NORSE TALES AND SKETCHES
ALEXANDER L. KIELLAND
Translated by R. L. Cassie
Encouraged by the great and growing popularity of Scandinavian literature in this country, I venture to submit to public judgment this humble essay towards an English presentment of some of the charming novelettes of Alexander L. Kielland, a writer who takes rank among the foremost exponents of modern Norse thought. Although these short stories do not represent the full fruition of the author's genius, they yet convey a fairly accurate conception of his literary personality, and of the bold realistic tendency which is so strikingly developed in his longer novels.
Kielland's style is polished, lucid, and incisive. He does not waste words or revel in bombastic diffuseness. Every phrase of his narrative is a definite contribution towards the vivification of his realistic effects. His concise, laconic periods are pregnant with deep meaning, and instinct with that indefinable Norse essence which almost eludes the translator—that vague something which specially lends itself to the treatment of weird or pathetic situations.
In his pre-eminence as a satirist, Kielland resembles Thackeray. His satire, although keen, is always wholesome, genial, and good-humoured.
Kielland's longer novels are masterly delineations of Norwegian provincial life and character, and his vivid individualization of his native town of Stavanger finds few parallels in fiction.
In conclusion, the writer hopes that this modest publication may help to draw the attention of the cultured British public to another of the great literary figures of the North.
A TALE OF THE SEA
MY SISTER'S JOURNEY TO MODUM
LETTERS FROM MASTER-PILOT SEEHUS
In an elegant suite of chambers in the Rue Castiglione sat a merry party at dessert.
Senhor Jose Francisco de Silvis was a short-legged, dark-complexioned Portuguese, one of those who usually come from Brazil with incredible wealth, live incredible lives in Paris, and, above all, become notorious by making the most incredible acquaintances.
In that little company scarcely anybody, except those who had come in pairs, knew his neighbour. And the host himself knew his guests only through casual meetings at balls, tables d' hote, or in the street.
Senhor de Silvis laughed much, and talked loudly of his success in life, as is the habit of rich foreigners; and as he could not reach up to the level of the Jockey Club, he gathered the best company he could find. When he met anyone, he immediately asked for the address, and sent next day an invitation to a little dinner. He spoke all languages, even German, and one could see by his face that he was not a little proud when he called over the table: Mein lieber Herr Doctor! Wie geht's Ihnen?'
There was actually a live German doctor among this merry party. He had an overgrown light-red beard, and that Sedan smile which invariably accompanies the Germans in Paris.
The temperature of the conversation rose with the champagne; the sounds of fluent and broken French were mingled with those of Spanish and Portuguese. The ladies lay back in their chairs and laughed. The guests already knew each other well enough not to be reserved or constrained. Jokes and bons-mots passed over the table, and from mouth to mouth. 'Der liebe Doctor' alone engaged in a serious discussion with the gentleman next to him—a French journalist with a red ribbon in his buttonhole.
And there was one more who was not drawn into the general merriment. He sat on the right of Mademoiselle Adele, while on the left was her new lover, the corpulent Anatole, who had surfeited himself on truffles.
During dinner Mademoiselle Adele had endeavoured, by many innocent little arts, to infuse some life into her right-hand neighbour. However, he remained very quiet, answering her courteously, but briefly, and in an undertone.
At first she thought he was a Pole—one of those very tiresome specimens who wander about and pretend to be outlaws. However, she soon perceived that she had made a mistake, and this piqued Mademoiselle Adele. For one of her many specialties was the ability to immediately 'assort' all the foreigners with whom she mingled, and she used to declare that she could guess a man's nationality as soon as she had spoken ten words with him.
But this taciturn stranger caused her much perplexed cogitation. If he had only been fair-haired, she would at once have set him down as an Englishman, for he talked like one. But he had dark hair, a thick black moustache, and a nice little figure. His fingers were remarkably long, and he had a peculiar way of trifling with his bread and playing with his dessert-fork.
'He is a musician,' whispered Mademoiselle Adele to her stout friend.
'Ah!' replied Monsieur Anatole. 'I am afraid I have eaten too many truffles.'
Mademoiselle Adele whispered in his ear some words of good counsel, upon which he laughed and looked very affectionate.
However, she could not relinquish her hold of the interesting foreigner. After she had coaxed him to drink several glasses of champagne, he became livelier, and talked more.
'Ah!' cried she suddenly; 'I hear it in your speech. You are an Englishman!'
The stranger grew quite red in the face, and answered quickly, 'No, madame.'
Mademoiselle Adele laughed. 'I beg your pardon. I know that Americans feel angry when they are taken for Englishmen.'
'Neither am I an American,' replied the stranger.
This was too much for Mademoiselle Adele. She bent over her plate and looked sulky, for she saw that Mademoiselle Louison opposite was enjoying her defeat.
The foreign gentleman understood the situation, and added, half aloud: 'I am an Irishman, madame.'
'Ah!' said Mademoiselle Adele, with a grateful smile, for she was easily reconciled.
'Anatole! Irishman—what is that?' she asked in a whisper.
'The poor of England,' he whispered back.
Adele elevated her eyebrows, and cast a shrinking, timid glance at the stranger. She had suddenly lost much of her interest in him.
De Silvis's dinners were excellent. The party had sat long at table, and when Monsieur Anatole thought of the oysters with which the feast had begun, they appeared to him like a beautiful dream. On the contrary, he had a somewhat too lively recollection of the truffles.
Dinner was over; hands were reaching out for glasses, or trifling with fruit or biscuits.
That sentimental blonde, Mademoiselle Louison, fell into meditation over a grape that she had dropped in her champagne glass. Tiny bright air-bubbles gathered all round the coating of the fruit, and when it was quite covered with these shining white pearls, they lifted the heavy grape up through the wine to the surface.
'Look!' said Mademoiselle Louison, turning her large, swimming eyes upon the journalist, 'look, white angels are bearing a sinner to heaven!'
'Ah! charmant, mademoiselle! What a sublime thought!' exclaimed the journalist, enraptured.
Mademoiselle Louison's sublime thought passed round the table, and was much admired. Only the frivolous Adele whispered to her obese admirer, 'It would take a good many angels to bear you, Anatole.'
Meanwhile the journalist seized the opportunity; he knew how to rivet the general attention. Besides, he was glad to escape from a tiresome political controversy with the German; and, as he wore a red ribbon and affected the superior journalistic tone, everybody listened to him.
He explained how small forces, when united, can lift great burdens; and then he entered upon the topic of the day—the magnificent collections made by the press for the sufferers by the floods in Spain, and for the poor of Paris. Concerning this he had much to relate, and every moment he said 'we,' alluding to the press. He talked himself quite warm about 'these millions, that we, with such great self-sacrifice, have raised.'
But each of the others had his own story to tell. Numberless little touches of nobility—all savouring of self-denial—came to light from amidst these days of luxury and pleasure.
Mademoiselle Louison's best friend—an insignificant little lady who sat at the foot of the table—told, in spite, of Louison's protest, how the latter had taken three poor seamstresses up to her own rooms, and had them sew the whole of the night before the fete in the hippodrome. She had given the poor girls coffee and food, besides payment.
Mademoiselle Louison suddenly became an important personage at table, and the journalist began to show her marked attention.
The many pretty instances of philanthropy, and Louison's swimming eyes, put the whole company into a quiet, tranquil, benevolent frame of mind, eminently in keeping with the weariness induced by the exertions of the feast. And this comfortable feeling rose yet a few degrees higher after the guests were settled in soft easy-chairs in the cool drawing-room.
There was no other light than the fire in the grate. Its red glimmer crept over the English carpet and up the gold borders in the tapestry; it shone upon a gilt picture-frame, on the piano that stood opposite, and, here and there, on a face further away in the gloom. Nothing else was visible except the red ends of cigars and cigarettes.
The conversation died away. The silence was broken only by an occasional whisper or the sound of a coffee-cup being put aside; each seemed disposed to enjoy, undisturbed, his genial mood and the quiet gladness of digestion. Even Monsieur Anatole forgot his truffles, as he reclined in a low chair close to the sofa, on which Mademoiselle Adele had taken her seat.
'Is there no one who will give us a little music?' asked Senhor de Silvis from his chair. 'You are always so kind, Mademoiselle Adele.'
'Oh no, no!' cried Mademoiselle; 'I am too tired.'
But the foreigner—the Irishman—rose from his corner and walked towards the instrument.
'Ah, you will play for us! A thousand thanks, Monsieur—.' Senhor de Silvis had forgotten the name—a thing that often happened to him with his guests.
'He is a musician,' said Mademoiselle Adele to her friend. Anatole grunted admiringly.
Indeed, all were similarly impressed by the mere way in which he sat down and, without any preparation, struck a few chords here and there, as if to wake the instrument.
Then he began to play—lightly, sportively, frivolously, as befitted the situation. The melodies of the day were intermingled with fragments of waltzes and ballads; all the ephemeral trifles that Paris hums over for eight days he blended together with brilliantly fluent execution.
The ladies uttered exclamations of admiration, and sang a few bars, keeping time with their feet. The whole party followed the music with intense interest; the strange artist had hit their mood, and drawn them all with him from the beginning. 'Der liebe Doctor' alone listened with the Sedan smile on his face; the pieces were too easy for him.
But soon there came something for the German too; he nodded now and then with a sort of appreciation.
It was a strange situation: the piquant fragrance that filled the air, the pleasure-loving women—these people, so free and unconstrained, all strangers to one another, hidden in the elegant, half-dark salon, each following his most secret thoughts—thoughts born of the mysterious, muffled music; whilst the firelight rose and fell, and made everything that was golden glimmer in the darkness.
And there constantly came more for the doctor. From time to time he turned and signed to De Silvis, as he heard the loved notes of 'unser Schumann,' 'unser Beethoven,' or even of 'unser famoser Richard.'
Meanwhile the stranger played on, steadily and without apparent effort, slightly inclined to the left, so as to give power to the bass. It sounded as if he had twenty fingers, all of steel; he knew how to unite the multitudinous notes in a single powerful clang. Without any pause to mark the transition from one melody to another, he riveted the interest of the company by constant new surprises, graceful allusions, and genial combinations, so that even the least musical among them were constrained to listen with eager attention.
But the character of the music imperceptibly changed. The artist bent constantly over the instrument, inclining more to the left, and there was a strange unrest in the bass notes. The Baptists from 'The Prophet' came with heavy step; a rider from 'Damnation de Faust' dashed up from far below, in a desperate, hobbling hell-gallop.
The rumbling grew stronger and stronger down in the depths, and Monsieur Anatole again began to feel the effects of the truffles. Mademoiselle Adele half rose; the music would not let her lie in peace.
Here and there the firelight shone on a pair of black eyes staring at the artist. He had lured them with him, and now they could not break loose; downward, ever downward, he led them—downward, where was a dull and muffled murmur as of threatenings and plaints.
'Er fuehrt eine famose linke Hand,' said the doctor. But De Silvis did not hear him; he sat, like the others, in breathless expectancy.
A dark, sickening dread went out from the music and spread itself over them all. The artist's left hand seemed to be tying a knot that would never be loosened, while his right made light little runs, like flames, up and down in the treble. It sounded as if there was something uncanny brewing down in the cellar, whilst those above burnt torches and made merry.
A sigh was heard, a half-scream from one of the ladies, who felt ill; but no one heeded it. The artist had now got quite down into the bass, and his tireless fingers whirled the notes together, so that a cold shudder crept down the backs of all.
But into that threatening, growling sound far below there began to come an upward movement. The notes ran into, over, past each other—upward, always upward, but without making any way. There was a wild struggle to get up, as it were a multitude of small, dark figures scratching and tearing; a mad eagerness, a feverish haste; a scrambling, a seizing with hands and teeth; kicks, curses, shrieks, prayers—and all the while the artist's hands glided upward so slowly, so painfully slowly.
'Anatole,' whispered Adele, pale as death, 'he is playing Poverty.'
'Oh, these truffles!' groaned Anatole, holding his stomach.
All at once the room was lit up. Two servants with lamps and candelabra appeared in the portiere; and at the same moment the stranger finished by bringing down his fingers of steel with all his might in a dissonance, so startling, so unearthly, that the whole party sprang up.
'Out with the lamps!' shouted De Silvis.
'No, no!' shrieked Adele; 'I dare not be in the dark. Oh, that dreadful man!'
Who was it? Yes, who was it? They involuntarily crowded round the host, and no one noticed the stranger slip out behind the servants.
De Silvis tried to laugh. 'I think it was the devil himself. Come, let us go to the opera.'
'To the opera! Not at any price!' exclaimed Louison. 'I will hear no music for a fortnight.'
'Oh, those truffles!' moaned Anatole.
The party broke up. They had all suddenly realized that they were strangers in a strange place, and each one wished to slip quietly home.
As the journalist conducted Mademoiselle Louison to her carriage, he said: 'Yes, this is the consequence of letting one's self be persuaded to dine with these semi-savages. One is never sure of the company he will meet.'
'Ah, how true! He quite spoiled my good spirits,' said Louison mournfully, turning her swimming eyes upon her companion. 'Will you accompany me to La Trinite? There is a low mass at twelve o'clock.'
The journalist bowed, and got into the carriage with her.
But as Mademoiselle Adele and Monsieur Anatole drove past the English dispensary in the Rue de la Paix, he stopped the driver, and said pleadingly to his fair companion: 'I really think I must get out and get something for those truffles. You will excuse me, won't you? That music, you know.'
'Don't mind me, my friend. Speaking candidly, I don't think either of us is specially lively this evening. Good-night.'
She leant back in the carriage, relieved at finding herself alone; and this light, frivolous creature cried as if she had been whipped whilst she drove homeward.
Anatole was undoubtedly suffering from the truffles, but yet he thought he came to himself as the carriage rolled away. Never in their whole acquaintance had they been so well pleased with each other as at this moment of parting.
'Der liebe Doctor' had come best through the experience, because, being a German, he was hardened in music. All the same, he resolved to take a walk as far as Mueller's brasserie in the Rue Richelieu to get a decent glass of German beer, and perhaps a little bacon, on the top of it all.
Yes, it was really a monkey that had nearly procured me 'Laudabilis' [Footnote: A second-class pass.] in my final law examination. As it was, I only got 'Haud'; [Footnote: A third-class pass.] but, after all, this was pretty creditable.
But my friend the advocate, who had daily, with mingled feelings, to read the drafts of my work, found my process-paper so good that he hoped it might raise me into the 'Laud' list. And he did not wish me to suffer the injury and annoyance of being plucked in the viva voce examination, for he knew me and was my friend.
But the monkey was really a coffee-stain on the margin of page 496 of Schweigaard's Process, which I had borrowed from my friend Cucumis.
Going up to a law examination in slush and semi-darkness in mid-winter is one of the saddest experiences that a man can have. It may, indeed, be even worse in summer; but this I have not tried.
One rushes through these eleven papers (or is it thirteen?—it is certainly the most infamous number that the college authorities have been able to devise)—like an unhappy debutant in a circus. He stands on the back of a galloping horse, with his life in his hands and a silly circus smile on his lips; and so he must leap eleven (or is it thirteen?) times through one of these confounded paper-covered hoops.
The unhappy mortal who passes—or tries to pass—his law examination, finds himself in precisely the same situation, only he does not gallop round a ring, under brilliant gaslight, to the music of a full band. He sits upon a hard chair in semi-darkness with his face to the wall, and the only sound he hears is the creaking of the inspectors' boots. For in all the wide, wide world there are no such creaky boots as those of law examination inspectors.
And so comes the dreadful moment when the black-robed tormentor from the Collegium Juridicum brings in the examination-paper. He plants himself in the doorway, and reads. Coldly, impassively, with a cruel mockery of the horror of the situation, he raises aloft this fateful document—this wretched paper-covered hoop, through which we must all spring, or dismount and wend our way back—on foot!
The candidates settle themselves in the saddle. Some seem quite unable to get firmly seated; they rock uneasily hither and thither, and one rider dismounts. He is followed to the door by all eyes, and a sigh runs through the assembled students. 'You to-day; I to-morrow.'
Meanwhile one begins to hear a light trotting over the paper; they are leaping.
Some few individuals sit firmly and gracefully through it all, and come out on the other side 'standing for Laud.' Others think that leaping straight is too easy; therefore, they turn in the air and alight with backs first. These also get through, but backwards; and it is said that their agility does not win from the judges its deserved meed of appreciation.
Again, others leap, but miss the hoop. They spring underneath, to one side—some even high over the top, alighting safe and sound on the other side. These latter generally find the paper extremely simple, and continue the wild ride quite unconcernedly.
But if one is not fond of riding, and has had no practice in leaping, he is much to be pitied—unless, indeed, he has a monkey on page 496.
I do not know how many hoops I had passed when I found myself face to face with the process-paper.
It was an unhealthy life that we then led: leaping by day and reading by night. I sat at midnight half-way through Schweigaard's Process, alternately putting my head out of the window and into the washhand basin, and, between whiles, rushing like a whirlwind through the withered leaves of the musty volume.
However, even the most violent wind must eventually fall; and, indeed, this was my heartfelt wish. But the juridical momentum was strong within me. I sat stiffly, peering and reading for the eleventh time: 'One might thus certainly assume'—'One—might—thus—certainly,'— combine the useful with the agreeable—and lean back—a little in the chair. I can read just as well; the lamp doesn't bother me in the least. 'One—might—thus—'
But all manner of non-juridical images rose up from the book, entwined themselves about the lamp, and threatened to completely overshadow my clear legal brain. I could yet dimly see the white paper. 'One—might— thus—'. The rest disappeared in a myriad of small dark characters that flowed down the closely-printed pages; in dull despair my eyes followed the stream, and then I saw, towards the bottom of the right-hand page, a face.
It was a monkey that was drawn on the margin. It was excellently drawn, I thought, the brown colouring of the face being especially remarkable. I am ashamed to say that my interest in this work of art proved stronger than Schweigaard himself. I roused myself a little, and leant forward in order to see better.
By turning the leaf, I discovered that the remarkable brown colouring of the face was due to the fact that the whole monkey, after all, was only a coffee-stain. The artist had merely added a pair of eyes and a little hair; the genial expression of the picture was really to be credited to the individual who had spilt the coffee.
'Cucumis couldn't draw,' thought I; that I knew. 'But, by Jove! he could do his process!'
And now I came to think of Cucumis, of his handsome degree, of his triumphant home-coming, and of how much he must have read in order to become so learned. And, while I thought of all this, my consciousness awoke little by little, until my own ignorance suddenly stood clearly before me in all its horrible nakedness.
I pictured to myself the shame of having to 'dismount,' or, still worse, of being that one unfortunate of whom it is invariably said with sinister anonymity, 'One of the candidates received non contemnendus'. And as it sometimes happens that people lose their reason through much learning, so I grew half crazy with terror at my ignorance.
Up I jumped, and dipped my head in the wash-basin. Scarcely taking time to dry myself, I began to read with an energy that fixed every word in my memory.
Down the left page I hurried, with unabated vigour down the right; I reached the monkey, rushed past him, turned the leaf, and read bravely on.
I was not conscious of the fact that my strength was now completely exhausted. Although I caught a glimpse of a new section (usually so strong an incentive to increased effort), I could not help getting entangled in one of those artful propositions that one reads over and over again in illusory profundity.
I groped about for a way of escape, but there was none. Incoherent thoughts began to whirl through my brain. 'Where is the monkey?—a spot of coffee—one cannot be genial on both sides—everything in life has a right and a wrong side—for example, the university clock—but if I cannot swim, let me come out—I am going to the circus—I know very well that you are standing there grinning at me, Cucumis—but I can leap through the hoop, I can—and if that professor who is standing smoking at my paraffin lamp had only conscientiously referred to corpus juris, I should not now be lying here—in my night-shirt in the middle of Karl Johan's Gade [Footnote: A principal street of Christiania.]—but—' Then I sank into that deep, dreamless slumber which only falls to the lot of an evil conscience when one is very young.
I was in the saddle early next morning.
I don't know if the devil ever had shoes on, but I must suppose he had, for his inspectors were in their boots, and they creaked past me, where I sat in my misery with my face to the wall.
A professor walked round the rooms and looked at the victims. Occasionally he nodded and smiled encouragingly, as his eye fell on one of those miserable lick-spittles who frequent the lectures; but when he discovered me, the smile vanished, and his ice-cold stare seemed to write upon the wall over my head: 'Mene, mene! [Footnote: Dan. v. 25.] Wretch, I know thee not!'
A pair of inspectors walked creakily up to the professor and fawned upon him; I heard them whispering behind my chair. I ground my teeth in silent wrath at the thought that these contemptible creatures were paid for—yes, actually made their living by torturing me and some of my best friends.
The door opened; a glimmering yellow light fell upon the white faces; it called to mind 'The Victims of Terrorism' in Luxembourg. Then all again became dark, and the black-robed emissary of the College flitted through the room like a bat, with the famous white document in his claws.
He began to read.
Never in my life had I been less inclined for leaping; and yet I started violently at the first words. 'The monkey!' I had almost shouted; for he it was—it was evidently the coffee-stain on page 496. The paper bore precisely upon what I had read with so much energy the preceding night.
And I began to write. After a short, but superior and assured preamble, I introduced the high-sounding words of Schweigaard, 'One might thus certainly assume,' etc., and hurried down the left page, with unabated vigour down the right, reached the monkey, dashed past him, began to grope and fumble, and then I found I could not write a word more.
I felt that something was wanting, but I knew that it was useless to speculate; what a man can't do, he can't. I therefore made a full stop, and went away long before any of the others were half finished.
He has dismounted, thought my fellow-sufferers, or he may have leaped wide of the hoop. For it was a difficult paper.
* * * * *
'Why,' said the advocate, as he read, 'you are better than I thought. This is pure Schweigaard. You have left out the last point, but that doesn't matter very much; one can see that you are well up in these things. But why, then, were you so pitiably afraid of the process yesterday?'
'I didn't know a thing.'
He laughed. 'Was it last night, then, that you learned your process?'
'Did anyone help you?'
'He must be a devil of a crammer who could put so much law into your head in one night. May I ask what wizard it was?'
'A monkey!' I replied.
A TALE OF THE SEA.
Once there lay in a certain haven a large number of vessels. They had lain there very long, not exactly on account of storm, but rather because of a dead calm; and at last they had lain there until they no longer heeded the weather.
All the captains had gradually become good friends; they visited from ship to ship, and called one another 'Cousin.'
They were in no hurry to depart. Now and then a youthful steersman might chance to let fall a word about a good wind and a smooth sea. But such remarks were not tolerated; order had to be maintained on a ship. Those, therefore, who could not hold their tongues were set ashore.
Matters could not, however, go on thus for ever. Men are not so good as they ought to be, and all do not thrive under law and order.
The crews at length began to murmur a little; they were weary of painting and polishing the cabins, and of rowing the captains to and from the toddy suppers. It was rumoured that individual ships were getting ready for sailing. The sails of some were set one by one in all silence, the anchors were weighed without song, and the ships glided quietly out of the harbour; others sailed while their captains slept. Fighting and mutiny were also heard of; but then there came help from the neighbour captains, the malcontents were punished and put ashore, and all moorings were carefully examined and strengthened.
Nevertheless, all the ships, except one, at last left the harbour. They did not all sail with like fortune; one and another even came in again for a time, damaged. Others were little heard of. The captain of one ship, it was said, was thrown overboard by his men; another sailed with half the crew in irons, none knew where. But yet they were all in motion, each striving after its own fashion, now in storm, now in calm, towards its goal.
As stated, only one ship remained in the harbour, and it lay safe and sound, with two anchors at the bottom and three great cables attached to the quay.
It was a strange little craft. The hull was old, but it had been newly repaired, and they had given it a smart little modern figurehead, which contrasted strangely with the smooth sides and the heavy stern. One could see that the rigging had originally belonged to a large vessel, but had been very hastily adapted to the smaller hull, and this still further increased the want of proportion in the brig's whole appearance. Then it was painted with large portholes for guns, like a man-of-war, and always carried its flag at the main-mast.
The skipper was no common man. He himself had painted the sketch of the brig that hung in the cabin, and, besides, he could sing—both psalms and songs. Indeed, there were those who maintained that he composed the songs himself; but this was most probably a lie. And it was certainly a lie that they whispered in the forecastle: that the skipper had not quite got his sea-legs. Young men always tell such stories to cabin-boys, in order to appear manly. And, besides, there was a steersman on the brig, who could, on a pinch, easily round the headlands alone.
He had sailed as steersman for many years of our Lord, ever since the time of the skipper's late father. He had become as if glued to the tiller, and many could scarcely imagine the old brig with a new steersman.
He had certainly never voyaged in distant waters; but as his trade had always been the same, and as he had invariably been in the company of others, the brig had sailed pretty fortunately, without special damage and without special merit.
Therefore, both he and the skipper had arrived at the conviction that none could sail better than they, and hence they cared little what the others did. They looked up at the sky and shook their heads.
The men felt quite comfortable, for they were not used to better things. Most of them could not understand why the crews of the other ships were in such a hurry to be off; the month went round all the same, whether one lay in port or sailed, and then it was better to avoid work. So long as the skipper made no sign of preparation for sailing, the men might keep their minds easy, for he must surely have the most interest in getting away. And besides, they all knew what sort of fellow the steersman was, and if such a capable and experienced man lay still, they might be quite sure that he had good and powerful reasons.
But a little party among the crew—some quite youthful persons—thought it was a shame to let themselves be thus left astern by everybody. They had, indeed, no special advantage or profit to expect from the voyage, but at last the inaction became intolerable, and they conceived the daring resolve of sending a youth aft to beg the captain to fix a date for sailing.
The more judicious among the crew crossed themselves, and humbly entreated the young man to keep quiet; but the latter was a rash greenhorn, who had sailed in foreign service, and therefore imagined himself to be a 'regular devil of a fellow.' He went right aft and down into the cabin, where the skipper and the steersman sat with their whisky before them, playing cards.
'We would ask if the skipper would kindly set sail next week, for now we are all so weary of lying here,' said the young man, looking the skipper straight in the eyes without winking.
The latter's face first turned pale blue, and then assumed a deep violet tint; but he restrained himself, and said, as was his invariable custom:
'What think you, steersman?'
'H'm,' replied the steersman slowly. More he never used to say at first, when he was questioned, for he did not like to answer promptly. But when he got an opportunity of speaking alone, without being interrupted, he could utter the longest sentences and the very hardest words. And then the skipper was especially proud of him.
However short the steersman's reply might seem, the skipper at once understood its meaning. He turned towards the youth—gravely, but gracefully, for he was an exceedingly well-bred man.
'You cursed young fool! don't you think I understand these things better than you? I, who have thought of nothing but being a skipper since I was knee-high! But I know well enough what you and the like of you are thinking about. You don't care a d—— about the craft, and if you could only get the power from us old ones, you would run her on the first islet you came to, so that you might plunder her of the whisky. But there will be none of that, my young whelp! Here we shall lie, as long as I choose.'
When this decision reached the forecastle, it awoke great indignation among the young and immature, which, indeed, was only to be expected. But even the skipper's friends and admirers shook their heads, and opined that it was a nasty answer; after all, it was only a civil question, which ought not to compromise anybody.
There now arose a growing ill-humour—something quite unheard-of among these peaceable fellows. Even the skipper, who was not usually quick to understand or remark anything, thought he saw many sullen faces, and he was no longer so well pleased with the bearing of the crew when he stepped out upon deck with his genial 'Good-morning, you rogues.'
But the steersman had long scented something, for he had a fine nose and long ears. Therefore, a couple of evenings after the young man's unfortunate visit, it was remarked that something extraordinary was brewing aft.
The cabin-boy had to make three journeys with the toddy-kettle, and the report he gave in the forecastle after his last trip was indeed disquieting.
The steersman seemed to have talked without intermission for two hours; before them on the table lay barometer, chronometer, sextant, journal, and half the ship's library. This consisted of Kingo's hymn-book and an old Dutch 'Kaart-Boikje'; [Footnote: Chart-book.] for the skipper could do just as little with the new hymns as the steersman with the new charts.
The skipper now sat prodding the chart with a large pair of compasses, while the steersman talked, using all his longest and hardest words. There was one word in particular that was often repeated, and this the boy learned by heart. He said it over and over again to himself as he went up the cabin stairs and passed along the deck to the forecastle, and the moment he opened the door he shouted:
'Initiative! Mind that word, boys! Write it down—initiative!'
In-i-ti-a-tive was with much difficulty spelt out and written with chalk on the table. And during the boy's long statement all these men sat staring, uneasily and with anxious expectancy, at this long, mystic word.
'And then,' concluded the cabin-boy at last—'then says the steersman: "But we ourselves shall take the—" what is written on the table.'
All exclaimed simultaneously, 'Initiative.'
'Yes, that was it. And every time he said it, they both struck the table and looked at me as if they would eat me. I now think, therefore, that it is a new kind of revolver they intend to use upon us.'
But none of the others thought so; it was surely not so bad as that. But something was impending, that was clear. And the relieved watchman went to his berth with gloomy forebodings, and the middle watch did not get a wink of sleep that night.
At seven o'clock next morning both skipper and steersman were up on deck. No man could remember ever having seen them before so early in the day. But there was no time to stand in amazement, for now followed, in quick succession, orders for sailing.
'Heave up the anchors! Let two men go ashore and slip the cables!'
There was gladness and bustle among the crew, and the preparations proceeded so rapidly that in less than an hour the brig was under canvas.
The skipper looked at the steersman and shook his head, muttering, 'This is the devil's own haste.'
After a few little turns in the spacious harbour, the brig passed the headland and stood out to sea. A fresh breeze was blowing, and the waves ran rather high.
The steersman, with a prodigious twist in his mouth, stood astride the tiller, for such a piece of devil's trumpery as a wheel should never come on board as long as he had anything to say in the matter.
The skipper stood on the cabin stairs, with his head above the companion. His face was of a somewhat greenish hue, and he frequently ran down into the cabin. The old boatswain believed that he went to look at the chart, the young man thought he drank whisky, but the cabin-boy swore that he went below to vomit.
The men were in excellent spirits; it was so refreshing to breathe the sea air, and to feel the ship once again moving under their feet. Indeed, the old brig herself seemed to be in a good humour; she dived as deep down between the seas as she could, and raised much more foam than was necessary.
The young sailors looked out for heavy seas. 'Here comes a whopper,' they shouted; 'if it would only hit us straight!' And it did.
It was a substantial sea, larger than the others. It approached deliberately, and seemed to lie down and take aim. It then rose suddenly, and gave the brig, which was chubby as a cherub, such a mighty slap on the port cheek that she quivered in every timber. And high over the railing, far in upon the deck, dashed the cold salt spray; the captain had scarcely time to duck his head below the companion.
Ah, how refreshing it was! It exhilarated both old and young; they had not had a taste of the cold sea-water for a long time, and with one voice the whole crew broke into a lusty 'Hurrah!'
But at this moment the steerman's stentorian voice rang out: 'Hard to leeward!' The brig luffed up close to the wind, the sails flapped so violently that the rigging shook, and now followed in rapid succession, even quicker than before, orders to anchor. 'Let fall the port anchor! Let go the starboard one too!'
Plump—fell the one; plump—went the other. The old chains rattled out, and a little red cloud of rust rose up on either side of the bowsprit.
The men, accustomed to obey, worked rapidly without thinking why, and the brig soon rode pretty quietly at her two anchors.
But now, after the work was finished, no one could conceal his astonishment at this sudden anchoring, just off the coast, among islets and skerries. And still more extraordinary seemed the behaviour of those in command. For they both stood right forward, with their backs to the weather, leaning over the railing and staring at the port bow. Some had even thought they had heard the captain cry, 'To the pumps, men,' but this point was never cleared up.
'What the devil can they be doing forward?' said the rash young man.
'They think she struck on a reef when we shipped the big sea,' whispered the cabin-boy.
'Hold your jaw, boy!' said the boatswain.
All the same, the cabin-boy's words passed from mouth to mouth; a little chuckle was heard here and there; the men's faces became more and more ludicrously uneasy, and their suppressed laughter was on the point of bursting forth. Then the steersman was seen to nudge the skipper in the side.
'Yes; but then you must whisper to me,' said the latter.
The steersman nodded, and then the skipper turned to the crew and solemnly spoke as follows:
'Yes, this time, fortunately, everything went well; but now I hope that each of you will have learnt how dangerous it is to lend an ear to these juvenile agitators, who can never be quiet and let evolution, as the steersman says, pursue its natural course. I yielded to your wishes this time, it is true, but not because I approved of your insane rashness; it was simply that I might convince you by—by the logic of events. And see—how did things go? Certainly we have, as by a miracle, been spared the worst; but now we lie here, outside our safe haven, our old anchorage, which we have forsaken to be tossed about on the turbulent waters of the unknown and the untried. But, believe me, henceforth you will find both our excellent steersman and your captain at our post, guarding against such crude, immature projects. And if things go badly with us in days to come, you must all remember that it is entirely your own fault; we wash our hands of the matter.'
Thereupon he strode through the men, who respectfully fell back to let him pass. The steersman, who had really whispered, dried his eyes and followed. They both disappeared in the cabin.
* * * * *
There was much strife in the forecastle that day, and it grew worse after.
The brig's happy days were all over. Dissension and discontent, suspicion and obstinacy, converted the narrow limits of the forecastle into a veritable hell.
Only skipper and steersman seemed to thrive well under all this. The general dissatisfaction did not affect them; for they, of course, were not to blame.
None thought of any change. The crew had done what they could, and the skipper, on his part, had also been accommodating.
Now they might keep their minds at rest. The brig lay in a dangerous place, but now she would have to lie—and there she lies to this day.
There was a large dinner-party at the merchant's. The judge had made a speech in honour of the home-coming of the student, the eldest son of the house, and the merchant had replied with another in honour of the judge; so far all was well and good. And yet one could see that the host was disquieted about something. He answered inconsequentially, decanted Rhine wine into port, and betrayed absence of mind in all manner of ways.
He was meditating upon a speech—a speech beyond the scope of the regulation after-dinner orations. This was something very remarkable; for the merchant was no speaker, and—what was still more remarkable—he knew it himself.
When, therefore, well on in the dinner, he hammered upon the table for silence, and said that he must give expression to a sentiment that lay at his heart, everybody instantly felt that something unusual was impending.
There fell such a sudden stillness upon the table, that one could hear the lively chatter of the ladies, who, in accordance with Norse custom, were dining in the adjoining rooms.
At length the silence reached even them, and they crowded in the doorway to listen. Only the hostess held back, sending her husband an anxious look. 'Ah, dear me!' she sighed, half aloud, 'he is sure to make a muddle of it. He has already made all his speeches; what would he be at now?'
And he certainly did not begin well. He stammered, cleared his throat, got entangled among the usual toast expressions, such as 'I will not fail to—ahem—I am impelled to express my, my—that is, I would beg you, gentlemen, to assist me in—'
The gentlemen sat and stared down into their glasses, ready to empty them upon the least hint of a conclusion. But none came. On the contrary, the speaker recovered himself.
For something really lay at his heart. His joy and pride over his son, who had come home sound and well after having passed a respectable examination, the judge's flattering speech, the good cheer, the wine, the festive mood—all this put words into his mouth. And when he got over the fatal introductory phrases, the words came more and more fluently.
It was the toast of 'The Young.' The speaker dwelt upon our responsibility towards children, and the many sorrows—but also the many joys—that the parents have in them.
He was from time to time compelled to talk quickly to hide his emotion, for he felt what he said.
And when he came to the grown-up children, when he imagined his dear son a partner in his business, and spoke of grandchildren and so on, his words acquired a ring of eloquence which astonished all his hearers, and his peroration was greeted with hearty applause.
'For, gentlemen, it is in these children that we, as it were, continue our existence. We leave them not only our name, but also our work. And we leave them this, not that they may idly enjoy its fruits, but that they may continue it, extend it—yes, do it much better than their fathers were able to. For it is our hope that the rising generation may appropriate the fruits of the work of the age, that they may be freed from the prejudices that have darkened the past and partially darken the present; and, in drinking the health of the young, let us wish that, steadily progressing, they may become worthy of their sires—yes, let us say it—outgrow them.
'And only when we know that we leave the work of our generation in abler hands, can we calmly look forward to the time when we shall bid adieu to our daily task, and then we may confidently reckon upon a bright and glorious future for our dear Fatherland. A health to the Young!'
The hostess, who had ventured nearer when she heard that the speech was going on well, was proud of her husband; the whole company was in an exhilarated humour, but the gladdest of all was the student.
He had stood a little in awe of his father, whose severely patriarchal principles he well knew. He now heard that the old man was extremely liberal-minded towards youth, and he was very glad to be enabled to discourse with him upon serious matters.
But, for the moment, it was only a question of jesting; a propos of the toast, there ensued one of those interesting table-talks, about who was really young and who old. After the company had arrived at this witty result, that the eldest were in reality the youngest, they adjourned to the dessert-table, which was laid in the ladies' room.
But, no matter how gallant the gentlemen—especially those of the old school—may be towards the fair sex, neither feminine amiability nor the most recherche dessert has power to stop them for long on their way to the smoking-room. And soon the first faint aroma of cigars, so great a luxury to smokers, announced the beginning of that process which has obtained for our ladies the fame of being quite smoke-dried.
The student and a few other young gentlemen remained for a time with the young ladies—under the strict surveillance of the elder ones. But little by little they also were swallowed up in the gray cloud which indicated the way that their fathers had taken.
In the smoking-room they were carrying on a very animated conversation upon some matter of social politics. The host, who was speaking, supported his view with a number of 'historical facts,' which, however, were entirely unreliable.
His opponent, a solicitor of the High Court, was sitting chuckling inwardly at the prospect of refuting these inaccurate statements, when the student entered the room.
He came just in time to hear his father's blundering, and, in his jovial humour, in his delight over the new conception of his father that he had acquired after the toast, he said, with a cheery bluntness:
'Excuse me, father, you are mistaken there. The circumstances are not at all as you state. On the contrary—'
He got no further: the father laughingly slapped him on the shoulder, and said:
'There, there! are you, too, trifling with newspapers! But really, you must not disturb us; we are in the middle of a serious discussion.'
The son heard an irritating sniff from the gray cloud; he was provoked at the scorn implied in his interposition being regarded as disturbing a serious conversation.
He therefore replied somewhat sharply.
The father, who instantly remarked the tone, suddenly changed his own manner.
'Are you serious in coming here and saying that your father is talking nonsense?'
'I did not say that; I only said that you were mistaken.'
'The words are of little moment, but the meaning was there,' said the merchant, who was beginning to get angry. For he heard a gentleman say to his neighbour:
'If this had only happened in my father's time!'
One word now drew forth another, and the situation became extremely painful.
The hostess, who had always an attentive ear for the gentlemen's conversation, as she knew her husband's hasty temper, immediately came and looked in at the door.
'What is it, Adjunct [Footnote: Assistant-teacher.] Hansen?'
'Ah,' replied Hansen, 'your son has forgotten himself a little.'
'To his own father! He must have had too much to drink. Dear Hansen, try and get him out.'
The Adjunct, who was more well-meaning than diplomatic, and who, besides (a rarer thing with old teachers than is generally supposed) was esteemed by his former pupils, went and took the student without ceremony by the arm, saying: 'Come, shall we two take a turn in the garden?'
The young man turned round violently, but when he saw that it was the old teacher, and received, at the same time, a troubled, imploring glance from his mother, he passively allowed himself to be led away.
While in the doorway, he heard the lawyer, whom he had never been able to endure, say something about the egg that would teach the hen to lay, which witticism was received with uproarious laughter. A thrill passed through him; but the Adjunct held him firmly, and out they went.
It was long before the old teacher could get him sufficiently quieted to become susceptible to reason. The disappointment, the bitter sense of being at variance with his father, and, not least, the affront of being treated as a boy in the presence of so many—all this had to pour out for awhile.
But at last he became calm, and sat down with his old friend, who now pointed out to him that it must be very painful to an elderly man to be corrected by a mere youth.
'Yes, but I was right,' said the student, certainly for the twentieth time.
'Good, good! but yet you must not put on an air of wanting to be wiser than your own father.'
'Why, my father himself said that he would have it so.'
'What? When did your father say that?' The teacher almost began to believe that the wine had gone to the young gentleman's head.
'At the table—in his speech.'
'At the table—yes! In his speech—yes! But, don't you see, that is quite another matter. People allow themselves to say such things, especially in speeches; but it is by no means intended that these theories should be translated into practice. No, believe me, my dear boy, I am old, and I know humanity. The world must wag like this; we are not made otherwise. In youth one has his own peculiar view of life, but, young man, it is not the right one. Only when one has arrived at the calm restfulness of an advanced age does one see circumstances in the true light. And now I will tell you something, upon the truth of which you may confidently rely. When you come to your father's years and position, your opinions will be quite the same as his now are, and, like him, you will strive to maintain them and impress them upon your children.'
'No, never! I swear it,' cried the young man, springing to his feet. And now he spoke in glowing terms, to the effect that for him right would always be right, that he would respect the truth, no matter whence it came, that he would respect the young, and so on. In short, he talked as hopeful youths are wont to talk after a good dinner and violent mental disturbance.
He was beautiful, as he stood there with the evening sun shining upon his blonde hair, and his enthusiastic countenance turned upward.
There was in his whole personality and in his words something transporting and convincing, something that could not fail to work an impression—that is to say, if anybody but the teacher had seen and heard him.
For upon the teacher it made no impression whatever; he was old, of course.
The drama of which he had that day been a witness he had seen many times. He himself had successively played both the principal roles; he had seen many debutants like the student and many old players like the merchant.
Therefore he shook his venerable head, and said to himself:
'Yes, yes; it is all well enough. But just see if I am not right; he will become precisely the same as the rest of us.'
And the teacher was right.
TROFAST. [Footnote: Faithful.]
Miss Thyra went and called into the speaking-tube:
'Will Trofast's cutlets be ready soon?'
The maid's voice came up from the kitchen: 'They are on the window-sill cooling; as soon as they are all right, Stine shall bring them up.'
Trofast, who had heard this, went and laid himself quietly down upon the hearthrug.
He understood much better than a human being, the merchant used to say.
Besides the people of the house, there sat at the breakfast-table an old enemy of Trofast's—the only one he had. But be it said that Cand. jur. [Footnote: Graduate in law.] Viggo Hansen was the enemy of a great deal in this world, and his snappish tongue was well known all over Copenhagen. Having been a friend of the family for many years, he affected an especial frankness in this house, and when he was in a querulous mood (which was always the case) he wreaked his bitterness unsparingly upon anything or anybody.
In particular, he was always attacking Trofast.
'That big yellow beast,' he used to say, 'is being petted and pampered and stuffed with steak and cutlets, while many a human child must bite its fingers after a piece of dry bread.'
This, however, was a tender point, of which Dr. Hansen had to be rather careful.
Whenever anyone mentioned Trofast in words that were not full of admiration, he received a simultaneous look from the whole family, and the merchant had even said point-blank to Dr. Hansen that he might one day get seriously angry if the other would not refer to Trofast in a becoming manner.
But Miss Thyra positively hated Dr. Hansen for this; and although Waldemar was now grown up—a student, at any rate—he took a special pleasure in stealing the gloves out of the doctor's back pocket, and delivering them to Trofast to tear.
Yes, the good-wife herself, although as mild and sweet as tea, was sometimes compelled to take the doctor to task, and seriously remonstrate with him for daring to speak so ill of the dear animal.
All this Trofast understood very well; but he despised Dr. Hansen, and took no notice of him. He condescended to tear the gloves, because it pleased his friend Waldemar, but otherwise he did not seem to see the doctor.
When the cutlets came, Trofast ate them quietly and discreetly. He did not crunch the bones, but picked them quite clean, and licked the platter.
Thereupon he went up to the merchant, and laid his right fore-paw upon his knee.
'Welcome, welcome, old boy!' cried the merchant with emotion. He was moved in like manner every morning, when this little scene was re-enacted.
'Why, you can't call Trofast old, father,' said Waldemar, with a little tone of superiority.
'Indeed! Do you know that he will soon be eight?'
'Yes, my little man,' said the good wife gently; 'but a dog of eight is not an old dog.'
'No, mother,' exclaimed Waldemar eagerly. 'You side with me, don't you? A dog of eight is not an old dog.'
And in an instant the whole family was divided into two parties—two very ardent parties, who, with an unceasing flow of words, set to debating the momentous question:—whether one can call a dog of eight years an old dog or not. Both sides became warm, and, although each one kept on repeating his unalterable opinion into his opponent's face, it did not seem likely that they would ever arrive at unanimity—not even when old grandmother hurriedly rose from her chair, and positively insisted upon telling some story about the Queen-Dowager's lap-dog, which she had had the honour of knowing from the street.
But in the midst of the irresistible whirl of words there came a pause. Some one looked at his watch and said: 'The steamboat.' They all rose; the gentlemen, who had to go to town, rushed off; the whole company was scattered to the four winds, and the problem—whether one can call a dog of eight an old dog or not—floated away in the air, unsolved.
Trofast alone did not stir. He was accustomed to this domestic din, and these unsolved problems did not interest him. He ran his wise eyes over the deserted breakfast-table, dropped his black nose upon his powerful fore-paws, and closed his eyes for a little morning nap. As long as they were staying out in the country, there was nothing much for him to do, except eat and sleep.
Trofast was one of the pure Danish hounds from the Zoological Gardens. The King had even bought his brother, which fact was expressly communicated to all who came to the house.
All the same, he had had a pretty hard upbringing, for he was originally designated to be watch-dog at the merchant's large coalstore out at Kristianshavn.
Out there, Trofast's behaviour was exemplary. Savage and furious as a tiger at night, in the daytime he was so quiet, kindly, and even humble, that the merchant took notice of him, and promoted him to the position of house-dog.
And it was really from this moment that the noble animal began to develop all his excellent qualities.
From the very beginning he had a peculiar, modest way of standing at the drawing-room door, and looking so humbly at anybody who entered that it was quite impossible to avoid letting him into the room. And there he soon made himself at home—under the sofa at first, but afterwards upon the soft carpet in front of the fire.
And as the other members of the family learned to appreciate his rare gifts, Trofast gradually advanced in importance, until Dr. Hansen maintained that he was the real master of the house.
Certain it is that there came a something into Trofast's whole demeanour which distinctly indicated that he was well aware of the position he occupied. He no longer stood humbly at the door, but entered first himself as soon as it was opened. And if the door was not opened for him instantly when he scratched at it, the powerful animal would raise himself upon his hind-legs, lay his fore-paws upon the latch, and open it for himself.
The first time that he performed this feat the good-wife delightedly exclaimed:
'Isn't he charming? He's just like a human being, only so much better and more faithful!'
The rest of the family were also of opinion that Trofast was better than a human being. Each one seemed, as it were, to get quit of a few of his own sins and infirmities through this admiring worship of the noble animal; and whenever anybody was displeased with himself or others, Trofast received the most confidential communications, and solemn assurances that he was really the only friend upon whom one could rely.
When Miss Thyra came home disappointed from a ball, or when her best friend had faithlessly betrayed a frightfully great secret, she would throw herself, weeping, upon Trofast's neck, and say: 'Now, Trofast, I have only you left. There is nobody—nobody—nobody on the earth who likes me but you! Now we two are quite alone in the wide, wide world; but you will not betray your poor little Thyra—you must promise me that, Trofast.' And so she would weep on, until her tears trickled down Trofast's black nose.
No wonder, therefore, that Trofast comported himself with a certain dignity at home in the house. But in the street also it was evident that he felt self-confident, and that he was proud of being a dog in a town where dogs are in power.
When they were staying in the country in summer, Trofast went to town only once a week or so, to scent out old acquaintances. Out in the country, he lived exclusively for the sake of his health; he bathed, rolled in the flower-beds, and then went into the parlour to rub himself dry upon the furniture, the ladies, and finally upon the hearthrug.
But for the remainder of the year the whole of Copenhagen was at his disposal, and he availed himself of his privileges with much assurance.
What a treat it was, early in the spring, when the fine grass began to shoot upon the public lawns, which no human foot must tread, to run up and down and round in a ring with a few friends, scattering the tufts of grass in the air!
Or when the gardener's people had gone home to dinner, after having pottered and trimmed all the forenoon among the fine flowers and bushes, what fun it was to pretend to dig for moles; thrust his nose down into the earth in the centre of the flower-bed, snort and blow, then begin scraping up the earth with his fore-feet, stop for a little, thrust his muzzle down again, blow, and then fall to digging up earth with all his might, until the hole was so deep that a single vigorous kick from his hind-legs could throw a whole rose-bush, roots and all, high in the air!
When Trofast, after such an escapade, lay quietly in the middle of the lawn, in the warm spring sunshine, and saw the humans trudge wearily past outside, in dust or mud, he would silently and self-complacently wag his tail.
Then there were the great fights in Groenningen, or round the horse in Kongens Nytorv. [Footnote: King's Square.] From thence, wet and bedraggled, he would dash up Oestergade [Footnote: East Street.] among people's legs, rubbing against ladies' dresses and gentlemen's trousers, overthrowing old women and children, exercising an unlimited right-of-way on both sides of the pavement, now rushing into a backyard and up the kitchen stairs after a cat, now scattering terror and confusion by flying right at the throat of an old enemy. Or Trofast would sometimes amuse himself by stopping in front of a little girl who might be going an errand for her mother, thrusting his black nose up into her face, and growling, with gaping jaws, 'Bow, wow, wow!'
If you could see the little thing! She becomes blue in the face, her arms hang rigidly by her sides, her feet keep tripping up and down; she tries to scream, but cannot utter a sound.
But the grown ladies in the street cry shame upon her, and say:
'What a little fool! How can you be afraid of such a dear, nice dog? Why, he only wants to play with you! See what a great big, fine fellow he is. Won't you pat him?'
But this the little one will not do upon any account; and, when she goes home to her mother, the sobs are still rising in her throat. Neither her mother nor the doctor can understand, afterwards, why the healthy, lively child becomes rigid and blue in the face at the least fright, and loses the power to scream.
But all these diversions were colourless and tame in comparison with les grands cavalcades d'amour, in which Trofast was always one of the foremost. Six, eight, ten, or twelve large yellow, black, and red dogs, with a long following of smaller and quite small ones, so bitten and mud-bespattered that one could scarcely see what they were made of, but yet very courageous, tails in the air and panting with ardour, although they stood no chance at all, except of getting mauled again and rolled in the mud. And so off in a wild gallop through streets, squares, gardens, and flower-beds, fighting and howling, covered with blood and dirt, tongues lolling from mouths. Out of the way with humans and baby-carriages, room for canine warfare and love! And thus they would rush on like Aasgaard's demon riders through the unhappy town. [Footnote: Aasgaard was the 'garth' or home of the gods. After the advent of Christianity, the Norse gods became demons, and it was the popular belief that they rode across the sky at night, foreboding evil.]
Trofast heeded none of the people on the street except the policemen. For, with his keen understanding, he had long ago discerned that the police were there to protect him and his kind against the manifold encroachments of humanity. Therefore he obligingly stopped whenever he met a policeman, and allowed himself to be scratched behind the ear. In particular, he had a good, stout friend, whom he often met up in Aabenraa, where he (Trofast) had a liaison of many years' standing.
When Policeman Frode Hansen was seen coming upstairs from a cellar—a thing that often happened, for he was a jolly fellow, and it was a pleasure to offer him a half of lager-beer—his face bore a great likeness to the rising sun. It was round and red, warm and beaming.
But when he appeared in full view upon the pavement, casting a severe glance up and down the street, in order to ascertain whether any evil-disposed person had seen where he came from, there would arise a faint reminiscence of something that we, as young men, had read about in physics, and which, I believe, we called the co-efficient of expansion.
For, when we looked at the deep incision made by his strong belt, before, behind and at the sides, we involuntarily received the impression that such a co-efficient, with an extraordinarily strong tendency to expand, was present in Frode Hansen's stomach.
And people who met him, especially when he heaved one of his deep, beery sighs, nervously stepped to one side. For if the co-efficient in there should ever happen to get the better of the strong belt, the pieces, and particularly the front buckle, would fly around with a force sufficient to break plate-glass windows.
In other respects, Frode Hansen was not very dangerous of approach. He was even looked upon as one of the most harmless of police-constables; he very rarely reported a case of any kind. All the same, he stood well with his superiors, for when anything was reported by others, no matter what, if they only asked Frode Hansen, he could always make some interesting disclosure or other about it.
In this way the world went well with him; he was almost esteemed in Aabenraa and down Vognmagergade. Yes, even Mam Hansen sometimes found means to stand him a half of lager beer.
And she had certainly little to give away. Poverty-stricken and besotted, she had enough to do to struggle along with her two children.
Not that Mam Hansen worked or tried to work herself forward or upward; if she could only manage to pay her rent and have a little left over for coffee and brandy, she was content. Beyond this she had no illusions.
In reality, the general opinion—even in Aabenraa—was that Mam Hansen was a beast; and, when she was asked if she were a widow, she would answer: 'Well, you see, that's not so easy to know.'
The daughter was about fifteen and the son a couple of years younger. About these, too, the public opinion of Aabenraa and district had it that a worse pair of youngsters had seldom grown up in those parts.
Waldemar was a little, pale, dark-eyed fellow, slippery as an eel, full of mischief and cunning, with a face of indiarubber, which in one second could change its expression from the boldest effrontery to the most sheepish innocence.
Nor was there anything good to say about Thyra, except that she gave promise of becoming a pretty girl. But all sorts of ugly stories were already told about her, and she gadded round the town upon very various errands.
Mam Hansen would never listen to these stories; she merely waved them off. She paid just as little attention to the advice of her female friends and neighbours, when they said:
'Let the children shift for themselves—really, they're quite brazen enough to do it—and take in a couple of paying lodgers.'
'No, no,' Mam Hansen would reply; 'as long as they have some kind of a home with me, the police will not get a firm grip of them, and they will not quite flow over.'
This idea, that the bairns should not quite 'flow over,' had grown and grown in her puny brain, until it had become the last point, around which gathered everything motherly that could be left, after a life like hers.
And therefore she slaved on, scolded and slapped the children when they came late home, made their bed, gave them a little food, and so held them to her, in some kind of fashion.
Mam Hansen had tried many things in the course of her life, and everything had brought her gradually downward, from servant-girl to waitress, down past washerwoman to what she now was.
Early in the mornings, before it was light, she would come over Knippelsbro [Footnote: Bro, a bridge.] into the town, with a heavy basket upon each arm. Out of the baskets stuck cabbage-leaves and carrot-tops, so that one would suppose that she made a business of buying vegetables from the peasants out at Amager, in order to sell them in Aabenraa and the surrounding quarters.
All the same, it was not a greengrocery business that she carried on, but, on the contrary, a little coal business: she sold coals clandestinely and in small portions to poor folk like herself.
This evident incongruity was not noticed in Aabenraa; not even Policeman Frode Hansen seemed to find anything remarkable about Mam Hansen's business. When he met her in the mornings, toiling along with the heavy baskets, he usually asked quite genially: 'Well, my little Mam Hansen, were the roots cheap to-day?'
And, if his greeting were less friendly than usual, he was treated to a half of lager later in the day.
This was a standing outlay of Madam Hansen's, and she had one besides. Every evening she bought a large piece of sugared Vienna bread. She did not eat it herself; neither was it for the children; no one knew what she did with it, nor did anybody particularly care.
* * * * *
When there was no prospect of halves of lager, Policeman Frode Hansen promenaded his co-efficient with dignity up and down the street.
If he then happened to meet Trofast or any other of his canine friends, he always made a long halt, for the purpose of scratching him behind the ear. And when he observed the great nonchalance with which the dogs comported themselves in the street, it was a real pleasure to him to sternly pounce upon some unhappy man and note down his full name and address, because he had taken the liberty of throwing an envelope into the gutter.
It was late in the autumn. There was a dinner-party at the merchant's; the family had been back from the country for some time.
The conversation flowed on languidly and intermittently, until the flood-gates were suddenly lifted, and it became a wild fos [Footnote: Waterfall, cataract.] For down at the hostess's end of the table this question had cropped up: 'Can one call a lady a fine lady—a real fine lady—if it be known that on a steam-boat she has put her feet up on a stool, and disclosed small shoes and embroidered stockings?' And, strangely enough, as if each individual in the company had spent half his life in considering and weighing this question, all cast their matured, decided, unalterable opinions upon the table. The opposing parties were formed in an instant; the unalterable opinions collided with each other, fell down, were caught up again, and thrown with ever-increasing ardour.
Up at the other end of the table they took no part in this animated conversation. Near the host there sat mostly elderly gentlemen, and however ardently their wives might have desired to solve the problem once for all by expressing their unalterable opinion, they were compelled to give up the idea, as the focus of the animated conversation was among some young students right down beside the hostess, and the distance was too great.
'I don't think I see the big yellow beast to-day,' said Dr. Viggo Hansen in his querulous tone.
'Unfortunately not. Trofast is not here to-day. Poor fellow! I have been obliged to request him to do me a disagreeable service.'
The merchant always talked about Trofast as if he were an esteemed business friend.
'You make me quite curious. Where is the dear animal?'
'Ah, my dear madam, it is indeed a tiresome story. For, you know, there has been stealing going on out at our coal warehouse at Kristianshavn.'
'Oh, good gracious! Stealing?'
'The thefts have evidently been practised systematically for a long time.'
'Have you noticed the stock getting less, then?'
But now the merchant had to laugh, which he seldom did.
'No, no, my dear doctor, excuse my laughing, but you are really too naive. Why, there are now about ten thousand tons of coal out there, so you will see that it wants some—'
'They would have to steal from evening till morning with a pair of horses,' interjected a young business man, who was witty.
When the merchant had finished his laugh, he continued:
'No; the theft was discovered by means of a little snow that fell yesterday.'
'What! Snow yesterday? I don't know anything about that.'
'It was not at the time of day when we are awake, madam, it is true; but yet, very early yesterday morning there fell a little snow, and when my folks arrived at the coal store, they discovered the footprints of the thief or thieves. It was then found that a couple of boards in the wall were loose, but they had been so skilfully put in place that nobody would ever notice anything wrong. And the thief crawls through the opening night after night; is it not outrageous?'
'But don't you keep a watch-dog?'
'Certainly I do; but he is a young animal (of excellent breed, by the way, half a bloodhound), and, whatever way these wretches go about their work, it is evident that they must be on friendly terms with the beast, for the dog's footprints were found among those of the thieves.'
'That was indeed remarkable. And now Trofast is to try what he can do, I presume?'
'Yes, you are quite right. I have sent Trofast out there to-day; he will catch the villains for me.'
'Could you not nail the loose boards securely in position?'
'Of course we could, Dr. Hansen; but I must get hold of the fellows. They shall have their well-merited punishment. My sense of right is most deeply wounded.'
'It is really delightful to have such a faithful animal.'
'Yes, isn't it, madam? We men must confess to our shame that in many respects we are far behind the dumb animals.'
'Yes, Trofast is really a pearl, sir. He is, beyond comparison, the prettiest dog in all—'
'Constantinople,' interrupted Dr. Hansen.
'That is an old joke of Hansen's,' explained the merchant. 'He has re-christened the Northern Athens the Northern Constantinople, because he thinks there are too many dogs.'
'It is good for the dog-tax,' said some one.
'Yes, if the dog-tax were not so inequitably fixed,' snapped Dr. Hansen. 'There is really no sense in a respectable old lady, who keeps a dog in a hand-bag, having to pay as much as a man who takes pleasure in annoying his fellow-creatures by owning a half-wild animal as big as a little lion.'
'May I ask how you would have the dog-tax reckoned, Dr. Hansen?'
'According to weight, of course,' replied Dr. Viggo Hansen without hesitation.
The old merchants and councillors laughed so heartily at this idea of weighing the dogs, that the disputants at the lower end of the table, who were still vigorously bombarding each other with unalterable opinions, became attentive and dropped their opinions, in order to listen to the discussion on dogs. And the question, 'Can one call a lady a fine lady—a really fine lady—if it be known that on a steamboat she has put her feet up on a stool, and disclosed small shoes and embroidered stockings?' also floated away in the air, unsolved.
'You seem to be a downright hater of dogs, Dr. Hansen!' said the lady next to him, still laughing.
'I must tell you, madam,' cried a gentleman across the table, 'that he is terribly afraid of dogs.'
'But one thing,' continued the lady—'one thing you must admit, and that is, that the dog has always been the faithful companion of man.'
'Yes, that is true, madam, and I could tell you what the dog has learned from man, and man from the dog.'
'Tell us; do tell us!' was simultaneously exclaimed from several quarters.
'With pleasure. In the first place, man has taught the dog to fawn.'
'What a very queer thing to say!' cried old grandmother.
'Next, the dog has acquired all the qualities that make man base and unreliable: cringing flattery upward, and rudeness and contempt downward; the narrowest adhesion to his own, and distrust and hatred of all else. Indeed, the noble animal has proved such an apt pupil that he even understands the purely human art of judging people by their clothes. He lets well-dressed folks alone, but snaps at the legs of the ragged.'
Here the doctor was interrupted by a general chorus of disapproval, and Miss Thyra bitterly gripped the fruit-knife in her little hand.
But there were some who wanted to hear what mankind had learned from the dog, and Dr. Hansen proceeded, with steadily-growing passion and bitterness:
'Man has learned from the dog to set a high price upon this grovelling, unmerited worship. When neither injustice nor ill-treatment has ever met anything but this perpetually wagging tail, stomach upon earth, and licking tongue, the final result is that the master fancies himself a splendid fellow, to whom all this devotion belongs as a right. And, transferring his experience of the dog into his human intercourse, he puts little restraint upon himself, expecting to meet wagging tails and licking tongues. And if he be disappointed, then he despises mankind and turns, with loud-mouthed eulogies, to the dog.'
He was once more interrupted; some laughed, but the greater number were offended. By this time Viggo Hansen had warmed to his subject; his little, sharp voice pierced through the chorus of objections, and he proceeded as follows:
'And, while we are speaking of the dog, may I be allowed to present an extraordinarily profound hypothesis of my own? Is there not something highly characteristic of our national character in the fact that it is we who have produced this noble breed of dogs—the celebrated, pure Danish hounds? This strong, broad-chested animal with the heavy paws, the black throat, and the frightful teeth, but so good-natured, harmless, and amiable withal—does he not remind you of the renowned, indestructible Danish loyalty, which has never met injustice or ill-treatment with anything but perpetually wagging tail, stomach upon earth, and licking tongue? And when we admire this animal, formed in our own image, is it not with a kind of melancholy self-praise that we pat him upon the head, and say: "You are indeed a great, good, faithful creature!"'
'Do you hear, Dr. Hansen? I must point out to you that in my house there are certain matters which—'
The host was angry, but a good-natured relation of the family hastened to interrupt him, saying: 'I am a countryman, and you will surely admit, Dr. Hansen, that a good farm watch-dog is an absolute necessity for us. Eh?'
'Oh yes, a little cur that can yelp, so as to awake the master.'
'No, thank you. We must have a decent dog, that can lay the rascals by the heels. I have now a magnificent bloodhound.'
'And if an honest fellow comes running up to tell you that your outbuildings are burning, and your magnificent bloodhound flies at his throat—what then?'
'Why, that would be awkward,' laughed the countryman. And the others laughed too.
Dr. Hansen was now so busily engaged in replying to all sides, employing the most extravagant paradoxes, that the young folks in particular were extremely amused, without specially noting the increasing bitterness of his tone.
'But our watch-dogs, our watch-dogs! You will surely let us keep them, doctor?' exclaimed a coal-merchant laughingly.
'Not at all. Nothing is more unreasonable than that a poor man, who comes to fill his bag from a coal mountain, should be torn to pieces by wild beasts. There is absolutely no reasonable relation between such a trifling misdemeanour and so dreadful a punishment.'
'May we ask how you would protect your coal mountain, if you had one?'
'I should erect a substantial fence of boards, and if I were very anxious, I should keep a watchman, who would say politely, but firmly, to those who came with bags: "Excuse me, but my master is very particular about that. You must not fill your bag; you must take yourself off at once."'
Through the general laughter which followed this last paradox, a clerical gentleman spoke from the ladies' end of the table:
'It appears to me that there is something lacking in this discussion—something that I would call the ethical aspect of the question. Is it not a fact that in the hearts of all who sit here there is a clear, definite sense of the revolting nature of the crime we call theft?'
These words were received with general and hearty applause.
'And I think it does very great violence to our feelings to hear Dr. Hansen minimising a crime that is distinctly mentioned in Divine and human law as one of the worst—to hear him reduce it to the size of a trifling and insignificant misdemeanour. Is not this highly demoralizing and dangerous to Society?'
'Permit me, too,' promptly replied the indefatigable Hansen, 'to present an ethical aspect of the question. Is it not a fact that in the hearts of innumerable persons who do not sit here there is a clear, definite sense of the revolting nature of the crime they call wealth? And must it not greatly outrage the feelings of those who do not themselves possess any coal except an empty bag, to see a man who permits himself to own two or three hundred thousand sacks letting wild beasts loose to guard his coal mountain, and then going to bed after having written on the gate: "Watch-dogs unfastened at dusk"? Is not that very provoking and very dangerous to Society?'
'Oh, good God and Father! He is a regular sans-culotte!' cried old grandmother.
The majority gave vent to mutterings of displeasure; he was going too far; it was no longer amusing. Only a few still laughingly exclaimed: 'He does not mean a word of what he says; it is only his way. Good health, Hansen!'
But the host took the matter more seriously. He thought of himself, and he thought of Trofast. With ominous politeness, he began:
'May I venture to ask what you understand by a reasonable relation between a crime and its punishment?'
'For example,' replied Dr. Viggo Hansen, who was now thoroughly roused, 'if I heard that a merchant possessing two or three hundred thousand sacks of coal had refused to allow a poor creature to fill his bag, and that this same merchant, as a punishment, had been torn to pieces by wild beasts, then that would be something that I could very easily understand, for between such heartlessness and so horrible a punishment there is a reasonable relation.'
'Ladies and gentlemen, my wife and I beg you to make yourselves at home, and welcome.'
There was a secret whispering and muttering, and a depressed feeling among the guests, as they dispersed themselves through the salons.
The host walked about with a forced smile on his lips, and, as soon as he had welcomed every one individually, he went in search of Hansen, in order to definitely show him the door once for all.
But this was not necessary. Dr. Viggo Hansen had already found it.
There had really been some snow, as the merchant had stated. Although it was so early in the winter, a little wet snow fell towards morning for several days in succession, but it turned into fine rain when the sun rose.
This was almost the only sign that the sun had risen, for it did not get much lighter or warmer all day. The air was thick with fog—not the whitish-gray sea mist, but brown-gray, close, dead Russian fog, which had not become lighter in passing over Sweden; and the east wind came with it and packed it well and securely down among the houses of Copenhagen.
Under the trees along Kastelgraven and in Groenningen the ground was quite black after the dripping from the branches. But along the middle of the streets and on the roofs there was a thin white layer of snow.
All was yet quite still over at Burmeister and Wain's; the black morning smoke curled up from the chimneys, and the east wind dashed it down upon the white roofs. Then it became still blacker, and spread over the harbour among the rigging of the ships, which lay sad and dark in the gray morning light, with white streaks of snow along their sides. At the Custom House the bloodhounds would soon be shut in, and the iron gates opened.
The east wind was strong, rolling the waves in upon Langelinie, and breaking them in grayish-green foam among the slimy stones, whilst long swelling billows dashed into the harbour, broke under the Custom House, and rolled great names and gloomy memories over the stocks round the fleet's anchorage, where lay the old dismantled wooden frigates in all their imposing uselessness.
The harbour was still full of ships, and goods were piled high in the warehouses and upon the quays.
Nobody could know what kind of winter they were to have—whether they would be cut off for months from the world, or if it would go by with fogs and snow-slush.
Therefore there lay row upon row of petroleum casks, which, together with the enormous coal mountains, awaited a severe winter, and there lay pipes and hogsheads of wine and cognac, patiently waiting for new adulterations; oil and tallow and cork and iron—all lay and waited, each its own destiny.
Everywhere lay work waiting—heavy work, coarse work, and fine work, from the holds of the massive English coal-steamers, right up to the three gilded cupolas on the Emperor of Russia's new church in Bredgade.
But as yet there was no one to put a hand to all this work. The town slept heavily, the air was thick, winter hung over the city, and it was so still in the streets that one could hear the water from the melting snow on the roofs fall down into the spouts with a deep gurgling, as if even the great stone houses yet sobbed in semi-slumber.
A little sleepy morning clock chimed over upon Holmen; here and there a door was opened, and a dog came out to howl; curtains were rolled up and windows were opened; the servant-girls went about in the houses, and did their cleaning by a naked light which stood and flickered; at a window in the palace sat a gilded lacquey and rubbed his nose in that early morning hour.
The fog lay thick over the harbour, and hung in the rigging of the great ships as if in a forest; rain and flakes of wet snow made it still thicker, but the east wind pressed it down between the houses, and completely filled Amalieplads, so that Frederick V. sat as if in the clouds, and turned his proud nose unconcernedly towards his half-finished church.
Some more sleepy clocks now began to chime; a steam-whistle joined in with a diabolical shriek. In the taverns which 'open before the clock strikes' they were already serving early refections of hot coffee and schnapps; girls with hair hanging down their backs, after a wild night, came out of the sailors' houses by Nyhavn, and sleepily began to clean windows.
It was bitterly cold and raw, and those who had to cross Kongens Nytorv hurried past Oehlenschlaeger, whom they had set outside the theatre, bare-headed, with his collar full of snow, which melted and ran down into his open shirt-front.
Now came the long, relentless blasts of steam-whistles from the factories all round the town, and the little steamers in the harbour whistled for no reason at all.
The work, which everywhere lay waiting, began to swallow up the many small dark figures, who, sleepy and freezingly cold, appeared and disappeared all round the town. And there was almost a quiet bustle in the streets; some ran, others walked—both those who had to go down into the coal steamers, and those who must up and gild the Emperor of Russia's cupolas, and thousands of others who were being swallowed by all kinds of work.
And waggons began to rumble, criers to shout, engines raised their polished, oily shoulders, and turned their buzzing wheels; and little by little the heavy, thick atmosphere was filled with a muffled murmur from the collective work of thousands. The day was begun; joyous Copenhagen was awake.
Policeman Frode Hansen froze even to his innermost co-efficient. It had been an unusually bitter watch, and he walked impatiently up and down in Aabenraa, and waited for Mam Hansen. She was in the habit of coming at this time, or even earlier, and to-day he had almost resolved to carry matters as far as a half lager or a cup of warm coffee.
But Mam Hansen came not, and he began to wonder whether it was not really his duty to report her. She was carrying the thing too far; it would not do at all any longer, this humbug with these cabbage-leaves and that coal business.
Thyra and Waldemar had also several times peeped out into the little kitchen, to see if their mother had come and had put the coffee-pot on the fire. But it was black under the kettle, and the air was so dark and the room so cold that they jumped into bed again.
* * * * *
When they opened the great gates of merchant Hansen's coalstore at Kristianshavn, Trofast sat there and shamefacedly looked askance; it was really a loathsome piece of work that they had set him to do.
In a corner, between two empty baskets, they found a bundle of rags, from which there came a faint moaning. There were a few drops of blood upon the snow, and close by there lay, untouched, a piece of sugared Vienna bread.
When the foreman understood the situation, he turned to Trofast to praise him. But Trofast had already gone home; the position was quite too uncomfortable for him.
They gathered her up, such as she was, wet and loathsome, and the foreman decided that she should be placed upon the first coal-cart going into town, and that they could stop at the hospital, so that the professor himself might see whether she was worth repairing.
* * * * *
About ten o'clock the merchant's family began to assemble at the breakfast-table. Thyra came first. She hurried up to Trofast, patted and kissed him, and overwhelmed him with words of endearment.
But Trofast did not move his tail, and scarcely raised his eyes. He kept on licking his fore-paws, which were a little black after the coal.
'Good gracious, my dear mother!' cried Miss Thyra; 'Trofast is undoubtedly ill. Of course he has caught cold in the night; it was really horrid of father.'