Mogens and Other Stories
by Jens Peter Jacobsen
Translated from the Danish By ANNA GRABOW
THE PLAGUE IN
HAVE BEEN ROSES
In the decade from 1870 to 1880 a new spirit was stirring in the
intellectual and literary world of Denmark. George Brandes was
delivering his lectures on the Main Currents of Nineteenth Century
Literature; from Norway came the deeply probing questionings of the
granitic Ibsen; from across the North Sea from England echoes of the
evolutionary theory and Darwinism. It was a time of controversy and
bitterness, of a conflict joined between the old and the new, both
going to extremes, in which nearly every one had a share. How many of
the works of that period are already out-worn, and how old-fashioned
the theories that were then so violently defended and attacked! Too
much logic, too much contention for its own sake, one might say, and
too little art.
This was the period when Jens Peter Jacobsen began to write, but he
stood aside from the conflict, content to be merely artist, a creator
of beauty and a seeker after truth, eager to bring into the realm of
literature “the eternal laws of nature, its glories, its riddles, its
miracles,” as he once put it. That is why his work has retained its
living colors until to-day, without the least trace of fading.
There is in his work something of the passion for form and style
that one finds in Flaubert and Pater, but where they are often hard,
percussive, like a piano, he is soft and strong and intimate like a
violin on which he plays his reading of life. Such analogies, however,
have little significance, except that they indicate a unique and
powerful artistic personality.
Jacobsen is more than a mere stylist. The art of writers who are too
consciously that is a sort of decorative representation of life, a
formal composition, not a plastic composition. One element particularly
characteristic of Jacobsen is his accuracy of observation and
minuteness of detail welded with a deep and intimate understanding of
the human heart. His characters are not studied tissue by tissue as
under a scientist's microscope, rather they are built up living cell by
living cell out of the author's experience and imagination. He shows
how they are conditioned and modified by their physical being, their
inheritance and environment, Through each of his senses he lets
impressions from without pour into him. He harmonizes them with a
passionate desire for beauty into marvelously plastic figures and
moods. A style which grows thus organically from within is style out of
richness; the other is style out of poverty.
In a letter he once stated his belief that every book to be of real
value must embody the struggle of one or more persons against all those
things which try to keep one from existing in one's own way. That is
the fundamental ethos which runs through all of Jacobsen's work. It is
in Marie Grubbe, Niels Lyhne, Mogens, and the infinitely tender Mrs.
They are types of the kind he has described in the following
passage: “Know ye not that there is here in this world a secret
confraternity, which one might call the Company of Melancholiacs? That
people there are who by natural constitution have been given a
different nature and disposition than the others; that have a larger
heart and a swifter blood, that wish and demand more, have stronger
desires and a yearning which is wilder and more ardent than that of the
common herd. They are fleet as children over whose birth good fairies
have presided; their eyes are opened wider; their senses are more
subtile in all their perceptions. The gladness and joy of life, they
drink with the roots of their heart, the while the others merely grasp
them with coarse hands.”
He himself was one of these, and in this passage his own art and
personality is described better than could be done in thousands of
words of commentary.
Jens Peter Jacobsen was born in the little town of Thisted in
Jutland, on April 7, 1847. In 1868 he matriculated at the University of
Copenhagen, where he displayed a remarkable talent for science, winning
the gold medal of the university with a dissertation on Seaweeds. He
definitely chose science as a career, and was among the first in
Scandinavia to recognize the importance of Darwin. He translated the
Origin of Species and Descent of Man into Danish. In 1872 while
collecting plants he contracted tuberculosis, and as a consequence, was
compelled to give up his scientific career. This was not as great a
sacrifice, as it may seem, for he had long been undecided whether to
choose science or literature as his life work.
The remainder of his short life—he died April 30, 1885—was one of
passionate devotion to literature and a constant struggle with ill
health. The greater part of this period was spent in his native town of
Thisted, but an advance royalty from his publisher enabled him to visit
the South of Europe. His journey was interrupted at Florence by a
He lived simply, unobtrusively, bravely. His method of work was slow
and laborious. He shunned the literary circles of the capital with
their countless intrusions and interruptions, because he knew that the
time allotted him to do his work was short. “When life has sentenced
you to suffer,” he has written in Niels Lyhne, “the sentence is neither
a fancy nor a threat, but you are dragged to the rack, and you are
tortured, and there is no marvelous rescue at the last moment,” and in
this book there is also a corollary, “It is on the healthy in you you
must live, it is the healthy that becomes great.” The realization of
the former has given, perhaps, a subdued tone to his canvasses; the
recognition of the other has kept out of them weakness or self-pity.
Under the encouragement of George Brandes his novel Marie Grubbe was
begun in 1873, and published in 1876. His other novel Niels Lyhne
appeared in 1880. Excluding his early scientific works, these two books
together with a collection of short stories, Mogens and Other Tales,
published in 1882, and a posthumous volume of poems, constitute
Jacobsen's literary testament. The present volume contains Mogens, the
story with which he made his literary debut, and other characteristic
The physical measure of Jacobsen's accomplishment was not great, but
it was an important milestone in northern literature. It is hardly an
exaggeration to say that in so far as Scandinavia is concerned he
created a new method of literary approach and a new artistic prose.
There is scarcely a writer in these countries, since 1880, with any
pretension toward literary expression who has not directly or
indirectly come under Jacobsen's influence.
O. F. THEIS.
SUMMER it was; in the middle of the day; in a corner of the
enclosure. Immediately in front of it stood an old oaktree, of whose
trunk one might say, that it agonized in despair because of the lack of
harmony between its fresh yellowish foliage and its black and gnarled
branches; they resembled most of all grossly misdrawn old gothic
arabesques. Behind the oak was a luxuriant thicket of hazel with dark
sheenless leaves, which were so dense, that neither trunk nor branches
could be seen. Above the hazel rose two straight, joyous maple-trees
with gayly indented leaves, red stems and long dangling clusters of
green fruit. Behind the maples came the forest—a green evenly rounded
slope, where birds went out and in as elves in a grasshill.
All this you could see if you came wandering along the path through
the fields beyond the fence. If, however, you were lying in the shadow
of the oak with your back against the trunk and looking the other
way—and there was a some one, who did that—then you would see first
your own legs, then a little spot of short, vigorous grass, next a
large cluster of dark nettles, then the hedge of thorn with the big,
white convolvulus, the stile, a little of the ryefield outside, finally
the councilor's flagpole on the hill, and then the sky.
It was stifling hot, the air was quivering with heat, and then it
was very quiet; the leaves were hanging from the trees as if asleep.
Nothing moved except the lady-birds and the nettles and a few withered
leaves that lay on the grass and rolled themselves up with sudden
little jerks as if they were shrinking from the sunbeams.
And then the man underneath the oak; he lay there gasping for air
and with a melancholy look stared helplessly towards the sky. He tried
to hum a tune, but gave it up; whistled, then gave that up too; turned
round, turned round again and let his eyes rest upon an old mole-hill,
that had become quite gray in the drought. Suddenly a small dark spot
appeared upon the light-gray mold, another, three, four, many, still
more, the entire mole-hill suddenly was quite dark-gray. The air was
filled with nothing but long, dark streaks, the leaves nodded and
swayed and there rose a murmur which turned into a hissing—rain was
pouring down. Everything gleamed, sparkled, spluttered. Leaves,
branches, trunks, everything shone with moisture; every little drop
that fell on earth, on grass, on the fence, on whatever it was, broke
and scattered in a thousand delicate pearls. Little drops hung for a
while and became big drops, trickled down elsewhere, joined with other
drops, formed small rivulets, disappeared into tiny furrows, ran into
big holes and out of small ones, sailed away laden with dust, chips of
wood and ragged bits of foliage, caused them to run aground, set them
afloat, whirled them round and again caused them to ground. Leaves,
which had been separated since they were in the bud, were reunited by
the flood; moss, that had almost vanished in the dryness, expanded and
became soft, crinkly, green and juicy; and gray lichens which nearly
had turned to snuff, spread their delicate ends, puffed up like brocade
and with a sheen like that of silk. The convolvuluses let their white
crowns be filled to the brim, drank healths to each other, and emptied
the water over the heads of the nettles. The fat black wood-snails
crawled forward on their stomachs with a will, and looked approvingly
towards the sky. And the man? The man was standing bareheaded in the
midst of the downpour, letting the drops revel in his hair and brows,
eyes, nose, mouth; he snapped his fingers at the rain, lifted a foot
now and again as if he were about to dance, shook his head sometimes,
when there was too much water in the hair, and sang at the top of his
voice without knowing what he was singing, so pre-occupied was he with
Had I, oh had I a grandson, trala,
And a chest with heaps and heaps of gold,
Then very likely had I had a daughter, trala,
And house and home and meadows untold.
Had I, oh had I a daughter dear, trala,
And house and home and meadows untold,
Then very like had I had a sweetheart, trala.
And a chest with heaps and heaps of gold.
There he stood and sang in the rain, but yonder between the dark
hazelbushes the head of a little girl was peeping out. A long end of
her shawl of red silk had become entangled in a branch which projected
a little beyond the others, and from time to time a small hand went
forward and tugged at the end, but this had no other result, further
than to produce a little shower of rain from the branch and its
neighbors. The rest of the shawl lay close round the little girl's head
and hid half of the brow; it shaded the eyes, then turned abruptly and
became lost among the leaves, but reappeared in a big rosette of folds
underneath the girl's chin. The face of the little girl looked very
astonished, she was just about to laugh; the smile already hovered in
the eyes. Suddenly he, who stood there singing in the midst of the
downpour, took a few steps to the side, saw the red shawl, the face,
the big brown eyes, the astonished little open mouth; instantly his
position became awkward, in surprise he looked down himself; but in the
same moment a small cry was heard, the projecting branch swayed
violently, the red end of the shawl disappeared in a flash, the girl's
face disappeared, and there was a rustling and rustling further and
further away behind the hazelbushes. Then he ran. He did not know why,
he did not think at all. The gay mood, which the rainstorm had called
forth, welled up in him again, and he ran after the face of the little
girl. It did not enter his head that it was a person he pursued. To him
it was only the face of a little girl. He ran, it rustled to the right,
it rustled to the left, it rustled in front, it rustled behind, he
rustled, she rustled, and all these sounds and the running itself
excited him, and he cried: “Where are you? Say cuckoo!” Nobody
answered. When he heard his own voice, he felt just a little uneasy,
but he continued running; then a thought came to him, only a single
one, and he murmured as he kept on running: “What am I going to say to
her? What am I going to say to her?” He was approaching a big bush,
there she had hid herself, he could just see a corner of her skirt.
“What am I going to say to her? What am I going to say to her?” he kept
on murmuring while he ran. He was quite near the bush, then turned
abruptly, ran on still murmuring the same, came out upon the open road,
ran a distance, stopped abruptly and burst out laughing, walked smiling
quietly a few paces, then burst out laughing loudly again, and did not
cease laughing all the way along the hedge.
It was on a beautiful autumn day; the fall of the foliage was going
on apace and the path which led to the lake was quite covered with the
citron-yellow leaves from the elms and maples; here and there were
spots of a darker foliage. It was very pleasant, very clean to walk on
this tigerskin-carpet, and to watch the leaves fall down like snow; the
birch looked even lighter and more graceful with its branches almost
bare and the roan-tree was wonderful with its heavy scarlet cluster of
berries. And the sky was so blue, so blue, and the wood seemed so much
bigger, one could look so far between the trunks. And then of course
one could not help thinking that soon all this would be of the past.
Wood, field, sky, open air, and everything soon would have to give way
to the time of the lamps, the carpets, and the hyacinths. For this
reason the councilor from Cape Trafalgar and his daughter were walking
down to the lake, while their carriage stopped at the bailiff's.
The councilor was a friend of nature, nature was something quite
special, nature was one of the finest ornaments of existence. The
councilor patronized nature, he defended it against the artificial;
gardens were nothing but nature spoiled; but gardens laid out in
elaborate style were nature turned crazy. There was no style in nature,
providence had wisely made nature natural, nothing but natural. Nature
was that which was unrestrained, that which was unspoiled. But with the
fall of man civilization had come upon mankind; now civilization had
become a necessity; but it would have been better, if it had not been
thus. The state of nature was something quite different, quite
different. The councilor himself would have had no objection to
maintaining himself by going about in a coat of lamb-skin and shooting
hares and snipes and golden plovers and grouse and haunches of venison
and wild boars. No, the state of nature really was like a gem, a
The councilor and his daughter walked down to the lake. For some
time already it had glimmered between the trees, but now when they
turned the corner where the big poplar stood, it lay quite open before
them. There it lay with large spaces of water clear as a mirror, with
jagged tongues of gray-blue rippled water, with streaks that were
smooth and streaks that were rippled, and the sunlight rested on the
smooth places and quivered in the ripples. It captured one's eye and
drew it across its surface, carried it along the shores, past slowly
rounded curves, past abruptly broken lines, and made it swing around
the green tongues of land; then it let go of one's glance and
disappeared in large bays, but it carried along the thought—Oh, to
sail! Would it be possible to hire boats here?
No, there were none, said a little fellow, who lived in the white
country-house near by, and stood at the shore skipping stones over the
surface of the water. Were there really no boats at all?
Yes, of course, there were some; there was the miller's, but it
could not be had; the miller would not permit it. Niels, the miller's
son, had nearly gotten a spanking when he had let it out the other day.
It was useless to think about it; but then there was the gentleman, who
lived with Nicolai, the forest-warden. He had a fine boat, one which
was black at the top and red at the bottom, and he lent it to each and
The councilor and his daughter went up to Nicolai's, the
forest-warden. At a short distance from the house they met a little
girl. She was Nicolai's, and they told her to run in and ask if they
might see the gentleman. She ran as if her life depended on it, ran
with both arms and legs, until she reached the door; there she placed
one leg on the high doorstep, fastened her garter, and then rushed into
the house. She reappeared immediately afterwards with two doors ajar
behind her and called long before she reached the threshold, that the
gentleman would be there in a moment; then she sat down on the
doorstep, leaned against the wall, and peered at the strangers from
underneath one of her arms.
The gentleman came, and proved to be a tall strongly-built man of
some twenty years. The councilor's daughter was a little startled, when
she recognized in him the man, who had sung during the rainstorm. But
he looked so strange and absentminded; quite obviously he had just been
reading a book, one could tell that from the expression in his eyes,
from his hair, from the abstracted way in which he managed his hands.
The councilor's daughter dropped him an exuberant courtesy and said
“Cuckoo,” and laughed.
“Cuckoo?” asked the councilor. Why, it was the little girl's face!
The man went quite crimson, and tried to say something when the
councilor came with a question about the boat. Yes, it was at his
service. But who was going to do the rowing? Why, he of course, said
the girl, and paid no attention to what her father said about it; it
was immaterial whether it was a bother to the gentleman, for sometimes
he himself did not mind at all troubling other people. Then they went
down to the boat, and on the way explained things to the councilor.
They stepped into the boat, and were already a good ways out, before
the girl had settled herself comfortably and found time to talk.
“I suppose it was something very learned you were reading,” she
said, “when I came and called cuckoo and fetched you out sailing?”
“Rowing, you mean. Something learned! It was the 'History of Sir
Peter with the Silver Key and the Beautiful Magelone.'“
“Who is that by?”
“By no one in particular. Books of that sort never are. 'Vigoleis
with the Golden Wheel' isn't by anybody either, neither is 'Bryde, the
“I have never heard of those titles before.”
“Please move a little to the side, otherwise we will list.—Oh no,
that is quite likely, they aren't fine books at all; they are the sort
you buy from old women at fairs.”
“That seems strange. Do you always read books of that kind?”
“Always? I don't read many books in the course of a year, and the
kind I really like the best are those that have Indians in them.”
“But poetry? Oehlenschlager, Schiller, and the others?”
“Oh, of course I know them; we had a whole bookcase full of them at
home, and Miss Holm—my mother's companion—read them aloud after lunch
and in the evenings; but I can't say that I cared for them; I don't
“Don't like verse? You said had, isn't your mother living any more?”
“No, neither is my father.”
He said this with a rather sullen, hostile tone, and the
conversation halted for a time and made it possible to hear clearly the
many little sounds created by the movement of the boat through the
water. The girl broke the silence:
“Do you like paintings?”
“Altar-pieces? Oh, I don't know.”
“Yes, or other pictures, landscapes for instance?”
“Do people paint those too? Of course they do, I know that very
“You are laughing at me?”
“I? Oh yes, one of us is doing that”
“But aren't you a student?”
“Student? Why should I be? No, I am nothing.”
“But you must be something. You must do something?”
“Why, because—everybody does something!”
“Are you doing something?”
“Oh well, but you are not a lady.”
“No, heaven be praised.”
He stopped rowing, drew the oars out of the water, looked her into
the face and asked:
“What do you mean by that?—No, don't be angry with me; I will tell
you something, I am a queer sort of person. You cannot understand it.
You think because I wear good clothes, I must be a fine man. My father
was a fine man; I have been told that he knew no end of things, and I
daresay he did, since he was a district-judge. I know nothing because
mother and I were all to each other, and I did not care to learn the
things they teach in the schools, and don't care about them now either.
Oh, you ought to have seen my mother; she was such a tiny wee lady.
When I was no older than thirteen I could carry her down into the
garden. She was so light; in recent years I would often carry her on my
arm through the whole garden and park. I can still see her in her black
gowns with the many wide laces. . . .”
He seized the oars and rowed violently. The councilor became a
little uneasy, when the water reached so high at the stern, and
suggested, that they had better see about getting home again; so back
“Tell me,” said the girl, when the violence of his rowing had
decreased a little. “Do you often go to town?”
“I have never been there.”
“Never been there? And you only live twelve miles away?”
“I don't always live here, I live at all sorts of places since my
mother's death, but the coming winter I shall go to town to study
“No, timber,” he said laughingly, “but that is something you don't
understand. I'll tell you, when I am of age I shall buy a sloop and
sail to Norway, and then I shall have to know how to figure on account
of the customs and clearance.”
“Would you really like that?”
“Oh, it, is magnificent on the sea, there is such a feeling of being
alive in sailing—here we are at the landing-stage!”
He came alongside; the councilor and his daughter stepped ashore
after having made him promise to come and see them at Cape Trafalgar.
Then they returned to the bailiff's, while he again rowed out on the
lake. At the poplar they could still hear the sounds of the oars.
“Listen, Camilla,” said the councilor, who had been out to lock the
outer door, “tell me,” he said, extinguishing his hand-lamp with the
bit of his key, “was the rose they had at the Carlsens a Pompadour or
“Cendrillon,” the daughter answered.
“That's right, so it was,—well, I suppose we had better see that we
get to bed now; good night, little girl, good night, and sleep well.”
When Camilla had entered her room, she pulled up the blind, leaned
her brow against the cool pane, and hummed Elizabeth's song from “The
Fairy-hill.” At sunset a light breeze had begun to blow and a few tiny,
white clouds, illumined by the moon, were driven towards Camilla. For a
long while she stood regarding them; her eye followed them from a far
distance, and she sang louder and louder as they drew nearer, kept
silent a few seconds while they disappeared above her, then sought
others, and followed them too. With a little sigh she pulled down the
blind. She went to the dressing table, rested her elbows against her
clasped hands and regarded her own picture in the mirror without really
She was thinking of a tall young man, who carried a very delicate,
tiny, blackdressed lady in his arms; she was thinking of a tall man,
who steered his small ship in between cliffs and rocks in a devastating
gale. She heard a whole conversation over again. She blushed: Eugene
Carlson might have thought that you were paying court to him! With a
little jealous association of ideas she continued: No one would ever
run after Clara in a wood in the rainstorm, she would never have
invited a stranger—literally asked him—to sail with her. “Lady to her
fingertips,” Carlson had said of Clara; that really was a reprimand for
you, you peasant-girl Camilla! Then she undressed with affected
slowness, went to bed, took a small elegantly bound book from the
bookshelf near by and opened the first page. She read through a short
hand-written poem with a tired, bitter expression on her face, then let
the book drop to the floor and burst into tears; afterwards she
tenderly picked it up again, put it back in its place and blew out the
candle; lay there for a little while gazing disconsolately at the
moonlit blind, and finally went to sleep.
A few days later the “rainman” started on his way to Cape Trafalgar.
He met a peasant driving a load of rye straw, and received permission
to ride with him. Then he lay down on his back in the straw and gazed
at the cloudless sky. The first couple of miles he let his thoughts
come and go as they listed, besides there wasn't much variety in them.
Most of them would come and ask him how a human being possibly could be
so wonderfully beautiful, and they marveled that it really could be an
entertaining occupation for several days to recall the features of a
face, its changes of expression and coloring, the small movements of a
head and a pair of hands, and the varying inflections in a voice. But
then the peasant pointed with his whip towards the slate-roof about a
mile away and said that the councilor lived over there, and the good
Mogens rose from the straw and stared anxiously towards the roof. He
had a strange feeling of oppression and tried to make himself believe
that nobody was at home, but tenaciously came back to the conception
that there was a large party, and he could not free himself from that
idea, even though he counted how many cows “Country-joy” had on the
meadow and how many heaps of gravel he could see along the road. At
last the peasant stopped near a small path leading down to the
country-house, and Mogens slid down from the cart and began to brush
away the bits of straw while the cart slowly creaked away over the
gravel on the road.
He approached the garden-gate step by step, saw a red shawl
disappear behind the balcony windows, a small deserted white
sewing-basket on the edge of the balcony, and the back of a still
moving empty rocking-chair. He entered the garden, with his eyes fixed
intently on the balcony, heard the councilor say good-day, turned his
head toward the sound, and saw him standing there nodding, his arms
full of empty flowerpots. They spoke of this and that, and the
councilor began to explain, as one might put it, that the old specific
distinction between the various kinds of trees had been abolished by
grafting, and that for his part he did not like this at all. Then
Camilla slowly approached wearing a brilliant glaring blue shawl. Her
arms were entirely wrapped up in the shawl, and she greeted him with a
slight inclination of the head and a faint welcome. The councilor left
with his flower-pots, Camilla stood looking over her shoulders towards
the balcony; Mogens looked at her. How had he been since the other day?
Thank you, nothing especial had been the matter with him. Done much
rowing? Why, yes, as usual, perhaps not quite as much. She turned her
head towards him, looked coldly at him, inclined her head to one side
and asked with half-closed eyes and a faint smile whether it was the
beautiful Magelone who had engrossed his time. He did not know what she
meant, but he imagined it was. Then they stood for a while and said
nothing. Camilla took a few steps towards a corner, where a bench and a
garden-chair stood. She sat down on the bench and asked him, after she
was seated, looking at the chair, to be seated; he must be very tired
after his long walk. He sat down in the chair.
Did he believe anything would come of the projected royal alliance?
Perhaps, he was completely indifferent? Of course, he had no interest
in the royal house. Naturally he hated aristocracy? There were very few
young men who did not believe that democracy was, heaven only knew
what. Probably he was one of those who attributed not the slightest
political importance to the family alliances of the royal house?
Perhaps he was mistaken. It had been seen. . . . She stopped suddenly,
surprised that Mogens who had at first been somewhat taken aback at all
this information, now looked quite pleased. He wasn't to sit there, and
laugh at her! She turned quite red.
“Are you very much interested in politics?” she asked timidly.
“Not in the least.”
“But why do you let me sit here talking politics eternally?”
“Oh, you say everything so charmingly, that it does not matter what
you are talking about.”
“That really is no compliment.”
“It certainly is,” he assured her eagerly, for it seemed to him she
looked quite hurt.
Camilla burst out laughing, jumped up, and ran to meet her father,
took his arm, and walked back with him to the puzzled Mogens.
When dinner was through and they had drunk their coffee up on the
balcony, the councilor suggested a walk. So the three of them went
along the small way across the main road, and along a narrow path with
stubble of rye on both sides, across the stile, and into the woods.
There was the oak and everything else; there even were still
convolvuluses on the hedge. Camilla asked Mogens to fetch some for her.
He tore them all off, and came back with both hands full.
“Thank you, I don't want so many,” she said, selected a few and let
the rest fall to the ground. “Then I wish I had let them be,” Mogens
Camilla bent down and began to gather them up. She had expected him
to help her and looked up at him in surprise, but he stood there quite
calm and looked down at her. Now as she had begun, she had to go on,
and gathered up they were; but she certainly did not talk to Mogens for
a long while. She did not even look to the side where he was. But
somehow or other they must have become reconciled, for when on their
way back they reached the oak again, Camilla went underneath it and
looked up into its crown. She tripped from one side to the other,
gesticulated with her hands and sang, and Mogens had to stand near the
hazelbushes to see what sort of a figure he had cut. Suddenly Camilla
ran towards him, but Mogens lost his cue, and forgot both to shriek and
to run away, and then Camilla laughingly declared that she was very
dissatisfied with herself and that she would not have had the boldness
to remain standing there, when such a horrible creature—and she
pointed towards herself—came rushing towards her. But Mogens declared
that he was very well satisfied with himself.
When towards sunset he was going home the councilor and Camilla
accompanied him a little way. And as they were going home she said to
her father that perhaps they ought to invite that lonesome young man
rather frequently during the month, while it was still possible to stay
in the country. He knew no one here about, and the councilor said
“yes,” and smiled at being thought so guileless, but Camilla walked
along and looked so gentle and serious, that one would not doubt but
that she was the very personification of benevolence itself.
The autumn weather remained so mild that the councilor stayed on at
Cape Trafalgar for another whole month, and the effect of the
benevolence was that Mogens came twice the first week and about every
day the third.
It was one of the last days of fair weather.
It had rained early in the morning and had remained overclouded far
down into the forenoon; but now the sun had come forth. Its rays were
so strong and warm, that the garden-paths, the lawns and the branches
of the trees were enveloped in a fine filmy mist. The councilor walked
about cutting asters. Mogens and Camilla were in a corner of the garden
to take down some late winter apples. He stood on a table with a basket
on his arm, she stood on a chair holding out a big white apron by the
“Well, and what happened then?” she called impatiently to Mogens,
who had interrupted the fairy-tale he was telling in order to reach an
apple which hung high up.
“Then,” he continued, “the peasant began to run three times round
himself and to sing: 'To Babylon, to Babylon, with an iron ring through
my head.' Then he and his calf, his great-grandmother, and his black
rooster flew away. They flew across oceans as broad as Arup Vejle, over
mountains as high as the church at Jannerup, over Himmerland and
through the Holstein lands even to the end of the world. There the
kobold sat and ate breakfast; he had just finished when they came.
“'You ought to be a little more god-fearing, little father,' said
the peasant, 'otherwise it might happen that you might miss the kingdom
“Well, he would gladly be god-fearing.”
“'Then you must say grace after meals,' said the peasant. . . .”
“No, I won't go on with the story,” said Mogens impatiently.
“Very well, then don't,” said Camilla, and looked at him in
“I might as well say it at once,” continued Mogens, “I want to ask
you something, but you mustn't laugh at me.”
Camilla jumped down from the chair.
“Tell me—no, I want to tell you something myself—here is the table
and there is the hedge, if you won't be my bride, I'll leap with the
basket over the hedge and stay away. One!”
Camilla glanced furtively at him, and noticed that the smile had
vanished from his face.
He was quite pale with emotion.
“Yes,” she whispered, and let go the ends of her apron so that the
apples rolled toward all corners of the world and then she ran. But she
did not run away from Mogens.
“Three,” said she, when he reached her, but he kissed her
The councilor was interrupted among his asters, but the
district-judge's son was too irreproachable a blending of nature and
civilization for the councilor to raise objections.
* * *
It was late winter; the large heavy cover of snow, the result of a
whole week's uninterrupted blowing, was in the process of rapidly
melting away. The air was full of sunlight and reflection from the
white snow, which in large, shining drops dripped down past the
windows. Within the room all forms and colors had awakened, all lines
and contours had come to life. Whatever was flat extended, whatever was
bent curved, whatever was inclined slid, and whatever was broken
refracted the more. All kinds of green tones mingled on the
flower-table, from the softest dark-green to the sharpest yellow-green.
Reddish brown tones flooded in flames across the surface of the
mahogany table, and gold gleamed and sparkled from the knick-knacks,
from the frames and moldings, but on the carpet all the colors broke
and mingled in a joyous, shimmering confusion.
Camilla sat at the window and sewed, and she and the Graces on the
mantle were quite enveloped in a reddish light from the red curtains
Mogens walked slowly up and down the room, and passed every moment in
and out of slanting beams of light of pale rainbow-colored dust.
He was in talkative mood.
“Yes,” he said, “they are a curious kind of people, these with whom
you associate. There isn't a thing between heaven and earth which they
cannot dispose of in the turn of a hand. This is common, and that is
noble; this is the most stupid thing that has been done since the
creation of the world, and that is the wisest; this is so ugly, so
ugly, and that is so beautiful it cannot be described. They agree so
absolutely about all this, that it seems as if they had some sort of a
table or something like that by which they figured things out, for they
always get the same result, no matter what it may be. How alike they
are to each other, these people! Every one of them knows the same
things and talks about the same things, and all of them have the same
words and the same opinions.”
“You don't mean to say,” Camilla protested, “that Carlsen and
Ronholt have the same opinions.”
“Yes, they are the finest of all, they belong to different parties!
Their fundamental principles are as different as night and day. No,
they are not. They are in such agreement that it is a perfect joy.
Perhaps there may he some little point about which they don't agree;
perhaps, it is merely a misunderstanding. But heaven help me, if it
isn't pure comedy to listen to them. It is as if they had prearranged
to do everything possible not to agree. They begin by talking in a loud
voice, and immediately talk themselves into a passion. Then one of them
in his passion says something which he doesn't mean, and then the other
one says the direct opposite which he doesn't mean either, and then the
one attacks that which the other doesn't mean, and the other that which
the first one didn't mean, and the game is on.”
“But what have they done to you?”
“They annoy me, these fellows. If you look into their faces it is
just as if you had it under seal that nothing especial is ever going to
happen in the world in the future.” Camilla laid down her sewing, went
over and took hold of the corners of his coat collar and looked
roguishly and questioningly at him.
“I cannot bear Carlsen,” he said angrily, and tossed his head.
“Well, and then.”
“And then you are very, very sweet,” he murmured with a comic
“And then,” he burst out, “he looks at you and listens to you and
talks to you in a way I don't like. He is to quit that, for you are
mine and not his. Aren't you? You are not his, not his in any way. You
are mine, you have bonded yourself to me as the doctor did to the
devil; you are mine, body and soul, skin and bones, till all eternity.”
She nodded a little frightened, looked trustfully at him; her eyes
filled with tears, then she pressed close to him and he put his arms
around her, bent over her, and kissed her on the forehead.
The same evening Mogens went to the station with the councilor who
had received a sudden order in reference to an official tour which he
was to make. On this account Camilla was to go to her aunt's the next
morning and stay there until he returned,
When Mogens had seen his future father-in-law off, he went home,
thinking of the fact that he now would not see Camilla for several
days. He turned into the street where she lived. It was long and narrow
and little frequented. A cart rumbled away at the furthest end; in this
direction, too, there was the sound of footsteps, which grew fainter
and fainter. At the moment he heard nothing but the barking of a dog
within the building behind him. He looked up at the house in which
Camilla lived; as usual the ground-floor was dark. The white-washed
panes received only a little restless life from the flickering gleam of
the lantern of the house next door. On the second story the windows
were open and from one of them a whole heap of planks protruded beyond
the window-frame. Camilla's window was dark, dark also was everything
above, except that in one of the attic windows there shimmered a
white-golden gleam from the moon. Above the house the clouds were
driving in a wild flight. In the houses on both sides the windows were
The dark house made Mogens sad. It stood there so forlorn and
disconsolate; the open windows rattled on their hinges; water ran
monotonously droning down the rainpipe; now and then a little water
fell with a hollow dull thud at some spot which he could not see; the
wind swept heavily through the street. The dark, dark house! Tears came
into Mogen's eyes, an oppressive weight lay on his chest, and he was
seized by a strange dark sensation that he had to reproach himself for
something concerning Camilla. Then he had to think of his mother, and
he felt a great desire of laying his head on her lap and weeping his
For a long while he stood thus with his hand pressed against his
breast until a wagon went through the street at a sharp pace; he
followed it and went home. He had to stand for a long time and rattle
the front door before it would open, then he ran humming up the stairs,
and when he had entered the room he threw himself down on the sofa with
one of Smollett's novels in his hand, and read and laughed till after
midnight. At last it grew too cold in the room, he leaped up and went
stamping up and down to drive away the chill. He stopped at the window.
The sky in one corner was so bright, that the snow-covered roofs faded
into it. In another corner several long-drawn clouds drifted by, and
the atmosphere beneath them had a curious reddish tinge, a sheen that
wavered unsteadily, a red smoking fog. He tore open the window, fire
had broken out in the direction of the councilor's. Down the stairs,
down the street as fast as he could; down a cross-street, through a
side-street, and then straight ahead. As yet he could not see anything,
but as he turned round the corner he saw the red glow of fire. About a
score of people clattered singly down the street. As they ran past each
other, they asked where the fire was. The answer was “The
sugar-refinery.” Mogens kept on running as quickly as before, but much
easier at heart. Still a few streets, there were more and more people,
and they were talking now of the soap-factory. It lay directly opposite
the councilor's. Mogens ran on as if possessed. There was only a single
slanting cross-street left. It was quite filled with people:
well-dressed men, ragged old women who stood talking in a slow, whining
tone, yelling apprentices, over-dressed girls who whispered to each
other, corner-loafers who stood as if rooted to the spot and cracked
jokes, surprised drunkards and drunkards who quarreled, helpless
policemen, and carriages that would go neither forwards nor backwards.
Mogens forced his way through the multitude. Now he was at the corner;
the sparks were slowly falling down upon him. Up the street; there were
showers of sparks, the window-panes on both sides were aglow, the
factory was burning, the councilor's house was burning and the house
next door also. There was nothing but smoke, fire and confusion, cries,
curses, tiles that rattled down, blows of axes, wood that splintered,
window-panes that jingled, jets of water that hissed, spluttered, and
splashed, and amid all this the regular dull sob-like throb of the
engines. Furniture, bedding, black helmets, ladders, shining buttons,
illuminated faces, wheels, ropes, tarpaulin, strange instruments;
Mogens rushed into their midst, over, under it all, forward to the
The facade was brightly illuminated by the flames from the burning
factory, smoke issued from between the tiles of the roof and rolled out
of the open windows of the first story. Within the fire rumbled and
crackled. There was a slow groaning sound, that turned into a rolling
and crashing, and ended in a dull boom. Smoke, sparks, and flames
issued in torment out of all the openings of the house. And then the
flames began to play and crackle with redoubled strength and redoubled
clearness. It was the middle part of the ceiling of the first floor
that fell. Mogens with both hands seized a large scaling-ladder which
leaned against the part of the factory which was not yet in flames. For
a moment he held it vertically, but then it slipped away from him and
fell over toward the councilor's house where it broke in a window-frame
on the second story. Mogens ran up the ladder, and in through the
opening. At first he had to close his eyes on account of the pungent
wood-smoke, and the heavy suffocating fumes which rose from the charred
wood that the water had reached took his breath away. He was in the
dining-room. The living-room was a huge glowing abyss; the flames from
the lower part of the house, now and then, almost reached up to the
ceiling; the few boards that had remained hanging when the floor fell
burned in brilliant yellowish-white flames; shadows and the gleam of
flames flooded over the walls; the wall-paper here and there curled up,
caught fire, and flew in flaming tatters down into the abyss; eager
yellow flames licked their way up on the loosened moldings and
picture-frames. Mogens crept over the ruins and fragments of the fallen
wall towards the edge of the abyss, from which cold and hot blasts of
air alternately struck his face; on the other side so much of the wall
had fallen, that he could look into Camilla's room, while the part that
hid the councilor's office still stood. It grew hotter and hotter; the
skin of his face became taut, and he noticed, that his hair was
crinkling. Something heavy glided past his shoulder and remained lying
on his back and pressed him down to the floor; it was the girder which
slowly had slipped out of place. He could not move, breathing became
more and more difficult, his temples throbbed violently; to his left a
jet of water splashed against the wall of the dining-room, and the wish
rose in him, that the cold, cold drops, which scattered in all
directions might fall on him. Then he heard a moan on the other side of
the abyss, and he saw something white stir on the floor in Camilla's
room. It was she. She lay on her knees, and while her hips were
swaying, held her hands pressed against each side of her head. She rose
slowly, and came towards the edge of the abyss. She stood straight
upright, her arms hung limply down, and the head went to and fro limply
on the neck. Very, very slowly the upper part of her body fell forward,
her long, beautiful hair swept the floor; a short violent flash of
flame, and it was gone, the next moment she plunged down into the
Mogens uttered a moaning sound, short, deep and powerful, like the
roar of a wild beast, and at the same time made a violent movement, as
if to get away from the abyss. It was impossible on account of the
girder. His hands groped over the fragments of wall, then they
stiffened as it were in a mighty clasp over the debris, and he began to
strike his forehead against the wreckage with a regular beat, and
moaned: “Lord God, Lord God, Lord God.”
Thus he lay. In the course of a little while, he noticed that there
was something standing beside him and touching him. It was a fireman
who had thrown the girder aside, and was about to carry him out of the
house. With a strong feeling of annoyance, Mogens noticed that he was
lifted up and led away. The man carried him to the opening, and then
Mogens had a clear perception that a wrong was being committed against
him, and that the man who was carrying him had designs on his life. He
tore himself out of his arms, seized a lathe that lay on the floor,
struck the man over the head with it so that he staggered backward; he
himself issued from the opening and ran erect down the ladder, holding
the lathe above his head. Through the tumult, the smoke, the crowd of
people, through empty streets, across desolate squares, out into the
fields. Deep snow everywhere, at a little distance a black spot, it was
a gravel-heap, that jutted out above the snow. He struck at it with the
lathe, struck again and again, continued to strike at it; he wished to
strike it dead, so that it might disappear; he wanted to run far away,
and ran round about the heap and struck at it as if possessed. It would
not, would not disappear; he hurled the lathe far away and flung
himself upon the black heap to give it the finishing stroke. He got his
hands full of small stones, it was gravel, it was a black heap of
gravel. Why was he out here in the field burrowing in a black
gravel-heap?—He smelled the smoke, the flames flashed round him, he
saw Camilla sink down into them, he cried out aloud and rushed wildly
across the field. He could not rid himself of the sight of the flames,
he held his eyes shut: Flames, flames! He threw himself on the ground
and pressed his face down into the snow: Flames! He leaped up, ran
backward, ran forward, turned aside: Flames everywhere! He rushed
further across the snow, past houses, past trees, past a terror-struck
face, that stared out through a window-pane, round stacks of grain and
through farm-yards, where dogs howled and tore at their chains. He ran
round the front wing of a building and stood suddenly before a
brightly, restlessly lighted window. The light did him good, the flames
yielded to it; he went to the window and looked in. It was a brew-room,
a girl stood at the hearth and stirred the kettle. The light which she
held in her hand had a slightly reddish sheen on account of the dense
fumes. Another girl was sitting down, plucking poultry, and a third was
singeing it over a blazing straw-fire. When the flames grew weaker, new
straw was put on, and they flared up again; then they again became
weaker and still weaker; they went out. Mogens angrily broke a pane
with his elbow, and slowly walked away. The girls inside screamed. Then
he ran again for a long time with a low moaning. Scattered flashes of
memory of happy days came to him, and when they had passed the darkness
was twice as black. He could not bear to think of what had happened. It
was impossible for it to have happened. He threw himself down on his
knees and raised his hands toward heaven, the while he pleaded that
that which had happened might be as though it had not occurred. For a
long time he dragged himself along on his knees with his eyes
steadfastly fixed on the sky, as if afraid it might slip away from him
to escape his pleas, provided he did not keep it incessantly in his
eye. Then pictures of his happy time came floating toward him, more and
more in mist-like ranks. There were also pictures that rose in a sudden
glamor round about him, and others flitted by so indefinite, so
distant, that they were gone before he really knew what they were. He
sat silently in the snow, overcome by light and color, by light and
happiness, and the dark fear which he had had at first that something
would come and extinguish all this had gone. It was very still round
about him, a great peace was within him, the pictures had disappeared,
but happiness was here. A deep silence! There was not a sound, but
sounds were in the air. And there came laughter and song and low words
came and light and footsteps and dull sobbing of the beats of the
pumps. Moaning he ran away, ran long and far, came to the lake,
followed the shore, until he stumbled over the root of a tree, and then
he was so tired that he remained lying.
With a soft clucking sound the water ran over the small stones;
spasmodically there was a soft soughing among the barren limbs; now and
then a crow cawed above the lake; and morning threw its sharp bluish
gleam over forest and sea, over the snow, and over the pallid face.
At sunrise he was found by the ranger from the neighboring forest,
and carried up to the forester Nicolai; there he lay for weeks and days
between life and death.
* * *
About the time when Mogens was being carried up to Nicolai's, a
crowd collected around a carriage at the end of the street where the
councilor lived. The driver could not understand why the policeman
wanted to prevent him from carrying out his legitimate order, and on
that account they had an argument. It was the carriage which was to
take Camilla to her aunt's.
* * *
“No, since poor Camilla lost her life in that dreadful manner, we
have not seen anything of him!”
“Yes, it is curious, how much may lie hidden in a person. No one
would have suspected anything, so quiet and shy, almost awkward. Isn't
it so? You did not suspect anything?”
“About the sickness! How can you ask such a question! Oh, you
mean—I did not quite understand you—you mean it was in the blood,
something hereditary?—Oh, yes, I remember there was something like
that, they took his father to Aarhus. Wasn't it so, Mr. Carlsen?”
“No! Yes, but it was to bury him, his first wife is buried there.
No, what I was thinking of was the dreadful—yes, the dreadful life he
has been leading the last two or two and a half years.”
“Why no, really! I know nothing about that.”
“Well, you see, of course, it is of the things one doesn't like to
talk about. . . . You understand, of course, consideration for those
nearest. The councilor's family. . . .”
“Yes, there is a certain amount of justice in what you say—but on
the other hand—tell me quite frankly, isn't there at present a false,
a sanctimonious striving to veil, to cover up the weaknesses of our
fellow-men? As for myself I don't understand much about that sort of
thing, but don't you think that truth or public morals, I don't mean
this morality, but—morals, conditions, whatever you will, suffer under
“Of course, and I am very glad to be able to agree so with you, and
in this case . . . the fact simply is, that he has given himself to all
sorts of excesses. He has lived in the most disreputable manner with
the lowest dregs, people without honor, without conscience, without
position, religion, or anything else, with loafers, mountebanks,
drunkards, and—and to tell the truth with women of easy virtue.”
“And this after having been engaged to Camilla, good heavens, and
after having been down with brain-fever for three months!”
“Yes—and what tendencies doesn't this let us suspect, and who knows
what his past may have been, what do you think?”
“Yes, and heaven knows how things really were with him during the
time of their engagement? There always was something suspicious about
him. That is my opinion.
“Pardon me, and you, too, Mr. Carlsen, pardon me, but you look at
the whole affair in rather an abstract way, very abstractedly. By
chance I have in my possession a very concrete report from a friend in
Jutland, and can present the whole affair in all its details.”
“Mr. Ronholt, you don't mean to . . .?”
“To give details? Yes, that is what I intend. Mr. Carlsen, with the
lady's permission. Thank you! He certainly did not live as one should
live after a brain-fever. He knocked about from fair to fair with a
couple of boon-companions, and, it is said, was somewhat mixed up with
troupes of mountebanks, and especially with the women of the company.
Perhaps it would be wisest if I ran upstairs, and got my friend's
letter. Permit me. I'll be back in a moment.”
“Don't you think, Mr. Carlsen, that Ronholt is in a particularly
good humor to-day?”
“Yes, but you must not forget that he exhausted all his spleen on an
article in the morning paper. Imagine, to dare to maintain—why, that
is pure rebellion, contempt of law, for him. . . .”
“You found the letter?”
“Yes, I did. May I begin? Let me see, oh yes: 'Our mutual friend
whom we met last year at Monsted, and whom, as you say, you knew in
Copenhagen, has during the last months haunted the region hereabouts.
He looks just as he used to, he is the same pale knight of the
melancholy mien. He is the most ridiculous mixture of forced gayety and
silent hopelessness, he is affected—ruthless and brutal toward himself
and others. He is taciturn and a man of few words, and doesn't seem to
be enjoying himself at all, though he does nothing but drink and lead a
riotous life. It is as I have already said, as if he had a fixed idea
that he received a personal insult from destiny. His associates here
were especially a horse-dealer, called “Mug-sexton,” because he does
nothing but sing and drink all the time, and a disreputable, lanky,
over-grown cross between a sailor and peddler, known and feared under
the name of Peter “Rudderless,” to say nothing of the fair Abelone.
She, however, recently has had to give way to a brunette, belonging to
a troupe of mountebanks, which for some time has favored us with
performances of feats of strength and rope-dancing. You have seen this
kind of women with sharp, yellow, prematurely-aged faces, creatures
that are shattered by brutality, poverty, and miserable vices, and who
always over-dress in shabby velvet and dirty red. There you have his
crew. I don't understand our friend's passion. It is true that his
fiancee met with a horrible death, but that does not explain the
matter. I must still tell you how he left us. We had a fair a few miles
from here. He, “Rudderless,” the horse-dealer, and the woman sat in a
drinking-tent, dissipating until far into the night. At three o'clock
or thereabouts they were at last ready to leave. They got on the wagon,
and so far everything went all right; but then our mutual friend turns
off from the main road and drives with them over fields and heath, as
fast as the horses can go. The wagon is flung from one side to the
other. Finally things get too wild for the horse-dealer and he yells
that he wants to get down. After he has gotten off our mutual friend
whips up the horses again, arid drives straight at a large
heather-covered hill. The woman becomes frightened and jumps off, and
now up the hill they go and down on the other side at such a terrific
pace that it is a miracle the wagon did not arrive at the bottom ahead
of the horses. On the way up Peter had slipped from the wagon, and as
thanks for the ride he threw his big clasp-knife at the head of the
“The poor fellow, but this business of the woman is nasty.”
“Disgusting, madam, decidedly disgusting. Do you really think, Mr.
Ronholt, that this description puts the man in a better light?”
“No, but in a surer one; you know in the darkness things often seem
larger than they are.”
“Can you think of anything worse?”
“If not, then this is the worst, but you know one should never think
the worst of people.”
“Then you really mean, that the whole affair is not so bad, that
there is something bold in it, something in a sense eminently plebeian,
which pleases your liking for democracy.”
“Don't you see, that in respect to his environment his conduct is
“Aristocratic? No, that is lather paradoxical. If he is not a
democrat, then I really don't know what he is.”
“Well, there are still other designations.”
* * *
White alders, bluish lilac, red hawthorn, and radiant laburnum were
in flower and gave forth their fragrance in front of the house. The
windows were open and the blinds were drawn. Mogens leaned in over the
sill and the blinds lay on his back. It was grateful to the eye after
all the summer-sun on forest and water and in the air to look into the
subdued, soft, quiet light of a room. A tall woman of opulent figure
stood within, the back toward the window, and was putting flowers in a
large vase. The waist of her pink morning-gown was gathered high up
below, the bosom by a shining black leather-belt; on the floor behind
her lay a snow-white dressing-jacket; her abundant, very blond hair was
hanging in a bright-red net.
“You look rather pale after the celebration last night,” was the
first thing Mogens said.
“Good-morning,” she replied and held out without turning around her
hand with the flowers in it towards him. Mogens took one of the
flowers. Laura turned the head half towards him, opened her hand
slightly and let the flowers fall to the floor in little lots. Then she
again busied herself with the vase.
“Ill?” asked Mogens.
“I won't eat breakfast with you to-day.”
“We can't have dinner together either.”
“You are going fishing?”
“When are you coming back?”
“I am not coming back.”
“What do you mean by that?” she asked arranging her gown; she went
to the window, and there sat down on the chair.
“I am tired of you. That's all.”
“Now you are spiteful, what's the matter with you? What have I done
“Nothing, but since we are neither married nor madly in love with
each other, I don't see anything very strange in the fact, that I am
going my own way.”
“Are you jealous?” she asked very softly.
“Of one like you! I haven't lost my senses!”
“But what is the meaning of all this?”
“It means that I am tired of your beauty, that I know your voice and
your gestures by heart, and that neither your whims nor your stupidity
nor your craftiness can any longer entertain me. Can you tell me then
why I should stay?”
Laura wept. “Mogens, Mogens, how can you have the heart to do this?
Oh, what shall I, shall I, shall I, shall I do! Stay only today, only
to-day, Mogens. You dare not go away from me!”
“Those are lies, Laura, you don't even believe it yourself. It is
not because you think such a terrible lot of me, that you are
distressed now. You are only a little bit alarmed because of the
change, you are frightened because of the slight disarrangement of your
daily habits. I am thoroughly familiar with that, you are not the first
one I have gotten tired of.”
“Oh, stay with me only to-day, I won't torment you to stay a single
“You really are dogs, you women! You haven't a trace of fine
feelings in your body. If one gives you a kick, you come crawling back
“Yes, yes, that's what we do, but stay only for to-day—won't
“Stay, stay! No!”
“You have never loved me, Mogens!”
“Yes, you did; you loved me the day when there was such a violent
wind, oh, that beautiful day down at the sea-shore, when we sat in the
shelter of the boat.”
“If I only were a respectable girl with fine parents, and not such a
one as I am, then you would stay with me; then you would not have the
heart to be so hard—and I, who love you so!”
“Oh, don't bother about that.”
“No, I am like the dust beneath your feet, you care no more for me.
Not one kind word, only hard words; contempt, that is good enough for
“The others are neither better nor worse than you. Good-by, Laura!”
He held out his hand to her, but she kept hers on her back and
wailed: “No, no, not good-by! not good-by!”
Mogens raised the blind, stepped back a couple of paces and let it
fall down in front of the window. Laura quickly leaned down over the
window-sill beneath it and begged: “Come to me! come and give me your
When he had gone a short distance she cried plaintively:
He turned towards the house with a slight greeting. Then he walked
on: “And a girl like that still believes in love!—no, she does not!”
* * *
The evening wind blew from the ocean over the land, the strand-grass
swung its pale spikes to and fro and raised its pointed leaves a
little, the rushes bowed down, the water of the lake was darkened by
thousands of tiny furrows, and the leaves of the water-lilies tugged
restlessly at their stalks. Then the dark tops of the heather began to
nod, and on the fields of sand the sorrel swayed unsteadily to and fro.
Towards the land! The stalks of oats bowed downward, and the young
clover trembled on the stubble-fields, and the wheat rose and fell in
heavy billows; the roofs groaned, the mill creaked, its wings swung
about, the smoke was driven back into the chimneys, and the
window-panes became covered with moisture.
There was a swishing of wind in the gable-windows, in the poplars of
the manor-house; the wind whistled through tattered bushes on the green
hill of Bredbjerg. Mogens lay up there, and gazed out over the dark
earth. The moon was beginning to acquire radiance, and mists were
drifting down on the meadow. Everything was very sad, all of life, all
of life, empty behind him, dark before him. But such was life. Those
who were happy were also blind. Through misfortune he had learned to
see; everything was full of injustice and lies, the entire earth was a
huge, rotting lie; faith, friendship, mercy, a lie it was, a lie was
each and everything; but that which was called love, it was the
hollowest of all hollow things, it was lust, flaming lust, glimmering
lust, smoldering lust, but lust and nothing else. Why had he to know
this? Why had he not been permitted to hold fast to his faith in all
these gilded lies? Why was he compelled to see while the others
remained blind? He had a right to blindness, he had believed in
everything in which it was possible to believe.
Down in the village the lights were being lit.
Down there home stood beside home. My home! my home! And my
childhood's belief in everything beautiful in the world.—And what if
they were right, the others! If the world were full of beating hearts
and the heavens full of a loving God! But why do I not know that, why
do I know something different? And I do know something different,
cutting, bitter, true . . .
He rose; fields and meadows lay before him bathed in moonlight. He
went down into the village, along the way past the garden of the
manor-house; he went and looked over the stone-wall. Within on a
grass-plot in the garden stood a silver poplar, the moonlight fell
sharply on the quivering leaves; sometimes they showed their dark side,
sometimes their white. He placed his elbows on the wall and stared at
the tree; it looked as if the leaves were running in a fine rain down
the limbs. He believed, that he was hearing the sound which the foliage
produced. Suddenly the lovely voice of a woman became audible quite
“Flower in dew! Flower in dew!
Whisper to me thy dreams, thine own.
Does in them lie the same strange air
The same wonderful elfin air,
As in mine own?
Are they filled with whispers and sobbing and sighing
Amid radiance slumbering and fragrances dying,
Amid trembling ringing, amid rising singing:
Then silence fell again. Mogens diew a long breath and listened
intently: no more singing; up in the house a door was heard. Now he
clearly heard the sound from the leaves of the silver poplar. He bowed
his head in his arms and wept.
The next day was one of those in which late summer is rich. A day
with a brisk, cool wind, with many large swiftly flying clouds, with
everlasting alternations of darkness and light, according as the clouds
drift past the sun. Mogens had gone up to the cemetery, the garden of
the manor abutted on it. Up there it looked rather barren, the grass
had recently been cut; behind an old quadrangular iron-fence stood a
wide-spreading, low elder with waving foliage. Some of the graves had
wooden frames around them, most were only low, quadrangular hills; a
few of them had metal-pieces with inscriptions on them, others wooden
crosses from which the colors had peeled, others had wax wreaths, the
greater number had nothing at all. Mogens wandered about hunting for a
sheltered place, but the wind seemed to blow on all sides of the
church. He threw himself down near the embankment, drew a book out of
his pocket; but he did not get on with his reading; every time when a
cloud went past the sun, it seemed to him as though it were growing
chilly, and he thought of getting up, but then the light came again and
he remained lying. A young girl came slowly along the way, a greyhound
and a pointer ran playfully ahead of her. She stopped and it seemed as
if she wanted to sit down, but when she saw Mogens she continued her
walk diagonally across the cemetery out through the gate. Mogens rose
and looked after her; she walked down on the main road, the dogs still
played. Then he began reading the inscription on one of the graves; it
quickly made him smile. Suddenly a shadow fell across the grave and
remained lying there, Mogens looked sideways. A tanned, young man stood
there, one hand in his game-bag, in the other he held his gun.
“It isn't really half bad,” he said, indicating the inscription.
“No,” said Mogens and straightened up from his bent position.
“Tell me,” continued the hunter, and looked to the side, as if
seeking something, “you have been here for a couple of days, and I have
been going about wondering about you, but up to the present didn't come
near you. You go and drift about so alone, why haven't you looked in on
us? And what in the world do you do to kill the time? For you haven't
any business in the neighborhood, have you?”
“No, I am staying here for pleasure.”
“There isn't much of that here,” the stranger exclaimed and laughed,
“don't you shoot? Wouldn't you like to come with me? Meanwhile I have
to go down to the inn and get some small shot, and while you are
getting ready, I can go over, and call down the blacksmith. Well! Will
“Yes, with pleasure.”
“Oh, by the way,—Thora! haven't you seen a girl?” he jumped up on
“Yes, there she is, she is my cousin, I can't introduce you to her,
but come along, let us follow her; we made a wager, now you can he the
judge. She was to be in the cemetery with the dogs and I was to pass
with gun and game-bag, but was not to call or to whistle, and if the
dogs nevertheless went with me she would lose; now we will see.”
After a little while they overtook the lady; the hunter looked
straight ahead, but could not help smiling; Mogens bowed when they
passed. The dogs looked in surprise after the hunter and growled a bit;
then they looked up at the lady and barked, she wanted to pat them, but
indifferently they walked away from her and barked after the hunter.
Step by step they drew further and further away from her, squinted at
her, and then suddenly darted off after the hunter. And when they
reached him, they were quite out of control; they jumped up on him and
rushed off in every direction and back again.
“You lose,” he called out to her; she nodded smilingly, turned round
and went on.
They hunted till late in the afternoon. Mogens and William got along
famously and Mogens had to promise that he would come to the
manor-house in the evening. This he did, and later he came almost every
day, but in spite of all the cordial invitations he continued living at
Now came a restless period for Mogens. At first Thora's proximity
brought back to life all his sad and gloomy memories. Often he had
suddenly to begin a conversation with one of the others or leave, so
that his emotion might not completely master him. She was not at all
like Camilla, and yet he heard and saw only Camilla. Thora was small,
delicate, and slender, roused easily to laughter, easily to tears, and
easily to enthusiasm. If for a longer time she spoke seriously with
some one, it was not like a drawing near, but rather as if she
disappeared within her own self. If some one explained something to her
or developed an idea, her face, her whole figure expressed the most
intimate trust and now and again, perhaps, also expectancy. William and
his little sister did not treat her quite like a comrade, but yet not
like a stranger either. The uncle and the aunt, the farm-hands, the
maid-servants, and the peasants of the neighborhood all paid court to
her, but very carefully, and almost timidly. In respect to her they
were almost like a wanderer in the forest, who sees close beside him
one of those tiny, graceful song-birds with very clear eyes and light,
captivating movements. He is enraptured by this tiny, living creature,
he would so much like to have it come closer and closer, but he does
not care to move, scarcely to take breath, lest it may be frightened
and fly away.
As Mogens saw Thora more and more frequently, memories came more and
more rarely, and he began to see her as she was. It was a time of peace
and happiness when he was with her, full of silent longing and quiet
sadness when he did not see her. Later he told her of Camilla and of
his past life, and it was almost with surprise that he looked back upon
himself. Sometimes it seemed inconceivable to him that it was he who
had thought, felt, and done all the strange things of which he told.
On an evening he and Thora stood on a height in the garden, and
watched the sunset. William and his little sister were playing
hide-and-seek around the hill. There were thousands of light, delicate
colors, hundreds of strong radiant ones. Mogens turned away from them
and looked at the dark figure by his side. How insignificant it looked
in comparison with all this glowing splendor; he sighed, and looked up
again at the gorgeously colored clouds. It was not like a real thought,
but it came vague and fleeting, existed for a second and disappeared;
it was as if it had been the eye that thought it.
“The elves in the green hill are happy now that the sun has gone
down,” said Thora.
“Don't you know that elves love darkness?”
“You don't believe in elves, but you should. It is beautiful to
believe in all that, in gnomes and elves. I believe in mermaids too,
and elder-women, but goblins! What can one do with goblins and
three-legged horses? Old Mary gets angry when I tell her this; for to
believe what I believe, she says is not God-fearing. Such things have
nothing to do with people, but warnings and spirits are in the gospel,
too. What do you say?”
“I, oh, I don't know—what do you really mean?”
“You surely don't love nature?”
“But, quite the contrary.”
“I don't mean nature, as you see it from benches placed where there
is a fine view on hills up which they have built steps; where it is
like a set scene, but nature every day, always.”
“Just so! I can take joy in every leaf, every twig, every beam of
light, every shadow. There isn't a hill so barren, nor a turf-pit so
square, nor a road so monotonous, that I cannot for a moment fall in
love with it.”
“But what joy can you take in a tree or a bush, if you don't imagine
that a living being dwells within it, that opens and closes the flowers
and smooths the leaves? When you see a lake, a deep, clear lake, don't
you love it for this reason, that you imagine creatures living deep,
deep down below, that have their own joys and sorrows, that have their
own strange life with strange yearnings? And what, for instance, is
there beautiful about the green hill of Berdbjerg, if you don't
imagine, that inside very tiny creatures swarm and buzz, and sigh when
the sun rises, but begin to dance and play with their beautiful
treasure-troves, as soon as evening comes.”
“How wonderfully beautiful that is! And you see that?”
“Yes, I can't explain it, but there is something in the color, in
the movements, and in the shapes, and then in the life which lives in
them; in the sap which rises in trees and flowers, in the sun and rain
that make them grow, in the sand which blows together in hills, and in
the showers of rain that furrow and fissure the hillsides. Oh, I cannot
understand this at all, when I am to explain it.”
“And that is enough for you?”
“Oh, more than enough sometimes—much too much! And when shape and
color and movement are so lovely and so fleeting and a strange world
lies behind all this and lives and rejoices and desires and can express
all this in voice and song, then you feel so lonely, that you cannot
come closer to this world, and life grows lusterless and burdensome.”
“No, no, you must not think of your fiancee in that way.”
“Oh, I am not thinking of her.”
William and his sister came up to them, and together they went into
* * *
On a morning several days later Mogens and Thora were walking in the
garden. He was to look at the grape-vine nursery, where he had not yet
been. It was a rather long, but not very high hothouse. The sun
sparkled and played over the glass-roof. They entered, the air was warm
and moist, and had a peculiar heavy aromatic odor as of earth that has
just been turned. The beautiful incised leaves and the heavy dewy
grapes were resplendent and luminous under the sunlight. They spread
out beneath the glass-cover in a great green field of blessedness.
Thora stood there and happily looked upward; Mogens was restless and
stared now and then unhappily at her, and then up into the foliage.
“Listen,” Thora said gayly, “I think, I am now beginning to
understand what you said the other day on the hill about form and
“And you understood nothing besides?” Mogens asked softly and
“No,” she whispered, looked quickly at him, dropped the glance, and
grew red, “not then.”
“Not then,” Mogens repeated softly and kneeled down before her, “but
now, Thora?” She bent down toward him, gave him one of her hands, and
covered her eyes with the other and wept. Mogens pressed the hand
against his breast, as he rose; she lifted her head, and he kissed her
on the forehead. She looked up at him with radiant, moist eyes, smiled
and whispered: “Heaven be praised!”
Mogens stayed another week. The arrangement was that the wedding was
to take place in midsummer. Then he left, and winter came with dark
days, long nights, and a snowstorm of letters.
* * *
All the windows of the manor-house were lighted, leaves and flowers
were above every door, friends and acquaintances in a dense crowd stood
on the large stone stairway, all looking out into the dusk.— Mogens
had driven off with his bride.
The carriage rumbled and rumbled. The closed windows rattled. Thora
sat and looked out of one of them, at the ditch of the highway, at the
smith's hill where primroses blossomed in spring, at Bertel Nielsen's
huge elderberry bushes, at the mill and the miller's geese, and the
hill of Dalum where not many years ago she and William slid down on
sleighs, at the Dalum meadows, at the long, unnatural shadows of the
horses that rushed over the gravel-heaps, over the turf-pits and
rye-field. She sat there and wept very softly; from time to time when
wiping the dew from the pane, she looked stealthily over towards
Mogens. He sat bowed forward, his traveling-cloak was open, his hat lay
and rocked on the front seat; his hands he held in front of his face.
All the things he had to think of! It had almost robbed him of his
courage. She had had to say good-by to all her relatives and friends
and to an infinity of places, where memories lay ranged in strata, one
above the other, right up to the sky, and all this so that she might go
away with him. And was he the right sort of a man to place all one's
trust in, he with his past of brutalities and debaucheries! It was not
even certain that all this was merely his past. He had changed, it is
true, and he found it difficult to understand what he himself had been.
But one never can wholly escape from one's self, and what had been
surely still was there. And now this innocent child had been given him
to guard and protect. He had managed to get himself into the mire till
over his head, and doubtless he would easily succeed in drawing her
down into it too. No, no, it shall not be thus—no, she is to go on
living her clear, bright girl's life in spite of him. And the carriage
rattled and rattled. Darkness had set in, and here and there he saw
through the thickly covered panes, lights in the houses and yards past
which they drove. Thora slumbered. Toward morning they came to their
new home, an estate that Mogens had bought. The horses steamed in the
chill morning air; the sparrows twittered on the huge linden in the
court, and the smoke rose slowly from the chimneys. Thora looked
smiling and contented at all this after Mogens had helped her out of
the carriage; but there was no other way about, she was sleepy and too
tired to conceal it. Mogens took her to her room and then went into the
garden, sat down on a bench, and imagined that he was watching the
sunrise, but he nodded too violently to keep up the deception. About
noon he and Thora met again, happy and refreshed. They had to look at
things and express their surprise; they consulted and made decisions;
they made the absurdest suggestions; and how Thora struggled to look
wise and interested when the cows were introduced to her; and how
difficult it was not to be all too unpractically enthusiastic over a
small shaggy young dog; and how Mogens talked of drainage and the price
of grain, while he stood there and in his heart wondered how Thora
would look with red poppies in her hair! And in the evening, when they
sat in their conservatory and the moon so clearly drew the outline of
the windows on the floor, what a comedy they played, he on his part
seriously representing to her that she should go to sleep, really go to
sleep, since she must be tired, the while he continued to hold her hand
in his; and she on her part, when she declared he was disagreeable and
wanted to be rid of her, that he regretted having taken a wife. Then a
reconciliation, of course, followed, and they laughed, and the hour
grew late. Finally Thora went to her room, but Mogens remained sitting
in the conservatory, miserable that she had gone. He drew black
imaginings for himself, that she was dead and gone, and that he was
sitting here all alone in the world and weeping over her, and then he
really wept. At length he became angry at himself and stalked up and
down the floor, and wanted to be sensible. There was a love, pure and
noble, without any coarse, earthly passion; yes, there was, and if
there was not, there was going to be one. Passion spoiled everything,
and it was very ugly and unhuman. How he hated everything in human
nature that was not tender and pure, fine and gentle! He had been
subjugated, weighed down, tormented, by this ugly and powerful force;
it had lain in his eyes and ears, it had poisoned all his thoughts.
He went to his room. He intended to read and took a book; he read,
but had not the slightest notion what—could anything have happened to
her! No, how could it? But nevertheless he was afraid, possibly there
might have—no, he could no longer stand it. He stole softly to her
door; no, everything was still and peaceful. When he listened intently
it seemed as if he could hear her breathing—how his heart throbbed, it
seemed, he could hear it too. He went back to his room and his book. He
closed his eyes; how vividly he saw her; he heard her voice, she bent
down toward him and whispered—how he loved her, loved her, loved her!
It was like a song within him; it seemed as if his thoughts took on
rhythmic form, and how clearly he could see everything of which he
thought! Still and silent she lay and slept, her arm beneath the neck,
her hair loosened, her eyes were closed, she breathed very softly—the
air trembled within, it was red like the reflection of roses. Like a
clumsy faun, imitating the dance of the nymphs, so the bed-cover with
its awkward folds outlined her delicate form. No, no, he did not want
to think of her, not in that way, for nothing in all the world, no; and
now it all came back again, it could not be kept away, but he would
keep it away, away! And it came and went, came and went, until sleep
seized him, and the night passed.
* * *
When the sun had set on the evening of the next day, they walked
about together in the garden. Arm in arm they walked very slowly and
very silently up one path and down the other, out of the fragrance of
mignonettes through that of roses into that of jasmine. A few moths
fluttered past them; out in the grain-field a wild duck called,
otherwise most of the sounds came from Thora's silk dress.
“How silent we can be,” exclaimed Thora.
“And how we can walk!” Mogens continued, “we must have walked about
four miles by now.”
Then they walked again for a while and were silent.
“Of what are you thinking now?” she asked.
“I am thinking of myself.”
“That's just what I am doing.”
“Are you also thinking of yourself?”
“No, of yourself—of you, Mogens.”
He drew her closer. They were going up to the conservatory. The door
was open; it was very light in there, and the table with the
snowy-white cloth, the silver dish with the dark red strawberries, the
shining silver pot and the chandelier gave quite a festive impression.
“It is as in the fairy-tale, where Hansel and Gretel come to the
cake-house out in the wood,” Thora said.
“Do you want to go in?”
“Oh, you quite forget, that in there dwells a witch, who wants to
put us unhappy little children into an oven and eat us. No, it is much
better that we resist the sugar-panes and the pancake-roof, take each
other by the hand, and go back into the dark, dark wood.”
They walked away from the conservatory. She leaned closely toward
Mogens and continued: “It may also be the palace of the Grand Turk and
you are the Arab from the desert who wants to carry me off, and the
guard is pursuing us; the curved sabers flash, and we run and run, but
they have taken your horse, and then they take us along and put us into
a big bag, and we are in it together and are drowned in the sea.—Let
me see, or might it be . . .?”
“Why might it not be, what it is?”
“Well, it might be that, but it is not enough. ... If you knew how I
love you, but I am so unhappy—I don't know what it is—there is such a
great distance between us—no—”
She flung her arms round his neck and kissed him passionately and
pressed her burning cheek against his:
“I don't know how it is, but sometimes I almost wish that you beat
me—I know it is childish, and that I am very happy, very happy, and
yet I feel so unhappy!”
She laid her head on his breast and wept, and then she began while
her tears were still streaming, to sing, at first very gently, but then
louder and louder:
In longing! live!”
“My own little wife!” and he lifted her up in his arms and carried
In the morning he stood beside her bed. The light came faintly and
subdued through the drawn blinds. It softened all the lines in the room
and made all the colors seem sated and peaceful. It seemed to Mogens as
if the air rose and fell with her bosom in gentle rarifications. Her
head rested a little sidewise on the pillow, her hair fell over her
white brow, one of her cheeks was a brighter red than the other, now
and then there was a faint quivering in the calmly-arched eyelids, and
the lines of her mouth undulated imperceptibly between unconscious
seriousness and slumbering smiles. Mogens stood for a long time and
looked at her, happy and quiet. The last shadow of his past had
disappeared. Then he stole away softly and sat down in the living-room
and waited for her in silence. He had sat there for a while, when he
felt her head on his shoulder and her cheek against his.
* * *
They went out together into the freshness of the morning. The
sunlight was jubilant above the earth, the dew sparkled, flowers that
had awakened early gleamed, a lark sang high up beneath the sky,
swallows flew swiftly through the air. He and she walked across the
green field toward the hill with the ripening rye; they followed the
footpath which led over there. She went ahead, very slowly and looked
back over her shoulder toward him, and they talked and laughed. The
further they descended the hill, the more the grain intervened, soon
they could no longer be seen.
THE PLAGUE IN BERGAMO
Old Bergamo lay on the summit of a low mountain, hedged in by walls
and gates, and New Bergamo lay at the foot of the mountain, exposed to
One day the plague broke out in the new town and spread at a
terrific speed; a multitude of people died and the others fled across
the plains to all four corners of the world. And the citizens in Old
Bergamo set fire to the deserted town in order to purify the air, but
it did no good. People began dying up there too, at first one a day,
then five, then ten, then twenty, and when the plague had reached its
height, a great many more.
And they could not flee as those had done, who lived in the new
There were some, who tried it, but they led the life of a hunted
animal, hid in ditches and sewers, under hedges, and in the green
fields; for the peasants, into whose homes in many places the first
fugitives had brought the plague, stoned every stranger they came
across, drove him from their lands, or struck him down like a mad dog
without mercy or pity, in justifiable self-defense, as they believed.
The people of Old Bergamo had to stay where they were, and day by
day it grew hotter; and day by day the gruesome disease became more
voracious and more grasping. Terror grew to madness. What there had
been of order and good government was as if the earth had swallowed it,
and what was worst in human nature came in its stead.
At the very beginning when the plague broke out people worked
together in harmony and concord. They took care that the corpses were
duly and properly buried, and every day saw to it that big bonfires
were lighted in squares and open places so that the healthful smoke
might drift through the streets. Juniper and vinegar were distributed
among the poor, and above all else, the people sought the churches
early and late, alone and in processions. Every day they went with
their prayers before God and every day when the sun was setting behind
the mountains, all the churchbells called wailingly towards heaven from
hundreds of swinging throats. Fasts were ordered and every day holy
relics were set out on the altars.
At last one day when they did not know what else to do, from the
balcony of the town hall, amid the sound of trumpets and horns, they
proclaimed the Holy Virgin, podesta or lordmayor of the town now and
But all this did not help; there was nothing that helped.
And when the people felt this and the belief grew stronger that
heaven either would not or could not help, they not only let their
hands lie idly in the lap, saying, “Let there come what may.” Nay, it
seemed, as if sin had grown from a secret, stealthy disease into a
wicked, open, raging plague, which hand in hand with the physical
contagion sought to slay the soul as the other strove to destroy the
body, so incredible were their deeds, so enormous their depravity! The
air was filled with blasphemy and impiety, with the groans of the
gluttons and the howling of drunkards. The wildest night hid not
greater debauchery than was here committed in broad daylight.
“To-day we shall eat, for to-morrow we die!”—It was as if they had
set these words to music, and played on manifold instruments a
never-ending hellish concert. Yea, if all sins had not already been
invented, they would have been invented here, for there was no road
they would not have followed in their wickedness. The most unnatural
vices flourished among them, and even such rare sins as necromancy,
magic, and exorcism were familiar to them, for there were many who
hoped to obtain from the powers of evil the protection which heaven had
not vouchsafed them.
Whatever had to do with mutual assistance or pity had vanished from
their minds; each one had thoughts only for himself. He who was sick
was looked upon as a common foe, and if it happened that any one was
unfortunate enough to fall down on the street, exhausted by the first
fever-paroxysm of the plague, there was no door that opened to him, but
with lance-pricks and the casting of stones they forced him to drag
himself out of the way of those who were still healthy.
And day by day the plague increased, the summer's sun blazed down
upon the town, not a drop of rain fell, not the faintest breeze
stirred. From corpses that lay rotting in the houses and from corpses
that were only half-buried in the earth, there was engendered a
suffocating stench which mingled with the stagnant air of the streets
and attracted swarms and clouds of ravens and crows until the walls and
roofs were black with them. And round about the wall encircling the
town sat strange, large, outlandish birds from far away with beaks
eager for spoil and expectantly crooked claws; and they sat there and
looked down with their tranquil greedy eyes as if only waiting for the
unfortunate town to turn into one huge carrion-pit.
It was just eleven weeks since the plague had broken out, when the
watchman in the tower and other people who were standing in high places
saw a strange procession wind from the plain into the streets of the
new town between the smoke-blackened stone walls and the black
ash-heaps of the wooden houses. A multitude of people! At least, six
hundred or more, men and women, old and young, and they carried big
black crosses between them and above their heads floated wide banners,
red as fire and blood. They sing as they are moving onward and
heartrending notes of despair rise up into the silent sultry air.
Brown, gray, and black are their clothes, but all wear a red badge
on their breast. A cross it proves to be, as they draw nearer. For all
the time they are drawing nearer. They press upward along the steep
road, flanked by walls, which leads up to the old town. It is a throng
of white faces; they carry scourges in their hands. On their red
banners a rain of fire is pictured. And the black crosses sway from one
side to the other in the crowd.
From the dense mass there rises a smell of sweat, of ashes, of the
dust of the roadway, and of stale incense.
They no longer sing, neither do they speak, nothing is audible but
the tramping, herd-like sound of their naked feet.
Face after face plunges into the darkness of the tower-gate, and
emerges into the light on the other side with a dazed, tired expression
and half-closed lids.
Then the singing begins again: a miserere; they grasp their scourges
more firmly and walk with a brisker step as if to a war-song.
They look as if they came from a famished city, their cheeks are
hollow, their bones stand out, their lips are bloodless, and they have
dark rings beneath their eyes.
The people of Bergamo have flocked together and watch them with
amazement—and uneasiness. Red dissipated faces stand contrasted with
these pale white ones; dull glances exhausted by debauchery are lowered
before these piercing, flaming eyes; mocking blasphemers stand
open-mouthed before these hymns.
And there is blood on their scourges.
A feeling of strange uneasiness filled the people at the sight of
But it did not take long, however, before they shook off this
impression. Some of them recognized a half-crazy shoemaker from Brescia
among those who bore crosses, and immediately the whole mob through him
became a laughingstock. Anyhow, it was something new, a distraction
amid the everyday, and when the strangers marched toward the cathedral,
everybody followed behind as they would have followed a band of
jugglers or a tame bear.
But as they pushed their way forward they became embittered; they
felt so matter-of-fact in comparison with the solemnity of these
people. They understood very well, that those shoemakers and tailors
had come here to convert them, to pray for them, and to utter the words
which they did not wish to hear. There were two lean, gray-haired
philosophers who had elaborated impiety into a system; they incited the
people, and out of the malice of their hearts stirred their passions,
so that with each step as they neared the church the attitude of the
crowd became more threatening and their cries of anger wilder. It would
not have taken much to have made them lay violent hands on those
unknown flagellants. Not a hundred steps from the church entrance, the
door of a tavern was thrown open, and a whole flock of carousers
tumbled out, one on top of the other. They placed themselves at the
head of the procession and led the way, singing and bellowing with
grotesquely solemn gestures—all except one who turned handsprings
right up the grass-grown stones of the church-steps. This, of course,
caused laughter, and so all entered peacefully into the sanctuary.
It seemed strange to be here again, to pass through this great cool
space, in this atmosphere pungent with the smell of old drippings from
wax candles—across the sunken flag-stones which their feet knew so
well and over these stones whose worn-down designs and bright
inscriptions had so often caused their thoughts to grow weary. And
while their eyes half-curiously, half-unwillingly sought rest in the
gently subdued light underneath the vaults or glided over the dim
manifoldness of the gold-dust and smoke-stained colors, or lost
themselves in the strange shadows of the altar, there rose in their
hearts a longing which could not be suppressed.
In the meantime those from the tavern continued their scandalous
behavior upon the high altar. A huge, massive butcher among them, a
young man, had taken off his white apron and tied it around his neck,
so that it hung down his back like a surplice, and he celebrated mass
with the wildest and maddest words, full of obscenity and blasphemy. An
oldish little fellow with a fat belly, active and nimble in spite of
his weight, with a face like a skinned pumpkin was the sacristan and
responded with the most frivolous refrains. He kneeled down and
genuflected and turned his back to the altar and rang the bell as
though it were a jester's and swung the censer round like a wheel. The
others lay drunk on the steps at full length, bellowing with laughter
and hiccoughing with drunkenness.
The whole church laughed and howled and mocked at the strangers.
They called out to them to pay close attention so that they might know
what the people thought of their God, here in Old Bergamo. For it was
not so much their wish to insult God that made them rejoice in the
tumult; but they felt satisfaction in knowing that each of their
blasphemies was a sting in the hearts of these holy people.
They stopped in the center of the nave and groaned with pain, their
hearts boiling with hatred and vengeance. They lifted their eyes and
hands to God, and prayed that His vengeance might fall because of the
mock done to Him here in His own house. They would gladly go to
destruction together with these fool-hardy, if only He would show His
might. Joyously they would let themselves be crushed beneath His heel,
if only He would triumph, that cries of terror, despair, and
repentance, that were too late, might rise up toward Him from these
And they struck up a miserere. Every note of it sounded like a cry
for the rain of fire that overwhelmed Sodom, for the strength which
Samson possessed when he pulled down the columns in the house of the
Philistines. They prayed with song and with words; they denuded their
shoulders and prayed with their scourges. They lay kneeling row after
row, stripped to their waist, and swung the sharp-pointed and knotted
cords down on their bleeding backs. Wildly and madly they beat
themselves so that the blood clung in drops on their hissing whips.
Every blow was a sacrifice to God. Would that they might beat
themselves in still another way, would that they might tear themselves
into a thousand bloody shreds here before His eyes! This body with
which they had sinned against His commandments had to be punished,
tortured, annihilated, that He might see how hateful it was to them,
that He might see how they became like unto dogs in order to please
Him, lower than dogs before His will, the lowliest of vermin that ate
the dust beneath the soles of His feet! Blow upon blow—until their
arms dropped or until cramps turned them to knots. There they lay row
on row with eyes gleaming with madness, with foam round their mouths,
the blood trickling down their flesh.
And those who watched this suddenly felt their hearts throb, noticed
how hotness rose into their cheeks and how their breathing grew
difficult. It seemed as if something cold was growing out beneath their
scalps, and their knees grew weak. It seized hold of them; in their
brains was a little spot of madness which understood this frenzy.
To feel themselves the slaves of a harsh and powerful deity, to
thrust themselves down before His feet; to be His, not in gentle piety,
not in the inactivity of silent prayer, but madly, in a frenzy of
self-humiliation, in blood, and wailing, beneath wet gleaming
scourges—this they were capable of understanding. Even the butcher
became silent, and the toothless philosophers lowered their gray heads
before the eyes that roved about.
And it became quite still within the church; only a slight wave-like
motion swept through the mob.
Then one from among the strangers, a young monk, rose up and spoke.
He was pale as a sheet of linen, his black eyes glowed like coals,
which are just going to die out, and the gloomy, pain-hardened lines
around his mouth were as if carven in wood with a knife, and not like
the folds in the face of a human being.
He raised his thin, sickly hands toward heaven in prayer, and the
sleeves of his robe slipped down over his lean, white arms.
Then he spoke.
Of hell he spoke, that it is infinite as heaven is infinite, of the
lonely world of torments which each one of the condemned must endure
and fill with his wails. Seas of sulphur were there, fields of
scorpions, flames that wrap themselves round a person like a cloak, and
silent flames that have hardened and plunged into the body like a spear
twisted round in a wound.
It was quite still; breathlessly they listened to his words, for he
spoke as if he had seen it with his own eyes, and they asked
themselves: is he one of the condemned, sent up to us from the caverns
of hell to bear witness before us?
Then he preached for a long time concerning the law and the power of
the law, that its every title must be fulfilled, and that every
transgression of which they were guilty would be counted against them
by grain and ounce. “But Christ died for our sins, say ye, and we are
no longer subject to the law. But I say unto you, hell will not be
cheated of a single one of you, and not a single iron tooth of the
torture wheel of hell shall pass beside your flesh. You build upon the
cross of Golgotha, come, come! Come and look at it! I shall lead you
straight to its foot. It was on a Friday, as you know, that they thrust
Him out of one of their gates and laid the heavier end of a cross upon
His shoulders. They made Him bear it to a barren and unfruitful hill
without the city, and in crowds they followed Him, whirling up the dust
with their many feet so that it seemed a red cloud was over the place.
And they tore the garments from Him and bared His body, as the lords of
the law have a malefactor exposed before the eyes of all, so that all
may see the flesh that is to be committed to torture. And they flung
Him on the cross and stretched Him out and they drove a nail of iron
through each of His resistant hands and a nail through His crossed
feet. With clubs they struck the nails till they were in to the heads.
And they raised upright the cross in a hole in the ground, but it would
not stand firm and straight, and they moved it from one side to the
other, and drove wedges and posts all around, and those who did this
pulled down the brims of their hats so that the blood from His hands
might not drop into their eyes. And He on the cross looked down on the
soldiers, who were casting lots for His unstitched garment and down on
the whole turbulent mob, for whose sake He suffered, that they might be
saved; and in all the multitude there was not one pitiful eye.
“And those below looked up toward Him, who hung there suffering and
weak; they looked at the tablet above His head, whereon was written
'King of the Jews,' and they reviled Him and called out to Him: 'Thou
that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save
thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.' Then He,
the only begotten Son of God was taken with anger, and saw that they
were not worthy of salvation, these mobs that fill the earth. He tore
free His feet over the heads of the nails, and He clenched His hands
round the nails and tore them out, so that the arms of the cross bent
like a bow. Then He leaped down upon the earth and snatched up His
garment so that the dice rolled down the slope of Golgotha, and flung
it round himself with the wrath of a king and ascended into heaven. And
the cross stood empty, and the great work of redemption was never
fulfilled. There is no mediator between God and us; there is no Jesus
who died for us on the cross; there is no Jesus who died for us on the
cross, there is no Jesus who died for us on the cross!”
He was silent.
As he uttered the last words he leaned forward over the multitude
and with his lips and hands hurled the last words over their heads. A
groan of agony went through the church, and in the corners they had
begun to sob.
Then the butcher pushed forward with raised, threatening hands, pale
as a corpse, and shouted: “Monk, monk, you must nail Him on the cross
again, you must!” and behind him there was a hoarse, hissing sound:
“Yea, yea, crucify, crucify Him!” And from all mouths, threatening,
beseeching, peremptory, rose a storm of cries up to the vaulted roof:
“Crucify, crucify Him!”
And clear and serene a single quivering voice: “Crucify Him!”
But the monk looked down over this wave of outstretched hands, upon
these distorted faces with the dark openings of screaming lips, where
rows of teeth gleamed white like the teeth of enraged beasts of prey,
and in a moment of ecstasy he spread out his arms toward heaven and
laughed. Then he stepped down, and his people raised their banners with
the rain of fire and their empty black crosses, and crowded their way
out of the church and again passed singing across the square and again
through the opening of the tower-gate.
And those of Old Bergamo stared after them, as they went down the
mountain. The steep road, lined by walls, was misty in the light of the
sun setting beyond the plain, but on the red wall encircling the city
the shadows of the great crosses which swayed from side to side in the
crowd stood out black and sharply outlined.
Further away sounded the singing; one or another of the banners
still gleamed red out of the new town's smoke-blackened void; then they
disappeared in the sun-lit plain.
THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN ROSES
There should have been roses
Of the large, pale yellow ones.
And they should hang in abundant clusters over the garden-wall,
scattering their tender leaves carelessly down into the wagon-tracks on
the road: a distinguished glimmer of all the exuberant wealth of
And they should have the delicate, fleeting fragrance of roses,
which cannot be seized and is like that of unknown fruits of which the
senses tell legends in their dreams.
Or should they have been red, the roses?
They might be of the small, round, hardy roses, and they would have
to hang down in slender twining branches with smooth leaves, red and
fresh, and like a salutation or a kiss thrown to the wanderer, who is
walking, tired and dusty, in the middle of the road, glad that he now
is only half a mile from Rome.
Of what may he be thinking? What may be his life?
And now the houses hide him, they hide everything on that side. They
hide one another and the road and the city, but on the other side there
is still a distant view. There the road swings in an indolent, slow
curve down toward the river, down toward the mournful bridge. And
behind this lies the immense Campagna. The gray and the green of such
large plains. ... It is as if the weariness of many tedious miles rose
out of them and settled with a heavy weight upon one, and made one feel
lonely and forsaken, and filled one with desires and yearning. So it is
much better that one should take one's ease here in a corner between
high garden-walls, where the air lies tepid and soft and still—to sit
on the sunny side, where a bench curves into a niche of the wall, to
sit there end gaze upon the shimmering green acanthus in the roadside
ditches, upon the silver-spotted thistles, and the pale-yellow autumn
The roses should have been on the long gray wall opposite, a wall
full of lizard holes and chinks with withered grass; and they should
have peeped out at the very spot where the long, monotonous flatness is
broken by a large, swelling basket of beautiful old wrought iron, a
latticed extension, which forms a spacious balcony, reaching higher
than the breast. It must have been refreshing to go up there when one
was weary of the enclosed garden.
And this they often were.
They hated the magnificent old villa, which is said to be within,
with its marble stair-cases and its tapestries of coarse weave; and the
ancient trees with their proud large crowns, pines and laurels, ashes,
cypresses, and oaks. During all the period of their growth they were
hated with the hatred which restless hearts feel for that which is
commonplace, trivial, uneventful, for that which stands still and
therefore seems hostile.
But from the balcony one could at least range outside with one's
eyes, and that is why they stood there, one generation after the other,
and all stared into the distance, each one with pro and each one with
his con. Arms adorned with golden bracelets have lain on the edge of
the iron railing and many a silk-covered knee has pressed against the
black arabesques, the while colored ribbons waved from all its points
as signals of love and rendezvous. Heavy, pregnant housewives have also
stood here and sent impossible messages out into the distance. Large,
opulent, deserted women, pale as hatred . . . could one but kill with a
thought or open hell with a wish! . . . Women and men! It is always
women and men, even these emaciated white virgin souls which press
against the black latticework like a flock of lost doves and cry out,
“Take us!” to imagined, noble birds of prey.
One might imagine a proverbe here.
The scenery would be very suitable for a proverbe.
The wall there, just as it is; only the road would have to be wider
and expand into a circular space. In its center there would have to be
an old, modest fountain of yellowish tuff and with a bowl of broken
porphyry. As figure for the fountain a dolphin with a broken-off tail,
and one of the nostrils stopped up. From the other the fine jet of
water rises. On one side of the fountain a semicircular bench of tuff
The loose, grayish white dust; the reddish, molded stone, the hewn,
yellowish, porous tuff; the dark, polished porphyry, gleaming with
moisture, and the living, tiny, silvery jet of water: material and
colors harmonize rather well.
The characters: two pages.
Not of a definite, historical period, for the pages of reality in no
way correspond with the pages of the ideal. The pages here, however,
are pages such as dream in pictures and books. Accordingly it is merely
the costume which has a historical effect.
The actress who is to represent the youngest of the pages wears thin
silk which clings closely and is pale-blue, and has heraldic lilies of
the palest gold woven into it. This and as much lace as can possibly be
employed are the most distinctive feature of the costume. It does not
aim at any definite century, but seeks to emphasize the youthful
voluptuousness of the figure, the magnificent blond hair, and the clear
She is married, but it lasted only a year and a half, when she was
divorced from her husband, and she is said to have acted in anything
but a proper fashion towards him. And that may well be, but it is
impossible to imagine anything more innocent in appearance than she.
That is to say, it is not the gracious elemental innocence which has
such attractive qualities; but it is rather the cultivated, mature
innocence, in which no one can be mistaken, and which goes straight to
the heart. It captivates one with all the power which something that
has reached completion only can have.
The second actress in the proverbe is slender and melancholy.
She is unmarried and has no past, absolutely none. There is no one who
knows the least thing about her. Yet these finely delineated, almost
lean limbs, and these amber-pale, regular features are vocal. The face
is shaded by raven-black curls, and borne on a strong masculine neck.
Its mocking smile, in which there is also hungry desire, allures. The
eyes are unfathomable and their depths are as soft and luminous as the
dark petals in the flower of the pansy.
The costume is of pale-yellow, in the manner of a corselet with
wide, up-and-down stripes, a stiff ruff and buttons of topaz. There is
a narrow frilled stripe on the edge of the collar, and also on the
close-fitting sleeves. The trunks are short, wide-slashed, and of a
dead-green color with pale purple in the slashes. The hose is
gray.—Those of the blue page, of course, are pure white.—Both wear
Such is their appearance.
And now the yellow one is standing up on the balcony, leaning over
the edge, the while the blue is sitting on the bench down by the
fountain, comfortably leaning back, with his ring-covered hands clasped
around one knee. He stares dreamily out upon the Campagna.
Now he speaks:
“No, nothing exists in the world but women!—I don't understand it
... there must be a magic in the lines out of which they are created,
merely when I see them pass: Isaura, Rosamond, and Donna Lisa, and the
others. When I see how their garment clings around their figure and how
it drapes as they walk, it is as if my heart drank the blood out of all
my arteries, and left my head empty and without thoughts and my limbs
trembling and without strength. It is as though my whole being were
gathered into a single, tremulous, uneasy breath of desire. What is it?
Why is it? It is as if happiness went invisibly past my door, and I had
to snatch it and hold it close, and make it my own. It is so
wonderful—and yet I cannot seize it, for I cannot see it.”
Then the other page speaks from his balcony:
“And if now you sat at her feet, Lorenzo, and lost in her thoughts
she had forgotten why she had called you, and you sat silent and
waiting, and her lovely face were bent over you further from you in the
clouds of its dreams than the star in the heavens, and yet so near you
that every expression was surrendered to your admiration, every
beauty-engendered line, every tint of the skin in its white stillness
as well as in its soft rosy glow—would it not then be as if she who is
sitting there belonged to another world than the one in which you kneel
in adoration! Would it not be as if hers were another world, as if
another world surrounded her, in which her festively garbed thoughts
are going out to meet some goal which is unknown to you? Her love is
far away from all that is yours, from your world, from everything. She
dreams of far distances and her desires are of far distances. And it
seems as if not the slightest space could be found for you in her
thoughts, however ardently you might desire to sacrifice yourself for
her, your life, your all, to the end that that might be between her and
you which is hardly a faint glimmer of companionship, much less a
“Yes, you know that it is thus. But. . . .” Now a greenish-yellow
lizard runs along the edge of the balcony. It stops and looks about The
tail moves. . . .
If one could only find a stone. . .
Look out, my four-legged friend.
No, you cannot hit them, they hear the stone long before it reaches
them. Anyhow he got frightened.
But the pages disappeared at the same moment.
The blue one had been sitting there so prettily. And in her eyes lay
a yearning which was genuine and unconscious and in her movements a
nervousness that was full of presentiment. Around her mouth was a faint
expression of pain, when she spoke, and even more when she listened to
the soft, somewhat low voice of the yellow page, which spoke to her
from the balcony in words that were provocative and at the same time
caressing, that had a note of mockery and a note of sympathy.
And doesn't it seem now as if both were still here!
They are there, and have carried on the action of the proverbe, while they were gone. They have spoken of that vague young love which
never finds peace but unceasingly flits through all the lands of
foreboding and through all the heavens of hope; this love that is dying
to satisfy itself in the powerful, fervent glow of a single great
emotion! Of this they spoke; the younger one in bitter complaint, the
elder one with regretful tenderness. Now the latter said—the yellow
one to the blue—that he should not so impatiently demand the love of a
woman to capture him and hold him bound.
“For believe me,” he said, “the love that you will find in the clasp
of two white arms, with two eyes as your immediate heaven and the
certain bliss of two lips—this love lies nigh unto the earth and unto
the dust. It has exchanged the eternal freedom of dreams for a
happiness which is measured by hours and which hourly grows older. For
even if it always grows young again, yet each time it loses one of the
rays which in a halo surround the eternal youth of dreams. No, you are
“No, you are happy,” answered the blue one, “I would give a world,
were I as you are.”
And the blue one rises, and begins to walk down the road to the
Campagna, and the yellow one looks after him with a sad smile and says
to himself: “No, he is happy!”
But far down the road the blue one turns round once more toward the
balcony, and raising his barret calls: “No, you are happy!”
* * *
There should have been roses.
And now a breath of wind might come and shake a rain of rose-leaves
from the laden branches, and whirl them after the departing page.
In the graceful pleasure-gardens behind the Pope's ancient palace in
Avignon stands a bench from which one can overlook the Rhone, the
flowery banks of the Durance, hills and fields, and a part of the town.
One October afternoon two Danish ladies were seated on this bench,
Mrs. Fonss, a widow, and her daughter Elinor.
Although they had been here several days and were already familiar
with the view before them, they nevertheless sat there and marveled
that this was the way the Provence looked.
And this really was the Provence! A clayey river with flakes of
muddy sand, and endless shores of stone-gray gravel; pale-brown fields
without a blade of grass, pale-brown slopes, pale-brown hills and
dust-colored roads, and here and there near the white houses, groups of
black trees, absolutely black bushes and trees. Over all this hung a
whitish sky, quivering with light, which made everything still paler,
still dryer and more wearily light; never a glimmer of luxuriant,
satiated hues, nothing but hungry, sun-parched colors; not a sound in
the air, not a scythe passing through the grass, not a wagon rattling
over the roads; and the town stretching out on both sides was also as
if built of silence with all the streets still as at noon time, with
all the houses deaf and dumb, every shutter closed, every blind drawn,
each and every one; houses that could neither see nor hear.
Mrs. Fonss viewed this lifeless monotony with a resigned smile, but
it made Elinor visibly nervous; not actively nervous as in the case of
annoyance, but mournful and weary, as one often becomes after many days
of rain, when all one's gloomy thoughts seem to pour down upon one with
the rain; or as at the idiotically consoling tick-tack of a clock, when
one sits and grows incurably tired of one's self; or at watching the
flowers of the wall-paper, when the same chain of worn-out dreams
clanks about against one's will in the brain and the links are joined
and come apart and in a stifling endlessness are united again. It
actually had a physical effect upon her, this landscape, almost causing
her to faint. To-day everything seemed to have conspired with the
memories of a hope which was dead and of sweet and lively dreams which
had become disagreeable and nauseous; dreams which caused her to redden
when she thought of them and which yet she could not forget. And what
had all that to do with the region here? The blow had fallen upon her
far from here amid the surroundings of bar home, by the edge of a sound
with changing waters, under pale green beech-trees. Yet it hovered on
the lips of every pale brown hill, and every green-shuttered house
stood there and held silence concerning it.
It was the old sorrow for young hearts which had touched her. She
had loved a man and believed in his love for her, and suddenly he had
chosen some one else. Why? For what reason? What had she done to him?
Had she changed? Was she no longer the same? And all the eternal
questions over again. She had not said a word about it to her mother,
but her mother had understood every bit of it, and had been very
concerned about her. She could have screamed at this thoughtfulness
which knew and yet should not have known; her mother understood this
also, and for that reason they had gone traveling.
The whole purpose of the journey was only that she might forget.
Mrs. Fonss did not need to make her daughter feel uneasy by
scrutinizing her face in order to know where her thoughts were. All she
had to do was to watch the nervous little hand which lay beside her and
with such futile despair stroked the bars of the bench; they changed
their position every moment like a fever-patient tossing from side to
side in his hot bed. When she did this and looked at the hand, she also
knew how life-weary the young eyes were that stared out into the
distance, how pain quivered through every feature of the delicate face,
how pale it was beneath its suffering, and how the blue veins showed at
the temples beneath the soft skin.
She was very sorry for her little girl, and would have loved to have
had her lean against her breast, and to whisper down to her all the
words of comfort she could think of, but she had the conviction that
there were sorrows which could only die away in secret and which must
not be expressed in loud words, not even between a mother and daughter.
Otherwise some day under new circumstances, when everything is building
for joy and happiness, these words may become an obstacle, something
that weighs heavily and takes away freedom. The person who has spoken
hears their whisper in the soul of the other, imagines them turned over
and judged in the thoughts of the other.
Then, too, she was afraid of doing injury to her daughter if she
made confidences too easy. She did not wish to have Elinor blush before
her; she did want, however much of a relief it might be, to help her
over the humiliation, which lies in opening the inmost recesses of
one's soul to the gaze of another. On the contrary the more difficult
it became for both, the more she was pleased, that the aristocracy of
soul which she herself possessed was repeated in her young daughter in
a certain healthy inflexibility.
Once upon a time—it was a time many, many years ago, when she
herself had been an eighteen-year old girl, she had loved with all her
soul, with every sense in her body, every living hope, every thought.
It was not to be, could not be. He had had nothing to offer except his
loyalty which would have involved the test of an endlessly long
engagement, and there were circumstances in her home which could not
wait. So she had taken the one whom they had given her, the one who was
master over these circumstances. They were married, then came children:
Tage, the son, who was with her in Avignon, and the daughter, who sat
beside her, Everything had turned out so much better than she could
have hoped for, both easier and more friendly. Eight years it lasted,
then the husband died, and she mourned him with a sincere heart. She
had learned to love his fine, thin-blooded nature which with a tense,
egotistic, almost morbid love loved whatever belonged to it by ties of
relationship or family, and cared nought for anything in all the great
world outside, except for what they thought, what their opinion
was—nothing else. After her husband's death she had lived chiefly for
her children, but she had not devoted herself exclusively to them; she
had taken part in social life, as was natural for so young and
well-to-do a widow; and now her son was twenty-one years old and she
lacked not many days of forty. But she was still beautiful. There was
not a gray thread in her heavy dark-blonde hair, not a wrinkle round
her large, courageous eyes, and her figure was slender with
well-balanced fullness. The strong, fine lines of her features were
accentuated by the darker more deeply colored complexion which the
years had given her; the smile of her widely sweeping lips was very
sweet; an almost enigmatical youth in the dewy luminosity of her brown
eyes softened and mellowed everything again. And yet she also had the
round fullness of cheek, the strong-willed chin of a mature woman.
“That surely is Tage coming,” said Mrs. Fonss to her daughter when
she heard laughter and some Danish exclamations on the other side of
the thick hedge of hornbeam.
Elinor pulled herself together.
And it was Tage, Tage and Kastager, a wholesale merchant from
Copenhagen, with his sister and daughter; Mrs. Kastager lay ill at home
in the hotel.
Mrs. Fonss and Elinor made room for the two ladies; the men tried
for a moment to converse standing, but were lured by the low wall of
stone which surrounded the spot. They sat there and said only what was
absolutely necessary, for the newcomers were tired from a little
railway excursion they had taken into the Provence with its blooming
“Hello!” cried Tage, striking his light trousers with the flat of
his hand. “look!”
Out in the brown landscape appeared a cloud of dust, over it a
mantle of dust, and between the two they caught sight of a horse.
“That's the Englishman, I told you about, who came the other day,” said
Tage, turning toward his mother.
“Did you ever see any one ride like that?” he asked, turning toward
Kastager, “he reminds me of a gaucho.”
“Mazeppa?” said Kastager, questioningly.
The horseman disappeared.
Then they all rose, and set out for the hotel.
They had met the Kastagers in Belfort, and since they were pursuing
the same itinerary through southern France and along the Riviera, they
for the time being traveled together. Here in Avignon both families had
made a halt; Kastager because his wife had developed a varicose vein,
the Fonss' because Elinor obviously needed a rest.
Tage was delighted at this living together. Day by day he fell more
and more incurably in love with the pretty Ida Kastager. Mrs. Fonss did
not especially like this. Though Tage was very self-reliant and mature
for his age, there was no reason for a hasty engagement—and there was
Mr. Kastager! Ida was a splendid little girl, Mrs. Kastager was a very
well-bred woman of excellent family, and Kastager himself was capable,
rich, and honest, but there was a hint of the absurd about him. A smile
came upon people's lips and a twinkle into their eyes when any one
mentioned Mr. Kastager.
The reason for this was that he was full of fire and given to
extraordinary enthusiasms; he was frankly ingenuous, boisterous, and
communicative, and nowadays it requires a great deal of tact to be
lavish with enthusiasm. But Mrs. Fonss could not bear the thought that
Tage's father-in-law should be mentioned with a twinkle in the eye and
a smile round the mouth, and for that reason she exhibited a certain
coldness toward the family to the great sorrow of the enamored Tage.
* * *
On the morning of the following day Tage and his mother had gone to
look at the little museum of the town. They found the gate open, but
the doors to the collection locked; ringing the bell proved fruitless.
The gateway, however, gave admission to the not specially large court
which was surrounded by a freshly whitewashed arcade whose short squat
columns had black iron bars between them.
They walked about and looked at the objects placed along the wall:
Roman sepulchral monuments, pieces of sarcophagi, a headless draped
figure, the dorsal vertebra of a whale, and a series of architectural
On all the objects of interest there were fresh traces of the
By now they had come back to their starting point.
Tage ran up the stairs to see if there might not be people somewhere
in the house, and Mrs. Fonss in the meantime walked up and down the
As she was on the turn toward the gate a tall man with a bearded,
tanned face, appeared at the end of the passage directly in front of
her. He had a guide-book in his hand; he listened for something, and
then looked forward, straight at her.
The Englishman of yesterday immediately came to her mind.
“Pardon me?” he began interrogatively, and bowed.
“I am a stranger,” Mrs. Fonss replied, “nobody seems to be at home,
but my son has just run upstairs to see whether. . . .”
These words were exchanged in French.
At this moment Tage arrived. “I have been everywhere,” he said,
“even in the living quarters, but didn't find as much as a cat.”
“I hear,” said the Englishman, this time in Danish, “that I have the
pleasure of being with fellow-countrymen.”
He bowed again and retreated a couple of steps, as if to indicate
that he had merely said this to let them know that he understood what
they were saying. Suddenly he stepped closer than before with an
intent, eager expression on his face, and said to Mrs. Fonss, “is it
possible that you and I are old acquaintances?”
“Are you Emil Thorbrogger?” exclaimed Mrs. Fonss, and held out her
He seized it. “Yes, I am he,” he said gayly, “and you are she?”
His eyes almost filled with tears as he looked at her.
Mrs Fonss introduced Tage as her son.
Tage had never in his life heard mention of Thorbrogger, but that
was not his thoughts; he thought only of the fact that this gaucho
turned out to be a Dane; when a pause set in, and some one had to say
something he could not help exclaiming, “and I who said yesterday that
you reminded me of a gaucho!”
“Well,” replied Thorbrogger, “that wasn't far from the truth; for
twenty-one years I have lived in the plains of La Plata, and in those
years certainly spent more time on horse-back than on foot.”
And now he had come back to Europe!
Yes, he had sold his land and his sheep and had come back to have a
look around in the old world where he belonged, but to his shame he had
to confess that he often found it very much of a bore to travel about
merely for pleasure.
Perhaps, he was homesick for the prairies?
No, he had never had any special feeling for places and countries;
he thought it was only his daily work which he missed.
In that way they went on talking for a while. At last the custodian
appeared, hot and out of breath, with heads of lettuce under his arms
and a bunch of scarlet tomatoes in his hand, and they were admitted
into the small, stuffy collection of paintings, where they gained only
the vaguest impression of the yellow thunder-clouds and black waters of
old Vernet, but on the contrary told each other with considerable
detail of their lives and the happenings during all the years since
they had parted.
For it was he whom she had loved, at the time when she married
another. In the days which now followed they were much together, and
the others thinking that such old friends must have much to say to each
other left them often alone. In those days both soon noticed that
however much they might have changed during the course of the years,
their hearts had forgotten nothing.
Perhaps it was he who first became aware of this, for all the
uncertainty of youth, its sentimentality and its elegiac mood came upon
him simultaneously, and he suffered under it. It seemed out of place to
the mature man, that he should so suddenly be robbed of his peace of
life and the self-possession which he had acquired during the course of
time, and he wanted his love to bear a different stamp, wished it to be
graver, more subdued.
She did not feel herself younger, but it seemed to her as if a
fountain of tears that had been obstructed and dammed had burst open
again and begun to flow. There was great happiness and relief in
crying, and these tears gave her a feeling of richness; it was as if
she had become more precious, and everything had become more precious
to her—in short it was a feeling of youth after all.
* * *
On an evening of one of these days Mrs. Fonss sat alone at home,
Elinor had gone to bed early, and Tage had gone to the theater with the
Kastagers. She had been sitting in the dull hotel-room and had dreamed
in the half light of a couple of candles. At length her dreams had come
to a stop after their incessant coming and going; she had grown tired,
but with that mild and smiling weariness which wraps itself round us,
when happy thoughts are falling asleep in our mind.
She could not go on sitting here, staring in front of her, the whole
evening long without so much as a book. It was still over an hour
before the theater let out. So she began to walk up and down the room,
stood in front of the mirror, and arranged her hair.
She would go down into the reading-room, and look over the
illustrated papers. At this time of the evening it was always empty
She threw a large black lace shawl over her head and went down.
The room was empty.
The small room, overfull with furniture, was brilliantly illuminated
by half a dozen large gas-flames; it was hot and the air was almost
She drew the shawl down around the shoulders.
The white papers there on the table, the portfolios with their large
gilt letters, the empty plush chairs, the regular squares of the carpet
and the even folds of the rep curtains—all this looked dull under the
She was still dreaming, and dreaming she stood, and listened to the
long-drawn singing of the gas-flames.
The heat was such as almost to make one dizzy.
To support herself she slowly reached out for a large, heavy bronze
vase which stood on a bracket fixed in the wall, and grasped the
It was comfortable to stand thus, and the bronze was gratefully cool
to the touch of her hand. But as she stood thus, there came another
feeling also. She began to feel a contentment in her limbs, in her
body, because of the plastically beautiful position which she had
assumed. She was conscious of how becoming it was to her, of the beauty
which was hers at the moment, and even of the physical sensation of
harmony. All this gathered in a feeling of triumph, and streamed
through her like a strange festive exultation.
She felt herself so strong at this hour, and life lay before her
like a great, radiant day; no longer like a day declining toward the
calm, melancholy hours of dusk. It seemed to her like an open,
wide-awake space of time, with hot pulses throbbing every second, with
joyous light, with energy and swiftness and an infinity without and
within. And she was thrilled with the fullness of life, and longed for
it with the feverish eagerness with which a traveler sets out on a
For a long time she stood thus, wrapped in her thoughts, forgetting
everything around her. Then suddenly as if she heard the silence in the
room and the long-drawn singing of the gas-flames, she let her hand
drop from the vase and sat down by the table and began to turn over the
leaves of a portfolio.
She heard steps, passing by the door, heard them turn back, and saw
They exchanged a few words but as she seemed occupied with the
pictures, he also began to look at the magazines that lay in front of
him. They, however, did not interest him very much for when a little
later she looked up, she met his eyes which rested searchingly upon
He looked as if he were just about to speak, and there was a
nervous, decided expression round his mouth, which told her so
definitely what his words would be that she reddened,
Instinctively, as if she wished to hold back these words, she held
out a picture across the table and pointed at some horsemen from the
pampas, who were throwing lassoes over wild steers.
He was just about to make some jesting remark about the draftsman's
naive conception of the art of throwing a lasso. It was so enticingly
easy to speak of this rather than of that which he had on his mind.
Resolutely, however, he pushed the picture aside, leaned a little ways
across the table and said,
“I have thought a great deal about you since we met again; I have
always thought a great deal about you, both long ago in Denmark and
over where I was. And I have always loved you, and if it sometimes
seems to me that it is only now that I really love you since we have
met again, it is not true, however great my love may be, for I have
always loved you, I have always loved you. And if it should happen now
that you would become mine—you cannot imagine what that would mean to
me, if you, who were taken from me for so many years, were to come
He was silent for a moment, then he rose, and came closer to her.
“Oh, do say a word! I am standing here talking blindly. I speak to
you as to an interpreter, a stranger, who has to repeat what I am
saying to the heart I am speaking to. . I don't know ... to stand here
and weigh my words ... I don't know, how far or how near. I dare not
put into words the adoration which fills me—or dare I?”
He let himself sink down on a chair by her side.
“Oh, if I might, if I didn't have to be afraid—is it true! Oh, God
bless you, Paula.”
“There is nothing now that need keep us apart any longer,” said she,
with her hand in his, “whatever may happen I have the right to be happy
once, to live fully in accordance with my being, my desire, and my
dreams. I have never renounced. Even though happiness was not my share,
I have never believed that life was nothing but grayness and duty. I
knew that there are people who are happy.”
Silently he kissed her hand.
“I know,” she said sadly, “that those who will judge me least
harshly will not envy me the happiness which I shall have in having
your love, but they will also say that I should be satisfied.”
“But that would not be enough for me, and you have not the right to
send me away.”
“No,” she said, “no.”
A little later she went upstairs to Elinor.
Mrs. Fonss sat down by her bed and looked at her pale child whose
features she could only dimly distinguish under the faint yellow glow
of the night lamp.
For Elinor's sake they would have to wait. In a few days they would
separate from Thorbrogger, go to Nice, and stay there by themselves.
During the winter she would live only that Elinor might regain her
health. But to-morrow she would tell the children what had happened and
what was to be expected. However they might receive the news it was
impossible for her to live with them day in, day out, and yet be almost
separated from them by a secret like this. And they would need time to
get used to the idea, because it would mean a separation between them,
whether greater or smaller would depend on the children themselves. The
arrangement of their lives in so far as it concerned her and him was to
be left entirely to them. She would demand nothing. It was for them to
She heard Tage's step in the sitting-room and went to him.
He was so radiant and at the same time so nervous that Mrs. Fonss
knew something had happened, and she had an intuition of what it was.
He sought for an opening to unburden his heart and sat and talked
absent-mindedly of the theater. Not until his mother went over to him
and put her hand on his forehead, forcing him to look at her, was he
able to tell her that he had wooed Ida Kastager and gained her “yes.”
They talked about it for a long time, but throughout Mrs. Fonss felt
a coldness in whatever she said, which she could not overcome. She was
afraid of being too sympathetic with Tage on account of her own
emotion. Besides, in the uncertain state of her mind she was
distrustful of the idea that there might be even the faintest shadow of
an association between her kindness of to-night and what she was to
tell to-morrow. .
Tage, however, did not notice any coolness.
Mrs. Fonss did not sleep much that night; there were too many
thoughts to keep her awake. She thought how strange it was that he and
she should have met and that when they met they should love each other
as in the old days.
It was long ago, especially for her; she was no longer, could no
longer, be young. And this would show; and he would be thoughtful with
her, and grow used to the fact that it was a long time since she was
eighteen years old. But she felt young, she was so in many respects,
and yet all the while she was conscious of her years. She saw it very
clearly, in a thousand movements, in expressions and gestures, in the
way in which she would respond to a hint, in the fashion in which she
would smile at an answer. Ten times a day she would betray her age,
because she lacked the courage to be outwardly as young as she was
And thoughts came and thoughts went, but through it all the same
question always rose, as to what her children would say.
On the forenoon of the following day she put the answer to the test.
They were in the sitting-room.
She said that she had something important to tell them, something
that would mean a great change in their lives, something that would be
unexpected news to them. She asked them to listen as calmly as they
could, and not to let themselves be carried away by the first
impression into thoughtlessness. They must know that what she was about
to tell them was definitely decided, and that nothing they might say
could make her alter her decision.
“I am going to marry again,” she said, and told them of how she had
loved Thorbrogger, before she had known their father; how she had
become separated from him, and how they had now met again.
Elinor cried, but Tage had risen from his seat, utterly bewildered.
He then went close to her, kneeled down before her, and seized her
hand. Sobbing, half-stifled with emotion, he pressed it against his
cheek with infinite tenderness, with an expression of helplessness in
every line of his face.
“Oh, but mother, dearest mother, what have we done to you, have we
not always loved you, have we not always, both when we were with you
and when we were away from from you, wanted you as the best thing we
possessed in the world? We have never known father except through you;
it was you who taught us to love him, and if Elinor and I are so close
to each other, is it not because day after day you always pointed out
to each of us what was best in the other? And has it not been thus with
every other person to whom we became attached, do we not owe everything
to you? We owe everything to you, and we worship you, mother, if you
only knew. . . . Oh, you cannot imagine, how much we want your love,
want you beyond all bounds and limits, but there again you have taught
us to restrain our love, and we never dare to come as close to your
heart as we should like. And now you say that you are going to leave us
entirely, and put us to one side. But that is impossible. Only one who
wanted to do us the greatest harm in the world could do anything as
frightful as that, and you don't want to do us the greatest harm, you
want only what is best for us—how can it then be possible? Say quickly
that it is not true; say it is not true, Tage, it is not true, Elinor.”
“Tage, Tage, don't be so distressed, and don't make it so hard, both
for yourself and us others.”
“Hard,” he said, “hard, hard, oh were it nothing but that, but it is
horrible—unnatural; it is enough to drive one insane, merely to think
of it. Have you any idea of the things you make me think of? My mother
loved by a strange man, my mother desired, held in the arms of another
and holding him in hers. Nice thoughts for a son, worse than the worst
insult—but it is impossible, must be impossible, must be! Are the
prayers of a son to be as powerless as that! Elinor, don't sit there
and cry, come and help me beg mother to have pity on us.”
Mrs. Fonss made a restraining gesture with her hand and said: “Let
Elinor alone, she is probably tired enough, and besides I have told you
that nothing can be changed.”
“I wish I were dead,” said Elinor, “but, mother, everything that
Tage has said is true, and it never can be right that at our age you
should give us a step-father.”
“Step-father,” cried Tage, “I hope that he does not for one moment
dare. . . . You are mad. Where he enters, we go out. There isn't any
power on earth that can force me into the slightest intimacy with that
person. Mother must choose—he or we! If they go to Denmark after their
marriage, then we are exiles; if they stay here, we leave.”
“And those are your intentions, Tage?” asked Mrs. Fonss.
“I don't think you need doubt that; imagine the life. Ida and I are
sitting out there on the terrace on a moonlit evening, and behind the
laurel-bushes some one is whispering. Ida asks who is whispering, and I
reply that it is my mother and her new husband.—No, no, I shouldn't
have said that; but you see the effect of it already, the pain it
causes me, and you may be sure that it won't help Elinor's health
Mrs. Fonss let the children go while she remained sitting here.
No, Tage was right, it had not been good for them. How far from her
they had already gone in that short hour! How they looked at her, not
like her children, but like their father's! How quick they were to
desert her as soon as they saw that not every motion of her heart was
theirs! But she was not only Tage's and Elinor's mother alone; she was
also a human being on her own account, with a life of her own and hopes
of her own, quite apart from them. But she was, perhaps, not quite as
young as she had believed herself to be. This had come to her in the
conversation with her children. Had she not sat there, timid, in spite
of her words; had she not almost felt like one who was trespassing upon
the rights of youth? Were not all the exorbitant demands of youth and
all its naive tyranny in everything they had said?—It is for us to
love, life belongs to us, and your life it is but to exist for us.
She began to understand that there might be a satisfaction in being
quite old; not that she wished it, but yet old age smiled faintly at
her like a far-distant peace, coming after all the agitation of recent
times, and now when the prospect of so much discord was so near. For
she did not believe that her children would ever change their mind, and
yet she had to discuss it with them over and over again before she gave
up hope. The best thing would be for Thorbrogger to leave immediately.
With his presence no longer here the children might be less irritable,
and she could try to show them how eager she was to be as considerate
as possible to them. In time the first bitterness would disappear, and
everything . . . no, she did not believe, that everything would turn
They agreed that Thorbrogger should leave for Denmark to arrange
their affairs. For the time being they would remain here. It seemed,
however, that nothing was gained by this. The children avoided her.
Tage spent all his time with Ida or her father, and Elinor stayed all
the time with the invalid, Mrs. Kastager. And when they happened to be
actually together, the old intimacy, the old feeling of comfort, was
gone. Where were the thousand subjects for conversation, and, when
finally they found one, where was the interest in it? They sat there
keeping up a conversation like people who for a while have enjoyed each
other's company, and now must part. All the thoughts of those who are
about to leave are fixed on the journey's end, and those who remain
think only of settling hack into the daily life and daily routine, as
soon as the strangers have left.
There was no longer any common interest in their life; all the
feeling of belonging together had disappeared. They were able to talk
about what they were going to do next week, next month, or even the
month following, but it did not interest them as though it had to do
with days out of their own lives. It was merely a time of waiting,
which somehow or other had to be endured, for all three mentally asked
themselves: And what then? They felt no solid foundation in their
lives; there was no ground to build upon before this, which had
separated them, was settled.
Every day that passed the children forgot more and more what their
mother had meant to them, in the fashion in which children who believe
themselves wronged will forget a thousand benefactions for the sake of
Tage was the most sensitive of them, but also the one who was hurt
most deeply, because he had loved most. He had wept through long nights
because of his mother whom he could not retain in the way in which he
wanted. There were times when the memory of her love almost deafened
all other feelings in his heart. One day he even went to her and
beseeched and implored her that she might belong to them, to them
alone, and not to any other one, and the answer had been a “no.” And
this “no” had made him hard and cold. At first he had been afraid of
this coldness, because it was accompanied by a frightful emptiness.
The case with Elinor was different. In a strange way she had felt
that it was an injustice toward her father, and she began to worship
him like a fetish. Even though she but dimly remembered him, she
recreated him for herself in most vivid fashion by becoming absorbed in
everything she had ever heard about him. She asked Kastager about him
and Tage, and every morning and night she kissed a medallion-portrait
of his which belonged to her. She longed with a somewhat hysterical
desire for some letters from him which she had left at home, and for
things which had once belonged to him.
In proportion as the father in this way rose in her estimation, the
mother sank. The fact that she had fallen in love with a man harmed her
less in her daughter's eyes; but she was no lenger the mother, the
unfailing, the wisest, the supreme, most beautiful. She was a woman
like other women; not quite, but just because not quite, it was
possible to criticize and judge her and to find weaknesses and faults
in her. Elinor was glad that she had not confided her unhappy love to
her mother; but she did not know how much it was due to her mother that
she had not done so.
One day passed like another, and their life became more and more
unendurable. All three felt that it was useless; instead of bringing
them together, it only drove them further apart.
Mrs. Kastager had now recovered. Though she had not played an active
part in anything that had happened, she knew more about the situation
than any one else, because everything had been told her. One day she
had a long talk with Mrs. Fonss who was glad that there was some one
who would quietly listen to her plans for the future. In this
conversation Mrs. Kastager suggested that the children go with her to
Nice, while they sent for Thorbrogger to come to Avignon, so that they
might be married. Kastager could stay on as witness.
Mrs. Fonss wavered a little while longer, for she had been unable to
discover what her children's reaction would be. When they were told,
they accepted it with proud silence, and when they were pressed for
answer, they merely said that they would, of course, adjust themselves
to whatever she decided to do.
So things turned out as Mrs. Kastager had proposed. She said good-by
to the children, and they left; Thorbrogger came, and they were
Spain became their home; Thorbrogger chose it for the sake of
Neither of them wished to return to Denmark.
And they lived happily in Spain.
She wrote several times to her children, but in their first violent
anger that she had left them, they returned the letters. Later they
regretted it; they were unable, however, to admit this to their mother
and to write to her; for that reason all communication between them
ceased. But now and then in round about ways they heard about each
For five years Thorbrogger and his wife lived happily, but then she
suddenly fell ill. It was a disease whose course ran swiftly and whose
end was necessarily fatal. Her strength dwindled hourly, and one day
when the grave was no longer far away she wrote to her children.
“Dear children,” she wrote, “I know that you will read this letter,
for it will not reach you until after my death. Do not be afraid, there
are no reproaches in these lines; would that I might make them bear
“When people love, Tage and Elinor, little Elinor, the one who loves
most must always humble himself, and therefore I come to you once more,
as in my thoughts I shall come to you every hour as long as I am able.
One who is about to die, dear children, is very poor; I am very poor,
for all this beautiful world, which for so many years has been my
abundant and kindly home, is to be taken from me. My chair will stand
here empty, the door will close behind me, and never again will I set
my foot here. Therefore I look at everything with the prayer in my eye
that it shall hold me in kind memory. Therefore I come to you and beg
that you will love me with all the love which once you had for me; for
remember that not to be forgotten is the only part in the living world
which from now on is to be mine; just to be remembered, nothing more.
“I have never doubted your love; I knew very well that it was your
great love, that caused your great anger; had you loved me less, you
would have let me go more easily. And therefore I want to say to you,
that should some day it happen that a man bowed down with sorrow come
to your door to speak with you concerning me, to talk about me to
relieve his sorrow, then remember that no one has loved me as he has,
and that all the happiness which can radiate from a human heart has
come from him to me. And soon in the last great hour he will hold my
hand in his when the darkness comes, and his words will be the last I
shall hear. . . .
“Farewell, I say it here, but it is not the farewell which will be
the last to you; it I will say as late as I dare, and all my love will
be in it, and all the longings for so many, many years, and the
memories of the time when you were small, and a thousand wishes and a
thousand thanks. Farewell Tage, farewell Elinor, farewell until the