots at a
single beast, I thought; why, a lion would have fallen for two, and this
was only a tiger! But even those three shots were no use: the child was
torn to bits and half eaten by the time Glahn come up. If he hadn’t been
drunk he wouldn’t have made the attempt to save it.
He spent the night drinking and rioting in the hut next door. For two
days he was never sober for a minute, and he had found a lot of
companions, too, to drink with him. He begged me in vain to take part in
the orgy. He was no longer careful of what he said, and taunted me with
being jealous of him.
“Your jealousy makes you blind,” he said.
My jealousy? I, jealous of him?
“Good Lord!” I said, “I jealous of you? What’s there for me to be
“No, no, of course you’re not jealous of me,” he answered. “I saw Maggie
this evening, by the way. She was chewing something, as usual.”
I made no answer; I simply walked off.
We began going out shooting again. Glahn felt he had wronged me, and
begged my pardon.
“And I’m dead sick of the whole thing,” he said. “I only wish you’d make
a slip one day and put a bullet in my throat.” It was that letter from
the Countess again, perhaps, that was smouldering in his mind. I
“As a man soweth, so shall he also reap.”
Day by day he grew more silent and gloomy. He had given up drinking
now, and didn’t say a word, either; his cheeks grew hollow.
One day I heard talking and laughter outside my window; Glahn had turned
cheerful again, and he stood there talking out loud to Maggie. He was
getting in all his fascinating tricks. Maggie must have come straight
from her hut, and Glahn had been watching and waiting for her. They
even had the nerve to stand there making up together right outside my
I felt a trembling in all my limbs. I cocked my gun; then I let the
hammer down again. I went outside and took Maggie by the arm; we walked
out of the village in silence; Glahn went back into the hut again at
“What were you talking with him again for?” I asked Maggie.
She made no answer.
I was thoroughly desperate. My heart beat so I could hardly breathe. I
had never seen Maggie look so lovely as she did then–never seen a real
white girl so beautiful. And I forgot she was a Tamil–forgot everything
for her sake.
“Answer me,” I said. “What were you talking to him for?”
“I like him best,” she said.
“You like him better than me?”
Oh, indeed! She liked him better than me, though I was at least as good
a man! Hadn’t I always been kind to her, and given her money and
presents? And what had he done?
“He makes fun of you; he says you’re always chewing things,” I said.
She did not understand that, and I explained it better; how she had a
habit of putting everything in her mouth and chewing it, and how Glahn
laughed at her for it. That made more impression on her than all the
rest I said.
“Look here, Maggie,” I went on, “you shall be mine for always. Wouldn’t
you like that? I’ve been thinking it over. You shall go with me when I
leave here; I will marry you, do you hear? and we’ll go to our own
country and live there. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
And that impressed her too. Maggie grew lively and talked a lot as we
walked. She only mentioned Glahn once; she asked:
“And will Glahn go with us when we go away?”
“No,” I said. “He won’t. Are you sorry about that?”
“No, no,” she said quickly. “I am glad.”
She said no more about him, and I felt easier. And Maggie went home
with me, too, when I asked her.
When she went, a couple of hours later, I climbed up the ladder to
Glahn’s room and knocked at the thin reed door. He was in. I said:
“I came to tell you that perhaps we’d better not go out shooting
“Why not?” said Glahn.
“Because I’m not so sure but I might make a little mistake and put a
bullet in your throat.”
Glahn did not answer, and I went down again. After that warning he
would hardly dare to go out to-morrow–but what did he want to get
Maggie out under my window for, and fool with her there at the top of
his voice? Why didn’t he go back home again, if the letter really asked
him, instead of going about as he often did, clenching his teeth and
shouting at the empty air: “Never, never! I’ll be drawn and quartered
But the morning after I had warned him, as I said, there was Glahn the
same as ever, standing by my bed, calling out:
“Up with you, comrade! It’s a lovely day; we must go out and shoot
something. That was all nonsense you said yesterday.”
It was no more than four o’clock, but I got up at once and got ready to
go with him, in spite of my warning. I loaded my gun before starting
out, and I let him see that I did. And it was not at all a lovely day,
as he had said; it was raining, which showed that he was only trying to
irritate me the more. But I took no notice, and went with him, saying
All that day we wandered round through the forest, each lost in his own
thoughts. We shot nothing–lost one chance after another, through
thinking of other things than sport. About noon, Glahn began walking a
bit ahead of me, as if to give me a better chance of doing what I liked
with him. He walked right across the muzzle of my gun; but I bore with
that too. We came back that evening. Nothing had happened. I thought to
myself: “Perhaps he’ll be more careful now, and leave Maggie alone.”
“This has been the longest day of my life,” said Glahn when we got back
to the hut.
Nothing more was said on either side.
The next few days he was in the blackest humor, seemingly all about the
same letter. “I can’t stand it; no, it’s more than I can bear,” he would
say sometimes in the night; we could hear it all through the hut. His
ill temper carried him so far that he would not even answer the most
friendly questions when our landlady spoke to him; and he used to groan
in his sleep. He must have a deal on his conscience, I thought–but why
in the name of goodness didn’t he go home? Just pride, no doubt; he
would not go back when he had been turned off once.
I met Maggie every evening, and Glahn talked with her no more. I noticed
that she had given up chewing things altogether; she never chewed now. I
was pleased at that, and thought: She’s given up chewing things; that is
one failing the less, and I love her twice as much as I did before!
One day she asked about Glahn–asked very cautiously. Was he not well?
Had he gone away?
“If he’s not dead, or gone away,” I said, “he’s lying at home, no doubt.
It’s all one to me. He’s beyond all bearing now.”
But just then, coming up to the hut, we saw Glahn lying on a mat on the
ground, hands at the back of his neck, staring up at the sky.
“There he is,” I said.
Maggie went straight up to him, before I could stop her, and said in a
pleased sort of voice:
“I don’t chew things now–nothing at all. No feathers or money or bits
of paper–you can see for yourself.”
Glahn scarcely looked at her. He lay still. Maggie and I went on. When
I reproached her with having broken her promise and spoken to Glahn
again, she answered that she had only meant to show him he was wrong.
“That’s right–show him he’s wrong,” I said. “But do you mean it was
for his sake you stopped chewing things?”
She didn’t answer. What, wouldn’t she answer?
“Do you hear? Tell me, was it for his sake?”
And I could not think otherwise. Why should she do anything for Glahn’s
That evening Maggie promised to come to me, and she did.
She came at ten o’clock. I heard her voice outside; she was talking
loud to a child whom she led by the hand. Why did she not come in, and
what had she brought the child for? I watched her, and it struck me that
she was giving a signal by talking out loud to the child; I noticed,
too, that she kept her eyes fixed on the attic–on Glahn’s window up
there. Had he nodded to her, I wondered, or beckoned to her from inside
when he heard her talking outside? Anyhow, I had sense enough myself to
know there was no need to look up aloft when talking to a child on the
I was going out to take her by the arm. But just then she let go the
child’s hand, left the child standing there, and came in herself,
through the door to the hut. She stepped into the passage. Well, there
she was at last; I would take care to give her a good talking to when
Well, I stood there and heard Maggie step into the passage. There was no
mistake: she was close outside my door. But instead of coming in to me,
I heard her step up the ladder–up to the attic–to Glahn’s hole up
there. I heard it only too well. I threw my door open wide, but Maggie
had gone up already. That was ten o’clock.
I went in, sat down in my room, and took my gun and loaded it. At twelve
o’clock I went up the ladder and listened at Glahn’s door. I could hear
Maggie in there; I went down again. At one I went up again; all was
quiet this time. I waited outside the door. Three o’clock, four o’clock,
five. Good, I thought to myself. But a little after, I heard a noise and
movement below in the hut, in my landlady’s room; and I had to go down
again quickly, so as not to let her find me there. I might have
listened much more, but I had to go.
In the passage I said to myself: “See, here she went: she must have
touched my door with her arm as she passed, but she did not open the
door: she went up the ladder, and here is the ladder itself–those four
steps, she has trodden them.”
My bed still lay untouched, and I did not lie down now, but sat by the
window, fingering my rifle now and again. My heart was not beating–it
Half an hour later I heard Maggie’s footstep on the ladder again. I lay
close up to the window and saw her walk out of the hut. She was wearing
her little short cotton petticoat, that did not even reach to her knees,
and over her shoulders a woolen scarf borrowed from Glahn. She walked
slowly, as she always did, and did not so much as glance towards my
window. Then she disappeared behind the huts.
A little after came Glahn, with his rifle under his arm, all ready to go
out. He looked gloomy, and did not even say good-morning. I noticed,
though, that he had got himself up and taken special care about his
I got ready at once and went with him. Neither of us said a word. The
first two birds we shot were mangled horribly, through shooting them
with the rifle; but we cooked them under a tree as best we could, and
ate in silence. So the day wore on till noon.
Glahn called out to me:
“Sure your gun is loaded? We might come across something unexpectedly.
Load it, anyhow.”
“It is loaded,” I answered.
Then he disappeared a moment into the bush. I felt it would be a
pleasure to shoot him then–pick him off and shoot him down like a dog.
There was no hurry; he could still enjoy the thought of it for a bit. He
knew well enough what I had in mind: that was why he had asked if my gun
were loaded. Even to-day he could not refrain from giving way to his
beastly pride. He had dressed himself up and put on a new shirt; his
manner was, lordly beyond all bounds.
About one o’clock he stopped, pale and angry, in front of me, and said:
“I can’t stand this! Look and see if you’re loaded, man–if you’ve
anything in your gun.”
“Kindly look after your own gun,” I answered. But I knew well enough
why he kept asking about mine.
And he turned away again. My answer had so effectively put him in his
place that he actually seemed cowed: he even hung his head as he walked
After a while I shot a pigeon, and loaded again. While I was doing so,
I caught sight of Glahn standing half hidden behind a tree, watching me
to see if I really loaded. A little later he started singing a hymn–and
a wedding hymn into the bargain. Singing wedding hymns, and putting on
his best clothes, I thought to myself–that’s his way of being extra
fascinating to-day. Even before he had finished the hymn he began
walking softly in front of me, hanging his head, and still singing as he
walked. He was keeping right in front of the muzzle of my gun again, as
if thinking to himself: Now it is coming, and that is why I am singing
this wedding hymn! But it did not come yet, and when he had finished his
singing he had to look back at me.
“We shan’t get much to-day anyhow, by the look of it,” he said, with a
smile, as if excusing himself, and asking pardon of me for singing while
we were out after game. But even at that moment his smile was beautiful.
It was as if he were weeping inwardly, and his lips trembled, too, for
all that he boasted of being able to smile at such a solemn moment.
I was no woman, and he saw well enough that he made no impression on me.
He grew impatient, his face paled, he circled round me with hasty steps,
showing up now to the left, now to the right of me, and stopping every
now and then to wait for me to come up.
About five, I heard a shot all of a sudden, and a bullet sang past my
left ear. I looked up. There was Glahn standing motionless a few paces
off, staring at me; his smoking rifle lay along his arm. Had he tried to
shoot me? I said:
“You missed that time. You’ve been shooting badly of late.”
But he had not been shooting badly. He never missed. He had only been
trying to irritate me.
“Then take your revenge, damn you!” he shouted back.
“All in good time,” I said, clenching my teeth.
We stood there looking at each other. And suddenly Glahn shrugged his
shoulders and called out “Coward” to me. And why should he call me a
coward? I threw my rifle to my shoulder–aimed full in his face–fired.
As a man soweth…
Now, there is no need, I insist, for the Glahns to make further
inquiry about this man. It annoys me to be constantly seeing their
advertisements offering such and such reward for information about a
dead man. Thomas Glahn was killed by accident–shot by accident when
out on a hunting trip in India. The court entered his name, with the
particulars of his end, in a register with pierced and threaded
leaves. And in that register it says that he is dead–dead, I tell
you–and what is more, that he was killed by accident.
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Pan, by Knut Hamsun
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at http://www.gutenberg.org
Author: Knut Hamsun
Commentator: Edwin Bjoerkman
Translator: W. W. Worster
Release Date: January, 2005 [EBook #7214]
This file was first posted on March 27, 2003
Last Updated: May 11, 2013
Character set encoding: ASCII
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK PAN ***
Produced by Tim Becker, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks, and
the Online Distributed Team
By Knut Hamsun
Translated from the Norwegian of Knut Hamsun By W. W. Worster
With an Introduction by Edwin Bjoerkman
Alfred A. Knopf
Published July, 1921
Second printing August, 1921
Third printing September, 1921
Fourth printing February, 1922
Fifth printing January, 1927