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Half A Sheet of Foolscap by August Strindberg

 

The last furniture van had left; the tenant, a young man with a crape band round his hat, walked for the last time through the empty rooms to make sure that nothing had been left behind. No, nothing had been forgotten, nothing at all. He went out into the front hall, firmly determined never to think again of all that had happened to him in these rooms. And all at once his eyes fell on half a sheet of foolscap, which somehow had got wedged between the wall and the telephone; the paper was covered with writing, evidently the writing of more persons than one. Some of the entries were written quite legibly with pen and ink, while others were scribbled with a lead-pencil; here and there even a red pencil had been used. It was a record of everything that had happened to him in the short period of two years; all these things, which he had made up his mind to forget, were noted down. It was a slice of a human life on half a sheet of foolscap.

He detached the paper; it was a piece of scribbling paper, yellow and shining like the sun. He put it on the mantelpiece in the drawing-room and glanced at it. Heading the list was a woman's name: “Alice,” the most beautiful name in the world, as it had seemed to him then, for it was the name of his fiancee. Next to the name was a number, “15,11.” It looked like the number of a hymn, on the hymn-board. Underneath was written “Bank.” That was where his work lay, his sacred work to which he owed bread, home, and wife—the foundations of life. But a pen had been drawn through the word, for the Bank had failed, and although he had eventually found another berth, it was not until after a short period of anxiety and uneasiness.

The next entries were: “Flower-shop and livery-stable.” They related to his betrothal, when he had plenty of money in his pockets.

Then came “furniture dealer and paper-hanger ”—they were furnishing their house. “Forwarding agents”—they were moving into it. The “Box-office of the Opera-house, No. 50,50”—they were newly married, and went to the opera on Sunday evenings; the most enjoyable hours of their lives were spent there, for they had to sit quite still, while their souls met in the beauty and harmony of the fairyland on the other side of the curtain.

Then followed the name of a man, crossed out. He had been a friend of his youth, a man who had risen high in the social scale, but who fell, spoilt by success, fell irremediably, and had to leave the country.

So unstable was fortune!

Now, something new entered the lives of husband and wife. The next entry was in a lady's hand: “Nurse.” What nurse? Well, of course, the kindly woman with the big cloak and the sympathetic face, who walked with a soft footfall, and never went into the drawing-room, but walked straight down the passage to the bedroom.

Underneath her name was written “Dr. L.”

And now, for the first time, a relative appeared on the list: “Mama.” That was his mother-in-law, who had kept away discreetly, so as not to disturb their newly found happiness, but was glad to come now, when she was needed.

A great number of entries in red and blue pencil followed: “Servants' Registry Office”—the maid had left and a new one had to be engaged. “The chemist's”—hm! life was growing dark. “The dairy”—milk had been ordered—sterilised milk!

“Butcher, grocer, etc.” The affairs of the house were being conducted by telephone; it argued that the mistress was not at her post. No, she wasn't, for she was laid up.

He could not read what followed, for it grew dark before his eyes; he might have been a drowning man trying to see through salt water. And yet, there it was written, plainly enough: “undertaker—a large coffin and a small one.” And the word “dust” was added in parenthesis.

It was the last word of the whole record. It ended with “dust”! and that is exactly what happens in life.

He took the yellow paper, kissed it, folded it carefully, and put it in his pocket.

In two minutes he had lived again through two years of his life.

But he was not bowed down as he left the house. On the contrary, he carried his head high, like a happy and proud man, for he knew that the best things life has to bestow had been given to him. And he pitied all those from whom they are withheld.

 
 
 

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