In Midsummer Days and Other Tales
Part 1 out of 2
Produced by Nicole Apostola.
IN MIDSUMMER DAYS
AND OTHER TALES.
BY AUGUST STRINDBERG
TRANSLATED BY ELLIE SCHLEUSSNER
IN MIDSUMMER DAYS
THE BIG GRAVEL-SIFTER
THE PILOT'S TROUBLES
PHOTOGRAPHER AND PHILOSOPHER
HALF A SHEET OF FOOLSCAP
CONQUERING HERO AND FOOL
WHAT THE TREE-SWALLOW SANG IN THE BUCKTHORN TREE
THE MYSTERY OF THE TOBACCO SHED
THE STORY OF THE ST. GOTTHARD
THE STORY OF JUBAL WHO HAD NO "I"
THE GOLDEN HELMETS IN THE ALLEBERG
LITTLE BLUEWING FINDS THE GOLDPOWDER
IN MIDSUMMER DAYS
In Midsummer days when in the countries of the North the earth is
a bride, when the ground is full of gladness, when the brooks are
still running, the flowers in the meadows still untouched by the
scythe, and all the birds singing, a dove flew out of the wood and
sat down before the cottage in which the ninety-year-old granny
lay in her bed.
The old woman had been bedridden for twenty years, but she could
see through her window everything that happened in the farmyard
which was managed by her two sons. But she saw the world and the
people in her own peculiar manner, for time and the weather had
painted her window-panes with all the colours of the rainbow; she
need but turn her head a little and things appeared successively
red, yellow, green, blue, and violet. If she happened to look out
on a cold winter's day when the trees were covered with hoar-frost
and the white foliage looked as if it were made of silver, she
had but to turn her head a little on the pillow, and all the trees
were green; it was summer-time, the ploughed fields were yellow,
and the sky looked blue even if a moment before it had been ever
so grey. And therefore the old granny imagined that she could work
magic, and was never bored.
But the magical window-panes possessed another quality; they bulged
a little and consequently they magnified or reduced every object
which came into their field of vision. Whenever, therefore, her
grown-up son came home in a bad temper and scolded everybody, granny
had but to wish him to be a good little boy again, and straightway
she saw him quite small. Or, when she watched her grandchildren
playing in the yard, and thought of their future--one, two,
three--she changed her position ever so slightly, and they became
grown-up men and women, as tall as giants.
Ail during the summer the window stood open, for then the window-panes
could not show her anything so beautiful as the reality. And now,
on Midsummer Eve, the most beautiful time of all the year, she lay
there and looked at the meadows and towards the wood, where the dove
was singing its song. It sang most beautifully of the Lord Jesus,
and the joy and splendour of the Kingdom of Heaven, where all are
welcome who are weary and heavy laden.
The old woman listened to the song for a little while, and then she
laid that she was much obliged, but that Heaven could be no more
beautiful than the earth itself, and she wanted nothing better.
Thereupon the dove flew away over the meadow into the mountain
glen, where the farmer stood digging a well. He stood in a deep
hole which he had dug, three yards below the surface; it was just
as if he were standing in his grave.
The dove settled on a fir tree and sung of the joy of Heaven, quite
convinced that the man in the hole, who could see neither sky, nor
sea, nor meadow, must be longing for Heaven.
"No," said the farmer, "I must first dig a well; otherwise my summer
guest will have no water, and the unhappy little mother will take
her child and go and live elsewhere."
The dove flew down to the strand, when the farmer's brother was busy
hauling in the fishing-nets; it sat among the rushes and began to
"No," said the farmer's brother, "I must provide food for my family,
otherwise my children will cry with hunger. Later on! Later on,
I tell you! Let's live first and die afterwards."
And the dove flew to the pretty cottage, where the unhappy little
mother had taken rooms for the summer. She sat on the verandah,
working at a sewing machine; her face was as white as a lily, and
her red felt hat looked like a huge poppy on her hair, which was
as black as a mourning veil. She was busy making a pinafore which
her little girl was to wear on Midsummer Eve, and the child sat at
her feet on the floor, cutting up little pieces of material which
were not wanted.
"Why isn't daddy coming home?" asked the little girl, looking up.
That was a very difficult question, so difficult that the young
mother could not answer it; and very possibly daddy could not have
answered it either, for he was far away in a foreign country with
his grief, which was twice as great as mammy's.
The sewing machine was not in good order, but it stitched and
stitched; it made as many pricks as a human heart can bear before
it breaks, but every prick only served to pull the thread tighter--it
"I want to go to the village, mammy," said the little girl. "I want
to see the sun, for it is so dark here."
"You shall go and play in the sunshine this afternoon, darling."
I must tell you that it was very dark between the high cliffs on
this side of the island; the cottage stood in a gloomy pine-grove,
which completely hid the view of the sea.
"And I want you to buy me a lot of toys, mammy."
"Darling, we have so little money to buy toys with," answered the
mother, bending her head still lower over their work.
And that was the truth; for their comfort had changed into penury.
They had no servant, and the mother had to do the whole house-work
But when she saw the sad face of the little girl, she took her on
"Put your little arms round mammy's neck," she said.
The little one obeyed.
"Now give mammy a kiss!"
The rosy little half-open mouth, which looked like the mouth of a
little bird, was pressed against her lips; and when the blue eyes,
blue as the flower of the flax, smiled into hers, her beautiful
face reflected the sweet innocence of the little one, and made her
look like a happy child herself, playing in the sunshine.
"No use my singing to them of the Kingdom of Heaven," thought the
dove, "but if I can in any way serve them, I will."
And then it flew away towards the sunny village, for it had work
to do there.
It was afternoon now; the little mother took a basket on one arm
and the child's little hand into hers, and they left the cottage.
She had never been to the village, but she knew that it was situated
somewhere towards sunset, on the other side of the island, and the
farmer had told her that she would have to get over six stiles and
walk through six latticed gates before she could get there.
And on they went.
Their way lay along a footpath, full of stones and old tree-roots,
so that she was obliged to carry the little girl, and that was very
hard work. The doctor had told her that the child must not strain
her left foot, because it was so weak that it might easily have
The young mother staggered along, under her beloved burden, and
large beads of perspiration stood like pearls on her forehead, for
it was very hot in the wood.
"I am so thirsty, mammy," whispered the little, complaining voice.
"Have patience, darling, there will be plenty of water when we get
And she kissed the little parclied mouth, and the child smiled and
forgot all about her thirst.
But the scorching rays of the sun burned their skin and there was
not a breath of air in the wood.
"Try and walk a little, darling," said the mother, putting the
But the little foot gave way and the child could not walk a step.
"I am so tired, mammy," she laid, sitting down and beginning to
But the prettiest little flowers, which looked like rose-coloured
bells and smelt of sweet almonds, grew all over the spot where she
was sitting. She smiled when she saw them, for she had never seen
anything half as lovely, and her smile strengthened the heart of
the mother so that she could continue her walk with the child in
Now they had arrived at the first gate. They passed through it and
carefully re-fastened the latch.
All of a sudden they heard a noise like a loud neighing; a horse
galloped towards them, blocked the path and neighed again; its
neighing was answered on the right and the left and from all sides
of the wood; the ground trembled, the branches of the trees cracked,
and the stones were scattered in all directions by the approaching
hoofs. In less than no time the poor, frightened travellers were
surrounded on all sides by a herd of savage horses.
The child hid her face on her mother's shoulder, and her little
heart ticked with fear like a watch.
"I am so frightened!" she whispered.
"Oh! Father in Heaven, help us!" prayed the mother.
At the same moment a blackbird, sitting on a fir tree, began to
sing; the horses scudded away as fast as they could, and there was
once more silence in the wood.
They came to the second gate, walked through and re-fastened the
They were on fallow ground now, and the sun scorched them even
worse than it had done before. They saw before them rows and rows
of dull clods of earth, but in a steep place the clods suddenly began
to move, and then they knew that what they had taken for clods of
earth were really the backs of a flock of sheep.
Sheep are quite gentle and inoffensive, especially the little lambs,
but that is a good deal more than can be said of the ram, who is a
savage brute and often takes a delight in attacking those who have
never done him any harm. There he was already, jumping over a ditch
right into the middle of their path. He lowered his head and walked
a few steps backwards.
"I am so frightened, mammy," said the little girl, and her heart
began to beat fast.
"Oh! Merciful Father in Heaven, help us!" sighed the mother, with
an imploring look upwards.
And high up, in the blue vault of the sky, fluttering its wings
like a butterfly, a little lark began to sing. And as it sang the
ram disappeared among the grey clods.
They stood before the third gate. They were on a slope now;
the ground was swampy and before long they came to a crevice. The
hillocks looked like little graves, overgrown with vetch or white
cotton-flowers and they had to be careful to avoid sinking into
the swamp. Black berries of a poisonous kind grew in abundance
everywhere; the little girl wanted to gather them, and because
her mother would not permit it, she began to cry, for she did not
understand what poisonous meant.
And as they walked on, they noticed a white sheet, which looked
as if it had been drawn in and out through the trees; the sun
disappeared behind a bank of clouds and a white darkness, which
was very went towards them, hoping to find some water in the place
whence they came.
On their way they passed a white cottage, behind a green fence
with a white gate; the gate stood hospitably open. They entered
and found themselves in a garden where peonies and colombines grew.
The mother noticed that the curtains in the lower storey were all
drawn before the windows, and that all the curtains were white. But
one of the attic windows stood open and a white hand appeared above
the pots of touch-me-nots. It waved a little white handkerchief,
as if it were waving a last farewell to one who was going on a long
They walked as far as the cottage; in the high grass lay a wreath
of myrtle and white roses. But it was too big for a bridal wreath.
They went through the front door and the mother called out if
anybody were in? As there was no reply they went into the parlour.
On the floor, surrounded by a whole forest of flowers, stood a black
coffin with silver feet and in the coffin lay a young girl with a
bridal crown on her head.
The walls of the room were made of new pinewood and only varnished
with oil, so that all the knots were visible. And the knots in
the knot-holes looked for all the world like so many eyes.
"Oh! Just look at all the eyes, mammy," exclaimed the little girl.
Yes, there were eyes of every description; big eyes, eloquent eyes,
grave eyes; little shining baby eyes, with a lurking smile in the
corner; wicked eyes, which showed too much white; frank and candid
eyes, which looked one straight into the heart; and, over there,
a big, gentle mother's eye, which regarded the dead girl lovingly;
and a transparent tear of resin trembled on the lid, and sparkled
in the setting sun like a green and red diamond.
"Is she asleep?" asked the child, looking into the face of the dead
"Yes, she is asleep."
"Is she a bride, mammy?"
The mother had recognised her. It was the girl who was to be a
bride on Midsummer day, when her sailor lover would return home;
but the sailor had written to say that he would not be home until
the autumn, and his letter had broken her heart; for she could
not bear to wait until the autumn, when the leaves would drop dead
from the trees and the winter wind have a rough game with them in
the lanes and alleys.
She had heard the song of the dove and taken it to heart.
The young mother left the cottage; now she knew where she would go.
She put the heavy basket down outside the gate and took the child
into her arms; and so she walked across the meadow which separated
her from the shore.
The meadow was a perfect sea of flowers, waving and whispering round
her ankles, and the pollen water was calm and blue; and presently
it was not water through which they sailed, but the blue blossoms
of the flax, which she gathered in her outstretched hands.
And the flowers bent down and rose up again, whispering, lapping
against the sides of the boat like little waves. The flax-field
before them appeared to be infinite, but presently a white mist
enveloped them, and they heard the plashing of real waves, but
above the mist they heard a lark singing.
"How does the lark come to sing on the sea?" asked the child.
"The sea is so green that the lark takes it for a meadow," answered
The mist had dispersed again. The sky was blue and the lark was
Then they saw, straight before them, in the middle of the sea, a
green island with a white, sandy beach, and people, dressed all in
pure white, walking hand in hand. The setting sun shone on the golden
roof of a colonnade, where white fires burnt in sacred sacrificial
vessels; and the green island was spanned by a rainbow, the colour
of which was rose-red and sedge-green.
"What is it, mammy?"
The mother could make no reply.
"Is it the Kingdom of Heaven of which the dove sang? What is the
Kingdom of Heaven, mammy?"
"A place, darling, where all people love one another," answered
the mother, "where there is neither grief nor strife."
"Then let us go there," said the child.
"Yes, we will go," said the tired, forsaken little mother.
THE BIG GRAVEL-SIFTER
An eel-mother and her son were lying at the bottom of the sea, close
to the landing-stage, watching a young fisherman getting ready his
"Just look at him!" said the eel-mother, "there you have an example
of the malice and cunning of the world . ... Watch him! He is
holding a whip in his hand; he throws out the whip-lash--there it
is! attached to it is a weight which makes it sink--there's the
weight! and below the weight is the hook with the worm. Don't take
it in your mouth, whatever you do, for if you do, you are caught.
As a rule only the silly bass and red-eyes take the bait. There!
Now you know all about it."
The forest of seaweed with its shells and snails began to rock; a
plashing and drumming could be heard and a huge red whale passed
like a flash over their heads; he had a tail-fin like a cork-screw,
and that was what he worked with.
"That's a steamer," said the eel-mother; "make room!"
She had hardly spoken these words when a furious uproar arose above.
There was a tramping and stamping as if the people overhead were
intent on building a bridge between the shore and the boat in two
seconds. But it was difficult to see anything on account of the
oil and soot which were making the water thick and muddy.
There was something very heavy on the bridge now, so heavy that it
made it creak, and men's voices were shouting:
"Lift it up!--Ho, there!--Up!--Hold tight!--Up with it!--Up!--Push
it along!--Lift it up!"
Then something indescribable happened. First it sounded as if
sixty piles of wood were all being sawn at the same time; then a
cleft opened in the water which went down to the bottom of the sea,
and there, wedged between three stones, stood a black box, which
sang and played and tinkled and jingled, close to the eel-mother
and her son, who hastily disappeared in the lowest depths of the
Then a voice up above shouted:--
"Three fathoms deep! Impossible! Leave it alone. It isn't worth
while hauling the old lumber up again; it would cost more to repair
than it's worth."
The voice belonged to the master of the mine, whose piano had fallen
into the sea.
Silence followed; the huge fish with a fin like a screw swam away,
and the silence deepened.
After sunset a breeze arose; the black box in the forest of seaweed
rocked and knocked against the stones, and at every knock it played,
so that the fishes came swimming from all directions to watch and
The eel-mother was the first to put in an appearance. And when
she saw herself reflected in the polished surface, she said: "It's
a wardrobe with a plate-glass door."
There was logic in her remark, and therefore all the others said:
"It is a wardrobe with a plate-glass door."
Next a rock-fish arrived and smelt at the candlesticks, which had
not yet come off. Tiny bits of candle ends were still sticking in
the sockets. "That's something to eat," it said, "if only it weren't
for the whipcord!"
Then a great bass came and lay flat on the pedal; but immediately
there arose such a rumbling in the box that all the fishes hastily
They got no further on that day.
At night it blew half a gale, and the musical box went thump, thump,
thump, like a pavier's beetle, until sunrise. When the eel-mother
and all the rest of them returned, they found that it had undergone
The lid stood open like a shark's mouth; they saw a row of teeth,
bigger than they had ever seen before, but every other tooth was
black. The whole machine was swollen at the sides like a seed-fish;
the boards were bent, and the pedal pointed upwards like a foot
in the act of walking; the arms of the candlesticks looked like
clenched fists. It was a dreadful sight!
"It's falling to pieces," screamed the bass, and spread out a fin,
ready to turn.
And now the boards fell off, the box was open, and one could see
what it was like inside; and that was the prettiest sight of all.
"It's a trap! Don't go too near!" said the eel-mother.
"It's a hand-loom!" said the stickleback, who builds a nest for
itself and understands the art of weaving.
"It's a gravel-sifter," said a red-eye, who lived below the
It may have been a gravel-sifter. But there were a great many
fallals and odds and ends which were not in the least like the
sifter which they use for riddling sand. There were little manichords
which resembled toes in white woollen stockings, and when they
moved it was just as if a foot with two hundred skeleton toes were
walking; and it walked and walked and yet never left the spot.
It was a strange thing. But the game was up, for the skeleton no
longer touched the strings; it played on the water as if it were
knocking at a door with its fingers, asking whether it might come
The game was up. A school of sticklebacks came and swam right through
the box, and when they trailed their spikes over the strings, the
strings sounded again; but they played in a new way, for now they
were tuned to another pitch.
On a rosy summer evening soon afterwards two children, a boy and
a girl, were sitting on the landing-bridge. They were not thinking
of anything in particular, unless it was a tiny piece of mischief,
when all at once they heard soft music from the bottom of the sea,
which startled them.
"Do you hear it?"
"Yes, what is it? It sounds like scales."
"No, it's the song of the gnats."
"No, it's a mermaid!"
"There are no mermaids. The schoolmaster said so."
"The schoolmaster doesn't know."
"Oh! do listen!"
They listened for a long time, and then they went away, home.
Presently two newly arrived summer guests sat down on the bridge;
he looked into her eyes, which reflected the golden sunset and the
green shores. Then they heard the sounds of music; it sounded as
if somebody were playing on musical glasses, but in a strange new
key, only heard in the dreams of those who dream of giving a new
message to the world. But they never thought of looking for any
outside source, they believed that it was the song which their own
hearts were singing.
Next a couple of annual visitors came sauntering along; they knew
the trick and took a delight in saying in a loud voice:
"It is the submerged piano of the master of the mine."
But whenever there were only new arrivals present, who did not know
anything about it, they were puzzled and enjoyed the music, until
some of the older ones came and enlightened them. And then they
enjoyed it no longer.
The musical box lay there all the summer. The sticklebacks taught
their art to the bass, who became much more expert. And the piano
became a regular fishing-ground for the summer guests, where they
could always be sure to catch bass; the pilots spread out their
nets round about it, and once a waiter fished there for red-eyes.
But when his line with the old bell weight had run out, and he tried
to wind it up again, he heard a run in X minor, and then the hook
was caught. He pulled and pulled, and in the end he brought up five
fingers with wool at the fingertips, and the bones cracked like
the bones of a skeleton. Then he was frightened and flung his catch
back into the sea, although he knew quite well what it was.
In the dog days, when the water is warm and all the fish retire to
the greater depths to enjoy the coolness, the music ceased. But on
a moonlit night in August, the summer guests held a regatta. The
master of the mine and his wife were present. They sat in a white
boat and were slowly rowed about by their sons. And as their boat
was gliding over the black water, the surface of which was like
silver and gold in the moonlight, they heard a sound of music just
below their boat.
"Ha ha!" laughed the master of the mine, "listen to our old piano!
But he was silent when he saw that his wife hung her head, in the
way pelicans do in pictures; it looked as if she wanted to bite
her own neck and hide her face.
The old piano and its long history had awakened memories in her of
the first dining-room they furnished together, the first of their
children which had had music lessons, the boredom of the long
evenings, only to be chased away by the crashing volumes of sound
which overcame the dulness of everyday life, changed bad temper
into cheerfulness, and lent new beauty even to the old furniture
. . . . But that is a story which belongs elsewhere.
When it was autumn and the winter wind began to blow, the pilchards
came in their thousands and swam through the musical box. It was
like a farewell concert, and nothing else, and the seagulls and
stormy petrels came in crowds to listen to it. And in the night the
musical box was carried out to sea; that was the end of the matter.
Conductor Crossberg was fond of lying in bed in the morning,
firstly, because he had to conduct the orchestra in the evening,
and secondly, because he drank more than one glass of beer before
he went home and to bed. He had tried once or twice to get up early,
but had found no sense in it. He had called on a friend, but had
found him asleep; he had wanted to pay money into the bank, but had
found it still closed; he had gone to the library to borrow music,
but it was not yet open; he had wanted to use the electric trams,
but they had not yet started running. It was impossible to get a
cab at this hour of the morning; he could not even buy a pinch of
his favourite snuff; there was nothing at all for him to do. And
so he had eventually formed the habit of staying in bed until late;
and after all, he had no one to please but himself.
He loved the sun and flowers and children; but he could not live on
the sunny side of the street on account of his delicate instruments,
which were out of tune almost as soon as they were put into a sunny
Therefore, on the 1st of April, he took rooms which faced north.
He was quite sure that there was no mistake about this, for he
carried a compass on his watch-chain, and he could find the Great
Bear in the evening sky.
So far, so good; but then the spring came, and it was so warm that
it was really pleasant to live in rooms with a northern aspect.
His bedroom joined the sitting-room; he always kept his bedroom
in pitch-black darkness by letting down the Venetian blinds; there
were no Venetian blinds in the sitting-room, because they were not
And the early summer came and everything grew green. The conductor
had dined at the restaurant "Hazelmount," and had drunk a bottle of
Burgundy with his dinner, and therefore he slept long and soundly,
especially as the theatre was closed on that day.
He slept well, but while he slept it grew so warm in the room that
he woke up two or three times, or, at any rate, he thought he did.
Once he fancied that his wall-paper was on fire, but that was probably
the effect of the Burgundy; another time he felt as if something
hot had touched his face, but that was certainly the Burgundy; and
so he turned over and fell asleep again.
At half-past nine he got up, dressed, and went into the sitting-room
to refresh himself with a glass of milk which always stood ready
for him in the morning.
It was anything but cool in the sitting-room this morning; it
was almost warm, too warm. And the cold milk was not cold; it was
lukewarm, unpleasantly lukewarm.
The conductor was not a hot-tempered man, but he liked order and
method in everything. Therefore he rang for old Louisa, and since
he made his first fifty remonstrances always in a very mild tone,
he spoke kindly but firmly to her, as she put her head through the
"Louisa," he said, "you have given me lukewarm milk."
"Oh! no, sir," replied Louisa, "it was quite cold, it must have
got warm in standing."
"Then you must have had a fire in the room; it's very warm here
No, Louisa had not had a fire; and she retired into the kitchen,
very much hurt.
He forgave her for the milk. But a look round the sitting-room
made him feel very depressed. I must tell you that he had built a
little private altar in a corner, near the piano, which consisted
of a small table with two silver candlesticks, a large photograph
of a young woman, and a tall, gold-edged champagne glass. This
glass--it was the glass he had used on his wedding-day, and he was
a widower now--always contained a red rose in memory of and as an
offering to her who once had been the sunshine of his life. Whether
it was summer or winter, there was always a rose; and in the winter
time it lasted a whole week, that is to say if he trimmed the stem
occasionally and put a little salt into the water. Now, he had put
a fresh rose into the glass only last night, and to-day it was faded,
shrivelled up, dead, with its head drooping. This was a bad omen.
He knew what sensitive creatures flowers are, and had noticed that
they thrive with some people and not with others. He remembered how
sometimes, in his wife's lifetime, her rose, which always stood on
her little work-table, had faded and died quite unexpectedly. And
he had also noticed that this always happened when _his sun_ was
hiding behind a cloud, which after a while would dissolve in large
drops to the accompaniment of a low rumbling. Roses must have peace
and kind words; they can't bear harsh voices. They love music, and
sometimes he would play to the roses and they opened their buds
Now Louisa was a hard woman, and often muttered and growled to
herself when she turned out the room. There were days when she was
in a very bad temper, so that the milk curdled in the kitchen, and
the whole dinner tasted of discord, which the conductor noticed
at once; for he was himself like a delicate instrument, whose soul
responded to moods and influences which other people did not feel.
He concluded that Louisa had killed the rose; perhaps if she had
scolded the poor thing, or knocked the glass, or breathed on the
flower angrily, a treatment which it could not bear. Therefore he
rang again; and when Louisa put in her head, he said, not unkindly,
but more firmly than before:
"What have you done to my rose, Louisa?"
"Nothing? Do you think the flower died without a very good reason?
You can see for yourself that there is no water in the glass! You
must have poured it away!"
As Louisa had done no such thing, she went into the kitchen and began
to cry, for it is disagreeable to be blamed when one is innocent.
Conductor Crossberg, who could not bear to see people crying, said
no more, but in the evening he bought a new rose, one which had
only just been cut, and, of course, was not wired, for his wife
had always had an objection to wired flowers.
And then he went to bed and fell asleep. And again he fancied in
his sleep that the wall-paper was on fire, and that his pillow was
very hot; but he went on sleeping.
On the following morning, when he came into the sitting-room, to
say his morning prayers before the little altar--alas! there lay
his rose, all the pink petals scattered by the side of the stem.
He was just stretching out his hand to touch the bell, when he saw
the photograph of his beloved, half rolled up, lying by the side
of the champagne glass. Louisa could not have done that!
"She, who was my all, my conscience and my muse," he thought in his
childlike mind, "she is dissatisfied and angry with me; what have
Well, when he put this question to his conscience, he found, as
usual, more than one little fault, and he resolved to eradicate
his faults, gradually, of course.
Then he had the portrait framed and a glass shade put over the rose,
hoping that now things would be all right, but secretly fearing
that they would not.
After that he went on a week's journey; he returned home late at
night and went straight to bed. He woke up once, imagining that
the hanging lamp was burning.
When he entered the sitting-room late on the following morning, it
was downright hot there, and everything looked frightfully shabby.
The blinds were faded; the cover on the piano had lost its bright
colours; the bound volumes of music looked as if they were deformed;
the oil in the hanging-lame had evaporated and hung in a trembling
drop under the ornament, where the flies used to dance; the water
in the water-bottle was warm.
But the saddest thing of all was that her portrait, too, was faded,
as faded as autumn leaves. He was very unhappy, and whenever he
was very unhappy he went to the piano, or took up his violin, as
the case might be . ...
This time he sat down at the piano, with a vague notion of
playing the sonata in E minor, Grieg's, of course, which had been
her favourite, and was the best and finest, in his opinion, after
Beethoven's sonata in D minor; not because E comes after D, but
because it was so.
But the piano was very refractory to-day. It was out of tune, and
made all sorts of difficulties, so that he began to believe that
his eyes and fingers were in a bad temper. But it was not their
fault. The piano, quite simply, was out of tune, although a very
clever tuner had only just tuned it. It was like a piano bewitched,
He seized his violin; he had to tune it, of course. But when he
wanted to tighten the E string, the screw refused to work. It had
dried up; and when the conductor tried to use force, the string
snapped with a sharp sound, and rolled itself up like a dried
It was bewitched!
But the fact that her photograph had faded was really the worst
blow, and therefore he threw a veil over the altar.
In doing this, he threw a veil over all that was most beautiful
in his life; and he became depressed, began to mope, and stopped
going out in the evening.
It would be Midsummer soon. The nights were shorter than the days,
but since the Venetian blinds kept his bedroom dark, the conductor
did not notice it.
At last, one night--it was Midsummer night--he awoke, because the
clock in the sitting-room struck thirteen. There was something
uncanny about this, firstly, because thirteen is an unlucky number,
and secondly, because no well-behaved clock can strike thirteen.
He did not fall asleep again, but he lay in his bed, listening.
There was a peculiar ticking noise in the sitting-room, and then
a loud bang, as if a piece of furniture had cracked. Directly
afterwards he heard stealthy footsteps, and then the clock began
to strike again; and it struck and struck, fifty times--a hundred
times. It really was uncanny!
And now a luminous tuft shot into his bedroom and threw a figure
on the wall, a strange figure, something like a fylfot, and it came
from the sitting-room. There was a light, then, in the sitting-room?
But who had lit it? And there was a tinkling of glasses, just as
if guests were there; champagne glasses of cut-crystal; but not a
word was uttered. And now he heard more sounds, sounds of canvas
being furled, or clothes passed through a mangle, or something of
The conductor felt compelled to get up and look, and he went,
commending his soul into the hands of the Almighty.
Well, first of all he saw Louisa's print-dress disappearing through
the kitchen door; then he saw blinds, but blinds which had been
pulled up; he saw the dining-table covered with flowers, arranged
in glasses; as many flowers as there had been on his wedding-day
when he had brought his bride home.
And behold! The sun, the sun shone right into his face, shone on
blue fjords and distant woods; it was the sun which had illuminated
the sitting-room and played all the little tricks. He blessed the
sun which had been up so early in the morning and made a game of
the sluggard. And he blessed the memory of her whom he called the
sun of his life. It was not a new name, but he could not think of
a better one, and as it was, it was good enough.
And on his altar stood a rose, quite fresh, as fresh as _she_ had
been before the never-ending work had tired her. Tired her! Yes,
she had not been one of the strong ones; and life with its blows
and knocks had been too brutal for her! He had not forgotten how,
after a day's cleaning or ironing, she would throw herself on the
sofa and say in a complaining little voice, "I am so tired!" Poor
little thing, this earth had not been her home, she had only played
once, on tour, as it were, and then had gone far away.
"She lacked sunshine," the doctor had said, for at that time they
couldn't afford sun, because rooms on the sunny side are so expensive.
But now he had sun without having known it; he stood right in the
sunlight, but it was too late. Midsummer was past, and soon the
sun would disappear again, stay away for a year and then come back.
Things are very strange in this world!
THE PILOT'S TROUBLES
The pilot cutter lay outside, beyond the last beacon fire on the
headland; the winter sun had set long ago and the sea ran high; it
was the real sea with real huge breakers. Suddenly the first mate
signalled: "Sailing ship to windward."
Far out at sea, a long way off the harbour, a brig was visible; she
had backed her sails and hoisted the pilot's flag; she was asking
to be taken into port.
"Look out!" shouted the master-pilot, who was standing at the helm.
"We'll have a job in this sea, but we must try and get hold of her
in tacking, and you, Victor, throw yourself into her rigging as
soon as you get the chance ... bring the boat round! Now! Clear!"
The cutter turned and steered a course to the brig which lay outside,
"Queer that she should have furled all her canvas. ... Can any
one see a light aboard? No! And no light on the masthead, either!
Look out, Victor!" Now the cutter was alongside; Victor stood
waiting on the gunwale, and the next time she rose on the crest of
a big wave, he leapt into the rigging of the brig, while the cutter
sheered off, tacked, and made for the harbour.
Victor sat in the rigging, half-way between deck and cross-trees,
trying to recover his breath before descending on deck. As soon as
he came down he went to the helm, which was quite the right thing
for him to do. Imagine how shocked he was when he found it deserted!
He shouted "Ho there!" but received no reply.
"They're all inside, drinking," he thought, peering through the
cabin windows. No, not a soul! He crossed over to the kitchen,
examined the quarterdeck,--not a living being anywhere. Then he
realised that he was on a deserted ship; he concluded that she had
sprung a leak and was sinking.
He tried to discover the whereabouts of the cutter, but she had
disappeared in the darkness.
It was quite impossible for him to make port. To set the sails,
haul in the brails and bowlines, and at the same time stand at the
helm, was more than any sailor could manage.
There was nothing to b0e done, then, but let the vessel drift,
although he was aware of the fact that she was drifting out to sea.
It would not be true to say that he was pleased, but a pilot is
prepared for anything, and the thought that he might possibly meet
a sailing ship by and by, reassured him. But it was necessary to
show a light and signal.
He made his way towards the kitchen, intending to look for matches
and a lantern. Although the sea was very rough, he noticed that
the ship did not move, a fact which astonished him very much. But
when he came to the mainmast, he was even more astonished to find
himself walking on a parqueted floor, partly covered by a strip
of carpet of a small blue and white checked pattern. He walked and
walked, but still the carpet stretched before him, and still he
came no nearer to the kitchen. It was certainly uncanny, but it
was also amusing, for it was a new experience.
He was a long way off the end of the carpet yet, when he found
himself at the entrance to a passage with brilliantly illuminated
shops on either side. On his right stood a weighing machine and
an automatic figure. Without a moment's hesitation he jumped on the
little platform of the weighing machine and slipped a penny in the
slot. As he was quite sure that he weighed eleven stone, he could
not help smiling when the indicator registered only one. Either
the machine has gone wrong, he thought, or I have been transported
to some other planet, ten times larger, or ten times smaller than
the earth; he had been a pupil at the School of Navigation, you
see, and knew something of astronomy.
He jumped off and turned to the automatic figure, eager to find
out what it contained; his penny had hardly dropped when a little
flap opened and a large, white envelope, sealed with a big, red seal,
fell out. He couldn't make out the letters on the seal, but that
was neither here nor there, as he did not know who his correspondent
He tore open the envelope and read ... first of all the signature,
just as everybody else does. The letter began ... but I'll tell
you that later on; it's sufficient for you to know now that he read
it three times and then put it into his breast-pocket with a very
thoughtful mien; a very thoughtful mien.
Then he penetrated into the heart of the passage, all the time
keeping carefully in the centre of the carpet. There were all sorts
of shops, but not a single human being, either before or behind
the counters. When he had walked a little way, he stopped before a
big shop window, behind which a great number of shells and snails
were exhibited. As the door stood open, he went in. The walls of
the shop were lined with shelves from floor to ceiling and filled
with snails collected from all the oceans of the world. Nobody was
in the shop, but a ring of tobacco smoke hung in the air, which
looked as if somebody had only just blown it. Victor, who was a
bright lad, put his finger through it. "Hurrah!" he laughed, "now
I'm engaged to Miss Tobacco!"
A queer sound, like the ticking of a clock, fell on his ear, but
there was no clock anywhere, and presently he discovered that the
sound came from a bunch of keys. One of the keys had apparently
just been put into the cash-box, and the other keys swung to and
fro with the regular movement of a pendulum. This went on for quite
a little while. Then there was silence once more, and when it was
as still as still could be, a low whistling sound, like the wind
blowing through the rigging of a ship, or steam escaping through
a narrow tube, could be heard. The sound was made by the snails;
but as they were of different sizes, each one of them whistled in
a different key; it sounded like a whole orchestra of whistlers.
Victor, who was born on a Thursday, and therefore understood the
birds' language, pricked up his ears and tried to catch what they
were whistling. It was not long before he understood what they were
"I have the prettiest name," said one of them, "for I am called
"I'm much the best looking," said the purple-snail, whose name was
Murex and something else quaint.
"But I've the best voice," said the tiger-shell; it is called
tiger-shell because it looks like a panther.
"Oh! tut, tut!" said the common garden-snail, "I'm more in demand
than any other snail in the world; you'll find me all over the
flower-beds in the summer, and in the winter I lie in the wood-shed
in a cabbage tub. They call me uninteresting, but they can't do
"What dreadful creatures they are," thought Victor, "they think
of nothing but blowing their own trumpets"; and to while away the
time he took up a book which lay on the counter. As he had learned
to use his eyes, he saw at a glance that it opened at page 240 and
that chapter 51 began at the top of the left-hand side, and had
for a motto a verse written by Coleridge, the gist of which struck
him like a flash of lightning. With burning cheeks and bated breath
he read ... I'll tell you what he read later on, but I may admit
at once that it had nothing whatever to do with snails.
Victor liked the shop and sat down at a little distance from
the cash-box, the immediate vicinity of which is never without a
certain risk. He began to ponder over all the queer animals which
went down to the sea as he did; he was sure that they could not
find it too warm at the bottom of the sea and yet they perspired;
and whenever they perspired chalk, it immediately became a new
house. They wriggled like worms, some to the right and some to the
left; it was clear that they had to wriggle in some direction and,
of course, they could not all turn to the same side.
All at once a voice came from the other side of the green curtain
which separated the shop from the back parlour.
"Yes, we know all that," shouted the voice, "but what we don't
know is this: the cockle of the ear belongs to the species of the
Helix, and the little bones near the drum are exactly like the
animal in Limnaeus stagnalis, and that's printed in a book."
Victor, who realised at once that the voice belonged to a thought-reader,
shouted back brutally, but without showing the least surprise:--
"We know all that, but why we should have a Helix in our ears is
as unknown to the book as to the dealer in snails--"
"I'm not a dealer in snails," bellowed the voice behind the curtain.
"What are you, then?" Victor bellowed back.
"I'm ... a troll!"
At the same moment the curtains were drawn aside a little, and
a head appeared in the opening of so terrifying an aspect, that
anybody but Victor would have taken to his heels. But he, who
knew exactly how to treat a troll, looked steadily at the glowing
pipe-bowl; for that is exactly what the troll looked like as he
stood blowing rings through the parted curtains. When the smoke
rings had floated within his reach, he caught them with his fingers
and threw them back.
"I see you can play quoits," snarled the troll.
"A little bit," answered Victor.
"And you aren't afraid?"
"A sailor must never be afraid of anything; if he is, the girls
won't like him."
And as he was tired of the snails, Victor seized the opportunity
to beat a retreat without appearing to run away. He left the shop,
walking backwards, for he knew that a man must never show his back
to the enemy, because his back is far more sensitive than ever his
face could be.
And on he went on the blue and white carpet. The passage was not
a straight one, but wound and curved so that it was impossible to
see the end of it; and still there were new shops, and still no
people and no shop proprietors. But Victor, taught by his experience,
understood that they were all in the back parlours.
At last he came to a scent shop, which smelt of all the flowers of
wood and meadow; he thought of his sweetheart and decided to go in
and buy her a bottle of Eau-de-Cologne.
No sooner thought than done. The shop was very much like the snail
shop, but the scent of the flowers was so overpowering that it made
his head ache, and he had to sit down on a chair. A strong smell
of almonds caused a buzzing in his cars, but left a pleasant taste
in his mouth, like cherry-wine. Victor, never at a loss, felt in
his pocket for his little brass box, that had a tiny mirror on the
inside of the lid, and put a piece of chewing tobacco in his mouth;
this cleared his brain and cured his headache. Then he rapped on
the counter and shouted:--
"Hallo! Any one there?"
There was no answer. "I'd better go into the back parlour," he
thought, "and do my shopping there." He took a little run, put his
right hand on the counter and cleared it at a bound. Then he pushed
the curtains aside and peeped into the room. A sight met his eyes
which completely dazzled him. An orange tree, laden with blossoms
and fruit, stood on a long table covered with a Persian rug, and
its shining leaves looked like the leaves of a camellia. There
were rows of cut-crystal glasses filled with all the most beautiful
scented flowers of the whole world, such as jasmine, tuberoses,
violets, lilies of the valley, roses, and lavender. On one end
of the table, half hidden by the orange tree, he saw two delicate
white hands and a pair of slender wrists under turned-up sleeves,
busy with a small distilling apparatus, made of silver. He did not
see the lady's face, and she, too, did not appear to see him. But
when he noticed that her dress was green and yellow, he knew at once
that she was a sorceress, for the caterpillar of the hawk-moth is
green and yellow, and it, too, knows how to bewitch the eye. The
lower end of its body looks as if it were its head and has a horn
like a unicorn, so that it frightens away its enemies with its
mock face, while it feeds in peace with that part of its body which
looks like its hind quarter.
"I know that I'll have a bit of a tussle with her," thought Victor,
"but I'd better let her begin!" He was quite right, because if one
wants to make people talk, one has but to remain silent oneself.
"Are you the gentleman who is looking for a summer resort?" asked
the lady, coming towards him.
"That's me!" said Victor, merely in order to say something, for
he had never thought of looking for a summer resort in the winter
The lady seemed embarrassed, but she was as beautiful as sin, and
cast a bewitching glance at the pilot.
"It's no use trying to bewitch me, for I am engaged to a very nice
girl," he said, staring between her second and third finger in the
manner of a witch, when she wants to charm the judge.
The lady was young and beautiful from the waist upwards, but below
the waist she seemed very old; it was just as if she had been
patched together of two pieces which didn't match.
"Well, show me the summer resort," said the pilot.
"If you please, sir," replied the lady, opening a door in the
They went out and at once found themselves in a wood, consisting
entirely of oak trees.
"We'll only just have to cross the wood, and we'll be there," said
the lady, beckoning to the pilot to go on, for she did not want to
show him her back.
"I shouldn't wonder if there were a bull somewhere about," said
the pilot, who had all his wits about him.
"Surely you aren't afraid of a bull?" replied the lady.
"We'll see," answered the pilot.
They walked across stony hillocks, tree-roots, moors and fells,
clearings and deep recesses, but Victor could not help turning
round every now and then to see whether she was following him, for
he could not hear her footsteps. And even when he had turned round
and had her right before his eyes he had to look very hard, for
her green and yellow dress made her almost invisible.
At last they came to an open space, and when Victor had reached
the centre of the clearing, there was the bull; it was just as if
it had stood there all the time waiting for him. It was jet black,
with a white star in the middle of its forehead, and the corners
of its eyes were blood-red.
Escape was impossible; there was nothing for it but to fight. Victor
glanced at the ground and behold! there lay a stout cudgel, newly
cut. He seized it and took up his position.
"You or I!" he shouted. "Come on! One--two--three!" The fight
began. The bull backed like a steam-boat, smoke came through its
nostrils, it moved its tail like a propeller, and then came on at
The cudgel flashed through the air and with a sound like a shot hit
the bull right between the eyes. Victor sprang aside, and the bull
dashed past him. Then everything seemed to change, and Victor,
terrified, saw the monster make for the border of the wood, from
whence his sweetheart, in a light summer dress, emerged to meet
"Climb up the tree, Anna," he shouted. "The bull's coming!" It was
a cry of anguish from the very bottom of his soul.
And he ran after the monster and hit it on the slenderest part of
its hind-legs in the hope of breaking its shin-bone. With superhuman
strength he felled the giant. Anna was saved, and the pilot held
her in his arms.
"Where shall we go?" he asked. "Home, of course?"
It did not occur to him to ask her whence she had come, for reasons
which we shall learn hereafter.
They walked along the footpath, hand in hand, happy at their
unexpected meeting. When they had gone a little way, Victor suddenly
"Just wait a moment," he said. "I must go and have a look at the
bull; I'm sorry for it, poor brute!"
The expression of Anna's face changed, and the corners of her eyes
grew bloodshot. "All right! I'll wait," she said, with a savage
and malicious glance at the pilot.
Victor gazed at her sadly, for he knew that she had told him an
untruth. But he followed her. There was something extraordinary
about her walk, and all at once the whole of his left side grew as
cold as ice.
When they had proceeded a little further, Victor stopped again.
"Give me your hand," he said. "No, the left one." He saw that she
was not wearing her engagement ring.
"Where's your ring?" he asked.
"I've lost it," she replied.
"You are my Anna, and yet you are not," he exclaimed. "A stranger
has taken possession of you."
As he said these words, she looked at him with a side-long glance,
and all at once he realised that her eyes were not human, but the
blood-shot eyes of a bull; and then he understood.
"Begone, witch!" he cried, and breathed into her face.
If you could only have seen what happened now! The would-be Anna
was immediately transformed, her face grew green and yellow like
gall, and she burst with rage; at the next moment a black rabbit
jumped over the bilberry bushes and disappeared in the wood.
Victor stood alone in the perplexing, bewildering forest, but he
was not afraid. "I will go on," he thought, "and if I should meet
the devil himself, I will not be afraid; I shall say the Lord's
Prayer, and that will go a long way towards protecting me."
He trudged on and presently he came to a cottage. He knocked; the
door was opened by an old woman; he inquired whether he could stay
the night. He could stay, if he liked, but the old dame had nothing
to offer him but a small attic, which was only so so.
Victor did not mind what it was like, as long as it was a place
where he could sleep.
When they were agreed about the price, he followed her upstairs
to the attic. A huge wasp's nest hung right over the bed, and the
old dame began to make excuses for harbouring such guests.
"It doesn't matter in the least," interrupted the pilot, "wasps
are like human beings, quite inoffensive until you irritate them.
Perhaps you keep snakes, too?"
"Well, there are some, of course."
"I thought so; they like the warmth of the bed, so we shall get
on. Are they adders or vipers? I don't very much mind which, but
on the whole I prefer vipers."
The old dame watched him breathlessly while he arranged his bed,
and in every way betrayed his firm resolution to spend the night
in her cottage.
All at once an excited buzzing could be heard outside the closed
window, and a huge hornet bumped against the glass.
"Let the poor thing come in," said the pilot, opening the window.
"No, no, not that one, kill it!" yelled the old dame.
"Why should I? Perhaps its young ones are in this room, and would
starve. Am I to lie here and listen to the screaming of hungry
babies? No, thank you! Come in, little wasp!"
"It will sting you!" shrieked the old dame.
"No, indeed it won't. It only stings the wicked."
The window was open now. A big hornet, as large as a pigeon's egg,
flew in; buzzing like a bass string, it flew at once to the nest.
And then it was still.
The old dame left the attic, and the pilot got between the sheets.
When he came downstairs into the parlour on the following morning,
the old dame was not there. A black cat sat on the only chair and
purred; cats have been condemned to purr, because they are such
lazy beasts, and they must do something.
"Get up, pussy," said the pilot, "and let me sit down."
And he took the cat and put it on the hearth. But it was no
ordinary cat, for immediately sparks began to fly from its fur,
and the chips caught file.
"If you can light a fire, you can make me some coffee," said the
But the cat is so constituted that it never wants to do what it
is told, and so it began at once to swear and spit until the fire
In the meantime the pilot had heard somebody leaning a spade against
the wall of the cottage. He looked out of the window and saw the
old dame standing in a pit which she had dug in the garden.
"I see you are digging a grave for me, old woman," he said.
The old dame came in. When she saw Victor safe and sound, she was
beside herself with amazement; she confessed that up to now nobody
had ever left the attic alive, and that therefore she had dug his
grave in anticipation.
She was a little short-sighted, but it seemed to her that the pilot
was wearing a strange handkerchief round his neck.
"Ha ha! Have you ever seen such a handkerchief in all your life?"
laughed Victor, putting his hand up to his throat.
Wound round his neck was a snake which had tied itself in front
into a knot with two bright yellow spots; the spots were its ears,
and its eyes shone like diamonds.
"Show auntie your scarfpins, little pet," said the pilot, gently
scratching its head, and the snake opened its mouth and disclosed
two sharp, pointed teeth right in the middle of it.
At the sight of them the old dame fell on her knees and said, "Now
I see that you have received my letter and understood its meaning.
You are a brave lad!"
"So the letter I got out of the automatic machine was from you,"
said the pilot, taking it from his breast pocket. "I shall have it
framed when I get home."
Would you like to know what was written in the letter? Just these
few words in plain English, "Don't be bluffed," which might be
translated, "Fortune favours the Brave."
Yes, but how was it that the pilot could walk from the ship down the
passage?" asked Annie-Mary, when her mama had finished the story.
"And did he come back, or had he dreamed the whole story?"
"I'll tell you another time, little Miss Curiosity," said her mama.
"And then there was a verse in the book--"
"What verse? Oh, I see ... in the snail shop. ... Well, I'm afraid
I've forgotten it. But you mustn't ask too many details, for it's
only a fairy tale, little girlie."
PHOTOGRAPHER AND PHILOSOPHER
Once upon a time there was a photographer. He was a splendid
photographer; he did profiles and full-faces, three-quarter and
full-length portraits; he could develop and fix, tone and print
them. He was the deuce of a fellow! But he was always discontented,
for he was a philosopher, a great philosopher and a discoverer. His
theory was that the world was upside down. It was plainly proved by
the plate in the developer. Everything that was on the right side
of the original, now appeared on the left; everything that was
dark, became light; light became shade; blue turned into white,
and silver buttons looked as dark as iron. The world was upside
He had a partner, quite an ordinary man, full of petty characteristics.
For instance, he smoked cigars all day long; he never shut a door;
he put his knife into his mouth, instead of using his fork; he
wore his hat in the room; he cleaned his nails in the studio, and
in the evening he drank three glasses of beer.
He was full of faults!
The philosopher, on the other hand, was perfect, and therefore
he nursed resentment against his imperfect brother; he would have
liked to dissolve the partnership, but he could not, because their
business held them together; and because they were bound to remain
in partnership, the resentment of the philosopher turned into an
unreasonable hatred. It was dreadful!
When the spring came they decided to take a lodging in a summer
resort, and the partner was despatched to find one. He did find
one. And one Saturday they departed together on a steamer.
The philosopher sat all day long on deck and drank punch. He was
a very stout man and suffered from several things; his liver was
out of order, and there was something wrong with his feet, perhaps
rheumatism, or some similar disease. When they arrived, they crossed
the bridge and went ashore.
"Is this the place?" asked the philosopher.
"A very little walk will take us there," answered the partner.
They went along a footpath, full of roots, and the path ended
abruptly before a stile. They had to climb over it. Then the road
became stony, and the philosopher complained of his feet, but he
forgot all about his pains when they came to another stile. After
that, all trace of the road disappeared; they walked on the bare
rock through shrubs and bilberry bushes.
Behind the third fence stood a bull, who chased the philosopher
to the fourth stile, where he arrived in a bath of perspiration,
which opened all the pores of his skin. When they had crossed the
sixth stile, they could see the house. The philosopher went in and
immediately stepped on to the verandah.
"Why are there so many trees?" he asked. "They interrupt the view."
"But they shelter the house from the strong sea-breezes," answered
"And the place looks like a churchyard; why, the house stands in
the centre of a pine-wood."
"A very healthy spot," replied the partner.
Then they wanted to go and bathe. But there was no proper bathing-place,
in the philosophical sense of the word. There was nothing but the
stony ground and mud.
After they had bathed the philosopher felt thirsty, and wanted to
drink a glass of water at the spring. It was of a reddish-brown
colour, and had a peculiar, strong taste. It was no good. Nothing
was any good. And meat was unobtainable, there was nothing to be
had but fish.
The philosopher grew gloomy and sat down under a pumpkin to deplore
his fate. But there was no help for it. He had to stay, and his
partner returned to town to look after the business during his
Six weeks passed and then the partner returned to his philosopher.
He was met on the bridge by a slender youth with red cheeks and a
sunburnt neck. It was the philosopher, rejuvenated and full of high
He jumped over the six stiles and chased the bull.
When they were sitting on the verandah, the partner said to him:--
"You are looking very well, what sort of a time have you had?"
"Oh! an excellent time!" said the philosopher. "The fences have
taken off my fat; the stones have massaged my feet; the mud-baths
have cured me of my rheumatism; the plain food has cured my liver,
and the pine-trees my lungs; and, could you believe it, the brown
spring-water contained iron, just what I wanted!"
"Well, you old philosopher," said the partner, "don't you understand
that from the negative you get a positive, where all the shade
becomes light again? If you would only take such a positive picture
of me and try and find out what faults I do _not_ possess, you would
not dislike me so much. Only think: I don't drink, and therefore
I am able to manage the business; I don't steal; I never talk evil of
you behind your back; I never complain; I never make white appear
black; I am never rude to the customers; I rise early in the morning;
I clean my nails so as to keep the developer clean; I leave my
hat on so that no hairs shall fall on the plates; I smoke so as to
purify the air of poisonous gases; I keep the door ajar so as not
to make a noise in the studio; I drink beer in the evening so as
to escape the temptation of drinking whisky; and I put the knife
into my mouth because I am afraid of pricking myself with the fork."
"You really are a great philosopher," said the photographer,
"henceforth we will be friends! Then we shall get on in life!"
HALF A SHEET OF FOOLSCAP
The last furniture van had left; the tenant, a young man with
a crape band round his hat, walked for the last time through the
empty rooms to make sure that nothing had been left behind. No,
nothing had been forgotten, nothing at all. He went out into the
front hall, firmly determined never to think again of all that
had happened to him in these rooms. And all at once his eyes fell
on half a sheet of foolscap, which somehow had got wedged between
the wall and the telephone; the paper was covered with writing,
evidently the writing of more persons than one. Some of the
entries were written quite legibly with pen and ink, while others
were scribbled with a lead-pencil; here and there even a red pencil
had been used. It was a record of everything that had happened to
him in the short period of two years; all these things, which he
had made up his mind to forget, were noted down. It was a slice of
a human life on half a sheet of foolscap.
He detached the paper; it was a piece of scribbling paper, yellow
and shining like the sun. He put it on the mantelpiece in the
drawing-room and glanced at it. Heading the list was a woman's name:
"Alice," the most beautiful name in the world, as it had seemed
to him then, for it was the name of his fiancée. Next to the name
was a number, "15,11." It looked like the number of a hymn, on the
hymn-board. Underneath was written "Bank." That was where his work
lay, his sacred work to which he owed bread, home, and wife--the
foundations of life. But a pen had been drawn through the word, for
the Bank had failed, and although he had eventually found another
berth, it was not until after a short period of anxiety and
The next entries were: "Flower-shop and livery-stable." They related
to his betrothal, when he had plenty of money in his pockets.
Then came "furniture dealer and paper-hanger "--they were furnishing
their house. "Forwarding agents"--they were moving into it. The
"Box-office of the Opera-house, No. 50,50"--they were newly married,
and went to the opera on Sunday evenings; the most enjoyable hours
of their lives were spent there, for they had to sit quite still,
while their souls met in the beauty and harmony of the fairyland
on the other side of the curtain.
Then followed the name of a man, crossed out. He had been a friend
of his youth, a man who had risen high in the social scale, but
who fell, spoilt by success, fell irremediably, and had to leave
So unstable was fortune!
Now, something new entered the lives of husband and wife. The next
entry was in a lady's hand: "Nurse." What nurse? Well, of course,
the kindly woman with the big cloak and the sympathetic face, who
walked with a soft footfall, and never went into the drawing-room,
but walked straight down the passage to the bedroom.
Underneath her name was written "Dr. L."
And now, for the first time, a relative appeared on the list:
"Mama." That was his mother-in-law, who had kept away discreetly,
so as not to disturb their newly found happiness, but was glad to
come now, when she was needed.
A great number of entries in red and blue pencil followed: "Servants'
Registry Office"--the maid had left and a new one had to be engaged.
"The chemist's"--hm! life was growing dark. "The dairy"--milk had
been ordered--sterilised milk!
"Butcher, grocer, etc." The affairs of the house were being conducted
by telephone; it argued that the mistress was not at her post. No,
she wasn't, for she was laid up.
He could not read what followed, for it grew dark before his eyes;
he might have been a drowning man trying to see through salt water.
And yet, there it was written, plainly enough: "undertaker--a large
coffin and a small one." And the word "dust" was added in parenthesis.
It was the last word of the whole record. It ended with "dust"!
and that is exactly what happens in life.
He took the yellow paper, kissed it, folded it carefully, and put
it in his pocket.
In two minutes he had lived again through two years of his life.
But he was not bowed down as he left the house. On the contrary,
he carried his head high, like a happy and proud man, for he knew
that the best things life has to bestow had been given to him. And
he pitied all those from whom they are withheld.
CONQUERING HERO AND FOOL
It was on the evening of a spring day in 1880 (a day which will never
be forgotten in Sweden, because it is the day of commemoration of
a national event), when an old couple, simple country people, were
standing on the headland at the entrance to the harbour of Stockholm,
looking at the dark watercourse under the dim stars, and watching
a man who was busy with a dark, undefinable object on the landing
bridge. They stood there for a long, long time, now gazing at the
dark watercourse, now looking at the brilliant lights of the town.
At last a light appeared on the fjord, then another, then many
lights. The old man seized the woman's hand and pressed it, and
in silence, under the stars, they thanked God for having safely
brought home their son whom they had mourned as dead for a whole
It is true, he had not been the leader of the expedition, but he
had been one of the crew. And now he was to dine with the long,
receive an order, and, in addition to a sum of money from the
nation, which Parliament had voted for the purpose, an appointment
which would mean bread and butter for the rest of his life.
The lights grew in size as they approached; a small steamer was
towing a big dark craft, which, seen close by, looked as plain and
simple as most great things do.
And now the man on the bridge, who had been very busy about the
dark object, struck a match.
"Whatever is it?" said the old man, much puzzled. "It looks like
huge wax candles."
They went nearer to examine it more closely.
"It looks like a frame for drying fishes," said the old woman, who
had been born on the coast.
Ratsh! It-sh! Si-si-si-si! it said, and the old people were instantly
surrounded by fire and flames.
Great fiery globes rose up to the skies and, bursting, lit up the
night with a shower of stars; an astronomer, observing the heavens
with a telescope, might have come to the conclusion that new stars
had been born. And he would not have been altogether wrong, for
in the year 1880 new thoughts were kindled in new hearts, and new
light and new discoveries vouchsafed to mankind. Doubtless, there
were weeds, too, growing up together with the splendid wheat; but
weeds have their uses, also; shade and moisture depend on their
presence, and they will be separated from the wheat at harvest
time. But there must be weeds, they are as inseparable from wheat
as chaff is from corn.
What had puzzled the old couple, however, was a rocket frame, and
when all the smoke had cleared away--for there is no fire without
smoke--not a trace of all the magnificence was left.
"It would have been jolly to have been in town with them to-night,"
said the old woman.
"Oh, no!" replied the man. "We should have been in the way, poor
people like we ought never to push themselves to the front. And
there's plenty of time to-morrow for seeing the boy, after he has
left his sweetheart, who is dearer to him than we are."
It was a very sensible speech for the old man to make; but who in
the world is to have sense, if old people have not?
And then they continued their way to the town.
Now, let us see what happened to the son.
He was the leadsman, that is to say, it was his business to sound
the depths of the sea; he had plumbed the profound abysses of the
ocean, calculated the elevation of the land and the apparent motion
of the sky; he knew the exact time by looking at the sun, and he
could tell from the stars how far they had travelled. He was a man
of importance; he believed that he held heaven and earth in his
hand, measured time and regulated the clock of eternity. And after
he had been the king's guest and received an order to wear on his
breast, he fancied that he was made of finer stuff than most men;
he was not exactly haughty when he met his poor parents and his
sweetheart, but, although they said nothing, they felt that he
thought himself their superior. Possibly he was a little stiff, he
was built that way.
Well, the official ceremonies were over, but the students also had
decided to pay homage to the heroes, who had returned home after
a prolonged absence. And they went to the capital in full force.
Students are queer people, who read books and study under Dr.
Know-all; consequently they imagine that they know more than other
people. They are also young, and therefore they are thoughtless
The respectful and sensible speeches which the old professors had
been making all the afternoon in honour of the explorers had come
to an end, and the procession of the students had started.
The leadsman and his sweetheart were sitting on a balcony in the
company of the other great men. The ringing of the church bells
and the booming of the guns mingled with the sound of the bugles
and the rolling of the drums; flags were waving and fluttering in
the breeze. And then the procession marched by.
It was headed by a ship, with sailors and everything else belonging
to it; next walruses came and polar bears, and all the rest of it;
then students in disguise, representing the heroes; the Great Man
himself was represented in his fur coat and goggles. It wasn't
quite respectful, of course; it wasn't a very great honour to be
impersonated in this way; but there it was! It was well meant, no
doubt. And gradually every member of the expedition passed by, one
after the other, all represented by the students.
Last of all came the leadsman. It was true, nobody could ever have
dreamt of calling him handsome, but there is no need for a man to
be handsome, as long as he is an able leadsman, or anything else
able. The students had chosen a hideous old grumbler to impersonate
him. That alone would not have mattered; but nature had made one of
his arms shorter than the other, and his representative had made
a feature of this defect. And that was too bad; for a defect is
something for which one ought not to be blamed.
But when the fool who played the leadsman approached the balcony,
he said a few words with a provincial accent, intended to cast
ridicule on the leadsman, who was born in one of the provinces.
It was a silly thing to do, for every man speaks the dialect which
his mother has taught him; and it is nothing at all to be ashamed
Everybody laughed, more from politeness than anything else, for
the entertainment was gratuitous, but the girl was hurt, for she
hated to see her future husband laughed at. The leadsman frowned
and grew silent. He no longer enjoyed the festivities. But he
carefully hid his real feelings, for otherwise he would have been
laughed at for a fool unable to appreciate a joke. But still worse
things happened, for his impersonator danced and cut all sorts of
ridiculous antics, in the endeavour to act the leadsman's name in
dumb charade; first his surname, which he had inherited from his
father, and then his Christian name, which his mother had chosen
for him at his baptism. These names were sacred to him, and although
there may have been a little boastful sound about them, he had
always scorned to change them.
He wanted to rise from his chair and leave, but his sweetheart
caught hold of his hand, and he stayed where he was.
When, the procession was over and everybody who had been sitting
on the balcony had risen, the great man laid a friendly hand on
the girl's shoulder, and said, with his kindly smile:--
"They have a strange way here of celebrating their heroes, one
mustn't mind it!"
In the evening there was a garden party and the leadsman was
present, but his pleasure was gone; he had been laughed at, and he
had grown small in his own estimation, smaller than the fool, who
had made quite a hit as a jester. Therefore he was despondent,
felt uneasy at the thought of the future and doubtful of his own
capability. And wherever he went he met the fool who was caricaturing
him. He saw his faults enlarged, especially his pride and his
boastfulness; all his secret thoughts and weaknesses were made
For three painful hours he examined the account book of his
conscience; what no man had dared to tell him before, the fool had
told him. Perfect knowledge of oneself is a splendid thing, Socrates
calls it the highest of all goods. Towards the end of the evening
the leadsman had conquered himself, admitted his faults, and resolved
to turn over a new leaf.
As he was passing a group of people he heard a voice behind a hedge
"It's extraordinary, how the leadsman has improved. He's really
quite a delightful fellow!"
These words did him good; but what pleased him more than anything
else were a few whispered words from his sweetheart.
"You are so nice to-night," she said, "that you look quite handsome."
He handsome? It must have been a miracle then, and miracles don't
happen nowadays. Yet he had to believe in a miracle, for he knew
himself to be a very plain man.
Finally the Great Man touched his glass with his knife, and
immediately there was silence, for every body wanted to hear what
he had to say.
"When a Roman conqueror was granted a triumphal procession," he
began, "a slave always stood behind him in the chariot and incessantly
called out, 'Remember that you are but a man!' while senate and
people paid him homage. And at the side of the triumphal car, which
was drawn by four horses, walked a fool, whose business it was to
dim the splendour of his triumph by shouting insults, and casting
suspicion on the hero's character by singing libellous songs. This
was a good old custom, for there is nothing so fatal to a man than
to believe that he is a god, and there is nothing the gods dislike
so much as the pride of men. My dear young friends! The success
which we, who have just returned home, have achieved, has perhaps
been overrated, our triumph went to our heads, and therefore it was
good for us to watch your antics to-day! I don't envy the jester
his part--far from it; but I thank you for the somewhat strange
homage which you have done us. It has taught me that I have still
a good deal to learn, and whenever my head is in danger of being
turned by flattery, it will remind me that I am nothing but an
"Hear! Hear!" exclaimed the leadsman, and the festivities continued,
undisturbed even by the fool, who had felt a little ashamed of
himself and had quietly withdrawn from the scene.
So much for the Great Man and the leadsman. Now let us see what
happened to the fool.
As he was standing close to the table during the Great Man's speech,
he received a glance from the leadsman, which, like a small fiery
arrow, was capable of setting a fortress aflame. And as he went out
into the night, he felt beside himself, like a man who is clothed
in sheets of fire. He was not a nice man. True, fools and jailers
are human beings, like the rest of us, but they are not the very
nicest specimen. Like everybody else he had many faults and weaknesses,
but he knew how to cloak them. Now something extraordinary happened.
Through having mimicked the leadsman all day long, and also, perhaps,
owing to all the drink he had consumed, he had become so much the
part which he had played that he was unable to shake it off; and
since he had brought into prominence the faults and weaknesses of
the leadsman, he had, as it were, acquired them, and that flash
from the leadsman's eye had rammed them down to the very bottom of
his soul, just as a ramrod pushes the powder into the barrel of a
gun. He was charged with the leadsman, so to speak, and therefore,
as he stepped out into the street he at once began to shout and
boast. But this time luck was against him. A policeman ordered him
to be quiet. The fool said something funny, imitating the leadsman's
provincial accent. But the policeman, who happened to be a native
of the same province, was annoyed and wanted to arrest the fool.
Now it is just as difficult for a fool to take a thing seriously
as it is for a policeman to understand a joke; therefore the fool
resisted and created such a disturbance that the policeman struck
him with his truncheon.
He received a sound beating, and then the policeman let him go.
You would think that he had had enough trouble now--far from it!
The chastisement which he had received had only embittered him,
and he went on the warpath, like a red Indian, to see on whom he
might avenge his wrongs.
Accident, or some other power, guided his footsteps to a locality
mainly frequented by peasants and labourers. He entered a brewery
and found a number of millers and farmer's labourers sitting round
a table, drinking the health of the explorers. When they saw the
fool they took him for the leadsman, and were highly delighted when
he condescended to take a glass in their company.
Now the demon of pride entered into the soul of the fool. He boasted
of his great achievements; he told them that it was he who had led
the expedition, for would they not have foundered if he had not
sounded the depth of the sea? Would they ever have returned home
if he had not read the stars?
Smack! an egg hit him between the eyebrows.
"Leadsman, you're a braggart!" said the miller. "We've known that
for a long time; we knew it when you wrote to the paper saying the
Great Man was another Humboldt!"
Now another of the leadsman's weaknesses gained the upper hand.
"The Great Man is a humbug!" he exclaimed, which was not true.
This was too much for the assembly. They rose from their seats like
one man, seized the fool, and with a leather strap bound him to a
sack of flour. They covered him with flour until he was white from
top to toe, and blackened his face with the wick from one of the
lanterns. The millers' apprentice sewed him to the sack; they
lifted him, sack and lantern, on to the cart, and amid shouting
and laughter proceeded to the market-place.
There he was exhibited to the passers-by, and everybody laughed at
When they let him go at last, he went and sat on some stone stairs
and cried. The big fellow sobbed like a little child; one might
almost have felt sorry for him.
WHAT THE TREE-SWALLOW SANG IN THE BUCKTHORN TREE
If you are standing at the harbour where all the steamers call, and
look out towards the sea, you will see a mountain on your left,
covered with green trees, and behind the trees a large house built in
the shape of a spider. For in the centre there is a round building
from which radiate eight wings, that look very much like the eight
legs on the round body of a spider. The people who enter the house
do not leave it again at will, and some of them stay there for the
rest of their life, for the house is a prison.
In the days of King Oscar I, the mountain was not green. On the
contrary, it was grey and cold, for neither moss nor heart's-ease
would grow there, although these plants generally thrive on the
bare rock. There was nothing but grey stone and grey people, who
looked as if they had been turned into stone, and who quarried
stone, broke stone, and carried stone. And among these people there
was one who looked stonier than all the others.
He was still a youth when, in the reign of King Oscar I., he was
shut up in this prison because he had killed a man.
He was a prisoner for life, and sewn on his grey prison garb was
a large black "L."
He was always on the mountain, in winter days and summer time,
breaking stones. In the winter he had only the empty and deserted
harbour to look at; the semicircular bridge with its poles had the
appearance of a yawning row of teeth, and he could see the wood-shed,
the riding-school, and the two gigantic, denuded lime trees.
Sometimes an ice-yacht would sail past the islet; sometimes a few
boys would pass on skates; otherwise it was quiet and forsaken.
In the summer time it was much jollier. For then the harbour was
full of smart boats, newly painted and decorated with flags. And the
lime trees, in the shade of which he had sat when he was a child,
waiting for his father, who was an engineer on one of the finest
boats, were green.
It was many years now since he had heard the rustling of the breeze
in the trees, for nothing grew on his cliff, and the only thing in
the world he longed for was to hear once again the whispering of
the wind in the branches of the lime trees at Knightsholm.
Sometimes, on a summer's day, a steamer would pass the islet; then
he heard the plashing of the waves, or, perhaps, snatches of music;
and he saw bright faces which grew dark as soon as their eyes fell
on the grey stone men on the mountain.
And then he cursed heaven and earth, his fate and the cruelty of men.
He cursed, year in, year out. And he and his companions tormented
and cursed each other day and night; for crime isolates, but
misfortune draws men together.
In the beginning his fate was unnecessarily cruel, for the keepers
ill-treated the prisoners, mercilessly and at their pleasure.
But one day there was a change; the food was better, the treatment
was less harsh, and every prisoner was given a cell of his own to
sleep in. The king himself had loosened the chains of the prisoners
a little; but since hopelessness had petrified the hearts of these
unfortunate men, they were unable to feel anything like gratitude,
and so they continued to curse; and now they came to the conclusion
that it was more pleasant to sleep together in one room, for then
they could talk all night. And they continued to complain of the
food, the clothes, and the treatment, just as before.
One fine day all the bells of the town were ringing, and those of
Knightsholm rang louder than any of the others. King Oscar was
dead, and the prisoners had a holiday. Since they could talk to
one another now, they talked of murdering the guards and escaping
from prison; and they also talked of the dead king, and they spoke
evil of him.
"If he had been a just man, he would have set us free," said one
of the prisoners.
"Or else he would have imprisoned all the criminals who are at
"Then he himself would have had to be Governor of the Prison, for
the whole nation are criminals."
It is the way of prisoners to regard all men as criminals, and to
maintain that they themselves were only caught because they were
But it was a hot summer's day, and the stone man walked along the
shore, listening to the tolling of the bells for Oscar the king.
He raised the stones and looked for tadpoles and sticklebacks, but
could find none; not a fish was visible in the water, and consequently
there was not a sign of a sea-gull or a tern. Then he felt that a
curse rested on the mountain, a curse so strong that it kept even
the fishes and the birds away. He fell to considering the life he
was leading. He had lost his name, both Christian and surname, and
was no more now than No. 65, a name written in figures, instead of
in letters. He was no longer obliged to pay taxes. He had forgotten
his age. He had ceased to be a man, ceased to be a living being,
but neither was he dead. He was nothing but something grey moving
on the mountain and being terribly scorched by the sun. It burned
on his prison garb and on his head with the close-cropped hair,
which in days long passed had been curly, and was combed with a
tooth-comb every Saturday by his mother's gentle hand. He was not
allowed to wear a cap to-day, because it would have facilitated an
attempt at escape. And as the sun scorched his head, he remembered
the story of the prophet Jonah, to whom the Lord gave a gourd so
that he might sit in its shade.
"A nice gift, that!" he sneered, for he did not believe in anything
good; in fact, he did not believe in anything at all.
All at once he saw a huge birch branch tossed about in the surf.
It was quite green and fresh and had a white stem; possibly it had
fallen off a pleasure-boat. He dragged it ashore, shook the water
off and carried it to a gully where he put it up, wedged firmly
between three stones. Then he sat down and listened to the wind
rustling through its leaves, which smelt of the finest resin.
When he had sat for a little while in the shade of the birch he
And he dreamed a dream.
The whole mountain was a green wood with lovely trees and odorous
flowers. Birds were singing, bees and humble-bees buzzing, and
butterflies fluttering from flower to flower. But all by itself
and a little aside stood a tree which he did not know; it was more
beautiful than all the rest; it had several stems, like a shrub,
and the branches looked like lacework. And on one of its branches,
half hidden by its foliage, sat a little black-and-white bird which
looked like a swallow, but wasn't one.
In his dream he could interpret the language of the birds, and
therefore he understood to some extent what the bird was singing.
And it sang:
Mud, mud, mud, mud here! We'll throw, throw, throw here! In mud,
mud, mud you died, From mud, mud, mud you'll rise.
It sang of mud, death, and resurrection; that much he could make
But that was not all. He was standing alone on the cliff in the
scorching heat of the sun. All his fellows-in-misfortune had forsaken
him and threatened his life, because he had refused to be a party
to their setting the prison on fire. They followed him in a crowd,
threw stones at him and chased him up the mountain as far as he
And finally he was stopped by a stone wall.
There was no possibility of climbing over it, and in his despair
he resolved to kill himself by dashing his head against the stones.
He rushed down the mountain, and behold! a gate was opened at the
same moment--a green garden gate ... and ... he woke up.
When he thought of his life and realised that the green wood was
nothing but the branch of a birch tree, he grew very discontented
in his heart.
"If at least it had been a lime tree," he grumbled. And as he
listened he found that it was the birch which had sung so loudly;
it sounded as if some one were sifting sand or gravel, and again
he thought of the lime trees, which make the soft velvety sounds
that touch the heart.
On the following day his birch was faded and gave little shade.
On the day after that the foliage was as dry as paper and rattled
like teeth. And finally there was nothing left but a huge birch
rod, which reminded him of his childhood.
He remembered the gourd of the prophet Jonah, and he cursed when
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