A party of ladies and gentlemen had gathered on the jetty on the day of the excursion. They were waiting for the Paulsbergs, who were late. Irgens was growing impatient and sarcastic: Would it not be better to send the yacht up for them? When finally Paulsberg and his wife arrived, they all went aboard and were soon tacking out the fiord.
Tidemand held the tiller. A couple of warehousemen from Henriksen’s wharf were along as crew. Ole had arranged the trip carefully and had brought along a choice supply of provisions; he had even remembered roasted coffee for Irgens. But he had failed to find Coldevin, and he had purposely avoided asking Gregersen; the Journalist might have heard the news from Russia, and might inadvertently have betrayed the fatal tidings.
Tidemand looked as if he had spent a sleepless night. To Ole’s whispered inquiry, he answered smilingly that things might be worse. But he asked to be allowed to keep his place at the tiller.
And the yacht tacked out toward the reefs.
Mrs. Hanka had chosen a place far forward; her face was fresh, and she had thrown her fur coat around her shoulders; Milde said she looked picturesque. He added loudly and gaily:
“And furthermore I wish it were drink time!”
Ole brought out bottles and glasses. He went around and wrapped the ladies in shawls and blankets. Nothing to laugh about; true, the day was bright and warm, but the sea air was treacherous. He repeatedly offered to relieve Tidemand at the tiller, but was not permitted to. No, this was the place for Tidemand; here he would not have to be entertaining, and he was not in a mood for social amenities.
“Don’t lose your nerve whatever happens! Have you heard anything further?”
“Only a confirmation. We shall get it officially to-morrow, I guess. But don’t worry; I have laid my lines now and shall manage to pull through somehow. I imagine I shall save the ship.”
Forward the spirits of the company rose rapidly. Ojen began to get a little seasick, and drank steadily in order to subdue his qualms.
“It seems good to see you again,” said Mrs. Hanka, prompted by a desire to enliven him. “You still have your delicate face, but it is not quite as pale as before you went away.”
“But what is the matter with your eyes?” cried Mrs. Paulsberg mercilessly. “I have never seen him as pallid as at this very moment.”
This reference to his seasickness caused general merriment. Mrs. Hanka continued to speak: She had heard his latest poem, that exquisite gem, “Memories.” His excursion had certainly been fruitful in results.
“You haven’t heard my very latest poem, though,” said Ojen in a weak voice; “it has an Egyptian subject; the action takes place in an ancient tomb—” And, sick and miserable as he was, he looked through all his pockets for this poem. What could have become of it? He had taken it out that morning with the intention of bringing it along; he had thought that perhaps somebody would care to listen to it. He was not afraid of saying that it really was a little out of the ordinary. He sincerely hoped he hadn’t lost it; in that case the trip would have proved most unfortunate for him. Never had he produced anything so remarkable; it was only a couple of pages, but....
“No,” said Mrs. Hanka, “you must surely have left it behind.” And she did her best to make the poor poet forget his groundless fears. She had been told that he preferred the city to the country?
He did, most assuredly. No sooner had his eyes beheld the straight lines of streets and houses than his brain was aquiver, and he had conceived that Egyptian prose poem. If that had been lost, now....
Milde had lately begun to appreciate Ojen; at last his eyes had been opened to his poetry’s delicate uniqueness. Irgens, who sat close enough to hear this unusual praise, leaned over to Mrs. Hanka and said in a low voice:
“You understand? Milde knows he has nothing to fear from his competitor any more—hence his change of attitude.” And Irgens pressed his lips together and smiled venomously.
Mrs. Hanka glanced at him. How he persisted in his bitterness; how unbecoming it was in him! He did not realise it, or he would not have thus compressed his lips and continually shot baleful glances at his fellow applicants. Otherwise Irgens was silent; he ignored Aagot entirely. She thought: What have I done to him? Could I possibly have acted in any other way?
The coffee was made on board, but out of regard for Ojen, who still felt badly, it was decided to drink it on the very first reef they should reach. They camped on the rocks, flung themselves on the ground, and threw dignity to the winds. It was great fun; Ojen looked with big, astonished eyes at everything—the sea, the waves which filled the air with a continuous roar, the barren reef where not a tree grew and where the grass was yellow from sun and spray. Aagot skipped round with cups and glasses; she walked in a constant fear of dropping anything and stuck the tip of her tongue out like a rope-walker.
Milde proposed that they drink her health. “Haven’t you got champagne, Ole?” he asked.
The champagne was produced, the glasses filled, and the toast drunk amid cheers. Milde was in high spirits; he proposed that they throw the bottle in the sea with a note enclosed which they all were to sign.
They all put their names down except Paulsberg, who curtly refused. A man who wrote as much as he did could not sign his name to nonsensical notes, he said. And he rose and walked away in dignified aloofness.
“Then I’ll sign for him,” said Milde, and seized a pencil.
But Mrs. Paulsberg cried indignantly:
“You will do nothing of the kind! Paulsberg has said that he does not want his name on the note, and that ought to be sufficient for all of us.” She looked quite offended as she crossed her legs and held her cup in her usual masculine fashion.
Milde apologised instantly; his proposition was meant as a harmless joke; however, after considering the matter he admitted that perhaps it was a little foolish and that it would not do for Paulsberg to have anything to do with it. Perhaps they had better drop the whole thing; what did they think? If Paulsberg wasn’t going to be in it, then....
Irgens could not control himself any longer; he sneered openly and almost hissed:
“Mr. Subsidist! You are divine!”
That subsidy was never out of his thoughts.
“And as for you,” answered Milde scathingly, glaring at him with angry eyes, “it is getting so that it is impossible to be near you.”
Irgens feigned surprise.
“What is that? It would appear from your tone that I have offended you.”
Mrs. Hanka had to intervene. Couldn’t they stop quarrelling even on a pleasure trip? They ought to be ducked if they couldn’t behave!
And Irgens was silent at once; he did not even mumble maliciously between his teeth. Mrs. Hanka grew thoughtful. How her poet and hero had changed in a few brief weeks! What had really happened? How dull and lustreless his dark eyes had become! Even his moustache seemed to be drooping; he had lost his fresh immaculateness; he was not nearly as alluring as before. But then she reminded herself of his disappointments, of that miserable subsidy, and of his book, his beautiful lyric creation which they were conspiring to kill by their studied silence. She leaned toward Aagot and said:
“It is sad to observe how bitter Irgens has grown; have you noticed it? I hope he will get over it soon.” And Mrs. Hanka, who wanted to save him from making too unfavourable an impression, added in the goodness of her heart what she had heard Irgens himself say so often: It was not so strange, after all; bitterness of that character could only arouse respect. Here he had toiled and worked for years, had given freely of his treasures, and the country, the government, had refused to offer him a helping hand.
“Can you understand it?” said Aagot also. And she realised instantly that she had not treated this man with the consideration due him; she had been tactless; she had rebuffed him with unnecessary harshness. She wished her conduct had been different; however, it was too late now.
Paulsberg returned from his solitary walk and suggested that it was time to think of the return. The clouds held a menace of rain, he said; the sun was sinking and it was blowing up a little.
Aagot went around again and poured coffee. She bent over Irgens, bent deeper than necessary, and said:
“May I pour you some, Mr. Irgens?”
The almost supplicating note in her voice made him glance at her in surprise. He did not want any coffee, thanks; but he smiled at her. She was happy at once; she hardly knew what she was carrying, but she stammered:
“Just a little, please.”
He looked at her again and said: “No, thanks.”
On the return trip Irgens seemed a different person. He chatted, entertained the ladies, helped even poor Ojen, who suffered greatly. Milde had captured a bottle on the pretext that it was drink time again, and Irgens drank with him simply to be accommodating. Mrs. Hanka’s spirits also rose; she was lively and cheerful, and a strange association of ideas made her suddenly decide to ask her husband for a couple of hundred crowns this very evening.
Tidemand was at the tiller and could not be dislodged; he sailed the boat and did not utter a syllable. He looked well as he stood high in the stern, rising and falling against the blue background of sea and sky. His wife called to him once and asked him if he were cold, an attention he could hardly believe and therefore pretended not to hear.
“He is deaf,” she said smilingly. “Are you cold Andreas?”
“Cold? Not at all,” he called back.
And by and by the party reached the jetty.
Hardly had Ojen stepped ashore before he called a cab. He was in a hurry to get home and find his manuscript or learn the worst. He could not rest until he knew his fate. But perhaps he would meet the company later on. Would they be at Sara’s?
They looked at each other uncertainly and did not know what to say. But Ole Henriksen declared that he was going home; he was thinking of Tidemand, who was in need of rest and quiet. They parted outside Tidemand’s house.
Mrs. Hanka asked abruptly, before even the door was opened:
“Will you please let me have a hundred or so?”
“A hundred? Hm. Certainly. But you will have to come with me to the office; I haven’t got the money here.”
In the office he handed her the bill; his hand was trembling violently.
“Here is the money,” he said.
“Thanks—Why are you trembling?” she asked.
“Oh—I suppose because I have held the tiller so long—Hm. Listen, Hanka, I have a pleasant surprise for you! You have asked me a number of times to consent to a divorce; I have decided in God’s name to do what you ask—You understand, I am not going to oppose you any more.”
She could hardly believe her ears. Did he agree to a divorce? She gazed at him; he was deathly pale, his eyes were lowered. They were standing opposite each other, the large desk between them.
“Circumstances are different now—My big speculation has failed; even if I am not a bankrupt this moment, I am a poor man. I may avoid closing up shop, but that will be all. Anyway, I shall not be able to keep up this mode of life. And, this being so, I feel that I have no right to interfere with your plans and desires any longer.”
His words reached her as from afar. For a moment she felt a vague sensation of happiness—she was free; she would escape the yoke that had become oppressive; she would be a girl once more! Hanka Lange—imagine, only Hanka Lange! And when she realised that her husband was almost a bankrupt it did not greatly upset her; he had said he might not be forced to shut down. Of course, he was not wealthy, but neither was he a beggar; it might have been a great deal worse.
“Is that so?” she said simply; “is that so?”
Pause. Tidemand had regained his composure; he stood again as he had stood aboard the yacht; one could almost see the tiller in his hand. His eyes were on her. She had not said no; her intentions were evidently not shaken. Well, he had hardly expected that they would be.
“Well, that was all I wanted to tell you.”
His voice was remarkably even, almost commanding; she thought: “He has not spoken to me like that in three years.” His strength was marvellous to behold.
“Well, do you really want to?” she asked. “You think, then, that we ought to separate? Of course, but—I hope you have thought it over—that you are not doing this simply to please me?”
“It goes without saying that I do it to please you,” he answered. “You have requested it often enough, and I sincerely regret that I have opposed you until now.” And he added without a trace of malice: “You must forgive me for having interfered with your wishes so long.”
She grew attentive at once.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said a trifle haughtily.
He did not care about that and did not answer. Hadn’t she spoken about a divorce time and time again? Hadn’t he put her off? Perfectly composed, he opened his coat and took out his pocket calendar, in which he proceeded to make an entry.
She could not help being impressed by this quiet superiority, which she never before had noticed in him; she happened to say:
“I think you have changed greatly.”
“Oh, well, one gets a little grey, but—”
“No, you misunderstand me!” she interrupted.
Tidemand said slowly and looked straight into her eyes:
“I wish to God you had understood me as well as I have you, Hanka! Perhaps, then, this would not have become necessary.” He buttoned his coat as if preparing to leave, and added: “Now, in regard to the money—”
“Yes, dear, here is the money!” she said, and wanted to give him back the bill.
For the first time since their interview he tossed his head impatiently and said:
“I am not talking about that money now! Kindly make at least an effort to understand me—Whatever money you need shall be sent you as soon as you inform me where to send it.”
“But, dear me,” she said in confusion, “do I have to go away? I thought I could stay in the city. What do you want me to do?”
“Whatever is agreeable to you. You will let the children remain here, won’t you? I shall take good care of them; you need not worry about that. As for yourself, I suppose you will want to take an apartment somewhere. You know it takes three years, don’t you?”
She was standing with the bill in her hand, gazing at it abstractedly. She was unable to think clearly; her mind was whirling; but deep down she had a vague feeling of relief—she was free at last! She said nothing; he felt his self-control give way and wanted to get it over with quickly so as not to break down.
“Good-bye, then—” He could say no more, but offered her his hand; she took it. “I hope we shall see each other occasionally; but I want to thank you now for everything; this may be the last chance I shall have—I shall send you the money every month.” And he put on his hat and went to the door.
She followed him with her eyes. Was this Andreas?
“Well, I suppose you want to go,” she said, bewildered, “and I am standing here delaying you. I suppose we shall have to do as you say—I don’t know what I am saying—” Her voice broke suddenly.
Tidemand opened the door with trembling hands and let her out. At the foot of the stairs she stopped and let him walk ahead. When he reached the landing he waited for her; then he opened the door with his key and held it for her. When she was inside he said:
“Good night, then!”
And again Tidemand walked down-stairs, down to his office, where he shut himself in. He went over to the window and stood there, his hands clasped behind him, staring out into the street with unseeing eyes. No, she had not changed her mind in the least, that was not to be expected. She had not hesitated. There she had stood, with her elbow on the desk; she had heard what he said and she had replied; “Well, I suppose we shall have to do as you say.” There had been no hesitation, no, none at all.... But she had not exulted, either; she had spared him from witnessing any outburst of joy. She had been considerate—he had to admit that. Oh, Hanka was always considerate; God bless her wherever she went! She had stood there. Hanka, Hanka!... But probably she was rejoicing now; why shouldn’t she be? She had had her way.... And the children were asleep now, both Ida and Johanna. Poor little things; they did not even reach up to their pillows! Well, they would be provided for. One might be getting a little grey, but there was still a fight or two left....
And Tidemand went back to his desk. He worked over his books and papers until daylight.
Mrs. Hanka looked in vain for Irgens for several days. She had hurried to him to bring him the joyful news; she was free at last! But he was never at home. His door was locked, and it was not opened when she knocked; consequently he must be out. She did not meet him in his usual haunts, either. Finally she had to write to him and make an appointment; she wrote that she had excellent news for him.
But during these two days, these long hours of waiting in which she could do nothing, it seemed as if her joy over the coming divorce had begun to wane. She had dwelt on her happiness so long that she had grown accustomed to it; it did not make her heart beat faster any more. She was going to be free from her husband—true, but she had not been so entirely shackled before. The difference was not so pronounced that she could steadily continue to revel in it.
And to this was added an indefinable fear, now when the irrevocable separation confronted her; the thought that she was to leave her home was tinged with a vague sense of regretfulness, of impalpable foreboding. Sometimes a quivering pang would pierce her heart when the children put out their little arms to her; why that pain? She had got out of her bed last night and looked at them in their sleep. There they were lying, each in her little bed; they had kicked the blankets off and were uncovered up to their very arms, but they slept soundly and moved, now and then, a rosy finger or a dimpled toe in their sleep. Such children! To lie there unblushingly naked, with arms and legs pointing in all directions! She tucked them carefully in and left them with bowed head, her shoulders shaken by inaudible sobs.
How was she going to arrange her future? She was free, but in reality she was married still; for three years she would have to live somewhere, pay rent, keep house for herself. She had worried and fretted about this for two long days without anyone to help her; what could have happened to Irgens? God only knew where he kept himself. She had not once seen her former husband.
She started for Irgens’s rooms. Surely he would help her find a place and get settled! Oh, it was fine to have an end to this daily galling restraint; here she had been tortured by dissatisfaction and restlessness for months and years, ever since she had been introduced to the clique and had acquired a taste for their irresponsible mode of living. She was free, free and young! She would overwhelm Irgens with this joyful news, he who had so often sighed for that divorce during their most intimate hours—
Irgens was at home at last.
She told him the great news at once. She recounted how it had happened, repeated Tidemand’s words, and praised his superiority. She gazed into Irgens’s eyes; her own were sparkling. Irgens, however, did not show any great exultation; he smiled, said yes and no, asked her if she were satisfied now. So she was really going to get a divorce? He was glad to hear it; it was foolish to go through life in this heart-breaking manner.... But he sat there very quietly and discussed the great news in an every-day voice.
Gradually, very gradually, she came to earth; her heart began to flutter wildly.
“It seems as if the news does not make you so very happy, Irgens,” she said.
“Happy? Of course I am. Why shouldn’t I be happy? You have sighed for this for a long time; why shouldn’t I rejoice with you now? I do, most assuredly.”
Words only, without fire, without warmth even! What could have happened? Did he not love her any more? She sat there, her heart heavy within her; she wanted to gain time, to hush the wakening terror in her breast. She said:
“But, dear, where have you been all this time? I have called on you three times without finding you in.”
He answered, choosing his words carefully, that she must have missed him because of an unfortunate series of accidents. He went out occasionally, of course; but he spent most of his time at home. Where in the world could he go? He went nowhere.
Pause. Finally she yielded abjectly to her fears and stammered:
“Well, Irgens, I am yours now, entirely yours! I am going to leave the house—You will thank me, won’t you? It will take three years, of course, but then—”
She stopped suddenly; she felt that he was squirming, that he was bracing himself against the inevitable; her terror increased as he remained silent. A few anguished moments went by.
“Well, Hanka, this is rather unfortunate, in a way,” he began finally. “You have evidently understood me to mean that when you got your divorce— that if you only were free—Of course, I may have said something to that effect; I admit that if you have interpreted my words literally such a supposition is probably justified. I have most likely said things more than once—”
“Yes, of course,” she interrupted; “we have never meant anything else, have we? For you love me, don’t you? What is the matter? You are so strange to-day!”
“I am awfully sorry, but really—things are not as they used to be.” He looked away sadly and searched for words. “I cannot lie to you, Hanka, and the plain truth is that I am not enraptured by you as much as I used to be. It would hardly be right to deceive you; anyway, I couldn’t do it—it is beyond me.”
At last she understood; these were plain words. And quietly bending her head, yielding to the inevitable, letting go of the last lingering hope, she whispered in a dull and broken voice:
“Couldn’t do it; no—It is all over, irrevocably over—”
He sat there silent.
Suddenly she turned and looked at him. Her white teeth showed beneath the slightly raised upper lip as she endeavoured to force a smile. She said slowly:
“But surely it cannot all be over, Irgens? Remember, I have sacrificed a great deal—”
But he shook his head.
“Yes, I am awfully sorry, but—Do you know what I was thinking of just now when I didn’t answer you? You said ‘irrevocably over.’ I was wondering if that was proper grammar, if it sounded right. That shows how little this scene really affects me; you can see for yourself that I am not beside myself with grief—not even deeply stirred. That ought to show you—” And as if he wanted to utilise the opportunity to the utmost and leave no room for doubt, he continued: “Did you say that you have been here three times, looking for me? I know that you have been here twice. I think I ought to tell you, so that you can see how impossible it is for me to pretend: I sat here and heard you knock, but I didn’t open. That surely proves the matter is serious—Dearest Hanka, I cannot help it; really, you mustn’t be unhappy. But you surely will admit that our relationship must have been a little galling, a little humiliating, to me as well? It is true; it has not been easy for me to accept money from you continually; I have said to myself: ‘This degrades you!’ You understand, don’t you—a man with a nature like mine; unhappily, I am proud, whether it is a virtue or a vice in me—”
“All right,” she said mechanically, “all right.” And she rose in order to go. Her eyes were wide and staring, but she saw nothing.
However, he wanted to explain himself thoroughly; she must not leave with a wrong impression of him. He called her back; he wanted to prove why it could not have been otherwise, why his conduct was beyond reproach. He spoke at length and cleared up the matter perfectly; it seemed as if he had expected this and had prepared himself thoroughly. There were a number of bagatelles; but it was just the little things that counted with a man like him, and these little things had gradually made it so clear to him that they were not compatible. Of course, she was fond of him, a great deal more so than he deserved; but all the same he was not sure that she understood and appreciated him fully. This was not said reproachfully, but—She had said that she was proud of him, and that she enjoyed seeing the ladies turn and look after him when they walked down the street together. All right! But that did not prove that she valued his individuality. She took no pride in the fact that he was, above all, a somewhat different individuality. Of course, he did not blame her; but, unfortunately, it proved that her understanding of him was not deep enough. She was not proud of him for what he had thought or written; not primarily, at any rate; she loved to see the ladies look after him on the street. But ladies might turn and look after anybody, even after an officer or a tradesman. She had once given him a cane so that he might look well on the street....
“No, Irgens, I had no such thought, not at all,” she interrupted.
All right, he might have been mistaken; if she said so, of course.... Nevertheless, he had the impression that such was her reason. He had thought that if he couldn’t pass muster without a cane, then.... For even those two sheared sheep of Ojen’s used a cane. In brief, he gave the cane away to the first comer.... But there were other little things, other bagatelles: She liked to go to the opera; he didn’t. She went without him, and he was very much pleased, of course; still.... She wore a light woollen dress, and when he was with her his clothes got full of fuzz from her dress, but she never noticed it. He had to brush and pick fuzz unceasingly to avoid looking as if he had been in bed fully dressed; but did she notice? Never. And in this manner one thing after another had come between them and had affected his feelings for her. There were hundreds of little things! A little while ago her lips had been so badly cracked that she couldn’t even smile naturally; and just think, an insignificant thing like that had repulsed him, absolutely spoiled her for him! Dear me, she must not think that he found fault with her because of a cracked lip; he knew very well that she could not help such a thing; he was not stupid.... But the truth of the matter was that it had reached a point where he was beginning to dread her visits. He had to admit it; he had sat on this very chair and suffered, suffered tortures, when he heard her knock on the door. However, no sooner had she gone away than he felt relieved; he got ready and went out, too. He went to some restaurant and dined, dined unfeelingly and with a good appetite, not at all deploring what he had done. He wanted her to know these things so that she would understand him.... “But, dearest Hanka, I have told you all this and perhaps added to your sorrow instead of alleviating it. I wanted you to see how necessary has become our parting—that there are deep and weighty reasons for it—that it is not merely a whim. Unfortunately, these things are deeply rooted in my nature—But don’t take it so to heart! You know I am fond of you and appreciate all you have done for me; and I shall never be able to forget you; I feel that only too well. Tell me that you will take it calmly—that is all I ask—”
She sat there, dull and immobile. Her premonition had not deceived her; it was all over. There he sat; he had spoken about this and that and remembered this and that—everything that could possibly explain and justify his actions. He had said a great deal, he had even bared himself in spots; yes, how penuriously hadn’t he scraped up the least little thing that might vindicate him in the slightest degree! How could she ask him to advise her? He would simply refer her to the newspaper advertisements: “Flats and Apartments to Let.” How insignificant he suddenly appeared! Slowly he blurred before her eyes; he was blotted out; he became lost in the dim distance; she saw him as through a haze; she barely discerned his mother-of-pearl buttons and his sleek and shiny hair. She realised how her eyes had been opened during his long speech; there he sat.... She felt languidly that she ought to go, but she lacked the energy to get up. She felt hollow and empty; the last little illusion to which she had clung so tenaciously had collapsed miserably. Somebody’s step sounded on the stairs; she did not remember whether or no the door was locked, but she did not go and make sure. The steps died down again; nobody knocked.
“Dearest Hanka,” he said in an effort to console her as best he might, “you ought to start in in earnest and write that novel we have talked about. I am sure you could do it, and I will gladly go over the manuscript for you. The effort, the concentration would do you good; you know I want to see you content and satisfied.”
Yes, once upon a time, she had really thought she would write a novel. Why not? Here one miss bobbed up, and there another madam bobbed up, and they all did write so cutely! Yes, she had really thought that it was her turn next. And how they all had encouraged her! Thank God, she had forgotten about it until now!
“You do not answer, Hanka?”
“Yes,” she said absently, “there is something in what you say.”
She got up suddenly and stood erect staring straight ahead. If she only knew what to do now! Go home? That would probably be the best. Had she had parents she would most likely have gone to them; however, she had never had any parents, practically. She had better go home to Tidemand, where she still lived....
And with a desolate smile she gave Irgens her hand and said farewell.
He felt so relieved because of her calmness that he pressed her hand warmly. What a sensible woman she was, after all! No hysterics, no heartrending reproaches; she said farewell with a smile! He wanted to brace her still more and talked on in order to divert her mind; he mentioned his work and plans; he would surely send her his next book; she would find him again in that. And, really, she ought to get busy on that novel.... To show her that their friendship was still unbroken he even asked her to speak to Gregersen about that review of his book. It was most extraordinary that his verses had attracted so little attention. If she would only do him this favour. He himself would never be able to approach Gregersen; he was too proud; he could never stoop to that....
She went over to the mirror and began arranging her hair. He could not help watching her; she really surprised him a little. It was of course admirable in her to keep her feelings in leash; still, this unruffled composure was not altogether au fait. He had really credited her with a little more depth; he had ventured to think that a settlement with him would affect her somewhat. And there she stood tranquilly and arranged her hair with apparent unconcern! He could not appreciate such a display of sang-froid. To tell the truth, he felt snubbed; and he made the remark that he was still present; it seemed peculiar that she had already so completely forgotten him....
She did not answer. But when she left the mirror she paused for a moment in the middle of the room, and with her eyes somewhere in the vicinity of his shoes, she said wearily and indifferently:
“Don’t you understand that I am entirely through with you?”
But in the street, bathed in the bright sunshine, surrounded by people and carriages—there her strength gave way entirely and she began to sob wildly. She covered her face with her veil, and sought the least-frequented side-streets in order to avoid meeting anybody; she walked hurriedly, stooping, shaken by convulsive sobs. How densely dark the outlook whichever way she turned her eyes! She hurried on, walking in the middle of the street, talking to herself in a choked voice. Could she return to Andreas and the children? What if the door should be closed against her? She had wasted two days; perhaps Andreas now had grown impatient. Still, the door might be open if she only hurried....
Every time she took out her handkerchief she felt the crinkle of an envelope. That was the envelope with the hundred-crown bill; she still had that! Oh—if she only had somebody to go to now, a friend—not any of her “friends” from the clique; she was through with them! She had been one of them a year and a day; she had listened to their words and she had seen their deeds. How had she been able to endure them? Thank God, she was done with them forever. Could she go to Ole Henriksen and ask help from him? No, no; she couldn’t do that.
Andreas would probably be busy in his office. She had not seen him for two days; very likely it was an accident, but it was so. And she had accepted a hundred crowns from him, although he was ruined! Dear me, that she hadn’t thought of this before now! She had asked him for that money. “Yes,” he had said; “will you please come into the office? I have not so much with me.” And he had opened his safe and given her the hundred; perhaps it was all the money he had! He had proffered the bill in such a gentle and unobtrusive manner, although, perhaps, it was all the money he owned! His hair had turned a little grey and he looked as if he hadn’t had much sleep lately; but he had not complained; his words were spoken in proud and simple dignity. It had seemed as if she saw him then for the first time.... Oh, would that she never had asked him for this money! Perhaps he might forgive her if she brought it back. Would she bother him very much if she stopped at his office a moment? She would not stay long....
Mrs. Hanka dried her eyes beneath her veil and walked on. When at last she stood outside Tidemand’s office she hesitated. Suppose he turned her out? Perhaps he even knew where she had been?
A clerk told her that Tidemand was in.
She knocked and listened. He called: “Come in.” She entered quietly. He was standing at his desk; he put down his pen when he saw her.
“Pardon me if I disturb you,” she said hurriedly.
“Not at all,” he said, and waited. A pile of letters was before him; he stood there, tall and straight; he did not look so very grey, and his eyes were not so listless.
She took the bill out and held it toward him.
“I only wanted to return this; and please forgive me for asking for money when I might have known that you must need it so badly. I never thought of it until now; I am extremely sorry.”
He looked at her in surprise and said:
“Not at all—you just keep that! A hundred more or less means nothing to the business—nothing at all.”
“Yes, but—please take it! I ask you to take it.”
“All right, if you don’t need it. I thank you, but it is not necessary.”
He had thanked her! What a fortunate thing that she had the money and could give it back to him! But she suppressed her agitation and said “Thank you” herself as she shoved the bill over toward him. When she saw him reach for his pen again, she said with a wan smile:
“You must not be impatient because of this long delay—I have made very little progress in the matter of taking an apartment, but—”
She could control herself no longer; her voice broke entirely and she turned away from him, fumbling for her handkerchief with trembling fingers.
“There is no great hurry about that,” he said. “Take all the time you want.”
“I thank you.”
“You thank me? I don’t quite understand. It isn’t I who—I am simply trying to make it easy for you to have your own way.”
She was afraid she had irritated him, and she said hastily:
“Of course, yes! Oh, I didn’t mean—Pardon me for disturbing you.”
And she turned and fled out of the office.
Tidemand had not been idle a moment since the blow struck him. He was at his desk early and late; papers, bills, notes, and certificates fluttered around him, and his energy and skill brought order out of confusion as the days went by. Ole Henriksen had supported him on demand; he had paid cash for the country estate and had relieved him of several outstanding obligations.
It was made clear that the firm did not have an impregnable fortune to throw into the breach, even though it carried on such a far-reaching business and although its transactions were enormous. And who had even heard of such a crazily hazardous speculation as Tidemand’s fatal plunge in rye! Everybody could see that now, and everybody pitied or scorned him according to his individual disposition. Tidemand let them talk; he worked, calculated, made arrangements, and kept things going. True, he held in storage an enormous supply of rye which he had bought too high: but rye was rye, after all; it did not deteriorate or shrink into nothingness; he sold it steadily at prevailing prices and took his losses like a man. His misfortunes had not broken his spirits.
He now had to weather the last turn—a demand note from the American brokers—and for this he required Ole Henriksen’s assistance; after that he hoped to be able to manage unaided. It was his intention to simplify his business, to reduce it to original dimensions and then gradually extend it as it should show healthy growth. He would succeed; his head was still full of plans and he was resourceful as ever.
Tidemand gathered his papers together and went over to Ole’s office. It was Monday. They had both finished their mail and were momentarily disengaged, but Tidemand had to make a call at the bank; he had arranged an appointment at five.
As soon as Ole saw him he laid down his pen and arose to meet him. They still celebrated their meetings in the usual manner; the wine and the cigars appeared as before; nothing had changed. Tidemand did not want to disturb; he would rather lend a hand if he could, but Ole refused smilingly; he had absolutely nothing to do.
Well, Tidemand had brought his usual tale of woe. He was beginning to be a good deal of a nuisance; he simply came to see Ole whenever there was anything the matter....
Ole interrupted him with a merry laugh.
“Whatever you do, don’t forget to apologise every time!”
Ole signed the papers and said:
“How are things coming out?”
“Oh, about as usual. One day at a time, you know.”
“Your wife hasn’t moved as yet?”
“Not yet—no. I imagine she has a hard time finding a suitable apartment. Well, that is her lookout. What I want to say—how is Miss Aagot?”
“All right, I guess; she is out walking. Irgens called for her.”
Ole said: “You still have all your help?”
“Well, you see, I couldn’t fire them all in a minute; they have to have time to look around for something else. But they are leaving soon; I am only going to keep one man in the office.”
They discussed business matters for a while. Tidemand had ground up a large quantity of his grain in order to accelerate the sales; he sold and lost, but he raised money. There was no longer any danger of a receivership. He had also a little idea, a plan which had begun to ferment in his brain; but he would rather not mention it until it had been developed a little more fully. One did not stand knee-deep in schemes day in and day out without occasionally stumbling over an idea. Suddenly he said:
“If I could be sure of not offending you I should like to speak to you about something that concerns yourself only—I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I have thought a good deal about it. Hm; it is about Irgens—You should not allow Aagot to go out so much. Miss Aagot walks a good deal with him lately. It would be all right if you were along; of course, it is perfectly right as it is—that she should take a walk occasionally, but—Well, don’t be angry because I mention this.”
Ole looked at him with open mouth, then he burst out laughing.
“But, friend Andreas, what do you mean? Since when did you begin to look at people distrustfully?”
Tidemand interrupted him brusquely.
“I only want to tell you that I have never been in the habit of carrying gossip.”
Ole looked at him steadily. What could be the matter with Tidemand? His eyes had become cold and steely; he put down his glass hard. Gossip? Of course not. Tidemand did not carry gossip, but his mind must have become affected.
“Well, you may be right if you mean that this kind of thing may lead to unpleasant comment, to gossip,” Ole said finally. “I really have not given it a thought, but now you mention it—I will give Aagot a hint the first opportunity I have.”
Nothing further was said on the subject; the conversation swung back to Tidemand’s affairs.
How was it—did he still take his meals in restaurants?
He did for the present. What else could he do? He would have to stick to the restaurants for a while, otherwise the gossips would finish poor Hanka altogether. People would simply say that she was to blame if he hadn’t kept house the last few years; no sooner had she departed than Tidemand again went to housekeeping and stayed at home. Nobody knew what construction might be put on such things; Hanka did not have too many friends. Tidemand laughed at the thought that he was fooling the slanderous tongues so capitally. “She came to see me a couple of days ago; I was in my office. I thought at first it was some bill-collector, some dun or other, who knocked at my door; but it was Hanka. Can you guess what she wanted? She came to give me a hundred crowns! She had probably saved the money. Of course, you might say that it really was my own money; you might say that. Still, she could have kept it; but she knew I was a little pinched—She hasn’t gone out at all the last few days; I am at a loss to know how she is keeping alive. I don’t see her, but the maid says she eats in her room sometimes. She is working, too; she is busy all the time.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her stay with you. Things may turn out all right yet.”
Tidemand glanced at his friend sharply.
“You believe that? Wasn’t it you who once said that I was no glove to be picked up or thrown away according to some one’s fancy? Well, she has probably no more thought of coming back than I have of accepting her.”
And Tidemand rose quickly and said good-bye; he was going to the bank and had to hurry.
Ole remained lost in contemplation; Tidemand’s fate had made him thoughtful. What had become of Aagot? She had promised to be back in an hour, and it was much more than two hours since she had left. Of course, it was all right to take a walk, but.... Tidemand was right. Tidemand had his own thoughts, he had said; what could he have meant? Suddenly a thought struck Ole—perhaps Irgens was the destroyer of Tidemand’s home, the slayer of his happiness? A red tie? Didn’t Irgens use a red tie once?
Suddenly Ole understood Tidemand’s previous significant remark about the danger of boat-rides in May. Well, well! Come to think of it, Aagot had really seemed to lose the desire to be with him in the office early and late; instead, she took a good many walks in good company; she wanted to view things and places in this good company.... Hadn’t she once expressed a regret that he was not a poet? Still, she had apologised for that remark with such sweet and regretful eagerness; it was a thoughtless jest. No; Aagot was innocent as a child; still, for his sake, she might refuse an occasional invitation from Irgens....
Another long hour went by before Aagot returned. Her face was fresh and rosy, her eyes sparkling. She threw her arms around Ole’s neck; she always did that when she had been with Irgens. Ole’s misgivings dissolved and vanished in this warm embrace; how could he reproach her now? He only asked her to stay around the house a little more—for his sake. It was simply unbearable to be without her so long; he could do nothing but think of her all the time.
Aagot listened quietly to him; he was perfectly right; she would remember.
“And perhaps I might as well ask another favour of you: please try to avoid Irgens’s company a little more, just a little more. I don’t mean anything, you know; but it would be better not to give people the least cause for talk. Irgens is my friend, and I am his, but—Now, don’t mind what I have said—”
She took his head in both her hands and turned his face toward her. She looked straight into his eyes and said:
“Do you doubt that I love you, Ole?”
He grew confused; he was too close to her. He stammered and took a step backward.
“Love me? Ha, ha, you silly girl! Did you think I was chiding you? You misunderstood me; I thought only of what people might say; I want to protect you from gossip. But it is silly of me; I should have said nothing—you might even take it into your head to avoid going out with Irgens in the future! And that would never do; then people would surely begin to wonder. No; forget this and act as if nothing had been said; really, Irgens is a rare and a remarkable man.”
However, she felt the need of explaining matters: she went just as gladly with anybody else as with Irgens; it had only happened that he had asked her. She admired him; she would not deny that, and she was not alone in that; she pitied him a little, too; imagine, he had applied for a subsidy and had been refused! She felt sorry for him, but that was all....
“Say no more about it!” cried Ole. “Let everything remain as it is—” It was high time to think a little of the wedding; it was not too early to make definite arrangements. As soon as he returned from that trip to England he would be ready. And he thought it would be best for her to go home to Torahus while he was away; when everything was in order he would come up for her. Their wedding trip would have to be postponed until spring; he would be too busy until then.
Aagot smiled happily and agreed to everything. A vague, inexplicable wish had sprung up within her: she would have liked to remain in the city until he should return from England; then they could have gone to Torahus together. She did not know when or where this strange desire had been born in her, and it was, for that matter, not sufficiently clear or definite to be put in words; she would do as Ole wished. She told Ole to make haste and return; her eyes were open and candid; she spoke to him with one arm on his shoulder and the other resting on the desk.
And he had presumed to give her a hint!
Over a week went by before Irgens turned up again. Had he become suspicious? Or had he simply tired of Aagot? However, he entered Ole’s office one afternoon; the weather was clear and sunny, but it was blowing hard and the dust whirled through the streets in clouds and eddies. He was in doubt whether Miss Aagot would want to go out on such a day, and for this reason he said at once:
“It is a gloriously windy day, Miss Aagot; I should like to take you up on the hills, up to the high places! You have never seen anything like it; the town is shrouded in dust and smoke.”
At any other time Ole would have said no; it was neither healthy nor enjoyable to be blown full of dust. But now he wanted to show Aagot that he was not thinking of their recent conversation.... Certainly; run along! Really, she ought to take this walk.
And Aagot went.
“It is an age since I have seen you,” said Irgens.
“Yes,” she said, “I am busy nowadays. I am going home soon.”
“You are?” he asked quickly and stopped.
“Yes. I am coming back, though.”
Irgens had become thoughtful.
“I am afraid it is blowing a little too hard, after all,” he said. “We can hardly hear ourselves think. Suppose we go to the Castle Park? I know a certain place—”
“As you like,” she said.
They found the place; it was sheltered and isolated. Irgens said:
“To be entirely candid, it was not my intention to drag you up into the hills to-day. The truth of the matter is that I was afraid you would not care to come; that is the reason I said what I said. For I had to see you once more.”
“Really—I have ceased to wonder at anything you say.”
“But think—it is ten days since I have seen you! That is a long, a very long time.”
“Well—that is not altogether my fault—But don’t let us talk about it any more,” she added quickly. “Rather tell me—why do you still act toward me in this manner? It is wrong of you. I have told you that before. I should like to be friends with you, but—”
“But no more. I understand. However, that is hardly sufficient for one who is distracted with suffering, you know. No, you do not know; you have never known. Ever and ever one must circle around the forbidden; it becomes a necessity continually to face one’s fate. If, for instance, I had to pay for a moment like this with age-long wreck and ruin, why, I would gladly pay the price. I would rather be with you here one brief moment, Miss Aagot, than live on for years without you.”
“Oh, but—It is too late now, you know. Why talk about it, then? You only make it so much harder for us both.”
He said, slowly and emphatically:
“No, it is not too late.”
She looked at him steadily and rose to her feet; he, too, got up; they walked on. Immersed in their own thoughts, without conscious realisation of what they were doing, walking slowly, they made the circuit of the park and returned to their sheltered nook. They sat down on the same bench.
“We are walking in a circle,” he said. “That is the way I am circling around you.”
“Listen,” she said, and her eyes were moist, “this is the last time I shall be with you, probably. Won’t you be nice? I am going home, you know, very soon now.”
But just as he was preparing to answer her out of the fullness of his heart somebody had to pass their seat. It was a lady. In one hand she carried a twig with which she struck her skirt smartly for every step she took. She approached them slowly; they saw that she was young. Irgens knew her; he got up from his seat, took off his hat, and bowed deeply.
And the lady passed blushingly by.
“Who was that?”
“Only my landlady’s daughter,” he said. “You told me to be nice. Yes, dearest—”
But Aagot wanted further information concerning this lady. So they lived in the same house? What was she doing? What kind of a person was his landlady?
And Irgens answered her fully. Just as if she were a child whose curiosity had been aroused by the merest chance occurrence, Aagot made him tell her everything he knew concerning these strange people in Thranes Road No. 5. She wondered why the lady had blushed; why Irgens had greeted her so obsequiously. She did not know that this was the way Irgens always paid his rent—by being particularly gracious to his landlady’s family on the street.
The young lady was good-looking, although she had a few freckles. She was really pretty when she blushed; didn’t he think so?
And Irgens agreed; she was pretty. But she didn’t have one only dimple; there was only one who had that....
Aagot glanced at him quickly; his voice thrilled her; she closed her eyes. The next instant she felt that she was bending toward him, that he kissed her. Neither spoke; all her fears were lulled; she ceased to struggle and rested deliciously in his arms.
And nobody disturbed them. The wind soughed through the trees; it hushed and soothed.... Somebody came along; they rushed apart and kept their eyes on the gravelled walk while he passed. Aagot was quite equal to the occasion; she did not show the slightest trace of confusion. She got up and began to walk away. And now she began to think; the tears were dripping from her long lashes, and she whispered, dully, despairingly:
“God forgive me! What have I done?”
Irgens wanted to speak, to say something that would soften her despair. It had happened because it had to happen. He was so unspeakably fond of her; she surely knew he was in earnest.... And he really looked as if he were greatly in earnest.
But Aagot heard nothing; she walked on, repeating these desperate words. Instinctively she took the way down toward the city. It seemed as if she were hurrying home.
“Dearest Aagot, listen a moment—”
She interrupted violently:
“Be quiet, will you!”
And he was silent.
Just as they emerged from the park a violent gust tore her hat from her hair. She made an effort to recover it, but too late; it was blown back into the park. Irgens caught up with it as it was flattened against a tree.
She stood still for a moment; then she, too, began to run in pursuit, and when at last they met by the tree her despair was less poignant. Irgens handed her the hat, and she thanked him. She looked embarrassed.
As they were walking down the sloping driveway toward the street the wind made Aagot turn and walk backward a few steps. Suddenly she stopped. She had discovered Coldevin; he was walking through the park in the direction of Tivoli. He walked hurriedly, furtively, and as if he did not want to be seen. So he was still in the city!
And Aagot thought in sudden terror: What if he has seen us! As in a flash she understood. He was coming from the park; he had wanted to wait until they should have had time to reach the street; then the accident with her hat had spoiled his calculations and made him show himself too soon. How he stooped and squirmed! But he could find no hiding-place on this open driveway.
Aagot called to him, but the wind drowned her voice. She waved her hand, but he pretended not to see it; he did not bow. And without another word to Irgens she ran after him, down the slope. The wind blew her skirts to her knees; she grabbed her hat with one hand and ran. She caught up with him by the first cross-street.
He stopped and greeted her as usual—awkwardly, with an expression of melancholy gladness, moved in every fibre of his being. He was miserably dressed.
“You—You must not come here and spy on me,” she said hoarsely, all out of breath. She stood before him, breathing hard, angry, with flashing eyes.
His lips parted but he could not speak; he did not know which way to turn.
“Do you hear me?”
“Yes—Have you been sick, perhaps? You haven’t been out for two weeks now; of course, I don’t know that you haven’t, but—”
His helpless words, his wretched embarrassment, moved her; her anger died down, she was again on the verge of tears, and, deeply humiliated, she said:
“Dear Coldevin, forgive me!”
She asked him to forgive her! He did not know what to say to this, but answered abstractedly:
“Forgive you? We won’t speak about that—But why are you crying? I wish I hadn’t met you—”
“But I am glad I met you,” she said. “I wanted to meet you; I think of you always, but I never see you—I long for you often.”
“Well, we won’t speak about that, Miss Aagot. You know we have settled our affair. I can only wish you every happiness, every possible happiness.”
Coldevin had apparently regained his self-control; he commenced even to speak about indifferent matters: Was not this a fearful storm? God knew how the ships on the high seas were faring!
She listened and answered. His composure had its effect on her, and she said quietly:
“So you are still in the city. I shall not ask you to come and see me; that would be useless. Ole and I both wanted to ask you to come with us on a little excursion, but you could not be found.”
“I have seen Mr. Henriksen since then. I explained that I was engaged that Sunday anyway. I was at a party, a little dinner—So everything is well with you?”
Again she was seized with fear. What if he had been in the park and seen everything? She said as indifferently as she could: “See how the trees are swaying in the park! I suppose, though, there must be sheltered places inside.”
“In the park? I don’t know. I haven’t been there—But your escort is waiting for you; isn’t it Irgens?”
Thank God, she was saved! He had not been in the park. She heard nothing else. Irgens was getting tired of this waiting, but she did not care. She turned again to Coldevin.
“So you have seen Ole since the excursion? I wonder why he hasn’t mentioned it to me.”
“Oh, he cannot remember everything. He has a lot to think of, Miss Aagot; a great deal. He is at the head of a big business; I was really surprised when I saw how big it is. Wonderful! A man like him must be excused if he forgets a little thing like that. If you would permit me to say a word, he loves you better than anybody else! He—Please remember that! I wanted so much to say this to you!”
These few words flew straight to her heart. In a flash she saw the image of Ole, and she exclaimed joyously:
“Yes, it is true! Oh, when I think of everything—I am coming!” she called to Irgens and waved her hand at him.
She said good-bye to Coldevin and left him.
She seemed to be in a great hurry; she asked Irgens to pardon her for having kept him waiting, but she walked on rapidly.
“Why this sudden haste?” he asked.
“Oh, I must get home. What a nasty wind!”
She shot him a swift glance; his voice had trembled; she felt a warm glow throughout her being. No, she couldn’t make herself colder than she was; her eyes drooped again and she leaned toward him; her arm brushed his sleeve.
He spoke her name again with infinite tenderness, and she yielded.
“Give me a little time, please! Whatever shall I do? I will love you if you will only let me alone now.”
He was silent.
Finally they reached the last crossing. Ole Henriksen’s house could be seen in the distance. The sight of that house seemed to bring her to her senses. Whatever could she have said? Had she promised anything? No, no, nothing! And she said with averted eyes:
“That which has happened to-day—your having kissed me—I regret it; God knows I do! I grieve over it—”
“Then pronounce the sentence!” he answered briskly.
“No, I cannot punish you, but I give you my hand in promise that I will tell Ole if you ever dare do that again.”
And she gave him her hand.
He took it, pressed it; he bent over it, and kissed it repeatedly, defiantly, right below her own windows. Covered with confusion, she finally succeeded in opening the door and escaping up the stairs.
Ole Henriksen received a telegram which hastened his departure for London. For twenty-four hours he worked like a slave to get through—wrote and arranged, called at the banks, instructed his clerks, gave orders to his chief assistant, who was to be in charge during his absence. The Hull steamer was loading; it was to sail in a couple of hours. Ole Henriksen did not have any too much time.
Aagot went with him from place to place, sad and faithful. She was labouring under suppressed emotion. She did not say a word so as not to disturb him, but she looked at him all the time with moist eyes. They had arranged that she should go home the next morning on the first train.
Old Henriksen shuffled back and forth, quiet and silent; he knew that his son needed to hurry. Every once in a while a man would come up from the dock with reports from the steamer; now there was only a shipment of whale-oil to load, then she would start. It would take about three-quarters of an hour. At last Ole was ready to say farewell. Aagot only had to put on her wraps; she would stay with him to the last.
“What are you thinking of, Aagot?”
“Oh, nothing. But I wish you were well back again, Ole.”
“Silly little girl! I am only going to London,” he said, forcing a gaiety he did not feel. “Don’t you worry! I shall be back in no time.” He put his arm around her waist and caressed her; he gave her the usual pet names: Little Mistress, dear little Mistress! A whistle sounded; Ole glanced at his watch; he had fifteen minutes left. He had to see Tidemand a moment.
As soon as he entered Tidemand’s office he said: “I am going to London. I want you to come over occasionally and give the old man a lift. Won’t you?”
“Certainly,” said Tidemand. “Are you not going to sit down, Miss Aagot? For you are not departing, I hope?”
“Yes, to-morrow,” answered Aagot.
Ole happened to think of the last quotations. Rye was going up again. He congratulated his friend warmly.
Yes, prices were better; the Russian crops hadn’t quite come up to expectations; the rise was not large, but it meant a great deal to Tidemand with his enormous stores.
“Yes, I am keeping afloat,” he said happily, “and I can thank you for that. Yes, I can—” And he told them that he was busy with a turn in tar. He had contracts from a house in Bilbao. “But we will talk about this when you get back. Bon voyage!”
“If anything happens, wire me,” said Ole.
Tidemand followed the couple to his door. Both Ole and Aagot were moved. He went to the window and waved to them as they passed; then he went back to his desk and worked away with books and papers. A quarter of an hour passed. He saw Aagot return alone; Ole had gone.
Tidemand paced back and forth, mumbling, figuring, calculating every contingency regarding this business in tar. He happened to see a long entry in the ledger which was lying open on his desk. It was Irgens’s account. Tidemand glanced at it indifferently; old loans, bad debts, wine and loans, wine and cash. The entries were dated several years back; there were none during the last year. Irgens had never made any payments; the credit column was clean. Tidemand still remembered how Irgens used to joke about his debts. He did not conceal that he owed his twenty thousand; he admitted it with open and smiling face. What could he do? He had to live. It was deplorable that circumstances forced him into such a position. He wished it were different and he would have been sincerely grateful if anybody had come along and paid his debts, but so far nobody had offered to do that. Well, he would say, that could not be helped; he would have to carry his own burdens. Fortunately, most of his creditors were people with sufficient culture and delicacy to appreciate his position; they did not like to dun him; they respected his talent. But occasionally it would happen that a tailor or a wine-dealer would send him a bill and as like as not spoil an exquisite mood. He simply must open his door whenever anybody knocked, even if he were just composing some rare poem. He had to answer, to expostulate: What, another bill? Well, put it there, and I will look at it some time when I need a piece of paper. Oh, it is receipted? Well, then I will have to refuse to accept it; I never have receipted bills lying round. Take it back with my compliments....
Tidemand walked back and forth. An association of ideas made him think of Hanka and the divorce. God knows what she was waiting for; she kept to herself and spent all her time with the children, sewing slips and dresses all day long. He had met her on the stairs once; she was carrying some groceries in a bundle; she had stepped aside and muttered an excuse. They had not spoken to each other.
What could she be thinking of? He did not want to drive her away, but this could not continue. He was at a loss to understand why she took her meals at home; she never went to a restaurant. Dear me, perhaps she had no more money! He had sent the maid to her once with a couple of hundred crowns— they could not last for ever! He glanced in his calendar and noticed that it was nearly a month since he had had that settlement with Hanka; her money must have been used up long ago. She had probably even bought things for the children with that money.
Tidemand grew hot all of a sudden. At least she should never lack anything; thank God, one wasn’t a pauper exactly! He took out all the money he could spare, left the office, and went up-stairs. The maid told him that Hanka was in her own little room, the middle room facing the street. It was four o’clock.
He knocked and entered.
Hanka sat at the table, eating. She rose quickly.
“Oh—I thought it was the maid,” she stammered. Her face coloured and she glanced uneasily at the table. She began to clear away, to place napkins over the dishes. She moved the chairs and said again and again: “I did not know—everything is so upset—”
But he asked her to excuse his abrupt entrance. He only wanted to—she must have been in need of money, of course she must; it couldn’t be otherwise; he wouldn’t hear any more about it. Here—he had brought a little for her present needs. And he placed the envelope on the table.
She refused to accept it. She had plenty of money left. She took out the last two hundred crowns he had sent her and showed him the bills. She even wanted to return them.
He looked at her in amazement. He noticed that her left hand was without the ring. He frowned and asked:
“What has become of your ring, Hanka?”
“It isn’t the one you gave me,” she answered quickly. “It is the other one. That doesn’t matter.”
“I did not know you had been obliged to do that, or I would long ago—”
“But I was not obliged to do it; I wanted to. You see I have plenty of money. But it does not matter in the least, for I still have your ring.”
“Well, whether it is my ring or not, you have not done me a favour by this. I want you to keep your things. I am not so altogether down and out, even if I have had to let some of my help go.”
She bowed her head. He walked over to the window; when he turned back he noticed that she was looking at him; her eyes were candid and open. He grew confused and turned his back to her again. No, he could not speak to her of moving now; let her stay on awhile if she wanted to. But he would at least try to persuade her to cease this strange manner of living; there was no sense in that; besides, she was getting thin and pale.
“Don’t be offended, but ought you not—Not for my sake, of course, but for your own—”
“Yes, I know,” she interrupted, afraid of letting him finish; “time passes, and I haven’t moved yet.”
He forgot what he intended to say about her housekeeping eccentricities; he caught only her last words.
“I cannot understand you. You have had your way; nothing binds you any more. You can be Hanka Lange now as much as you like; you surely know that I am not holding you back.”
“No,” she answered. She rose and took a step toward him. She held out her hand to him in a meaningless way, and when he did not take it, she dropped it to her side limply, with burning cheeks. She sank into her chair again.
“No, you are not holding me back—I wanted to ask you—Of course, I have no right to expect that you will let me, but if you would—if I could remain here awhile yet? I would not be as I was before—I have changed a good deal, and so have you. I cannot say what I want to—”
His eyes blurred suddenly. What did she mean? For a moment he faltered; then he buttoned his coat and straightened his shoulders. Had he, then, suffered in vain during all these weary days and nights? Hardly! He would prove it now. Hanka was sitting there, but evidently she was beside herself; he had excited her by calling on her so “unexpectedly.
“Don’t excite yourself, Hanka. Perhaps you are saying what you do not mean.”
A bright, irrepressible hope flamed up within her.
“Yes,” she exclaimed, “I mean every word! Oh, if you could forget what I have been, Andreas? If you would only have pity on me! Take me back; be merciful! I have wanted to come back for more than a month now, come back to you and to the children; I have stood here behind the curtains and watched you when you went out! The first time I really saw you was that night on the yacht—do you remember? I had never seen you until then. You stood by the tiller. I saw you against the sky; your hair was a little grey around the temples. I was so surprised when I saw you. I asked you if you were cold. I did it so you would speak to me! I know—time passed, but during all these weeks I have seen nobody but you—nobody! I am four and twenty years old, and have never felt like this before. Everything you do, everything you say—And everything the little ones do and say. We play and laugh, they cling to my neck.... I follow you with my eyes. See, I have cut a little hole in the curtain so that I can see you better. I can see you all the way to the end of the street. I can tell your steps whenever you walk down-stairs. Punish me, make me suffer, but do not cast me off! Simply to be here gives me a thousand joys, and I am altogether different now—”
She could hardly stop; she continued to speak hysterically; at times her voice was choked with emotion. She rose from the chair. She smiled while the tears rained down her face. Her voice trailed off into inarticulate sounds.
“For Heaven’s sake, be calm!” he exclaimed abruptly, and his own tears were falling as he spoke. His face twitched. He was furious because he could not control himself better. He stood there and snapped out his words. He could not find the ones he sought. “You could always make me do whatever you wanted. I am not very clever when it comes to bandying words, no, indeed! The clique knows how to talk, but I haven’t learned the art— Forgive me, I did not mean to hurt you. But if you mean that you want me to take somebody else’s place now—If you want me as a successor—Of course, I do not know, but I ask. You say you want to come back now. But how do you come back? Oh, I don’t want to know; go in God’s name!”
“No, you are right. I simply wanted to ask you—I had to. I have been unfaithful to you, yes. I have done everything I shouldn’t do, everything—”
“Well, let us end this scene. You need rest more than anything else.”
Tidemand walked to the door. She followed him with wide-open eyes.
“Punish me!” she cried. “I ask you to—have pity! I should be grateful to you. Don’t leave me, I cannot bear to have you go! Do not cast me off; I have been unfaithful and—But try me once more; try me only a little! Do you think I might remain here? I don’t know—”
He opened the door. She stood still, her eyes dilated. From them shone the great question.
“Why do you look at me like that? What do you want me to do?” he asked. “Come to your senses. Do not brood over the past. I will do all I can for the children. I think that is all you can reasonably ask.”
Then she gave up. She stretched her arms out after him as the door closed. She heard his steps down the stairs. He paused a moment as if uncertain which way to take. Hanka ran to the window, but she heard his office door open. Then all was quiet.
Too late! How could she have expected otherwise? Good God, how could she have expected otherwise! How she had nourished that vain hope night and day for a whole month! He had gone; he said no, and he went away. Most likely he even objected to her staying with the children!
Mrs. Hanka moved the following day. She took a room she saw advertised in the paper, the first room she came across; it was near the Fortress. She left home in the morning while Tidemand was out. She kissed the children and wept. She put her keys in an envelope and wrote a line to her husband. Tidemand found it upon his return; found the keys and this farewell, which was only a line or two.
Tidemand went out again. He sauntered through the streets, down toward the harbour. He followed the docks far out. A couple of hours went by, then he returned the same way. He looked at his watch; it was one o’clock. Suddenly he ran across Coldevin.
Coldevin stood immovable behind a corner and showed only his head. When he saw Tidemand coming straight toward him he stepped out in the street and bowed.
Tidemand looked up abstractedly.
And Coldevin asked:
“Pardon me, isn’t this Mr. Irgens I see down there—that gentleman in grey?”
“Where? Oh, yes, it looks like him,” answered Tidemand indifferently.
“And the lady who is with him, isn’t that Miss Lynum?”
“Perhaps it is. Yes, I fancy that is she.”
“But wasn’t she going away to-day? It seems to me I heard—Perhaps she has changed her mind?”
“I suppose she has.”
Coldevin glanced swiftly at him. Tidemand looked as if he did not want to be disturbed. He excused himself politely and walked off, lost in thought.
No, Aagot did not go away as had been arranged. It occurred to her that she ought to buy a few things for her smaller sisters and brothers. It was quite amusing to go around and look at the store windows all alone; she did that all the afternoon, and it was six when at last she was through and happened to meet Irgens on the street. He relieved her of her parcels and went with her. Finally they hailed a carriage and took a ride out in the country. It was a mild and quiet evening.
No, she must not go away to-morrow. What good would that do? One day more or less didn’t matter. And Irgens confessed frankly that he was not very flush at present, or he would have accompanied her.... If not in the same compartment, at least on the same train. He wanted to be near her to the very last. But he was too poor, alas!
Wasn’t it a crying shame that a man like him should be so hard up? Not that she would have allowed him to come, but.... How it impressed her that he so frankly told her of his poverty!
“Besides, I am not sure that my life is safe here any more,” he said smilingly. “Did you tell my friend Ole how I acted?”
“It is never too late to do that,” she said.
They told the driver to stop. They walked ahead, talking gaily and happily. He asked her to forgive him his rashness—not that he wanted her to think that he had forgotten her, or could forget her.
“I love you,” he confessed, “but I know it is useless. I have now one thing left—my pen. I may write a verse or two to you; you must not be angry if I do. Well, time will tell. In a hundred years everything will be forgotten.”
“I am powerless to change anything,” she said.
“No, you are not. It depends, of course—At least, there is nobody else who can.” And he added quickly: “You told me to give you a little time, you asked me to wait—what did you mean by that?”
“Nothing,” she answered.
They walked on. They came into a field. Irgens spoke entertainingly about the far, blue, pine-clad ridges, about a tethered horse, a workingman who was making a fence. Aagot was grateful; she knew he did this in order to maintain his self-control; she appreciated it. He even said with a shy smile that if she would not think him affected he would like to jot down a couple of stanzas which just now occurred to him. And he jotted down the couple of stanzas.
She wanted to see what he wrote. She bent toward him and asked him laughingly to let her see.
If she really wanted to! It was nothing much, though.
“Do you know,” he said, “when you bent toward me and your head was so close to me, I prayed in my heart that you would remain like that! That is the reason I first refused to let you see what I had written.”
“Irgens,” she said suddenly, in a tender voice, “what would happen if I said yes to you?”
Pause. They looked at each other.
“Then it would happen, of course, that—that you would say no to another.”
“Yes—but it is too late now, too late! It is not to be considered—But if it is any comfort to you to know it, then I can say that you are not the only one to grieve—”
He took this beautifully. He seized her hand and pressed it silently, with a happy glance, and he let it go at once.
They walked along the road. They had never been closer to each other. When they reached the new fence the workman took off his cap. They stopped before a gate; they looked at each other a moment and turned back. They did not speak.
They came back to the carriage. During the drive Irgens held all Aagot’s bundles in his arms. He did not move and was not in the least insistent.
She was really touched by his tactful behaviour, and when he finally asked her to stay another day she consented.
But when the carriage had to be paid for he searched his pockets in vain; at last he had to ask her to pay the driver herself. She was pleased to be able to do that; she only wished she had thought of it at once. He had looked quite crestfallen.
They met each other early the next day. They walked along the docks, talking together in low voices, trembling with suppressed feeling. Their eyes were full of caresses; they walked close to each other. When, finally, Irgens caught sight of Coldevin standing half hidden behind a corner, he did not mention his discovery with a single syllable in order not to distress her. He said simply:
“What a pity you and I are not ordinary working people now! We seem to attract attention; people are for ever staring at us. It would be preferable to be less prominent.”
They spoke about seeing each other at the Grand in the evening. It was quite a while since she had been there; she had really had few pleasures of late. Suddenly he said:
“Come and go up to my place. There we can sit and talk in peace and quiet.”
“But would that do?”
Why not? In broad daylight? There was absolutely no reason why she shouldn’t. And he would always, always have the memory of her visit to treasure.
And she went with him, timid, fearful, but happy.