CHAPTER 7

He called a policeman, and I desired nothing better than to have one between my hands just for one moment. I slackened my pace intentionally in order to give him an opportunity of overtaking me; but he did not come. Was there now any reason whatever that absolutely every one of one’s most earnest and most persevering efforts should fail? Why, too, had I written 1848? In what way did that infernal date concern me? Here I was going about starving, so that my entrails wriggle together in me like worms, and it was, as far as I knew, not decreed in the book of fate that anything in the shape of food would turn up later on in the day.

I was becoming mentally and physically more and more prostrate; I was letting myself down each day to less and less honest actions, so that I lied on each day without blushing, cheated poor people out of their rent, struggled with the meanest thoughts of making away with other men’s blankets–all without remorse or prick of conscience.

Foul places began to gather in my inner being, black spores which spread more and more. And up in Heaven God Almighty sat and kept a watchful eye on me, and took heed that my destruction proceeded in accordance with all the rules of art, uniformly and gradually, without a break in the measure.

But in the abysses of hell the angriest devils bristled with range because it lasted such a long time until I committed a mortal sin, an unpardonable offence for which God in His justice must cast me–down….

I quickened my pace, hurried faster and faster, turned suddenly to the left and found myself, excited and angry, in a light ornate doorway. I did not pause, not for one second, but the whole peculiar ornamentation of the entrance struck on my perception in a flash; every detail of the decoration and the tiling of the floor stood clear on my mental vision as I sprang up the stairs. I rang violently on the second floor. Why should I stop exactly on the second floor? And why just seize hold of this bell which was some little way from the stairs?

A young lady in a grey gown with black trimming came out and opened the door. She looked for a moment in astonishment at me, then shook her head and said:

“No, we have not got anything today,” and she made a feint to close the door.

What induced me to thrust myself in this creature’s way? She took me without further ado for a beggar.

I got cool and collected at once. I raised my hat, made a respectful bow, and, as if I had not caught her words, said, with the utmost politeness:

“I hope you will excuse me, madam, for ringing so hard, the bell was new to me. Is it not here that an invalid gentleman lives who has advertised for a man to wheel him about in a chair?”

She stood awhile and digested this mendacious invention and seemed to be irresolute in her summing up of my person.

“No!” she said at length; “no, there is no invalid gentleman living here.”

“Not really? An elderly gentleman–two hours a day–sixpence an hour?”

“No!”

“Ah! in that case, I again ask pardon,” said I. “It is perhaps on the first floor. I only wanted, in any case, to recommend a man I know, in whom I am interested; my name is Wedel-Jarlsberg,” 3 and I bowed again and drew back. The young lady blushed crimson, and in her embarrassment could not stir from the spot, but stood and stared after me as I descended the stairs.

My calm had returned to me, and my head was clear. The lady’s saying that she had nothing for me today had acted upon me like an icy shower. So it had gone so far with me that any one might point at me, and say to himself, “There goes a beggar–one of those people who get their food handed out to them at folk’s back-doors!”

I halted outside an eating-house in Möller Street, and sniffed the fresh smell of meat roasting inside; my hand was already upon the door-handle, and I was on the point of entering without any fixed purpose, when I bethought myself in time, and left the spot. On reaching the market, and seeking for a place to rest for a little, I found all the benches occupied, and I sought in vain all round outside the church for a quiet seat, where I could sit down.

Naturally, I told myself, gloomily–naturally, naturally; and I commenced to walk again. I took a turn round the fountain at the corner of the bazaar, and swallowed a mouthful of water. On again, dragging one foot after the other; stopped for a long time before each shop window; halted, and watched every vehicle that drove by. I felt a scorching heat in my head, and something pulsated strangely in my temples. The water I had drunk disagreed with me fearfully, and I retched, stopping here and there to escape being noticed in the open street. In this manner I came up to Our Saviour’s Cemetery.

I sat down here, with my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands. In this cramped position I was more at ease, and I no longer felt the little gnawing in my chest.

A stone-cutter lay on his stomach on a large slab of granite, at the side of me, and cut inscriptions. He had blue spectacles on, and reminded me of an acquaintance of mine, whom I had almost forgotten.

If I could only knock all shame on the head and apply to him. Tell him the truth right out, that things were getting awfully tight with me now; ay, that I found it hard enough to keep alive. I could give him my shaving- tickets.

Zounds! my shaving-tickets; tickets for nearly a shilling. I search nervously for this precious treasure. As I do not find them quickly enough, I spring to my feet and search, in a sweat of fear. I discover them at last in the bottom of my breast-pocket, together with other papers–some clean, some written on–of no value.

I count these six tickets over many times, backwards and forwards; I had not much use for them; it might pass for a whim–a notion of mine–that I no longer cared to get shaved.

I was saved to the extent of sixpence–a white sixpence of Kongsberg silver. The bank closed at six; I could watch for my man outside the Opland Café between seven and eight.

I sat, and was for a long time pleased with this thought. Time went. The wind blew lustily through the chestnut trees around me, and the day declined.

After all, was it not rather petty to come slinking up with six shaving- tickets to a young gentleman holding a good position in a bank? Perhaps, he had already a book, maybe two, quite full of spick and span tickets, a contrast to the crumpled ones I held.

Who could tell? I felt in all my pockets for anything else I could let go with them, but found nothing. If I could only offer him my tie? I could well do without it if I buttoned my coat tightly up, which, by the way, I was already obliged to do, as I had no waistcoat. I untied it–it was a large overlapping bow which hid half my chest,–brushed it carefully, and folded it up in a piece of clean white writing-paper, together with the tickets. Then I left the churchyard and took the road leading to the Opland.

It was seven by the Town Hall clock. I walked up and down hard by the café, kept close to the iron railings, and kept a sharp watch on all who went in and came out of the door. At last, about eight o’clock, I saw the young fellow, fresh, elegantly dressed, coming up the hill and across to the cafe door. My heart fluttered like a little bird in my breast as I caught sight of him, and I blurted out, without even a greeting:

“Sixpence, old friend!” I said, putting on cheek; “here is the worth of it,” and I thrust the little packet into his hand.

“Haven’t got it,” he exclaimed. “God knows if I have!” and he turned his purse inside out right before my eyes. “I was out last night and got totally cleared out! You must believe me, I literally haven’t got it.”

“No, no, my dear fellow; I suppose it is so,” I answered, and I took his word for it. There was, indeed, no reason why he should lie about such a trifling matter. It struck me, too, that his blue eyes were moist whilst he ransacked his pockets and found nothing. I drew back. “Excuse me,” I said; “it was only just that I was a bit hard up.” I was already a piece down the street, when he called after me about the little packet. “Keep it! keep it,” I answered; “you are welcome to it. There are only a few trifles in it–a bagatelle; about all I own in the world,” and I became so touched at my own words, they sounded so pathetic in the twilight, that I fell a-weeping….

The wind freshened, the clouds chased madly across the heavens, and it grew cooler and cooler as it got darker. I walked, and cried as I walked, down the whole street; felt more and more commiseration with myself, and repeated, time after time, a few words, an ejaculation, which called forth fresh tears whenever they were on the point of ceasing: “Lord God, I feel so wretched! Lord God, I feel so wretched!”

An hour passed; passed with such strange slowness, such weariness. I spent a long time in Market Street; sat on steps, stole into doorways, and when any one approached, stood and stared absently into the shops where people bustled about with wares or money. At last I found myself a sheltered place, behind a deal hoarding, between the church and the bazaar.

No; I couldn’t go out into the woods again this evening. Things must take their course. I had not strength enough to go, and it was such an endless way there. I would kill the night as best I could, and remain where I was; if it got all too cold, well, I could walk round the church. I would not in any case worry myself any more about that, and I leant back and dozed.

The noise around me diminished; the shops closed. The steps of the pedestrians sounded more and more rarely, and in all the windows about the lights went out. I opened my eyes, and became aware of a figure standing in front of me. The flash of shining buttons told me it was a policeman, though I could not see the man’s face.

“Good-night,” he said.

“Good-night,” I answered and got afraid.

“Where do you live?” he queried.

I name, from habit, and without thought, my old address, the little attic.

He stood for a while.

“Have I done anything wrong?” I asked anxiously.

“No, not at all!” he replied; “but you had perhaps better be getting home now; it’s cold lying here.”

“Ay, that’s true; I feel it is a little chilly.” I said good-night, and instinctively took the road to my old abode. If I only set about it carefully, I might be able to get upstairs without being heard; there were eight steps in all, and only the two top ones creaked under my tread. Down at the door I took off my shoes, and ascended. It was quiet everywhere. I could hear the slow tick-tack of a clock, and a child crying a little. After that I heard nothing. I found my door, lifted the latch as I was accustomed to do, entered the room, and shut the door noiselessly after me.

Everything was as I had left it. The curtains were pulled aside from the windows, and the bed stood empty. I caught a glimpse of a note lying on the table; perhaps it was my note to the landlady–she might never have been up here since I went away.

I fumbled with my hands over the white spot, and felt, to my astonishment, that it was a letter. I take it over to the window, examine as well as it is possible in the dark the badly-written letters of the address, and make out at least my own name. Ah, I thought, an answer from my landlady, forbidding me to enter the room again if I were for sneaking back.

Slowly, quite slowly I left the room, carrying my shoes in one hand, the letter in the other, and the blanket under my arm. I draw myself up, set my teeth as I tread on the creaking steps, get happily down the stairs, and stand once more at the door. I put on my shoes, take my time with the laces, sit a while quietly after I’m ready, and stare vacantly before me, holding the letter in my hand. Then I get up and go.

The flickering ray of a gas lamp gleams up the street. I make straight for the light, lean my parcel against the lamp-post and open the letter. All this with the utmost deliberation. A stream of light, as it were, darts through my breast, and I hear that I give a little cry–a meaningless sound of joy. The letter was from the editor. My story was accepted–had been set in type immediately, straight off! A few slight alterations…. A couple of errors in writing amended…. Worked out with talent … be printed tomorrow … half-a-sovereign.

I laughed and cried, took to jumping and running down the street, stopped, slapped my thighs, swore loudly and solemnly into space at nothing in particular. And time went.

All through the night until the bright dawn I “jodled” about the streets and repeated–“Worked out with talent–therefore a little masterpiece–a stroke of genius–and half-a-sovereign.”

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