Part 5 out of 6
"Is that you, Louise?" asked a voice from inside.
"No, it's only I," he whispered, hardly able to speak.
"What's the matter? What do you want?"
"I want to speak to you, Helena," he answered, hardly knowing what he
The key turned in the lock. Albert could hardly trust his ears. The
door flew open. Helena stood on the threshold, still fully dressed.
"What is it you want?" she asked. Then she noticed that he was in his
dressing-gown and that his eyes shone strangely.
She stretched out her hand, pushed him away and slammed the door.
He heard a thud on the floor and almost simultaneously loud sobs.
Furious, but abashed, he returned to his room. She was in earnest,
then! But this was certainly anything but normal.
He lay awake all night, brooding, and on the following morning he
When he came home for lunch, Helena received him with an expression of
"Why do you treat me like that?" she asked.
He apologised, with as few words as possible. Then he repented his
curtness and climbed down.
Thus matters stood for six months. He was tossed between doubt, rage
and love, but his chain held.
His face grew pale and his eyes lost their lustre. His temper had
become uncertain; a sullen fury smouldered beneath his outward calm.
Helena found him changed, despotic, because he was beginning to oppose
her, and often left the meetings to seek amusement elsewhere.
One day he was asked to become a candidate for a professorial chair.
He refused, believing that he had no chance, but Helena gave him no
peace until he complied with the conditions. He was elected. He never
knew the reason why, but Helena did.
A short time after there was a by-election.
The new professor, who had never dreamed of taking an active interest
in public affairs, was nonplussed when he found himself nominated. His
surprise was even greater when he was elected. He intended to decline,
but Helena's entreaties and her argument that life in a big city was
preferable to an existence in a small provincial town induced him to
accept the mandate.
They removed to Stockholm.
During these six months the newly-made professor and member of
Parliament had made himself acquainted with the new ideas which came
from England and purposed to recreate society and the old standards of
morality. At the same time he felt that the moment was not far off
when he would have to break with his "boarder." He recovered his
strength and vigour in Stockholm, where fearless thinkers encouraged
him to profess openly the views which he had long held in secret.
Helena, on the other hand, scented a favourable opportunity in the
counter-current and threw herself into the arms of the Church Party.
This was too much for Albert and he rebelled. His love had grown cold;
he found compensation elsewhere. He didn't consider himself unfaithful
to his wife for she had never claimed constancy in a relationship
which didn't exist.
His friendly intercourse with the other sex aroused his manliness and
made him realise his degradation.
His growing estrangement did not escape Helena. Their home-life became
unpleasant and every moment threatened to bring a catastrophe.
The opening of Parliament was imminent. Helena became restless and
seemed to have changed her tactics. Her voice was more gentle and she
appeared anxious to please him. She looked after the servants and saw
that the meals were served punctually.
He grew suspicious and wondered, watched her movements and prepared
for coming events.
One morning, at breakfast, Helena looked embarrassed and self-conscious.
She played with her dinner napkin and cleared her throat several times.
Then she took her courage in both her hands and made a plunge.
"Albert," she began, "I can count on you, can't I? You will serve the
Cause to which I have devoted my life?"
"What cause is that?" he asked curtly, for now he had the upper hand.
"You will do something for the oppressed women, won't you?"
"Where are the oppressed women?"
"What? Have you deserted our great cause? Are you leaving us in the
"What cause are you talking about?"
"The Women's Cause!"
"I know nothing about it."
"You know nothing about it? Oh, come! You must admit that the position
of the women of the lower classes is deplorable."
"No, I can't see that their position is any worse than the position of
the men. Deliver the men from their exploiters and the women too will
"But the unfortunates who have to sell themselves, and the scoundrels
"The scoundrels who pay! Has ever a man taken payment for a pleasure
which both enjoy?"
"That is not the question! The question is whether it is just that the
law of the land should punish the one and let the other go scotfree."
"There is no injustice in that. The one has degraded herself until she
has become a source of infection, and therefore the State treats her
it treats a mad dog. Whenever you find a man, degraded to that
degree, well, put him under police control, too. Oh, you pure angels,
who despise men and look upon them as unclean beasts!..."
"Well, what is it? What do you want me to do?"
He noticed that she had taken a manuscript from the sideboard and held
it in her hand. Without waiting for a reply, he took it from her and
began to examine it. "A bill to be introduced into Parliament! I'm to
be the man of straw who introduces it! Is that moral? Strictly speaking,
is it honest?"
Helena rose from her chair, threw herself on the sofa and burst into
He, too, rose and went to her. He took her hand in his and felt her
pulse, afraid lest her attack might be serious. She seized his hand
convulsively, and pressed it against her bosom.
"Don't leave me," she sobbed, "don't go. Stay, and let me keep faith
For the first time in his life he saw her giving way to her emotions.
This delicate body, which he had loved and admired so much, could be
warmed into life! Red, warm blood flowed in those blue veins. Blood
which could distil tears. He gently stroked her brow.
"Oh!" she sighed, "why aren't you always good to me like that? Why
hasn't it always been so?"
"Well," he answered, "why hasn't it? Tell me, why not?"
Helena's eyelids drooped. "Why not?" she breathed, softly.
She did not withdraw her hand and he felt a gentle warmth radiating
from her velvety skin; his love for her burst into fresh flames, but
this time he felt that there was hope.
At last she rose to her feet.
"Don't despise me," she said, "don't despise me, dear."
And she went into her room.
What was the matter with her? Albert wondered as he went up to town.
Was she passing through a crisis of some sort? Was she only just
beginning to realise that she was his wife?
He spent the whole day in town. In the evening he went to the theatre.
They played _Le monde ou l'on s'ennuit_. As he sat and watched platonic
love, the union of souls, unmasked and ridiculed, he felt as if a veil
of close meshed lies were being drawn from his reason; he smiled as he
saw the head of the charming beast peeping from underneath the card-board
wings of the stage-angel; he almost shed tears of amusement at his long,
long self-deception; he laughed at his folly. What filth and corruption
lay behind this hypocritical morality, this insane desire for
emancipation from healthy, natural instincts. It was the ascetic
teaching of idealism and Christianity which had implanted this germ
into the nineteenth century.
He felt ashamed! How could he have allowed himself to be duped all this
There was still light in Helena's room as he passed her door on tip-toe
so as not to wake her. He heard her cough.
He went straight to bed, smoked his cigar and read his paper. He was
absorbed in an article on conscription, when all of a sudden Helena's
door was flung open, and footsteps and screams from the drawing-room
fell on his ears. He jumped up and rushed out of his room, believing
that the house was on fire.
Helena was standing in the drawing-room in her nightgown.
She screamed when she saw her husband and ran to her room; on the
threshold she hesitated and turned her head.
"Forgive me, Albert," she stammered, "it's you. I didn't know that you
were still up. I thought there were burglars in the house. Please,
And she closed her door.
What did it all mean? Was she in love with him?
He went into his room and stood before the looking-glass. Could any
woman fall in love with him? He was plain. But one loves with one's
soul and many a plain man had married a beautiful woman. It was true,
though, that in such cases the man had nearly always possessed wealth
and influence.--Was Helena realising that she had placed herself in a
false position? Or had she become aware of his intention to leave her
and was anxious to win him back?
When they met at the breakfast table on the following morning, Helena
was unusually gentle, and the professor noticed that she was wearing a
new morning-gown trimmed with lace, which suited her admirably.
As he was helping himself to sugar, his hand accidentally touched hers.
"I beg your pardon, dear," she said with an expression on her face which
he had never seen before. She looked like a young girl.
They talked about indifferent things.
On the same day Parliament opened.
Helena's yielding mood lasted and she grew more and more affectionate.
The period allowed for the introduction of new bills drew to a close.
One evening the professor came home from his club in an unusually gay
frame of mind. He went to bed with his paper and his cigar. After a
while he heard Helena's door creak. Silence, lasting for a few minutes,
followed. Then there came a knock at his door.
"Who is there?" he shouted.
"It's I, Albert, do dress and come into the drawing-room, I want to
speak to you."
He dressed and went into the drawing-room.
Helena had lighted the chandelier and was sitting on the sofa, dressed
in her lace morning-gown.
"Do forgive me," she said, "but I can't sleep. My head feels so
strange. Come here and talk to me."
"You are all unstrung, little girl," said Albert, taking her hand in
his own. "You ought to take some wine."
He went into the dining-room and returned with a decanter and two
"Your health, darling," he said.
Helena drank and her cheeks caught fire.
"What's wrong?" he asked, putting his arm round her waist.
"I'm not happy," she replied.
He was conscious that the words sounded dry and artificial, but his
passion was roused and he didn't care.
"Do you know why you are unhappy?" he asked.
"No. I only know one thing, and that is that I love you."
Albert caught her in his arms and kissed her face.
"Are you my wife, or aren't you?" he whispered hoarsely.
"I am your wife," breathed Helena, collapsing, as if every nerve in
her body had snapped.
"Altogether?" he whispered paralysing her with his kisses.
"Altogether," she moaned, moving convulsively, like a sleeper
struggling with the horrors of a nightmare.
When Albert awoke, he felt refreshed, his head was clear and he was
fully conscious of what had happened in the night. He could think
vigorously and logically like a man after a deep and restful sleep.
The whole scene stood vividly before his mind. He saw the full
significance of it, unvarnished, undisguised, in the sober light of
She had sold herself!
At three o'clock in the morning, intoxicated with love, blind to
everything, half insane, he had promised to introduce her bill.
And the price! She had given herself to him calmly, coldly, unmoved.
Who was the first woman who found out that she could sell her favour?
And who was the woman who discovered that man is a buyer? Whoever she
was, she was the founder of marriage and prostitution. And they say
that marriages are made in heaven!
He realised his degradation and hers. She wanted to triumph over her
friends, to be the first woman who had taken an active share in the
making of her country's laws; for the sake of this triumph she had
Well, he would tear the mask from her face. He would show her what she
really was. He would tell her that prostitution could never be
abolished while women found an advantage in selling themselves.
With his mind firmly made up, he got out of bed and dressed.
He had to wait a little for her in the dining-room. He rehearsed the
scene which would follow and pulled himself together to meet her.
She came in calm, smiling, triumphant, but more beautiful than he had
ever seen her before. A sombre fire burnt in her eyes, and he, who had
expected that she would meet him with blushes and down-cast eyes, was
crushed. She was the triumphant seducer, and he the bashful victim.
The words he had meant to say refused to come. Disarmed and humble he
went to meet her and kissed her hand.
She talked as usual without the slightest indication that a new factor
had entered her life.
He went to the House, fuming, with her bill in his pocket, and only
the vision of the bliss in store for him, calmed his excited nerves.
But when, in the evening, he knocked quite boldly at her door, it
It remained closed for three weeks. He cringed before her like a dog,
obeyed every hint, fulfilled all her wishes--it was all in vain.
Then his indignation got the better of him and he overwhelmed her with
a flood of angry words. She answered him sharply. But when she
realised that she had gone too far, that his chain was wearing thin,
she gave herself to him.
And he wore his chain. He bit it, strained every nerve to break it,
but it held.
She soon learned how far she could go, and whenever he became restive,
He was seized with a fanatical longing to make her a mother. He
thought it might make a woman of her, bring out all that was good and
wholesome in her. But the future seemed to hold no promise on that
Had ambition, the selfish passion of the individual, destroyed the
source of life? He wondered....
One morning she informed him that she was going away for a few days to
stay with her friends.
When he came home on the evening of the day of her departure and found
the house empty, his soul was tormented by a cruel feeling of loss and
longing. All of a sudden it became clear to him that he loved her with
every fibre of his being. The house seemed desolate; it was just as if
a funeral had taken place. When dinner was served he stared at her
vacant chair and hardly touched his food.
After supper he lit the chandelier in the drawing-room. He sat down in
her corner of the sofa. He fingered her needlework which she had left
behind--it was a tiny jacket for a stranger's baby in a newly-founded
creche. There was the needle, still sticking in the calico, just as
she had left it. He pricked his finger with it as if to find solace in
the ecstasy of pain.
Presently he lighted a candle and went into her bedroom. As he stood
on the threshold, he shaded the flame with his hand and looked round
like a man who is about to commit a crime. The room did not betray the
slightest trace of femininity. A narrow bed without curtains; a
writing-table, bookshelves, a smaller table by the side of her bed, a
sofa. Just like his own room. There was no dressing-table, but a
little mirror hung on the wall.
Her dress was hanging on a nail. The lines of her body were clearly
defined on the thick, heavy serge. He caressed the material and hid
his face in the lace which trimmed the neck; he put his arm round the
waist, but the dress collapsed like a phantom. "They say the soul is a
spirit," he mused, "but then, it ought to be a tangible spirit, at
least." He approached the bed as if he expected to see an apparition.
He touched everything, took everything in his hand.
At last, as if he were looking for something, something which should
help him to solve the problem, he began to tug at the handles which
ornamented the drawers of her writing-table; all the drawers were
locked. As if by accident he opened the drawer of the little table by
her bedside, and hastily closed it again, but not before he had read
the title on the paper-cover of a small book and caught sight of a few
strange-looking objects, the purpose of which he could guess.
That was it then! _Facultative Sterility!_ What was intended for a
remedy for the lower classes, who have been robbed of the means of
existence, had become an instrument in the service of selfishness, the
last consequence of idealism. Were the upper classes so degenerate
that they refused to reproduce their species, or were they morally
corrupt? They must be both, for they considered it immoral to bring
illegitimate children into the world, and degrading to bear children
But he wanted children! He could afford to have them, and he considered
it a duty as well as a glorious privilege to pour his individuality into
a new being. It was Nature's way from a true and healthy egoism towards
altruism. But she travelled on another road and made jackets for the
babies of strangers. Was that a better, a nobler thing to do? It stood
for so much, and yet was nothing but fear of the burden of motherhood,
and it was cheaper and less fatiguing to sit in the corner of a
comfortable sofa and make little jackets than to bear the toil and broil
of a nursery. It was looked upon as a disgrace to be a woman, to have
a sex, to become a mother.
That was it. They called it working for Heaven, for higher interests,
for humanity, but it was merely a pandering to vanity, to selfishness,
to a desire for fame or notoriety.
And he had pitied her, he had suffered remorse because her sterility
had made him angry. She had told him once that he deserved "the contempt
of all good and honest men" because he had failed to speak of sterile
women with the respect due to misfortune; she had told him that they
were sacred, because their sorrow was the bitterest sorrow a woman
could have to bear.
What, after all, was this woman working for? For progress? For the
salvation of humanity? No, she was working against progress, against
freedom and enlightenment. Hadn't she recently brought forward a motion
to limit religious liberty? Wasn't she the author of a pamphlet on the
intractability of servants? Wasn't she advocating greater severity in
the administration of the military laws? Was she not a supporter of the
party which strives to ruin our girls by giving them the same miserable
education which our boys receive?
He hated her soul, for he hated her ideas. And yet he loved her? What
was it then that he loved?
Probably, he reflected, compelled to take refuge in philosophy,
probably the germ of a new being, which she carries in her womb, but
which she is bent on killing.
What else could it be?
But what did she love in him? His title, his position, his influence?
How could these old and worn-out men and women rebuild society?
He meant to tell her all this when she returned home; but in his
inmost soul he knew all the time that the words would never be said.
He knew that he would grovel before her and whine for her favour; that
he would remain her slave and sell her his soul again and again, just
as she sold him her body. He knew that that was what he would do, for
he was head over ears in love with her.
UNMARRIED AND MARRIED
The young barrister was strolling on a lovely spring evening through
the old Stockholm Hop-Garden. Snatches of song and music came from the
pavilion; light streamed through the large windows and lit up the
shadows cast by the great lime trees which were just bursting into
He went in, sat down at a vacant table near the platform and asked for
a glass of punch.
A young comedian was singing a pathetic ballad of a _Dead Rat_. Then a
young girl, dressed in pink, appeared and sang the Danish song: _There
is nothing so charming as a moonshine ride._ She was comparatively
innocent looking and she addressed her song to our innocent barrister.
He felt flattered by this mark of distinction, and at once started
negotiations which began with a bottle of wine and ended in a
furnished flat, containing two rooms, a kitchen and all the usual
It is not within the scope of this little story to analyse the feelings
of the young man, or give a description of the furniture and the other
conveniences. It must suffice if I say that they were very good friends.
But, imbued with the socialistic tendencies of our time, and desirous
of having his lady-love always under his eyes, the young man decided
to live in the flat himself and make his little friend his house
keeper. She was delighted at the suggestion.
But the young man had a family, that is to say, his family looked upon
him as one of its members, and since in their opinion he was committing
an offence against morality, and casting a slur on their good name, he
was summoned to appear before the assembled parents, brothers and
sisters in order to be censured. He considered that he was too old for
such treatment and the family tie was ruptured.
This made him all the more fond of his own little home, and he
developed into a very domesticated husband, excuse me, lover. They
were happy, for they loved one another, and no fetters bound them.
They lived in the happy dread of losing one another and therefore they
did their utmost to keep each other's love. They were indeed one.
But there was one thing which they lacked: they had no friends.
Society displayed no wish to know them, and the young man was not
asked to the houses of the "Upper Ten."
It was Christmas Eve, a day of sadness for all those who once had a
family. As he was sitting at breakfast, he received a letter. It was
from his sister, who implored him to spend Christmas at home, with his
parents. The letter touched upon the strings of old feelings and put
him in a bad temper. Was he to leave his little friend alone on
Christmas Eve? Certainly not! Should his place in the house of his
parents remain vacant for the first time on a Christmas Eve? H'm! This
was the position of affairs when he went to the Law Courts.
During the interval for lunch a colleague came up to him and asked him
as discreetly as possible:
"Are you going to spend Christmas Eve with your family?"
He flared up at once. Was his friend aware of his position? Or what
did he mean?
The other man saw that he had stepped on a corn, and added hastily,
without waiting for a reply:
"Because if you are not, you might spend it with us. You know,
perhaps, that I have a little friend, a dear little soul."
It sounded all right and he accepted the invitation on condition that
they should both be invited. Well, but of course, what else did he
think? And this settled the problem of friends and Christmas Eve.
They met at six o'clock at the friend's flat, and while the two "old
men" had a glass of punch, the women went into the kitchen.
All four helped to lay the table. The two "old men" knelt on the floor
and tried to lengthen the table by means of boards and wedges. The
women were on the best of terms at once, for they felt bound together
by that very obvious tie which bears the great name of "public opinion."
They respected one another and saved one another's feelings. They
avoided those innuendoes in which husbands and wives are so fond
of indulging when their children are not listening, just as if they
wanted to say: "We have a right to say these things now we are
When they had eaten the pudding, the barrister made a speech praising
the delights of one's own fireside, that refuge from the world and
from all men: that harbour where one spends one's happiest hours in
the company of one's real friends.
Mary-Louisa began to cry, and when he urged her to tell him the cause
of her distress, and the reason of her unhappiness, she told him in a
voice broken by sobs that she could see that he was missing his mother
He replied that he did not miss them in the least, and that he should
wish them far away if they happened to turn up now.
"But why couldn't he marry her?"
"Weren't they as good as married?"
"No, they weren't married properly."
"By a clergyman? In his opinion a clergyman was nothing but a student
who had passed his examinations, and his incantations were pure
"That was beyond her, but she knew that something was wrong, and the
other people in the house pointed their fingers at her."
"Let them point!"
Sophy joined in the conversation. She said she knew that they were not
good enough for his relations; but she didn't mind. Let everybody keep
his own place and be content.
Anyhow, they had friends now, and lived together in harmony, which is
more than could be said of many properly constituted families. The tie
which held them together remained intact, but they were otherwise
unfettered. They continued being lovers without contracting any bad
matrimonial habits, as, for example, the habit of being rude to one
After a year or two their union was blest with a son. The mistress had
thereby risen to the rank of a mother, and everything else was
forgotten. The pangs which she had endured at the birth of the baby,
and her care for the newly born infant, had purged her of her old
selfish claims to all the good things of the earth, including the
monopoly of her husband's love.
In her new role as mother she gave herself superior little airs with
her friend, and showed a little more assurance in her intercourse with
One day the latter came home with a great piece of news. He had met
his eldest sister in the street and had found her well informed on all
their private affairs. She was very anxious to see her little nephew
and had promised to pay them a call.
Mary-Louisa was surprised, and at once began to sweep and dust the
flat; in addition she insisted on a new dress for the occasion. And
then she waited for a whole week. The curtains were sent to the
laundry, the brass knobs on the doors of the stoves were made to
shine, the furniture was polished. The sister should see that her
brother was living with a decent person.
And then she made coffee, one morning at eleven o'clock, the time when
the sister would call.
She came, straight as if she had swallowed a poker, and gave Mary-Louisa
a hand which was as stiff as a batting staff. She examined the bed-room
furniture, but refused to drink coffee, and never once looked her
sister-in-law in the face. But she showed a faint, though genuine,
interest in the baby. Then she went away again.
Mary-Louisa in the meantime had carefully examined her coat, priced
the material of her dress and conceived a new idea of doing her hair.
She had not expected any great display of cordiality. As a start, the
fact of the visit was quite sufficient in itself, and she soon let the
house know that her sister-in-law had called.
The boy grew up and by and by a baby sister arrived.
Now Mary-Louisa began to show the most tender solicitude for the future
of the children, and not a day passed but she tried to convince their
father that nothing but a legal marriage with her would safeguard their
In addition to this his sister gave him a very plain hint to the
effect that a reconciliation with his parents was within the scope of
possibility, if he would but legalise his liaison.
After having fought against it day and night for two years, he
consented at last, and resolved that for the children's sake the
mythological ceremony should be allowed to take place.
But whom should they ask to the wedding? Mary-Louisa insisted on being
married in church. In this case Sophy could not be invited. That was
an impossibility. A girl like her! Mary-Louisa had already learnt to
pronounce the word "girl" with a decidedly moral accent. He reminded
her that Sophy had been a good friend to her, and that ingratitude was
not a very fine quality. Mary-Louisa, however, pointed out that
parents must be prepared to sacrifice private sympathies at the altar
of their children's prospects; and she carried the day.
The wedding took place.
The wedding was over. No invitation arrived from his parents, but a
furious letter from Sophy which resulted in a complete rupture.
Mary-Louisa was a wedded wife, now. But she was more lonely than she
had been before. Embittered by her disappointment, sure of her husband
who was now legally tied to her, she began to take all those liberties
which married people look upon as their right. What she had once
regarded in the light of a voluntary gift, she now considered a
tribute due to her. She entrenched herself behind the honourable title
of "the mother of his children," and from there she made her sallies.
Simple-minded, as all duped husbands are, he could never grasp what
constituted the sacredness in the fact that she was the mother of
_his_ children. Why his children should be different from other
children, and from himself, was a riddle to him.
But, with an easy conscience, because his children had a legal mother
now, he commenced to take again an interest in the world which he had
to a certain extent forgotten in the first ecstasy of his love-dream,
and which later on he had neglected because he hated to leave his wife
and children alone.
These liberties displeased his wife, and since there was no necessity
for her to mince matters now, and she was of an outspoken disposition,
she made no secrets of her thoughts.
But he had all the lawyer's tricks at his fingers' ends, and was never
at a loss for a reply.
"Do you think it right," she asked, "to leave the mother of your
children alone at home with them, while you spend your time at a
"I don't believe you missed me," he answered by way of a preliminary.
"Missed you? If the husband spends the housekeeping money on drink,
the wife will miss a great many things in the house."
"To start with I don't drink, for I merely have a mouthful of food and
drink a cup of coffee; secondly, I don't spend the housekeeping money
on drink, for you keep it locked up: I have other funds which I spend
Unfortunately women cannot stand satire, and the noose, made in fun,
was at once thrown round his neck.
"You do admit, then, that you drink?"
"No, I don't, I used your expression in fun."
"In fun? You are making fun of your wife? You never used to do that!"
"You wanted the marriage ceremony. Why are things so different now?"
"Because we are married, of course."
"Partly because of that, and partly because intoxication has the
quality of passing off."
"It was only intoxication in your case, then?"
"Not only in my case; in your case, too, and in all others as well. It
passes off more or less quickly."
"And so love is nothing but intoxication as far as a man is
"As far as a woman is concerned too!"
"Nothing but intoxication!"
"Quite so! But there is no reason why one shouldn't remain friends."
"One need not get married for that!"
"No; and that's exactly what I meant to point out."
"You? Wasn't it you who insisted on our marriage?"
"Only because you worried me about it day and night three long years."
"But it was your wish, too!"
"Only because you wished it. Be grateful to me now that you've got
"Shall I be grateful because you leave the mother of your children
alone with them while you spend your time at the public-house?"
"No, not for that, but because I married you!"
"You really think I ought to be grateful for that?"
"Yes, like all decent people who have got their way!"
"Well, there is no happiness in a marriage like ours. Your family
doesn't acknowledge me!"
"What have you got to do with my family? I haven't married yours?"
"Because you didn't think it good enough!"
"But mine was good enough for you. If they had been shoemakers, you
wouldn't mind so much."
"You talk of shoemakers as if they were beneath your notice. Aren't
they human beings like everybody else?"
"Of course they are, but I don't think you would have run after them."
"All right! Have your own way."
But it was not all right, and it was never again all right. Was it due
to the fact of their being married, or was it due to something else?
Mary-Louisa could not help admitting in her heart that the old times
had been better times; they had been "jollier" she said.
He did not think that it was only owing to the fact that their marriage
had been legalised for he had observed that other marriages, too, were
not happy. And the worst of it all was this: when one day he went to
see his old friend and Sophy, as he sometimes did, behind his wife's
back, he was told that there was an end to that matter. And they had
not been married. So it could not have been marriage which was to blame.
She was plain and therefore the coarse young men who don't know how to
appreciate a beautiful soul in an ugly body took no notice of her. But
she was wealthy, and she knew that men run after women for the sake of
their wealth; whether they do it because all wealth has been created
by men and they therefore claim the capital for their sex, or on other
grounds, was not quite clear to her. As she was a rich woman, she
learned a good many things, and as she distrusted and despised men,
she was considered an intellectual young woman.
She had reached the age of twenty. Her mother was still alive, but she
had no intention to wait for another five years before she became her
own mistress. Therefore she quite suddenly surprised her friends with
an announcement of her engagement.
"She is marrying because she wants a husband," said some.
"She is marrying because she wants a footman and her liberty," said
"How stupid of her to get married," said the third; "she doesn't know
that she will be even less her own mistress than she is now."
"Don't be afraid," said the fourth, "she'll hold her own in spite of
What was he like? Who was he? Where had she found him?
He was a young lawyer, rather effeminate in appearance, with broad
hips and a shy manner. He was an only son, brought up by his mother
and aunt. He had always been very much afraid of girls, and he detested
the officers on account of their assurance, and because they were the
favourites at all entertainments. That is what he was like.
They were staying at a watering place and met at a dance. He had come
late and all the girls' programmes were full. A laughing, triumphant
"No!" was flung into his face wherever he asked for a dance, and a
movement of the programme brushed him away as if he were a buzzing
Offended and humiliated he left the ball-room and sat down on the
verandah to smoke a cigar. The moon threw her light on the lime-trees
in the Park and the perfume of the mignonette rose from the flower
He watched the dancing couples through the windows with the impotent
yearning of the cripple; the voluptuous rhythm of the waltz thrilled
him through and through.
"All alone and lost in dreams?" said a voice suddenly. "Why aren't you
"Why aren't you?" he replied, looking up.
"Because I am plain and nobody asked me to," she answered.
He looked at her. They had known each other for some time, but he had
never studied her features. She was exquisitely dressed, and in her
eyes lay an expression of infinite pain, the pain of despair and vain
revolt against the injustice of nature; he felt a lively sympathy for
"I, too, am scorned by everybody," he said. "All the rights belong to
the officers. Whenever it is a question of natural selection, right is
on the side of the strong and the beautiful. Look at their shoulders
"How can you talk like that!"
"I beg your pardon! To have to play a losing game makes a man bitter!
Will you give me a dance?"
"For pity's sake?"
"Yes! Out of compassion for me!"
He threw away his cigar.
"Have you ever known what it means to be marked by the hand of fate,
and rejected? To be always the last?" he began again, passionately.
"I have known all that! But the last do not always remain the last,"
she added, emphatically. "There are other qualities, besides beauty,
"What quality do you appreciate most in a man?"
"Kindness," she exclaimed, without the slightest hesitation. "For this
is a quality very rarely found in a man."
"Kindness and weakness usually go hand in hand; women admire
"What sort of women are you talking about? Rude strength has had its
day; our civilisation has reached a sufficiently high standard to make
us value muscles and rude strength no more highly than a kind heart."
"It ought to have! And yet--watch the dancing couples!"
"To my mind true manliness is shown in loftiness of sentiment and
intelligence of the heart."
"Consequently a man whom the whole world calls weak and cowardly...."
"What do I care for the world and its opinion!"
"Do you know that you are a very remarkable woman?" said the young
lawyer, feeling more and more interested.
"Not in the least remarkable! But you men are accustomed to regard
women as dolls...."
"What sort of men do you mean? I, dear lady, have from my childhood
looked up to woman as a higher manifestation of the species man, and
from the day on which I fell in love with a woman, and she returned my
love, I should be her slave."
Adeline looked at him long and searchingly.
"You are a remarkable man," she said, after a pause.
After each of the two had declared the other to be a remarkable
specimen of the species man, and made a good many remarks on the
futility of dancing, they began to talk of the melancholy influence of
the moon. Then they returned to the ball-room and took their place in
a set of quadrilles.
Adeline was a perfect dancer and the lawyer won her heart completely
because he "danced like an innocent girl."
When the set was over, they went out again on the verandah and sat
"What is love?" asked Adeline, looking at the moon as if she expected
an answer from heaven.
"The sympathy of the souls," he replied, and his voice sounded like
the whispering breeze.
"But sympathy may turn to antipathy; it has happened frequently,"
"Then it wasn't genuine! There are materialists who say that there
would be no such thing as love if there weren't two sexes, and they
dare to maintain that sensual love is more lasting than the love of
the soul. Don't you think it low and bestial to see nothing but sex in
the beloved woman?"
"Don't speak of the materialists!"
"Yes, I must, so that you may realise the loftiness of my feelings for
a woman, if ever I fell in love. She need not be beautiful; beauty
soon fades. I should look upon her as a dear friend, a chum. I should
never feel shy in her company, as with any ordinary girl. I should
approach her without fear, as I am approaching you, and I should say:
'Will you be my friend for life?' I should be able to speak to her
without the slightest tremor of that nervousness which a lover is
supposed to feel when he proposes to the object of his tenderness,
because his thoughts are not pure."
Adeline looked at the young man, who had taken her hand in his, with
"You are an idealist," she said, "and I agree with you from the very
bottom of my heart. You are asking for my friendship, if I understand
you rightly. It shall be yours, but I must put you to the test first.
Will you prove to me that you can pocket your pride for the sake of a
"Speak and I shall obey!"
Adeline took off a golden chain with a locket which she had been
wearing round her neck.
"Wear this as a symbol of our friendship."
"I will wear it," he said, in an uncertain voice; "but it might make
the people think that we are engaged."
"And do you object?"
"No, not if you don't! Will you be my wife?"
"Yes, Axel! I will! For the world looks askance at friendship between
man and woman; the world is so base that it refuses to believe in the
possibility of such a thing."
And he wore the chain.
The world, which is very materialistic at heart, repeated the verdict
of her friends:
"She marries him in order to be married; he marries her because he
wants a wife."
The world made nasty remarks, too. It said that he was marrying her
for the sake of her money; for hadn't he himself declared that
anything so degrading as love did not exist between them? There was
no need for friends to live together like married couples.
The wedding took place. The world had received a hint that they would
live together like brother and sister, and the world awaited with a
malicious grin the result of the great reform which should put
matrimony on another basis altogether.
The newly married couple went abroad.
When they returned, the young wife was pale and ill-tempered. She
began at once to take riding-lessons. The world scented mischief and
waited. The man looked as if he were guilty of a base act and was
ashamed of himself. It all came out at last.
"They have _not_ been living like brother and sister," said the world.
"What? Without loving one another? But that is--well, what is it?"
"A forbidden relationship!" said the materialists.
"It is a spiritual marriage!"
"Or incest," suggested an anarchist.
Facts remained facts, but the sympathy was on the wane. Real life,
stripped of All make-believe, confronted them and began to take
The lawyer practised his profession, but the wife's profession was
practised by a maid and a nurse. Therefore she had no occupation. The
want of occupation encouraged brooding, and she brooded a great deal
over her position. She found it unsatisfactory. Was it right that an
intellectual woman like her should spend her days in idleness? Once
her husband had ventured to remark that no one compelled her to live
in idleness. He never did it again.
"She had no profession."
"True; to be idle was no profession. Why didn't she nurse the baby?"
"Nurse the baby? She wanted a profession which brought in money."
"Was she such a miser, then? She had already more than she knew how to
spend; why should she want to earn money?"
"To be on an equal footing with him."
"That could never be, for she would always be in a position to which
he could never hope to attain. It was nature's will that the woman was
to be the mother, not the man."
"A very stupid arrangement!"
"Very likely! The opposite might have been the case, but that would
have been equally stupid."
"Yes; but her life was unbearable. It didn't satisfy her to live for
the family only, she wanted to live for others as well."
"Hadn't she better begin with the family? There was plenty of time to
think of the others."
The conversation might have continued through all eternity; as it was
it only lasted an hour.
The lawyer was, of course, away almost all day long, and even when he
was at home he had his consulting hours. It drove Adeline nearly mad.
He was always locked in his consulting-room with other women who
confided information to him which he was bound to keep secret. These
secrets formed a barrier between them, and made her feel that he was
more than a match for her.
It roused a sullen hatred in her heart; she resented the injustice of
their mutual relationship; she sought for a means to drag him down.
Come down he must, so that they should be on the same level.
One day she proposed the foundation of a sanatorium. He said all he
could against it, for he was very busy with his practice. But on
further consideration he thought that occupation of some sort might be
the saving of her; perhaps it would help her to settle down.
The sanatorium was founded; he was one of the directors.
She was on the Committee and ruled. When she had ruled for six months,
she imagined herself so well up in the art of healing that she
interviewed patients and gave them advice.
"It's easy enough," she said.
Then it happened that the house-surgeon made a mistake, and she
straightway lost all confidence in him. It further happened that one
day, in the full consciousness of her superior wisdom, she prescribed
for a patient herself, in the doctor's absence. The patient had the
prescription made up, took it and died.
This necessitated a removal to another centre of activity. But it
disturbed the equilibrium. A second child, which was born about the
same time, disturbed it still more and, to make matters worse, a
rumour of the fatal accident was spreading through the town.
The relations between husband and wife were unlovely and sad, for
there had never been any love between them. The healthy, powerful
natural instinct, which does not reflect, was absent; what remained
was an unpleasant liaison founded on the uncertain calculations of a
She never voiced the thoughts hatched behind her burning brow after
she had discovered that she was mistaken in believing that she had a
higher mission, but she made her husband suffer for it.
Her health failed; she lost her appetite and refused to go out. She
grew thin and seemed to be suffering from a chronic cough. The husband
made her repeatedly undergo medical examinations, but the doctors were
unable to discover the cause of her malady. In the end he became so
accustomed to her constant complaints that he paid no more attention
"I know it's unpleasant to have an invalid wife," she said.
He admitted in his heart that it was anything but pleasant; had he
loved her, he would neither have felt nor admitted it.
Her emaciation became so alarming, that he could not shut his eyes to
it any longer, and had to consent to her suggestion that she should
consult a famous professor.
Adeline was examined by the celebrity. "How long have you been ill?"
"I have never been very strong since I left the country," she replied.
"I was born in the country."
"Then you don't feel well in town?"
"Well? Who cares whether I feel well or not?" And her face assumed an
expression which left no room for doubt: she was a martyr.
"Do you think that country air would do you good?" continued the
"Candidly, I believe that it is the only thing which could save my
"Then why don't you live in the country?"
"My husband couldn't give up his profession for my sake."
"He has a wealthy wife and we have plenty of lawyers."
"You think, then, that we ought to live in the country?"
"Certainly, if you believe that it would do you good. You are not
suffering from any organic disease, but your nerves are unstrung;
country air would no doubt benefit you."
Adeline returned home to her husband very depressed.
"The professor had sentenced her to death if she remained in town."
The lawyer was much upset. But since the fact that his distress was
mainly caused by the thought of giving up his practice was very
apparent, she held that she had absolute proof that the question of
her health was a matter of no importance to him.
"What? He didn't believe that it was a matter of life and death?
Didn't he think the professor knew better than he? Was he going to let
He was not going to let her die. He bought an estate in the country
and engaged an inspector to look after it.
As a sheriff and a district-judge were living on the spot, the lawyer
had no occupation. The days seemed to him as endless as they were
unpleasant. Since his income had stopped with his practice, he was
compelled to live on his wife's money. In the first six months he read
a great deal and played "Fortuna." In the second six months he gave up
reading, as it served no object. In the third he amused himself by
His wife, on the other hand, devoted herself to the farm, pinned up
her skirts to the knees and went into the stables. She came into the
house dirty, and smelling of the cow-shed. She felt well and ordered
the labourers about that it was a pleasure to hear her, for she had
grown up in the country and knew what she was about.
When her husband complained of having nothing to do, she laughed at
"Find some occupation in the house. No one need ever be idle in a
house like this."
He would have liked to suggest some outside occupation, but he had not
He ate, slept, and went for walks. If he happened to enter the barn or
the stables, he was sure to be in the way and be scolded by his wife.
One day, when he had grumbled more than usual, while the children had
been running about, neglected by the nurse, she said:
"Why don't you look after the children? That would give you something
He stared at her. Did she really mean it?
"Well, why shouldn't he look after the children? Was there anything
strange in her suggestion?"
He thought the matter over and found nothing strange in it. Henceforth
he took the children for a walk every day.
One morning, when he was ready to go out, the children were not
dressed. The lawyer felt angry and went grumbling to his wife; of the
servants he was afraid.
"Why aren't the children dressed?" he asked.
"Because Mary is busy with other things. Why don't you dress them?
You've nothing else to do. Do you consider it degrading to dress your
He considered the matter for a while, but could see nothing degrading
in it. He dressed them.
One day he felt inclined to take his gun and go out by himself,
although he never shot anything.
His wife met him on his return.
"Why didn't you take the children for a walk this morning?" she asked
sharply and reproachfully.
"Because I didn't feel inclined to do so." "You didn't feel inclined?
Do you think I want to work all day long in stable and barn? One ought
to do _something_ useful during the day, even if it does go against
"So as to pay for one's dinner, you mean?"
"If you like to put it that way! If I were a big man like you, I
should be ashamed to be lying all day long on a sofa, doing nothing."
He really felt ashamed, and henceforth he established himself the
children's nurse. He never failed in his duties. He saw no disgrace in
it, yet he was unhappy. Something was wrong, somewhere, he thought,
but his wife always managed to carry her point.
She sat in the office and interviewed inspector and overseer; she
stood in the store-room and weighed out stores for the cottagers.
Everybody who came on the estate asked for the mistress, nobody ever
wanted to see the master.
One day he took the children past a field in which cattle were
grazing. He wanted to show them the cows and cautiously took them up
to the grazing herd. All at once a black head, raised above the backs
of the other animals, stared at the visitors, bellowing softly.
The lawyer picked up the children and ran back to the fence as hard as
he could. He threw them over and tried to jump it himself, but was
caught on the top. Noticing some women on the other side, he shouted:
"The bull! the bull!"
But the women merely laughed, and went to pull the children, whose
clothes were covered with mud, out of the ditch.
"Don't you see the bull?" he screamed.
"It's no bull, sir," replied the eldest of the women, "the bull was
killed a fortnight ago."
He came home, angry and ashamed and complained of the women to his
wife. But she only laughed.
In the afternoon, as husband and wife were together in the drawing-room,
there was a knock at the door.
"Come in!" she called out.
One of the women who had witnessed the adventure with the bull came
in, holding in her hand the lawyer's gold chain.
"I believe this belongs to you, M'm," she said hesitatingly.
Adeline looked first at the woman and then at her husband, who stared
at the chain with wide-open eyes.
"No, it belongs to your master," she said, taking the proffered chain.
"Thank you! Your master will give you something for finding it."
He was sitting there, pale and motionless.
"I have no money, ask my wife to give you something," he said, taking
Adeline took a crown out of her big purse and handed it to the woman,
who went away, apparently without understanding the scene.
"You might have spared me this humiliation!" he said, and his voice
plainly betrayed the pain he felt.
"Are you not man enough to take the responsibility for your words and
actions on your own shoulders? Are you ashamed to wear a present I
gave you, while you expect me to wear yours? You're a coward! And you
imagine yourself to be a man!"
Henceforth the poor lawyer had no peace. Wherever he went, he met
grinning faces, and farm-labourers and maid-servants from the safe
retreat of sheltered nooks, shouted "the bull! the bull!" whenever he
Adeline had resolved to attend an auction and stay away for a week.
She asked her husband to look after the servants in her absence.
On the first day the cook came and asked him for money for sugar and
coffee. He gave it to her. Three days later she came again and asked
him for the same thing. He expressed surprise at her having already
spent what he had given her.
"I don't want it all for myself," she replied, "and mistress doesn't
He gave her the money. But, wondering whether he had made a mistake,
he opened his wife's account book and began to add up the columns.
He arrived at a strange result. When he had added up all the pounds
for a month, he found it came to a lispound.
He continued checking her figures, and the result was everywhere the
same. He took the principal ledger and found that, leaving the high
figures out of the question, very stupid mistakes in the additions had
been made. Evidently his wife knew nothing of denominate quantities or
decimal fractions. This unheard of cheating of the servants must
certainly lead to ruin.
His wife came home. After having listened to a detailed account of the
auction, he cleared his throat, intending to tell his tale, but his
wife anticipated his report:
"Well, and how did you get on with the servants?"
"Oh! very well, but I am certain that they cheat you."
"Yes; for instance the amount spent on coffee and sugar is too large."
"How do you know?"
"I saw it in your account book."
"Indeed! You poked your nose into my books?"
"Poked my nose into your books? No, but I took it upon me to check
"What business was it of yours?"
"And I found that you keep books without having the slightest
knowledge of denominate quantities or decimal fractions."
"What? You think I don't know?"
"No, you don't! And therefore the foundations of the establishment are
shaky. Your book-keeping is all humbug, old girl!"
"My book-keeping concerns no one but myself."
"Incorrect book-keeping is an offence punishable by law; if you are
not liable, then I am."
"The law? I care a fig for the law!"
"I daresay! But we shall get into its clutches, if not you, then most
certainly I! And therefore I am going to be book-keeper in the future."
"We can engage a man to do it."
"No, that's not necessary! I have nothing else to do."
And that settled the matter.
But once the husband occupied the chair at the desk and the people
came to see _him_, the wife lost all interest in farming and
A violent reaction set in; she no longer attended to the cows and
calves, but remained in the house. There she sat, hatching fresh
But the husband had regained a fresh hold on life. He took an eager
interest in the estate and woke up the people. Now he held the reins;
managed everything, gave orders and paid the bills.
One day his wife came into the office and asked him for a thousand
crowns to buy a piano.
"What are you thinking of?" said the husband. "Just when we are going
to re-build the stables! We haven't the means to buy a piano."
"What do you mean?" she replied. "Why haven't we got the means? Isn't my
"Yes, my money, my dowry."
"That has now become the property of the family."
"That is to say yours?"
"No, the family's. The family is a small community, the only one which
possesses common property which, as a rule, is administered by the
"Why should he administer it and not the wife?"
"Because he has more time to give to it, since he does not bear
"Why couldn't they administer it jointly?"
"For the same reason that a joint stock company has only one managing
director. If the wife administered as well, the children would claim
the same right, for it is their property, too."
"This is mere hair-splitting. I think it's hard that I should have to
ask your permission to buy a piano out of my own money."
"It's no longer your money."
"No, not mine either, but the family's. And you are wrong when you say
that you 'have to ask for my permission'; it's merely wise that you
should consult with the administrator as to whether the position of
affairs warrants your spending such a large sum on a luxury."
"Do you call a piano a luxury?"
"A new piano, when there is an old one, must be termed a luxury. The
position of our affairs is anything but satisfactory, and therefore it
doesn't permit you to buy a new piano at present, but _I_, personally,
can or will have nothing to say against it."
"An expenditure of a thousand crowns doesn't mean ruin."
"To incur a debt of a thousand crowns at the wrong time may be the
first step towards ruin."
"All this means that you refuse to buy me a new piano?"
"No, I won't say that. The uncertain position of affairs...."
"When, oh! when will the day dawn on which the wife will manage her
own affairs and have no need to go begging to her husband?"
"When she works herself. A man, your father, has earned your money.
The men have gained all the wealth there is in the world; therefore it
is but just that a sister should inherit less than her brother,
especially as the brother is born with the duty to provide for a
woman, while the sister need not provide for a man. Do you
"And you call that justice? Can you honestly maintain that it is?
Ought we not all to share and share alike?"
"No, not always. One ought to share according to circumstances and
merit. The idler who lies in the grass and watches the mason building
a house, should have a smaller share than the mason."
"Do you mean to insinuate that I am lazy?"
"H'm! I'd rather not say anything about that. But when I used to lie
on the sofa, reading, you considered me a loafer, and I well remember
that you said something to that effect in very plain language."
"But what am I to do?"
"Take the children out for walks."
"I'm not constituted to look after the children."
"But there was a time when I had to do it. Let me tell you that a
woman who says that she is not constituted to look after children,
isn't a woman. But that fact doesn't make a man of her, by any means.
What is she, then?"
"Shame on you that you should speak like that of the mother of your
"What does the world call a man who will have nothing to do with
women? Isn't it something very ugly?"
"I won't hear another word!"
And she left him and locked herself into her room.
She fell ill. The doctor, the almighty man, who took over the care of
the body when the priest lost the care of the soul, pronounced country
air and solitude to be harmful.
They were obliged to return to town so that the wife could have proper
Town had a splendid effect on her health; the air of the slums gave
colour to her cheeks.
The lawyer practised his profession and so husband and wife had found
safety-valves for their temperaments which refused to blend.
HIS SERVANT OR DEBIT AND CREDIT
Mr. Blackwood was a wharfinger at Brooklyn and had married Miss
Dankward, who brought him a dowry of modern ideas. To avoid seeing his
beloved wife playing the part of his servant, Mr. Blackwood had taken
rooms in a boarding house.
The wife, who had nothing whatever to do, spent the day in playing
billiards and practising the piano, and half the night in discussing
Women's Rights and drinking whiskies and sodas.
The husband had a salary of five thousand dollars. He handed over his
money regularly to his wife who took charge of it. She had, moreover,
a dress allowance of five hundred dollars with which she did as she
Then a baby arrived. A nurse was engaged who, for a hundred dollars,
took upon her shoulders the sacred duties of the mother.
Two more children were born.
They grew up and the two eldest went to school. But Mrs. Blackwood was
bored and had nothing with which to occupy her mind.
One morning she appeared at the breakfast table, slightly intoxicated.
The husband ventured to tell her that her behaviour was unseemly.
She had hysterics and went to bed, and all the other ladies in the
house called on her and brought her flowers.
"Why do you drink so much whisky?" asked her husband, as kindly as
possible. "Is there anything which troubles you?"
"How could I be happy when my whole life is wasted!"
"What do you mean by wasted? You are the mother of three children and
you might spend your time in educating them."
"I can't be bothered with children."
"Then you ought to be bothered with them! You would be benefiting the
whole community and have a splendid object in life, a far more
honourable one, for instance, than that of being a wharfinger."
"Yes, if I were free!"
"You are freer than I am. I am under your rule. You decide how my
earnings are to be spent. You have five hundred dollars pin money to
spend as you like; but I have no pin money. I have to make an
application to the cash-box, in other words, to you, whenever I want
to buy tobacco. Don't you think that you are freer than I am?"
She made no reply; she tried to think the question out.
The upshot of it was that they decided to have a home of their own.
And they set up house-keeping.
"My dear friend," Mrs. Blackwood wrote a little later on to a friend
of hers, "I am ill and tired to death. But I must go on suffering, for
there is no solace for an unhappy woman who has no object in life. I
will show the world that I am not the sort of woman who is content to
live on her husband's bounty, and therefore I shall work myself to
On the first day she rose at nine o'clock and turned out her husband's
room. Then she dismissed the cook and at eleven o'clock she went out
to do the catering for the day.
When the husband came home at one o'clock, lunch was not ready. It was
the maid's fault.
Mrs. Blackwood was dreadfully tired and in tears. The husband could
not find it in his heart to complain. He ate a burnt cutlet and went
back to his work.
"Don't work so hard, darling," he said, as he was leaving.
In the evening his wife was so tired that she could not finish her
work and went to bed at ten o'clock.
On the following morning, as Mr. Blackwood went into his wife's room
to say good morning to her, he was amazed at her healthy complexion.
"Have you slept well?" he asked.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because you are looking so well."
"Yes, a little occupation seems to agree with you."
"A little occupation? You call it little? I should like to know what
you would call much."
"Never mind, I didn't mean to annoy you."
"Yes, you did. You meant to imply that I wasn't working hard enough.
And yet I turned out your room yesterday, just as if I were a
house-maid, and stood in the kitchen like a cook. Can you deny that I
am your servant?"
In going out the husband said to the maid:
"You had better get up at seven in future and do my room. Your
mistress shouldn't have to do your work."
In the evening Mr. Blackwood came home in high spirits but his wife
was angry with him.
"Why am I not to do your room?" she asked.
"Because I object to your being my servant."
"Why do you object?"
"The thought of it makes me unhappy."
"But it doesn't make you unhappy to think of me cooking your dinner
and attending to your children?"
This remark set him thinking.
He pondered the question during the whole of his tram journey to
When he came home in the evening, he had done a good deal of thinking.
"Now, listen to me, my love," he began, "I've thought a lot about your
position in the house and, of course, I am far from wishing that you
should be my servant. I think the best thing to do is this: You must
look upon me as your boarder and I'll pay for myself. Then you'll be
mistress in the house, and I'll pay you for my dinner."
"What do you mean?" asked his wife, a little uneasy.
"What I say. Let's pretend that you keep a boarding-house and that I'm
your boarder. We'll only pretend it, of course."
"Very well! And what are you going to pay me?"
"Enough to prevent me from being under an obligation to you. It will
improve my position, too, for then I shall not feel that I am kept out
"Out of kindness?"
"Yes; you give me a dinner which is only half-cooked, and then you go
on repeating that you are my servant, that is to say, that you are
working yourself to death for me."
"What are you driving at?"
"Is three dollars a day enough for my board? Any boarding-house will
take me for two."
"Three dollars ought to be plenty."
"Very well! Let's say a thousand dollars per annum. Here's the money
He laid a bill on the table.
It was made out as follows:
Rent 500 dollars
Nurse's wages 100 "
Cook's wages 150 "
Wife's maintenance 500 "
Wife's pin money 500 "
Nurse's maintenance 300 "
Cook's maintenance 300 "
Children's maintenance 700 "
Children's clothes 500 "
Wood, light, assistance 500 "
"Divide this sum by two, since we share expenses equally, that leaves
2025 dollars. Deduct my thousand dollars and give me 1025 dollars. If
you have got the money by you, all the better."
"Share expenses equally?" was all the wife could say. "Do you expect
me to pay you, then?"
"Yes, of course, if we are to be on a footing of equality. I pay for
half of your and the children's support. Or do you want me to pay the
whole? Very well, that would mean that I should have to pay you 4050
dollars plus 1000 dollars for my board. But I pay separately for rent,
food, light, wood and servants' wages. What do I get for my three
dollars a day for board? The preparation of the food? Nothing else but
that for 4050 dollars? Now, if I subtract really half of this sum,
that is to say, my share of the expenses, 2025 dollars, then the
preparation of my food costs me 2025 dollars. But I have already paid
the cook for doing it; how, then, can I be expected to pay 2025 dollars,
plus 1000 dollars for food?"
"I don't know."
"Neither do I. But I know that I owe you nothing after paying for the
whole of your support, the children's support and the servants'
support; the servants who do your work, which, in your opinion, is
equal, or superior, to mine. But even if your work should really be
worth more, you must remember that you have another five hundred
dollars in addition to the household expenses, while I have nothing."
"I repeat that I don't understand your figures!"
"Neither do I. Perhaps we had better abandon the idea of the
boarding-house. Let's put down the debit and credit of the
establishment. Here's the account, if you'd like to see it."
To Mrs. Blackwood for assistance in the house, and to Mrs. Blackwood's
cook and nursemaid:
Rent and maintenance 1000 dollars
Clothes 500 "
Amusements 100 "
Pin money (by cash) 500 "
Her children's maintenance 1200 "
Her children's education 600 "
On account of the maids who do her
work 850 "
Paid M. Blackwood, _Wharfinger_
"Oh! It's too bad of you to worry your wife with bills!"
"With counter-bills! And even that one you need not pay, for I pay all
The wife crumpled up the paper.
"Am I to pay for your children's education, too?"
"No, I will, and I shall, and I will also pay for your children's
education. You shall not pay one single farthing for mine. Is that
being on a footing of equality? But I shall deduct the sum for the
maintenance of my children and servants: then you will still have 2100
dollars for the assistance you give to my servants. Do you want any
She wanted no more; never again.
He wakes up in the morning from evil dreams of bills which have become
due and copy which has not been delivered. His hair is damp with cold
perspiration, and his cheeks tremble as he dresses himself. He listens
to the chirruping of the children in the next room and plunges his
burning face into cold water. He drinks the coffee which he has made
himself, so as not to disturb the nursery maid at the early hour of
eight o'clock. Then he makes his bed, brushes his clothes, and sits
down to write.
The fever attacks him, the fever which is to create hallucinations of
rooms he has never seen, landscapes which never existed, people whose
names cannot be found in the directory. He sits at his writing table
in mortal anguish. His thoughts must be clear, pregnant and
picturesque, his writing legible, the story dramatic; the interest
must never abate, the metaphors must be striking, the dialogue
brilliant. The faces of those automata, the public, whose brains he is
to wind up, are grinning at him; the critics whose good-will he must
enlist, stare at him through the spectacles of envy; he is haunted by
the gloomy face of the publisher, which it is his task to brighten. He
sees the jurymen sitting round the black table in the centre of which
lies a Bible; he hears the sound of the opening of prison doors behind
which free-thinkers are suffering for the crime of having thought bold
thoughts for the benefit of the sluggards; he listens to the noiseless
footfall of the hotel porter who is coming with the bill....
And all the while the fever is raging and his pen flies, flies over
the paper without a moment's delay at the vision of publisher or
jurymen, leaving in its track red lines as of congealed blood which
slowly turn to black.
When he rises from his chair, after a couple of hours, he has only
enough strength left to stumble across the room. He sinks down on his
bed and lies there as if Death held him in his clutches. It is not
invigorating sleep which has closed his eyes, but a stupor, a long
fainting fit during which he remains conscious, tortured by the
horrible thought that his strength is gone, his nervous system
shattered, his brain empty.
A ring at the bell of the private hotel! _Voila le facteur_! The mail
He rouses himself and staggers out of his room. A pile of letters is
handed to him. Proofs which must be read at once; a book from a young
author, begging for a candid criticism: a paper containing a
controversial article to which he must reply without delay, a request
for a contribution to an almanac, an admonishing letter from his
publisher. How can an invalid cope with it all?
In the meantime the children's nurse has got up and dressed the
children, drunk the coffee made for her in the hotel kitchen, and
eaten the rolls spread with honey which have been sent up for her.
After breakfast she takes a stroll in the park.
At one o'clock the bell rings for luncheon. All the guests are assembled
in the dining-room. He, too, is there, sitting at the table by himself.
"Where is your wife?" he is asked on all sides.
"I don't know," he replies.
"What a brute!" is the comment of the ladies, who are still in their
The entrance of his wife interrupts the progress of the meal, and the
hungry guests who have been punctual are kept waiting for the second
The ladies enquire anxiously whether his, wife has slept well and
feels refreshed? Nobody asks him how he feels. There is no need to
"He looks like a corpse," says one of the ladies.
And she is right.
"Dissipation," says another.
But that is anything but true.
He takes no part in the conversation, for he has nothing to say to
these women. But his wife talks for two. While he swallows his food,
his ears are made to listen to rich praise of all that is base, and
vile abuse of all that is noble and good.
When luncheon is over he takes his wife aside.
"I wish you would send Louisa to the tailor's with my coat; a seam has
come undone and I haven't the time to sew it up myself."
She makes no reply, but instead of sending the coat by Louisa, she
takes it herself and walks to the village where the tailor lives.
In the garden she meets some of her emancipated friends who ask her
where she is going.
She replies, truthfully enough, that she is going to the tailor's for
"Fancy sending her to the tailor's! And she allows him to treat her
like a servant!"
"While he is lying on the bed, taking an after-dinner nap! A nice
It is quite true, he is taking an after dinner nap, for he is
suffering from anaemia.
At three o'clock the postman rings again; he is expected to answer a
letter from Berlin in German, one from Paris in French, and one from
London in English.
His wife, who has returned from the tailor's and refreshed herself
with a cognac, asks him whether he feels inclined to make an excursion
with the children. No, he has letters to write.
When he has finished his letters, he goes out for a stroll before
dinner. He is longing for somebody to talk to. But he is alone. He
goes into the garden and looks for the children.
The stout nurse is sitting on a garden seat, reading Mrs. Leffler's
_True Women_ which his wife has lent her. The children are bored, they
want to run about or go for a walk.
"Why don't you take the children for a walk, Louisa?" he asks.
"Mistress said it was too hot."
His wife's orders!
He calls to the children and walks with them towards the high road;
suddenly he notices that their hands and faces are dirty and their
boots in holes.
"Why are the children allowed to wear such boots?" he asks Louisa.
His wife said!
He goes for a walk by himself.
It is seven o'clock and dinner-time. The ladies have not yet returned
to the hotel. The two first courses have been served when they arrive
with flushed faces, talking and laughing loudly.
His wife and her friend are in high spirits and smell of cognac.
"What have you been doing with yourself all day, daddy?" she asks her
"I went for a walk with the children."
"Wasn't Louisa there?"
"Oh! yes, but she was otherwise engaged."
"Well, I don't think it's too much to ask of a man to keep an eye on
his own children," says the friend.
"No, of course not," answers the husband. "And therefore I scolded
Louisa for allowing the children to run about with dirty faces and
"I never come home but I am scolded," says the wife; "You spoil every
little pleasure I have with your fault-finding."
And a tiny tear moistens her reddened eyelids. The friend and all the
rest of the ladies cast indignant glances at the husband.
An attack is imminent and the friend sharpens her tongue.
"Has anybody here present read Luther's views on the right of a woman?"
"What right is that?" asks his wife.
"To look out for another partner if she is dissatisfied with the one
There is a pause.
"A very risky doctrine as far as a woman's interests are concerned,"
says the husband, "for it follows that in similar circumstances a man
is justified in doing the same thing. The latter happens much more
frequently than the former."
"I don't understand what you mean," says the wife.
"That's neither Luther's fault nor mine," answers the husband. "Just
as it is not necessarily the husband's fault if he doesn't get on with
his wife. Possibly he would get on excellently with another woman."
A dead silence follows; the diners rise from their chairs.
The husband retires to his own room. His wife and her friend leave the
dining-room together and sit down in the pavilion.
"What brutality!" exclaims the friend. "How can you, a sensitive,
intelligent woman, consent to be the servant of that selfish brute?"
"He has never understood me," sighs the wife. Her satisfaction in being
able to pronounce these damning words is so great, that it drowns the
memory of a reply which her husband has given her again and again:
"Do you imagine that your thoughts are so profound that I, a man with
a subtle brain, am unable to fathom them? Has it never occurred to you
that it may be your shallowness which prevents you from understanding
He sits down in his room, alone. He suffers from remorse, as if he had
struck his mother. But she struck the first blow; she has struck him
blow after blow, for many years, and never once before has he
This coarse, heartless, cynical woman, in whose keeping he confided
his whole soul with all its thoughts and emotions, was conscious of
his superiority, and therefore she humiliated him, dragged him down,
pulled him by the hair, covered him with abuse. Was it a crime that he
struck back when she publicly taunted him? Yes--he felt as guilty as
if he had murdered his dearest friend.
The twilight of the warm summer night deepens and the moon rises.
The sound of music from the drawing-room floats through his window. He
goes into the garden and sits down under a walnut tree. Alone! The
chords of the piano blend with the words of the song:
When the veil of night was drawn
And crowded earth, mysterious sea
Became one sweet, enchanted ground
For us, until the starless dawn
Dissolved the failing moon--then we
In one long ecstasy were bound.
Now, I, alone in silence and in pain
Weep for the ache of well-remembered bliss,
For you who never can return again,
For you, my spring time, for your love, your kiss.
He strolls through the garden and looks through the window. There she
sits, his living poem, which he has composed for his own delight. She
sings with tears in her voice. The ladies on the sofas look at one
But behind the laurel bushes on a garden seat two men are sitting,
smoking, and chatting. He can hear what they say.
"Nothing but the effect of the cognac."
"Yes, they say that she drinks."
Back to Full Books